When we think of the hands of God we often think of them as upraised in blessing.
Thus, God told Aaron to bless the people in his name: “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26, New International Version). That the hands were also raised in blessing can be gathered from the practice of Aaron in Leviticus 9:22, where after offering sacrifice, “Aaron lifted his hands toward the people and blessed them.” Our Lord Jesus did the same thing upon departing from his disciples: “When he had led them out to the vicinity of Bethany, he lifted up his hands and blessed them” (Luke 24:50). It is only natural, then, that when we think of God’s upraised hands, we think of them as bestowing a blessing on us.
However, the hands of God also represent much more than blessing people. God’s hands are said to be mighty and powerful. That’s how Joshua explains God’s backing up of the Jordan River so that Israel could cross over on dry land. He declares that “he [God] did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God” (Josh. 4:24). God’s mighty acts are not done simply to cause us to be filled with wonder and awe at them, though that also happens. There is a purpose to what God does with his powerful hands, namely, that “you might always fear the Lord your God.”
In contrast to God’s powerful hands being indicative of blessing, there is another important aspect which we must not fail to observe. The Lord’s hands can also be symbolic of opposition to his enemies and of strong punishment upon them. That’s how the symbolism is used in regard to the Philistines after they had captured the Ark of God and took it to Ashdod. Scripture tell us that “the Lord’s hand was heavy upon the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors” (1 Sam. 5:6). God’s hands, therefore, may be conveyors of his opposition to people and indicative of judgment to come because of their sins. Such a truth is made clear to us by the prophet Isaiah when he relates that because the people “rejected the law of the Lord Almighty” (Isa. 5:24) and practiced injustice, “therefore the Lord’s anger burns against his people; his hand is raised and he strikes them down” (Isa. 5:25). Regarding this text, E. J. Young comments: “The preceding judgments had all been insufficient. God’s outstretched hand, the symbol of His power and strength, will still carry out His purposes, inflicting new judgments beyond those which had already been executed” (New International Commentary on the New Testament, Isaiah I, 226).
The same truth is imparted to us in Isaiah 10:4, where the prophet, describing the consternation of the unjust in the judgment upon them, adds: “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised.” Again, Young comments: “This is not the end but the prelude to greater judgments” (ibid., 358).
When we speak of the hand of the Lord being upon one, we must always ask whether it is for blessing or for judgment and condemnation for sins. We need the Lord’s hand of blessing upon us to be the faithful people of God. Without God’s hand of blessing upon us, there is nothing that we do which will truly be a good work. Yet, thanks be to God, there is still hope for us if we detect his hand of judgment upon us. God’s purpose in punishment is that we may repent of sin and turn to him in faith. It is because God’s people “spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 5:24) and did not repent when he punished them that “his hand [was] still upraised” (Isa. 5:25)
When we think about the hands of God, therefore, we must also reflect on our own lives and behavior to determine how God’s hands are raised upon us. If we sense that his hands are raised upon us in condemnation of our sins, then we must heed the call to repent of sin and seek him anew. In Jesus, God’s hands are outstretched in human form, and he calls sinners who are under the judgment of God “to come to me, . . . and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). It is in returning to Jesus in penitence and faith that we “will find rest for our souls” (Matt. 11:29).
Let us, therefore, consider the hand of God as calling us to always fear the Lord. The psalmist says that God’s right hand is filled with righteousness. That’s why God’s people can rejoice and be glad because of his judgments (Ps. 48:10b–11).
Dr. Harry G. Arnold
is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church and lives in Portage, MI.
He is a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI.