Exodus 39

During our coming congregational meeting, we will probably discuss a number of projects regarding the church property. It has been difficult to find someone who will do the work. We have had some promises but nobody who would complete the jobs.

As we have been reading through the tabernacle building project, we find that Moses had a much different situation. The people gave too much for the project and he had to stop them from giving. Also, with God’s enablement, the workers were making beautiful artwork for the temple and its furnishings. As we come to the second to the last chapter in Exodus, we find that the construction has been completed and only the priestly garments were left to make.

  1. Priestly garments (Ex. 39:1-31)

    After reading about all the gold, silver, and brass, you might be excused for forgetting about the blue, purple, and scarlet thread which was collected. This thread had been used for several other items, but it was finally used for the holy garments that Aaron and his sons wore while ministering in the tabernacle. They were made exactly as the Lord had commanded Moses.

    a. The Ephod (39:2-7; 22-26)

    The ephod was a cloth vest or apron worn by the high priest. The description of its materials and composition is found in two sections: verses 2-7 and 22-26.

    How was it made?

    colorful thread (39:2) – If you were to buy yarn today, you would see some with alternating blue, purple, and scarlet. It mingles the colors back and forth. Or you could go to the patterned cloth department and find a striped or plaid cloth with these colors. Being a fan of plaid, I would like to think that this was the case for the tabernacle. But I am sure that the Lord had something even better—something that was a wonderful sight for His people.

    golden thread (39:3) – A commentator by the name of George Bush spent several pages confirming that this is the earliest mention of gold being interwoven with cloth in any ancient document. Some skeptics doubt that the ancient people of Moses’ time would have known how to do this. This is strange thinking when you consider the great artistry of the ancient Egyptians. In any event, they pounded gold into thin sheets and cut long golden threads from the sheet to weave into the ephod.

    fine linen (39:2-3) – The first mention of “fine linen” in the Bible is in Genesis 41:42. This is where Pharaoh honored Joseph by clothing him with fine linen and a gold chain for his neck. It was fine clothing for honored people. Another way to think about this is that when you go to a formal dinner, you are expected to wear nice, formal clothing like a suit for men and a dress for ladies. In this case, the high priest was to wear fine linen because of the holy duties he would perform for our holy God.

    shoulder straps (39:4) – The ephod seemed to be a two-piece garment which was attached at the shoulders by straps.

    intricately woven band (39:5) – While the ephod was held at the top by straps, the band seems to be a belt that wrapped around the mid section of the high priest. It was made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread and also fine linen.

    onyx stones (39:6) – “The shoulders of the ephod were ornamented with two onyx-stones mounted on gold, and … these stones were engraved with the names of twelve tribes—six in each stone” (Bush 287). “Any one at all acquainted with the arts is well aware that the engraving of precious stones demands no common measure of address, precision, and knowledge. There must be a considerable number of very fine and delicate tools, and great decision of hand and practice” (Bush 288).

    all of blue (39:22) – It appears that the high priest wore this blue robe under the ephod. After all of the colorful threads, this blue robe was a good contrast. It was made like a coat of mail (or a sweatshirt) with an opening for the head (Ex. 28:32) and a hem to keep it from tearing.

    pomegranates and bells (Ex. 39:25-26) – Along the bottom hem of the blue robe were decorative pomegranates and bells. These were alternated around the entire bottom of the robe.

    What was it for?

    beauty – The ephod and its robe were beautiful garments which would stand out to anyone who saw them. And that is one of the reasons God wanted them made this way.

    Exodus 28:2“And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest.”

    God wanted the high priest to wear beautiful clothing to minister in His presence. As the representative of God to those who brought thank offerings and sin offerings, the people would see by these garments that they were coming into the presence of Almighty God who was worthy of the best they could bring.

    memorial – Remember how the names of the 12 tribes were written on the onyx stones on the shoulders of the ephod?

    Exodus 28:12b“So Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders as a memorial.”

    This was a memorial to the high priest (and perhaps to God as well) of the tribes that he represented at each sacrifice. As he donned that outfit each day, he would be reminded that they were the people whom God loved and wanted him to represent despite their sinfulness.

    b. The Breastplate (39:8-21)

    The breastplate was a square shaped cloth which was decorated with jewels and gold and which was worn by the high priest.

    How was it made?

    colorful thread (39:8) – The breastplate was made of artistically woven threads and fine linen. The colors were gold, blue, purple, and scarlet. I get the idea that this color combination was something the Israelites would have noted as spectacular—something like the colors worn by kings or emperors.

    square (39:9) – After making the breastplate cloth, it was folded in half to make a square that was a span wide and tall. A span is approximately half a cubit or 9 inches. So this breastplate was not like a Roman soldier’s body covering breastplate. It was a small square that would cover only the middle of the high priest’s chest.

    precious stones (39:10-14) – On the square of the breastplate were mounted four rows of precious stones, each row containing three.

    Row 1 – sardius, topaz, emerald
    Row 2 – turquoise, sapphire, diamond
    Row 3 – jacinth, agate, amethyst
    Row 4 – beryl, onyx, jasper

    Each stone was engraved with the name of one of the tribes of Israel. Can you imagine how hard that would be to engrave the names on those stones? Thankfully, God enabled the workers to accomplish this difficult task.

    chains and rings (39:15-21) – The exact location of the golden chains and rings is hard to understand. Whatever the case, the breastplate was attached by means of these golden rings to golden rings on the shoulders of the ephod by a blue cord. This held the breastplate securely to the ephod so that it would not come loose.

    What was it for?

    There were at least two reasons for the breastplate.

    judgment – While not mentioned in this chapter, an earlier description of the breastplate included a reason for it.

    Exodus 28:15 “You shall make the breastplate of judgment.”

    “It was called the ‘breastpiece of decision’ because the Urim and Thummim, which were associated with the breastpiece, were used to determine God’s will in various matters” (GotQuestions). When a judgment/decision needed to be made, the high priest could use these (which were kept behind the breastplate) to determine God’s will. These items are not explained in the Bible but were a part of the high priest’s outfit and God’s plan.

    memorial – As with the names engraved in the shoulder stones, the names engraved on the 12 stones were a constant reminder over the high priest’s heart of God’s love for Israel and the high priest’s responsibility to represent them to God. See Exodus 28:21, 29.

    c. The other clothing (39:27-31)

    What else was made?

    tunics (39:27) – Just what is a tunic? God made skin tunics for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). Jacob gave a multi-colored tunic to his favorite son Joseph (Gen. 37:3). Nadab and Abihu were carried out by their tunics after they died (Lev. 10:5). And the tunic of the priests was worn with the linen trousers (Lev. 16:4). So, a tunic must have been a body-covering garment that could be worn in public. The tunics mentioned here were made of fine linen.

    turban (39:28) – This was the turban/mitre (KJV) for the high priest to wear which was made out of fine linen. My Indian friends still wear turbans today.

    exquisite linen hats (39:28) – These hats/bonnets (KJV) were made of fine linen as well, and were worn by the priests.

    short pants (39:28) – These short pants/breeches (KJV) were made of fine linen for the priests to wear under their robes.

    sash (39:29) – A sash to cross the chest was made of blue, purple, and scarlet woven together.

    golden plate (39:30-31) – The golden plate was engraved with the words “Holiness to the Lord.” It was tied to the high priest’s turban by a blue cord.

    What were they for?

    The beautiful garments were for ministry to God.

    These, like the high priest’s clothing, were made beautiful so that the priests recognized that they were ministering in God’s presence.

    Exodus 28:43“They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die.”

    As you may recall, Nadab and Abihu were struck down by God when they tried to worship God in their own way (Lev. 10:1-3). What did God say about that?

    Leviticus 10:3“By those who come near Me I must be regarded as holy; and before all the people I must be glorified.”

    The holiness plate was for acceptance by the Lord.

    I have a ball cap that is embroidered with the words, “Jesus Saves.” It is a good reminder to me, whenever I wear it, that I am a representative of the Savior to those whom I meet. When the high priest wore the turban with the golden plate saying “Holiness to the Lord,” he would be reminded that he was coming into God’s holy presence and was the representative of holiness to those he ministered to and with. He could only be accepted by the Lord if he came in holiness.

    Exodus 28:38“So it shall be on Aaron’s forehead, that Aaron may bear the iniquity of the holy things which the children of Israel hallow in all their holy gifts; and it shall always be on his forehead, that they may be accepted before the Lord.”

    We ought to have the same mindset as we approach the Lord in prayer and worship. God is holy and we are not naturally so. Thankfully, we have been accepted by the Father through the perfect life and blood of Jesus which cleanses us from all sin. As you worship the Lord and pray, remember Who you are talking to and come to him in holiness.

    This concludes the description of the tabernacle, its furnishings, and the clothing used by the high priest and the other priests. We now move on to the presentation of these items to Moses.

  2. Completion of the work (Ex. 39:32-43)

    Solomon wrote that “the end of a thing is better than its beginning” (Eccl. 7:8). As the Israelites completed the work commanded by the Lord, they knew this to be true and probably breathed a sigh of relief when all was done. But they weren’t just trying to get it done. They were doing this for the Lord, as evidenced in the following verses.

    a. They did as they were told (32).

    After months of labor, the tabernacle and its furnishings were finished being made by Bezalel, Aholiab, and the other workers. How did the job turn out? There have been times when I have asked people to do work for me and I have been disappointed with the results. But in this case, the workers followed God’s instructions perfectly. They did exactly what He had told Moses.

    I think there is a lesson here. When we do God’s work, we need to do it His way. There are so many times when religious people try to do things their own way and it rarely turns out right. Remember how Saul disobeyed God’s command to destroy the Amalekites? He destroyed some but saved the king and the best of their livestock. He had an excuse but God was not impressed. Let us follow the example of these workers by doing God’s work in His way.

    b. They presented their work to Moses (33-41).

    In verses 33-41, we read about all the pieces and parts that the workers brought to show Moses. Each item is listed including the structure of the tabernacle, the furniture inside and out, the fencing, and the garments for the priests. They had made everything that God had commanded them to make.

    c. They were blessed for their obedience (42-43).

    Moses took some time to look over all the various parts of the tabernacle. He had been told by God how to make each item, but now he was seeing them in person. When he saw the items and recognized that the workers had followed God’s instructions just as he had received them, he was pleased. Moses blessed the people for the good job they had done.

    How sweet that moment must have been. I can just see Moses’ face beaming with pleasure and his voice saying, “Well done. May God bless you for the part you had in completing this tabernacle. Well done.” How appropriate for God’s leader to bless those who had done God’s will.

Conclusion

I recently heard that a sister church is working on a building project which includes upgrading their electrical service and installing air conditioning. I imagine that the congregation is looking forward to having the project completed. Until that time, they will probably pray, give, and work until it is finished. But when it is finished, they, like the Israelites in the wilderness, will be able to breathe a sigh of relief and thank God for what He has allowed them to accomplish.

That same sense of accomplishment is something that should mark our lives and ministries. Consider Paul’s mindset as he came to the close of his ministry.

2 Timothy 4:7-8“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Paul’s words should make us think about how we have lives our own lives. Can we say that we have fought the good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith? Or think about it a different way. Are you living your life the way that God has commanded? And when He returns, will He bless you for doing so or will you be ashamed? There is still time to turn around and work for the Lord. Let us be faithful day by day until the Lord returns.

Bibliography

Bush, George, Exodus Vol. 2, Minneapolis: James & Klock, 1852, reprint 1976, pp. 285-90.

“Ephod.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ephod. Accessed 21 Jan. 2023.

Hannah, John D., “Exodus” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, p. 161.

McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol. I, Genesis through Deuteronomy, Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1981, pp. 317-18.

“Span” in Internation Standard Bible Encyclopedia as viewed at https://www.internationalstandardbible.com/S/span.html on 1/21/2023

“What was the significance of the priestly garments?” as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=5666 on 1/21/2023.

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