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His functions were two-fold, political and sacerdotal, in which latter character he is represented in the engraving.
The sacerdotal duties of the high-priest were such as required his presence daily at the sanctuary. He alone could perform the most solemn acts of service; whence he was, in some sort, the mediator between God and the people. It was his to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation: it was his, also, to take the counsel of God on occasions of importance or difficulty, by Urim and Thummim.
On the great day of atonement, the high-priest wore a dress entirely of white linen; but his official dress, in which he appears in the engraving, consisted of the following articles:—
1. The coat. This was an inner robe with sleeves to the wrist. 2. The drawers. These appear to have reached from above the waist to the knee. They had no opening, either before or behind, and were bound round the body by a sash. 3. The girdle of the ephod. This seems to have been used for the purpose of confining the ephod round the body of the high-priest. 4. The robe. This was a long linen gown of light blue, reaching to the middle of the leg, or perhaps to the ancle. It was made all in one piece, and was adorned by a fringe of pomegranates and bells. 5. The ephod. This was an embroidered frock, worn over the coat and robe. 6. The breastplate. The breastplate was a piece of rich cloth, set with the following twelve precious stones:—a sardius, or cornelian; a topaz, or modern chrysolite; a carbuncle, the noble garnet of Theophrastus; an emerald; a sapphire; a diamond; a ligure, or hyacinth; an agate; an amethyst; a beryl, or aqua marine; an onyx; and a jasper. 7. The mitre. This seems to have been a turban of fine cotton, ornamented on the front with a plate of pure gold, on which was inscribed, " Holiness to the Lord." 8. The girdle of needlework. This was a sash of fine twined linen, embroidered with blue, purple, and scarlet, and which went round the body over the coat.*
The usual representations of the high-priest offering incense on the golden altar are derived from the popish mass. The altar, the censer, and the priestly vestments are, indeed, decidedly popish. Their prototypes are common in all the Komish places of worship, and may be traced in the illuminations of the papal Fathers. Such representations, especially in the case of educational books, should be carefully avoided, as they tend to invest the characters of Scripture with an air of popery. In designing for Scripture histories, the artist should seek his materials in the treasure-houses of antiquity, and in the unchanging usages and localities of oriental nations. The "mass," and the " great masters," who were its devotees, will only help him to perpetuate their glowing falsehoods, and to prepare the way for greater.
* For a more detailed account of the dress of the high-priest, the reader is referred to " Eastern Arts and Antiquities," published by the Religious Tract Society.
In designing the annexed engraving, the artist had three things especially to consider: 1. The vestments of the high-priest; 2. the form of the censer; and, 3. the style of the altar.
For the vestments the artist has taken the minute description of Scripture, noticing the corresponding dresses and embellishments in the Egyptian costumes, with which, doubtless, they in the main agreed.
The censer has been designed from a comparison of Egyptian and Roman examples, both of which were long-handled shovel-like spoons, with various degrees of decoration. In using them, the priest took the handle "in his hand," and extending the bowl, or shovel end, placed it over the flame of the altar, till the incense it contained ignited, and then, slowly pouring it on the fire, "burnt it before the Lord." * This is a widely different proceeding to the fumigation of a pontiff, or " an altar," by the air-swung scent-pots of the popish choristers; and, if properly understood, it throws much light on many expressions of Scripture, which are otherwise difficult.
The altar has been designed chiefly from what we believe to be a representation of it on the arch of Titus, assisted by the description given by the sacred penman, which, being so minute, can scarcely be mistaken. It was very small, being little more than half a yard square; but it was higher in proportion than the other altars, being twice as high as it was broad. It had " horns," with an ornamental rim, or " crown," and it also had rings with staves, by which it was carried about from place to place. Concerning the word rendered "top," there are different opinions. The Septuagint and Vulgate make it " a grate," while others suppose it was a vessel containing fire upon the altar. Perhaps those are correct who conclude, that, as the Hebrew word from whence it is derived means, in other places, the flat roof of a house, so by "the top" is meant merely the upper surface of the altar itself. This reading, in truth, agrees best with the context, the intention of which is to describe the whole altar as overlaid with gold. As stated in the text, the altar was placed before " the vail;" that is, the vail separating the most holy from the holy place. Every morning and evening the high-priest filled his censer with fire from the brazen altar, and, introducing the incense, went into the holy place, and set the censer upon the altar.
* It is a curious fact, that the sculptures recently discovered in Yutacan, Central America, display the same form of censer.
This narrative is well calculated to point the Christian reader to the great High-Priest of his profession, Jesus Christ, of whom the Jewish high-priest was a type. He is the Mediator of a better covenant, established upon better promises. The Christian looks upon him as such, and the language of his heart to his fellow pilgrims on earth is that of the apostle: "Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the vail, that is to say, his flesh; and having an High Priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; for he is faithful that promised." Heb. x. 19—23.
The following is a copy from the sculptures at Karnac of an Egyptian king, as high-priest, offering incense in a censer.