God Is No Spectator (Sun. May 30)

The word of the day is “hand.”  A prevailing belief about God is that He is a kind and benevolent spectator who watches over people on earth.  He wants everyone to be good and happy.  But he does not get involved in people’s lives except in dire emergencies.  Today we hear to the contrary how the hand of the Almighty worked in Old Testament  history and the early church.

In our reading of Acts 11:19-26, 29-30, we learn how Gentiles first became members of the fellowship of faith.  When persecution scattered the believers in Jerusalem, some sought refuge in distant places, preaching the Word of Christ as they went.  Some of these Hellenists, that is, Greek-speaking Jews, shared their faith with Gentiles.  And Luke reports, “The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord” (OSB vs. 21).  In this way, the Lord acted to endorse and promote the acceptance of the Gentiles into the church.  Today we focus on a metaphor for God’s activity in human affairs, and we apply that understanding to our lives in our time.

Throughout the scriptures, the Almighty does more than watch as humans go about their lives.  He is the leading actor on the stage of human history.  Thus, the Bible testifies to His mighty acts to work out the salvation of the human race.

Thinking in Images

As an example of the Hebrew way of thinking in images, the scriptures use a figure of speech for the Almighty’s role in the course of events.  We find this metaphor at the crucial juncture when the church  transitioned from its origin in Judaism to its reception of Gentiles into the faith.  This image is the “hand of God.”  With it, Luke ascribes the approval of the outreach to Gentiles, and a large number of Gentile converts to the agency of God.

The Greek term for “hand” is derived from the thought of “hollowness.”  Then that image is  applied to the “grasping” of the hand.  Used metaphorically, the “hand” signifies agency or what is done by the power of someone (Strong’s  #5495, 271).  God acts in the world by His “hand,”  or “right hand,” the instrument of His strength and will.

The Mighty Hand of God in the Exodus and Israel’s History

For instance, the Lord promised Moses, “Thus I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all My wonders, which I will work among them, and after that he [the Pharaoh) will let you go (OSB Exodus  3:20).  Consequently, the Almighty says, “The Egyptian will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out My hand on them and bring the children of Israel out from among them (OSB 7:5).  The Jews would always remember, “The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great spectacles and with signs and wonders (OSB Deuteronomy 26:8).

But throughout the history of the Jews, God acted by His right hand.  In the conquest of the Holy Land, His hand was against the people when they worshipped the Baals (OSB  Judges 2:15).  In the time of the righteous monarch Hezekiah,  the king restored the worship of God in the temple, and “the hand of God was on Judah to give  them gladness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders” (OSB 2 Chronicles 30:12).

The Hand of God on the Prophets

Ezra, the scribe, came from Babylon to Jerusalem to teach the Law of Moses to those who had returned from exile.  And the historian says that “The good hand of the Lord was upon Him (OSB 2 Ezra 7:9-also 7:6).  Then too, Isaiah often used the metaphor of the hand of God to speak of God’s judgment and promise His mercy (e.g., Isaiah 66:14).  Ezekiel attributes his vision to the hand of God, “Then the Spirit moved me and raised me up, and I went forth under the impulse of the Spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me (OSB Ezekiel 3:14).

The Hand of God in the Psalms

The psalmist looks to the hand of God for mercy for the afflicted, saying: “Arise O Lord, let Your hand be lifted high and do not forget Your poor” (Psalm 10:12).  And the writer of Psalms repeatedly extols the mighty hand of God. For instance, he says, “Sing to the LORD a new song, for He has done wonders; His right hand and holy arm have gained Him the victory”  (NKJV Psalm 98:1).

So we see that in the view of the scriptures, the Almighty is no bystander.  The Children of Israel could not have escaped Egypt, settled in the Holy Land, been punished for their sin, returned from exile in Babylon, and restored the Law and the Temple without the agency of God.   Nor could Gentiles have been admitted into the church without the power of the right hand of God’s power and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

For Reflection

In conclusion, we find that the Old Testament scriptures are the primer for understanding God’s existence, nature, ways, and will.  Perhaps one of the reasons that this generation believes that God is so remote from human affairs is that many are neither raised nor acquainted with the narratives of the Bible.

But those who read the Bible with diligence and understanding say with the psalmist, “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (NIV Isaiah 59:1).  Therefore,  we can put our entire trust in Him, for His right hand is working in all things for our salvation.

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