Commentary on Numbers 15:37-41

Notes (NET Translation)

37 The LORD spoke to Moses:

38 “Speak to the Israelites and tell them to make tassels for themselves on the corners of their garments throughout their generations, and put a blue thread on the tassel of the corners.

Deut 22:12 specifies a tassel at each corner of the square outer garment. Blue distinguished royalty (Ezek 23:6; Esth 1:6; 8:15) and divinity (Ex 28:28, 31; 26:4, 31, 36; 28:31, 37; 29:22; 36:11; 39:21, 31) so the tassels are a sign of the holy in everyone’s daily life (v 40; Ex 19:6; Lev 11:44-45) as well as a reminder of the commandments (v 39; Deut 6:6-9).

39 You must have this tassel so that you may look at it and remember all the commandments of the LORD and obey them and so that you do not follow after your own heart and your own eyes that lead you to unfaithfulness.

The purpose of the tsitsit is set out by a series of verbs: “look . . . recall . . . observe” (v. 39). These three verbs effectively summarize and define the pedagogic technique of the ritual system of the Torah: sight (i.e., the senses) combined with memory (i.e., the intellect) are translated into action (i.e., good deeds). Thus the experience of rituals and the comprehension of their values lead to loftier ethical behavior. The text also adds a negative purpose: to bridle the passions (v. 39) and thereby, according to the rabbis, prevent heresy and harlotry (Sif. Num. 115).1

40 Thus you will remember and obey all my commandments and be holy to your God.

41 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.”

This verse is a strong reaffirmation, after the rebellion in chs. 13-14, of God’s covenant with Israel.

Bibliography

Ashley, Timothy R. The Book of Numbers. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993.

Brown, Raymond E., Joseph A. Fitzmyer, and Roland E. Murphy, eds. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Cole, R. Dennis. Numbers. Kindle Edition. The New American Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000.

Friedman, Richard Elliott. Commentary on the Torah. First Edition. San Francisco, Calif.: HarperOne, 2001.

Levine, Baruch A. Numbers 1-20. The Anchor Yale Bible. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993.

Mays, James L., ed. The HarperCollins Bible Commentary. Revised Edition. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2000.

Milgrom, Jacob. Numbers. The JPS Torah Commentary. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

Wenham, Gordon J. Numbers. Kindle Edition. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. IVP Academic, 2015.


  1. Milgrom 1990, 413 
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