Fringe Benefits of Serving God
Growing up as a “Valley Girl” in Southern California, I had a lot of neighbors who moved to California from Mexico and Tijuana. Their culture, at least in the twentieth century, was consumed with color and flair. I used to love the cars that had colorful fringe and beads sewn all the way around the perimeter of the headliner. I have always liked things like clothing and pillows with fringe attached, things with tassels, and other similar fancy edgings.
Fringe usually means that little something extra that makes all the difference, whether it’s a row of dangling threads and beads or a two-week paid vacation as a hiring bonus. A job might come with fringe benefits when salary alone is not enough to attract the kind of employees the company wants to hire. A business might offer fringe benefits to customers as an incentive to return or to choose one business over another. Whatever the extra (fringe) is attached to, it generally adds value or beauty.
In today’s reading from Numbers 15:27 through Numbers 15:41 (the end of the chapter), we complete this week’s reading, and we will learn that God, too, likes fringe. If you read yesterday’s post, you know I talked about the sacrifice required when the community committed a sin by mistake. Today, the reading begins with a little more on the requirements to be set free from the sins that a person might commit by accident, and it repeats the fact that there is one law, and all requirements are the same for both the community of Israel and the foreigners that live with them.
The reading then takes a more somber turn as it talks about those who do not fail by mistake but who sin on purpose. It says that any person, whether citizen or foreigner, that does something wrong intentionally is blaspheming God because he has had contempt for God’s word and disobeyed His commands. It says he will be cut off from his people completely, and it says his offense will remain with him.
That sounds harsh, but a person who does something intentionally against God does not likely have a thought in his heart about repentance or of being sorrowful for his wrong doing. We’re told in Proverbs 28:13 that to obtain mercy, a person must both confess and forsake his sins. But how can a person confess and forsake something that he doesn’t believe or care is wrong? And with the population of psychopaths and sociopaths that fill our prisons, I can certainly understand why God would want that type of people to be cut off from the rest of the community.
As our portion continues, we learn about a man who went out to gather wood on the Sabbath day. We don’t get the back story here, like whether he was sick on all the days leading up to it, or if it got colder than he expected and gathered for during the work week, or if he was simply lazy and didn’t care about God’s Sabbath or about entering into it. I’m guessing the lack of back story is why the people took him to Moses who sought God for an answer rather than just executing judgment. As it came out, God told the community to stone the man to death, so God must have known the man could have behaved better and chose not to.
And now we will see how much God likes fringe. He tells the people that He wants them to begin sewing fringe, called tzitzit in Hebrew, on the corners of all their garments, and to add a blue thread to each corner. I’ve always heard the fringe was for the corners of the prayer shawl, but this reading makes it sound as if the fringe was to go on all garments. I even looked it up in other translations. God wants the fringe on the garments to constantly remind people to obey God’s commands. It says that by looking at the fringe, they will not go around wherever their eyes and hearts lead them to prostitute themselves. God wants faithfulness, and He reminds them here that He is The Lord who brought them out of Egypt for the purpose of serving Him.
So, we get to escape an eternity of darkness, emptiness, and existence without The Lord of Love by choosing to give our lives to God and to serve Him. We escape the penalty of sin that is death. But we get so much more both now and in eternity. We get fringe benefits of serving God that go beyond mercy and straight into grace. Those benefits may be answers to prayers that are not about life and death matters, wisdom that leads us right when we need it, or a special touch of God’s presence to comfort us when we are lonely or sad. I find fringe benefits in serving God every day, even if some days I don’t notice them until after the fact. There is truly no comparison to walking with God or to the joy of dwelling in His presence.
And I’ll close with this–maybe silly–thought: As I read this, I began to wonder if this was maybe the first use of fringe. God certainly has a way with decorating. I mean, look at the beauty in nature, including the many flowers with fringed edges. There are even some birds that have fringed edges on their wings. So, did God invent fringe, or is He just good at knowing where to put it? Either way, I’m thinking that with God as the decorator, if I actually have a mansion in Heaven, I’m really going to like it. And if I get a bunch of stuff with fringed edges, that’s a benefit I’ll happily enjoy.
And with all this talk about fringe, especially in cars, how can I not include the video for the part of the movie “Oklahoma” that has the song, “Surrey with the Fringe on Top”? So, here it is…
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