Exodus 27:20; Exodus 28.
Having considered the structure of the Tabernacle and its vessels, we now find in this portion its services and worship, with the position and character of those who served in it - the chief and central figure being the person of the high priest. The subject is introduced by a command to the children of Israel to bring pure olive oil beaten for the light, to cause the lamp to burn always. This command revealed another detail of the great privileges accorded at that time to the children of Israel. They were associated with the giving forth of the light which God ordained in the sanctuary which He had pitched among them. We are not now considering the vessel of the light, but the giving it forth. It shone then in connection with the shadows of good things to come. Nowhere else could the light of God have been found among men but in Israel.
The action of the Spirit of God in testimony was in the midst of that people, and had they treasured the privilege, the testimony would have been light to the nations around. (See Deut. 4:6.) We have only to read what is written in the law, and the prophets, and the psalms, to see that Israel was the depositary of every testimony of God, and of every revelation of Himself and of His purposes and ways, by the Spirit in His word. This testimony was necessarily in measure then, for it was only when He came who was the Son, the sent One speaking the words of God, that the Spirit was given without measure. When Israel will have received this One, then this purpose of God for the giving forth light upon earth will be accomplished in them. It is when the Redeemer has come to Zion that Jehovah's covenant with them will be established in the words following: "My spirit that is upon thee, and My words which I have put into thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever." This is immediately followed by the prophetic summons, "Arise, shine; for thy light is come." (Isa. 59:21; Isa. 60:1.)
But the light is here introduced in connection with a feeble though privileged people; hence we now read of the light being maintained through the service of the priestly family. The service of the children of Israel was to bring the oil to cause the lamp to burn always, but the speciality of the care of Aaron and his sons was to order it from evening to morning before the Lord. The next chapter will open out to us the character of the priest on whom after all (see Lev.24:3) the maintenance of the light in Israel, and so for all nations (looked at as such), depended during the darkness of the night. That is, during the dark night of Israel's history, the ordering of the light is the care of the priestly family, but in reality depends on the High Priest, that is, upon Christ in the heavens.
Whatever analogy there may be in the great Priest maintaining the light in connection with a failed church, so that in spite of the failure the testimony of God has been recovered to the church with something of its original lustre (not that its own lustre fails, it is dimmed, alas! by the vessels), yet the Christian position to which we have been recalled is that we walk in the light as He is in the light - that we are light in the Lord. Let us trace this light in connection with Christianity. First, in John 1, we have the declaration as to the word. "In Him was life; and the life was the light of men." True, the darkness did not comprehend it; but there it was in its own intrinsic character. It was the light of life, and that for men. So the Lord speaks in ch. 8, "I am the light of the world." It could not now be confined to Israel. "He that followeth Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life." He was the Word, and yet a man, the Son, the sent One upon earth, speaking the words of God. The Spirit also was there without measure, and (as another has said) the words of God were realised in the life of a man. The light of life was there; His words were Spirit and life. As long as He was in the world He was the light of the world, but the darkness closed in upon those to whom He specially came, until it culminated in His being delivered up by Judas, and night was there. (John 13:30.) And now in the glorifying of God in the cross, and Christ's consequent place in glory, we have the full revelation of God in light. The Christian is in the light of this revelation, and the effect of it is that being the word of life to the believer, he is now a child of light. (Comp. John 12:36.) He is light in the Lord, for what the word reveals is true in Him and in the believer. Thus the true light now shineth, the Spirit of God who abides with us being the energy by which the light is given. It is really by means of Christ and the saints as the priestly company (Aaron and his sons) that the light is ordered and maintained (hiring the darkness of Israel's night; but we can go further (for the great purpose of the lamp was to burn always), and see how the ordering of the light when Israel's darkness is past is still connected with Christ and the church as the vessel of light (Rev. 21:23, 24), for the holy city will be the shekinah of glory that will arise upon Israel.
The purpose in separating a priestly family to Himself is here described in the words of the Lord to Moses. First, that Aaron might minister to him in the priest's office (vv. 1, 3, 4), and, secondly, that his sons might be joined with him (v. 41) in this ministry to the Lord. We have to notice here that "ministering to Him" is not the question of a soul drawing near for acceptance to the place of meeting provided for a sinner at the brazen altar, but of the privilege of drawing near, according to the desire of the Lord Himself, into the sanctuary, according to the glory and perfection of His own presence. The sanctuary was thus not only a witness in its construction of what those glories and perfections were, but also the place of service of the anointed priest, according to the same glories and perfections. In the administration of the fulness of times the will of God will be accomplished in the heading up of everything in heaven and earth in Christ, and the universe of bliss will be filled with the glories of the anointed Man. The Epistle to the Hebrews opens with the Lord seated at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. He is thus seen as occupying the place of dignity and power as the appointed Heir of all things; but in His priestly character He is first presented to us as the High Priest of our profession, able to succour the tempted and to sympathise with our weakness. (ch. 4) In chapter 9 we reach the great truth that He appears in the presence of God for us, and in chapter 10 that He has come to do the will of God, and also that He is a great Priest over the house of God.
In order that the glories of such a Priest should be figured in Aaron, it was necessary to clothe him with garments that were made for glory and beauty. What is personally and officially true in Christ was thus set forth. The first and chief garment is called the ephod. Like the veil, it was made of blue and purple and scarlet and fine twined linen; there was also gold, while cherubim are absent; for in the priest it was not the question of maintaining by judicial action that which was due to the Lord in His own sanctuary, but of ministering to Him therein. In the ephod then we have first, gold - God's righteousness, suitability for His presence according to His holy character. The other beautiful materials were wrought with the gold into the garment of fine twined linen, which figured the person of Him who said, "A body hast Thou prepared Me." The embroidered girdle was of the same materials, and bespeaks the great characteristic of the garment we are considering, indeed the word "ephod" has the sense of being "girded on"; we can thus understand how ministry to the Lord was therein portrayed, finding its accomplishment in Him who also said, "I come to do Thy will, O God." The blessed Lord emptied Himself, taking a servant's form, becoming in the likeness of men. Thus He took the place in which He could be the girded servant of God's glory. In the majesty of the heavens He now sustains in His own person the varied glories in which God is to be displayed according to His own righteousness; and also in blessed love He sustains the people of that love, in whom the display of the same glory is to be made good.
Two precious stones set in gold were placed on the shoulder-pieces of the ephod and fastened to it with chains of gold. The names of the children of Israel were graven therein according to their birth. Their birth was their title. In the dealings of God with each He might distinguish one from another, either in His sovereignty or His government, as Ephraim was set before Manasseh, or Judah given the royal place, or Levi the priesthood. Here all are borne, according to their birth, on the shoulders of the high priest for a memorial before the Lord. In addition, there was another piece of embroidered work, likewise of the same materials as the ephod, and inseparably connected with it, called the breastplate of judgment. In this were settings of twelve precious stones, with the names of the children of Israel also engraven in them, each several gem bearing a name. We notice, that as with the onyx stones on the shoulder-pieces, so here, the names of the precious stones alone are given, the names of the tribes are not mentioned. Each name was in a gem, but the name is lost in the gem, and the gem alone is seen. It is thus in the heavenly city. The names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb are in the foundations, but their names remain unmentioned, and they are seen alone in the beauty and value of the costly stones with which the foundation was garnished. The breastplate was attached to the ephod above the embroidered girdle with a lace of blue that it should not be loosed from the ephod: The high priest could not be in the presence of God without bearing on his heart the names of the people of God before Him. Whether it be power or love, both alike are good to the feeblest heart.
The breastplate is called the breastplate of judgment. We might have thought that it would be called the breastplate of love, but it is in this that love is made perfect with us, that we might have boldness in the day of judgment, because as He is so are we in this world. What can the holy judgment of God say to those who are only seen as written in each precious stone? Connected with this holy judgment, Moses was to put into the breastplate the Urim and Thummim - lights and perfections - that is all we know as to the meaning of those words. They shone in the breast-plate, and made manifest the beauty and perfectness of the setting of the names according to the judgment of God. When the saints are manifested before the judgment seat of Christ in bodies conformed to His body of glory, the judgment-seat can only declare the divine satisfaction with each saint who appears in that glorious likeness. Other details as to works will come out, and everything come into manifestation, but the brighter the light that shines there, the more will be manifested the perfection of Christ in which each saint appears. What will be actually true in the saints then is realised here as faith looks at the breast-plate of the High Priest.
We refer to one other subject connected with Urim and Thummim. By these enquiry was made of the Lord for the guidance and direction of His people. (Numbers 27:21.) If all our conduct is to come into manifestation at the judgment-seat of Christ, it is well for us to know, that present direction as to it is in accordance with the light of God's holy judgment as to the position in which grace has set us before Himself in Christ.
Thus far we have considered the garment which specially characterised the office of the high priest. Another garment called the robe of the ephod was worn beneath. This was entirely of blue, and designated that which was personal, as the ephod that which was more official. It brings before us the person of the Lord as the heavenly Man. It is blessed to look beneath the glories and offices of Christ and see the heavenly nature and character which were His - He that came down from heaven, and who has ascended up where He was before. On the hem of this robe were golden bells, and pomegranates of blue and purple and scarlet alternately. The fruits which flow from the glories of Christ, and the testimony of divine righteousness, were connected with His heavenly character. The robe was upon Aaron to minister, so that his sound should be heard when he went into the holy place, and when he came out. The testimony of divine righteousness is first heard on the entrance of Christ into the holy place. He is there as Jesus Christ the righteous, but the bells being upon the hem of the robe of heavenly blue would show that the sound is for those upon earth, but in the first instance by the Spirit in the church. Now that Jesus has gone into heaven the Spirit has come from thence to those who now form the assembly, and bears witness as to righteousness, because Jesus is with the Father. (John 16:7-10.) When, as the High Priest, He comes out, and the sound of divine righteousness is heard by the earthly saints, it will still be made manifest that righteousness has been established in the heavens in the person of Jesus, and from thence it will look down upon the earth. (Psalm 85:11.) Fruits of righteousness to the glory and praise of God are inseparably connected with the sound of divine righteousness testified in the heavenly Man. The curse pronounced on the fig tree - "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever" (Matt. 21:19) - teaches us the solemn fact that the first man, even under the cultivation of God as in Israel, is now under the sentence of God as a withered and worthless tree. It is from the heavenly Man that fruit-bearing must come (John 15:4), and it is now by the Spirit that fruits are produced (Gal. 5:22), which are to the glory and praise of God. When the time comes for Israel to revive, they will blossom and bud and fill the earth with fruit, the testimony of divine righteousness in Christ will have reached their ears, and they will know that the source of their fruit-bearing is no longer to be sought in their ability to keep the law, but in the Jehovah who has received them in grace, Jesus their Saviour, who prophetically has told them, "From me is thy fruit found." (Hosea 14:8.) T. H. Reynolds.