Robe Up: Four Lessons from Priestly Garments

Written by: Blythe Moseman 

Ah, Leviticus. Everyone’s favorite book. Although the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament no longer apply to believers, there are certainly lessons we can learn from them. In the Old Testament, only the Levites, the chosen consecrated tribe of Israelites, were allowed to minister before God in the tabernacle and then in the temple. They were careful to follow God’s ordinances for cleansing and clothing. When Jesus tore the temple curtain by his death on the cross, he initiated a new covenant, and thus a new, anointed priesthood. Peter writes, “But you are 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). No longer do Christians need another person to mediate between them and the Most Holy God, since Jesus is our mediator, interceding for us at the Father’s throne.  

Just as we are “known as His disciples by our love for one another,” the priests were known by their outer accoutrements (John 13:35). An accoutrement is an accessory or particular piece of clothing. The Levitical priests were known by their accoutrements: you could tell a priest was coming from a mile away. God told Moses to “make sacred garments for your brother Aaron, to give him dignity and honor” (Exodus 28:2). They wore special blue and purple robes with extravagant weaves and bells (and yarn pomegranates? We’ll talk about that later, though), turbans, headpieces, and tunics. Each part of the priestly adornment corresponds to a lesson we need to learn to be good priests of God, priests who “love the Lord with all their Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength” (Mark 12:30). 

Lesson 1: The Breastpiece of Decision (Heart) 

Moses writes, “Whenever Aaron enters the Holy Place, he will bear the names of the sons of Israel over his heart on the breastpiece of decision as a continuing memorial before the Lord… Thus Aaron will always bear the means of making decisions for the Israelites over his heart before the Lord” (Exodus 28:29-30). This piece of wood was hung over the priests’ necks and placed over their hearts. It had the names of the tribes of Israel beautifully engraved on it, and it served as a constant reminder of why the Levites served in the temple–to bring their family to God every day.  

The heart of a Christian should be always to bring their family to God–whether it is their biological family or their chosen family. Relationships often drive our decisions, whether we admit it or not. We need to have relationships that protect our heart like a breastpiece–not relationships that drive a wedge in our hearts or that separate us from God. Right relationships will only happen if love and forgiveness abound. Bitterness will rot the wood of the breastpiece and will drive you to make decisions that are not healthy. Keep the breastpiece, your relationships, holy by bringing your family to God every day in prayer and by loving and forgiving and seeking forgiveness. Bring your family to God. 

Lesson 2: The Tunic of Linen (Soul) 

The second accoutrement of the priests was their tunic. Moses writes, “Weave the tunic of fine linen and make the turban of fine linen” (Exodus 28:39). A tunic was a piece of clothing that would wrap around a person to keep the other robes from chafing or causing sweat. It basically was undergarments. Ezekiel explains the purpose of the tunic: “When the priests enter the gates of the inner court, they are to wear… linen tunics around their waists. They must not wear anything that makes them perspire” (44:17-18). The holiness of the temple demanded that the priests be perfectly clean, even down to their most hidden parts. The stench of sweat did not produce the holiness God required. Linen, which was a looser weave of fabric, provided room to breathe in the parts people didn’t see. 

Likewise, we need to make sure the part of us that others can’t see, namely our soul, has room to breathe. Very seldom in this busy day and age do we take time to rest, to breathe, and to recharge. Western Christians don’t usually take a Sabbath. We’re too busy moving on to the next thing. Gotta get that homework done. Gotta work. Gotta see friends. Gotta, gotta, gotta. You know what you gotta do? Rest. The way God commanded. The way God designed. Isaiah says, “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy one of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation; in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it’” (30:15). Um, ouch? God designed us to need more rest than just sleeping at night. He set aside a whole day, holy unto Him, for his children to rest and worship and breathe from the chafing of life. When we don’t let our soul breathe, we start to stink. Our relationships lose their luster, our time with God suffers, and our soul starts to suffocate. Give time for your soul to breathe. Put on a linen tunic. Take a Sabbath.  

Lesson 3: The Turban and the Seal (Mind) 

Another lesson we learn is from the turban and the seal, or the priests’ headdress. Moses says, “Make a plate of pure gold and engrave on it as a seal: HOLY TO THE LORD. Fasten a blue cord to attach it to the turban; it is to be on the front of the turban” (Exodus 28:36-37). A seal protects and locks away that which it’s sealing, and this seal is no different. This turban and seal was always up in front of the priests’ foreheads. It covered their mind–reminding them of the holiness of God and their role in the temple. 

We need to set holiness over our minds. It needs to be our filter and our protection. What are we allowing to come into our minds in what we watch, what we listen to, what we say, and what we think? But how often do we use a holy filter… and then wonder why we’re not growing in Christ? Galatians speaks about the carnal Christian–the Christian who wants to pursue holiness but also really still enjoys living the fleshly life. Galatians 5:17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” When we don’t have a holy filter over our minds, our flesh and the Holy Spirit have to wage war against each other. Instead of sealing ourselves with holiness, we seal ourselves with the destruction we allow to infiltrate our minds. What are you going to allow into your mind? Seal holiness over your mind. 

Lesson 4: The Robe with Bells (Strength) 

Our last lesson comes from the glorious outer robe the priests would wear. Moses writes, “Make the robe of the ephod entirely out of blue cloth… Make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. Aaron must wear it when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the Lord” (Exodus 28:33-35). The pomegranates were ball-shaped decorations. Not actual pomegranates. The cool part about this is the bells, though. The sound of jingling would always be a constant reminder for the priest that they had an important job… but also, it sparked joy, just as the sound of bells does in our day and age.  

The sound of bells is symbolic of the radiant joy Christians are supposed to have–serving the Lord with gladness and singing. It’s all about your attitude. If you can’t serve in the temple with joy, why serve at all? We are temples now, of course, and so our attitude should be marked with the glad sound of rejoicing before the Lord. Nehemiah says, “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (8:10). Joy restores and refreshes souls, and it provides strength. A lot of Christians seemed to be marked with their gloomy faces and complaining mouths. Let’s change it up. Let’s be known by our joy–joy like bells, heralding to everyone around that we are glad to serve our Lord. 

Loving the Lord with all our Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength means pursuing holiness in every area of our lives. These symbolic garments serve as an important lesson for us. No detail is to be unnoticed, and no area of our life is too small to be ignored. Cultivate the holiness of our anointing as priests of the Most High God with righteous relationships, rest, purity, and joy.