What were the “phylacteries” that the Pharisees wore?

Q. What were the “phylacteries” that the Pharisees wore and the fringes, why was it wrong to wear them?

Matthew 23: 1-12
1* ¶ Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples,
2* saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses;
3* therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.
4* “They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
5* “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments.
6* “They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues,
7* and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.
8* “But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers.
9* “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven.
10* “Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.
11* “But the greatest among you shall be your servant.
12* “Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

The phylacteries were cube shaped “small leather cases” that the Pharisees wore on their foreheads and their arms. In these cases were the Scripture verses from Exodus 13: 1-10, 11-16 and Deuteronomy 6: 4-9; 11: 13-21. The phylactery found on the inside of the left arm was near the elbow so that with the bending of the arm it would rest over the heart – the knot fastening it to the arm was in the form of the Hebrew letter yodh (Y) and the end of the sting wound around the middle finger (“a sign upon thy hand” Deut. 6:8). The Exodus verses are about how God brought His people out of slavery in Egypt, and about the celebration of the Passover. The Deuteronomy verses are about loving God with all one’s heart, mind, and spirit. The figurative language found in the above passages was distorted into gross materialistic practices.

Deut 6
4* ¶ “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one!
5* “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
6* “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.
7* You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up.
8* “You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead.
9* “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
10* “Then it shall come about when the LORD your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build,
11* and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied,
12* then watch yourself, that you do not forget the LORD who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.

Have you ever tied a string to your finger to remember something? Have you ever held your nose to the grindstone? Have you ever gone back to the salt mine to work? Have you ever had “rat killing” to do?

The fringes on the Pharisees robes were put there as a constant reminder of God’s commandments (Number 15: 38-41). Each time the wearer noticed the fringes, he was to ask himself if he were sincerely living out God’s law in the world. By making their phylacteries and fringes extra-long, some Pharisees were putting on a show of great religion, of being more spiritual than others.

The fringe was made up of a cord warped around seven cords – seven times, then eight, then eleven, and finally fifteen. Each series was separated from the others by two knows – Seven and eight constituting 15 together representing YH the 11 representing WH together they represent YHWH.

Door posts and gates were considered sacred places. The entrance to a man’s house or property was considered a sacred place. You entered into a covenant when you entered into someone’s house. You were to be reminded that it was NOT your house, it was not your property, it belonged to another.

Israel was to remember that they belonged to God. The strength they had (their arms and hands) were given to them by God. They were always to keep God in the forefront of their minds. The Pharisees reduced this teaching to a material display of Phylacteries and Fringes. Now, according to the tradition of the Pharisee, all you had to do to be spiritual was to dress properly.

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