Dear Members in Christ,
A Lesson from the Mundane Practice of Washing hands
“Wash your hands! This oft heard phrases during the Covid-19 pandemic is a practice strongly recommended by the health authorities. It echoes through many nations in schools, homes, offices and shops. The practice of washing hands in these days have been thoroughly researched and detailed practices have become daily routine in the places we visit. In some nations, schools and childcare centers would gather the children for an hourly hand wash parade in between activity sessions. Some even advocate washing or sanitizing any object before receiving it into our homes or offices. Is there a lesson for us in this mundane but hygienic practice of washing our hands?
i. The mistaken notion of the Pharisees about the washing
Remember the remark made by the Pharisees to the Lord Jesus in Matthew 15:2, “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread.”
The Pharisees were so fixated on their traditions that they have forgotten about the symbolic significance of washing hands. They have erroneously linked the washing of hands before eating with piety and devotion to God.
But, why would the learned Pharisees make such a mistake? The Pharisees adhere to a practice which they draw from Leviticus 15:11, an object lesson which they turn into a tradition for strict observance.
They were spiritually blind, and they had failed to see the symbolic lesson in the Levitical laws regarding washing and cleansing. They deem the act of washing as piety and devotion, and missed the whole symbolic lesson of a sinner’s need for forgiveness and cleansing by God.
ii. Levitical rites – washing as a symbol of cleansing
The Old Testament gives clear guidance to Israel about the practice of washing, particularly in the book of Leviticus. The Levitical practice of washing is usually associated with cleansing an object or a person who has been tainted by some category of uncleanness. Below are several instances referring to washing cited in chapters 11 and 15 from the book of Leviticus.
a. The washing of clothes in Leviticus 11:25 if a person has touched an unclean animal that is dead. “And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.”
b. The washing of any vessel that has come into contact with the carcase (cf. Leviticus 11:32).
c. The washing of hands, vessels or any items that have been in contact with one who is unclean by reason of an issue of bodily fluids in Leviticus 15:10-12. The passage is quite specific that “every vessel of wood shall be rinsed in water,” whereas clay vessels are to be smashed.
d. The washing (bathing) of the person who has been declared cleansed from his uncleanness in Leviticus 15:13.
These are just some examples where the ritual or the act of washing symbolizes that the person or the object has been cleansed from a state of “uncleanness.” In the Bible, sin is often metaphorically represented as a disease, an uncleanness, or as that which will contaminate with filthiness. Therefore, when an Israelite have contracted an illness, or have touched something deemed unclean, he is required to be cleansed and to undergo ritual washing. Just the very experience of it, or the sight of someone going through the ritual is meant to be a reminder and a spiritual lesson to them. It is a graphic and pictorial reminder that just as a person tainted have to be purified from his uncleanness, a sinner needs to be spiritually cleansed of his or her sins. How do we understand the meaning of spiritual cleansing?
iii. A symbol of repentance and cleansing from sin
The Bible teaches us that the only way and path to cleansing from sin is by faith in the Son of God our Lord Jesus Christ. In Him we are cleansed and washed of our sins. In fact, the word “Baptism” which we are familiar with comes from a root word which means ablution or washing. This sacrament is a public testimony of the believer’s faith in the Lord Jesus’ atoning death on the cross for the cleansing of sins. This was clearly expressed by the Apostle Peter who “said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38a). This symbolic meaning of cleansing from sins was also expressed again by the Apostle Peter in his epistle when he referred to baptism as this “figure”,
“The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 3:21)
When a sinner puts his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, he is justified and cleansed of his sins and therefore he has an answer of good conscience toward God. The sinner is justified before God. How is this so? Only through efficacious cleansing away of sins by the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus.
iv. A reminder that by God’s mercy, we are cleansed from our sins
Just as the Levitical washing was meant to be a graphic reminder, an object lesson of the scriptural lesson of cleansing, let us remember that the only way we can obtain the remission of sins, and cleansing from all filthiness is by faith in the Lord Jesus. The psalmist writes, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). It is by God’s mercy that we receive forgiveness of sins, and are justified before God.
Now that we are cleansed from the filthiness of sin. Let us also be mindful of those who are in need of salvation and tell them of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life that is freely given to all that put their trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise and thank God for His mercy towards us. Amen.
Dn. Lim Seh Beng