I have been thinking recently about the power, significance, and symbolism of using our arms, particularly our right arm or hand. I’m not sure what it is that gives this power to the way we use our arms and hands, but there is a fundamental force that comes from using them. It could be that we use our arms and hands to accomplish most of what we do in a day; they are our main tools of action. We use our arms and hands to get dressed, eat, drive, use a computer, handle objects, express ourselves, shake hands, signal to people, communicate, and do many of the things we do every day. But there is something else that makes our arms and hands powerful, especially when we raise them up.
I’ve written before about the use of the hands in many symbolic ways. It can be seen in art, in marriage, commencement ceremonies, shaking hands, presidential inaugurations, trial oaths, Hinduism and Buddhism (very interesting in its own right), the origin of letters, and prayer. We seal a deal by shaking hands. We often use an uplifted hand to signal “STOP,” or to call attention in public places. We raise our hand to ask a question or give a comment in the classroom or other meetings. Raising the hand can also be a form of identification, of picking an individual from a group.
I came across an interesting quote from President Joseph Fielding Smith this morning about the use of the right hand in gospel ordinances:
The custom, evidently by divine direction, from the very earliest time, has been to associate the right hand with the taking of oaths, and in witnessing or acknowledging obligations. The right hand has been used, in preference to the left hand, in officiating in sacred ordinances where only one hand is used.
The earliest reference we have to the superiority of the right hand over the left, in blessing, is found in the blessing of Jacob to his two grandsons, Ephraim and Manasseh, when he placed his hand “wittingly” upon the heads of the boys (Gen. 48:13-14).
Earlier, when Abraham sent his servant to Abraham’s own kindred to find a wife for Isaac, he had the servant place his hand under his (Abraham’s) thigh, and swear to him that he would accomplish his mission (Gen. 24:1-9). Evidently, this was the servant’s right hand.
The Lord said through Isaiah: “Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea. I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isa. 41:10).
In the Psalms we read: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Ps. 110:1; Matt. 22:44; Matt. 25:33-46; Acts 7:55; Rom. 8:34; 1 Pet. 3:22).
It is the custom to extend the right hand in token of fellowship (Gal. 2:9). The right hand is called the dexter, and the left, the sinister; dexter means right and sinister means left. Dexter, or right, means favorable or propitious. Sinister is associated with evil, rather than good, Sinister means perverse.
We take the sacrament with the right hand. We sustain the authorities with the right hand. We make acknowledgment with the right hand raised. ((Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3 ( 1956), 107-108.))
I thought it insightful after the sustaining of President Monson in the April 2008 General Conference that Elder Hales made this remark:
I, like you, appreciated the participation in the solemn assembly. But I thought I might give one point of doctrine and help. When we raised our hands to the square in the solemn assembly, it was not just a vote in that we gave of ourselves a private and personal commitment, even a covenant, to sustain and to uphold the laws, ordinances, commandments, and the prophet of God, President Thomas S. Monson. I so appreciated participating with you and raising my right hand to the square. ((Elder Robert D. Hales, “Gaining a Testimony of God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost,” April 2008 General Conference.))