Bible Verse Explanations and Resources


Exodus 13:9

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

And it shall be for a sign - upon thine hand - This direction, repeated and enlarged Exodus 13:16, gave rise to phylacteries or tephillin, and this is one of the passages which the Jews write upon them to the present day. The manner in which the Jews understood and kept these commands may appear in their practice. They wrote the following four portions of the law upon slips of parchment or vellum: Sanctify unto me the first-born, Exodus 13, from Exodus 13:2-10; inclusive. And it shall be, when the Lord shall bring thee into the land, Exodus 13, from Exodus 13:11-16; inclusive. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord, Deuteronomy 6, from Deuteronomy 6:4-9; inclusive. And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently, Deuteronomy 11, from Deuteronomy 11:13-21; inclusive. These four portions, making in all 30 verses, written as mentioned above, and covered with leather, they tied to the forehead and to the hand or arm.

Those which were for the Head (the frontlets) they wrote on four slips of parchment, and rolled up each by itself, and placed them in four compartments, joined together in one piece of skin or leather. Those which were designed for the hand were formed of one piece of parchment, the four portions being written upon it in four columns, and rolled up from one end to the other. These were all correct transcripts from the Mosaic text, without one redundant or deficient letter, otherwise they were not lawful to be worn. Those for the head were tied on so as to rest on the forehead. Those for the hand or arm were usually tied on the left arm, a little above the elbow, on the inside, that they might be near the heart, according to the command, Deuteronomy 6:6; : And these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart. These phylacteries formed no inconsiderable part of a Jew's religion; they wore them as a sign of their obligation to God, and as representing some future blessedness. Hence they did not wear them on feast days nor on the Sabbath, because these things were in themselves signs; but they wore them always when they read the law, or when they prayed, and hence they called them תפלין tephillin, prayer, ornaments, oratories, or incitements to prayer. In process of time the spirit of this law was lost in the letter, and when the word was not in their mouth, nor the law in their heart, they had their phylacteries on their heads and on their hands. And the Pharisees, who in our Lord's time affected extraordinary piety, made their phylacteries very broad, that they might have many sentences written upon them, or the ordinary portions in very large and observable letters.

It appears that the Jews wore these for three different purposes: -

  1. As signs or remembrancers. This was the original design, as the institution itself sufficiently proves.
  • To procure reverence and respect in the sight of the heathen. This reason is given in the Gemara, Berachoth, chapter i: "Whence is it proved that the phylacteries or tephillin are the strength of Israel? Ans. From what is written, Deuteronomy 28:10; : All the people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the Lord (יהוה Yehovah ) and they shall be afraid of thee."
  • They used them as amulets or charms, to drive away evil spirits. This appears from the Targum on Song of Solomon 8:3; : His left hand is under my head, etc. "The congregation of Israel hath said, I am elect above all people, because I bind my phylacteries on my left hand and on my head, and the scroll is fixed to the right side of my gate, the third part of which looks to my bed-chamber, that demons may not be permitted to injure me.
  • One of the original phylacteries or תפלין tephillin now lies before me; it is a piece of fine vellum, about eighteen inches long, and an inch and quarter broad. It is divided into four unequal compartments; the letters are very well formed, but written with many apices, after the manner of the German Jews. In the first compartment is written the portion taken from Exodus 13:2-10; in the second, Exodus 13:11-16; in the third, Deuteronomy 6:4-9; in the fourth, Deuteronomy 11:13-21, as before related. This had originally served for the hand or arm.

    These passages seem to be chosen in vindication of the use of the phylactery itself, as the reader may see on consulting them at large. Bind them for a Sign upon thy Hand; and for Frontlets between thy Eyes; write them upon the Posts of thy House and upon thy Gates; all which commands the Jews take in the most literal sense. To acquire the reputation of extraordinary sanctity they wore the fringes of their garments of an uncommon length. Moses had commanded them, Numbers 15:38, Numbers 15:39, to put fringes to the borders of their garments, that when they looked upon even these distinct threads they might remember, not only the law in general but also the very minutiae or smaller parts of all the precepts, rites, and ceremonies belonging to it. As those hypocrites (for such our Lord proves them to be) were destitute of all the life and power of religion within, they endeavored to supply its place with phylacteries and fringes without. The same principles distinguish hypocrites every where, and multitudes of them may be found among those termed Christians as well as among the Jews. It is probably to this institution relative to the phylactery that the words, Revelation 14:1, allude: And I looked, and, lo, a hundred and forty-four thousand having his Father's name written on their foreheads. "That is," says Mr. Ainsworth, "as a sign of the profession of God's law; for That which in the Gospel is called his Name, ( Matthew 12:21;), in the prophets is called his Law, ( Isaiah 42:4;)." So again antichrist exacts the obedience to his precepts by a mark on men's right hands or on their foreheads, Revelation 13:16.

    Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    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.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    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.