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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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Part of the human body, namely the terminal part of the arm which enables a person to make and use tools and perform functions. The Greek and Hebrew words that are translated by the English word “hand” appear approximately 1800 times in the Bible. Of these occurrences to which “hand” is referred, the literal sense is intended some 500 times, and the figurative sense some 1300 times.

The references to “hand” in the Bible often encompassed the idea of parts of a hand. Thus, in Genesis 41:42 , when Pharaoh took his signet ring “from his hand” and placed it “upon Joseph's hand,” “hand” was used in the place of “finger.” Likewise, in Ezekiel 23:42 , hand was used to mean wrists: “. . . which put bracelets upon their hands.” The context in which the word appears determines the meaning and usage of the word.

The largest number of figurative uses of “hand” relate to God. The “hand of God” or “in thine hand” is an idiom referring to the supreme and almighty power and authority of God (1 Chronicles 29:12 ). In Isaiah 59:1 , God's hand was described as mighty. Exodus 13:3-16 described God's deliverance of Israel from Egypt by His “strong hand.” The creative work of God involved the use of His hands to make the heavens and the earth ( Psalm 8:6; Psalm 95:5 ). God uses His hand to uphold and guide the righteous (Psalm 37:24; Psalm 139:10 ). Punishment and affliction come from the hand of God (Exodus 9:3; Deuteronomy 2:15; Judges 2:15; 1 Samuel 7:13; 1 Samuel 12:15; Ruth 1:13 ).

The hand of God can be upon someone in either a good or bad sense. In a good sense, it meant to bring aid, while the negative connotation meant to hinder or distress (Amos 1:8 ).

The phrase “into someone's hand” was used figuratively to convey the idea of authority involving responsibility, care, or dominion over someone or something (Genesis 9:2 ). Examples of this concept include: Sarah's authority over Hagar (Genesis 16:6 ,Genesis 16:6,16:9 ), Joseph's administration of Potiphar's house (Genesis 39:3-8 ), and the role of Moses and Aaron as leaders of Israel (Numbers 33:1 ). Victory and deliverance were portrayed also by the use of this phrase. “Victory over someone” was conveyed by the phrase “delivered into hand of” (Genesis 49:8; Joshua 6:2 ), while deliverance was understood as “out of the hand of” (Exodus 3:8 ).

Functions of the hand were often used by biblical writers to identify certain uses of the word. Since a person takes possession of objects with the hand, the Biblical writers adapted “hand” to mean possession. A literal translation of Genesis 39:1 would include the statement that Potiphar brought Joseph “from the hand of the Ishmaelites.” In 1 Kings 11:31 , Jeroboam was told that the Lord was about to tear the kingdom “from the hand” of Solomon.

“To give the hand” meant that one had pledged or submitted to another, as in 2 Kings 10:15 and Ezra 10:19 . Submission to the Lord is implied in 2 Chronicles 30:8 , where “yield to” is literally, “give hand to.”

“To stretch the hand” was used to convey two thoughts: attacking the enemy in battle (Joshua 8:19 ,Joshua 8:19,8:26 ) and an intense desire for communion with God (Psalm 143:6 ).

Work or the action in which one is involved is expressed by the words “works of thy hand” (Deuteronomy 2:7; Deuteronomy 30:9 ). In 1 Samuel 23:16 Jonathan's helping David is literally, “he strengthened his hand in God,” that is increased his faith and hope in God's help.

The Hebrew phrase “high hand” indicated willful rebellion against God (Numbers 15:30; see Deuteronomy 32:27 ) but also military power (Exodus 14:8; Micah 5:9 ). A similar image is projected by the phrase “shaking the hand” (Isaiah 10:32; Isaiah 11:15 ). The movement of the hand was interpreted as a sign of contempt and displeasure, or lack of respect. When used in reference to God, it symbolized God's warning and punishment.

Hebrew “to fill the hand” expressed the consecration of a priest (Judges 17:5 ) or a congregation's dedication (2 Chronicles 29:31 ).

The word “hand” was used in a number of specialized ways. It came to mean “side,” perhaps because of the location of the hands and arms on the body. A peculiar use was that of hand for “monument” (1 Samuel 15:12 ). The spreading of the hands denoted a large “space” (Genesis 34:21 ).

The numerous passages in the Bible in which “hand” appears is evidence of the significance of the term. “Hand” is most often associated with power, the power of God as well as of man. See Work; Worship; Laying on of Hands .

James Newell

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Hand'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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