Robe of the Ephod
June 15, 2020

Yahweh's design for Aaron's robes in Exodus 28 moves from outside in, from the ephod and attached breastpiece (28:6-30) to the robe beneath the ephod (28:31-35) to the tunic (28:39) and underwear breeches (28:42-43). Verses 36-38 interrupt the movement with a description of the high priest's head gear. Otherwise, the description moves from the glorious outerwear to the simple under garments.

As I've noted before, this inverts the order of Yahweh's prescription for the tabernacle curtains. What is most interior to the tent is most exterior to the priest; the priest is a living, mobile, inside-out tabernacle, displaying the glory of the inner sanctuary in his outer garments of beauty. Inside the garments is Aaron himself, a man of flesh, a man in Adam. He is separated from the ephod and breastpiece by a series of robes - the underclothes closest to his skin, the tunic, and the robe. He is, as it were, screened off from the breastpiece that he himself wears, as he's screened off from the Most Holy Place.

That suggestion will be a key for understanding some of the significance of the robe of the ephod. That robe is blue, not multicolored like the ephod and the breastpiece (28:31). The ephod and breastpiece resemble the ark; the Urim and Thummim correspond to the tablets of the ark and the pouch of the breastpiece to the ark of the covenant. Thus, the robe of the ephod resembles the predominantly blue veil that separates the holy from the most holy.

The robe doesn't fasten or button, but has an opening at the top to fit over the priest's head (28:32). The surrounding collar is described as being like "a coat of mail," which both allows it to be stretched and prevents tearing (v. 32b). But the reference to "mail" (tachra'), a rare word usually taken as a reference to a form of armor, gestures toward another dimension of the priestly garments: He is engaged in liturgical war, including a good deal of killing, and is clad as a warrior.

Several verses of the description of the robe are devoted to the hem. Pomegranates made from blue, purple, and scarlet fabric are attached to the hem, alternating with golden bells (28:33). The text gives an explicit rationale for the bells: "its voice may be heard when he enters and leaves the holy place before Yahweh, that he may not die" (28:35). Bells announce the priest's arrival, and serve as an aural memorial of his status as priest. The voice of the bells tells Yahweh this man belongs in His house.

The fact that the priest's garments jingle as he moves adds another dimension to the priest's role as an image of Yahweh's glory. Yahweh comes in a cloud with lightning and fire. He comes in visible glory. But he also comes in audible glory, with the sound of thunder or a trumpet. As a glorified Adam, Aaron replicates both the visual and the sonic glory.

The pomegranates that alternate with the bells point in a different direction. Bronze pomegranates adorn the capitals of the monumental pillars at the doorway of the temple (1 Kings 7:20, 42), and these too made a sound as they clanged against the bronze pillars. Pillar is priest, priest is pillar of Yahweh's house.

Pomegranates are also fruit of the land of promise (cf. Numbers 13:23), a sign that the land is a garden-land. But the book that most often refers to pomegranates is the Song of Songs (4:3, 13; 6:7, 11; 7:12; 8:2). The lover describes his beloved's temples as being like pomegranate and the beloved herself as an orchard that includes pomegranates. For her part, the beloved offers spiced wine made from "juice of my pomegranates" to her already-intoxicated lover. Pomegranates are, in short, a fruit of love.

The pomegranates at the doorway of the temple show that Yahweh's house is a trysting place where He meets with His bride. The priest's robe is decorated with pomegranates because he represents the bride - he wears the bride - as he serves in the house of the divine Husband of Israel.

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