The Hem of His Garment

By Dr. Richard Booker

Modern scholars have greater access to documents and research developments relating to first-century Judaism than at any other time in history. Many scholars, who only a few years ago were trying to disprove the Bible, are now working together to gain a better understanding of the ancient culture in which Jesus lived.

Archaeological finds have become so plentiful that some have hailed these times as the beginning of a golden age of biblical archaeology.

All of these discoveries have not only given us further proof of the veracity of the Bible, but have given us a greater understanding of the period in which Jesus lived out His life on the earth and further evidence of the Jewishness of His teaching. He was Jewish and His teachings reflect His Jewishness.

The church at Rome was admonished by Paul that the Christian faith was never intended to be a repudiation of its Jewish roots, but rather, the engrafted Gentile Church was actually a branch that grew out of these roots (Rom. 11:18). The essence of these teachings is that without Judaism there would be no Christianity.

Perhaps the most convincing evidence of the thorough-going Jewishness of Jesus is His method of teaching Over the past fifty years, studies of the Jewish nature of the early Church have brought to light many new insights into the first century documents, especially concerning the idioms and Galilean teaching methods of Jesus. In these articles we will study some of the more common idioms in the life of Jesus and His disciples.

The Tzitzit and Prophecy

One important Jewish concept, which is often missed in English translations of the Bible, concerns the story of a woman with an issue of blood, recorded in Matthew 9:20-21. Having heard that the Messiah was near, the woman said within herself, “If I may but touch His garment, I shall be whole.” The text indicates that it was specifically the hem of His garment that she touched, an important detail from an Hebraic viewpoint.

The English word hem is a translation of a Greek word meaning a tassel of twisted wool. The woman was, in fact, reaching for the tassels on Jesus prayer shawl. In  Hebrew, these tassels, which are attached to the corners of the prayer shawl, are called tzitzit. They were, and still are, worn by observant Jews in fulfillment of the biblical commandments found in Numbers 15:37-41 and Deuteronomy 22:12 and are intended to remind the people of God s commandments.

In Numbers 15:38 the word translated border or corner is a Hebrew word which can also be translated wings as it is some seventy-six times in the biblical text. For this reason, the corners of the prayer shawl are often called wings. Each tzitzit consists of five double knots and eight threads, a total of thirteen elements. This number added to six hundred, the Hebraic numerical value of the word tzitzit points to the six hundred and thirteen commandments of the Torah.

The Tzitzit and Jesus

In Jesus’ day, Jewish men wore a simple tunic both at home and at work. When appearing in public, they would cover their tunic with a large rectangular cloth which draped over the shoulder and fell to the ankles. This cloth was called a tallit and served as protection from cold and rain. Hanging from the end of each of its four corners (wings) was a tzitzit in obedience to the biblical command.

Through the centuries, during times of persecution, Jews were often forbidden to wear the tzitzit on the outside of their garments. This forced them to wear a small four-cornered tallit under their shirts. Today the prayer shawl is called a tallit.

During the first century there were several traditions associated with the tzitzit concerning Messiah. One was that these knotted fringes possessed healing powers.

This tradition has its roots in the prophecy of Malachi 4:2 where the Messiah is said to be coming with healing in His wings.

The Sun of Righteousness

Certainly the woman with the issue of blood knew of these traditions, which would explain why she sought to touch the corner (the wings) of Jesus’ prayer garment.

The same word used in Numbers 15:38 for corner is used in Malachi 4:2 for wings.

With this understanding in mind, an ancient Jew under the prayer shawl could be said to be dwelling in the secret place of the Most High and under His wings (Ps. 91:1-4). When one realized the significance of this concept to the first-century Hebraic mind, it becomes clear why this woman was instantly healed. She was expressing her faith in Jesus as the Son of Righteousness with healing in His wings and declaring her faith in God’s prophetic Word.

Personal Application

Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. He is still able to heal, in every way, those who will press in to touch the hem of His garment. He is still the Son of Righteousness with Healing in His Wings. As we seek Him with our whole heart, let us expect His healing power to make us whole in every area of our life.


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