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How does the right hand and forehead for the mark of the beast correlate to the hand and forehead for the Shema?

Also it causes all, both small and great, both rich and poor, both free and slave, to be marked on the right hand or the forehead, (Rev. 13:16, ESV)

You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. (Deut. 6:8, ESV)

Christians often criticize Orthodox Jews for literally binding the Shema on their hands and forehead. But, the same Christians will take the mark of the beast as literally on the right hand and forehead. How should we make a parallel between these two?

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There are several references to marking things on the forehead and hand.

  • This annual festival [Passover] will be a visible sign to you, like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. Let it remind you always … Ex 13:9
  • This ceremony [Passover] will be like a mark branded on your hand or your forehead. … Ex 13:16
  • You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. … Deut 6:8
  • impress these words of mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. … Deut 11:18
  • See also Rev 13:16, 14:9, 20:4; and Eze 9:4.

All the OT references are surrounded by references to the Law and worship of the true God. This is (as the question implies) clearly symbolic and is perhaps(??) an allusion to the law being written on the heart (Deut 6:5, 6, 27:26, 30:10, Jer 31:33; see also Ps 37:31, 40:8, 119.34, Prov 3:1, Isa 51:7, etc.) It may also be significant that Rev 13:16 & 14:9 is clearly contrasted with Rev 14:7 which contains another quote from the 10 commandments.

The reference of binding on the hand and forehead in the OT and the Torah in particular is NOT the law itself but reminders to keep the law with all one's heart Deut 6:4-8. If this is the idea carried over into Revelation, then the mark of the beast is something that involves false worship and a reminder to keep some sort of false law.

By contrast with the mark of the beast, the name of the Lamb and the Father (Rev 14:2) is written on the foreheads of the saints and not on their hands.

  • I've always interpreted forehead and hand (and heart) as thought and action (and feeling). Your observation about the mark of the beast is interesting. Perhaps that mark will be something that one is forced to do (action), but true Christians will do so while retaining the knowledge that it is wrong (thought). – Ray Butterworth May 8 at 13:21
  • That is a view common in some circles - the mark on the hand is something some are forced to do while the mark on the forehead is some that some believe. In any case, both are somehow connected with the law and legalism which is always a marker of false worship. – user25930 May 8 at 21:13
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While a comprehensive understanding of the symbolism of the Revelation is elusive it is possible to see the reference to the mark placed on the hand and forehead as symbolizing the tokens testifying to commitment to Mosaic covenant:

[Deu 11:18 ESV] (18) "You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.

Phylacteries

The history is obscure but it seems possible that the wearing of phylacteries became enforceable and the failure to wear them the basis for persecution (or at least a practical means to avoid persecution). This would allow one to "fit in" without having to flash one's circumcision. Notice that Paul indicates that one might avoid persecution by demonstrating commitment to Torah:

[Gal 6:12-13 ESV] (12) It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. (13) For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

This would be in contrast to the writing of Torah upon the heart in the new covenant.

[Rom 2:23-29 ESV] (23) You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. (24) For, as it is written, "The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you." (25) For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision. (26) So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? (27) Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law. (28) For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical. (29) But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.

In the first century there was a confluence of religious and political imperatives with both secular and religious enforcement that made the failure to be circumcised (becoming accountable to the Sinai covenant) and conformity to Jewish rules (scriptural or not) to be punishable offences.

Please see this related question and this one.

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