I realize it’s mid-week for us and you’re not expecting another post for a few days. But we had a great question posed online in response to this week’s study. I felt it addressed an underlying question that many of you might have in regards to the this week’s name El Elyon —God Most High.
Here’s the question posted in the comments from Week 2’s homework:
“…I have a question in this week’s study. On pg. 16 in this context, does God’s “stretched-out hand” mean in judgment or help in hardship? I know there are many other passages that tell us of God’s help in need, but I wasn’t sure of the meaning here. I would like to interpret this that no one can prevent God from reaching down, taking someone by the hand and leading them thru hardship, but I’m not sure that is correct in the context of this Scripture.”
How do we accurately interpret this passage referring to the “stretched-out hand” of God? Is it referencing judgment or help in hardship? My answer after studying this passage and the whole of Scripture is, both.
Take a moment and read through Isaiah 14:1-27.
Let’s begin by putting the passage in question, Isaiah 14, in context. Hang with me here!
Isaiah was a prophet who ministered in and around Jerusalem during the reign of four kings of Judah: Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah. You may remember some of these kings and their stories. This time period in the Old Testament is the history of the nation of Israel, God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. At this point the Israelites have entered the promised land and have been living there for many years. This is the period of the divided kingdom. After the rules of David and Solomon, the nation split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom, Israel, consisted of 10 of the 12 tribes of Jacob. The southern kingdom, Judah, comprising the remaining two tribes. If you are familiar with Old Testament history you will know that because of the idolatry, wickedness and failure to turn from their ways, the northern kingdom, Israel, is taken captive by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. never to return again. Later in 586 B.C. Judah is taken captive by the Babylonians and sent into exile (It’s here we find the setting for the book of Daniel).
Isaiah condemned the southern kingdom of Judah for its idolatry and empty ritualism. He prophesied warning of the coming Babylonian captivity of Judah because of their departure from the Lord. Isaiah 13:1-14:23 addresses not only the captivity of Judah but also God’s later judgment on Assyria and Babylon. We must note that throughout the book Isaiah prophecies also refer to the coming of the Messiah and Christ’s second coming. This can make for some interpretive challenges to be sure. But we find in Isaiah the prophecy regarding not only the Babylonian captivity of Judah but their deliverance by a future king not yet heard of, Cyrus, king of Persia. If you are familiar with ancient history you know that the Babylonians become the great world power, defeating the Assyrians who had taken the northern kingdom captive. Then the Babylonians are defeated by the Persians and eventually the Persians by the Greeks and finally the Greeks by the Romans, which is the setting for the opening of the New Testament. I love how God uses all of history to accomplish His purposes!
We also need to keep in mind when reading Old Testament prophecy, the specific audience to whom the book is addressed. This is one reason context is of utmost importance and we must be careful to take in the full counsel of God’s Word. All Scripture is written for our encouragement and so that we might have hope and endurance (Romans15:4). It is useful for correcting, instructing, reproofing and training in righteousness, so that we might be thoroughly equipped. (2 Timothy 3:16). But we also must remember that some promises, judgments, warnings and blessings were addressed to a specific people at a specific time.
The verses in question, from page 16 of our book, are Isaiah 14:24-27, which are referring to the judgment that will fall upon the Assyrians when the Babylonians defeat them. In chapter 14 we also find the prophecy of the judgment that will fall upon Babylon. But note the encouraging words from the Lord to the remnant of the nation of Israel that begin chapter 14:
When the Lord has given you rest from your pain and turmoil and the hard service with which you were made to serve, you will take up this taunt against the king of Babylon. —Isaiah 14:3
Now remember Isaiah is prophesying these words even before the nations have been taken into captivity. So the entire book of Isaiah not only foretells of Israel and Judah’s captivity but of the restoration of the remnant of the nation of Israel, the two tribes of Judah. And remember it is from this line that the Messiah is born. So we find that God’s out-stretched hand not only brings judgment upon the nation of Israel for its idolatry and turning from Him, but eventually the judgment on those nations that take Israel into captivity.
“This would comfort the Jews when captives in Babylon, being a pledge that God, who had by that time fulfilled the promise concerning Sennacherib (though now still future), would also fulfil His promise as to destroying Babylon, Judah’s enemy.” —Jameson, Fausset and Brown Commentary
Let’s talk for a moment about the “out-stretched” hand of God. It is used often in the Old Testament to refer to God’s power and might:
O Lord, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven? You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you. —2 Chronicles 20:6
Both riches and honor come from you, and you rule over all. In your hand are power and might, and in your hand it is to make great and to give strength to all. And now we thank you, our God, and praise your glorious name. —1 Chronicles 29:12
‘Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you. —Jeremiah 32:17
It also is used to reference God’s unfailing love and mercy:
To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt, for his steadfast love endures forever; and brought Israel out from among them, for his steadfast love endures forever; with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,
for his steadfast love endures forever; —Psalm 136:10-12
Say therefore to the people of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment. —Exodus 6:6
The words of Psalm 89:14 are also helpful for us as we consider the subject of God’s sovereign rule and out-stretched hand of power and might:
Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne;
faithful love and truth go before You.
So we see references to the out-stretched hand (or arm) of God referring both to judgment and to help in need, to mercy and love. The greatest instance of these we find fulfilled in Christ Jesus, not only as He walked the earth and with an out-stretched hand to heal the sick, blind, leprous, and lame, (Mark 1:41) but also at Calvary where with arms opened wide, He saved and redeemed those who were lost. Restoring us into a right relationship with God the Father, according to the purpose and plan of God from the foundation of the world.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. —Colossians 1:13-14
I believe it is important for us to remember, that as difficult as these verses which refer to God’s judgment may be to comprehend at times, they showcase the perfect holiness of our God. He cannot look on sin. He is perfect in His holiness and perfect in His unfailing love. From the beginning His plan was salvation and restoration. Time and again we see where God stretches out His hand and pronounces judgment on His people, and foreign nations as well, because of their sin. We also see, by His outstretched hand, deliverance and help in times of need. But everything in the Old Testament is ultimately pointing toward one glorious moment in history when as He had planned from the beginning:
The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. —John 1:14
She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. —Matthew 1:21
But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. —Galatians 4:4
Yes, we serve a God who is full of love and mercy! But how cheap His love and mercy would be without His perfect holiness in equal intensity. His judgment upon His people, the ones He had chosen and called long ago through their father Abraham, was rightly deserved as they had time and again failed to heed His call to turn from their idolatry and sin. Our sin and His perfect holiness bring about the need for judgment. But even in judgment, in His great mercy, He also redeems and restores with an out-stretched hand. We see this played out time and again in the stories of Scripture.
But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us! Much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by His blood, we will be saved through Him from wrath. —Romans 5:8-9
This is hard for our finite minds to grasp, but it is at times like this that the Lord offers us great encouragement and a great reminder in Isaiah 55:8-9:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
I am so very thankful that God does not think or plan like I do. Even though my mind cannot fully grasp His ways and thoughts, I know I can trust who He is because I stand as one redeemed from an empty way of life in Christ Jesus!
I hope this helps to answer the question and any others that you all may have during this week’s study. Press on as we continue to seek to know our God!