The Constitution of the Old Testament – Part 5

The Constitution of the Old Testament – Part 5 December 16, 2016

 וּקְשַׁרְתָּ֥ם לְא֖וֹת עַל־יָדֶ֑ךָ וְהָי֥וּ לְטֹטָפֹ֖ת בֵּ֥ין עֵינֶֽיךָ׃8

You should bind them as a sign on your hand. And let them be as frontlets between your eyes.

The idea here is that it is not enough to talk to your kids about God’s words.  We need to put them into flesh in material ways in our lives and homes.Orthodox Jews take this commandment literally, wearing little leather boxes called tefillin (the plural of teffila, prayer) that contain parchment of these verses on their foreheads and arms while they do their weekday morning prayers. In Jesus’ day they were worn throughout the day. The Greek word for these is phylacteries, and this is the word Jesus used when he criticized the Pharisees for making their “phylacteries long” (Mt 23.5).  Rather than criticizing their wearing them, he criticizes them for making them long and showy.  The implication is that Jesus accepted their use, and probably wore his own, but condemned self-righteous display of them.

The point is that we should put “signs” of God’s promises and Kingdom throughout our lives.  Putting them on our hand suggests that God’s words should guide what we write and what we make, in other words, our work.  Putting them between our eyes suggests that God’s words should always guide our thinking and what we allow our eyes to see.

The universal Church has taken this to point to sacraments as signs of God’s promises and manifest presence.  Baptism and Eucharist, for example, are not only signs of God’s working but the reality of what He promises.  Baptism points to and actually delivers the Holy Spirit to the baptized; Holy Eucharist is not only a sign of Jesus’ body and blood but actually delivers them to us.  Calvin taught that we need material signs of God’s Kingdom all around us because we are material creatures, and God therefore accommodates His majestic presence to our material and sensory needs through the sacraments.

But that raises the question, If we need signs on or in our bodies, what about in our homes and communities?  Stay tuned.


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