“Whose hands are clean, whose heart is pure.” (Psalm 24.4)
The metaphor of clean hands
As the days shorten and get darker we Britons brace ourselves to get through another year end. This year it will be with all the added difficulties of our first full Brexit and Covid Winter and we need to be positive. You could be positive by making a list of all the advantages arising from the Pandemic. For many hours of travel and frustration have been saved by working from home. First on my list would be that, after seventy plus years, now, at least, I know how to wash my hands properly! Clean hands were important to the ancient Jews. The Metrical Version of Psalm 24.3-4 comes to mind.
“Who is the man that shall ascend
into the hill of God?
Or who within his holy place
shall have a firm abode?
Whose hands are clean, whose heart is pure,
and unto vanity
Who hath not lifted up his soul,
Nor sworn deceitfully.”
I am sure that you will realize that clean hands here are used in the same sense as a pure heart, that is for holiness of spirit and action. We have a New Testament counterpart in 1 Timothy 2.8, where Paul writes, ‘I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting’. The hands that we lift up to God in prayer must be holy and free from this world’s contamination, whether it be by theft, thuggery, uncleanness or other sins.
The “must” of clean hands
We have all become much more aware of the urgency of clean hands. The Covid virus can linger upon hands that have had contact with the virus, whether door handle, trolley handle or stairway hand rail. Usually, we are aware when our hands are dirty. It is a fairly obvious thing. It is not so with invisible viruses. No one can see them. It is so with many sins. They are hidden from view but not from God’s all searching eye. Thus, Jeremiah prays, ‘But, O LORD of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart’ (Jeremiah 20.12). There can be no approach to God without repentance. Theremust be a turning from sin with grief and hatred in godly sorrow. If you knew that your hands had been contaminated with Covid-19, you would be diligent to clean them, would you not? So the references to cleaning our hands point to the spiritual hatred of sin that drives us to be rid of it by penitence and confession while looking to Jesus as the Author and Finisher of our faith. This really does work for forgiveness and reconciliation with God. Thus, James exhorts, ‘Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded’ (James 4.8).
The message of clean hands
We are known by our hands. To what lengths Rebecca went to disguise Jacob’s hands to deceive his father Isaac. His hands hid the truth. Blind Isaac felt them hairy as Esau’s. He could not see the trick of covering them with goat skin and though he could hear Jacob’s voice he was taken in by apparently hairy hands. ‘Jacob went near unto Isaac his father; and he felt him, and said, The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. And he discerned him not, because his hands were hairy, as his brother Esau’s hands: so he (Isaac) blessed him (Jacob)’ (Genesis 27.22-23). We all know that mothers will not be tricked. ‘Wash your hands before you go to Grandma’s for tea’ says mum. The boys do so because they know they will not get out the door before mum says, ‘Let me see your hands!’ Our hands disclose whether we have been obedient or not. When Israel was called to praise they were expected to lift up their hands. ‘Behold, bless ye the LORD, all ye servants of the LORD, which by night stand in the house of the LORD. Lift up your hands in the sanctuary, and bless the LORD’ (Ps 134.1-2). This ancient practice is referred to by Paul in I Timothy 2.8, ‘I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting’. Matthew Poole comments on the Psalm, ‘Do not content yourselves with lifting up your hands, but see this be done with pure and holy hearts’. We can wash our hands clean with water but only the shed blood of the Lamb can purify our hearts!
Pastor Roy Mohon