The Hand of God

handofgod

Photo by Fdecomite

There is a phrase in the Bible which touches me more than any other.  It’s an obscure phrase and I have rarely read anything written by scholars about it.  These words, which tell a rich, fluid story have become dear to my heart:  “and His Hand is still stretched out.

This post will not be an exegesis of this phrase.  I’m not a scholar.  It is my intent is to tell a story with it, using theology I understand to be accurate.

The first place I find this phrase speaking of God is in Exodus 15:11-13Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods?  Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?  You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them.   You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. What a magnificent word picture this paints for believers!  God stretched out His Hand….to us. His love for us is unending and constant.  He has guided us to Him and led us in His steadfast love.  He has redeemed us from our sin!

We see in 2 Samuel 24:16 that hands aren’t always stretched out in ways we can understand.  An angel stretches out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it.  Then the LORD relented from the calamity and told the angel “stay your hand.” In 1 Chronicles 21:16, David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD, and in his hand, a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem.  They fell down on their faces and acknowledged God.   (How true this is for our fallen human race….that it takes this kind of thing to get our attention.)  A cherub stretches out his hand in Ezekiel 10:7. We are reminded in Psalm 77:2 that we stretch out our hand toward God during days of trouble.  (How true this is of fallen humans….that we reserve seeking God for those times we are in need.)   Job 15:25 reminds us that a wicked man will stretch out his hand against God and defy the Almighty.  (How true this is of fallen man…..that we first blame God when things do not go our way.)

The passages I love, however, are the ones where God is doing the stretching.  My favorite hand-stretching passages are found in Isaiah.  There is a consistent theme that runs throughout the book.  Isaiah tells the story of a disobedient, unfaithful people who were chosen by God, yet consistently and blatantly rebelled against God.  We learn in this book that God finally gives them what they deserve — judgment and exile.

We first encounter this phrase again in Isaiah 5:25Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against His people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets.  For all this his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still. It is repeated in Isaiah 9:12.  God stirs up the enemies of Israel.  His anger still has not turned away from the Israelites….and His hand is stretched out still. Continuing in Isaiah 9:17, God is not rejoicing over the Israelites’ young men.  He has no compassion on their fatherless and widows because everyone is godless and an evildoer; every mouth speaks folly.  For all this His anger has not turned away and His hand is stretched out still.

Disobedience and unfaithfulness continue.  Manasseh and Ephraim fight each other and unite against Judah. God’s anger has not turned away and His hand is stretched out still.   Isaiah 10:4 continues the story.  Nothing now remains except to hide among the prisoners or to fall among the slain.  For all of this, His anger has not turned away and His hand is stretched out still.

Before we start to think that when God stretches out His Hand it is always in anger, let’s consider this phrase a little more deeply.  Isaiah 14:26-27 tells us of God’s purpose concerning the whole earth.  This is the hand that is stretched out over all the nations, for the LORD of hosts has purposed, and who will annul it?”  His hand is stretched out, and who will turn it back? Isaiah 23:11 further explains the He has stretched out his Hand over the sea; He has shaken the kingdoms. What a magnificent portrait of the sovereignty of God!  He has purposed.  He is responsible for shaking kingdoms.  Who could possibly annul what our Sovereign God has ordained?

When God stretches out His Hand, sometimes it must be in judgment, but the fact is that He is also reaching for us, reminding us to be faithful, constantly extending His Hand towards us in genuine, true love.  Genuine, true love cannot continue to remain in the presence of sin, thus God’s Hand must also pronounce judgment.   Sin is an affront to the holiness of God.  We tend to think that judgment is awful and unfair, but it is not.  God’s judgment is merciful, for without it, it is difficult to commune with God.

Again, the people rejected God in Jeremiah. 15:6 and the LORD once again stretched out His Hand.  He has become weary of relenting because they constantly were going backwards, away from Him instead of towards Him. Can you envision God becoming weary of relenting?  Oh, how very much He must love us to endure our sin with such patience!

2008-07-19-019We end the Old Testament thread of stretching out His Hand in Ezekiel 16 and 25.  God reminds His people that He had made them a thing of beauty.  He cautioned them to remember that He made a covenant with them and that they were His.  He anointed them but they still chose to reject Him. Verse 27therefore, I stretched out my hand against you. Finally He says in Ezekiel 25:7, Therefore, behold, I have stretched out my hand against you, and will hand you over as plunder to the nations.  I will cut you off from the peoples and will make you perish out of the countries and will destroy you.  Then you will know that I am the LORD. Notice that the language is a little different.  I stretched out my hand against you.

Then we see Jesus in Matthew 8:3And Jesus stretched out his Hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” What a resolution to our dilemma!  Our salvation has come full circle.  Be clean!  I can make you clean, says Jesus.  “I will.”  Jesus, who is the author and finisher of our faith reaches out for God’s chosen and heals us from our sin.  In context, Jesus is healing a leper from his disease in this passage, but aren’t we like that leper?  Are we not diseased with sin?

Alright, I understand that I may be taking some theological liberties here, but I still believe it paints a beautiful picture of God’s enduring reaching out to His people, who time after, time fail to worship Him in Spirit and in truth….whose disobedience has become wearisome to Him.  Therefore, I would say, the stretching of His Hand is always to reach us.  In what could be perceived as anger is amazing mercy.  While that Hand sometimes brings judgment, it is always just and loving.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  Because the day of the Lord is upon us, what sort of people ought we to be in lives of holiness and godliness?  According to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righeousness dwells.  Therefore, beloved, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish and at peace, and count the patience of our Lord as salvation2 Peter 3:9-15

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