The Jews had a tradition. They thought washing one’s hands before eating bread prevented them from being “defiled” or unclean. In the thousands of years of Israel’s history, there was not one single word of this practice in the Law of Moses or any other written word of God. It was a creation of the Pharisees.
The sect of the Pharisees started out as a group of people who were determined to keep themselves separate from sin and holy. This was a good idea, but it changed over time. Ultimately, the Pharisees were more interested in making laws than obeying them. Give people power over others and sometimes they take the law into their own hands.
By the time Jesus started his earthly ministry, the Pharisees were the power in Judea. They held office in the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews. They used their considerable influence to tell people what they could or could not do. For example, they created oral traditions that would allow people to mistreat their mothers and fathers in violation of the scriptures. In doing so, the Pharisees set aside God’s law for laws they made.
Tradition can be a fine thing. There are many very fine ones, but they are only traditions. Creating a practice and giving it the force of law is a way to dominate others.
There are some traditions that have adopted the force of law. The keeping of certain days, feasts, and other such traditions should never have the force of law, yet many people recognize them as such. It is interesting that the New Testament only commanded the observance of one day, the Lord’s Day, as the time for the worship of God (Acts 20:7).
We must always remember the importance of obeying God rather than man. This will help us to remember to keep in mind what is truly important is doing what God commands. It is more important to obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).