This passage provides an excellent example of how we can use the principle/application method to apply the Torah. The Lord commanded that the Israelites sew tassels on their garments, and he gave some specific reasons for this.
The Hebrews were constantly complaining about God and attributing the worst possible motives to him and Moses (“He brought us out here in the desert to kill us!”), while they were shoveling Manna into their mouths. For months, they hadn't had to plant, sow, or reap anything: Their breakfast, lunch, and dinner literally fell out of the sky and was waiting for them each morning. They had a cloud over their heads to provide shade, and they had a fire by night to comfort them in his presence. He had provided for their every need, not to mention all the signs and wonders he had displayed in order to bring them out of Egypt. In spite of all this, they needed daily reminders of God’s laws and commands so they wouldn’t “prostitute” themselves.
We can point the finger at them, but we all seem to suffer from “selective amnesia” when it comes to God’s goodness and expectations. He has done so much for us, and we (who have the Holy Spirit living inside us) have even less an excuse than they did.
Note also the pattern in vs. 41: His demands he made on his people were grounded in his redemption. He redeemed us before there was any goodness in us to attract him. He saves his people based not on any righteousness on our part, instead, the opposite was true: “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Once we are redeemed, he has certain expectations on us. We don't seek to obey Christ in order to get saved, we seek to obey Christ because we are saved.
So how can we apply this today? Does the Lord want us to literally sew tassels on garments? I don’t think so—we need to get to the principle here. We all need moment-by-moment reminders of his goodness and expectations. Some Christians have taped Bible verses on their mirrors or in their cars, while others memorize Scripture so they can think about them during the day. I’m not going to legalistically impose a certain routine on another believer, but I think anything that brings God from the “back” to the “front” of my brain is nothing but a good thing.
Lord Jesus, I have a bad habit of remembering things I don’t need to, and forgetting what’s important. Please help me.