Friday, May 23, 2014

A Sabbath-breaking Case and the Introduction of the Fringe

32 ¶And while the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the sabbath day.
33 And they that found him gathering sticks brought him unto Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation.
34 And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done to him.
35 And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall be surely put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp.
36 And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses. (Numbers 15:32-36) 
Perhaps it is disturbing to us today to read that a man was stoned for gathering sticks on the Sabbath.  In our society the punishment seems out of all proportion to the crime.  However, as we have pointed out before, the Lord meant the Israelites to be a holy people and gave them commandments with particular penalties attached, and they had agreed to abide by that law, which meant that if one among them decided to break it, that person had to suffer the penalty. 

We live in a society that does not take seriously the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, and if we see Sabbath-breaking as no big deal, that shows we have allowed that attitude to infect us.  For us to become more holy, we need to change that attitude.  While we do not inflict the death penalty upon those who break the Sabbath, I think this story should be instructive to us about how important it is to the Lord that we keep the Sabbath holy. 

There’s an interesting thing that happens in these verses after the penalty is inflicted.   
37 ¶And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,
38 Speak unto the children of Israel, and bid them that they make them fringes in the borders of their garments throughout their generations, and that they put upon the fringe of the borders a ribband of blue:
39 And it shall be unto you for a fringe, that ye may look upon it, and remember all the commandments of the Lord, and do them; and that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring:
40 That ye may remember, and do all my commandments, and be holy unto your God.
41 I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the Lord your God.  (Numbers 15:37-41)
The Lord gives a commandment to Moses that the Israelites make fringes on the borders of their garments and put a blue ribbon upon this fringe.  The purpose of this fringe and blue ribbon is for them to see it and remember all the commandments.
Why this commandment now?  It is possible the Lord wanted everyone to remember the commandments themselves instead of going around looking for people to catch and accuse for sin. 

I had to ask myself, why did the Lord want to use fringes to teach the Israelites?  The Lord often uses symbols to teach important lessons, so how was the fringe supposed to teach them?

I started thinking about what this fringe was.  Fringes are essentially a collection of threads.  Each thread might represent a commandment.  Lots of threads, lots of commandments. 
Then I started thinking about where this fringe was to be.  It was to be always attached to their clothes on the borders.  It could be said to be part of their clothes, but it didn’t really have much function in actually covering their nakedness.   
That’s when I started to understand.  The Lord meant for the fringes on the borders of their clothes to represent the commandments, so what did that mean their clothes represented?  The Atonement of Christ, which covered them.  They were supposed to remember that Christ’s atonement covered their sins like their clothes covered their bodies, and that keeping the commandments was always supposed to be attached to being covered, just like the fringes were commanded to always be attached to their clothes.  

The fringe also taught proper perspective about the relative importance of the commandments compared to the atonement of Christ.  If you just had the fringe, that alone wouldn’t help cover nakedness, just like keeping the commandments wouldn’t do anything to help do away with sin.  But keeping the commandments always had to be attached to coverage by the atonement.  

Understanding this better makes me kind of want to put a fringe on my clothes.

that ye seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which ye use to go a whoring – This particular principle behind the fringe of commandment is very helpful to remember.  The commandment is something that is supposed to help us know the will of God.  It may feel really nice to do just what we want all the time, but sooner or later that kind of life will come to misery.  The commandments, on the other hand, help us avoid that misery and bring us to happiness.  This resonated with me recently as I realized that I had been going after my own heart and will too much and it wasn’t making me happy.