Listening to the Bells

“When was the last time you heard the bells of your Great High Priest?”

And when the men of that place recognized Jesus, they sent word to all the surrounding country. People brought all their sick to him and begged him to let the sick just touch the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed. Matthew 14:35-36 

She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped. Luke 8:44 

These verses prompted me to wonder, what is the significance of “the edge of his cloak” or the hem of a garment or mantle? What I found is amazing hidden treasure! 

In the New Testament the word translated “edge” is kraspedon (κράσπεδον). It means the extremity, edge, skirt, margin, the fringe or tassel of a garment, border, hem. In the New Testament it is the little appendage hanging down from the edge of the mantle or cloak, made of twisted wool, that Jews wore to remind them of the commandments.  

“The edge of his cloak refers to the kraspedon, the blue tassel on the garment that symbolized a Jewish man’s obedience to the law (cf. Num 15:37-41). The woman thus touched the very part of Jesus’ clothing that indicated his ritual purity.” — The NetBible Study Notes   

In the Old Testament the corresponding Hebrew word, kanaph, includes the meaning of wing. Its definition is wing, extremity, edge, winged, border, corner, skirt, corner of garment. 

It is the same word as here in Psalms: 

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings (kanaph) from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me. Psalm 17:8-9  

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings (kanaph). Psalm 36:7 (NASB) 

There are three areas of truth revealed in the cultural meaning and symbolism found in the Bible occurrences of these two words. All three point to Messiah and form a beautiful portrait of Jesus. Jesus the Bridegroom, Jesus the King, and Jesus our High Priest. 

Marriage – Jesus is the Bridegroom.  

Spread the corner (kanaph) of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.  Ruth 3:9 

Spreading the corner, hem, or wing of a garment over a woman was a euphemism for marriage – another way of saying that you marry or take responsibility for a person’s care and protection. When Ruth asks Boaz to spread the kanaph of his garment over her, she is asking him to marry her, and so take care of and protect her and Naomi.  

Again, in Ezekiel 16:8, God says to Israel, speaking of their beginnings, “Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love (or old enough to be married), I spread the corner (kanaph) of my garment over you and covered your nakedness. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign LORD, and you became mine.” 

Jesus is the Bridegroom, come to be the kinsman-redeemer, who wants to take us under his wing. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37). 
 

Authority – Jesus is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train (hem) of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah 6:1 

The second truth revealed through the symbolism of the edge, or hem, of the garment is authority.  

“In ancient times, tassels were part of the hem of a garment, and the hem symbolized the wearer’s authority.” — Rich Robinsoni 

In the book of Ruth, Boaz had the legal authority as kinsman-redeemer to help her. Jesus is our kinsman-redeemer and has the legal authority to heal, help, protect, redeem and marry us – the Bride of Christ.  

Another example of the hem of the garment symbolizing authority is in 1 Samuel 24:4-20. It tells of David hiding in a cave from Saul when Saul comes into the cave to relieve himself. David sneaks up and cuts off the edge or corner (kanaph) of Saul’s robe, symbolically cutting off his authority as king. Later Saul says about it, “Now, behold, I know that you will surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel will be established in your hand.” 

As King of Kings and Lord of Lords, all authority has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18). In Revelation the hem of his garment, symbolizing his authority, fills the Temple. We, as his temple here on earth, have been granted to share in this authority (Luke 10:19; Matthew 16:19). 

Mission and Selfless Service – Jesus is our High Priest. 

Make pomegranates of blue, purple and scarlet yarn around the hem of the robe, with gold bells between them. The gold bells and the pomegranates are to alternate around the hem of the robe. Exodus 28:33-34 

In the same way that you gave me a mission in the world, I give them a mission in the world. John 17:18-19 (Message) 

This is the part that amazed and blessed me the most. The bells and the pomegranates on the hem of the High Priest’s robe. What could they mean?  

The High Priest went into the Holy of Holies once a year carrying the blood of the Atonement and the incense of intercession for the people. This mission was life and death to the nation. As the kraspedon reminds of the commandments, the bells reminded the priest of this vital mission. Rabbi Moshe Kempinski writes that “the ringing bells help the Kohen Gadol be consistently aware of his mission and purpose. In addition it reminded the other Kohanim that he was in the Heichal (the Holy) on their behalf.”ii  

Hebrews says that Jesus, our High Priest, offered his own blood as the atonement sacrifice and is continually interceding for us (Hebrews 7:23-27). J. Vernon McGee urges us to be reminded of what Jesus did and is doing for us by “listening to the bells.” 

“When the high priest went into the holy place to function, the people could not see him; but because they could hear the bells, they knew he was busy ministering on their behalf. When was the last time you heard the bells of your Great High Priest? No wonder today many believers are confused; they haven’t been listening to the bells. Our Lord is in yonder at the throne of the Father, busy for us today, and the bells are on His garment.” — J. Vernon McGeeiii  

Interspersed between the bells on the hem of the robe were wool pomegranates. The symbolism of the pomegranates is breathtaking. Pomegranates were generally symbolic in ancient times of life because of all the seeds. But Rabbi Kempinski points out a further, wonderful, meaning. 

“The Pomegranate is a Biblical sign of blessing. Most fruits are made up of pulp and seeds. The pulp of the fruit is what the fruit uses to sustain and ‘feed’ itself. The seeds of the fruit are what the fruit uses to bring new fruit into the world. The seeds, then, are all about granting further blessing. 

The pomegranate is a fruit that is made up mostly of seeds and contains very little pulp. Therefore it symbolizes a fruit with the unselfish desire to grant further blessing in the world without being too concerned with itself and its own needs.”iv 

Doesn’t that sound like our Great High Priest? Unselfish, not concerned about self-preservation, but intent on giving his life away? Unconcerned with his own needs, but determined to serve unreservedly? Completely focused on his saving, redeeming mission? 

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:45 

Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. Hebrews 7:25-27 

i Rich Robinson, The Tallit and the Tzitzit https://jewsforjesus.org/publications/newsletter/newsletter-sep-1993/the-tallit-and-tzitzit/ 

ii Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, A Bell and a Pomegranate (https://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/18543

iii Dr. J. Vernon McGee, Golden Bells and Pomegranates https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/mcgee_j_vernon/eBooks/golden-bells-and-pomegranates.cfm 

iv Rabbi Moshe Kempinski, A Bell and a Pomegranate 

Photo of pomegranate by Psyberartist https://flic.kr/p/BffZS1