Posted by: Heather | May 6, 2010

By What Authority? (Part 2) – The tassels

In yesterday’s introduction, I began a series on authority.  The chief priests and elders wanted to know where Jesus got His authority from, and as Christians, we need to know the same thing.  The tassels on the garments that the Jews wore hold a great deal of insight into where this authority comes from, and today I want to begin to cover what the tassels mean.  I pray this series will give you a greater understanding of our authority in Christ, as I believe studying it has given me.

In the picture at the top of today’s lesson, you can see a set of tassels like the ones on each corner of the Jewish tallit.  The main purpose of the tallit (prayer shawl) is to hold the tassels, as the garment itself doesn’t have any significance.  It could be made out of most any fabric, as long as wool and linen weren’t worn together.  This is because Jews were not permitted to wear wool and linen together.  I will explain why later in this article.

There are a number of knots and wrappings on the tassel.   Each one is tied in a certain way.  These tassels serve as a visual reminder of God’s commandments.  I’m personally very glad that God likes visual aids…seeing things helps me tremendously!

Each tassel is created by 8 threads…7 white and 1 blue.  The blue thread is longer than all of the white ones.  It is called the ‘shamash’ (servant).  This is the one that is used for most of the wrapping.  (NOTE: In the picture, it may look like 2 blue threads.  This is because the thread is doubled over.)

The blue is a deep royal blue, almost purple.  The dye for this blue thread was obtained from a mollusk that only lived in 2 places; in Israel and a certain place in Greece.  In Biblical days, it was very important to them to get blue dye that was permanent for the tassels, so they wouldn’t use vegetable dyes for these.  The dye was found in a gland inside the mollusk.  They had to drill each one individually by hand, and each mollusk only produced 1 drop of the dye.  It took 3,387,000 mollusks to produce 1 pint of this very expensive blue dye.  At today’s prices, it would cost approximately $13,000 for one pint!  To get 11 yards of fabric dyed with this blue would cost approximately $35,000.  The business of producing the dye was passed down only within certain families who had the secret of extracting the dye.   When we read of Lydia, the ‘seller of purple’ (Acts 16:14), this was her family’s business, and why she was so wealthy.  Because it was so expensive to produce, royalty were the only ones that could afford it.  However, each man could afford a thread for the tassels.   This dye was used in the outfit of the high priest of Israel, as well in the outfits of kings and other royalty that could afford it.

The 7 white threads were made of linen, and the blue thread was generally made of wool.  This was the only exception to the commandment against wearing linen and wool together.  Men were not allowed to wear linen and wool together, because priests were the only ones allowed to combine those fabrics.  When a regular person was in the marketplace, they might be mistaken for a priest if they combined the fabrics.  However, in the tassels, they were allowed to combine the one wool thread with the white linen threads.

Just in the colors and fabric alone, there is great significance.  When men looked at the tassels on their tallit, they would be reminded that they were sons of the most royal, high God by that expensive blue dye.  And, in the combination of wool and linen, they would remember that they are the priests of their own home.

The number 7 represents perfection, and white represents purity.  They could look on these, and remember the holiness and perfection of God, and how we’re called to be like Him.

I’ve just covered the colors and the fabrics.  I wanted to get to the tying of the tassels this time too.  But, I don’t want to make it too long to read in one sitting.  So, I’ll save that for tomorrow.  God bless you, and I hope you’ll keep reading!


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