The tassel has become part of the graduation attire. Part of the graduation cap or mortarboard, the tassel originally became part of the dress as a way to distinguish by differing colors differing disciplines of study. This is still done at the college and post-graduate level. In most high schools, the tassel represents school colors. Of course, you know that graduates also move the tassel from right to left at the appropriate place in the ceremony. The first use of the tassel as part of the graduation ceremony is disputable. Some say that the practice began as early as the 14th century, while others argue that the practice began in the 19th century.
Students of the Bible will know that tassels on a robe date back to the book of Numbers. God instructed the Israelites to make their garments in such a way as to be adorned with tassels. In Numbers 15, we read:
37 Again the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 38 “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. 39 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, 40 and that you may remember and do all My commandments, and be holy for your God. 41 I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, to be your God: I am the LORD your God.”
The Purpose of a Tassel
The purpose of the tassel that God instructed Israel to wear was very simple. The tassel on the corner of their garment was to remind them to obey His commandments. God gave Israel several tangible objects of memorial. He told them, for example, to gather twelve stones when they crossed the Jordan River. Later, He would give them the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles to remind them of His provision for them during the Wilderness Wanderings.
This particular command to wear a tassel was something that they would always have with them. God wanted Israel to carry with them a constant reminder of their commitment to Him.
People do a similar thing today, I suppose. For example, most married people wear a wedding ring to remind them of their marriage commitment. The ring does not mean that a person is faithful to his/her spouse, but it should remind them always to be faithful.
The Need for a Tassel of Remembrance
To begin to understand the modern day application of this text and this instruction, we need to note in our text why God gave them the command to wear these tassels. We have already said that the tassels were to remind them to keep the commandments, but why would they need the reminder? There are three reasons listed in this text why Israel needed a constant reminder to obey the commands of God. We need the reminder to obey for the same reasons.
The Reminder of Temptation
God wanted Israel to wear the tassel so that they would not follow “the harlotry to which your own heart and your own eyes are inclined.” God knew that Israel would be tempted, and He knows that we will be tempted. In fact, He knows that at the heart of who we are we desire disobedience to obedience. We desire rebellion instead of righteousness. God knows that left to our own heart, we will choose sin every time. For that reason, we need a constant reminder to be faithful to Him. But there is more.
The Reminder of Sanctification
God reminds in verse 40 that we are to be holy. The idea in the word holy is that we would be “set apart” or sanctified. God intended that Israel be set apart by their lifestyle, and He intends the same for us.
The Reminder of Provision
The third reason that we need to be constantly reminded is that God has brought us to where we are. We did not get what we have without Him. This was His message to Israel over and over again. For example:
- Deuteronomy 4:23 Take heed to yourselves, lest you forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a carved image in the form of anything which the LORD your God has forbidden you.
- Deuteronomy 6: 12 then beware, lest you forget the LORD who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.
- Deuteronomy 8:14 when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage;
Alex Haley, author of Roots would often say, “Anytime you see a turtle sitting on a fence post you know that the turtle did not get there without some help.”
Every single one of us is just like that—we did not get to where we are without the help of the LORD.
A Modern Day Tassel
So, are we all to go out and buy tassels and hang them from our garments? Not necessarily, although, some choose to do that. Rather, we must follow the principle of this instruction. In light of the need for a reminder to keep God’s commandments, we must have our own “tassel” of remembrance. We must have something in our lives to remind us to be obedient to God. May I suggest a “modern-day tassel?” My idea is simple, really. God has given something to continually remind us to be obedient to God. What is it? His Word! We can read God’s Word daily for the reminder to be obedient. But, if we are going to read it, we must follow the same guidelines that God gave Israel regarding the tassel. Do you see the guidelines in the text?
1. Read God’s Word—“Look upon it.”
Just like the tassel was a continual reminder to Israel, we should strive to make the Word of God a continual reminder. The only way to do this is to allow Bible reading to become a very regular habit in our lives.
2. Study God’s Word—“remember all the commandments of the LORD”
3. Follow God’s Word—“and do them”
Some years ago, as part of an event to draw awareness to the issue of adoption, I participated in a rappel down a 25 story building in Baton Rouge. My training occurred in 30 minutes immediately preceding my rappel. In fact, I was not altogether sure when the training ceased and the actual rappel began. However, I can tell you this. I followed word-for-word every instruction that the trainer gave to me. Why? My life depended on my following his directions. I was tuned in to every detail of the instructions. I heard the instructions, remembered the instructions and followed the instructions.
Graduates, may you do the same with God’s Word. May all of us heed the life-giving instructions of God’s Word.