When we communicate with each other, we do not just with our words but also with the gestures we make, such as clapping our hands. Within the culture of the Western world of our day, this single gesture of clapping our hands together can send many and even contrasting messages. For example, we clap our hands to show our approval and appreciation of what has been said or done. But we also can clap our hands together in a mock show of approval and
appreciation when we intend to send just the opposite message. A single clap of our hands together may indicate anger or surprise. Consequently, it requires more than just seeing the gesture but also knowing the context in order to correctly interpret the message. That is equally true of interpreting the gesture of clapping in the Bible.
Studies of hand clapping in the ancient Near Eastern world have not always led scholars to a consensus on what an individual occurrence means whether in written form or as depicted in ancient art. There is, however, general agreement that hand clapping sends one of four messages. It can be used: (1) to mark a time of joy-filled celebration, (2) to mock or scoff at someone’s misfortune, (3) to express grief or anger, or (4) to play a part in a magical incantation.
When the clapping of hands is mentioned, Bible interpreters must honor two premises. First, formal hand clapping mentioned in the text increases the importance and intensity of the message being communicated. And second, because the gesture of hand clapping can have a variety of meanings in the ancient Near East, the interpreter must carefully look at the context for clues as to which of the specific. END OF PART 1.