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God’s Word for You

Numbers 15:37-41 Tassels and crosses

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Tassels on Garments
37 The LORD told Moses 38 to speak to the Israelites and tell them this: Throughout their generations to come, they are to make tassels on the corners of their garments. They are to put a blue cord on the tassels on each corner. 39 These tassels are to be there for you so that when you see them, you will remember all of the LORD’s commands, and you will carry them out. Then you will not prostitute yourselves by chasing after your own heart and your own eyes. 40 This way you will remember and carry out all of my commands and be holy to your God. 41 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt to be your God. I am the LORD your God.

Why did God give the Israelites this command? It’s the sort of thing you tell a child when you want them to remember something later that morning: “Let’s put a rubber band around your wrist so that you remember to pay your lunch money when you get to school.” In that sense, the tassels were “a ridiculous, trifling commandment” (LW 51:109). Keeping this law did nothing to save Israel from their sins, it only steered them back to the laws of Moses like a school teacher making his students repeat a passage again and again, to stick in the memory. Today, many Christians keep crosses in their homes, like the one I have beside my bed. Those crosses are not a reminder of the law, but of the gospel. For that reason, crosses in our homes or worn as pins or necklaces are little sermons about the gospel, about Jesus dying for our sins. These little sermons motivate us to live lives of thanks and love to Christ.

Yet a cross can be a sermon on the law, as well. If a Christian is contemplating a sin, or is tempted and feels unable to resist the temptation, that cross on the wall pricks the conscience, and the tempted one feels guilt over that temptation. What we hope for and pray for is that the cross does not stop being what it’s meant to be: a gospel sermon. When a cross only causes guilt and doesn’t give any comfort, it stops being a gospel sermon. In that case, we need to run back to the word of God. “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).

For the Israelites in the desert, the tassels were a reminder of the law; they were a tool of the schoolmaster (EHV “chaperone,” Galatians 3:24). The tassels pointed to God’s holiness to help the people remain separate from the nations around them. This is the third use of the law, the law as a guide.

In this way, the tassels fell under the same category as the dietary restrictions and clean vs. unclean animals. Just as the rabbit, the octopus, and the hawk were as unclean as the pig for the Israelites (Leviticus 11:6,7,10 and 16), these restrictions were meant to show that the Israelites were different from the Horites in their caves and the Amorites in the hills. The Israelite was to notice his tassel and remember that it was a reminder, a sign of God’s law in his heart. Then he could look at the Amorite tending his goats on the hillside and think, “We are different. I must not pray to the gods of the Amorites, and it would be unwise to choose a wife from among the Amorites, because she might lead my heart away from the God who commanded me to tie this blue tassel to the hem of my cloak. Thanks be to God!” The tassel, then, is especially a reminder of the law. The reason for Israel’s special separation from the other nations was to keep the community faithful to God alone, since salvation comes from God alone and no other.

From this point, Moses will record the rebellion of Korah, the deaths of Miriam and Aaron, the bronze snake, and the coming of Balaam. The times during these forty years of wandering and waiting were going to get difficult. The tassels were going to come in handy. But the people still had the promises of God. They were the people of Israel. The promised land had been promised to them. So they prayed: “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negev. Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:4-5). It is better to be sad, lonely, tired, oppressed or afraid and be the child of God than to have all the joys of the world without knowing Christ. Bless God and thank him for your faith, and know that he is with you. “I am with you always,” Jesus said, “to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith

About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.


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