Aaron was the first who was solemnly set apart to this office
(Ex. 29:7; 30:23; Lev. 8:12). He wore a peculiar dress, which on
his death passed to his successor in office (Ex. 29:29, 30).
Besides those garments which he wore in common with all priests,
there were four that were peculiar to himself as high priest:
(1.) The "robe" of the ephod, all of blue, of "woven work,"
worn immediately under the ephod. It was without seam or
sleeves. The hem or skirt was ornamented with pomegranates and
golden bells, seventy-two of each in alternate order. The
sounding of the bells intimated to the people in the outer court
the time when the high priest entered into the holy place to
burn incense before the Lord (Ex. 28).
(2.) The "ephod" consisted of two parts, one of which covered
the back and the other the breast, which were united by the
"curious girdle." It was made of fine twined linen, and
ornamented with gold and purple. Each of the shoulder-straps was
adorned with a precious stone, on which the names of the twelve
tribes were engraved. This was the high priest's distinctive
vestment (1 Sam. 2:28; 14:3; 21:9; 23:6, 9; 30:7).
(3.) The "breastplate of judgment" (Ex. 28:6-12, 25-28;
39:2-7) of "cunning work." It was a piece of cloth doubled, of
one span square. It bore twelve precious stones, set in four
rows of three in a row, which constituted the Urim and Thummim
(q.v.). These stones had the names of the twelve tribes engraved
on them. When the high priest, clothed with the ephod and the
breastplate, inquired of the Lord, answers were given in some
mysterious way by the Urim and Thummim (1 Sam. 14:3, 18, 19;
23:2, 4, 9, 11,12; 28:6; 2 Sam. 5:23).
(4.) The "mitre," or upper turban, a twisted band of eight
yards of fine linen coiled into a cap, with a gold plate in
front, engraved with "Holiness to the Lord," fastened to it by a
ribbon of blue.
To the high priest alone it was permitted to enter the holy of
holies, which he did only once a year, on the great Day of
Atonement, for "the way into the holiest of all was not yet made
manifest" (Heb. 9; 10). Wearing his gorgeous priestly vestments,
he entered the temple before all the people, and then, laying
them aside and assuming only his linen garments in secret, he
entered the holy of holies alone, and made expiation, sprinkling
the blood of the sin offering on the mercy seat, and offering up
incense. Then resuming his splendid robes, he reappeared before
the people (Lev. 16). Thus the wearing of these robes came to be
identified with the Day of Atonement.
The office, dress, and ministration of the high priest were
typical of the priesthood of our Lord (Heb. 4:14; 7:25; 9:12,
It is supposed that there were in all eighty-three high
priests, beginning with Aaron (B.C. 1657) and ending with
Phannias (A.D. 70). At its first institution the office of high
priest was held for life (but compare 1 Kings 2:27), and was
hereditary in the family of Aaron (Num. 3:10). The office
continued in the line of Eleazar, Aaron's eldest son, for two
hundred and ninety-six years, when it passed to Eli, the first
of the line of Ithamar, who was the fourth son of Aaron. In this
line it continued to Abiathar, whom Solomon deposed, and
appointed Zadok, of the family of Eleazar, in his stead (1 Kings
2:35), in which it remained till the time of the Captivity.
After the Return, Joshua, the son of Josedek, of the family of
Eleazar, was appointed to this office. After him the succession
was changed from time to time under priestly or political