The clapping of hands in the Bible has more to do with human aggression than the praise of God. Often we clap our hands to applaud a person or cause, or to the beat of a song—in church too—and there is nothing wrong with this. But let me show why clapping hands in praise to God is nowhere found in Scripture.
What Clapping Signifies
I will explain the original words where the clapping of hands occurs in the Bible and the context of those words. I will also include the Strong’s reference for your own study. There are four root words that are used.
- One word is caphaq (5606). It means to clap or strike, and its context is to chastise with disapproval. Think of a grandmother clapping to scold grandkids or to shoo stray animals. This word implies a display of indignation and even lament. Look at it in Num. 24:10: “Then Balak’s anger burned against Balaam. He struck his hands together and said to him, ‘I summoned you to curse my enemies, but you have blessed them these three times.’”
- Another word is taqa (8628). It means to strike or deliver a blow. This is where many people reference Ps. 47:1 to show clapping as a form of praise to God—“O clap your hands, all peoples; shout to God with the voice of joy (triumph-KJV).” Yes, rejoicing is suggested in the context; however, clapping is performed in exultation of one’s misfortune. This psalm recognizes God as King; however, the clapping does not praise God’s person but revels in his vengeance upon the wicked—“He subdues peoples under us and nations under our feet” (v. 3). In a reimagined NT context, all of first-century Palestine might have acted this way had Jesus used his powers to defeat Rome.
- Next is macha (4222). It means to strike or clap, like caphaq, but its context is very similar to taqa since it expresses gleeful rejoicing at something. For instance, Ps. 98:8-9 uses it to make nature clap its hands at God’s righteous judgment in ordering things aright. But to give you a clearer picture, see it in Ezekiel’s prophecy against Ammon: “Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet and rejoiced with all the malice within your soul against the land of Israel…I have stretched out my hand against you” (25:6-7).
- Finally, the word nakah (5221) adds more. It means to strike or smite, but also to hit or beat, wound, or kill. The context entails malice. This was the case in 2 Kings 11:12 when the six year-old Joash was made king. His grandmother Athaliah slaughters the royal family after her son dies and usurps the throne; however, Joash, the heir, is hidden. Then, “Jehoiada brought out the king’s son and put the crown on him…and proclaimed him king. They anointed him, and the people clapped their hands and shouted, ‘Long live the king!’” The clapping here is a frenzied rally to vindicate Athaliah’s evils, which happens straightway. It’s like the fired up football player or wrestler slapping his hands together, ready for the opponent.
How Should We Praise God?
So the context of clapping—and clapping is not found in the New Testament—is entirely different from the way we use it today, which is often empty and excessive. Much more is said about lifting the hands, kneeling, and prostrating oneself in worship.
Do I clap in church? I do to music and in ovation of someone or something, sparingly; however, I do not clap to praise God, now for at least a decade. Instead, I raise my hands.
What’s your opinion?