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Deuteronomy: The Second Law - Speech 6

A commentary on the sixth speech of Moses in Deuteronomy 21-23. The book of Deuteronomy is a series of 12 speeches that Moses gave just before his death at the end of Israel's wilderness journey.

Category - Bible Commentaries

Chapter 10

The Law of Tassels

Deuteronomy 22:12 says,

12 You shall make yourself tassels on the four corners of your garment with which you cover yourself.

Moses mentions this law only in passing, because by this time the Israelites already knew this law from earlier legislation. The main law dealing with this topic is found in Num. 15:38-40,

38 Speak to the sons of Israel, and tell them that they shall make for themselves tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and that they shall put on the tassel of each corner a cord of blue. 39 And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, so as to do them and not follow after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you played the harlot, 40 in order that you may remember to do all My commandments, and be holy to your God.

The Blue Thread

The tassels were to contain a blue thread to remind them “to do all My commandments.” The color itself signified spirit and spirituality, because blue is the color of the sky. We are also told in Exodus 24:10 that when the seventy elders went up the Mount to commune with God, “they saw the God of Israel; and under His feet there are appeared to be a pavement of sapphire as clear as the sky itself.”

Hence, Paul tells us in Rom. 7:14, “the law is spiritual.” In more physical terms, one could say that “the law is blue.” This law was a type and shadow which God used to remind His young children to hear and obey God’s voice. It was not God’s intent that men should need to observe this law in such a physical manner for all time. Hopefully, since the coming of Christ, we have come to that place of maturity where the law has been ingrained in us, written on our hearts.

Ironically, however, many Christians have not only discarded the blue thread, but have also cast aside the law. Having no reminder on their clothing, they have forgotten much of the law and the “milk” of the word, which are “the elementary principles of the oracles of God” (Heb. 5:12). Paul lamented in verse 11 that “you have become dull of hearing,” and whereas they should have been ready for college, they still needed some first-grade teaching.

And so we see that this is a timeless problem. The Israelites under Moses needed this reminder, for barely had they received the law than they were ready to worship the golden calf. The prophets continually lamented Israel’s faithlessness in the time of the two kingdoms (Israel and Judah). Jesus lamented their lawlessness in Matt. 7:23. Paul followed up in Rom. 7:25 that his inner “new man” serves the law of God, but that his flesh man wanted to serve the law of sin (i.e., lawlessness).

Traditional Jewish Interpretation

Traditional Jewish teaching thought of these tassels as part of a Jewish uniform that was meant to distinguish Jews from non-Jews. Their emphasis was to distinguish themselves as more righteous than others, worthy of receiving the law that others were too unrighteous to follow. So rather than to share the revelation with others so that all might come to know the mind of God. Hence, the Jewish Encyclopedia writes under “Fringes” (1903 ed.),

“… the zizit [fringe, or tassel] was a token of God’s love for His people Israel (Men. 43b). In fact, they served as the Jew’s uniform, whereby he was recognized and distinguished from the Gentile. Hence, a Jew must not sell a fringed garment to a non-Jew unless the fringes are removed.”

This was consistent with the Talmudic teaching that forbids Jews to teach the law to non-Jews, as if the law were exclusively owned by Jews. To sell a fringed garment to a non-Jew was the equivalent of teaching the law to them.

Of course, the Apostle Paul taught that the whole world was accountable to the divine law (Rom. 3:19), whether they understood the law or not. The only real distinction is that those who were ignorant of the law were less accountable than those who knew it. Knowledge brings accountability, but ignorance is no excuse when men avoid opportunity to study the law.

As aspiring overcomers, we understand that the law was given to Israel so that they could administer it and teach it to all men. In this way, all men would come to know the mind of God and be able to conform their ways and their culture to His perfect will. Of course, there are many ways of doing things, so it is not likely that all cultural differences would be eradicated; however, all of those differences will ultimately have to be subject to the divine law as the Stone Kingdom fills the earth (Dan. 2:35).