Tetzaveh – “You Shall Command”

This week’s parasha is entitled Tetzaveh, which means, “you shall command.”  It covers Exodus 27:20 – 30:10.  In last week’s parasha, we learned about the free will donations of the people to supply the materials required for building the mishkan, or tabernacle, the implements that were used in worship, as well as the layout of the whole structure.

Continuing with this theme of readiness for worshipping the Living God, this week’s parasha deals mainly with the vestments, or garments required for the priests and their consecration ceremony.

The priests who served at the tabernacle, and later at the Temple, were required to be descendants of Aaron, and the High Priest was required to be selected from this line.

Chapter 28 lists the garments worn by the priests.  All priests, including the High Priest, wore a tunic, a sash and linen breeches. The rest of the clothing for the priests included a cap as a head covering.  Additionally, the High Priest wore the following:  An ephod, an embroidered garment like a type of apron with shoulder-straps, made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet.  It was fastened at the shoulders with two onyx stones, one at each shoulder, each stone containing the names of six of the tribes of Israel.  The High Priest was also to wear a robe of blue, with alternating gold bells and pomegranates around the hem of the robe.  The High Priest was also to wear a breastplate, with twelve beautiful stones, each one different from the next.  These were arranged in 4 rows of 3 stones per row.  Each stone represented one of the tribes of Israel.  On the turban that the High Priest wore was a plate of pure gold, engraved with “Holy to the Lord.”  This inscription plate was to be worn across the High Priest’s forehead.

Several comments regarding the garments of the High Priest.  The ephod was attached at the shoulders with two onyx stones, each engraved with 6 of the names of the tribes of Israel.  Shoulders represent work.  The High Priest was to do the work of the Lord, in ministering to the tribes represented on his shoulders.  He was, symbolically, to carry the people in front of the Lord.  He was to be their spiritual leader.  In addition, the onyx stones were engraved in such a manner that each tribe could be read by the Lord as He looked down from the heavenly heights.

The breastplate of the High Priest contained 12 stones, representing each of the tribes of Israel.  The High Priest was not just to labor in ministering to the Israeli’s but they were to be close to his heart.  He was to have a special heart for his people; he was to love them.  He was to serve them in front of the Lord.  The High Priest is an example of the servant leader.

It is interesting to note the colors of the High Priest’s vestments.  There was gold, scarlet, blue, purple, pomegranate, with the beauty of all the stones of the breastplate, in other words quite colorful.  This is a far cry from the traditional black color of many ministerial garments today.

On his forehead, the High Priest had the gold engraving of, “Holy to the Lord.”  The forehead, representing the mind, meant that Holy to the Lord should always be first, and foremost, on the mind of the High Priest.

Lastly, you will notice that no mention is made regarding shoes for either the High Priest or the other priests.  As many scholars suggest, it looks like the priests were to serve barefoot when they were in the tabernacle itself, in a spirit of humbling themselves as servants before the Lord.

In Chapter 28, we also read about two very special items that the High Priest carried in his breastplate.  These were the Urim and Thummim, two special devices used for discerning the will of God.  We don’t know exactly what these devices were made of; many scholars speculate that they were polished stones, or possibly diamonds, but they translate as “Lightings and Perfections.”  The High Priest would ask God a question, and the way the stones either came out of the breastplate, or were displayed upon the ground, the answer of either “yes” or “no” would be given by the Lord.  These special items were specifically give by the Lord, to be used, only by the High Priest, to determine a yes or no answer from God, Himself.

Chapter 29 discusses the consecration of the priests.  Aaron and his sons were first to wash and then dress.  After that, at the tent of meeting of the Lord, a bull was to be brought, and after Aaron and his sons laid their hands upon bull, laying their sins upon the bull, it was to be sacrificed as a sin offering.  Next, a ram was to be sacrificed and offered as a burnt offering, meaning that the animal was to be consumed by fire and none of it was to be eaten.  After this, another ram was sacrificed, but from this, the blood of that ram was to be applied to the right earlobe, the right thumb and right large toe of Aaron and his sons.  Some of the blood from this ram was to be sprinkled on Aaron and his sons’ garments so that these garments would also be consecrated.

The blood on the earlobe meant that Aaron and his sons were to listen and understand the word and direction of the Lord.  The blood on the right thumb signified that their hands were to be about the work of the Lord.  And the blood on the right toe indicated that their feet needed to pursue the path given by the lord.

Unleavened bread was also to be offered and this was waved before the Lord as a wave offering and then offered up in smoke on the altar as a soothing aroma to the Lord.  Unleavened bread signified lack of sin, for leaven is usually used as a symbol for sin in the Old Testament.

From this second ram and from the unleavened bread that was set before the Lord would come the portion that Aaron and his sons and the priests that came after were to eat.  They were to eat this at the doorway to the tent of meeting.

This ceremony was to be repeated every day for 7 days for the ordination of the descendants of Aaron as priests to serve before the Lord.

Towards the end of this chapter, we are told that before the daily sacrifices can begin, a lamb was to be sacrificed and offered on the altar in the morning and another lamb at twilight.  These two thank offerings to the Lord were the book ends of all the other sacrifices that occurred during the day.  No sacrifice could take place after the offering of the lamb at twilight and no sacrifice could occur before the offering of the lamb in the morning.

Some closing comments:

  1. Those in ministry today would do well to think of themselves in terms of some of the visual descriptions of the High Priest in Chapter 28:  Like the onyx stones engraved with the names of the tribes, those in ministry need to bear their congregations on their shoulders before the Lord, leading them in worship, in the Word and in life, but as with the High Priest’s breastplate, also keeping them close to their hearts, in love, as servant leaders of the Lord.  You see, even if the High Priest was dressed in all his priestly glory, it was not the clothes that made the man, but the spirit with which he served God and his people.
  2.  Through today’s parasha, we again see the theme of mediator between the people and God.  The priests were responsible for serving at the tabernacle.  Only they could approach the Lord in this holy place and only the High Priest could enter the Holy of Holies of the tabernacle and then only one day of year with the appropriate offerings.  Anyone else who approached would surely die.  For those today in rabbinical Judaism who still miss this need for a mediator between man and God, just as Messiah Yeshua is our Great Mediator today, they would do well to study the role of the priests as presented in the Torah.
  3.  How do we approach our worship service?  Do we roll out of bed with barely enough time to throw on some clothes and get to services just as they start, or perhaps 15 to 20 minutes in?  These chapters remind us that preparing to worship our great and awesome God and getting into the right state of mind are important.  Remember the consecration of the High Priest was so important that it was repeated for 7 days.
  4. And finally, these chapters should remind us of our Great High Priest, Messiah Yeshua, who even now, sits at the right hand of God making supplications and intercessions for us.  As we read in Hebrews, Chapter 9:11 – 15:  But when Christ appeared as a High Priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.  For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works .  And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of eternal inheritance.