Bound Signs

So this is a day late. Hopefully not a dollar short, but then, I’ll have to let you be the judge.

When my wife and I got married, we honeymooned in Chicago for a few days. We saw the sights, but one of the things I wanted to see was the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership‘s museum, particularly because I had heard that they had a simulated archaeological dig. Turns out they did, but it was geared for children. Not nearly as cool as I was hoping for, but then, I was like four times the target age for the dig, so there you go.

Anyway, while I was there, I wanted to purchase a specific item: a teffilin or phylactery. That may sound like an odd thing to buy, but there was a method to my madness. I wanted it so I could show it to my parishioners, especially my confirmation students.

The reason why is because one of my favorite Bible passages, one that I often brought up in Bible study, was Deuteronomy 6:4-9, which says this:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

I usually start by talking about the sh’ma, but then I usually focus on the seeming fashion advice that God gives Israel in the later verses: Bind these words to your hand, tie them to your forehead, and nail them to your doorposts.

bigstock-Boy-Reads-A-Prayer-Book-52999054Now some Jews take this advice very literally, hence the teffilin I wanted to purchase. As it turned out, though, a genuine teffilin was a bit out of my budget and so I didn’t get one. And really, I don’t think I needed to. It’s my belief that God never intended for us to literally strap on Biblical verses and wear them on our heads or arms. Instead, I believe that God wants us to live as if we had done that. He wants us to talk about His Word when we’re walking and when we’re sitting down. He wants us to teach His Word to our children. He wants His Word to be such a part of us that it’s like we have it tied to us.

It’s similar to what God said to both Ezekiel and John. In both cases, God gave them a scroll of His Word and told them to eat it. And they both did (although they had differing reactions to the experience). Well, you are what you eat, right? That’s why an old prayer that we Lutherans sometimes use asks God to help us “read, learn, mark, and inwardly digest” His Word. We pray for help in making it a part of us, heart, mind, and soul.

So be sure to strap on God’s Word today and every day. May it be a bound sign on your arm. May it be as though you had it tied to your forehead. May it be an integral part of who you are.


  1. What does the doctrine of Christ being the Word of God have to do with the internalization of Scripture? I’ve heard a lot of preaching about the Bible not being a book, that it is living, that reading the Bible is automatically transforming. But, I’ve always had a problem with John 1:1. I’ve felt like there’s a rivalry between Christ as the Word of God and the Bible.

    The references to eating the written Scripture is interesting. I can see that there is a recurring image of the written word in the Bible.

    Okay, here’s a thought. Eating the Bible = Eating God’s Word. Eating Jesus (metaphorically) in the eucharist = Eating God’s Word. So, the imagery of consuming the written word reflects communion in some strange way.

    • Martin Luther once said something like, “The Bible is the cradle that contains God’s Son,” so I don’t think it’s a rivalry so much. God’s written Word helps illuminate and reveal His incarnate Word to us.

      I kind of like your connection with eating the Word and communion, although as a Lutheran, we would take the “(metaphorically)” out of your statement. We’re funny that way. 🙂

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