“The bow of God’s wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God.”
Jonathan Edwards, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, A Sermon Preached at Enfield, July 8th, 1741 at a Time of Great Awakenings, and Attended with Remarkable Impressions on many of the Hearers. (quote italics – author)
And with those words, Rev. Jonathan Edwards stoked the fires, not of hell, but the First Great Awakening in the future United States.
His sermon was based on the scripture, “Their foot shall slide in due time” (Deuteronomy 32:35). His message vividly described the precarious state of those who were “out of Christ,” not born-again followers of Jesus having sworn allegiance to the One True God through His Son.
The title of Rev. Edwards’ remarkable sermon came from Hebrews 10:31, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” Before or after reading this, please search for Rev. Edwards’ message online and thoughtfully read it. Take in the intensity and impact of his famous words!
His title got me thinking about God’s hands.
Hands do a lot of things—hands touch and caress. Hands take hold of things and release them. Hands carry and set down. Hands strike in anger or cradle for comfort. Hands build up, and hands tear down. Hands destroy, and hands create. (And isn’t this beginning to sound like Ecclesiastes 3?)
Hands are handy things to have.
God created us in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). While there’s debate about what that means, pondering God’s image in us prompts us to think of God in human terms. Attributing human characteristics to things is called anthropomorphism. We have hands, so does God have hands? The Bible says so, both metaphorically and literally.
As for the Father and the Holy Spirit, they are non-corporeal, which means “They ain’t got no-body!” (hat tip to Marty Feldman as Igor in Young Frankenstein). Jesus, on the other hand (see what I did there?), did have a body which included human factory OEM parts, hands.
And He used them well!
But before I get to that, I need to tell you that the idea of God’s “hand” rested on my head throughout today. So I did a word search of the Bible for “Lord’s hand,” “God’s hand,” and “Jesus’ hand.” What I found spoke to me, and I hope it does to you. So, here it is.
Throughout the Bible, there are shocking examples of God striking people and nations under His judgment with His terrifying hand.
Yehovah struck Egypt for its refusal to let His people go. Exodus 6:1 says, “But the Lord replied to Moses, ‘Now you will see what I will do to Pharaoh: because of a strong hand he will let them go, and because of a strong hand he will drive them from his land’” and Exodus 9:3 records, “then the Lord’s hand will bring a severe plague against your livestock in the field—the horses, donkeys, camels, herds, and flocks.” The Ten Plagues from God’s hand were so severe over an approximately nine-month period Egypt was left devasted socially, governmentally, and economically. The region’s people (Canaan) still talked about it forty years later (Joshua 2:10)!
About three hundred years later, God’s hand came down hard on the Philistines for taking His Ark back to Philistia (the modern-day Gaza Strip) after defeating Israel in battle (1 Samuel 4:17). The Philistines placed God’s “throne” in their god’s temple as a trophy of Dagon’s triumph over the Israelite’s God (1 Samuel 5:2). Um, yeah. That didn’t turn out so well. They shouldn’t have messed with the Living God!
Yehovah’s hand came down hard on the Philistine city of Ashdod. They developed “tumors” (1 Samuel 5, Hebrew – hemorrhoids). When the Ashdodites moved the Ark to Gath (Goliath’s hometown), the Lord’s hand followed them, causing the same, err, condition. The Gathites moved it to Ekron, and not only did the same condition occur, but people started dying! The Ekronites exclaimed, “‘Send the ark of Israel’s God away. Let it return to its place so it won’t kill us and our people!’ For the fear of death pervaded the city; God’s hand was oppressing them” (1 Samuel 5:11). When the Philistines sent God’s Ark back after seven months (with an offering), Yehovah lifted His hand, and they recovered.
But it wasn’t just the Philistines who experienced God’s terrifying hand of judgment. Israel experienced it even worse for their disobedience and idolatry. The Israelites couldn’t say Yehovah didn’t warn them, “However, if you disobey the Lord and rebel against his command, the Lord’s hand will be against you as it was against your ancestors” (1 Samuel 12:15). They did, and it was.
Yehovah’s hand struck them fiercely as He tried to turn them from wickedness and back to Himself, “Therefore the Lord’s anger burned against his people. He raised his hand against them and struck them; the mountains quaked, and their corpses were like garbage in the streets. In all this, his anger has not turned away, and his hand is still raised to strike” (Isaiah 5:25) and “’You have left me.’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘You have turned your back, so I have stretched out my hand against you and destroyed you. I am tired of showing compassion’” (Jeremiah 15:6).
Yes, it got brutal. God struck Israel harder precisely because they were God’s people. They knew His covenant terms and agreed to them, and still, they rebelled! But if God was willing to use His hand against His people in judgment, what did (and will) He do to nations that attacked Israel and brazenly defy Israel’s God? It’s a terrifying thing.
As for Babylon, God’s tool for judgment, who went too far in punishing Israel, Yehovah declared, “’Look, I am against you, devastating mountain.’ This is the Lord’s declaration. ‘You devastate the whole earth. I will stretch out my hand against you, roll you down from the cliffs, and turn you into a charred mountain’” (Jeremiah 51:25). Yikes! And He did. Yehovah used His hand to hand over Babylon’s empire to the Medo-Persian in one night (Daniel 5:30).
God’s hand isn’t just against nations, but against all the wicked on earth, “For there is a cup in the Lord’s hand, full of wine blended with spices, and he pours from it. All the wicked of the earth will drink, draining it to the dregs” (Psalm 75:8).
Most people with minimal Bible knowledge expect that from the God of the OT. He’s that mean and nasty judgmental God, right? We Christians have the NT Good Shepherd, Jesus, the meek and mild Son of God. His hands did good things, not violent things, right?
Yes. And no.
Yes, Jesus used His hand powerfully, in loving, and merciful ways.
Jesus’ hand healed diseased and broken people – the leper (Matthew 8:3), the sick (Mark 1:31), the blind (Mark 8:25), and the disabled (Luke 13:13). Jesus’ hand drove out demons and restored people to life – the boy (Mark 9:27) and Jairus’ daughter (Luke 8:54).
Jesus’s hand saved a drowning person – Peter (Matthew 14:31). Jesus’ hand blessed people – children (Mark 10:16) and His disciples (Luke 24:50). Jesus’ hand performed miracles – too numerous to list (Mark 6:2). Jesus’ hand revealed who His “family” were – those who did His Father’s will (Matthew 12:49). And metaphorically speaking, Jesus’ hand holds onto His followers for all eternity (John 10:28).
Jesus’ also used His hand in punishing, even violent, ways.
Jesus’ hand fashioned a cord of whips, which He ferociously used to drive out those defiling His Father’s house. The Temple was built to be a place to seek God, not wicked fortunes (John 2:15; Matthew 21:13). And metaphorically speaking again, Jesus’ hand struck a sorcerer blind who was opposing His work through His apostle, Paul (Acts 13:11).
But the best thing Jesus ever did with His hands was to offer them to His Father to make atonement for His Father’s children, His siblings, us! Jesus’ took His Father’s hand of judgment for us (Isaiah 52:13- 53:12) so that by His hand, Jesus could offer us mercy (Ephesians 2:4-5; 1 Peter 2:10).
In other words, the nails in Jesus’ hands satisfied the judgment against sin His Father held in His hands.
Even more astounding, as He was dying, Jesus entrusted His life into those same Fatherly hands that struck Him. “And Jesus called out with a loud voice, ‘Father, into your hands I entrust my spirit.’ Saying this, he breathed his last” (Luke 23:46).
By Jesus’ hand, we receive the most excellent “hand-off” of all time, from death to life and from sin-filled to made right with God. “He made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
For those who have taken hold of our Father’s hand of mercy through Jesus, we now have two sets of hands, Jesus’ and our Father’s, keeping us safe and secure for eternity (John 10:28-29).
And metaphorically, Jesus’ hand keeps pulling more people into His Father’s kingdom! “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord” (Acts 11:21).
Contrary to popular, uninformed theology, there aren’t two Gods – the Old Testament God with His hand of judgment and the New Testament Jesus with His hand of mercy. They are the same one. The supposedly angry Old Testament God also said this, “For I am the Lord your God, who holds your right hand, who says to you, “Do not fear, I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13), and of His repentant people of Israel, He said, “Look, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 19:16).
Of the often assumed meek and mild Jesus, John the Baptist prophesied, “…one who is more powerful than I am is coming… His winnowing shovel is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and gather the wheat into his barn, but the chaff he will burn with fire that never goes out” (Luke 3:16-17). Meek and mild, huh?
One God, “two hands.” Both hands extend toward each person. One raised in judgment, the other offered in mercy. Yes, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” On the other hand, it is a glorious thing to fall into the hands of the loving God!
It’s your choice.
Which hand will you take?
Pastor Jay Christianson
The Truth Barista, Frothy Thoughts