The terminal part of the arm. The “hand,” as used in the Scriptures, at times includes the wrist, as at Genesis 24:22, 30, 47 and Ezekiel 16:11, where bracelets are said to be worn on the “hands,” and at Judges 15:14, where mention is made of the fetters on Samson’s “hands.” The hand applies the power of the arm and directs it, so, in many cases where it appears in figurative speech, the idea of “applied power” can be associated with the word “hand.” (Ex 7:4; 13:3; De 2:15; Lu 1:66) Since the human hand is very dexterous and versatile and a part of the body with which work is done, it is used symbolically in many Bible texts to denote a wide range of actions.
The common Hebrew term for “hand” is yadh; at times, the word kaph is rendered “hand,” but it literally means “palm.” (Job 22:30, ftn) The usual Greek term for “hand” is kheir.
Manual Gestures and Their Significance. The hands were employed in gestures to express various things. They were lifted in prayer, the palms usually turned toward heaven in appeal (2Ch 6:12; Ne 8:6); lifted in oaths (Ge 14:22); touched to the mouth in a form of salute (Job 31:27); clapped in joy, as in applause (2Ki 11:12) or in anger or derision (Nu 24:10; Job 27:23; Na 3:19); waved in threat (Isa 10:32); placed on top of the head or on the loins in sadness or distress (2Sa 13:19; Jer 30:5, 6); washed with water in an attempt to denote ceremonial cleanness, innocence, or ridding oneself of responsibility.
Figurative and Symbolic Usages. The hand was sometimes used to represent the person himself, as in David’s appeal to Nabal for food: “Just give, please, whatever your hand may find.” (1Sa 25:8) It also referred to one’s general disposition or activity (Ge 16:12), or it denoted his responsibility to account for his actions.
The hands of the priests were filled with sacrifices by Moses at the time of their installation as part of the ceremony symbolically equipping them, ‘filling their hands’ with authority and power for the priesthood.
Jehovah assured Jacob that his son Joseph would “lay his hand upon your eyes,” that is, close Jacob’s eyes after he had died. (Ge 46:4) This privilege would ordinarily have been that of the firstborn. Hence these words not only assured Jacob that his beloved son Joseph would remain near him during the remaining years of the aged patriarch’s life but also apparently foretold that the right of firstborn, lost by Reuben, would go to Joseph.
God is symbolically spoken of as using his “hand,” that is, his applied power, in accomplishing work; a few of such instances are: creation (Ps 8:6; 102:25); destroying his enemies (Isa 25:10, 11); delivering his people (Ex 7:4, 5); exercising favor and power toward those seeking him (Ezr 8:22); making provision (Ps 104:28; 145:16); and offering help (Isa 11:11). Elihu declared that the powerful ones depart “by no hand,” and the stone of Nebuchadnezzar’s prophetic dream was cut out of a mountain “not by hands”; in each case the meaning was that the action occurred, not by human hands, but by the power of Jehovah.
‘In, into, or under one’s hand’ means to be under such one’s power or dominion (Ge 9:2; 41:35; Job 2:6; 1Pe 5:6; compare Ge 37:21), or it may mean “at your disposal” or ‘in one’s care’ (Ge 16:6, compare Le; Ge 42:37, compare RS; Lu 23:46; Joh 10:28, 29). “With uplifted hand” denotes being vigorous, victorious (Ex 14:8); ‘strengthening the hands’ means empowering or supplying and equipping (Ezr 1:6); “weakening the hands,” breaking down the morale (Jer 38:4); ‘putting one’s own life into his hand or palm,’ risking his life (1Sa 19:5; Job 13:14). “Shaking hands” was done in making a promise (Ezr 10:19) or in going surety for another (Pr 6:1-3; 17:18; 22:26); ‘putting the hand to’ signifies undertaking (De 15:10, compare KJ); ‘putting one’s hand upon another’s goods,’ stealing or improperly using such (Ex 22:7, 8, 10, 11); ‘clean hands’ denote innocence (2Sa 22:21; compare Ps 24:3, 4); ‘blood filling the hands,’ murder (Isa 1:15; 59:3, 7); ‘putting the hand over the mouth,’ keeping quiet (Jg 18:19); ‘dropping the hands down,’ becoming discouraged (2Ch 15:7; see also Isa 35:3; Heb 12:12, 13); and ‘opening up the hand,’ being generous (De 15:11).
“A little more folding of the hands in lying down” brings poverty to the lazy one. (Pr 6:9-11) He is described as being too weary to get his hand out of the banquet bowl to bring it back to his mouth. (Pr 26:15) The negligent person “working with a slack hand will be of little means,” whereas the diligent hand will bring riches.
Other Hebrew idiomatic expressions involving the hand are: ‘put your hand with,’ meaning to cooperate with, be on the side of (Ex 23:1; 1Sa 22:17); “by the hand of” denotes under the guidance of (Ex 38:21) or by means of (Ex 4:13; Le 8:36; 10:11); ‘his hand does not reach,’ or ‘his hand is not attaining it,’ he does not have enough (financial) means (Le 14:21); ‘what his hand shall get,’ what he can afford (Nu 6:21); ‘hands of a sword,’ power of a sword (Job 5:20); ‘hand of the tongue,’ power of the tongue (Pr 18:21); ‘life of your hand,’ revival of your power (Isa 57:10); ‘to shut the hand’ from one’s brother, that is, to be closefisted as to helping him.
Jehovah told the Israelites that they should tie his words “as a sign upon [their] hand” (De 6:6-8; 11:18) and that he had engraved Zion upon his palms (Isa 49:14-16), denoting constant remembrance and attention. With similar meaning, Jehovah tells the eunuchs who lay hold of his covenant that he will give them in his house “a monument” (or, place; literally, a “hand”). (Isa 56:4, 5) The Bible speaks of worshipers of God as writing upon their hands, symbolically, the words, “Belonging to Jehovah,” thus denoting they are his slaves. (Isa 44:5) In the same way the “mark” of “the wild beast” in the right hand would symbolize one’s giving attention, devotion, and active support to “the wild beast” and its “image,” inasmuch as a person’s hands are used to do work in behalf of the one he serves.
Laying On of Hands. Aside from mere handling, hands were laid on a person or object for various purposes. The general meaning of the act, however, was that of a designation, a pointing out of the person or thing as being acknowledged, or recognized, in a certain way. During the ceremony at the installation of the priesthood, Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the bull and the two rams to be sacrificed, thereby acknowledging that these animals were being sacrificed for them for the sake of their becoming priests of Jehovah God. (Ex 29:10, 15, 19; Le 8:14, 18, 22) When appointing Joshua as his successor at God’s command, Moses laid his hand on Joshua, who consequently was “full of the spirit of wisdom” and so was able to lead Israel properly. (De 34:9) Hands were laid on persons when designating them as receivers of a blessing. (Ge 48:14; Mr 10:16) Jesus Christ touched, or laid his hands on, some persons he healed. (Mt 8:3; Mr 6:5; Lu 13:13) The gift of the holy spirit was granted in some instances through the laying on of the hands of the apostles.
Appointments to service. In the Christian congregation appointments of mature men to positions or offices of responsibility were also made by the laying on of hands by those authorized to do so. (Ac 6:6; 1Ti 4:14) Because of the influence such appointed men would have and the example they would set, the apostle Paul admonished Timothy: “Never lay your hands hastily upon any man; neither be a sharer in the sins of others.” This meant not to appoint a man without due consideration of his qualifications, lest the man fail to carry out the duties of his office properly, and Timothy thus share the blame for the difficulty caused.
The Right Hand. The right hand was considered to be of great importance, symbolically. Joseph was displeased when Jacob crossed his hands in order to lay his right hand on Ephraim, Joseph’s younger son. But Jacob did this purposely, to give Ephraim the superior blessing. (Ge 48:13-20) To be on the right hand of a ruler was to have the most important position, next to the ruler himself (Ps 110:1; Ac 7:55, 56; Ro 8:34; 1Pe 3:22), or a position in his favor. (Mt 25:33) Jesus is spoken of in the vision of Revelation as having the seven stars of the seven congregations in his right hand. That is, all these bodies of elders have his favor and are under his full control, power, and direction.
For God to take hold of one’s right hand would strengthen that one. (Ps 73:23) Usually the right hand of a warrior was his sword-wielding hand, and it was unprotected by the shield in the left hand. Therefore, a friend would stand or fight at his right hand as an upholder and protector. This circumstance is used metaphorically with regard to God’s help and protection to those serving him.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says: “The heart of the wise is at his right hand, but the heart of the stupid at his left hand.” In other words, the wise one inclines toward a good, favorable path, but the stupid one inclines toward a bad course.
Directions. The Hebrew expressions for “right hand” (Heb., ya·minʹ) and “left hand” (Heb., semoʼlʹ) are also translated “south” and “north,” respectively (Ge 14:15; Ps 89:12), since directions were reckoned from the standpoint of a person facing the E. Hence, S would be to his right.
Other Uses. “Hand” (Heb., yadh) is also used for “side” (Ex 2:5; Ec 4:1), or ‘at the side of’ (Ne 3:4, 5, 7); for “coast” (Nu 24:24); and for the “tenons” of the tabernacle panel frames (Ex 26:17; compare KJ, margin). The Hebrew word kaph (often rendered “palm” and “hand”) is used for the “sole” of the foot (Ge 8:9), for cups (“spoons,” KJ) of the tabernacle and of the temple (Ex 25:29; Nu 7:84, 86; 2Ki 25:14), and for “socket” (of one’s thigh) or “hollow” (of a sling). (Ge 32:25, 32; 1Sa 25:29) Both yadh (hand) and kaph (palm; hand) are variously translated by yet other English terms.