In the book of Leviticus, we read of God’s ordinances concerning animal sacrifices that were to be offered by Israel to propitiate God’s wrath against sinners. In addition to these bloody sacrifices, grain offerings were also commanded as the expression of the people’s thanksgiving to the Lord for His mercies and for his provisions.
In the New Testament, we read of a “sacrifice of praise”: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name” (Heb 13:15). Paul urges believers, “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom 12:1). Christ’s death on the cross was “a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” for us, in order that we may “walk in love” (Eph 5:2). As Christ offered his body as a bloody sacrifice to atone for the sins of his people, Christians are to offer their lives of righteousness, godliness and obedience as a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Even material gifts are “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
So what about a “clap offering”? Never heard of it. This is because in the Bible, most of the clapping is for two things, both of which have nothing to do with “clap offerings” today. Let’s look at some texts that mention clapping:
- Job 27:23: “[The wind] claps its hands at him and hisses at him from its place,” “him” being the wicked person.
- Job 34:37: The wicked mocks God by clapping his hands, “he claps his hands among us and multiplies his words against God.”
- Lamentations 2:15: Strangers will mock and clap their hands at Jerusalem’s destruction.
- Ezekiel 6:11: The Lord commands Ezekiel to clap his hands and stamp his foot at the destruction of Israel.
- Ezekiel 25:6: The Ammonites will be destroyed because they clapped their hands and stamped their feet at Israel’s destruction.
- Nahum 3:19: Those who hear of Nineveh’s destruction will clap their hands.
From the above texts, we read that the first reason for clapping is to mock enemies who have come under God’s judgment.
What about Psalm 47:1; 98:8 and Isaiah 55:11-12? Surely, these verses tell us that we can offer a “clap offering” to God. Psalm 47:1 says, “Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!” But why does the psalmist exhort the people clap their hands? Verse 2 has the answer: “For the Lord, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth. He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.” Let’s give a “clap offering” to God because he is a fearful God who will punish and judge all unbelievers! Is this really what people do in worship, or is this a victory celebration?
In Psalm 98:8, the rivers will clap their hands and the hills will sing for joy. This will happen when the Lord “comes to judge the earth” (Psa 98:9). Isaiah also sees this future joy in the redemption of nature, “The mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (Isa 55:12). This is why Paul says, “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom 8:21). To be sure, the whole creation will burst into joy when God restores the whole universe, but these texts obviously cannot be taken literally to justify “clap offerings.”
Thus, a second reason given for clapping is to celebrate the redemption of both God’s people and his creation when he comes to judge his enemies.
Only in 2 Kings 11:12 is there clapping of hands by people for applause (at the coronation of a king).
Finally, this subject reminds me of a youth fellowship action song we always sang:
1 If you’re happy and you know it,
Clap your hands!
2 If you’re happy and you know it,
Stamp your feet!
Looking at Ezekiel 6:11; 25:6, clapping hands and stamping feet are not expressions of happiness, but of gloating over the demise of those you hate.