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THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO MATTHEW - Chapter 23 - Verse 5

Verse 5. Their phylacteries. The word phylactery comes from a word signifying to keep, preserve, or guard. The name was given because phylacteries were worn as amulets or charms, and were supposed to defend them from evil. They were small slips of parchment or vellum, on which were written certain portions of the Old Testament. The practice of using phylacteries was founded on a literal interpretation of that passage where God commands the Hebrews to have the law as a sign on their foreheads, and as frontlets between their eyes, Ex 13:16; Pr 3:1,3

Pr 6:21. One kind or phylactery was called a "frontlet," and was composed of four pieces of parchment; on the first of which was written, Ex 12:2-10; on the second, Ex 12:11-21; on the third, De 6:4-9; and on the fourth, De 11:18-21. These pieces of parchment, thus inscribed, they enclosed in a piece of tough skin, making a square, on one side of which is placed the Hebrew W letter shin —and bound them round their foreheads with a thong or riband, when they went to the synagogue. Some wore them evening and morning; and others only at the morning prayer.

As the token upon the hand was required, as well as the frontlets between the eyes, the Jews made two rolls of parchment, written in square letters, with an ink made on purpose, and with much care. They were rolled up to a point, and enclosed in a sort of case of black calfskin. They were put upon a square bit of the same leather, whence hung a thong of the same, of about a finger in breadth, and about two feet long. These rolls were placed at the bending of the left arm, and after one end of the thong had been made into a little knot in the form of the Hebrew letter ? yod—it was wound about the arm in a spiral line, which ended at the top of the middle finger. The Pharisees enlarged them, or made them wider than other people, either that they might make the letters larger, or write more on them—to show, as they supposed, that they had peculiar reverence for the law.

Enlarge the borders of their garments. This refers to the loose threads which were attached to the borders of the outer garment as a fringe. This fringe was commanded in order to distinguish them from other nations, and that they might remember to keep the commandments of God, Nu 15:38-40; De 22:12. They made them broader than other people wore them, to show that they had peculiar respect for the law.

{u} "but all their works" Mt 6:1-16 {v} "phylacteries" Nu 15:38

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