Have you ever looked through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars? You can still make out the image, but just barely. For the past 2,000 years, Christianity has been looking at the Scriptures the same way. It’s time to turn the lenses around. By looking at the Bible through the proper lenses – the historical, cultural, religious, and geographical context – the Word becomes more vivid, the personalities come to life, and the student becomes more and more connected to the story. And ultimately, they fall more in love with Jesus.
Part 1 – Healing In His Wings
Remembering the Commandments – Numbers 15:38-41
“Speak to the people of Israel, and tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a cord of blue on the tassel of each corner. And it shall be a tassel for you to look at and remember all the commandments of the Lord, to do them, not to follow after your own heart and your own eyes, which you are inclined to whore after. So you shall remember and do all my commandments, and be holy to your God. I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the Lord your God.”
The ancient Hebrews were commanded by God to place special tassels on the corners of their garments. These tassles – called tzitzit – were a symbol of their commitment to obey the commandments of God, found in the Torah.
The tzitzit consists of a specific set of knots and threads. Each one of these is symbolic.
- 5 Knots – The first 5 books of the Bible (Torah)
- 4 Spaces – The Name of God (YHWH)
Each Hebrew word has a numerical value – called gematria. The numerical value of the word “tzitzit” is 600. If you combine that value (600) with the 5 knots, made from the 8 threads of the tzitzit, you come to the number 613. This is the most important number in the entire Hebrew world. There are 613 commandments in the Torah. So, the purpose of the tzitzit is to remind Israel that they are to honor the commandments of God, and the very numerical value of the word “tzitzit” equals 613 – the number of commandments they are to obey.
It’s also very important to understand where the tzitzit are attached. The Hebrew word for corner is “kanaph”. This word is used in various other ways throughout Scripture, as we will soon see.
Cutting Corners – 1 Samuel 24:1-15
David was anointed future king of Israel, after Saul ignored God’s specific commandment regarding the Amalekites. After that, Saul became more and more angry and paranoid. This resulted in his seeking to kill the one man who most clearly understood the unique anointing of God that the king had – David.
While Saul was pursuing David, he entered a cave in the oasis of Ein Gedi. Unbeknownst to him, David and his followers were also hiding in the cave. David’s men tried to encourage him to kill Saul, and be done with the whole problem. But David understood that this would be using his own power and strength to deal with his trials, rather than allowing God to take care of it. Instead, he snuck up to Saul and cut of the corner of his robe, removing the tzitzit from Saul.
In doing this, he was declaring for all to see that Saul was not honoring the commandments of God.
The Coming Son of David – The Prophets
It wasn’t long after Ein Gedi that David ascended to the throne. He ruled in righteousness and honored the commandments of God. And while his son, Solomon, started out well, eventually things deteriorated into pagan worship and the rejection of the commandments. The nation became divided, the Temple of God was destroyed, and judgment came.
During the time of the captivity in Babylon, the prophets of God began to foretell of another “Son of David” who would come and restore the kingdom to Israel. He would be the Messiah – the Anointed One – who would rule in true justice and righteousness. He would properly teach the commandments of God to the people, and Israel would finally fulfill its calling to be a light to the nations.
- He will bring the political and spiritual revival of Israel, returning them to the land and restoring Jerusalem. (Isaiah 11:1-2; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5)
- He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government – both for Jews and Gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1)
- He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18; Ezekiel 40-50)
- He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Torah as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15)
In essence, they prophesied that the Messiah would return Israel to obedience to the Torah; to keep the commandments that were symbolized by the wearing of the Tzitzit.
The Sun of Righteousness – Malachi 4:1-2
In the final writings of the period of the prophets, Malachi foretold of the “sun of righteousness” who would arise with “healing in His wings.” This prophecy immediately became associated with the coming Son of David – the Messiah.
As we saw earlier, the Hebrew word for corner is “kanaph”. Hebrew is considered a “poor language” – meaning that it has many fewer words than languages like Greek, Latin, or English. That means that one word must be used to describe several different things. Therefore, in addition to “kanaph” meaning corner, it also means wings.
The Hebrew sages taught that this meant that coming Messiah would have special healing powers in the tzitzit that were attached to the corner of his robe.
Many Pharisees who wanted to be considered candidates for the role of Messiah, would attach especially long tzitzit to their robes, suggesting that they had these special healing attributes. (Matthew 23:5-7)
The Hem of His Garment – Matthew 9:18-21
One day when Jesus was making His way through the crowds to heal a young girl who was on the verge of death, a woman reached out and grabbed hold of his tzitzit. In doing this, she was doing much more than believing that He could heal her. The woman was declaring to all, that she believed Jesus to be the promised Messiah.
Later, many more would make this same declaration by seeking healing by reaching out and grabbing hold of Jesus’ tzitzit. (Matthew 14:34-36)
It’s time we see Jesus, and the culture He lived in, from a different perspective; to turn the lenses around. By doing this, we can understand Jesus as His disciples did. If we are to love someone more fully, it takes understanding them as they really are, rather than as we want them to be. Jesus was a 1st Century Jew, living in Jewish culture and following many of the traditions of that culture. When we understand that, we too can join in the Prayer of St. Richard:
Thanks be to you, our Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.
Next Post: Morning and Evening
What was the symbolism of the morning and evening sacrifices that took place in both the Tabernacle and the First and Second Temples? How did these sacrifices connect with the covenant made between God and Abraham? And were these sacrifices fulfilled in the life of Jesus?
Readings for the Week:
- Genesis 15
- Exodus 29:38-42
- Mark 15:21-39
- Hebrews 10