This theology of God and his relation to the world is emphasized often in Isaiah. For instance, we read in Isaiah 45: “I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded” (Is. 45:12). God has not made a little universe. He has made the wide stretches of space and has put there all the flaming hosts we see at night, all the planets, stars and galaxies. Wherever we go let us remind ourselves that God has made everything we see.
No matter what man eventually discovers the universe to be, no matter how much it contains or how great its stretch, this man must know—that God made it all. And not only did God make it all, but he is present to work in any part of it at any time he wishes. There is no place in the far-flung universe where the hand of God cannot work.
The Hand of God Preserves
In addition to declaring that God is the Creator of the entire universe, the Bible also makes clear that he did not create the earth and then walk away. His hand also operates to preserve his creation, both conscious and unconscious life: “That thou givest them they gather: thou openest thine hand, they are filled with good” (Ps. 104:28). And again, “The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest thine hand, and satisfiest the desire of every living thing” (Ps. 145:15-16).
Nothing lives in a vacuum. Everything in the world is preserved by God on its own level. Machines, plants, animals, men, angels—God preserves each one existentially, moment by moment, on its own level. Can we use our hands to work in the external world? God works in the external world.
An antiphonal doxology in the psalms praises God for being a worker in the creation he has made:
O give thanks unto the Lord; for he is good:
for his mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks unto the God of gods:
for his mercy endureth for ever.
O give thanks to the Lord of lords:
for his mercy endureth for ever.
To him who alone doeth great wonders:
for his mercy endureth for ever. (Ps. 136:1-4)
The succeeding verses praise God for specific actions. One is that God “brought Israel out from among them [the Egyptians]. . . with a strong hand, and with a stretched out arm” (vv. 11-12). Not just a generalized statement about preservation, this mentions a specific event—the Jews’ deliverance from Egypt. Praise is being given here because God is a worker in the creation he has made. The Jews always looked back to this work that God had done in space and time, and therefore they were linked to something that was tough enough to bear the weight of life, for they knew that God was not far away. Their affirmation was not just a poetic expression. Since God had acted in past history, the people knew they could trust him for the future.
After God had brought many plagues upon Egypt, the court magicians had said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19). During the earliest plagues, the magicians undoubtedly had thought that these might be chance occurrences or that by using the power of the demons they themselves would be able to duplicate the plagues. But as they watched the increasing horror of the plagues, these magicians came to another conclusion: This is more than chance, or, to speak in modern terms, this is more than the machine, more than merely cause and effect in a closed system. They concluded that there was a God who was acting in history. They admitted, “This is the finger of God.”
God’s acting in history is also portrayed forcefully in the giving of the Ten Commandments soon after the Jews left Egypt. The scene is described this way: “And he gave unto Moses, when he had made an end of communing with him upon mount Sinai, two tables of testimony, tables of stone, written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18). God took two blank tables of stone (we are not sure what they looked like; we think we do because of the way the artists have painted them for so many centuries, but we really do not) and then, either gradually or suddenly, carved on them the words he wanted there.
If Michelangelo had wanted to chisel words on these tables, he would have placed the tables in his studio, fastened them properly, taken his favorite hammer and chisel (which he would have made lovingly with his own hands, as sculptors did in those days) and worked away. With one hand holding the chisel and the other the hammer, he gradually would have produced words on the stone, and beautifully carved ones, I am sure. Out of his own thought world whatever he would have wanted to put on the tables would have appeared—his personality would have flowed through his fingers into the external world.
And that is exactly what God did on Mount Sinai. As Moses looked at the tables of stone with nothing on them, words appeared. But God did not need physical hands or a chisel. He who spoke all things into existence had only to will, and, in the historic, space-time world, words appeared on stone.
God speaks to men through verbalization, using natural syntax and grammar, as when, on the Damascus road, Jesus spoke to Paul in the Hebrew tongue. He did not use a “heavenly language.” Both on the Damascus road and on Mount Sinai, God used regular verbalization—and the syntax was good, let us be sure. And both events affirm, let us stress again, that God is able to work into the machine any time he will.
Here is the distinction we must see between existential theology, Greek thought and Jewish thought. Modern existential theology says, “Truth is all in your head. You must make a leap, completely removed from the common things of life.” The Greeks were tougher than this, for they said, “If you’re going to have truth, it has to make sense.” If a man would insist, as modem man does, “I will believe these things whether they make sense or not,” the Greek philosopher would answer, “That is foolish. A system which is internally inconsistent is unacceptable.” So the Greeks were better than modern man in his modern theology.
But the Jews were stronger yet. The Jews said, “Yes, truth must fit together in a system that is non-contradictory, but it must do something more. It must be rooted in the space-time stuff of history.” The Jews throughout their history affirmed that God’s hand had done a great thing in releasing them from Egypt. Therefore, they were not shaken in the midst of trial because they knew what God could do in the external world.
The Hand of God Chastises
But God’s action in the external world can be even more personal than it was when he led the Jews out of Egypt. We Christians should be grateful for that event, which, since we are spiritual Jews, is part of our history. It should be our environment to offset the environment of our own day when men are seen as only machines. But God can be even more personal. He can and does say, “I use my hand for you.”
One way God expresses his fatherly care for his children is in loving chastisement. How do parents spank their children? They use their hand. Similarly, when one of his children needs chastisement, God brings down his hand.
In Psalm 32:4, for instance, David says, “For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me,” or, in other words, “You have chastened me.” In Psalm 39:10, David cries, “Remove thy stroke away from me: I am consumed by the blow of thine hand.”
This chastisement was not merely psychological, another important truth for our generation to understand. The hand of God is pictured as working not in the thoughts of men but into the external world. He uses the word hand so that we have perfect communication: That which we use our hands to do, he, being a personal God, accomplishes without hands. One such action is chastisement.
The chastisement of David for his sin with Bathsheba was not just psychological. In this and in other pictures of chastisement in the Bible God did not do something inside the heads of men. Rather, in his loving care for his people, he chastened them through external situations. God worked into the machine not only to achieve the mighty exodus from Egypt, not only to carve his law upon the rock, but also to show love to his people by chastening them. God is not far off, acting only in the great moments of history; he is acting into our own personal history in a loving way as well.