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Bible Dictionaries

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words

Palm (of Hand)

A. Noun.

Kaph (כַּף, Strong's #3709), “palm (of hand).” Cognates of this noun are attested in Akkadian, Ugaritic, Aramaic, Arabic, Ethiopic, and Egyptian. It appears about 193 times in biblical Hebrew and at all periods.

Basically, kaph represents the “palm,” the hollow part of the hand as distinguished from its fingers, thumbs, and back. Thus we read that part of the ritual for cleansing a leper is that a “priest shall take some of the log of oil, and pour it into the palm of his own left hand” (Lev. 14:15).

The word represents the entire inside of the hand when it is cupped, or the “hollow of the hand.” God told Moses: “… While my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by” (Exod. 33:22; cf. Ps. 139:5).

This word means fist, specifically the inside of a fist. The woman of Zarephath told Elijah: “… I have not a cake, but a handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse …” (1 Kings 17:12). This was, indeed, a very small amount of flour—enough for only one little biscuit.

Kaph also refers to the flat of the hand, including the fingers and the thumb. These are what one claps together in joy and applause: “And he brought forth the king’s son, and put the crown upon him, and gave him the testimony; and they made him king, and anointed him; and they clapped their hands, and said, God save the king” (2 Kings 11:12). Clapping the hands may also be an expression of scorn and contempt (Num. 24:10). The flat of the hands may be raised heavenward in prayer to symbolize one’s longing to receive. Moses told Pharaoh: “As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the Lord …” (Exod. 9:29).

This word can suggest the inside part of a hand grasp as distinguished from the hand as a whole: “And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand” (Exod. 4:4). A mutual hand grasp may signify entrance into a pledge (Prov. 6:1). To take one’s life (nepesh) into one’s own hands is to put oneself into danger (Judg. 12:3).

In many passages kaph is synonymous with the entire hand. Jacob tells Laban that “God hath seen … the labor of my hands …” (Gen. 31:42). Perhaps the same nuance occurs in passages such as Gen. 20:5: “… In the integrity of my heart and innocency of my hands have I done this.”

The word may be used symbolically and figuratively meaning “power.” Gideon complained to the Angel of the Lord that “now the Lord hath forsaken us, and delivered us into the hands [the power] of the Midianites” (Judg. 6:13). Israel was not literally in the Midianites’ hands but was dominated by them and under their control.

Once the word represents animal paws: “And whatsoever goeth upon his paws, among all manner of beasts that go on all four, those are unclean unto you …” (Lev. 11:27).

In many passages kaph signifies the sole of the foot, the hollow part. This meaning appears in Gen. 8:9 (first biblical appearance): “But the dove found no rest for the sole of her foot …” (cf. Josh. 3:13 where the word is used of the sole of a human foot).

Various hollow, bending, or beaten objects are represented by kaph. First, it is used of a thigh joint: “And when he [the Angel of the Lord] saw that he prevailed not against him [Jacob], he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him” (Gen. 32:25). Second, a certain shaped pan or vessel is called a kaph: “And thou shalt make the dishes thereof, and spoons thereof, and covers thereof, and bowls thereof, to cover withal: of pure gold shalt thou make them” (Exod. 25:29). Third, the word is used of the hollow of a sling: “… And the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling” (1 Sam. 25:29). Next, the huge hand-shaped branches of palm trees are represented by the word: “And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees …” (Lev. 23:40). Finally, in Song of Sol. 5:5 this word represents the bent piece of metal or wood which forms a door handle.

B. Verb.

Kâphaph (כָּפַף, Strong's #3721), “to bend, bow down.” This word appears 5 times in biblical poetry and has cognates in Akkadian and Arabic. The verb occurs in Isa. 58:5: “… is it to bow down his head as a bulrush, and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?”

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Bibliography Information
Vines, W. E., M. A. Entry for 'Palm (of Hand)'. Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words. 1940.

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