What is the significance of left and right in the Bible?

by Matt Slick
8/15/15

Something as simple as "left" and right in the Bible may not seem to be significant. However, you might be surprised to learn That studying how God uses individual words, can be beneficial. In this case, the word "left" and the word "right" have many different usages. Sometimes the words can mean position, a direction, etc.  The word "left" can mean that which remains (Genesis 7:23; Exodus 34:25; Psalm 106:11), a direction (Genesis 13:9), to leave something with someone (Genesis 39:6), the side of a person (Leviticus 14:16; Song of Solomon 2:6), a representation (Isaiah 1:8), to leave (Matthew 2:12), etc.  Likewise,  "right" can mean that which is correct (Genesis 24:48; Mark 5:15), the side of a person (Genesis 48:13; Psalm 16:8), authority (Psalm 50:16; John 1:12), that which is proper (Matthew 20:4), etc.

But besides these, there are symbolic uses of left and right. For example, on the day of judgment, those who are condemned to run the left of Christ and those who are saved are on his right (Matthew 25:33).  Please consider the following categories designated by left and right.

  • The blessing of laying the right hand was greater than the left hand.
    • Gen. 48:17-19, "When Joseph saw that his father laid his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him; and he grasped his father’s hand to remove it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this one is the firstborn. Place your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know; he also will become a people and he also will be great. However, his younger brother shall be greater than he, and his descendants shall become a multitude of nations.”
  • Judgment for those on the left of Christ, salvation is on his right.
    • Matthew 25:33, 41, "and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. 41 Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels."
  • Wisdom is to the right; foolishness is to the left
    • Ecclesiastes 10:2, "A wise man’s heart directs him toward the right, but the foolish man’s heart directs him toward the left."
  • Ordination of Aaron and sons as priests were on the right ear, thumb of right hand, and big toe on right foot
    •  Leviticus 8:22-24, "Then he presented the second ram, the ram of ordination, and Aaron and his sons laid their hands on the head of the ram. 23 Moses slaughtered it and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, and on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. 24 He also had Aaron’s sons come near; and Moses put some of the blood on the lobe of their right ear, and on the thumb of their right hand and on the big toe of their right foot. Moses then sprinkled the rest of the blood around on the altar."
  • Cleansing ritual for those healed of skin disease, the priest puts oil on the right ear, thumb of right hand, and big toe on right foot of those who were cleansed.
    • Leviticus 14:15-18, " “The priest shall also take some of the log of oil, and pour it into his left palm; 16 the priest shall then dip his right-hand finger into the oil that is in his left palm, and with his finger sprinkle some of the oil seven times before the LORD. 17 “Of the remaining oil which is in his palm, the priest shall put some on the right ear lobe of the one to be cleansed, and on the thumb of his right hand, and on the big toe of his right foot, on the blood of the guilt offering; 18 while the rest of the oil that is in the priest’s palm, he shall put on the head of the one to be cleansed. So the priest shall make atonement on his behalf before the LORD."
  • To the right of the king/God is a place of honor
    • 1 Kings 2:19, "So Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king arose to meet her, bowed before her, and sat on his throne; then he had a throne set for the king’s mother, and she sat on his right."
    • Psalm 110:1, "The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet."
    • Matthew 26:64, "Jesus said to him, “You have said it yourself; nevertheless I tell you, hereafter you will see THE SON OF MAN SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF POWER, and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.”
    • Acts 2:33, "Therefore having been exalted to the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, He has poured forth this which you both see and hear."
    • Acts 5:31, "He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins."
    • Ephesians 1:20, " which He brought about in Christ, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places."
    • Colossians 3:1, "Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God."
  • The right hand was a symbol of strength
    • Exodus 15:6, " Your right hand, O LORD, is majestic in power. Your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy."
    • Psalm 20:6, "Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed.  He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand."
    • Psalm 78:54, "So He brought them to His holy land, to this hill country which His right hand had gained."
    • Isaiah 62:8, "The LORD has sworn by His right hand and by His strong arm, “I will never again give your grain as food for your enemies. Nor will foreigners drink your new wine for which you have labored.”
    • Lamentations 2:3, " In fierce anger He has cut off all the strength of Israel. He has drawn back His right hand from before the enemy. And He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire consuming round about."
  • Other
    • Isaiah 48:13, " “Surely My hand founded the earth, and My right hand spread out the heavens. When I call to them, they stand together."
    • Mark 16:5, "Entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting at the right, wearing a white robe; and they were amazed."
    • John 21:6, "And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish."
    • Acts 3:7, "And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened."
    • Revelation 1:16-17, "In His right hand He held seven stars, and out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword; and His face was like the sun shining in its strength. 17 When I saw Him, I fell at His feet like a dead man. And He placed His right hand on me, saying, “Do not be afraid; I am the first and the last."
    • Revelation 2:1-2, "To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: The One who holds the seven stars in His right hand, the One who walks among the seven golden lampstands, says this: I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false."
    • Revelations 5:1, "I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and on the back, sealed up with seven seals."
    • Revelation 10:5-6, " 5 Then the angel whom I saw standing on the sea and on the land lifted up his right hand to heaven, 6 and swore by Him who lives forever and ever, WHO CREATED HEAVEN AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE EARTH AND THE THINGS IN IT, AND THE SEA AND THE THINGS IN IT, that there will be delay no longer."
       
 
 

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.