Clap your hands, all you nations;
shout to God with cries of joy. Psalm 47:1
The Hebrew word that the psalmist uses here for clap literal means “to strike, give a blast, clap, blow and/or drive.” The word is found in both ancient and modern Hebrew, this word occurs in the Hebrew Old Testament nearly 70 times. In the verse where this word first occurs, it is found twice: “Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill county of Gilead when Laban overtook him, and Laban and his relatives camped there too.” (Genesis 31:25) The meaning here is that of “striking” or “driving” a tent peg, thus “pitched” a tent or “camped”. This same word is used to described Jael’s “driving” the peg into Sisera’s temple (Judges 4:21). It is also used to describe the strong west wind that “drove” the locusts into the Red Sea (Exodus 10:19).
It, also, expresses the idea of “giving a blast” on a trumpet. It is found seven times with this meaning in the story of the conquest of Jericho (Joshua 6:4, 8-9, 13, 16, 20).
And finally it is used to express the idea of “striking” one’s hands in praise or triumph (as it is used in today’s passage) or to “shake hands” on an agreement (Proverbs 6:1; 17:18; 22:26). To “strike” the hands in an agreement was a surety or guarantor of the agreement. And the clapping of hands was and still is used to praise a new leader.
The psalmist here is telling us that we need to come to God in praise and worship out of a sense of triumph and victory, and not out of a sense of sorrow or defeat.