The Hand in the Scriptures
The unique human hand, with its opposable thumb, eloquently testifies to the wisdom and skill of man’s Creator. In fact, were it not for this uniquely shaped hand, man would be far more limited in the works that he could do.
Fittingly, the hands come in for frequent mention in the Scriptures, some two thousand times. They were used as a means of measuring. A handbreadth was three inches. A span, the distance covered by the outstretched hand from the tip of the thumb to the tip of the little finger was nine inches, a half of a cubit of eighteen inches. So when we read that the giant Goliath was six cubits and a span we know he was nine feet and nine inches tall.—Ex. 37:12; 1 Sam. 17:4.
The hands were also used in prayer, not folded sanctimoniously, but stretched out in a meaningful, imploring way to Jehovah God, as did King Solomon at the time of the dedication of the temple: “Solomon . . . spread his palms out to the heavens; and he went on to say: ‘O Jehovah the God of Israel, there is no God like you.’” Wisdom is said to stretch out its hands in appeal to those in need of it. On the other hand, God is said to stretch out his hand against his enemies when executing judgment upon them.—1 Ki. 8:22, 23; Ezra 9:5; Neh. 8:6; Prov. 1:24; Isa. 5:25; 31:3.
The hands figured prominently in the worship conducted by the Levitical priesthood, in particular in the installation ceremony. Aaron and his sons repeatedly laid their hands upon certain animals that were to be sacrificed to indicate that these animals represented them or were being sacrificed on their behalf. And then certain offerings were laid upon the palms (hands) of Aaron and his sons, picturing God filling the hands of Jesus Christ and of his body members with power and authority to serve acceptably as priests.—Lev. 8:14, 18, 22, 27.
In ancient Israel when an agreement was made there was a shaking of the hands to serve as a signature or to ratify the agreement: “They promised by shaking hands to put their [pagan] wives away.” And when one man went surety for another, he would indicate this by a striking of the palms or shaking of the hands, a thing discouraged by the wise writer of the book of Proverbs, who said: “One will positively fare badly because he has gone surety for a stranger, but the one hating handshaking is keeping carefree.”—Ezra 10:19; Prov. 11:15; 6:1; 17:18; 22:26.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures we read of the hands being used when performing miraculous cures: “When the sun was setting, all those who had people sick with various diseases brought them to him. By laying his hands upon each one of them he would cure them.” There was also a laying on of hands when the holy spirit was imparted: “They went laying their hands upon them, and they began to receive holy spirit.” And when the holy spirit made it known to the congregation at Antioch that it was God’s will that Paul and Barnabas be set apart for special work, “they fasted and prayed and laid their hands upon them and let them go.” Incidentally, because of this commissioning Barnabas was termed an apostle, not one of the twelve sent by Jesus, but one of the two sent forth by the congregation at Antioch.—Luke 4:40; Acts 8:17; 13:1-3; 14:14.
In a figurative sense the hand is often used in the Scriptures to refer to applied power, both to that of Jehovah God and of man. “The hand [applied power] of Jehovah came to be heavy upon the Ashdodites.” Judah was promised: “Your hand will be on the back of the neck of your enemies.”—1 Sam. 5:6; Gen. 49:8. See also Exodus 6:1; 9:3.
The hands also stand for activity and cooperation. Thus faithful King Asa was told by the prophet Oded: “You, be courageous and do not let your hands drop down, because there exists a reward for your activity.” On the other hand, King Saul slew certain priests because they had cooperated with David, “because their hand also [had been] with David.”—2 Chron. 15:7; 1 Sam. 22:17.
Since a murderer takes the life of another with his hands, they are said to be ‘filled with bloodshed.’ Pilate tried in vain to relieve himself of this responsibility by literally washing his hands.—Isa. 1:15; Matt. 27:24.
All who appreciate God’s gifts, including their hands, will heed the counsel: “All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power.” Yes, any activity in which we engage is to be done with our very power, that is, whole-souled.—Eccl. 9:10; Col. 3:23.