Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Right Hand of God

**Your right hand, O LORD, glorious in power, your right hand, O LORD, shatters the enemy. (Exo 15:6)
**You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them. (Exo 15:12)
**And to which of the angels has he ever said, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"? (Heb 1:13)
**...looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:2)
**Then I saw in the right hand of him who was seated on the throne a scroll written within and on the back, sealed with seven seals. (Rev 5:1)

The "right hand of the Lord" appears throughout the Bible, in over a hundred verses. What are we to make of this? Is God right-handed? Does He have a body? Does this reflect some primitive conception of God as Man-writ-large, like Zeus or Thor?

Though it might be argued that, in one sense, since the Incarnation of Jesus, God does have a body, yet that is not the notion behind these verses. Rather, this use of "God's hand" is the condescension of God in speaking to us, and in accepting our speaking of Him, in terms that have meaning to us who are embodied and finite. To us, "the hand is that part of the body which enables man to be a doer, a tool-making and tool-using being; thus it is associated with power or control." (ISBE, "Hand") It is with our hands that we make things and control things. Short of losing our minds, the loss of our hands is most disabling. Even within our brains, the amount of space given to sensation and control of our hands is larger than any part except that given to our mouths and speech. We are, essentially, speaking and making beings, made in the image of a speaking and making God.

For whatever reason, the vast majority of humans are right-handed; our right hands are more easily controlled. (It would be interesting to speculate about why God created us in this assymetrical manner. Why, when we appear to have bilateral symmetry, are we actually, inside, assymetrical?) So when we speak of God's power to do things, when we speak of him as a maker or controller, we speak in terms of his right hand. It is not because he is right-handed, but because most of us are. This demonstrates a fact about the Bible that it is critical for a reader to understand: The Bible is written for us humans, and uses all the aspects of human language and literature. To take the Bible "literally" means to read it as it was meant to be read, not woodenly or concretely, but as "literature" ("writing"). We humans use metaphor, simile, hyperbole, and many other non-concrete forms of language, and our most expressive and well-loved literature is most filled with such non-concrete language. The descriptors "poetic" or "lyrical" are generally taken to indicate praise, while "prosaic" is generally a criticism. The Bible speaks of God's mouth, his eye, his arm, his feet, his heart, his sword, his breath. God speaks to us in terms that we understand, as beings that have our powers located in those organs. He uses our own manner of speaking, so that we will understand him clearly.

So, the "right hand of God" usually speaks of his power and control. Standing or sitting at a ruler's right hand associated one with his power, and hence was a place of honor. When blessing children, the right hand was normally placed upon the firstborn, symbolizing the favored status of being firstborn. (See the scene where Jacob blesses Joseph's children, Ephraim and Manasseh) Jesus is the "firstborn among many brethren". He is our elder brother; the Father's right hand is upon him.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:40 AM


    thanks for this... For many years now I've been researching the 'Hand of God'. I had a waking dream in which a large (right) hand was up in a beautiful clear blue sky... It was an open hand and it closed slowly toward the end of the vision.

    Quite astonishing...