“And for Aaron’s sons thou shalt make coats, and thou shalt make for them girdles, and bonnets shalt thou make for them, for glory and for beauty. And thou shalt put them upon Aaron thy brother, and his sons with him; and shalt anoint them, and consecrate them, and sanctify them, that they may minister unto me in the priest’s office. And thou shalt make them linen breeches to cover their nakedness; from the loins even unto the thighs they shall reach: And they shall be upon Aaron, and upon his sons, when they come in unto the tabernacle of the congregation, or when they come near unto the altar to minister in the holy place; that they bear not iniquity, and die: it shall be a statute for ever unto him and his seed after him” (Ex. 28:40-43).
Why did God put this modesty safeguard right here at the close of a blockbuster chapter on consecration? I do not know all of the reasons, but I believe it says something huge about how God views the responsibility of humans to cover their nakedness. Here, nakedness represented iniquity. When the priests ministered, they had to be covered so that they would not bear iniquity and die. Whatever the reasons were, they were accompanied by some pretty serious implications. Does this command have a figurative implication? Does it mean that there was a sense in which the covering of the priest’s body was to hide the carnality of the priest, who was, after all, a mere man? Perhaps God was to see the “Holiness to the Lord” engraving and not to see the carnal or fleshly man.
Perhaps. But I believe this admonition had more to do with the fact that God did not want others to see the nakedness of his priests. I believe Exodus 20:26 bears this out because, in this passage, God required a certain covering of all of his people and the reason stated was “that thy nakedness be not discovered.” Since God does not “discover” anything (all is naked before his eyes [Hebrews 4:13]), I believe this command was about modesty in front of other people.
At the very least, we can discern from this passage that God has always believed that nakedness was something that should embarrass his people. I’m still not sure why we have such a problem figuring this out today. So many times today, our facebook pictures of vacation at the beach or honeymoon in the tropics reflects that we have no shame whatsoever about our nakedness before others. We rather flaunt it. While I do not believe these verses give us a hard, fast rule for how much of our bodies must be covered today to be modest, I believe they say a lot about the sobriety with which we must be characterized as we strive to keep what is the New Testament injunction about modesty and chastity (I Timothy 2:9,10; Titus 2:3-5).
One final question. Considering the shoulder covering (ephod), the breastplate, the forehead plate, the turban, the crown, the robe with its bells and decorated hem, the coat, and the girdle that Aaron was already to be wearing, do you think that the “nakedness” that God wanted covered in verse 43 was just about not being totally nude? “Well,” you say, “Of course not. The breeches were in addition to lots of other coverings. Total nudity was not really akin to what God was addressing here.”
Then why, pray tell, do we today believe that we are not naked in the eyes of God when we have on the very next thing to nothing at the beach (or at the cheer competition, the volleyball tourney, or wherever we are showing what amounts to our underwear)?…And why are we not embarrassed?