Sunday, July 05, 2009
by Bonnie Calhoun
In Matthew 9:20-22, we see a sick woman becoming well by touching Jesus' clothes:
"Just then a woman, who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, came up behind Him and touched the hem of His garment; for she said to herself, 'If I only touch His cloak, I will be healed.' Jesus turned and saw her. 'Take heart, daughter,' He said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment."
What is it about the hem of Jesus' garment? At first it seems like an odd practice. But when we understand the significance of the hem of one's garment, these passages have more meaning.
The word translated, hem, is actually referring to the fringes, or tassels (called tzitziyot, in Hebrew) required to be on the four corners of all clothing of Jewish men, in accordance with God's instruction:
"The Lord said to Moses, 'Speak to the Israelites and say to them: Throughout the generations to come, you are to make tassels on the corners of one's garments, with a blue cord on each tassel. You will have these tassels to look at and so will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all My commands, and will be consecrated to your God. I am the Lord your God.'" (Num. 15:37-41a)
The tassels are to remind man each Jewish of his responsibility to fulfill God's commandments. Wearing these tassels would be comparable to us wearing a large Bible on a rope around our necks. How would we behave in public, how would we speak to others, where would we go? God intended them to be a constant reminder of His Word when He told the Israelites to wear these fringes.
In ancient Israel, this outer garment became known as a tallit, and eventually evolved into the more formal prayer shawl. These shawls are white, representing the heavens, or the dwelling place of the Lord. The blue stripes represents the Ruach HaKodesh, or the Holy Spirit of God.
Therefore praying under the tallit, or prayer shawl, is covering yourself with the presence of God. The word tallit is derived from tallith... tal meaning tent, and ith meaning little. Therefore you get 'little tent'. From biblical times, this custom was a prayer closet, and it is likely this is what Jesus was referring to in Matthew 6:6 when He told us to get into our closet, apart from the people around, and pray in secret to the Lord.
The tallit was worn by Samuel (1Sam. 15:27) and it was Elijah's mantle that was conferred upon Elisha (1Kgs. 19:19). It was also worn by Jesus, and the 'hem of the garment' that the woman touched was actually the tzitziyot or tassels of His tallit.
Each tassel was to have a blue thread. With the color blue everywhere today, it is hard to imagine that during the entire biblical period, blue (or purple)was the most expensive color to produce. That's why it was reserved for royalty. The only source was a small gland in the Murex Snail. It took 12,000 snails to fill up a thimble of blue dye.
In 200 BC, one pound of cloth, dyed blue, cost the equivalent of $36,000. By AD 300, this same pound of blue cloth cost $96,000. This indicates that Lydia, the seller of purple and an early convert of Christianity, was one of the wealthiest women in the Empire (Acts 16:14).
It doesn't mean much to us, but to early readers, it said, "Hey one of the wealthiest and most influential people in the Roman Empire has gotten saved!" Imagine the impact this had on the message of the Gospel.