Various ceremonial washings were enjoined in the Mosaic law, both upon priests, Ex 30:19-21, and upon others, Le 12-15; Heb 9:10. These were significant of spiritual purification through the Savior's blood, Tit 3:5; Re 1:5, as well as of that holiness without which none can see God. To these the Jews added other traditional ablutions, Mr 7:2-4; and regarded it as an act of impiety to neglect them, as Christ frequently did, Lu 11:38. The washing of the hands before and after meals,
Mt 15:2, called for by their custom of feeding themselves with their fingers, is still practiced in Syria. See cut in BED. Where there is a servant in attendance, he pours water from a pitcher over his master's hands, holding also a broad vessel underneath them, 2Ki 3:11; Ps 60:8. See FOOT and SANDALS. "Washing the hands" was a protestation of innocence, De 21:6; Mt 27:24; and has given rise to the proverbial saying common among us, "I wash my hands of that."
(Mr 7:1-9). The Jews, like other Orientals, used their fingers when taking food, and therefore washed their hands before doing so, for the sake of cleanliness. Here the reference is to the ablutions prescribed by tradition, according to which "the disciples ought to have gone down to the side of the lake, washed their hands thoroughly, 'rubbing the fist of one hand in the hollow of the other, then placed the ten finger-tips together, holding the hands up, so that any surplus water might flow down to the elbow, and thence to the ground.'" To neglect to do this had come to be regarded as a great sin, a sin equal to the breach of any of the ten commandments. Moses had commanded washings oft, but always for some definite cause; but the Jews multiplied the legal observance till they formed a large body of precepts. To such precepts about ceremonial washing Mark here refers. (See Ablution.)
Illustration: Washing the Hands
The high priest's whole body was washed at his consecration (Ex 29:4; Le 16:4); also on the day of atonement. The priests' hands and feet alone were washed in the daily tabernacle ministrations (Ex 30:18-20). So Christians are once for all wholly "bathed" (leloumenoi) in regeneration which is their consecration; and daily wash away their soils of hand and foot contracted in walking through this defiling world (Joh 13:10, Greek "he that has been bathed needs not save to wash (nipsasthai) his feet, but is clean all over": 2Co 7:1; Heb 10:22-23; Eph 5:26). The clothes of him who led away the scape-goat, and of the priest who offered the red heifer, were washed (Le 16:26; Nu 19:7).
The Pharisaic washings of hands before eating, and of the whole body after being in the market (Mr 7:2-4), turned attention off from the spirit of the law, which aimed at teaching inward purity, to a mere outward purification. In the sultry and dusty East water for the feet was provided for the guests (Lu 7:44; Ge 18:4). The Lord Jesus by washing His disciples' feet taught our need of His cleansing, and His great humility whereby that cleansing was effected (compare 1Sa 25:41; 1Ti 5:10). The sandals, without stockings, could not keep out dust from the feet; hence washing them was usual before either dining or sleeping (Song 5:3). Again, the usage of thrusting the hand into a common dish rendered cleansing of the hand indispensable before eating. It was only when perverted into a self righteous ritual that our Lord protested against it (Mt 15:2; Lu 11:38).
A requirement of frequent literal recurrence under the law, but in the N.T. a term bearing commonly a moral force and application. Important truth may be learned from the different significations of the Greek words used for 'washing' in John 13. The word in Joh 13:10 is ????, 'to cleanse, wash thoroughly.' One who is cleansed in this sense never needs to be thus washed again; he is, as the Lord said, 'clean every whit,' yet in order to have 'part with' Christ, he needs, because of the defilement of the way, that his feet should be washed (here the word is ?????), Joh 13:5-14, an action which is applied to parts of the body only. The same difference was typified in the cleansing of Aaron and his sons. They were at their consecration once 'washed' by Moses, but were thenceforward required continually, when executing their service, to wash only their hands and feet in the laver. Ex 40:12,30-32.