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Dictionaries :: Gesture

Below are articles from the following dictionary:
International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia


jes'-tur, jes'-tur: The Oriental is rich in gestures by which feelings are expressed and force added to words. Of this we have abundant illustration in the Bible. Almost every available part of the body was employed in gesture. In salutations the whole body was bowed, sometimes to the ground (Ge 18:2; 19:1; 33:7; 42:6; 33:3), falling on the face to the ground and bowing to the ground, 3 times (1Sa 20:41; Ge 23:7; 2Sa 9:8; 18:21; 1Ki 2:19); it was common also to embrace and kiss (Ex 18:7), etc., weeping for joy. Esau "fell on (Jacob's) neck, and kissed him: and they wept" (Ge 33:4); compare Joseph and his brethren (Ge 45:14,15); David and Jonathan (1Sa 20:41), and the father of the prodigal (Lu 15:20). We have the kiss also in the story of Judas with his Master (Mt 26:49). Bowing the knee was also in Egypt an act of homage to a superior (Ge 41:43); bowing the knee and bowing down were common in prayer and worship (1Ki 19:18; 2Ch 6:13; Ezr 9:5; Isa 45:23); in prayer the head and whole body were also bowed (Ge 24:26; 2Ki 5:18; 2Ch 29:28 f). The rabbins decreed that in prayer "in bowing down, the back must be bent so low that every vertebra becomes conspicuous," and endless questions arose as to what it was lawful to do during prayer (Edersheim). We read also of prayer offered standing (1Sa 1:26; 1Ki 8:22; Mt 6:5; Mr 11:25), lifting up and spreading forth the hands (1Ki 8:22; 2Ch 6:13; Ezr 9:5; Ne 8:6; 1Ti 2:8); "lifting up the hands" was synonymous with prayer (Ps 77:2; 141:2; La 2:19; 1Ti 2:8); falling on the knees in pleading (1Ki 1:13). Reverence for the aged was expressed by rising up in their presence (Le 19:32,5:12). The hand was also laid on the mouth in token of respect (Job 29:9); in token of blessing the right hand was placed on the head (Ge 48:14; compare Ge 49:26; Pr 10:6). The hands were laid on the head of the animal to be sacrificed; on the scapegoat and sin offering as denoting the transference of sin; on the burnt offering, perhaps as representing the offerer (Le 1:4; 16:21). The hands were lifted up in blessing (Le 9:22), in solemn swearing (Ge 14:22; Ex 6:8; De 32:40), in defiance and threatening (2Sa 20:21); extended in pleading (Isa 65:2). Giving the hand or joining hands as a pledge of friendship and fidelity (2Ki 10:15; Pr 11:21) was the origin of the widespread custom of "shaking hands"; "striking hands" signified the clenching of a bargain or agreement (Pr 6:1 the Revised Version British and American)); as a solemn pledge the hand was placed under the thigh of the person to whom it was given (Ge 24:2; 47:29); plucking the hand out of the bosom was a sign of action (Ps 74:11); clapping the hands, of rejoicing (2Ki 11:12; Ps 47:1; 98:8; Isa 55:12), also of ridicule, contempt and rejoicing over one (Job 27:23; La 2:15; Na 3:19). We read of "beckoning with the hand" (Lu 5:7; Joh 13:24), preliminary to speaking (Ac 12:17; 13:16; 19:33; 21:40; 26:1, he "stretched forth his hand"); drooping of the hands indicated failure, weakness or distress (Heb 12:12; compare Isa 35:3; Ecclesiasticus 25:23); washing the hands (publicly) was a declaration of innocence, "of freedom from complicity" (De 21:6,7; Mt 27:24).

The head lifted up was a sign of arrogance or pride (Ps 83:2); of exaltation, or recovery from trouble, etc. (Jud 8:28; Ps 27:6; 110:7; Zec 1:21); to cover the head was a symbol of grief or mourning (2Sa 15:30; Es 6:12; Jer 14:3), also putting the hand on the head (2Sa 13:19; Jer 2:37), or ashes, dust or earth (Jos 7:6; 1Sa 4:12; 2Sa 12; 13:19; Es 4:1); wagging (or shaking) the head expressed contempt or malicious enjoyment (Job 16:4; Ps 64:8; Jer 18:16; La 2:15; with "hissing," compare Mt 27:39; Mr 15:29; compare Ps 22:7; 44:14; 109:25; Jer 48:27).

Uncovering the feet was a sign of grief (2Sa 15:30; Isa 20:2,4); lifting up the heel against one was a symbol of opposition (Ps 41:9; Joh 13:18); shaking the dust from the feet, of freeing from responsibility and of complete rejection (Mt 10:14; Ac 13:51; at Corinth Paul "shook out his raiment," Ac 18:6); strong joyous feeling found (as elsewhere) expression in dancing (Jud 11:34; 21:21; 1Sa 18:6; Jer 31:4,13), before Yahweh (Ex 15:20; 2Sa 6:14,16).

Shooting out the lip was an expression of contempt (Ps 22:7); to incline the ear signified attention (Ps 45:10); rending the garments expressed the sense of horror (as in the presence of disaster, blasphemy, etc.) (Nu 14:6; Jos 7:6; 1Sa 4:12; 2Sa 1:2; 13:19; 15:32; Mt 26:65; Ac 14:14); the smile indicated favor and gave confidence (Job 29:24); lifting up the eyelids was a sign of pride (Pr 30:13); Isaiah speaks also of the "outstretched necks and wanton eyes" of the haughty daughters of Zion, "walking and mincing as they go, and making a tinkling with their feet" (Isa 3:16). The perverse man "winketh with his eyes.... speaketh with his feet..... maketh signs with his fingers" (Pr 6:13).

It is interesting to note the gestures ascribed in the Gospels to Jesus. The expression of His eyes is often referred to; we read how He "lifted up his eyes on his disciples" before pronouncing the Beatitudes, indicating a loving regard for them (Lu 6:20); how He "looked upon" the young ruler and "loved him," and, with another expressive "look" (round about)-a sad look-said, "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God" (Mr 10:21,23); how He "looked up to heaven" before He blessed and brake the loaves (Mt 14:19; Mr 6:41; Lu 9:16); also before healing (Mr 7:34); how He "looked round" on His adversaries in the synagogue (Lu 6:10), "with anger, being grieved at the hardening of their heart" (Mr 3:5); how He "turned and looked upon Peter" so that he remembered his boasting and fall, and went out and wept bitterly (Lu 22:61); we read also how He took a little child into His arms and held him up as an example to His disciples (Mr 9:36), and how He "took (little children) in his arms, and blessed them, laying his hands upon them" (Mr 10:16); how He "stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground" when the woman accused of adultery was brought to Him, then "lifted up himself" and spake, again "stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground," till the woman's accusers had departed one by one, condemned and ashamed, when He again "lifted up himself" and sent the woman away (Joh 8:6 ); how on His way to the tomb of Lazarus, He was agitated, the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "was troubled," margin "troubled himself." Meyer has "shuddered." Some translation "shook himself" (Joh 11:33).

Written by W. L. Walker



The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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