Golden Bells and Pomegranates (Exodus 28) A Golden Sound
Ivan Steeds, Bristol
God's instructions to Moses as to the building of the tabernacle are recorded in detail. The specification includes the various costly materials to be used, the design and construction of the tent building and compound, and listed items of furniture and equipment. It is emphasized that all that would follow must be according to the pattern God gave to Moses during the time they spent together on Mount Sinai. Included in the instructions are full details of priestly garments to be worn by Aaron and his sons. Aaron, the high priest, was dressed in unmatched splendour, in garments 'for glory and beauty', Exod. 28. 2. The outstanding quality of his raiment is conveyed in the description of its various parts, and listing of the costly materials required in their making. There were also beautiful and ornate embellishments. In all this we can look beyond Aaron, and see in these distinctive garments the beauties and glories of our Great High Priest. With spiritual discernment we can look at every detail of their composition, and acknowledge that all possess deep and meaningful significance; it is a significance that relates to past, present, and future. A worthy example of all this is to be seen in the golden bells attached to the robe of the ephod worn by Aaron, Exod. 28. 31-35; 39. 22-26. Their uniqueness in the scriptural record of things 'golden' is that not only were they to be seen, (and therefore to be appreciated for their intrinsic worth, design and ornamental value,) but they could also be heard. When Aaron set about his task of ministering in the HOLY PLACE, he was surrounded by objects of gold that appealed to the eye. However, as he moved around in the course of his holy occupation, another of his senses was affected, for a 'golden' sound registered upon the ear; it came from the bells attached to the skirts of his garment.
The substance used in manufacturing these bells, gold, represents the most precious of all the metals that are found in scripture. Therefore gold can be regarded as fittingly symbolic of deity in that it represents that which is best and highest, and of supreme worth. Gold demonstrates the characteristics of deity, in particular divine righteousness, a characteristic that extends to men by reason of God's matchless grace.
The setting for the bells was the hem of the garment worn by the high priest, and designated 'the robe of the ephod', Exod. 28. 31. It was one of the 'garments for glory and beauty' that transformed Aaron to a resplendence that anticipated the glories and beauties of Christ. The robe of the ephod was all of blue, and was worn under the beautiful and elaborate 'ephod', so that only parts of the robe were visible. A full view of the lower section of the robe was available, and around the hem of the robe were attached 'pomegranates of blue, and of purple, and of scarlet. . . and bells of gold between them, round about', Exod. 28. 33. Instruction is given as to how these adornments were to be arranged, 'A golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate upon the hem of the robe round about it', v. 34.
The sound coming from these golden bells would have been distinctive, even unique. Gold is not the usual metal used in the production of musical instruments, possessing neither the reverberant quality or stridency of 'sounding brass or tinkling cymbal', 1 Cor. 13. 1. Such sounds as emanated from these bells, small of construction, and made of a softer metal, would have been gentle and subtle. No corresponding sound would have been heard in the world outside, for the diverse sounds of the world clamour for the attention of men, using every conceivable form to achieve that end. The world is a place of loud and overbearing noise, or sometimes seductive and distracting noise. What we hear reflects the conflicts and passions of men, and is a veritable cacophony of sound. But the sound that was heard in that holy place, the sound of the golden bells, complemented the heavenly blue of the garment of which the bells formed part. It was a heavenly sound!
Without undue speculation, we may assume that the sound of the bells was heard by three parties that were interested in what was happening: God, the high priest, and those left outside who awaited the high priest's return.
The primary significance of the golden bells is stated: 'his sound shall be heard when he goeth in unto the holy place before the Lord, and when he cometh out, THAT HE DIE NOT', Exod. 28. 35. The solemn implication of this instruction, with other instructions, is that, altogether, God is to be obeyed in His requirements. Often, presumptive man considers the details of scripture to be 'trivia', choosing only to respect and follow 'main issues'. And here we have a detail that many would consider to be of lesser importance, having regard to other stipulated requirements that affect man's approach to God. It has to be a matter of small account, and deemed to be an 'optional extra' to other more important things. Not so! The penalty for omission of such detail was the ultimate sanction of death! The bells must register their sound as man moved into God's presence -otherwise man, though he be the high priest himself, would be struck down at the hand of Almighty God. With good reason, we can regard the golden bells as a solemn requirement by God.
Let us consider the feelings of the high priest as he discharged his appointed tasks before God. Every service performed would, of necessity, create some sort of sound to break the silence of that awesome place. But in the sound of the golden bells there was for Aaron a reassuring quality. In his progress and performance before God, every movement he made produced such a pleasing result, with dual benefits. Not only was that sacred place filled with sweet sound, but also that sound prevented any other sounds from registering to cause distraction. Remembering God's instruction, the sound of the bells would have been a soothing reminder to Aaron that all was well.
But what of those outside? Their thoughts and feelings would surely have been with the man who, as their high priest, had entered the building and so was hidden from their view. As they listened attentively, the sound of the golden bells coming to them was proof that the high priest was alive in the presence of God, and would shortly return to them. We can regard the sounding bells as a source of reassurance to those outside.
Truth concerning the tabernacle and its priesthood readily lends itself to application for God's people today. The section under consideration would point, firstly, to our Lord Himself, our 'Great High Priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God', Heb. 4. 14. As He faithfully and mercifully performs His work for His people the sound of the bells of gold can be heard. It is a sound that brings pleasure to God, for it signifies the active presence of One who is alive, and lives after the power of an endless life with no possibility of death intervening, Heb. 7. 14; Rev. 1. 18. This sound of heaven can plainly be heard on earth by those who have ears to hear. What comfort and reassurance this provides, for not only does it indicate that our Great High Priest is alive, but also that He is active on our behalf.
Other suggestions occur that apply to ourselves, and are relevant to our manner of life. The setting of those bells is to be noted with special attention. Arranged with careful precision around the skirts of the high priest's garment they would point to the earthly walk of our beloved Lord; there we see fruitfulness and testimony in balanced perfection, 'a pomegranate and a bell, a pomegranate and a bell'. O that our lives might demonstrate these blest virtues, abundant fruitfulness for God, and priceless testimony in the Name of our God, as we seek to follow His steps, 1 Pet. 2. 21. It is to be remembered that our walk is not only to be appreciated by God, but that it is also evident to men, as Enoch demonstrated, who 'walked with God', and who 'had this testimony, that he pleased God', Gen. 5. 24; Heb. 11. 5.
God's original instruction as to Aaron's anointing is stated in succinct terms, 'Then shalt thou take the anointing oil, and pour it upon his head and anoint him', Exod. 29. 7. However, Psalm 133 informs us as to what developed from this. Such was the expansiveness of this anointing, as the anointing oil was poured upon the head of the high priest, that it 'ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard', and 'went down to the skirts of his garments'. This is most suggestive, for it reminds us of how beneficent and far-reaching are the effects of the Holy Spirit's outpouring in relation to our fruitfulness and testimony!
Finally, in our approach to God let us bear in mind the thoughtful, careful movements of a priestly person who was allowed by God to minister before Him, and who therefore knew the heights of privilege. The garments he wore were token to the fact that he was fitted for the task, for they were beautiful in 'sight' and also in 'sound'. The imagery is as applicable to the would-be worshipper of today as it was originally to the high priest in an earthly situation. The expressions of my lips must be supported by the fruitfulness of my life towards God, as I move into His presence. Then will my praise and thanksgiving, the fruit of my lips, register as 'golden sound', Heb. 13. 15.