Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Hand, Right Hand

Hand, Right Hand

"Hand" most frequently represents the ownership, power, or control that its possessor (either an individual or a people) exercises. This can be seen in the story of the exodus from Egypt. God's hand, described as mighty ( Exod 3:19-20 ), overcomes the hand of the Egyptians ( 3:8 ) through miraculous plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. These are performed by the hand of Moses and of Aaron who act as instruments of divine power, taking the staff of God in their hands ( 4:2 ; 14:16 ). As a symbol of divine power and salvation the hand is remembered at the Passover celebration in which a staff is to be held in the hand and the event described as a "sign on your hand" ( 12:11 ; Exodus 13:9 Exodus 13:16 ).

The hand can represent the whole person, symbolizing the achievement of what is promised with the mouth ( 1 Kings 8:15 1 Kings 8:24 ). The hand's raised position can be used in blessing (pl. in Lev 9:22 ), in making an oath before God ( Gen 14:22 ), or in God's making an oath ( Num 14:30 ; right hand in Isa 62:8 ). Placing the hand under the patriarch's thigh forms part of the oath that his servant makes to Abraham ( Genesis 24:2 Genesis 24:9 ). The hand of the person seeking atonement for sins is placed on the animal when it is sacrificed ( Lev 1:4 ). More specifically, the thumb of the right hand receives the sacrificial blood or the oil when the whole person is ritually cleansed ( Lev 8:23 ; 14:14-28 ). This symbolism is carried into the New Testament, when Jesus and the apostles heal and deliver through the touch of the hand ( Matt 8:3 ; Acts 3:7 ).

The hand has a variety of other associations. The hand of the Lord comes upon Elisha through the playing of a harp and leads him to prophesy ( 2 Kings 3:15 ). Naaman expects Elisha to cure him through the waving of his hand ( 2 Kings 5:11 ). Writing on the hand can signify allegiance or ownership ( Isa 44:5 ; Rev 13:16 ). Mourning can involve the slashing of the hand ( Jer 48:37 ). If the lover's "hand" in Song of Solomon 5:4 is a sexual metaphor, it avoids altogether the additional ritual associations of this phallic image in Ugaritic (and presumably Canaanite) religion. God's hand is normally understood as a metaphor but in the prophetic books something like a hand is felt ( Dan 10:10 ) and is seen lifting Ezekiel ( Eze 8:3 ), writing on a wall ( Dan 5:5 ), holding a plumb line ( Amos 7:7 ), and emanating rays ( Hab 3:4 ; cf. Rev 1:20 and Rev 2:1, ; where Christ holds seven stars ).

The right hand can be used interchangeably with the hand in poetic texts ( Judges 5:26 ; Psalm 74:11 ). The hand of God, and especially the right hand, is also understood as a place of salvation, refuge, and protection (16:8). It is the favored position for the firstborn of Joseph to receive Jacob's blessing ( Gen 48:13-18 ), for the bride of the king ( Psalm 45:9 ), and for the chosen one who sits at God's right hand while judgment is rendered upon the earth ( 110:1 ; Jer 22:24 ). This is applied to Jesus ( Mark 14:62 ; 16:19 ). He sits at God's right hand, where he intercedes as a priest for believers ( Rom 8:34 ; Heb 8:1 ) and exercises authority over all powers ( 1 Peter 3:22 ). The apostles extend the right hand of fellowship to Paul ( Gal 2:9 ), perhaps reflecting an ancient practice of greeting ( 2 Sam 20:9 ). In other cases the position at the right hand has no apparent advantage over the left ( 1 Chronicles 6:39 1 Chronicles 6:44 ; Jonah 4:11 ). In Hebrew, the direction "south" is designated by the word for "right hand" (yamin [im"Yim]).

Richard S. Hess

Bibliography. J. Bergman, W. von Soden, and P. R. Ackroyd, TDOT, 5:393-426; J. A. Soggin and H.-J. Fabry, TDOT, 6:87-98; W. Grundmann, TDNT, 2:37-40; E. Lohse, TDNT, 9:424-37; J. C. de Moor, An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit.

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology. Edited by Walter A. Elwell
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
Baker Book House Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan USA.
All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For usage information, please read the Baker Book House Copyright Statement.


Bibliography Information

Elwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Hand, Right Hand'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology". . 1997.