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By a "Mighty Hand and Outstreched Arm."

muscular arms

by Dennis Pollock

I love a particular phrase, scattered throughout the Old Testament, which refers to God’s “mighty hand and outstretched arm.” One example of the use of this expression is found in Deuteronomy, where Moses declares to the people of Israel: “And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm…” (Deuteronomy 5:15). The idea of God bringing Israel out of Egypt and slavery is, in fact, the most common context in which this phrase is found. This colorful expression is employed three other times in this one book.

The book of Deuteronomy is unique among the books of Moses. Almost the entire book is a recitation by Moses of the things God has done for His people in the past forty years. At the time, Israel is camped on the banks of the Jordan River, awaiting God’s command to move forward into Canaan and possess the land promised to their fathers. Moses’ time is short. He has been told by God that he will not be with Israel for the crossing of the Jordan and the conquering of Canaan. He will die soon and another will lead them, Moses’ assistant Joshua. The Book of Deuteronomy is a sort of lengthy “pep talk” by the soon-to-be-departing prophet to his beloved congregation.

They will need faith and courage for their upcoming battles and struggles, as they wrest the land from its present inhabitants. They will face many enemies, and will often have to fight armies larger and with far more battle experience. Their wives, their children, and their very lives will be on the line time and time again. Apart from a lively and constant faith in YHWH, the God of Israel, they would soon perish and the memory of this small Hebrew people would pass away from the earth.

“Has it ever Happened Before?”

And so Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, begins to speak to the assembled people of Israel. Much of his speech is a look backward at the incredible way that their God delivered them from Egypt, and then sustained them in the wilderness and rescued them from all who sought their destruction. As he speaks, he reminds them repeatedly of God’s amazing deliverances by His “mighty hand and outstretched arm.” In a classic example of this, Moses declares:

For ask now concerning the days that are past, which were before you, since the day that God created man on the earth, and ask from one end of heaven to the other, whether any great thing like this has happened, or anything like it has been heard. Did any people ever hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as you have heard, and live? Or did God ever try to go and take for Himself a nation from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs, by wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by great terrors, according to all that the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your eyes? To you it was shown, that you might know that the LORD Himself is God; there is none other besides Him (Deuteronomy 4:32-35).

Wow! God wanted to make sure Israel understood that their freedom and their survival was not by chance, nor was it due to their own skills or prowess. What they had achieved was in fact impossible – apart from God’s miraculous ability to move with power on behalf of His people.

Let us consider the two dimensions of this expression. First: God’s mighty hand. In Biblical terms the hand and arm represented power. Men fought and worked and survived by their hands. An armless, handless man was a helpless man in those days. There were no prosthetics, and few jobs or positions for a man without arms and hands. Strong men who prevailed against their enemies nearly always had large arms with huge muscles. For this reason, the prophets and the Biblical writers often referred to the hand or the arm of the Lord. In Psalms we read: “You have a mighty arm; strong is Your hand, and high is Your right hand” (Psalm 89:13). They were saying in effect, “You, Oh God are powerful – You can do amazing things and bring deliverance to us that we could never achieve on our own.”

In the New Testament the believers asked God to give them boldness to speak His word, “by stretching out Your hand to heal…” (Acts 4:30). And after Joshua had led the Israelites into the promised land, he told them that God had miraculously dried up the Jordan, enabling them to cross over on dry land “that all the peoples of the earth may know the hand of the LORD, that it is mighty” (Joshua 4:24).

Outstretched Arm

But a strong arm (arm and hand are often used interchangeably in Scripture), as impressive as it may be, is of little use if it is not employed. In the United States we have men who lift weights for hours each day to develop a muscular physique. They attend competitions where they stretch and flex and show off their greased, highly developed bodies. Their muscles are truly impressive to see, and make the average guy look pretty sad by comparison. But many, if not most, of these men do little with their muscles by way of actual work. They are not coal miners or lumberjacks or oil rig workers. They stay at the gym most days and lift weights. Their muscles do not come from hard work and they are rarely used for hard work. They are “for show” only, and serve little use, apart from bringing their owners a few admiring glances when they proudly wear their sleeveless shirts.

A muscular arm, to be of value, must be employed. And thus we have the second part of the expression: “Your outstretched arm.” God does not merely flex His muscles to impress us – He actually uses His power to deliver, to encourage, to empower, to anoint, to enable, and to uplift. His frequent use of this expression clearly indicates that He wants us to be fully aware of this.

Some things require more power than others. It takes little strength to pick up a coin off the sidewalk. Almost anybody, from a small child to a ninety-year-old woman, could do it. Other things are not so easy. Let’s consider a dad who dutifully teaches his ninety-five pound teenage daughter how to change a tire. She is a new driver and Dad is concerned that she could end up stranded along the highway, vulnerable and helpless, should she have a flat tire. Her father takes his time and methodically teaches her, step by step, all that is involved in the changing of a tire, from jacking up the car, to switching out the flat with the spare, to lowering the car again. The young lady pays close attention and understands the process fully. Some months later she has a flat and is presented the opportunity to put her knowledge to use. Remembering her dad’s instructions, she takes out the tire tool to loosen the lug nuts from the flat tire.

But when she puts the tool on the first nut, she is surprised. That nut does not come off nearly as easily as it did when Dad showed her how to do it. She pushes and pulls and strains with all her might, but the nut does not budge. She cannot change the tire. Her problem is not a lack of knowledge. She knows full well what to do. But she cannot summon the strength to get the job done, and is as helpless as if she knew nothing at all. To put her problem in Biblical terms, there is the lack of a “mighty hand.”

Easy, Medium, and Impossible

Out of Egypt

In terms of problems, needs, and pressures, some have relatively easy solutions. Others are not so easy. And some we find almost impossible. In praying over our problems, we often tend to pray for the easy to medium situations with far more faith and expectancy than the ones we deem nearly impossible. No need to bother God with hopes so outrageously unlikely that it seems improbable God will respond.

The matter of Israel’s deliverance from the bondage of Egypt was such a situation. Egypt was the most powerful nation in the world. Its armies were massive and well-trained. The Israelites were a slave people who had been in slavery as long as anyone alive could remember. They were not soldiers, they were not fighters, and they had no weapons. The idea that they could simply march out of Egypt en masse while the Egyptians looked on was preposterous. There was no plan, no strategy, and there were no tactics, humanly speaking, that could have ever brought about the release of this oppressed and enslaved people.

And yet it happened. The awesome Creator of heaven and earth slammed the proud Egyptians with plague after plague, devastating the entire nation, until they were only too glad to see this strange and mysterious people, with their unseen God, depart from their land. In the end the astonished and dazed Egyptians begged the Hebrews to leave, and gave them their finest jewelry made of silver and gold to take with them. There was no revolution; there had been no uprising. YHWH, the God of Israel, had done precisely as He had promised – He had delivered His people by His mighty hand and outstretched arm. In this deliverance we see the typical slowness and speed of God. Israel had been in Egypt suffering the bondage of slavery and praying for deliverance for as long as they could remember. It seemed that God was so very slow in responding. But when the time was right, the Almighty touched a shepherd named Moses and sent him to Egypt. Once Moses arrived, things moved quickly, and in what was probably a couple of months it was game over. Israel walked out of Egypt and no one dared touch them.

“Fear Not…”

God has not changed. He is still the God of the mighty hand and outstretched arm. And in our most difficult challenges and most desperate needs, He is willing and able to stretch forth His mighty hand and bring about salvation and deliverance for us. Many years ago I was in a tight spot. I had felt led to quit my job in Missouri and move to Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was either an incredible step of faith, or a huge act of folly. I had a wife and four children to support and my wife was pregnant with our fifth. I had one hope of a job that would pay enough to support us. I had a teaching degree and hoped to get a job as a school teacher. My wife and three of my children stayed with a friend in Missouri, while my oldest daughter and I stayed with friends in Albuquerque.

There were a few possibilities, but they did not pan out, and by the time school started I still did not have a job. Our family was in essence homeless, and we didn’t have a penny to pay for the new baby on the way. Our situation was bleak. But a couple of weeks after school started I was called by a principal and offered a teaching position. She still had a vacant position that was presently being filled by a substitute. By this time my wife and our other four children had come to Albuquerque and were living with another couple. We all went out to a pizza restaurant and celebrated God’s faithfulness and my new job. As we entered church on that Wednesday evening, I heard them singing the song, “Fear not, for I am with you…” Chills went through me, and I knew God was telling me that getting this job at this unlikely time was His doing. Although I had been in an impossible situation, He had done for me what He has done so many times before. He had delivered me by His “mighty hand and outstretched arm.”

But as wonderful as our own personal stories of deliverance are, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is the greatest example in all of history of God’s deliverance by His mighty hand and outstretched arm. The Psalmist foresaw this event prophetically and exulted: “OH, sing to the LORD a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory” (Psalm 98:1). To use Isaiah’s terminology, in Jesus Christ God has “made bare His holy arm.”


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