If a spouse said, “Don’t touch me,” it would project an intense feeling of rejection, for touching someone is meant to show a degree of intimateness and affection. Spouses are supposed to touch one another!
My parents would tell us, “Don’t touch that,” which made us curious, and we probably often disobeyed. We were cautious, however, about touching the electric fence in the cow pasture. But even there, we learned to absorb the shock and have fun by touching someone while we were holding on to the electric fence.
Touching is not grabbing someone or giving a strong handshake. A touch is supposed to be lighter than a hit or jab and to show sensitivity. Isaac said to Jacob, “Come near so that I can touch you.” He wanted to make sure it was Esau, so he wanted to touch his skin. Sometime later when Jacob wrestled with “the man” (apparently an angel), he was “touched,” and it wrenched the socket of his hip. Apparently not a light touch.
Touching was more serious and even dangerous when the Israelites were told to not touch the mountain where Moses had met with God. It was God who was touching the mountains so that they smoked (Psalm 104.32). There were also prohibitions about touching anything deemed ceremonially unclean or “holy things” such as the ark of the covenant. Poor Uzzah thought he was going to steady the ark on the cart when the oxen stumbled but he died as a result. The ark was not to be touched. Queen Esther had better luck because the king allowed her to touch the tip of the scepter and this small act resulted in her saving the Jewish population from the plot of Haman.
Touch can be used in other senses: Job, for example, was so sick that he would not touch the food offered him, meaning it made him ill. In that sense, touch is figurative, and we can even say that a poem, display of sportsmanship, or (occasionally) that a service “touched us.” We mean that something was said or done that caused us to think and feel good about what was said or what happened.
After God had created Adam and Eve and they were in the middle of the garden he showed them a tree and told them that they should not touch it, or they would die. They did more than touch the tree: they ate its fruit, and they did eventually die. They would not have if they had obeyed God. Michelangelo portrayed a scene of God and man touching in his painting “The Creation of Man.”
Touch means contact. We read in the Gospels of Jesus touching and healing lepers, blind men, Peter’s mother-in-law, and even reassuring the disciples at the transfiguration by touching them when they fell to the ground in fear. Jesus also washed the feet of his disciples, touching the dirt and wiping it away. He also held little children and blessed them with his hands on their heads. Jesus was often touching people to show not only his healing power but his love and compassion.
The woman who had a sickness for 12 years wanted to simply touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. She knew that she would then be healed. When Jesus felt that touch, he knew immediately that someone had faith in him, and he healed the woman.
After his resurrection when Mary recognized Jesus, she wanted to hold on to him—she wanted a firm touch to assure herself that it was He.
Several years ago, Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote the song “He touched me,” and it expresses some of the results and reactions to His touch: it removes our guilt and shame; floods our soul with joy, and it makes us whole.
In 1913 Jessie Brown Pounds wrote the hymn “The touch of his hand on mine” and the chorus powerfully sums up the power of His touch:
Oh, the touch of His hand on mine, Oh, the touch of His hand on mine! There is grace and pow’r, in the trying hour, In the touch of His hand on mine.
We can be certain of the incarnation of Jesus (the “word of life”) because the disciples not only saw him, but their hands also touched him (1 John 1.1).
The touch of my wife’s hand on mine is a beautiful memory and it is symbolic of what a touch can mean. I look forward to that touch again in heaven, and I want to feel the physical touch of my Savior as well.