Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the people of Israel, to serve me as priests—Aaron and Aaron's sons, Nadab and Abihu, Eleazar and Ithamar. And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. (Shemot / Exodus 28:1-2; ESV)
In the days of the Mishkan (English: Tabernacle) and the Temple, the cohanim (English: priests) were required to wear special clothing. In fact, according to this week’s Torah portion, to fail to do so had dire consequences. The quote I read says that these garments were “for glory and for beauty.” From what I can tell, for the most part, what the cohanim wore had no practical purpose in that it didn’t help them do their work, except perhaps provide comfort. Their clothes were designed to express whom and what they represented. For these items demonstrated to the community of Israel the God whom they served and the work they were set apart to do. The priestly garments therefore were a sort of uniform.
Uniforms indicate the role of the person wearing them. If someone confronts you saying, “You are under arrest”, but wears everyday clothing instead of the uniform of a law enforcement officer, you would be right to question their authority. Being in plain clothes doesn’t mean that they aren’t an officer. But in this case it would be necessary to produce other evidence of their authority, such as a badge. It is also possible for someone who is not actually a police officer to pose as one by wearing a uniform for some illicit reason. Clearly it’s not the uniform that makes a person a police officer; it’s that the uniform when used appropriately effectively expresses the role of the person wearing it.
We no longer live in the days of the Mishkan or Temple. The ancient Jewish priesthood can no longer function as it once did. The New Covenant Writings (the New Testament) helps us to understand how priesthood works in our day. Through the coming of the Messiah Yeshua (Jesus), all who put their trust in him are priests. The priestly work within a New Covenant context is not exactly the same as that under the older Sinai Covenant; it’s at a much higher level. For the priesthood under the Sinai Covenant demonstrated the separation between God and people, while we now have unhindered access to God though Yeshua.
If all true believers are priests, how are we to dress “for glory and for beauty?” Do we have a uniform to wear like the cohanim of old? In a sense, we do. But just as our priesthood is on a higher level than that of the older covenant, so are the garments we are to wear. These are the clothes of a godly lifestyle. Every day we need to put on a way of life that expresses who we are and the role we are called to play. Every day we need to purposely put on attitudes and actions “for glory and for beauty.” To fail to do so would be to misrepresent who we really are. Some think that the uniform of a believer appears automatically, that true faith results in a beautiful life without any active cooperation on our part. But as my wife, Robin, so effectively points out in her new blog (http://robingilman.wordpress.com/), this is not what the Bible teaches. On the contrary,
Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive (Colossians 3:12-13; ESV).
Of course, there are those who try to pose as priests by pretending to be God’s representatives through deceptive self-effort. These counterfeits will be exposed eventually. But in the meantime, let us not allow hypocrites and fakers to discourage us from doing what it takes to live the godly lives to which we are called. If you are a true priest of God, it’s time to get dressed.
For further reading, see my wife’s blog posts on this subject. Her intended audience is women, but so much of what she writes applies equally to men, especially “Part 2” below:
What to Wear?: http://robingilman.wordpress.com/2014/01/23/what-to-wear/
What to Wear, Part 2: The Layered Look: http://robingilman.wordpress.com/2014/01/29/what-to-wear-part-2/