Imagery in Scripture, Part 1 – God’s Hands
by Russell Gehrlein
Published on June 10, 2024
Categories: Spiritual Growth

Imagery in Scripture, Part 1 – God’s Hands

(Note: This is the first article in a four-part series. I encourage you to read my introduction here.)

What do you think of when you read something in the Bible about God’s hands?

Do you picture extra-large hands? Are they old and wrinkled? Do you picture God’s angry fist, ready to smash sinners in one powerful slam? Or, do you imagine the Father’s gentle hands of protection, generosity, and blessing?

I am hoping that you have chosen the last thing I listed above. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s explore this topic together.

I will start with Ezra and Nehemiah to highlight what we learn about God’s hands. Next, I will share what I see regarding man’s hands, and how they relate to one another. I will share other Scriptures where more is revealed about the hands of God (in a figurative sense) so that we can know Him better. Lastly, I will ask my readers to consider what to do with their own hands in response to what they know about God’s hands.

God’s hands of blessing in Ezra

The hand of God has often been portrayed as vengeful, but these verses painted a different picture of God’s blessings towards Ezra.

In Ezra chapter 7, I noticed three references to God’s hand in close proximity. The narrator of the story states that “The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him” (Ezra 7:6); “the gracious hand of his God was on him” (Ezra 7:9); and “the hand of the Lord my God was on me” (Ezra 7:28).

I also saw this same word picture used in Ezra 8:18 and 22. God’s protection from enemies is what is intended in Ezra 8:31.

God’s hands of protection in Nehemiah

When Nehemiah asks the king for permission to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. He concludes, “because the gracious hand of my God was upon me, the king granted my requests” (Neh. 2:8). As he shares his plan, he restates that God’s gracious hand was upon him, which would grant them success in their work (Neh. 2:18).

Nehemiah knew God’s hands were gracious to His people. He also knew God would fight those who resisted them (Neh. 4:20). Nehemiah, like Ezra and many others before them who saw God’s hands defeat His enemies as the Israelites entered into the Promised Land, understood the power of God’s hands of protection.

Man’s hands respond in service and praise

I love the connection between God’s hands and man’s hands that Ezra and Nehemiah describe.

In the same chapter where we saw God’s hands mentioned three times, we read a letter to Ezra the priest, written by King Artaxerxes. He gave his permission for the priests and Levites who wanted to go with Ezra to Jerusalem. He mentions the Law, which is in your hand” (Ezra 7:14). This Law, which was alluded to in Ezra 7:11, contained “the commands and degrees of the Lord for Israel.” The king seems to acknowledge that these Jewish leaders had possession of the Law and were entrusted with it. (See Rom. 3:1-2.)

As we move to Nehemiah, we see man’s hands respond to God’s hands of protection by serving and working to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. This manual labor, done by hand is implied in Neh. 2:16-17. (This book well illustrates the connection between God’s presence and man’s work, which I like to call Immanual labor).

In chapters 3 and 4, we see a snapshot of the work to rebuild the wall and defend the workers against their enemies. Half the men worked on the wall, “while the other half held spears, shields, bows and armor” (Neh. 4:16). In v. 17, we read, “Those who carried materials did their work with one hand and held a weapon in the other.”

In Neh. 6:9, we read about those who opposed the work. They thought that the Israelites’ hands would get tired, and be too weak to finish the work. In response, Nehemiah prayed to Yahweh, “Now strengthen my hands.” Later, after the work was completed, Ezra praised the Lord, “and all the people lifted their hands” (Neh. 8:6).

After observing all of these things, I came to the conclusion that God’s hand of protection enabled man’s hands to do His work.

God’s hands throughout the Bible

The Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary indicates, “The expression ‘hand of God’ refers to His great power (Deut. 2:15; Ezek. 1:3). Often the emphasis of this expression is on God’s power in creation (Ps 8:6; Is. 64:8). Sometimes His power in judgment is emphasized, especially in the phrase, ‘His hand is outstretched” (Ruth 1:13; Is. 9:12, 17) However, God may also extend His hand to express His mercy and forgiveness (Ps 37:24).”

There are over 160 references to “hand of God”. It would be fun to check these out. 

However, there is one verse I want to zero in on.

We read in 1 Peter 5:6, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.” This is actually a double reference to God’s hands. Did you catch it? We are exhorted to humble ourselves under God’s hand, so that as a result, God would lift us up to bless us with this same hand. The opposite is also true. If we fail to humble ourselves, we can’t expect God to lift us up.  

How should our hands respond to God’s hands?

Three things come to mind when I consider what should be our natural response to God’s hand of protection, blessing, and mercy:

    • Hands lifted in praise – I am not referring to a style of worship that we may or may not be comfortable with; I am referring to lifting our hands in surrender to God to acknowledge His control of our lives (Ps. 28:2)
    • Clean hands – I need to live out my sanctification by pursuing holiness; this will lead to a more consistent experience of enjoying God’s presence (Ps. 24:3-4)
    • Hands that serve others – Like the Good Samaritan, I need to sacrificially meet the needs of those in my path and reach out to the least, the lost, and the last (Luke 10:25-37)

Final thoughts

Some of you may be thinking, “Where is the so what?”

What I want my brothers and sisters in Christ to take away from this series on the imagery in the OT that assigns human-like characteristics to God is to better understand the attributes of God the Father. Many Christians seem to relate to Jesus more than they do the God that Jesus pointed to. I find this to be a tragic misunderstanding. Jesus did not come to replace the Father; He came to reveal God to us and reconcile us to Him.

Consider this. If you know Jesus better than you know God the Father, you have missed something significant. If you think you know God, but do not know Jesus, you cannot take God’s hand without coming to faith in Christ first. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

I must close with one more verse about God’s hands. They hold His children securely unto eternal life. Jesus said in John 10:28-29, “no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” This is a promise we can definitely count on.

(Note: I invite you to read the next article in this series here.)

Russell E. Gehrlein holds a B.S from Colorado State University and an M.A. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Heinis the author of Immanuel Labor – God’s Presence in our Profession: A Biblical, Theological, and Practical Approach to the Doctrine of Work. As a retired Master Sergeant, he continues to serve the U.S. Army in a civilian capacity. He and his wife of 43 years live in Missouri and enjoy spending time with their grandchildren. To read more of his work please visit Reflections on Theological Topics of Interest.

Photo from Russell Gehrlein Website

1 Comment

  1. Robert Arthur Marzullo

    I see the Crucifixion of His Son on Good Friday: the darkness, the thunder, the rain pictured by film makers, and the image that comes to me is The Father is grieving over the death of His Son. Grieving like we do with the death of a loved one. And grieving because His Son, His Beloved, was dying FOR US, and HE had to let it happen.


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