Friday, July 24, 2009

I'll Be There with Bells On... or I'll Be Dead

One popular Christian mantra is that God judges people by what is on the inside; what is in their hearts. God would never judge a man by something as superficial a what he wears. Au contraire, mon frère.

In the book of Exodus, God goes into great detail about how He wants to be worshiped. Having described how to make the Tabernacle and the alters, it is time to discuss how the priests are to be dressed.

Moses's brother, Aaron, is going to be the high priest. Aaron's sons will also be priests.

I'll Be There with Bells On... or I'll Be Dead
There is a common axiom that “the clothes make the man”. Even God seems to agree with this sentiment, as He prescribed what His priests were to wear in exacting detail.

Taking a read through Exodus 28, there is little left to the imagination with regard to the uniform of a priest. To give the priests honor and dignity (Exodus 28:2), they were to have a breastpiece, an ephod, a robe, a woven tunic, a turban, and a sash (Exodus 28:4). These were to be made with blue, scarlet, and purple yarn, with the finest linen, and gilded with gold (Exodus 28:5). There are details about each piece of clothing, including how to adorn them with gold chains, gemstones, and other decor. If you do not read Exodus 28, let me sum it up that the priests would have been some of the best dressed men around.

There are some rather interesting details of the priestly wardrobe which demand closer attention, but before we get into that, we should take a moment to consider something else. A couple of the things that Jesus rebuked the Pharisees about were wearing fancy clothing and loving the honor that they received (Matthew 23:5-7, Luke 11:43). It would then seem that God set this up to be a snare for His priests!

The breastpiece Aaron is to wear is not just an item of fashion. Instead, it has a function as well; it is the “breastpiece for making decisions” (Exodus 28:15). You see, the Urim and the Thummim were to be placed in the breastpiece, positioned over the heart (Exodus 28:30). What were the Urim and the Thummin? Even scholars are not completely sure, but it is known that they were used for divination, kind of like an ancient Magic 8-Ball. According to one theory, a simple question would be asked to God, and then the high priest would have reached into a small pouch to withdraw one of two discs, one representing an affirmative answer which the other representing a negative answer.

Perhaps the most wicked truth about this type of divination is that it “works” whether or not God is involved. As opposed to actually hearing God voice His knowledge, you had to take it on faith that God had influenced the outcome. That is scary when you consider that scholars believe this divination may have been used to determine a man's guilt (and associated death by stoning) at times.

The next stop on our guide to Godly apparel is the ephod. By far, the most important aspect of the ephod are the bells adorning its hem. How important? God tells us in Exodus 28:30:
“Aaron must wear [the ephod] when he ministers. The sound of the bells will be heard when he enters the Holy Place before the LORD and when he comes out, so that he will not die.” NIV
It did not matter that Aaron was the high priest and was performing service to God. If he did not have bells on, he would be dead. God would claim a fashion victim faster than you can say “burnt sacrifice”.

Sometimes the offerings to God were not the best. That is why Aaron's special turban was so important (Exodus 28:36-38). With a special gold plate on the forehead of this turban, anything Aaron offered for the Israelites would be acceptable. No Jesus required.

The final piece of the uniform described would actually be the first one put on. In Exodus 28:42-43, God describes how to make linen underwear which sound a lot like what we call boxers, or perhaps boxer-briefs. These manly trunks were not just a good idea, they were lifesavers. We see that if a priest did not have on this undergarment, he would “incur guilt and die”. Besides keeping you alive, they probably helped to prevent chafing too. ;-)

So we see that God is a stickler for details. You can not assume that just because your heart is in the right place that you will be accepted by God. In fact, something as mundane as having the wrong underwear on can mean a death sentence. You had better hope you are worshiping God correctly, and hope that you are properly dressed!

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