When I was in high school, I developed an odd habit. Whenever I’d get nervous, I’d pinch my skin. I’d focus the pinching around the back of my neck or the back of one of my hands. There was a weird calming sensation when the skin would crackle between my fingertips. My parents and my friends would hound me to stop. It annoyed them as much as it annoyed me.
I wanted it to stop.
Knowing the results of Pavlov’s classical conditioning experiments with dogs and salivation, I decided to embark upon my own classical conditioning exercise in order to eradicate this behavior from my life. I placed a rubber band around my wrist, and every time I pinched my skin, I would stretch the rubber band out as far as I could and release it…thereby welting my wrist. I recall Mrs. Blessman scolding me one day in class for doing this very thing. My argument was that self-inflicting wounds should not be cause for discipline. She disagreed. Truth be told, however, the experiment worked. I grew to associate pain with pinching, and I kicked the habit. Take that Mrs. Blessman!
Most of my friends and family know that I love The Karate Kid…not the remake with Jackie Chan and Jaden Smith, but the original with Ralph Macchio. Some would say I have a mild (or possibly severe) case of Ralph Macchioitis. As you know from one of my earlier blog posts, I’m a sucker for the underdog. In my favorite scene from this movie, Daniel (the karate kid) had spent his whole week washing and waxing Mr. Miyagi’s vehicles, sanding the floor of Mr. Miyagi’s deck, painting Mr. Miyagi’s fence, and painting Mr. Miyagi’s house. The sun had long set, and Mr. Miyagi was returning from an entire day of fishing. Daniel was almost finished with painting the house, when Mr. Miyagi said, “Oh! Missed a spot.” That was the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back for Daniel. Feeling like Mr. Miyagi’s slave, Daniel begins to rant and rave claiming he hadn’t learned a thing about karate; perhaps he learned how to paint fences, wash cars, sand decks, and paint houses, but he hadn’t learned a thing about karate. At this point, Mr. Miyagi pulls Daniel aside and says, “Show me sand the floor.” Mr. Miyagi continues to demonstrate how the habit-forming activities he had Daniel performing were training his mind and body to learn some of the basic defensive moves in karate.
When we do something repeatedly, and train our mind, body, heart, and soul to remember the action and all that is associated with that action, eventually the thoughts and the action simultaneously become habitual and natural.
That’s what God had in mind in Numbers 15. Most theologians and preachers love to avoid the short passage found in Numbers 15:32-36. Most atheists and agnostics love to point out the brutality of it all. In summary, a man was found gathering wood on the Sabbath. Moses and Aaron placed the man in custody. God then commanded Moses to have the entire assembly stone the man to death. Ouch! Good thing I waited until Monday to pick up that branch that fell from my tree last Sunday morning. On the other hand, am I in the clear to pick it up on Sunday, since the Sabbath used to be on Saturday?
It’s very important to take this verse in context. God is laying down the law here. God is emphasizing the importance in strictly adhering to His covenant. Not doing so has lethal repercussions. From the very beginning, death was the result of disobedience. God commanded Adam, “but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die (Genesis 2:17). This is no shocker. The wages of sin is death!
It maybe wasn’t a shocker, but let’s face it…human beings are dumb. We just are! We needed something to classically condition us to stop eating the forbidden fruit…to stop gathering wood on Sunday. God’s next step after sentencing this poor wood-gatherer to death was to embark upon a Pavlovian experiment. Therefore, God decided that everyone should wear tassels with blue cords on the fringe of their garments. That makes perfect logical sense to me. Here’s God’s reasoning behind these cool tassels:
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 chasing 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.
God knew that his most amazing creation wasn’t always the sharpest knife in the drawer. The tassels were to be constant reminders to obey. See the tassels, remember God’s covenant, and wise-up.
Tassels were a temporary fix to a permanent problem. They were Band-Aids. Hopefully, when the next individual who runs out of wood on the Sabbath sees his tassels, he’ll think twice before picking up a stick. The tassels weren’t going to solve the sin problem completely. The final solution to the sin problem wouldn’t come until 1400 years later. The night before Jesus died on the cross and solved the sin problem once and for all, Jesus said to his disciples, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.” Jesus then took the cup, gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” Then, he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you (Luke 22:14-20).
“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me”
“This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
Whenever we eat or drink…ANYTHING…we remember Christ. Eating and drinking is a way for us to classically condition ourselves to remember Jesus Christ and the sacrifice he made for us. Eating and drinking is like Daniel’s waxing on and waxing off. Eating and drinking is like a stretched out rubber band smacking our wrists to remember. Where the tassels reminded the Israelites to obey the old covenant or else, our food and drink reminds us of Jesus Christ and the price he paid for our sins. We remember that there’s a new covenant. We remember the new covenant that doesn’t sentence us to immediate death when we don’t strictly adhere to the law. We remember the new covenant where the life of the Innocent One was paid in order to save the life of the guilty. Whenever we eat or drink, we remember the grace of our Righteous Father, who sacrificed his only Son so we may live.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.