Chapter 39

Persons who possessed the required skill made the beautiful garments in which Aaron was to serve YHWH as high priest in the “holy place” or tabernacle. The people of Israel voluntarily contributed the gold, the blue (or blueish purple) yarn or cloth, purple (or red purple) yarn or cloth, scarlet material, and the fine twisted linen that the skilled workers needed to accomplish their assigned tasks according to what YHWH had commanded Moses. (39:1 [36:8, LXX]; compare 28:1-3.)

From the contributed material, the skilled workers made an ephod consisting of two pieces and used gold threads, blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple) and scarlet yarn, and fine twisted linen. Initially, they hammered the gold into sheets and then cut them into threads that, along with yarn of different colors, were used to beautify the ephod. Josephus described the ephod as short in length and as having sleeves. (Antiquities, III, vii, 5) The ephod was tied around the body with a sash. This sash was made from the same materials as the ephod. Each one of the two gem stones (shóham) on the shoulder pieces of the ephod was engraved with the names of six “sons of Israel” or Jacob. Apparently on the basis of the engraved names, the two stones were “stones of remembrance” as the high priest came into the presence of YHWH, bearing the responsibility for all the tribes of Israel in matters of worship and in making known YHWH’s will and purpose to his people. (39:2-7 [36:9-14, LXX]; compare 28:6-12 and see the Notes section.)

The ephod was designed to accommodate a breastpiece that, like the ephod, was made with gold threads, blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple) and scarlet yarn, and fine twisted linen. This breastpiece consisted of material with a length of a cubit (18 inches; c. 44 centimeters) and a width of a span (9 inches; c. 22 cenitmeters). The material was folded over to form a square of equal sides. (39:8, 9 [36:15, 16, LXX]; compare 28:15, 16 and see the Notes section.)

On the breastpiece, four rows of each of the three gem stones in the respective row was engraved with the name of one of the “sons of Israel.” Likely the gem stones were positioned in the order they are named in the Exodus account (from right to left as would be the case when reading Hebrew). Targum Jonathan is specific in listing the name engraved on each stone according to the birth order that appears to be indicated in Genesis 29:32-30:34 and 35:16-18 (Reuben, Simeon, Levi [the first row]; Judah, Dan, Naphtali [the second row]; Gad, Asher, Issachar [the third row], and Zebulun, Joseph, and Benjamin [the fourth row]). Positive identification of all twelve precious or semiprecious stones is not possible. Some of the renderings of the Hebrew words and the Greek words in the Septuagint are conjectural. The following are renderings of the Hebrew and Greek words for the respective rows: ruby (possibly [a red stone]), topaz, and emerald [sardius (a red stone), topaz, emerald (LXX)]), first row; torquoise or garnet (possibly), sapphire, and diamond (possibly [a very hard stone]) [carbuncle, sapphire, jasper (LXX)], second row; amber (perhaps), agate, and amethyst (perhaps) [legurion, agate, and amethyst (LXX)], third row; beryl (possibly), onyx (possibly [shóham]), and jasper [chrysolite, beryl, and onyx (LXX)], fourth row. (39:10-14 [36:17-21, LXX]; compare 28:17-21 and see the Notes section.)

The breastpiece was attached with gold chains from rings at the top right and left corners of the breastpiece to two gem stones [shóham] positioned in gold settings at the top of the right and left shoulder pieces of the ephod. Two blue (or bluish purple) cords that were passed through two gold rings at the bottom corners of the breastpiece held it securely to the ephod. (39:15-21 [36:22-29, LXX]; compare 28:13, 14, 22-28 and see the Notes section.)

The blue (or blueish purple) “mantle of the ephod” likely had no sleeves. So that Aaron could pull it over his head, the mantle had an opening at the top with a binding of woven work that would prevent tearing. On the hem of this mantel were alternating gold bells and pomegranates made from blue (or bluish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and scarlet yarn. (39:22-26 [36:30-34, LXX]; compare 28:31-35.) Josephus described this part of the attire as reaching down to the feet, and he wrote that the fringes between the bells were “like pomegranates” in color. (Antiquities, III, vii, 4) Targum Jonathan indicates that there were 70 bells (71 in chapter 28).

The skilled workers made linen robes, headdresses, and drawers or shorts for Aaron and his sons. For the girdle or sash of each robe, they used fine twisted linen and blue (or blueish purple), purple (or reddish purple), and scarlet yarn. The linen turban of Aaron differed from the headdresses of his sons. On the front of his turban only and attached to it with a blue (or blueish purple) cord was the gold plate with the engraved inscription, “Holy to YHWH.” (39:27-31 36:35-40, LXX]; compare 28:36-42.) Josephus (Antiquities, III, vii, 3) described the turban as having been made of “thick swathes,” with the linen material being “doubled round many times and sewn together.” This headdress was covered with a “piece of fine linen” that extended from the upper part “down to the forehead,” hiding the “seams of the swathes.”

Everything for the tabernacle and the items and utensils associated with it was made according to “all that YHWH had commanded Moses.” Probably the skilled workers brought the parts of the tabernacle and everything else that they had made (the furnishings, the clasps, the frames for the tabernacle structure, the bars, the pillars, and the bases or sockets; the covering of tanned [or red] rams’skins, the covering of other skins [táchash], the curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy, the ark of the testimony, its carrying poles, and its cover or lid with the two cherubs; the table for the showbread, all its utensils, and the showbread; the lampstand, its seven lamps, all utensils for the lampstand, and the oil for the lamps; the gold altar of incense, the anointing oil, the incense, the curtain for the entrance of the tabernacle, the copper [or bronze] altar, its copper [or bronze] grating, carrying poles, and all its utensils; the basin for washing and its base; the hangings for the courtyard and its pillars and bases or sockets; the curtain for the entrance of the courtyard, the cords for the hangings, the pegs for securing the hangings to the ground; all the implements for the service at the tabernacle, the garments to be worn by those serving at the tabernacle; the holy garments for Aaron and the garments for his sons). Upon making his inspection of everything, Moses determined that everything had been accomplished according to what YHWH had commanded. Apparently he recognized that what had been made matched the pattern that had been shown to him on Mount Sinai. Moses then blessed the people for what they had done. (39:32-43 [39:11, 14-23, LXX]; 25:40; see the Notes section.)


The arrangement of the text in the Septuagint differs from that of the Masoretic Text.

There is archaeological evidence for a cubit of approximately 17.5 inches (44.5 centimeters), but 18 inches (c. 46 centimeters) for a cubit (as commonly found in many reference works) is used in Werner Bible Commentary because it reduces the number of fractions involved when calculating cubit measurements in inches, feet, centimeters, and meters.

The Hebrew word for the gem stone (shóham) on the two shoulder pieces and in the fourth row of the breastpiece has often been translated “onyx.” (Verses 6 and 13) Indicative of the uncertainty about this rendering is the inconsistent manner in which the Hebrew word is translated in the Septuagint. (berýllion [beryl], ónyx, prasinos [“light green” stone], sárdion [sardius], smáragdos [“bright green” stone, probably emerald], and soóm [possibly carnelian]).

Uncertainty exists about the specific animal skin the Hebrew word táchash (in verse 34) designates. Although Josephus included transliterated Hebrew words and explanatory comments in his writings (Antiquities, III, vii, 1-5), he did not transliterate táchash but appears to have accepted the Septuagint rendering (hyacinth or blue). Regarding the curtains or tent cloths that were joined to form the topmost covering of the tabernacle, he wrote: “Great was the surprise of those who viewed the curtains at a distance, for they seemed not at all to differ from the color of the sky.” (Antiquities, III, vi, 4)

The ark represented God’s presence, and so the reference to it as the “ark of the testimony” (verse 35) could indicate that it served as a testimony or witness that God was present in the midst of the Israelites. Another significance for the designation “ark of the testimony” could be that in it the “testimony” (the two tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments) was stored. The tablets served as a testimony respecting the commands the Israelites were obligated to observe, and this testimony would be a witness against them if they failed to live up to these commands.