Continuing the theme of worship, we return to our study of how the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New and will concentrate for the next few weeks on the worship practices of ancient Israel, specifically the priesthood and the sacrifices. Today’s passage describes the garments that were created for Aaron, the first high priest of Israel.
Importantly, the name Aaron can describe both Moses’ brother himself (Ex. 4:14) as well as any high priest, for the high priests were the descendants of Aaron (Deut. 10:6). For our purposes, this simply means that any rituals, garments, and so forth prescribed for Aaron are actually prescribed for all the high priests after him.
Although there were many priests and Levites in ancient Israel, there was only one Aaron — only one high priest in whom the priesthood was concentrated. The other priests and Levites had their duties (1 Chron. 23–24), but in the end what they did was only a reflection of the high priestly duties of Aaron. Furthermore, Aaron’s superiority and fullest expression of the priesthood is seen in his unique responsibilities. The other members of his tribe could minister in the outer court of the tabernacle, but the high priest alone could enter into the Holy Place daily (Ex. 28:29) and the Most Holy Place once a year (Lev. 16). Also, the glory and splendor of his dress (Ex. 28:1–39) as compared to that of the other priests (vv. 40–43) shows that the high priest was the fullest expression and representative of the priesthood and its priests.
Yet Aaron represented not only his fellow tribesmen but the entire nation of Israel. This is seen in his wearing the name of the twelve tribes of Israel on his shoulders and on his heart (vv. 6–30). The high priest did his work on behalf of the people, serving as an intermediary between the holy Creator and His sinful people. His ministry was primarily one of atonement, wherein the sacrifices would cover the sins of Israel and point to the restoration of the glory of Eden. This particular hope is seen in the stones of the priest’s breastplate, which were also found in Eden (vv. 15–20; Ezek. 28:13).
Aaron also represented God to Israel. His garments were made of the same colors and design as the tabernacle itself (Ex. 26; 28:1–39), and when he was seen walking around he looked, in effect, like a mini-tabernacle. But of course he was only an anticipation of the incarnate temple to come (John 2:13–22).