Kohen Gadol: The Priest Most High

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Who is the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest of ancient Israel?  What was his role and why was he significant? Is there one today, and if not, how would he be chosen?  Does anything about him direct us to Messiah?

In Exodus chapter 28 verse 1, God instructed Moses to set his brother Aaron apart to minister unto God as a priest in the tabernacle of the congregation of Israel. In Leviticus chapter 21 verse 10, this role is further defined by the title high priest: 

And he that is the high priest among his brethren, upon whose head the anointing oil was poured, and that is consecrated to put on the garments, shall not uncover his head or rend his clothes. 

The words high priest are Kohen Gadol. His duties were many, but they culminated with a blood sacrifice for sin for himself, the other priests, and the nation, in the Holy of Holies on Yom Kippur each year on the day we call the Day of Atonement. It was certain death for anyone else to come into God’s presence, and even the Kohen Gadol could only approach the Holy Place once a year. He was anointed with oil to indicate his sanctification, that he was set apart or Qodesh which means holy.

What do the ancient pictographs for these two words reveal to us about God’s purposes for this special servant? Let’s first investigate the word Kohen which in conventional Hebrew means the one officiating or the priest. Kohen is spelled Kaf Hey Noon

Kaf             is the picture of the palm                   of the hand and means to cover, to open or to allow. 

Hey is the picture of the man with outstretched hands to the heavens and means to behold or to pay attention to what follows. 

Noon is the picture of the fish  and means life or activity. 


Here we can see the role of the priest in the pictures. He is standing with outstretched hands to the heavens interceding on behalf of those under his care and protection in order to preserve their lives before God.

But what sets this Kohen apart from all the other priests? For that, we need to investigate the word Gadol which in conventional Hebrew means great (in any sense), large, or older. Gadol is spelled Gimel Dalet Vav Lamed.


Gimel is the picture of the camel and means to lift up or to lift up the name of the LORD.

Dalet is the picture of the door  and means a doorway, a place of decision, or an entrance to a place of life or death. 

Vav is the picture of the iron nail or the wooden peg and means to secure, to fasten, or to join two things together that are separated from one another.

Lamed is the picture of the shepherd’s staff and means to control, to shepherd, or the voice of authority.


The ancient pictographs have preserved an interesting meaning for the word Gadol. What will separate this High Priest from others will be his great ability to not only lead and shepherd the people of Israel but his ability to help secure their pathway to life with God through lifting up His name. 

There is still more to discover in Kohen Gadol because each ancient letter is not only a picture, but is also a number. Each of the numbers has a meaning that can be determined by how that number is used throughout the Scriptures.


Kaf is the number 20 and means a new beginning.

Hey is the number 5 and stands for grace.

Noon is the number 50 and refers to the Holy Spirit or deliverance followed by rest. 


If we add the picture meaning to the meaning in the numbers we can see that the Kohen or priest is interceding for his people, and through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit offering them a new beginning with God with deliverance from sin followed by rest. 

You might ask what about the numbers for Gadol? What can they show us?

Gimel is the number 3 and means divine perfection and God the Holy Spirit.

Dalet is the number 4 and stands for creation.

Vav is the number 6 and refers to man’s enmity with God.

Lamed is the number 30 and points us to a blood sacrifice or the blood sacrifice of Christ.


If we add the meanings of the ancient pictures to the numbers found in Gadol we can see that God’s perfect plan for His creation has always been to provide a shepherd to resolve man’s enmity with God and lead man through the doorway that leads to life.

Although the Kohen Gadol would make a blood sacrifice every year, that sacrifice would only cover the sins of the nation and provide satisfaction for one more year. Ultimately this pathway to life could only come by the blood of Jesus Christ. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews explains this carefully for us in chapter 4 verse 14:

Seeing then that we have a great high priest that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.

And again, in chapter 5 verse 9 and 10 he adds this:

And being made perfect he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;
Called of God an high priest after the order of Melchisedec.

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