Should Christians Wear Tassels?
By Art Braidic
The Eternal Church of God
All Scriptures are from the King James translation unless otherwise noted.
Some believe that Christians should wear tassels such as those described in Numbers 15:38-40. When considering this practice, it is important to first consider the context of God’s original instructions. Tassels were not a part of the Ten Commandments, nor were they included in any of God’s statutes and laws. The Eternal later gave Israel instructions regarding wearing tassels, but only after an individual performed a disobedient act. As the Scriptures state:
Now while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man gathering sticks on the Sabbath day. And those who found him gathering sticks brought him to Moses and Aaron, and to all the congregation. They put him under guard because it had not been explained what should be done to him. Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man must surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” So, as the LORD commanded Moses, all the congregation brought him outside the camp and stoned him with stones, and he died. 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” (Numbers 15:32-40).
These verses indicate that wearing tassels was specifically for the purpose of reminding the Israelites to obey God’s Commandments. In our modern culture, the practice could be compared to tying a string around our finger to help us remember something that needed doing.
It should also be understood that God instituted the wearing of tassels in the context that Israel has been in bondage for hundreds of years during which time, they had forgotten His laws. In fact, after the death of Jacob and his 12 sons, Israel literally abandoned God and turned to idolatry (Jos. 24:14; Eze. 20:7-13). Generations had come and gone in which God’s Ten Commandments, His statutes, and annual holy days were neither taught nor kept. The fact that this particular individual sinned so readily after God had revealed the Sabbath made the issue clear. The people needed a constant reminder in order to help them live by God’s law.
Remember, printing presses did not exist at that time. The people did not have computers or Bibles as we do today. Copies of the law were not available to most. Therefore, during the time and circumstances of ancient Israel, God deemed it appropriate to display a physical reminder to help Israel focus on keeping His commandments. They were to create tassels and wear them as part of their attire as a continual reminder of their covenant with Him (Exo. 19:5).
More important, the vast majority of Israel never received the Holy Spirit as Christians have today. Certainly, some leaders, and prophets, were endued with the Holy Spirit. For example, Moses was clearly led by God’s Spirit to help him perform his leadership responsibilities. Aaron, Joshua, and Caleb were also inspired to follow God, and the Almighty gave some of the same Spirit to 70 others. As the Scriptures declare:
So the LORD said to Moses: “Gather to Me seventy men of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tabernacle of meeting, that they may stand there with you. Then I will come down and talk with you there. I will take of the Spirit that is upon you and will put the same upon them, and they shall bear the burden of the people with you, that you may not bear it yourself alone” (Numbers 11:16-17).
This—the Spirit of God—is the crucial difference between ancient Israel and God’s Church today. What the Holy Spirit portrays and how it functions is necessary for the Christian’s understanding and spiritual growth. Receiving God’s Holy Spirit is a form of spiritual begettal (1 Pet. 1:3). It is the first step toward the individual’s conversion and is the means by which a Christian is to grow in the knowledge and grace of God. It must also be understood that His grace is defined as, “the divine influence (God’s Spirit) upon the heart and its reflection in the life” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, G5463).
The Holy Spirit is God’s divine influence facilitating spiritual growth in God’s children, who are now kept within the womb of Christ’s Church. Finally, those who are faithful and mature spiritually will be born again as spirit beings as a result of this begettal (John 3:5-8; Eph. 4:30). Ancient Israel was only a physical type of the church. The Spirit given to those in the Church today was only offered to an extremely limited number of leading individuals in physical Israel.
The point of them wearing tassels was that they would be a reminder to those living in God’s nation. They were required to keep His Commandments but did not yet possess the influence of the Spirit. Today, true Christians who have God’s Spirit do not need to wear these tassels as a reminder. They have God’s divine influence in their heart and mind to remind them. As Christ revealed:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, it will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you (John 14:26).
Because the majority of Israel lacked this Spirit, they eventually misapplied God’s purpose for these tassels. Instead of reminding them to obey God, they came to be an outward show of righteousness among the religious folks in Christ’s time. As the Savior stated:
But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues, greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called by men, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi’ (Matthew 23:5-7).
While not claiming that everyone who might choose to wear tassels is motivated by the same purpose as those Pharisees, nonetheless, to a large degree, not much has changed since then. As a result, many modern religious Jews grow long beards or unique sideburns. Some may wear a prayer shawl, a yarmulke, or some kind of tassels. Thus, like the Pharisees of old, much of this adorning is not actually done to obey God, but more often to make the person stand out as pious or part of a particular religious group.
For example, while the Bible gives no details for the making of tassels, modern Judaism and Messianic religious groups actually mimic the behavior of the ancient Pharisees in that they have gone beyond God’s criteria, creating their own special decorative tassels in order to stand out. For example, some tie them in a specific way with an exact number of knots to represent 613 laws. Others decorate them with beads, and even some are made of gold.
In light of these things, in our attempt to obey God, we should be reminded of the following truth. Christ condemned doing anything for the sake of appearing righteous. In His words:
Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise, you have no reward from your Father in heaven. Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly (Matthew 6:1-4).
Today we have printed bibles to remind us of every commandment, statute, and law. Moreover, in light of Christ’s words above, we are not to draw attention to our personal religious observance. So, while no Scripture prevents God’s people from wearing tassels, once receiving the Holy Spirit, it is unnecessary for Christians. God’s Spirit in us is to be our intimate personal reminder.
Thus, tassels can actually become a spiritual distraction. In fact, as an outward show, they may ultimately do us more harm than good by leading us to do what is unnecessary while leaving the most necessary undone. The wearing of tassels is in the same category as other outward acts that the unconverted Israelites were obligated to perform, but once the Holy Spirit was given, were no longer necessary. For example, God told the Israelites that, if an individual swore an oath in His name, that person was bound and required to perform it (Lev. 19:12). However, Christ changed this edict when preaching to those who would later become Christians. He stated that they were not to swear at all. Instead, the Christian was to always be sincere and honest. Our “yes” was to simply be “yes,” and our “no” always “no” (Mat. 5:33).
Within this context, it is the judgment of the Eternal Church of God that while wearing tassels is not a sin, if we wear them to draw attention to ourselves or to appear religious, it easily can become the sin of vanity. More importantly, as Christ indicated to the Pharisees, their wearing of tassels was of no real spiritual value. The true believer is to avoid physical displays to profess their faith. Instead, they are to seek God’s Spirit through prayer, meditation, and the study of God’s Word. By this, our behavior becomes that which reflects our faith to others. We will be keeping God’s Commandments in their spiritual intent and not just in the letter as was required in an earlier time and circumstance (Mat. 5:17-48).