You open your Bible, ready to immerse yourself in God’s word. As you read through the Old Testament books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, you come across intriguing instructions about clothing tassels. What was the purpose of these tassels? As an Evangelical or Charismatic Christian, you likely want to know the deeper meaning behind them.
In this blog post, we’ll explore the biblical background of tassels, examining what they represented to the ancient Israelites. We’ll see how tassels pointed to God’s commandments and served as reminders of His deliverance. Understanding their symbolism will illuminate their role in worship and attire. Along the way, we’ll reflect on how their significance applies to followers of Jesus today.
What Were Tassels?
First, let’s understand what exactly tassels were during biblical times. The original Hebrew word for “tassel” is tzitzit. It refers to fringes or tassels worn at the corners of one’s garments.
God instructed the Israelites to make tassels on the corners of their clothes in Numbers 15:37-41 (NKJV):
Again the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel: Tell them to make tassels on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and to put a blue thread in the tassels of the corners. And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them, and that you may not follow the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined, and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.”
This command applied to the priests’ garments as well. Exodus 28:33-34 described the robe of the high priest:
And upon its hem you shall make pomegranates of blue, purple, and scarlet, all around its hem, and bells of gold between them all around: a golden bell and a pomegranate, a golden bell and a pomegranate, upon the hem of the robe all around.
So tassels were a specific component of clothing that served spiritual purposes. Now let’s explore what exactly they represented.
Key Takeaways About Tassels:
- They were a reminder of God’s commandments
- They represented holiness and devotion to God
- Blue tassels symbolized royalty and divine connection
- Tassels on robes signified priestly authority
- Jesus criticized the Pharisees’ improper use of tassels
- Tassels ultimately pointed to Jesus as the fulfillment of the law
Tassels as Reminders of God’s Laws
A primary function of tassels for the Israelites was to remind them of God’s commandments. Numbers 15:39 explains this purpose: “And you shall have the tassel, that you may look upon it and remember all the commandments of the Lord and do them.”
Seeing the tassels on their clothes would call to mind the Lord’s statutes and urge the people to obey them. The tassels served as a tangible prompt, almost like tying a string around your finger. Their presence was meant to discourage rebellion and sin by keeping God’s laws at the forefront of their minds.
This reminder was vital because of the Israelites’ tendency to forget God’s commands and fall into idolatry. In Deuteronomy 4:23, Moses exhorted the people: “Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the Lord your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything.” The tassels provided a physical cue to remember their covenant responsibilities to the Lord.
As Christians today, we may not wear tassels on our clothes. But we can still benefit from tangible reminders of God’s truth. Some modern equivalents may include displaying Bible verses, listening to worship music, or wearing crosses. Things that prompt us to recall God’s commands help us stay faithful.
Tassels as Symbols of Holiness and Devotion
In addition to reminding the Israelites of God’s laws, tassels also represented holiness and dedication to the Lord. Numbers 15:40 states the purpose that “you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God.”
The tassels were a mark of the Israelites’ status as God’s chosen people, set apart for His purposes. By obeying the command to wear them, the people demonstrated submission to God’s authority over them. The tassels set them apart from the other nations who did not worship Yahweh.
This symbolism applied especially to the high priest, whose robe bore tassels of blue, purple, and scarlet (Exodus 28:33-34). These colors were precious and regal, representing the priest’s sacred status as God’s representative. The tassels visually displayed his consecration to the Lord’s service.
For us as Christians, holiness may not involve clothing accessories. But we can still exhibit devotion to God through actions like obeying His Word, serving in ministry, and resisting worldly influences. Outward displays of allegiance to God demonstrate an inner commitment to living holy lives.
The Significance of Blue Tassels
What was the meaning behind the “blue thread” that God instructed the Israelites to include in their tassels (Numbers 15:38)?
Blue dye was rare and valuable in the ancient world, made from a Mediterranean sea snail. God’s choice of this color held symbolic significance.
In the Bible, blue often represents the heavens, marking things associated with God. For instance, Exodus 24:10 describes seeing under God’s feet “a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity.” Sapphire is a deep blue stone that mirrored the brilliant sky.
The blue thread in the tassels similarly invoked the blue heavens to represent God’s divine nature. It reminded the Israelites that they belonged to the Lord who dwelt in the heavens, far above the earth. The blue dye acted as a conspicuous marker honoring their relationship to Yahweh.
For Christians today, the color blue can still direct our thoughts heavenward. Seeing a blue sky can lift our minds to God’s majesty. Decorating with blue can be a way to honor our connection with the Lord of heaven.
Tassels as Symbols of Priestly Authority
In addition to lay Israelites, the priests also wore special garments with tassels. Their tassels carried significance related to their religious status.
As mentioned earlier, Exodus 28:33-34 described colorful tassels adorning the robe of the high priest. The detailed instructions given for priestly garments showed their importance in representing the priests’ authority.
The priests acted as intermediaries between God and the people. Their clothing visually conveyed their sacred position in offering sacrifices. The ornate robes and golden bells demonstrated the honor of their office.
Similarly, the multicolored tassels on the hems dignified the priesthood. The valuable dyes elevated the priests, marking their status as consecrated servants of God. The tassels reminded the people to respect the priests’ special role as they carried out tabernacle duties.
For Christians, this foreshadowed Jesus as our great High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). While we do not have earthly priests today, it reminds us to esteem our clergy who minister God’s Word. Respecting their position points us to Christ’s higher priestly ministry.
Jesus Rebuked Misuse of Tassels
Given the rich symbolism of tassels, it is not surprising that Jesus addressed their misuse. In Matthew 23:5, He criticized the Pharisees’ improper wearing of widened tassels:
“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.”
The Pharisees wore large, showy tassels as status symbols to appear pious. But their outward displays did not reflect inward obedience. By making the tassels bigger, they sought public prestige and acclaim for their apparent religious devotion.
But Jesus exposed their hypocrisy in focusing on outward appearances rather than the heart condition. He condemned their pride and pretension masquerading as godliness. Outward symbols mean nothing if not matched by inward holiness.
This reminds us that externals do not impress God. We could wear all the crosses and Bible verse T-shirts possible, but if our hearts are far from God, they are worthless. What matters is not symbolic gestures but genuine devotion to pleasing Christ.
How Tassels Pointed to Jesus
Most importantly, the tassels God instituted pointed ahead to Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s law.
Galatians 3:24 explains that “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” The rules and symbols of the old covenant pointed ahead to the salvation through Christ in the new covenant.
The tassels particularly embodied this foreshadowing of Christ. They represented holiness, divine connection, and obedience to God’s commandments. But their deeper purpose was to direct the Israelites towards ultimate righteousness found in the coming Messiah.
The blue thread pointed to Jesus’ divinity as the Son of God from heaven (John 3:13). The high priest’s special tassels foreshadowed Jesus as our greater High Priest (Hebrews 4:14). And the tassels’ moral symbolism finds fulfillment in Christ’s perfect holiness that covers our sin.
By understanding the tassels’ typology, we gain insight into Jesus’ fulfillment of the law’s demands. The old covenant symbols give way to the reality found in Christ.
Applying the Symbolism of Tassels Today
While Christians today do not wear literal tassels, we can still appreciate their significance. Their rich symbolism points us to Christ and offers timeless principles for applying.
We can use visual reminders to stay focused on God’s truth throughout our daily lives. Simple habits like displaying Scripture verses or crosses direct our thoughts to the Lord.
We can also remember that outward professions of faith mean little without inward holiness. If we proclaim Christ but do not obey Him, our hypocrisy will show. What matters most is pursuing a pure heart to please God.
Most importantly, tassels foreshadow the righteousness found in Christ. Trusting in His finished work, not our own goodness, brings salvation by grace. Honoring biblical symbols points to the fulfillment found in Jesus alone.
Tassels in Scripture carried deep spiritual meaning for the ancient Israelites. These simple pieces of fabric served as reminders of God’s laws, symbols of holiness, and pointing ahead to Christ.
Though we may not wear tassels today, understanding their significance sheds light on important biblical themes. As New Testament believers, we now place our faith in Jesus as the fulfillment of the law’s demands.
But the principles behind the tassels still apply. We desperately need reminders to obey God’s Word in a forgetful world. We must examine our hearts to ensure outward profession aligns with inward purity. And we glory in salvation by grace through faith in Christ, not external righteousness.
May the symbolism of humble tassels encourage us in pursuing holiness, remembering God’s truth, and treasuring the perfection found in Christ alone.