The details of the construction of the tabernacle and the
worship connected with it are symbolic of spiritual truths and
realities which are unfolded in Christianity. Yet, the symbolism
of the bells and pomegranates attached to the robe of the High
Priest seems to have been by-passed by commentators, probably
because they considered them to be of little importance.
However, a little digging will reward us with some precious
nuggets of truth and cause us to ponder over the exquisitely
detailed plan of God's redemption and his marvelous portrayal
of it in earthly symbols. One intriguing question concerning the
bell and pomegranate is: "Why did God associate in
such a fashion two things which seem so dissimilar in nature?"
The word translated bell in these passages (Ex. 28:31-35, 39:22-26) is used nowhere else in the O.T., - a fact which handicaps us in our search for its symbolic meaning. We must therefore turn to the derivation of the word in order to ascertain its meaning as a symbol. It is the Hebrew word paamon, and comes from the verb paam, to strike, to tread. Paamon signifies, therefore, footsteps, goings, order, rank. It is also used in an adverbial sense to denote now.
The word bell, then, to those acquainted with Hebrew,
suggested the idea of a person's walk, or his goings. Since the
word also denoted regularity, order, rank, arrangement, etc.; it
would seem to suggest an orderly walk. Furthermore, since the
word also has the temporal sense of now, the suggestion
appears to be that the time to take heed to one's walk is now;
or to put it another way, that we should take one step at a time.
The past cannot be retraced, the future still lies ahead, but we
can now pay heed to the step we are taking.
If it seems improbable that bells could have any connection with one's walk, let it be remembered that these bells were so placed on the robe of the High Priest that they jingled when he walked. The truth is that a person's walk speaks louder than his words as to what he believes. As Emerson said, "Your actions speak so loudly that I cannot hear what you are saying." It is for this reason that so-called testimony meetings are so worthless. Oral testimony is very important, but it should be delivered to the lost, not to the saints, and should be reinforced by the testimony of a Christian walk. Actually, every Christian is in a testimony meeting every waking hour of his life. His walk or way of life is testifying to the world his faith in Christ far more eloquently than mere words could ever do. The testimony of the golden bells of a Christ-centered walk will do more to call sinners to the services of the church than the finest bell ever cast in the foundries of this world.
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Unlike the bell, the pomegranate is mentioned a number
of times in the O.T., so that its symbolic meaning is fairly clear.
When the spies returned from their search of the land of
Canaan, as recorded in Numbers 13:23, they brought of the fruit
of the land, consisting of grapes, pomegranates and figs.
Obviously, then, the pomegranate is symbolic of fruitfulness -
especially potential fruitfulness, since the pomegranate's pulp
consists entirely of a great number of seeds, so that one
pomegranate has the capacity for reproducing itself a
Now we begin to understand why the bell and pomegranate, dissimilar as they are, are associated on the robe of the High Priest. The bell symbolized our walk and the pomegranate our fruitfulness, and these two things are related to each other exactly as suggested by their arrangement on the robe of the High Priest. That is, a Christ-centered walk produces fruitfulness, and fruitfulness is conducive to a proper walk, and so the one acts upon the other is a circular pattern.
We should not overlook another aspect of the pomegranate, that of its beauty and pleasant taste. Twice in the Song of Solomon the bride's temples are compared by the bridegroom to a piece of pomegranate, and this same fruit is described as pleasant, i.e., delightful, most acceptable. The Encyclopedia Britannica says that the hot dry climate of the Near East, where pomegranates abound, makes the fruit particularly refreshing to the people. Does this not teach that when our walk is such that it can be symbolized by the golden bells, that our fruit is well-pleasing to God?
The bells and pomegranates were placed in alternate order on the hem of the robe of the ephod worn by the High Priest. When the High Priest offered incense in the Holy place, he was doing so as the representative of the people, who of course were not permitted to do so on their own behalf. Therefore, when he went into the Holy Place to burn incense the High Priest wore the robe with the bells and pomegranates, so that in his person, the bells of the people (that is, their walk) and their pomegranates (fruitfulness) were being displayed before the Lord. However, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest did not wear the robe with the bells and pomegranates into the Holy of Holies, because he was not so much representing the people on that occasion as he was Christ.
The relationship of the people to the High Priest as their representative reminds us that, as they had no bells to ring and no fruit to display except in the person of their High Priest, so it is with us. Unless our walk is centered in the Lord Jesus Christ, we will bring forth no pleasant fruits. As Jesus himself taught in John 15, unless we abide in him we will bring forth no fruit.
Those who are familiar with the pomegranate as a fruit may recall that it has a blossom shaped like a bell, and even after the fruit develops, a portion of the blossom remains as a bell-shaped appendage on the blossom end of the fruit. Of course, in Biblical times, bells were not made in their present day shape, which is the result of centuries of experimentation. How interesting that it was finally found that the best shape for a bell is that of a pomegranate blossom!
John H Mattox