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Wash Your Hands!

We’re hearing it over and over again: “Wash your hands!” It, along with “social distancing,” is the first line of defense against COVID-19.

The Bible heartily commends clean hands. I am not thinking about the Old Testament references to washing following uncleanness (e.g., Leviticus 15), although they are interesting in light of our present circumstances. Nor am I thinking about Pharisaic washing, which was so overdone (e.g., Mark 7). I am thinking about references to clean hands, not due to using soap and water but from a cleanliness that begins in the heart.

“Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? And who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to falsehood” (Psalm 27:4).

“The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord, and have not wickedly departed from my God” (Psalm 18:20-21).

One’s hands are often used as a figure for one’s actions. Thus, one might have iniquity (Job 11:14) or injustice (Psalm 7:3) or a wicked scheme (Psalm 26:10) or violence (Psalm 58:2) in his hand. Micah said of some people in his day, “Concerning evil, both hands do it well” (7:3a).

On the other hand (pardon the pun!), our hands may be busy with what is good (Ephesians 4:28). That includes worship. Paul urged, “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension” (1 Timothy 2:8).

James 4 presents perhaps the Bible’s most blunt call for hand-washing: “Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (v. 8b). What is interesting about this verse is that it is addressed to Christians! James charged his readers with murder (v. 2) and adultery (v. 4). Some may have been guilty in the literal sense of those words. More broadly, their envious, quarreling dispositions (v. 2), along with their worldly conduct—favoring the wealthy (2:1-13), speaking evil of others (3:1-12), being selfishly ambitious (3:13-18), quarreling and fighting (4:1-2)— reflected adultery in the spiritual sense: hearts and conduct more aligned with “the god of this world” than the God of heaven. Their hands were filthy, and so were their hearts (note again the connection between the two). Some Christians could use a good scrubbing!

“Wash your hands!” It’s good advice, in both the physical and spiritual realms.

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