Yesterday we discussed the mixing of wool and linen and the reasoning behind the commandment. We talked about how a mixture of wool and linen was reserved for the priests only, according to Josephus. However, the tzitzit (tassels) that the Israelites were commanded to wear violate this prohibition.
What are tzitzit? These are the tassels that the Israelites were to attach to the hem of their garments. They are specially knotted fringes that observant Jews wear on the four corners of their clothing. Some wear a tallit katan (under garment or overshirt) that have them sewn on the four corners. The traditional Jewish prayer shawl also has them sewn on the hem.
The ancient rabbis taught that the tzitzit could contain wool and linen woven together, and that woolen tzitzit could be attached to a linen piece of clothing. Archeologists have found tzitzit from the first and second centuries that bear this out.
Lois Tverberg describes this discrepancy as a tension in the law. How do we bring these two discrepancies together into agreement?
Biblical scholar Dr. Jacob Milgrom explains. “The tzitzit are then an exception to the Torah’s general injunction against wearing garments of mixed seed….It is a conscious attempt to encourage all Israel to aspire to a degree of holiness comparable to that of the priests.”
In 1 Peter 2:9 (CJB), the scripture states: “But you are a chosen people, the King’s Cohanim, a holy nation, a people for G-d to possess! Why? In order for you to declare the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
This is the tension that exists in the apparent contradictory verses that Tverberg describes. Adonai’s message to the people of Israel was that they were to be a nation of priests, that they represented the Most High, and they were to model holiness in all that they did. Each person, by wearing the tzitzit, marked themselves as part of a priesthood of believers, even if the Torah forbade them to imitate the priestly duties in all other aspects.
Likewise, as followers of Yeshua, we are also a nation of priests, a holy people set aside for HaShem. Yeshua has become our High Priest who meditates for us before the Throne of G-d. While each of us is a representative of G-d, we must always yield to the authority of the Master.
The tzitzit are our visual cue that we must remember to always follow after the commandments of G-d. They are the nudge to our consciences about whom we serve. We aspire to holiness, but we’re still working out the rebellion of the flesh. This tension that exists between the commandments also exists within ourselves. We are saved, but still struggling with our sin nature.
Paul sums this struggle within us perfectly in Romans 14-15, 24-25 CJB): “For we know that the Torah is of the Spirit; but as for me, I am bound to the old nature, sold to sin as a slave. I don’t understand my own behavior — I don’t do what I want to do; instead, I do the very thing I hate!.... What a miserable creature I am! Who will rescue me from this body bound for death? Thanks be to G-d [, he will]! — through Yeshua the Messiah, our Lord!”
This is the tension of the Law and the tension within our spirits. But thanks be to Yeshua, he brings all things into perfect coordination.