You may have seen a Jewish man wearing a little black leather box strapped to his forehead and his arm.
These little hollow boxes are known in Hebrew as ‘tefillin’ – a word closely related to the Hebrew word for prayer – ‘tefillah’. The little boxes contain several scroll parchments with scripture verses written upon them – specifically the four passages which explicitly mention wearing the tefillin.
The commandment to wear the tefillin containing the commandments, comes directly from the prayer called ‘the Shema’ from the Torah.
You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deuteronomy 6:8)
The Hebrew word for ‘hand’ applies to the entire arm.
Observant Jewish men observe this commandment by literally binding the Torah on the arm and the forehead every day before praying the morning prayers.
The Right Hand And Forehead
The orthodox prayer book teaches that the tefillin should be positioned on the right arm and the forehead.
… He commanded us to place them on the arm opposite the heart, and on the head opposite the brain, so that we should submit the soul which is in the brain, as well as the desires and thoughts of our hearts, to His service … (Siddur HaRav)
The Name Of God
The Hebrew letter shin – ש is carved on the outside of the tefillin boxes. The shin acts as an abbreviation for El Shaddai – ‘God Almighty’.
In some traditions, even the leather strapping around the hand forms the letter shin on a person’s hand. And so the name of God is bound upon a person’s hand and forehead.
Jesus Wore Tefillin
Jesus and his disciples, who were all Jewish, wore tefillin on their right hands and foreheads during times of prayer, just as they wore tzitzit (tassels) on the corners of their garments.
The wearing of tefillin might be likened in some way to a wedding ring worn by a husband and wife, symbolically representing their faithfulness to the covenant they made with each other.
A Jewish person strapping the name and commandments of God to his arm and forehead, illustrates commitment to Israel’s national covenant relationship with God.
God Wears Tefillin
The Talmud says that God also wears tefillin which contains a parchment with the scriptures most reminding Him of His special people – Israel.
What is written in the tefillin of the Lord of the Universe?
‘And who is like your people Israel, one nation in the earth’. (Deuteronomy 33:29) (Talmud Berachot 6a)
So we see that Israel’s tefillin represents the nation’s covenant devotion to God. God’s tefillin represents His covenant devotion to Israel.
Large vs Small Tefillin
Jesus exposed Pharisees who boasted about their prayer life by wearing large tefillin boxes and long tzitzit (tassels) on the corners of their garments..
But all their works they do to be seen by men. They make their phylacteries (tefillin) broad and enlarge the borders of their garments (tzitzit). (Matthew 23:5)
Jesus however did NOT condemn their use, as He, like most first-century Jewish men wore them too, but chose instead the smaller more discreet tefillin box measuring 12mm x 20mm, along with the normal length tzitzit.
The tefillin represent God’s commandments, which do us no harm, but only good – keeping us on ‘the narrow path’ which leads to life. So too Jesus bound Himself to God’s commandments daily with the bonds of love.
In the days of Emperor Hadrian, the wearing of tefillin was outlawed.
Many Jews risked their lives in order to wear tefillin. (Talmud Shabbat 130a)
The Mark Of The Beast
The commandment of tefillin has special relevance in regards to what the book of Revelation calls ‘the mark of the beast’.
The book of Revelation predicts that in the future, a satanic world leader, referred to as ‘the beast’, with power over all nations will arise and speak blasphemy against God and the Temple and make war upon the people of God while the unbelieving nations worship him as a god. (Revelation 13:4,7)
According to the prophecy, this world leader will require all mankind to receive a mark representing his name in their right hand or on their forehead as a mark of allegiance. Sound familiar?
Without this mark, it is forbidden to buy or sell. (Revelation 13:16)
First-century Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus understood receiving this mark as a direct reference to tefillin, symbolising a covenant union between the nations and satan – and they will worship him as God.
This contrasts the one hundred forty-four thousand Jewish men who bear the name of God on their foreheads – referring to the tefillin.
Then I looked, and behold, the Lamb was standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand, having His name and the name of His Father written on their foreheads. (Revelation 14:1)
How can you and I as believers in Jesus obey this command?
If you are Jewish: That is easy as nowadays tefillin are readily available to purchase for your use at all times – specifically at times of prayer.
If you are non-Jewish: The point of Tefillin is about being a person who bears the Name of the Lord and is obedient to His commandments. So you can practically:
- Commit your mind to the Lord and guard what goes into it – what you watch and listen to – feeding it with daily portions of scripture. (Phil 4:8)
- Be careful about what you say and do – perhaps reflecting ‘Would Jesus do what I am about to do?’ Paul called this ‘being a ‘Temple of the Holy Spirit’. (1 Corinthians 6:19,20)
Have fun as you walk out your life IN HIS NAME.