[Heb., yadh (the word most widely used); kaph, also used for “palm” (or “sole” of the foot); ya·minʹ, “right hand”; semoʼlʹ, “left hand.” Gr., kheir, “hand”; de·xi·aʹ, “right hand”; a·ri·ste·raʹ, “left hand”].
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; Deut. 2:15) The human hand being a very dexterous and versatile part of the body and that with which work is done, it is used symbolically in many Bible texts to denote a wide range of actions.
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 (2 Chron. 6:12; Neh. 8:6); lifted in oaths (Gen. 14:22); touched to the mouth in a form of salute (Job 31:27); clapped in joy, as applause (2 Ki. 11:12), or in anger or derision (Num. 24:10; Job 27:23; Nah. 3:19); waved in threat (Isa. 10:32); placed on top of the head or on the loins in sadness or distress (2 Sam. 13:19; Jer. 30:5, 6); washed with water in an attempt to denote ceremonial cleanness, innocence, or ridding oneself of responsibility. (Matt. 15:1, 2; 27:24; contrast Psalm 26:5, 6; 51:1, 2.) Jehovah assured Jacob that his son Joseph would “lay his hand upon your eyes,” that is, close Jacob’s eyes after he had died. (Gen. 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. 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.—Lev. 8:25-27.
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.” (1 Sam. 25:8) It also referred to one’s general disposition or activity (Gen. 16:12), or denoted his responsibility to account for his actions.—Gen. 9:5; Ezek. 3:18, 20.
God is symbolically spoken of as using his “hand,” that is, his applied power, in accomplishing work, a few of which instances are: in 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 (Ezra 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 meaning not by human hands, but by the power of Jehovah.—Job 34:1, 20; Dan. 2:34, 44, 45.
‘In, into or under one’s hand’ means to be under such one’s power or dominion (Gen. 9:2; 41:35; Job 2:6; 1 Pet. 5:6; compare Genesis 37:21), or it may mean “at your disposal” or ‘in one’s care’ (Gen. 16:6, compare Le; 42:37, compare RS; Luke 23:46; John 10:28, 29); “with uplifted hand” denotes being vigorous, victorious (Ex. 14:8); ‘strengthening the hands’ means empowering or supplying and equipping (Ezra 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 (1 Sam. 19:5; Job 13:14); “shaking hands” was done in making a promise (Ezra 10:19), or in going surety for another (Prov. 6:1-3; 17:18; 22:26); ‘putting the hand to’ signifies undertaking (Deut. 15:10, compare AV); ‘putting one’s hand upon another’s goods,’ stealing or improperly using such. (Ex. 22:7, 8, 10, 11); ‘clean hands’ denote innocence (2 Sam. 22:21; compare Psalm 24:3, 4); ‘blood filling the hands,’ murder (Isa. 1:15; 59:3, 7); ‘putting the hand over the mouth,’ keeping quiet (Judg. 18:19); ‘dropping the hands down,’ becoming discouraged (2 Chron. 15:7; see also Isaiah 35:3; Hebrews 12:12, 13); ‘opening up the hand,’ in generosity.—Deut. 15:11.
“A little more folding of the hands in lying down” brings poverty to the lazy one. (Prov. 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. (Prov. 26:15) The negligent person “working with a slack hand will be of little means,” whereas the diligent hand will bring riches.—Prov. 10:4.
Other Hebrew idiomatic expressions involving the hand are: ‘put your hand with,’ meaning to cooperate with, be on the side of (Ex. 23:1; 1 Sam. 22:17); “by the hand of,” under the guidance of (Ex. 38:21) or by means of (Lev. 8:36; 10:11); ‘his hand does not reach,’ or ‘his hand is not attaining it,’ he does not have enough (financial) means (Lev. 14:21); ‘what his hand shall get,’ what he can afford (Num. 6:21); ‘hands of a sword,’ power of a sword (Job 5:20); ‘hand of the tongue,’ power of the tongue (Prov. 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.—Deut. 15:7, AV.
Jehovah told the Israelites that they should tie his words “as a sign upon [their] hand” (Deut. 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 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.—Rev. 13:16, 17; 14:9, 10; 20:4.
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; Lev. 8:14, 18, 22) Joshua was appointed successor to Moses by God’s command, Moses laying his hand on Joshua, who consequently was “full of the spirit of wisdom” and so was able to lead Israel properly. (Deut. 34:9) Hands were laid on persons when designating them as receivers of a blessing. (Gen. 48:14; Mark 10:16) Jesus Christ touched or laid his hands on some persons he healed. (Matt. 8:3; Mark 6:5; Luke 13:13) The gift of the holy spirit was granted to certain persons designated by the laying on of the hands of the apostles.—Acts 8:14-20; 19:6.
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. (Acts 6:6; 1 Tim. 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.—1 Tim. 5:22.
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. (Gen. 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; Acts 7:55, 56; Rom. 8:34; 1 Pet. 3:22), or a position in his favor. (Matt. 25:33) Jesus is spoken of in the vision of Revelation as having the seven stars (overseers) of the seven congregations in his right hand, that is, having his favor and being under his full control, power and direction.—Rev. 1:16, 20; 2:1.
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.—Ps. 16:8; 109:30, 31; 110:5; 121:5.
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 is motivated toward a good, favorable path, but the stupid one inclines to a bad course.—Eccl. 10:2.
The Hebrew expressions for “right hand” and “left hand” are also translated “south” and “north,” respectively (Gen. 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.—1 Sam. 23:19, 24.
“Hand” (Heb., yadh) is also used for “side” (Ex. 2:5; Eccl. 4:1), or ‘at the side of,’ (Neh. 3:4, 5, 7); for “coast” (Num 24:24); and for the “tenons” of the tabernacle panel frames. (Ex. 26:17; compare AV, margin.) The Hebrew word kaph (often rendered “hand” and “palm”) is used for cups (“spoons,” AV) of the tabernacle and of the temple (Ex. 25:29; Num. 7:84, 86; 2 Ki. 25:14) and for “socket” (of one’s thigh) or “hollow” (of a sling). (Gen. 32:25, 32; 1 Sam. 25:29) Both yadh, “hand,” and kaph, “hand” and “palm,” are variously translated by yet other English terms.
“Handfuls,” figuratively, stand for abundance (Gen. 41:47) or a “handful” may mean only a little (1 Ki. 17:12), or a modest portion (Eccl. 4:6), according to the context.
The “handbreadth” was a unit of measure. (Ex. 25:25; Ezek. 40:5) The handbreadth being small (c. 2.9 inches [c. 7.4 centimeters]), “handbreadths” stand for just a few, at Psalm 39:5, which says, “you have made my days just a few,” literally, “just handbreadths.”—See ARM; ATTITUDES AND GESTURES; THUMB; WASHING OF HANDS.