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Gesture

GESTURE

jes'-tur, jes'-tur:

The Oriental is rich in gestures by which feelings are expressed and force added to words. Of this we have abundant illustration in the Bible. Almost every available part of the body was employed in gesture. In salutations the whole body was bowed, sometimes to the ground (Genesis 18:2; 19:1; 33:7; 42:6; 33:3), falling on the face to the ground and bowing to the ground, 3 times (1 Samuel 20:41; Genesis 23:7; 2 Samuel 9:8; 18:21; 1 Kings 2:19); it was common also to embrace and kiss (Exodus 18:7), etc., weeping for joy. Esau "fell on (Jacob's) neck, and kissed him: and they wept" (Genesis 33:4); compare Joseph and his brethren (Genesis 45:14,15); David and Jonathan (1 Samuel 20:41), and the father of the prodigal (Luke 15:20). We have the kiss also in the story of Judas with his Master (Matthew 26:49). Bowing the knee was also in Egypt an act of homage to a superior (Genesis 41:43); bowing the knee and bowing down were common in prayer and worship (1 Kings 19:18; 2 Chronicles 6:13; Ezra 9:5; Isaiah 45:23); in prayer the head and whole body were also bowed (Genesis 24:26; 2 Kings 5:18; 2 Chronicles 29:28). The rabbins decreed that in prayer "in bowing down, the back must be bent so low that every vertebra becomes conspicuous," and endless questions arose as to what it was lawful to do during prayer (Edersheim). We read also of prayer offered standing (1 Samuel 1:26; 1 Kings 8:22; Matthew 6:5; Mark 11:25), lifting up and spreading forth the hands (1 Kings 8:22; 2 Chronicles 6:13; Ezra 9:5; Nehemiah 8:6; 1 Timothy 2:8); "lifting up the hands" was synonymous with prayer (Psalms 77:2; 141:2; Lamentations 2:19; 1 Timothy 2:8); falling on the knees in pleading (1 Kings 1:13). Reverence for the aged was expressed by rising up in their presence (Leviticus 19:32,5:12). The hand was also laid on the mouth in token of respect (Job 29:9); in token of blessing the right hand was placed on the head (Genesis 48:14; compare Genesis 49:26; Proverbs 10:6). The hands were laid on the head of the animal to be sacrificed; on the scapegoat and sin offering as denoting the transference of sin; on the burnt offering, perhaps as representing the offerer (Leviticus 1:4; 16:21). The hands were lifted up in blessing (Leviticus 9:22), in solemn swearing (Genesis 14:22; Exodus 6:8; Deuteronomy 32:40), in defiance and threatening (2 Samuel 20:21); extended in pleading (Isaiah 65:2). Giving the hand or joining hands as a pledge of friendship and fidelity (2 Kings 10:15; Proverbs 11:21) was the origin of the widespread custom of "shaking hands"; "striking hands" signified the clenching of a bargain or agreement (Proverbs 6:1 the Revised Version British and American)); as a solemn pledge the hand was placed under the thigh of the person to whom it was given (Genesis 24:2; 47:29); plucking the hand out of the bosom was a sign of action (Psalms 74:11); clapping the hands, of rejoicing (2 Kings 11:12; Psalms 47:1; 98:8; Isaiah 55:12), also of ridicule, contempt and rejoicing over one (Job 27:23; Lamentations 2:15; Nahum 3:19). We read of "beckoning with the hand" (Luke 5:7; John 13:24), preliminary to speaking (Acts 12:17; 13:16; 19:33; 21:40; 26:1, he "stretched forth his hand"); drooping of the hands indicated failure, weakness or distress (Hebrews 12:12; compare Isaiah 35:3; Ecclesiasticus 25:23); washing the hands (publicly) was a declaration of innocence, "of freedom from complicity" (Deuteronomy 21:6,7; Matthew 27:24).

The head lifted up was a sign of arrogance or pride (Psalms 83:2); of exaltation, or recovery from trouble, etc. (Judges 8:28; Psalms 27:6; 110:7; Zechariah 1:21); to cover the head was a symbol of grief or mourning (2 Samuel 15:30; Esther 6:12; Jeremiah 14:3), also putting the hand on the head (2 Samuel 13:19; Jeremiah 2:37), or ashes, dust or earth (Joshua 7:6; 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 12; 13:19; Esther 4:1); wagging (or shaking) the head expressed contempt or malicious enjoyment (Job 16:4; Psalms 64:8; Jeremiah 18:16; Lamentations 2:15; with "hissing," compare Matthew 27:39; Mark 15:29; compare Psalms 22:7; 44:14; 109:25; Jeremiah 48:27).

Uncovering the feet was a sign of grief (2 Samuel 15:30; Isaiah 20:2,4); lifting up the heel against one was a symbol of opposition (Psalms 41:9; John 13:18); shaking the dust from the feet, of freeing from responsibility and of complete rejection (Matthew 10:14; Acts 13:51; at Corinth Paul "shook out his raiment," Acts 18:6); strong joyous feeling found (as elsewhere) expression in dancing (Judges 11:34; 21:21; 1 Samuel 18:6; Jeremiah 31:4,13), before Yahweh (Exodus 15:20; 2 Samuel 6:14,16).

Shooting out the lip was an expression of contempt (Psalms 22:7); to incline the ear signified attention (Psalms 45:10); rending the garments expressed the sense of horror (as in the presence of disaster, blasphemy, etc.) (Numbers 14:6; Joshua 7:6; 1 Samuel 4:12; 2 Samuel 1:2; 13:19; 15:32; Matthew 26:65; Acts 14:14); the smile indicated favor and gave confidence (Job 29:24); lifting up the eyelids was a sign of pride (Proverbs 30:13); Isaiah speaks also of the "outstretched necks and wanton eyes" of the haughty daughters of Zion, "walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet" (Isaiah 3:16). The perverse man "winketh with his eyes .... speaketh with his feet ..... maketh signs with his fingers" (Proverbs 6:13).

It is interesting to note the gestures ascribed in the Gospels to Jesus. The expression of His eyes is often referred to; we read how He "lifted up his eyes on his disciples" before pronouncing the Beatitudes, indicating a loving regard for them (Luke 6:20); how He "looked upon" the young ruler and "loved him," and, with another expressive "look" (round about)--a sad look--said, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God" (Mark 10:21,23); how He "looked up to heaven" before He blessed and brake the loaves (Matthew 14:19; Mark 6:41; Luke 9:16); also before healing (Mark 7:34); how He "looked round" on His adversaries in the synagogue (Luke 6:10), "with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart" (Mark 3:5); how He "turned and looked upon Peter" so that he remembered his boasting and fall, and went out and wept bitterly (Luke 22:61); we read also how He took a little child into His arms and held him up as an example to His disciples (Mark 9:36), and how He "took (little children) in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands upon them" (Mark 10:16); how He "stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground" when the woman accused of adultery was brought to Him, then "lifted up himself" and spake, again "stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground," till the woman's accusers had departed one by one, condemned and ashamed, when He again "lifted up himself" and sent the woman away (John 8:6); how on His way to the tomb of Lazarus, He was agitated, the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "was troubled," margin "troubled himself." Meyer has "shuddered." Some translation "shook himself" (John 11:33).

See, further, ATTITUDES.

W. L. Walker


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Bibliography Information
Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. "Entry for 'GESTURE'". "International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". 1915.