Power in the Right Hand

Sustaining Church officers during the solemn assembly of April 2008 General Conference

Sustaining Church officers during the solemn assembly of April 2008 General Conference

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.1

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.2

  1. Joseph Fielding Smith, Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrines of Salvation, vol. 3 ( 1956), 107-108. []
  2. Elder Robert D. Hales, “Gaining a Testimony of God the Father; His Son, Jesus Christ; and the Holy Ghost,” April 2008 General Conference. []


  1. Posted February 23, 2009 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I always say, I want to be a right handed sheep!
    I believe there is a great significance in that our whole gospel “walk” or path of progression begins with a covenant!

  2. Posted February 23, 2009 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    One of my favorite hymns in the Church – “How Firm a Foundation” always reminds me of the POWER of the use of the RIGHT hand. It is our covenant hand, and those who stay true to God, are sustained by Him, through the power of covenants.

    My favorite verse in that song, is the third…

    “Fear not, I am with thee, oh be not dismayed,
    For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid.
    I’ll strengthen thee, help thee and cause thee to stand,
    Upheld by my RIGHTeous, upheld by my RIGHTeous,
    Upheld by my RIGHTeous, omnipotent HAND!”

    Scriptural references for this song are -
    Isaiah 41:10, Isa. 43:2–5
    Helaman 5:12

    How grateful we should be, to have the privilege to raise and use our right hand, through so many experiences, of our active membership in His Church.

    Kathryn Skaggs

  3. Posted February 23, 2009 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    The fact that most people are genetically right handed probably has a lot to do with the traditions and symbolism don’t you think?

  4. Posted February 23, 2009 at 9:13 pm | Permalink

    I think it’s important to note that in LDS theology, there is nothing wrong with being left-handed…

  5. Handel
    Posted February 24, 2009 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

    I use my right hand in all the things we do in the Church that entails the use of the right hand, but even if I’m a left-handed person, there was a never a time as a member that I was looked upon negatively for not being “covenant handed”. In fact, when I was called to be part of our ward leadership, none of the other leaders never made a comment, nothing at all about it.

    Thank you Samuel for that wonderful comment–it makes me more happy to know how accommodating and understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ can be. I needed that.

  6. Posted February 24, 2009 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    I must admit, when I read this article, I never once thought it had anything to do with the issue of whether a person is either right-handed, or left-handed – physically. It is the use of the RIGHT hand, as the “symbol” for/and of making a covenant with God. It is a representation of His Promises and Power, for those who are true and faithful.

    Kathryn Skaggs

  7. Posted February 24, 2009 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

    Gen. 48:14; And Israel stretched out his right hand, and laid it upon Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand upon Manasseh’s head, guiding his hands wittingly; for Manasseh was the firstborn.

    I’m willing to accept whatever the Prohet says, he obviously has more knowledge than I, but i’m confused. Someone help clarify for me, Israel placed his left hand on Manasseh, for Manasseh was the firstborn. In my limited understanding of the Gospel, I would think that the firstborn, or birthright son would receive the blessing under the right hand. Any insights? Was there perhaps a time that the left hand was the “covenant” hand?

  8. Posted February 25, 2009 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Great post, Bryce.

  9. Posted February 26, 2009 at 10:14 am | Permalink


    Israel knew what he was doing in placing his hands, for he did so “wittingly.” Sometimes the birthright is forfeited by the firstborn or birthright son and given to another. The right hand was still Israel’s “covenant hand,” and it was placed on Ephraim because he was to receive the greater blessings. John Taylor once explained this:

    We have another instance of this kind in Reuben, the eldest of the twelve sons of Jacob. We find that the birthright passed from him. He committed a transgression which offended the Lord and offended his father, and it was of such a character that it could not be passed over with impunity; and the birthright was taken from him and given to the sons of Joseph. We find it explained in Chronicles, that because Reuben defiled his father’s bed, the birthright was taken from him and given to the sons of Joseph; and the Priesthood was reckoned after that lineage, though Judah prevailed above his brethren to this extent, that through him came the Chief Ruler of Israel, while unto Ephraim, the son of Joseph, was given the keys of the Priesthood—or those rights that apply to the birthright. Of the two sons of Joseph—Ephraim and Manassah, the Lord said, Manassah shall be great, but Ephraim shall be greater than he; and he shall become a multitude in the earth. And when the patriarch was blessing Joseph’s two sons, though he was blind, he was careful to cross his hands in blessing the boys. Joseph observing what his father was doing, informed him that he was putting his right hand on the head of the younger boy, but the old man replied, I know it, my son. The Spirit of the Lord prompted him to do as he did—to confer the greater blessing upon Ephraim, the younger brother. It was for this reason that God spake through the mouth of Jeremiah concerning the gathering of Israel: “I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.” That is according to his purposes. He acknowledged and re-confirmed this birthright upon Ephraim the younger of the two sons of Joseph, when he referred to the dispensation of the fullness of times and the ushering in of its great work—when the Lord should set his hand to gather His people, and be a father to Israel, even to Ephraim His firstborn. (John Taylor, JD, vol. 21, “The Order and Duties of the Priesthood, Etc.”)

  10. jose
    Posted February 26, 2009 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    In the Islam world, the right hand is considered clean and used to eat, etc. whereas the left hand is reserved for unclean tasks such as blowing noise and restroom duties.

    In the LDS Church, both hands are used to make covenants, so isn’t there power in both hands?

  11. Posted February 26, 2009 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Yes, both hands are used in gospel ordinances, however, as explained by President Smith, the right hand “has been used, in preference to the left hand, in officiating in sacred ordinances where only one hand is used” (see his quote in the post above). So there is something more to the right hand than the left.

  12. Gonzalo Sanchez
    Posted June 26, 2009 at 8:59 am | Permalink

    Great blog, I ran into it by trying to research more about the similarity between raising your right hand (like when baptizing someone) and the sign of the dove….by looking at the fascimile 2 no 7 it seems like the sign of the dove is actually raising you right arm and hand in form of square…btw for those who will mentioned about the fascimile not being interpreted by JS correctly (I know he did it right)….any comments would be great appreciate it.


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