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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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(יָד,yd, the open palm; כִּ, kaph, the hollow of the partly-closed hand; Greek χείρ; יָמַין, yanin', the right hand, δεξιά; שְׂמוֹל, semel', the left hand, ἀριστερά, εὐώνυμον), the principal organ of feeling, rightly denominated by Galen the instrument of instruments since this member is wonderfully adapted to the purposes for which it was designed, and serves to illustrate the wisdom and providence of the great Creator (The Hand, its Mechanism and vital Endowments, as evincing Design, by Sir Charles Bell). Considering the multiplex efficacy of the human hand, the control which it has given mail, the conquest over the external world which it has enabled him to achieve, and the pleasing and useful revolutions and improvements which it has brought about, we are not surprised to read the glowing eulogy in which Cicero (De Nat. Deor. 2, 60) has indulged on the subject, nor to find how important is the part which the hand performs in the records of divine revelation. The hand itself serves to distinguish man from other terrestrial beings. Of the two hands, the right has a preference derived from natural endowment. (See LEFTHANDED).

Hands are the symbols of human action; pure hands are pure actions; unjust hands are deeds of injustice; hands full of blood, actions stained with cruelty, and the alike (Psalms 90:17; Job 9:30; 1 Timothy 2:8; Isaiah 1:15). Washing of the hands was the symbol of innocence (Psalms 26:6; Psalms 73:13). Of this Pilate furnishes an example (Matthew 27:24). It was the custom of the Jews to wash their hands before and after meat (see Mark 7:3; Matthew 6:2; Luke 11:38). Washing of hands was a symbol of expiation, as might be shown by numerous references; and of sanctification, as appears from several passages (1 Corinthians 6:11; Isaiah 1:16; Psalms 24:3-4). (See WASHING OF HANDS). Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:8, says, "I will therefore that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands," etc. (see Job 11:13-14). The elevation or extension of the right hand was also the ancient method of voting in popular assemblies, as indicated by the Greek term χειροτονέω (Acts 14:23; 2 Corinthians 8:19). In Psalms 77:2, for "sore," the margin of our version has "hand;" and the correct sense is, "My hands in the night were spread out, and ceased not." To smite the hands together over the head was a gesture of despairing grief (2 Samuel 13:19; Jeremiah 2:37). The expression in Jeremiah 2:37, "Thy hands upon thy head," may be explained by the act of Tamar in laying her hand on her head as a sign of her degradation and sorrow (2 Samuel 13:19). The expression "Though hand join in hand" in Proverbs 11:21, is simply "hand to hand," and signifies through all ages and generations, ever: "through all generations the wicked shall not go unpunished."

To the right hand signified to the south, the southern quarter, as the left hand signified the north (Job 23:9; 1 Samuel 23:19; 2 Samuel 24:5). The term hand is sometimes used for a monument, a trophy of victory (1 Samuel 15:12); a sepulchral monument, "Absalom's Place," literally Absalom's Hand (2 Samuel 18:18; see Erdmann, Monunentum Absalomi, Helmst. 1740). So in Isaiah 56:5, "to them will I give a place within my walls a monument (or portion) and a name" (Gesenius, Thesaur. Heb. p. 568).

To give the right hand was a pledge of fidelity, and was considered as confirming a promise or bargain (2 Kings 10:15; Ezra 10:19); spoken of the vanquished giving their hands as a pledge of submission and fidelity to the victors (Ezekiel 17:18; Jeremiah 1, 15; Lamentations 5:6); so to strike hands as a pledge of suretiship (Proverbs 17:18; Proverbs 22:26; 2 Chronicles 30:8, margin). The right hand was lifted up in swearing or taking an oath (Genesis 14:22; Deuteronomy 32:40; Ezekiel 20:28; Psalms 144:11; Isaiah 62:8); similar is the Arabic oath, "By the right hand of Allah." (See Taylor's Fragments, No. 278.)

Hand in general is the symbol of power and strength, and the right hand more particularly so. To hold by the right hand is the symbol of protection and favor (Psalms 18:35). To stand or be at one's right hand is to aid or assist any one (Psalms 16:8; Psalms 109:31; Psalms 110:5; Psalms 121:5); so also "man of thy right hand," i.e. whom thou sustainest, aidest (Psalms 80:17); "my hand is with any one," i.e. I aid him, am on his side (1 Samuel 22:17; 2 Samuel 23:12; 2 Kings 23:19); and to take or hold the right hand, i.e. to sustain, to aid (Psalms 73:23; Isaiah 41:13; Isaiah 45:1). So the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 2:9) signifies a communication of the same power and authority. To lean upon the hand of another is a mark of familiarity and superiority (2 Kings 5:18; 2 Kings 7:17). To give the hand, as to a master, is the token of submission and future obedience. Thus, in 2 Chronicles 30:8, the words in the original, "Give the hand unto the Lord," signify, Yield yourselves unto the Lord. The like phrase is used in Psalms 68:31; Lamentations 5:6. "Behold, as the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress, so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God"(Psalms 123:2), which refers to the watchful readiness of a servant to obey the least sign of command (Kitto's Daily Bible Illust. ad loc.). To kiss the hand is an act of homage (1 Kings 19:18; Job 31:27). To pour water on any one's hands signifies to serve him (2 Kings 3:11). To "seal up the hand"(Job 37:7) is to place one in charge of any special business, for which he will be held accountable. Marks in the hands or wrists were the tokens of servitude, the heathens being wont to imprint marks upon the hands of servants, and on such as devoted themselves to some false deity. Thus in. Zechariah 13:6, the man, when challenged for the scars visible on his hands, would deny that they had proceeded from an idolatrous cause, and pretend that they were the effects of the wounds he had given himself for the loss of his friends. The right hand stretched out is the symbol of immediate exertion of power (Exodus 15:12); sometimes the exercise of mercy (Isaiah 65:2; Proverbs 1:24).

The hand of God is spoken of as the instrument of power, and to it is ascribed that which strictly belongs to God himself (Job 27:11; Psalms 31:16; Psalms 95:4; Isaiah 62:3; Proverbs 21:1; Acts 4:28; 1 Peter 5:6). So the hand of the Lord being upon or with any one denotes divine aid or favor (Ezra 7:6; Ezra 7:28; Ezra 8:18; Ezra 8:22; Ezra 8:13; Nehemiah 2:8; Isaiah 1:25; Luke 1:66; Acts 11:21); further, the hand of the Lord is upon or against thee, denotes punishment (Exodus 9:3; Deuteronomy 2:15; Judges 2:15; 1 Samuel 7:13; 1 Samuel 12:15; Ezekiel 13:9; Amos 1:8; Acts 13:11). In Job 33:7, "my hand shall not be heavy upon thee," the original term is אֶכֶ, ekeph; and the passage signifies "my dignity shall not weigh heavy upon thee"(Gesenius, s.v.). The hand of God upon a prophet signifies the immediate operation of his Holy Spirit on the soul or body of the prophet, as in 1 Kings 18:46; 2 Kings 3:15; Ezekiel 1:3; Ezekiel 3:22; Ezekiel 8:1. As the hand, so also the finger of God denotes his power or Spirit (see Luke 11:20, and comp. Matthew 12:28). Thus our Savior cast out devils or daemons by his bare command, whereas the Jews cast them out only by the invocation of the name of God. So in Exodus 8:19, the finger of God is a work which none but God could perform. (See ARM).

The hands of the high priest were laid on the head of the scape-goat when the sins of the people were publicly confessed (Leviticus 16:21). Witnesses laid their hands oil the head of the accused person, as it were to signify that they charged upon him the guilt of his blood and freed themselves from it (Deuteronomy 13:9; Deuteronomy 17:7). The Hebrews, when presenting their sin-offerings at the tabernacle, confessed their sins while they laid their hands upon the victim (Leviticus 1:4). To "fill one's hands," is to take possession of the priesthood, to perform the functions of that office; because in this ceremony those parts of the victim which were to be offered were put into the hand of the new-made priest (Judges 17:5; Judges 17:12; Leviticus 16:32; 1 Kings 13:33). Jacob laid his hands on Ephraim and Manasseh when he gave them his last blessing (Genesis 48:14). The high priest stretched out his hands to the people as often as he recited the solemn form of blessing (Leviticus 9:22). Our Savior laid his hands upon the children that were presented to him and blessed them (Mark 10:16). (See Tiemeroth, De χειροθεσίᾷ, χειρολογιᾷ, Erford. 1754.)

Imposition of hands formed at an early period a part of the ceremonial observed on the appointment and consecration of persons to high and holy undertakings. In Numbers 27:19, Jehovah is represented as thus speaking to Moses, "Take thee Joshua, the son of Nun, a man in whom is the spirit, and lay thine hand upon him, and set him before Eleazar the priest, and before all the congregation, and give him a charge in their sight," etc.: where it is obvious that the laying on of hands did neither originate nor communicate divine gifts; for Joshua had "the spirit" before he received imposition of hands; but it was merely an instrumental sign for marking him out individually, and setting him apart; in sight of the congregation, to his arduous work. Similar appears to be the import of the observance in the primitive Church of Christ (Acts 8:15-17; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). A corruption of this doctrine was that the laying on of hands gave of itself divine powers, and on this account Simon, the magician (Acts 8:18), offered money, saying, "Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands he may receive the Holy Ghost," intending probably to carry on a gainful trade by communicating the gift to others. (See IMPOSITION OF HANDS).

The phrase "sitting at the right hand of God," as applied to the Savior, is derived from the fact that with earthly princes a position on the right hand of the throne was accounted the chief place of honor, dignity, and power: "upon thy right hand did stand the queen"(Psalms 45:9; comp. 1 Kings 2:19; Psalms 80:17). The immediate passage out of which sprang the phraseology employed by Jesus may be found in Psalms 110:1 : "Jehovah said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool." Accordingly the Savior declares before Caiaphas (Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62), "Ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven;"where the meaning obviously is that the Jews of that day should have manifest proof that Jesus held the most eminent place in the divine favor, and that his present humiliation would be succeeded by glory, majesty, and power (Luke 24:26; 1 Timothy 3:16). So when it is said (Mark 16:19; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1; 1 Peter 3:22; Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 8:1) that Jesus "sits at the right hand of God," "at the right hand of the Majesty on high," we are obviously to understand the assertion to be that, as his Father, so he worketh always (John 5:17) for the advancement of the kingdom of heaven, and the salvation of the world.

In Colossians 2:13-14, "the law of commandments contained in ordinances"(Ephesians 2:15) is designated "the handwriting of ordinances that was against us," which Jesus blotted out, and took away, nailing it to his cross; phraseology which indicates the abolition, on the part of the Savior, of the Mosaic law (Wolfius, Curce Philolog. in N.T. 3, 16).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Hand'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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