Does Hand-Clapping Praise God?

CC BY, neekoh.fi, Flickr

CC BY, neekoh.fi, Flickr

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?

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10 thoughts on “Does Hand-Clapping Praise God?

  1. Interesting Mike. I’m not sure I consider clapping as praise. But it is a cultural norm for excitement. I hadn’t thought of it either way. Does it raise your dander when a worship leader says “give God a praise offering” meaning clap?

    • To the question, I feel that’s how it’s often interpreted and the more noise that is made, the more pleasing it is (for some reason) to both God and the worship leader. Clapping just seems superficial and unworthy of his esteem. Like you said, it feeds into the larger culture today where everything is cheered and applauded.

  2. Praise comes from the heart. Whether it flows through the hands, the mouth, the feet, the wallet…it just doesn’t much matter when it’s an extension of our love and admiration for Him. I’m quite sure He’s ok with some applause from His kids. 🙂

    • So you take a more casual approach…nothing wrong with that. To clap or not is a peripheral issue to our faith. Paul, in Rom. 14, speaks to Christians who were clearly perplexed about eating meats their consciences told them to refuse. He brilliantly advises, “So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves” (v. 22). It’s the same here. I don’t clap; you do. And we both worship God. Thanks for expressing this, Lisa.

  3. That’s an interesting lesson. I never knew the historical significance of clapping. I suspect many people may disagree with your post; nevertheless, I do agree with Levi Thetford that clapping is somehow insufficient to display our gratitude and reverence to God.

    • I’m sure there are those who will disagree, and it’s their right. Yet why wouldn’t we desire to know a proper biblical context? We want the scriptures to guide us about everything else. We like to say ‘God is great and greatly to be praised.’ Well we should really consider our offerings. Thanks for reading, Stephen!

  4. Great post, Michael. Gives me much to think about and a new perspective on Scripture. I have always felt uneasy when leaders exhort us to “Give God a round of applause.” It seems so irreverent. We tend to forget God’s holiness and turn worship into a show.

  5. My practice is very much like yours, Mike. It seems so subdued to me to clap to God. He deserves far more respect and honor than man receives in worship in my mind than a clap. Nice post!

    • You’re right, Levi. I also find that people often clap because someone else tells them to do it. Thus, it’s not a personal response to God, and we can get caught up in performance. I think when one becomes fascinated by God’s wonder, he realizes that even the lifting of hands or prostration isn’t sufficient; so certainly clapping is below par. Then, the scriptural context says volumes.

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