‘Clothes maketh the man.’ What kind of high priest do Aaron’s clothes make him?
Most obviously, the priest’s garments are made from the same materials as the tabernacle in which he ministers. Aaron’s colour-coordination reminds onlookers that he’s suited to enter into God’s presence. The ‘graded holiness’ of the tabernacle complex requires increasing levels of holiness as one draws nearer to God at the centre, and Aaron is overtly labelled as ‘holy to the Lord’ (28:36)!
Aaron enters God’s presence not only for his own privilege. He represents the rest of the Israelites before God. The names of the twelve tribes are physically inscribed on his uniform – twice – and are literally carried before God (28:9–12, 15–21). We also catch a glimpse of what’s elaborated elsewhere: the high priest speaks to the people on behalf of God. Here his uniform includes the Urim and Thummim: dice or discs for discerning God’s decisions (28:29–30).
There are two huge lessons to learn from the priest’s work. Each part of the tabernacle trains God’s people to understand Jesus. As the letter to the Hebrews labours, Jesus is the most effective high priest (as well as the perfect sacrifice). His ultimate holiness gives him unfettered access to God’s presence. He intercedes on our behalf, never impeded by his own sin or death (Hebrews 7:23–28). And, of course, he’s the perfect spokesman to humanity on God’s behalf (e.g. Hebrews 1:1–4).
A second lesson is equally awe-inspiring. God gives a priesthood to the Israelites so that they know how to live in the world. Recall the core commission of Exodus 19:4–6. The Israelites are invited to be ‘a kingdom of priests and a holy nation’. They introduce the rest of the world to God, an introduction working in both directions. And we Christians inherit their job description: we too are commissioned to be ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light’ (1 Peter 2:9).