You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes. Then you will remember to obey all my commands and will be consecrated to your God.“~ Numbers 15: 39, 40 NIV
Imagine for a moment that you were taking a walk or a hike and from the ends of your garments were hanging a bunch of tassels with a blue cord. How often do you think you would notice the tassels swaying as you took your steps or swung your arms? God the Lord gave the people of Israel these tassels so that they would remember who they were. As they made their way through the desert and to the promised land they would remember that they were a kingdom of priests and the Lord’s own possession.
Like most people I had read this passage several times and looked over it without much special attention. A few years ago, however, I was living in a discipleship community in Copenhagen where I sat under a teacher who put great emphasis on this passage and in particular the word “remember.” The theme of remembrance came up in his class and in the Scriptures he had us commit to memory, this passage among them. He taught us to remember that when God calls us, when Jesus calls us as his disciples he does so because he believes in us and that we can make it. We should remember that we are his disciples and that identity should shape who we are. We should remember that we are of the family of Abraham and Sarah whom God took and made this holy people from.
In this passage, we are called to remember two things: 1) the commands of the Lord and 2) to obey all his commands. The consequence of forgetting the commands of the Lord is that we will not be able to obey them and will therefore prostitute ourselves by going after the lusts of our hearts and eyes. Our bodies are wired for pleasure. We like things that feel good (ahem, sex)m taste good (foods high and sugar) and things that give us power and status (things like money, the latests this or that, often what the Joneses have). Many of God’s commands deal with ordering these areas into healthy boundaries so human life can flourish instead of destroying ourselves through our own passions and lusts. When we make our pleasures our utmost instead of pleasing God our utmost we actually prostitute ourselves. We become enslaved to our desires and will give ourselves over to whatever power or situation can provide us with the pleasures we want often subjecting ourselves and those around us to dehumanizing consequences so we can get our way.
Where do you think all these appalling wars and quarrels come from? Do you think they just happen? Think again. They come about because you want your own way, and fight for it deep inside yourselves. You lust for what you don’t have and are willing to kill to get it. You want what isn’t yours and will risk violence to get your hands on it. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure.
You’re cheating on God. If all you want is your own way, flirting with the world every chance you get, you end up enemies of God and his way. And do you suppose God doesn’t care? The proverb has it that “he’s a fiercely jealous lover.” And what he gives in love is far better than anything else you’ll find. It’s common knowledge that “God goes against the willful proud; God gives grace to the willing humble.” (James 4:1-2, 4-6 MSG; 2-3 NLT).
There’s this basic impulse within us that thinks that if we do things God’s way we wont get what we want. But the reality is God knows what we need. What we we need more then anything is God himself. We must repent! We must turn away from this prostitution by living for our own pleasures and live to please him! How do we do this? We remember his words so we can do what they say. God desires obedience. If we obey his commands we will be “consecrated to our God.” The reality that this all pivots on is if we will be friends with God or not? Will we live in a right loving relationship with the Lord or not? We can choose God or the world but we can’t choose both. Jesus called us friend but he also said if you love me you will obey my commands. His words are life after all right? They deliver when everything else in the world has failed us? God spent a great price to make us his own possession. He saved us from slavery so we don’t have to prostitute ourselves to get what we need. We can look to the Lord, trust him and relay on him. If we delight in him he will give us the desires or our heart. He loves to give good gifts to his children. He loves us. But we must trust him and that his commands are good or we will never change our behavior. The Egypt mentality says if we play the part, do what the system says and put our hope in that—even if that means slavery!—then we’ll get what we want. The Kingdom mentality says if we accept our place of belonging in God’s house, believe that his promises are true and obey his commands he will get the Lord himself as our prize and everything else we have ever dreamed of as well.
One more thing must be said about the tassels They’re to remind us to obey the commands of God not to let others know we are so holy and dignified. They are intimate reminders. They tell us we belong to him so we must live different; we must live holy. Jesus said: “Everything they [the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees] do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garment long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi’ (Matthew 23:5-7, NIV). We must not be like this! We must do everything in our power to remember God’s word that we may obey not that we may puff up our status before others through a spirit of religion which concerns itself more with status and power (and taking pleasure in that place) then living to please God. A religion that pleases God is one that cares for widows and orphans and keeps oneself unpolluted from they systems that promise power and fulfilling pleasure but ask you to bow to idols and prostitute yourself to do it. The Pharisees had compromised with Rome to sit in high places and live off the pleasures of empire. Their symbols which were meant to remind them to live for God and his Kingdom instead of the empires of Egypt, Babylon and Rome became inverted. We must be careful that in our way of life we don’t use the place government and empire gives religion to make ourselves fat off the world’s pleasures to the neglect of that to which we were called or we will come under the judgement of God.
The tassals remind us to remember in the desert away from the world that we would not give ourselves to our own pleasures. When we return to the world they offer a reminder to not live of the world and the pleasures it offers either. They also remind us we have been delivered from Satan so we don’t have to obey him. We may not have the literal tassals anymore but I know I must remember the commands of God. Now we have the Holy Spirit to do that. But we must listen to his gentle voice in intimate place of our inner life. People may never see something that says we are Christians but they will know it if we live by the Spirit. He reminds us of everything God has said. If we need symbols to remind us of the life of God in us there are many that can be found or made but its the grace beyond those symbols that makes all the difference.
I know I must make my own repentance. To turn away from living for my pleasures, even in the desert, and to live for God and obey his commands.
Lord, here I am. I live for my pleasures too often. I don’t live for you. I forget your word and suppress the voice of the Spirit. I am guilty. Have mercy on me. Keep mentioning your words to me over and over again. Thank you that you never stop saying I love you even when I stop loving you in my disobedient actions. Purify my heart. May it desire you and your will always. Through Jesus Christ and the obedience of his life do I pray, Amen.