Numbers 15:37-41, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.” (KJ
In the New Testament, the Gospel of Matthew and Luke tell the story of the woman who was healed by touching Yeshua's tzitzit. This is Luke's rendering of the event:
“And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, which had spent all her living upon physicians, neither could be healed of any, Came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately her issue of blood stanched.” Luke 8:43-44 (KJV)
So, what exactly are these tassels (tzitziot) and why would Yah command them to be worn? It is evident that Yeshua Himself wore these tassels. Should we?
This lesson will be quite lengthy because a thorough understanding is needed. I will begin by talking about symbols or identification badges, or markers.
In what way does our culture determine who we are? Let’s consider some classic symbols that are suppose to define: wedding ring, cross, Star of David, fish symbol, Mother Mary standing out in your flower garden, St. Christopher necklace, WWJD bracelets. In the American culture one might think that expensive cars, huge houses and other materialistic possessions indicate wealth, but the truth is, these things usually just indicate that a person is in debt. However, we associate symbols with the identity of people.
With this idea in mind I would like for us to consider “fringes” (Hebrew tzitzit). What did it mean in many ancient cultures to wear fringes on the border/ hem of garments? According to many, many sources, including http://www.bluethread.com/fringeold.htm , from which the below was taken, we can learn the following:
“ ..Assyrians and Babylonians believed that fringes assured the wearer of the protection of the gods.
..The fringed hem was ornate in comparison with the rest of the outer robe and frequently had tassels
along the edges. This ornate hem was a "symbolic extension of the owner and
more specifically of the owner's rank and authority. "
..Requests accompanied by grasping the fringes of the one from whom you wanted something could
not be refused.
..Exorcists used the hem of a patient's garment in their healing/or cursing ceremonies.
..A husband could divorce his wife by cutting off the hem of his wife's robe. (in some ancient cultures)
..In Mari, an ancient city in what is now Syria, a professional prophet or diviner would enclose with his
report to the King a lock of his hair and a piece of his hem....Sometimes the hem was impressed on a
clay tablet as a kind of signature.
..Fringes could also be pressed onto the clay instead of the hem. E.A.Speiser has suggested that when
we press the corner fringe of the tallit to the Torah scroll we are reflecting this ancient custom.
..The primary significance of the tassel in ancient times was that it was worn only by those who
counted; it was the "I.D. of the nobility."
The wealthier or higher up the status of the person, the more elaborate their hems and tassels were on their garments. Hems and tassels of the common person were not that elaborate.
The Hebrew word tzitzit is translated as fringe or fringes in the Bible. The word tzitzit means “lock of hair”. This is how a fringe or tzitzit probably started in ancient cultures. In Ezekiel 8:3 we read:
"And he put forth the form of an hand, and took me by a lock of mine head; and the spirit lifted me up between the earth and the heaven, and brought me in the visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the inner gate that looketh toward the north; where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provoketh to jealousy." (KJV)
The word “lock” in this scripture is tzitzit. In other words they grabbed him by the lock of his hair. As with most other things that the Hebrews practiced, the idea of tzitzit was not a new concept. The wearing of “fringes” on garments can be seen in many pictographs from various regions around the ancient world. In fact, there is an ancient pictograph of King Jehu being carried away with his servants by the King of Assyria. They are all wearing “fringes”. As with other things, God took something that already was in their culture and made it unique for his people.
In order for us to understand the significance of stories in the Bible we must appreciate the significance that “fringes” played in the Older Covenant Era. It was primarily royalty and/or the wealthy who had elaborate fringes on their garments; not the common folk. The common person had no status or authority in the world to advertise to others. Another thing, the tzitzit, or fringe, is not the hem of the garment, but rather, it is attached to the hem of the garment. The fringe was a symbol for the person who wore it.
Having said this let’s now explore an OT story about Samuel and Saul. Read the full story in
I Samuel 24:1-20. I will only list one scripture here:
I Samuel 24:4, "And the men of David said unto him, Behold the day of which the LORD said unto thee, Behold, I will deliver thine enemy into thine hand, that thou mayest do to him as it shall seem good unto thee. Then David arose, and cut off the skirt of Saul's robe privily." (KJV)
When we read this story we see that David cuts off a piece of the hem on Saul's garment. David then feels sorrowful, saying “Lord forbid that I should do such a thing”. Then King Saul responds: “Now I know that you will become King.” Saul’s authority rested in the symbol of the elaborate tzitzit on the hem of his garment. Saul saw that by God allowing David to cut this off his garment that He had effectively transferred the kingly authority from himself to David. Saul was being cut-off from being king. Likewise, when Samson had his “locks of hair” (tzitzit) cut off by Delilah, he lost his power and authority; under his Nazerite vow.
Now we will explore the scripture where we are commanded to wear tzitzit
Numbers 15:37-41, “And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue: And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the LORD, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring: That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God. I am the LORD your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.” (KJV)
Deut. 22:-11-12, " Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together. Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself."(KJV)
And in Leviticus the one about not mixing seed:
Leviticus 19:19, "Ye shall keep my statutes. Thou shalt not let thy cattle gender with a diverse kind: thou shalt not sow thy field with mingled seed: neither shall a garment mingled of linen and woollen come upon thee." (KJV)
As one can see, the Biblical details regarding the wearing of tzitzit are extremely limited. Most of the information that we have regarding tzitzit comes from tradition. Here’s what we do know from the Bible.
…. “speak to the children of Israel” – the Hebrew word here is “bane” meaning son, but also can mean daughter, or offspring. The Hebrew root word here is banah which means to build, obtain children. So, from this we should understand that God was speaking to both male and female; not just males. Historically, Rabbi’s recognized that both men and women were obliged to wearing tzitzit. It was only the later Rabbi’s that stated that it was a woman’s choice if she wanted to wear them or not because they considered them to be a “time based” commandment. Women were not obligated to time based commandments, because of children etc….
. .. They were to be attached to the hem of the garment. The word “borders” in verse 15: 38 is “kanaph” and it means “an extremity, edge, wing”. In Deut. 22:12 it states the four corners of the garment; because the word also means quarters, like the four corners of the earth.
… The commandment to wear them was to be “throughout their generations”, which means a revolution of time or an age, a dwelling, evermore. Interestingly, the Hebrew root word used in this word means gyrate- meaning to move in a fixed circle, to dwell, remain. In other words, something that keeps going around in a fixed circle has no ending. In Hebrew one must also study the root words.
….. The commandment suggests that they were to be “twisted” threads. Contrary to popular belief, the word used in Deut. 22:12 is not tzitzit for fringes but g’dill meaning twisted thread or a wreath –so they were to be twisted in a circle; at least some portion of them. When you consider that fringes are usually started with a knot or a row of some sort of twists to keep the material from unraveling. Now, here is the most interesting thing-the root word used here is gadal; which we say just means great, like the great/ high priest, but this word has a much greater meaning than just that. It means to make to become great or important, to promote, make powerful, praise, magnify, do great things, to grow up to become great, to be magnified, to cause to grow, to make great, powerful, to magnify, to be brought up, to make great, to do great things.
Wow, we should be seeing a picture come together here. They (men and women) were to wear them forever (a circle) and they were twisted (circle) and they had the meaning of becoming great and powerful tucked into their meaning.
… They were to have a thread - “twine-meaning two or more threads twisted together” - of blue (techelet-from murex snail).
…. In Numbers 15:39:40 they were supposed to wear them for three reasons:
1. So that one could look upon them and think (recall to memory)
2. They were to remember to obey Yahweh's commandments
3. They were to obey what they just recalled to mind about His commandments.
Just like the Hebrew word “shema” means to hear and obey, they were to see and obey. Looking at the tzitzit was supposed to make us “not forget” to obey all that He had instructed us to obey, lest we be punished or cursed. It was also to remind us to which “god” we were indebted-to Yahweh-the one who redeemed us from Egypt.
…In addition, verse 40 says that the doing and remembering his commandments was so that we would be holy. (kadosh or set apart)
Now, having made this last point please re-read Numbers 15:37-41.
Just prior to these verses Yahweh had just given His instructions for dealing with un-intentional and intentional sins. He had just spoken that a person who willfully sinned, after knowing the truth, was to be cut off from among his people. After this we read the story about the man who was stoned to death after violating the Sabbath. Right after this event, the instructions regarding the wearing of fringes are given. Now, at first this seemed like an odd place for introduction. However, upon careful examination I came to the conclusion that it was the perfect place. This man had just been put to death because he evidently did not “recall to mind and observe” what he knew the commandment of Yahweh was concerning the Sabbath. Had this man been wearing tzitzit then he should have looked at them and remembered not only WHO HE WAS but what THE GOD HE SERVED commanded of him. If he had done this then his life would not have been put in jeopardy. So, here God gives the remedy for the situation of forgetfulness on man’s part OR the remedy for purposeful rebellion; both which bring an undesirable result from God--you should always look upon the tzitzit and remember to observe; then you will stay out of trouble. It is to remind us of the special relationship that we have with our Creator. We are to remember not to follow our heart during times of our lustful urges. I am so glad that I understand the scenario better!
Ancient Materials and Dyes
In Biblical times the basic textiles were wool and linen. Making linen out of flax was a very complicated process. Dyes were also expensive in Biblical times. Both flax and wool yielded fine fibers that could be spun together to make threads. These threads were then woven into pieces of cloth. In the 1950’s a piece of wool cloth was found containing the blue (tekelet) dye. It was stored away, not understanding its significance, until very recently when it was re-discovered. Finding old wool is difficult because wool is usually eaten by moths, etc…
Blue, purple, and crimson are frequently mentioned in the Bible as dyes for fabric. Wool was much easier to dye than linen.
Contrary to popular belief, common people (ancient Hebrews) made their garments out of wool. While we might consider this hard to understand, the wool was the cheapest and most readily available material, because most of the families were sheepherders. They harvested the meat for food and the wool for clothing. Linen was much too expensive for the commoner and was reserved primarily for the wealthy and the priests. Wool could keep warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Among those who could afford it, they would wear both linen and wool, and most garments consisted of both (not woven together, but separate garments worn at the same time), if affordable, even amongst the wealthy. During Roman times, many of the Emperor’s garments were both wool and linen. The Toga was made from wool. In the movie, The Passion of the Christ, Mary is wearing a garment of wool. This would have been authenticate for the time. When the Bible speaks of material it would be talking about either wool or linen, or both.
As already mentioned, dyes too were very expensive, so garments of the poor were not nearly as colorful as those of the priesthood, or those who were wealthy. The most highly prized dye was that of purple, or blue. Blue could be was used to make the purple. Hence, the terms "royal blue", or 'born to the purple'; signifying royalty: noblemen, kings, priests and judges. The Emperors all wore purple. Crimson was the other most used dye. We find these colors in the temple and elsewhere in the holy things pertaining to God.
The snail was used to get the different shades of blue to purple, depending on how long it soaked. Indigo could be used to just obtain blue (but it was cheaper and not regarded like the blue from the snail) Dark red dyes were also derived from the snail depending on how long it soaked. The crimson color is thought to have been produced from a worm called the “crimson worm”, the cochineal insect, “tola’at” in Hebrew. Either way, the point that I need to bring out is that all ancient dyes were expensive and the common man could not afford many, or any, of them. Their clothes were usually a light brown.
The tekelet (blue) thread in the tzitzit was said to have been dyed from the murex snail. We do not really know if it was a color royal blue, lighter blue or more purple, but both were royal colors.
The High Priest had two sets of garments. One set was called the “white garments” and they were only worn on Yom Kippur. (Leviticus 16:1-4 then again in verses 23-24) These were linen trousers, linen tunic, linen sash, linen turban. He ONLY wore these on the day of atonement when he entered the Holiest Place.
The everyday garments were called “golden garments”. This garment consisted of: (Exodus 28:1-43) Breastplate, an ephod or ornamented vest, a robe, a tunic, a turban, sash, and linen underpants. The Ephod was made of (vs. 5 and 6) gold, blue, purple, and scarlet, and the fine linen. Likewise, the breastplate was made of the same thing (vs15). The robe was made of all blue(vs. 31), the tunic of fine linen (vs. 39), the turban of linen (vs. 39) and the sash or belt of woven work (vs. 39) The plate of pure gold on the turban which said “Holiness to Yahweh” was held in place by a blue cord. The underpants were made of linen.
Now, according to all ancient Rabbis’, Josephus and the New Temple Institute, The High Priest’s golden garments consisted of the weaving of linen and wool together (sha’atnez). In Josephus’ book of Antiquities 4:8:11 he states , “Let not any one of you wear a garment made of woolen and linen, for that is appointed to be for the priests alone.” So, this mixture of wool and linen is forbidden in scripture in Leviticus 19:19 and Deut. 22:11, or is it? In the scriptures in Exodus you will notice the word thread is not in the original Hebrew; instead it says gold, blue, purple and scarlet, AND the fine linen. The second” and” means that it was not of the same material as the colored thread. They say the colored thread was of wool and linen, because when it comes to textiles it had to be wool or linen. Kairite Jews do not believe this, all other sects do (I think). Josephus lived in the first century and saw the High Priest and declares this to be true. The great Rashi declares this to be true. They also believe that the sash had wool and linen, the blue cord holding on the gold plate had wool and linen and the blue tunic was all wool. My personal opinion – for what it is worth-is that it is true. Let’s consider these verses in a different light:
Lev. 19:19 (see above) – in this verse we are talking about the mingling of animals, the mingling of seed, which God does not like. To mingle these things that are holy by creation, would make them un-holy. We are commanded to differentiate between the un-holy and the holy and not to mix them. Now, He says that you shall not let a mixed garment of wool and linen come upon you. Why? Maybe it’s because linen and wool mixed together is reserved for the High Priest garment only. In other words, just as everything used in temple service was kadosh (holy) to God and His service, so were these garments. They were not to try and replicate the anointing oil, or they would be put to death. Well, what if I accidentally mixed that together today, would God strike me down? I don’t think so, because I am not purposefully trying to duplicate it. I have no idea how it was made. The parallel here is that they were not to dress themselves in the attire that was pertaining to, or try and duplicate, the attire that was set aside for the High Priest. This would be the same as taking the holy and making it un-holy. In Ezekiel 44:19 we are told “they shall not sanctify the people with their garments”. Now this verse is not talking about the High Priest, cause at this time Yeshua will be sitting as High Priest and King, but it is talking about the Levites, son of Dado, son of Aaron. If their clothing was considered Holy, and the people were not to be set apart by wearing it, then how much more the High Priest garments? Now read the rest of Ezekiel 44:15-19. Notice it says that they shall not wear wool when they come before Him to minister. These are not High Priests they are the Levites ministering, even though they came from Aaron. The Rabbi’s say “anything that causes sweat” pertains to clothing tied around the middle part of the body to tightly, or I guess tight clothing in general, that would cause one to sweat. Loose fitting, light weight linen wouldn’t cause sweat. Besides the High Priest didn’t wear wool when he went into the Holiest Place.
Let’s examine: Deut. 22:9-12, "Thou shalt not sow thy vineyard with divers seeds: lest the fruit of thy seed which thou hast sown, and the fruit of thy vineyard, be defiled. Thou shalt not plow with an ox and an ass together. Thou shalt not wear a garment of divers sorts, as of woollen and linen together. Thou shalt make thee fringes upon the four quarters of thy vesture, wherewith thou coverest thyself." (KJV)
Again, He is talking about mixing together things that should not be mixed together. In verse 11 He again says “no wool and linen” but He gives the remedy in verse 12. You get to mix your holy threads together in your tzitzit, but you shall not try and duplicate those garments that He has called holy; by setting them apart for the High Priest. Exodus 28:2 says that these garments were given to him for glory and beauty. They were not given to us.
It has long been recorded, again by the ancient Rabbi’s, who saw them and Josephus, as well as others, that the original tzitzit blue thread was woven of wool.
This is significant for several reasons:
1. This mixture was considered holy and to be worn only by the holy and set-apart, High Priest.
2. In Exodus 19:6 what was Israel called? Kingdom of priests, holy nation.
3. In I Peter 2:9 what are we called by Peter? A royal priesthood, holy nation.
4. So, in essence, by wearing the fringes, God allowed every Hebrew to have a little part of a royal, priestly garment; identifying them as royalty and priests also, but only if they looked at them and remembered to obey.
5. They could not wear the entire outfit, but they/we get a piece of the kadosh material in our tzitzit, representing our being joined to Him as this priestly, royal, holy nation.
6. Likewise, scripture states that the overcoming saints will be adorned in fine linen. We will be adorned as the High Priest when he went into the Holy of Holies.
7. Also, by requiring only one thread of blue in each tzitzit, even the poor man could afford to get the royal dye.
I talked about symbols of identity in the beginning. This is exactly what the tzitzit represents. It is like a wedding ring of today, where we wear the tzitzit to identify our special relationship with our Messiah, King and High Priest. Earlier in the lesson, I mentioned that the tzitzit root words meant gadol, bringing with it the meaning of: “to make to become great or important, to promote, make powerful, praise……”. So, by wearing the tzitzit as a symbol of royalty and priesthood we remember who we are, that we are gadol; like the Kohen Hagadol. We have been identified and set apart by Him. We are to remember!
Also, above I discussed that we were to wear four “on the corners”, like the four corners of the earth. Are we not, and were they not, supposed to take Yahweh and His righteous commandments to the four corners of the earth? They should remind us of that as well.
What do we do with this cultural item today? Do we still need to wear this ancient symbol? Fringes do not mean anything in our society.
Well, Yeshua was still wearing them in His day. Scripture bears this out when it talks about the hem of His garment. In Zechariah 8:22-23, when Yeshua Messiah is reigning in Jerusalem, we are told that Jews will still be wearing them and men from the nations will grab hold of them, because God is with them.
I guess I’ll leave this for you to decide. Just remember, the other root word for tzitzit meant circle, everlasting. If a circle has no ends-then what? Will another symbol do just as good? You decide!
I will add one last thing. One can find many teachings out there concerning the commandment about not mixing wool and linen together. I personally haven’t liked or felt inspiration about any of them. That’s why I set out on my own mission to explore the topic and do my own research. One explanation goes like this: “we aren’t supposed to mix wool and linen ‘because that’s what ancient pagan priests did” Well, maybe they did, but I can tell you this (and you can find it yourself) ancient Egyptian priests were forbidden from wearing wool at all. They could not wear anything that came from an animal. They could only wear linen. So, does that make linen unacceptable? Oh, and Babylonian priests wore linen, but they also wore a purified white lamb’s wool turban. Does that make turbans unacceptable? I couldn’t find anywhere about them wearing wool and linen mixed together. This teaching does not add up.
The other one goes something like this, “the wool puts out one frequency and the linen puts out the complete opposite frequency, so they cancel each other out in the body”. REALLY? The prohibition was against weaving the two materials together. They were not prohibited from wearing them both at the same time on their bodies as different garments. The frequency issue would have still been there.
And the last one that I have heard, which in my opinion is the most absurd, goes something like this, “by mixing the two textiles you cause friction, like Cain and Abel, you mix the good with the bad. You are mixing opposites together. We are not to mix opposites. This causes different spiritual energies, which results in one or the other being perverted from its mission”. May I remind you that mixing wool and linen together, especially in the ancient world, was not cemented in stone. The fibers could be unwoven and you would still have wool and linen; unlike the mixing of seeds (hybrid plants) and the mixing of animals (like donkey and horse to get a mule) that can’t be unraveled once it has been mixed together. Quite a difference, at least I think!
If the commandment of not mixing wool and linen together had something to do with prohibiting someone from trying to duplicate the High Priest's garment, which had linen and wool mixed together in it, then it would make sense. A person was commanded not to duplicate it, but they could have a little piece of the blessing in their tzitzit, which had both wool and linen in it.
I love my symbol, my tzitziot! Now you decide.