Exodus 13:9
And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD'S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.
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(9) It shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes.—The practice of wearing tephillin, or “phylacteries,” is referred by the Jews themselves to the time of the Exodus, and regarded by them as resting on the present passage, together with Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18. These phylacteries consist of small strips of parchment, on which are written certain passages from the Law—viz., Exodus 13:2-10; Deuteronomy 6:4-9, and Deuteronomy 11:13-21—and which are then folded tight, placed in small boxes, and attached by bands to the left wrist and the forehead at the hours of prayer. It is well known that a similar custom prevailed in Egypt (Wilkinson, Ancient Egyptians, vol. iii., p. 364); and this has been made an objection to the Mosaic institution of phylacteries, since Moses, it has been thought, would not have encouraged an Egyptian superstition. But the adoption of Egyptian customs, purged from their superstition, is quite in the spirit of the Mosaic institutions, and in no way reprehensible. If the Israelites were addicted to wearing amulets, like the Egyptians, it would have been a wise proviso to substitute for the magic charms of sorcerers the solemn words of the Law, and in this way to turn a current superstition to a good account. The Law was thereby honoured, and the special passages selected would come to be generally known to those who wore them, and to be “in their mouth” and “in their heart” (Deuteronomy 11:18). [Dean Plumptre notices, in his Commentary on the Temptation (St. Matt.), that our Blessed Lord used against the adversary quotations from the Scriptures forming these very Tephillin.]



Exodus 13:9

The question may be asked, whether this command is to be taken metaphorically or literally. No doubt the remembrance of the great deliverance was intrusted to acts. Besides the annual Passover feasts, inscriptions on the door-posts and fringes on the dress were appointed for this purpose. And the Jews from a very early period, certainly before our Lord’s time, wore phylacteries fastened, as this and other places prescribe, on the left arm and on the forehead, and alleged these words as the commandment which they therein obeyed. But it seems more probable that the meaning is metaphorical, and that what is enjoined is rather a constant remembrance of the great deliverance, and a constant regulation of the practical life by it. For what is it that is to be ‘a sign’? It is the Passover feast. And the ‘therefore’ of the next verse seems to say that keeping this ordinance in its season is the fulfilment of this precept. Besides, the expression ‘for a sign,’ ‘for a memorial,’ may just as well mean ‘it shall serve as,’ or ‘it shall be like,’ as ‘you shall wear.’ So I think we must say that this is a figure, not a fact; the enjoining of an object for thought and a motive for life, not of a formal observance. And it is very characteristic of the Jew, and of the universal tendency to harden and lower religion into outward rites, that a command so wide and profound was supposed to be kept by fastening little boxes with four slips of parchment containing extracts from the Pentateuch on arm and forehead. Jewish rabbis are not the only people who treat God’s law like that. Even if literal, the injunction is for the purpose of remembering. Taking that meaning, then, the text sets forth principles that apply quite as much to us. You will observe ‘hand,’ ‘eyes,’ ‘mouth’; the symbols of practice, knowledge, expression; work, thought, and word. Observe also that there is a slight change in construction in the three clauses; the two former are to be done in order that the latter may come to pass. Then the memorial of the great deliverance is to be ‘on the hand’ and ‘before the eyes,’ in order that ‘the Lord’s law’ may be ‘in the mouth.’ Keeping these points in view-

I. God’s great deliverance should be constantly before our thoughts.

It is more than an accident that both Judaism and Christianity should begin with a great act of deliverance; that that act of deliverance should constitute a community, and that a memorial rite should be the centre of the ritual of both. The Lord’s Supper historically took the place of the Passover. It was instituted at the Passover and instead of it. It is precisely the same in design, a memorial feast appointed to keep up the vivid remembrance of the historical fact to which redemption is traced; and not only to keep up its remembrance, but to proclaim the importance of extending that remembrance through all life.

Notice the peculiarity of both the Jewish and the Christian rite, that the centre point of both is a historical fact, a redeeming act. Judaism and Christianity are the only religions in regard to which this is true to anything like the same extent or in the same way. Christianity as a revelation is not so much the utterance in words of great religious thoughts as the history of a life and a death, a fact wrought upon the earth, which is at once the means of revelation and the means of redemption. This is a feature unshared by other religions.

This characteristic determines the principal object of our religious thought. The true object for religious thought is Christ, and His life and death.

All religious truth flows from and is wrapped up in that: e.g. theology, or the nature of God; anthropology, or the nature of man; soteriology, morality, etc. All truth for the individual and for the race has its source in God’s great redeeming act. Religious emotion is best fed at this source, e.g. thankfulness, wonder, love: all these transcendent feelings which are melted together in adoration. Here is where they are kindled. You cannot pump them up, or bring them into existence by willing, or scourge yourself into them, any more than you can make a seed grow by pulling at the germ with a pair of pincers, but this gives the warmth and moisture which make it germinate.

The clear perception of this truth is valuable, as correcting false tendencies in religion, e.g. the tendency to be much occupied with the derived truths, and to think of them almost to the exclusion of the great fact from which they come; the tendency to substitute melancholy self-inspection for objective facts; the tendency to run out into mere feeling.

The command requires of us a habitual occupation of mind with the great deliverance.

And the habitual presence of this thought will be best secured by specific times of occupation with it. Let every Christian practise the habit of meditation, which in an age of so many books, newspapers, and the distractions of our busy modern life, is apt to become obsolete.

II. The great deliverance is to be ever present in practical life.

The ‘hand’ is clearly the seat and home of power and practical effort. So the remembrance is to be present and to preside over our practical work.

How it is fitted to do so.

{a} It gives the law for all our activity.

The pattern. The death as well as the life of Christ teaches us what we ought to be.

The motive. He died for me! Shall I not serve Him who redeemed me?

{b} That remembered deliverance arms us against temptations, and lifts us above sinking into sin.

How blessed such a life would be! How victorious over the small motives that rule one’s life, the deadening influence of routine, the duties that are felt to be overwhelmingly great and those that are felt to be wearisomely and monotonously small! How this unity of motive would give unity to life and simplify its problems! How it would free us from many a perplexity! There are so many things that seem doubtful because we do not bring the test of the highest motive to bear on them. Complications would fall away when we only wished to know and be like Christ. Many a tempting amusement, or occupation, or speculation would start up in its own shape when this Ithuriel spear touched it. How it would save from distractions! How strong it would make us, like a belt round the waist bracing the muscles tighter! ‘This one thing I do’ is always a strengthening principle.

How far is this possible? Not absolutely, but we may approximate very closely and indefinitely towards it. For there is the possibility of such thought blending with common motives, like a finer perfume in the scentless air, or some richer elixir in a cup. There is the possibility of its doing to other motives what light does to landscape when a sudden sunbeam gleams across the plain, and everything leaps into increased depth of colour. Let us try more and more to rescue life from the slavery of habit and the distractions of all these smaller forces, and to bring it into the greatness and power of submission to the dominion of this sovereign, unifying motive. Our lives would thus be greatened and strengthened, even as Germany and Italy have been, by being delivered from a rabble of petty dukes and brought under the sway of one emperor or king. Let us try to approach nearer and nearer to the fusion of action and contemplation, and to the blending with all other motives of this supreme one.

This command supplies us with an easily applied and effective test. Is there any place where you cannot take it, any act which you feel it would be impossible to do for His sake? Avoid such. Where the safety-lamp burns blue and goes out, is no place for you.

It is a beautiful thought that Jesus does for us what we are thus commanded to do for Him. The high priest bore the names of the tribes on his shoulders and in his heart. ‘I have graven thee on the palms of my hands.’ We bear Him in our hands and in our hearts. ‘I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.’

III. The great deliverance is to be ever on our lips.

The three regions here named are the inward thought, the outward practice, and the testimony of the lips. Note that that testimony is a consequence of thought and practice.

1. The purpose of the deliverance is to make ‘prophets of His law.’ Such was the divine intention as to Israel. Such is God’s purpose as to all Christians. The very meaning of redemption is there. He has ‘opened our lips’ that we ‘should show forth His praise.’ He has regard to ‘His own name.’ He desires to make us vocal, for the same purpose for which a man strings a harp, to bring sweet music out of it. Words of testimony are a form of love.

2. The other two are incomplete without this vocal testimony.

3. The utterance of the lips, to be worth anything, must rest on and follow the other two. How noble, then, and blessed, how strong and calm and simple our lives would be, if we had this for the one great object of our thoughts, of our practical endeavour, of our words, if all our being was sustained, impelled, made vocal, by one thought, one love!

O my brother, see to it that you give yourself to Him. That great Light will gladden your eyes, will guide your activity, and, like the sunrise striking Memnon’s voiceless, stony lips, will bring music. Thought will have one boundless home of ‘many mansions.’ Work will have one law, one motive, its consecration and strength; and as in some solemn procession, all our steps and all our movements will keep time to the music of our praise to ‘Him who loved us.’

Exodus 13:9. Upon thy hand, between thine eyes — Proverbial expressions, denoting that these things were never to be out of their minds. The Jews, however, understood this literally, and hence the use of phylacteries among them, pieces of parchment inscribed with sentences of their law, which they bound upon their left hand, and placed upon their foreheads between their eyes.

13:1-10 In remembrance of the destruction of the first-born of Egypt, both of man and of beast, and the deliverance of the Israelites out of bondage, the first-born males of the Israelites were set apart to the Lord. By this was set before them, that their lives were preserved through the ransom of the atonement, which in due time was to be made for sin. They were also to consider their lives, thus ransomed from death, as now to be consecrated to the service of God. The parents were not to look upon themselves as having any right in their first-born, till they solemnly presented them to God, and allowed his title to them. That which is, by special mercy, spared to us, should be applied to God's honour; at least, some grateful acknowledgment, in works of piety and charity, should be made. The remembrance of their coming out of Egypt must be kept up every year. The day of Christ's resurrection is to be remembered, for in it we were raised up with Christ out of death's house of bondage. The Scripture tells us not expressly what day of the year Christ rose, but it states particularly what day of the week it was; as the more valuable deliverance, it should be remembered weekly. The Israelites must keep the feast of unleavened bread. Under the gospel, we must not only remember Christ, but observe his holy supper. Do this in remembrance of him. Also care must be taken to teach children the knowledge of God. Here is an old law for catechising. It is of great use to acquaint children betimes with the histories of the Bible. And those who have God's law in their heart should have it in their mouth, and often speak of it, to affect themselves, and to teach others.Hebrew writers have generally regarded this as a formal injunction to write the precepts on slips of parchment, and to fasten them on the wrists and forehead; but other commentators are generally agreed that it is to be understood metaphorically. The words appear to be put into the mouths of the parents. They were to keep all the facts of the Passover constantly in mind, and, referring to a custom prevalent ages before Moses in Egypt, to have them present as though they were inscribed on papyrus or parchment fastened on the wrists, or on the face between the eyes. If, as may be inferred from Deuteronomy 6:7-8, Moses adopted this custom, he would take care to warn the people against the Egyptian superstition of amulets. Modern Israelites generally allege this precept as a justification for the use of phylacteries. 9. it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, &c.—There is no reason to believe that the Oriental tattooing—the custom of staining the hands with the powder of Hennah, as Eastern females now do—is here referred to. Nor is it probable that either this practice or the phylacteries of the Pharisees—parchment scrolls, which were worn on their wrists and foreheads—had so early an existence. The words are to be considered only as a figurative mode of expression.

that the Lord's law may be in thy mouth, &c.—that is, that it may be the subject of frequent conversation and familiar knowledge among the people.

The celebration of this feast shall be to thee instead of a mark which a man makes, or a ring, or any thing else which he puts upon his hand or arm, to bring any thing to his remembrance; for such things his eye is most frequently fixed upon. Compare Song of Solomon 8:6 Isaiah 49:16 Jeremiah 22:24 Haggai 2:23.

A memorial between thine eyes; instead of any monument or memorial, which is placed between, and therefore directly before a man’s eyes, which he can scarcely overlook, and therefore must needs bring to remembrance the thing which he would not forget. Such proverbial phrases are usual in Scripture, as Deu 6:8 Proverbs 3:3 6:21 7:3; and are not to be understood literally, as the superstitious Jews understood them, who hence derive their custom of wearing scrolls of parchment upon their foreheads, and arms, and garments, which they call phylacteries, wherein they wrote certain portions of Scripture. But they might as well have added parcels of God’s law to be kept in their mouths, because it follows,

that the Lord’s law may be in thy mouth; from whence we may better infer that neither mouth, nor hand, nor eyes are to be properly understood, for then, it had been an improper method to fasten a parchment between their eyes, that it might be in their mouths; but figuratively, as they are commonly understood in Scripture.

And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes,.... These are not the words of God or of Moses to the children of Israel, but of an lsraelitish parent to his son, telling him that this feast of unleavened bread would serve the same purpose to refresh his memory with what God did for his people of old, as the tying of a thing on the hand, or placing it before the eye, is to a person to bring anything to his remembrance, to which the allusion is; the like figurative phrases may be observed in Proverbs 1:9, the Jews understand this literally, and hence the use of phylacteries among them, which they bind upon their left hand, and place upon their foreheads between their eyes, of which See Gill on Matthew 23:5, but such a practice could be of no use to answer the end next mentioned:

that the Lord's law may be in thy mouth; for surely this cannot be taken literally, but the sense is, that being instructed by the observance of the above feast, and being taught the meaning of it, they might be able to speak of it to their children, and so transmit it from age to age to their latest posterity:

for with a strong hand hath the Lord brought thee out of Egypt; See Gill on Exodus 13:3.

And it shall be for a sign unto thee {f} upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD'S law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.

(f) You will constantly remember it, as you would of a thing that is in your hand, or before your eyes.

9. It is to have the same value as a religious mark branded or tattooed upon the hand, or as a memorial-token marked (or worn) upon the forehead, to keep Jehovah’s law in Israel’s continual remembrance, and remind Israel of its duty towards Him; cf. v. 16. The reference here and v. 16 being to observances, the expressions cannot be meant literally (cf. Proverbs 1:9; Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 6:21; Proverbs 7:3): on Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18, see below, on v. 16.

sign] The allusion is doubtless to the practice, not uncommon among primitive races, of ‘tattooing or branding various parts of the body with the name or symbol of the deity to whom one wishes to dedicate oneself, and whose protection it is desired to secure’ (DB. iii. 871b): cf. Hdt. ii. 113 (στίγματα ἱερὰ on a person taking asylum, as a mark of dedication to the deity), 1 Kings 20:41, Lucian, de Dea Syria, 59 (στίγματα on the neck and wrists of the priests), 3Ma 2:29; and expressions suggested by the same custom in Isaiah 44:5 (RVm.), Isaiah 49:16 a, Ezekiel 9:4; Ezekiel 9:6 (hence Psalms of Sol. 15:8, 10), Galatians 6:7 (στίγματα), Revelation 7:3 f., Exodus 13:16 f.: see further Cuttings in the Flesh (Leviticus 19:28; Leviticus 21:5) in DB. or EB. In Israel the regular observance of Maẓẓoth is to serve the same purpose as such a religious mark in other ancient cults: it is to be an outward and visible token of the connexion subsisting between Israel and its God.

memorial] This might either be a synonym of ‘sign,’ or denote some sacred badge worn upon the forehead (‘between the eyes,’ as Deuteronomy 14:1). The word is often used of an object employed to preserve a religious relation in remembrance: Exodus 28:12; Exodus 28:29, Exodus 30:16, Numbers 10:10; Numbers 16:40 ("" ‘sign,’ v. 38), Isaiah 57:8.

in thy mouth] that thou mayest be ever talking of it (cf. for the thought Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19, Joshua 1:8 [D2[136]]). The passage cannot refer simply to vv. 6, 7, but must have been written at a time when a considerable body of ‘Jehovah’s law,’ or ‘direction’ (see p. 161 f.), existed.

[136] Deuteronomic passages in Josh., Jud., Kings.

for &c.] and consequently has the strongest claims upon thy obedience.

Verse 9. - And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thy hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes. There can be no doubt that the Jewish system of tephillin, or "phylacteries," grew mainly out of this passage, and was intended as a fulfilment of the commands contained in it. The tephillin were strips of parchment with passages of Scripture written upon them and deposited in small boxes, which were fastened by a strap either to the left arm, or across the forehead. The modern Jews argue that they were what Moses here intended, and that their employment began from this time. Some Christian commentators agree with them. But the great majority argue, from supposed probability and from the entire absence of any reference to the actual wearing of tephillin in the Old Testament, that the custom must be, comparatively speaking, a modern one. It is generally supposed to have originated, with other superstitious practices, in the time of the Babylonish captivity. Those who take this view regard the words of Moses in the present passage as merely metaphorical, and compare them with Proverbs 3:3; Proverbs 6:21; Proverbs 7:3. Kalisch, however, observes with reason, that if the injunction to write passages of the Law on the door-posts of their houses (Deuteronomy 6:9; Deuteronomy 11:20) was intended to be understood literally, and was literally carried out (Isaiah 57:8), the commands with respect to tephillin, which are coupled with them (Deuteronomy 6:8; Deuteronomy 11:18) must have been similarly intended. And probability, which is said to be against the Mosaic origin of tephillin, may perhaps rather be urged in its favour. The Egyptian practice Of wearing as amulets "forms of words written on folds of papyrus tightly rolled up and sewn in linen" (Wilkinson's Ancient Egyptians, vol. 3. p. 364) is well attested. Would it not be in harmony with the general character of his legislation, that Moses should adopt and regulate the custom, employing it to do honour to the Law and keep it in remembrance, without perhaps purging it wholly from superstitious ideas? Moses allowed the Israelites in many things "for the hardness of their hearts," content if he could introduce some improvement without insisting at once on an impracticable perfection. That the law of the Lord may be in thy month. The Israelites are instructed from the first, that the tephillin are to be a means to an end; and that the end is to be the retention of God's law in their recollection - " in their mouth," and therefore in their heart, since "out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh." Exodus 13:9The festival prescribed was to be to Israel "for a sign upon its hand, and for a memorial between the eyes." These words presuppose the custom of wearing mnemonic signs upon the hand and forehead; but they are not to be traced to the heathen custom of branding soldiers and slaves with marks upon the hand and forehead. For the parallel passages in Deuteronomy 6:8 and Deuteronomy 11:18, "bind them for a sign upon your hand," are proofs that the allusion is neither to branding nor writing on the hand. Hence the sign upon the hand probably consisted of a bracelet round the wrist, and the ziccaron between the eyes, of a band worn upon the forehead. The words are then used figuratively, as a proverbial expression employed to give emphasis to the injunction to bear this precept continually in mind, to be always mindful to observe it. This is still more apparent from the reason assigned, "that the law of Jehovah may be in thy mouth." For it was not by mnemonic slips upon the hand and forehead that a law was so placed in the mouth as to be talked of continually (Deuteronomy 6:7; Deuteronomy 11:19), but by the reception of it into the heart and its continual fulfilment. (See also Exodus 13:16.) As the origin and meaning of the festival were to be talked of in connection with the eating of unleavened bread, so conversation about the law of Jehovah was introduced at the same time, and the obligation to keep it renewed and brought vividly to mind.
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