31. The Hand, Past & Future

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.31 The Hand, Past & Future

Isaiah 51:1-3 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness and who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were cut and to the quarry from which you were hewn; look to Abraham, your father, and to Sarah, who gave you birth. When I called him he was only one man, and I blessed him and made him many.

(v.3) The Lord will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing.”

As we draw near to the end of this series considering the ‘hidden hand of God’ I want us to reflect on these first three verses of Isa 51 that show us a) how the hidden hand of God moved in the past and b) how it was going to move in the future.

Verses 1 and 2 call us to reflect on the past, on the foundation stone, if you like, of the Jewish people – Abraham. Three things made him stand out. First, his calling by God. Second, his obedient response to God and belief in what God said about his future family. Third, the miraculous way God moved and enabled that elderly couple, Sarah beyond child-bearing age, to conceive and have Isaac, the son of promise. (Gal 4:23) People who a) have never learned to listen to God and who b) therefore cannot respond in obedient faith (for faith comes by hearing what God says – Rom 10:17) are also likely c) to be those who fail to observe the workings of the hidden hand of God. Faith listens, faith obeys and faith sees.

Now moving on to verse 3 we find the Lord bringing words of encouragement to Israel – bringing comfort, bringing transformation and life, followed by joy, gladness, thanksgiving and singing. But these are all future things.

Now imagine you were part of Israel back then. The spiritual life of the nation was often not good, they were often under threat from enemies and God’s corrective word kept coming through this prophet. How do you think you would respond to verse 3? So bring it up to date. We live in days of division and upset of wars and rumours of wars, of warnings of environmental catastrophe, of us being a minority in our nations, and then the Lord comes and brings words of encouragement to you. Perhaps you don’t live in a believing church where regular prophetic words – personal words that strengthen, encourage and comfort you (1 Cor 14:3) – but very simply as you read His word, suddenly it seems a word of Scripture encouragement leaps off the page at you. Can you joyfully take this as the Spirit bringing this truth to you? How will it be fulfilled? By the hidden hand of God, i.e. by His Spirit – so come and examine this in the next series.

30. Misjudging God

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.30: Misjudging God

Isaiah 59:1 “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.”

We stay with Isaiah. Yes, the language is slightly different – the arm of the Lord instead of the hand of the Lord – but it is the same thing that we’ve been considering throughout this whole series, the moving of the Lord. But look a bit further here. We’ve been focusing on the fact that so often the Lord’s activity is hidden to us and we struggle to break free from the enemy’s lies that “It was just a coincidence.” But unbelief appears in many guises. Consider what the Lord is saying through Isaiah: “Do you think my arm is too short to reach down to you in your circumstances? Do you think this makes me powerless to act into your situation?” Where there is unbelief, it usually comes in both forms – it can’t be God because I didn’t see Him, and it can’t be God because He doesn’t do such things today.

Have you heard that before? “Oh the gifts and working of the Spirit stopped once the canon of Scripture was complete, there was no need for Him to move like that anymore.” What absolute unbelief! “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb 13:8) It is pure self-centred unbelief that says that the Spirit has stopped motivating and using the body of Christ (Eph 4:12,15. 5:23, Col 1:24, 1 Cor 12:27) Why would there be so much about the body of Christ in the New Testament if it was all to become redundant in a few hundred years. What else in the New Testament is redundant now? Nothing! Away with these heretics!

But this wasn’t the only time the Lord said this through Isaiah; He had already said it: “When I called, why was there no one to answer? Was my arm too short to deliver you? Do I lack the strength to rescue you?” (Isa 50:2) It’s the same thing. Do you think I am impotent and am unable to move in my world to save you??? “Is anything too hard for the Lord?” (Gen 18:14) “Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” (Jer 32:17) Did you see the same thing we saw in Study No.28 – God’s creativity is His credentials to be able to deal with ANYTHING in your life. “With God all things are possible.” (Mt 19:26)

So why do we struggle sometimes in believing that God is working in our circumstances, why do we let the fact that we cannot see the hidden hand of God make our faith stumble? But hidden in the Isa 52 verse above is a significant factor. God called but no one answered, no one was available to be used. Because we are so often blind to the working of God, we miss opportunities and fail to appreciate His call. May we learn not to be like that.

29. The Hand in the Big Picture

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.29: The Hand in the Big Picture

Isaiah 44:24,28 I am the Lord… who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’

So yesterday we started looking at a remarkable prophecy that Isaiah brought from the Lord whereby the Lord laid down His credentials, if we may put it like that, declarations confirmed and backed up by the rest of the Scriptures. He spoke them so that when we came near to the end of this word, we who now gaze on it from afar will not, like foolish unbelieving liberal theologians, try and relocate Isaiah and his prophecies at some later time in history. Instead we will bow in awe and worship as we realise that this word – like all the Messianic prophecies – was a word spoken into the Jewish consciousness, into Jewish history, into Jewish awareness, by the One who looks down on all of history and drops truths before us for those with eyes to see and ears to hear. It is like the enthusiasm, the passion, the excitement, of the Godhead just cannot be contained. Several times I have heard or brought words for others where the Lord said, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you how good it is going to be.” It’s like He is bubbling over with His love for us and yearns for us to start catching something of the wonder of what He has on His heart for us if only we will receive it.

How like the enemy to try to take away the Lord’s glory by saying, “Oh well, Isaiah only said it after it had happened.” How foolish. Why would he bother and what about all the other prophecies in his book that fit his particular time in history.

The unknowing unbeliever questions Isaiah speaking about a coming saviour for Israel in the form of Cyrus – see 2 Chron 36:22,23. What is often forgotten is that Moses prophesied about this, first by reference to a curse for disobedience – Deut 28:36 and following chapters – with frequent warnings about future destruction and exile. The Lord knew exactly what would happen and that He would eventually intervene at the time of Cyrus king of Persia. Thus it was that a little over a century later, following the years of Israel’s exile in Babylon, we read those amazing words: “the Lord moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia,” (2 Chron 36:22 & Ezra 1:1) the hidden hand of God at work, the same hand that was there giving King Xerxes a bad night’s sleep to get him reading about Mordecai’s loyalty, sleeplessness that changed the course of history (Est 6:1,2). Somehow now a similar thing must have happened with Cyrus who, possibly reading the scroll of Isaiah sees his name there and the Spirit convicts him and Israel are allowed back home. Amazing, but not if you are weak in faith in respect of God but strong in faith for ‘coincidences’!

28. The Blatant Hand of God

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.28: The Blatant Hand of God

Isa 44:24-26 “I am the Lord, the Maker of all things, who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth by myself, who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners, who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense, who carries out the words of his servants and fulfils the predictions of his messengers.”    

Prophecies are God’s way of saying, “Hey, watch out, my hand may be hidden to you but don’t be deceived into believing it is impotent.” This prophecy within Isaiah is too good to shorten. Look at the five things that the Lord says He DOES, things which the spiritually blind observe but cannot see where they come from. He is God…

….who stretches out the heavens, who spreads out the earth…. Do you see the point here? This is God who challenges us and says, “Do you realize when you look at the sky, when you stand on a hillside and observe the panorama before you, this is all MY handiwork? Were you here when I created it, have you observed my hidden hand reworking it, even today?”  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.” (Heb 11:3) Do we see the work of His hidden hands around us and worship?

….who foils the signs of false prophets and makes fools of diviners… Again, can we hear the Lord laughing and asking, “Do you really believe the words of the media pundits, prophesying doom and gloom, do you think they are the ones who decree what will really happen? Oh come on! Do you hear the spiteful words of these woke activists who sow division and disharmony? Do you really think anyone (apart from historians) will be taking any notice of them in thirty years’ time? Don’t let my enemy’s deceptions confuse you. I AM still working.”

….who overthrows the learning of the wise and turns it into nonsense… And then again, “Oh my children do not listen to those godless ones who are wise in their own sight for I will make it obvious that their writings and their philosophies are words that will be blown away in the wind.”

….who carries out the words of his servants…. This is the One who speaks to and through His prophets and then fulfils their words. Sometimes very quickly, sometimes over decades or even centuries, but the voice comes and the hidden hand works..…(who) fulfils the predictions of his messengers.” And just to ensure we take it in, He repeats it. The prophets are but office messenger-boys carrying the latest memo from the boss. And why? So you and I can gasp at the breadth of His handiwork, which we’ll see more of tomorrow, more of the hidden hand of God working, as we said, through decades and even centuries to fulfil HIS will, HIS plans. 

27. The Not-so-hidden Hand (2)

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.27: The Not-so-hidden Hand (2)

Deut 28:58,64 “If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law ….then the Lord will scatter you among all nations, from one end of the earth to the other.”

The ‘blessings’ that we considered yesterday are without doubt ‘good news’, God’s decrees of good things happening. Now the main point we were making is that when it comes to these blessings and curses there are always three stages: (i) God speaking the blessing/curse, (ii) our obedience/disobedience and then (iii) God acts – the blessing or curse seen in its outworking. In that last stage we see something happen or we see an outworking of our lives but more often than not, it is not possible to guarantee that what is happening is the hidden hand of God. It takes faith, a sense in the spirit that what we are witnessing is indeed the hidden hand of God, the working of the Holy Spirit.

Now the same thing applies to curses as applies to blessings but in this case, stage 1 is in the form of a warning: “If you do not obey….” Everything else that follows is as a result of this simple but unmistakable warning. Obedience is crucial. Without it, all these following things will be the outcome.

So that is then followed by a long catalogue of things that will go wrong in every aspect of life, an all-embracing list of things to cause them harm. Now before we speak foolishly about how a loving God could do such things, remember two goals for all this. First note that these come as warnings of things to be avoided, i.e. they are to have a deterrent impact, they DON’T HAVE to happen!  Second, the purpose of them is, initially at least, not to cause total destruction but to create a state of affairs that gradually worsens in order to challenge the people to come to their senses.

But of course, the folly of mankind says, “we can’t see God so He can’t see us or do anything to us” – both of which are wrong assumptions. Nevertheless, the folly of our thinking so often thinks, “It won’t happen to me.” Modern Western societies have adopted this very stance – “God is impotent, even should He exist, so we can do what we like and it won’t harm us.” Gradually we are beginning to see that it is harmful, and we ARE being hurt by disobedience

But another facet of the folly of human reasoning is to consider all these things happening as ‘coincidence’. Slowly as, for example, we watch global warning, we are beginning to consider ‘consequences’. I wonder if people talked about ‘coincidence’ when both Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead before Peter? (Acts 5) I presume people were saying, ‘coincidence’ when people were dying in the church in Corinth (1 Cor 11:30,31), because the reality is that you cannot ‘see’ the ‘hidden hand of God’ and thus we fail to see the reality of what is happening.

26. The Not-so-hidden Hand (1)

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.26: The Not-so-hidden Hand (1)

Deut 28:1 “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth.”

The ‘blessings’ and ‘curses’ of Deut 28 have to be seen as clear demonstrations of the hidden hand of work. We’ve just seen how God lifts off His hand of restraint or His hand of protection but now we face an even more direct and clear example of the not-so-hidden hand of God. I put it this way because in the case of both blessing and curse, there is a three-stage activity which demands an in-between activity of the moving of the hidden hand of God.

Let’s consider this in respect of blessings in this study and the curses in the next study. The three stages are (i) God speaks and gives His instruction of how to live so blessing will follow, (ii) obedience, and (iii) the blessing then follows. Stage three is the work of the ‘hidden hand’.

Now we might be tempted to think there is a causal link in this; if we behave well, good will follow. Not necessarily. Job had to point out to his three friends that bad things can happen to good people in this fallen world where sinners rise up against the righteous for no other reason than they ARE unrighteous.  

But when you look at the list of blessings that follow in Deut 28 we see that not only are there general statements of blessing (v.1-3,6) there are also specific blessings (decrees of good) on their daily physical life (v.4,5,8) and then, even more, when enemies rise against them, those enemies WILL fall (v.7). They might try to be good and try to be spiritual, but unless there was a reality to their relationship with the Lord, there was no way they could guarantee their blessing.

In case there is still doubt, in the following verses of chapter 28, there is first an even greater clarity on the general state of being blessed by the Lord (v.8-11) but as the verses continue on the blessings get more and more specific (v.12,13) so that rainfall being provided ensures great harvests. In the teaching of the New Testament, blessings are first and foremost spiritual with practical outworkings (e.g. Mt 5:3-11), and on revelation (Mt 13:16, 16:17), and on obedience (Lk 11:28, Jn 13:17, Jas 1:25) and on caring for the needy (Lk 14:13,14) and, more generally, to be a giver (Acts 20:35). Paul speaks of the blessedness of being forgiven (Rom 4:7,8) and indeed of the whole sense of heavenly blessings available to us now (Eph 1:3), and both James and Peter remind us of the eternal blessing to come once we have persevered through trials (Jas 1:12, 5:11, 1 Pet 3:14, 4:14). Now, let’s not forget that ALL these blessings come to us through the not-so-hidden hand of God! 

25. Protection Removed

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.25: Protection Removed

Judg 2:14 “In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.”

There is a two-sided coin effect that we are considering, both to do with disciplinary judgment. On one side is God lifting off His hand of RESTRAINT and then on the other side, to help progress the learning experience, there is God lifting off His hand of PROTECTION.

Paul at one point in his ministry talks to the Corinthians in chapter 5 about putting a man out of the church, a man who has been committing incest, and describes it as “hand(ing) this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.” (v.5) The place of life in the Church, life in the body of Christ, is a place of protection which many fail to realise. Outside the body, the individual is prey to the enemy’s temptations, lies and deceits and outright attacks, without the help and restraint of the other members of the body.

Nowhere in Scripture is this seen so clearly as in the book of Judges where the process is seen again and again and again. Israel start in a good place with God and are blessed and secure. Then, in their folly as mankind is so prone to do, they become casual, turn away from God and become irreligious, ungodly, and unrighteous. The third step is that God lifts off His hidden hand of protection. They weren’t aware of it and perhaps we fail to be aware of it. The fourth step is Israel coming to repentance and God raising up a deliverer. As we said, it happens again and again and again in Judges.

But look again at the language of our starter verse: “In his anger against Israel the Lord gave them into the hands of raiders who plundered them. He sold them into the hands of their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.”  This has to be seen as the Lord removing His hand of protection from them. It may also include Him allowing Satan to stir up their enemy-neighbours against them as we see in Job 1 but even without Satan’s intervention, it seems that the ungodly and unrighteous attitudes of their enemies, so often jealous of Israel, so often hostile towards them, is sufficient to release them against Israel. Maybe the Lord even speaks into their minds, “I remove my protection from my people,” and that was sufficient to spur them on against Israel to discipline them and bring them to the end of themselves so that they eventually called on the Lord again and again. However it works, it is no coincidence that as soon as Israel turn away from the Lord, they are attacked by their enemies. Somewhere, somehow, the hidden hand of God is working. More tomorrow. 

24. Restraint Removed

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.24: Restraint Removed

Rom 1:24 “Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts.”  

Back in Study No.7 we considered how God ‘thwarts’ sin on the earth and in Study No.5 how increasing hardness of heart in Pharaoh resulted in him expressing his rebellion against God even more. So there we had the two contrasts – God holding back sin, and God virtually provoking sin but in the latter case it is until it brings about the destruction of Pharaoh. When I have studied the kings of Judah and Israel, I have pondered on why it is that so often God seems inactive in the light of the ongoing sin of the various kings.

Paul’s threefold declaration Romans 1 about God giving people ‘over’ to their sinful desires gives us a behind-the-scenes hint at what He was up to. In Gen 15:16, speaking to Abraham about the future of his family, God declared, “In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure,” which is a clear indication that God knew – and permitted – the growing sin in Canaan to keep on growing until it was patently obvious why they needed to be driven out of the land. Their sins would reach such horrendous proportions – where even child sacrifice to their ‘gods’ was a regular outworking of their occult-driven idolatry.

The potential of the human race is both wonderful and terrible. We can rise to such heights of care, compassion and even heroism, but also fall to the depths of awful sin. Genesis 6:5 describes the latter: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” What a terrible description. So that was followed by the Flood, God’s restraining hand, but having declared He would never cause such a widespread catastrophe to occur again, it is clear that He then adopted ‘Plan B’ which is to let us run amok in our self-destructive sin until we come to our senses.

In the West at the present time, having run the gamut of unrestrained sin for a number of decades, only now after years of inflicting pain on ourselves are we seeing numerous (non-Christian!) writers rising up saying, “this doesn’t work, this is harmful!” The Church’s preaching was inadequate, so God let the sin-consequences work through until sanity starts to prevail. In Israel’s case, unrestrained behaviour revealed a) the sinfulness of this nation, revealing their need for a Saviour and b) the grace and mercy of God, always there for them through His prophets, to prevail.  So yes, sometimes the hidden hand of God is removed, as we saw in Studies 9 & 10, to reveal our responses and bring us to our senses. 

23. A Seeking Servant

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.23: A Seeking Servant

Gen 24:14 “let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know that you have shown kindness to my master.”

The prayer of Abrahams servant, seeking a wife for Isaac in Haran, is worth recording almost completely: “Then he prayed, “Lord, God of my master Abraham, make me successful today, and show kindness to my master Abraham. See, I am standing beside this spring, and the daughters of the townspeople are coming out to draw water. May it be that when I say to a young woman, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’—let her be the one you have chosen for your servant Isaac. By this I will know) that you have shown kindness to my master.” Gen 24:12-14

Abraham’s servant clearly believed in a God who could guide and direct. I somehow doubt that he thought about how that could be worked out, but in the light of some of the things we have considered previously and the suggestions I have made about God speaking into our minds, how might that work in this situation?

Well, first, I believe that often it is God who prompts us what to pray. Because He knows everything we are going to say before we say it (Psa 139:4), prayer is clearly more for our benefit than his, although perhaps there is something whereby He wait for us to come in line with His will in our praying before He ‘answers’ it.

So my first suggestion is that as the servant arrives at this watering hole at the time when people came to collect water (coincidence or had he been there a while resting?) it is easy for the Lord to prompt him what to pray. He is clearly a man whose heart is open to the Lord and obedient to his master, Abraham (who has also caught God’s heart for his daughter-in-law), so he senses the possible path to follow and prays it.

So, next, let’s also suggest that the Lord knows the girl who would be godly and good for Isaac (later we see Rebekah is someone who seeks God AND hears God – Gen 25:22,23) and as she is serving the household by going and collecting water, the Lord simply prompts her already kind and generous spirit to respond well to this visitor from afar.

Now it’s possible you might be a cynical believer but whatever you think, the reality is that this works. The servant prays, a willing girl responds, she just ‘happens’ to be distantly related and fits the bill perfectly. Even more he family respond well when the servant explains in detail what has happened and Rebekah herself is willing to return with him. Job done! So as friend used to say, “It may appear coincidence but when I stop praying the coincidences stop happening!” The challenge perhaps is how childlike and simple is our faith? Can we believe in a God who speaks and a God who guides?

22. More on the Ways of God

‘Hidden Hand’ Meditations No.22: More on the Ways of God

Job 27:11 “I will teach you about the power of God; the ways of the Almighty I will not conceal.

Job is perhaps a good source of teaching for this subject because it is all about what happened to Job as decrees by God whose purposes had been hidden from Job. As an example of the hidden hand of God at work, Job is a classic.

Now we’ve seen (Study No.2) how Elihu warns us to realise God’s way are marvellous beyond our understanding (37:5), we saw how the Lord used Satan (Study No.4) as His hidden hand (1:12), we’ve seen how Eliphaz (Study No.7) points out that God limits sin on the earth (5:12) and finally (Study No.14) we saw the Lord challenging Job to recognise his ignorance of God’s activity.

Now our present starter verse comes in Job’s last discourse to his three friends before Elihu takes over. In the first 6 verses he refuses to speak wrong and accept that he has done such wrong as to bring about this state of misery. He is sure of that and the text confirms that that is so. He contrasts, by implication, himself with the wicked and godless who, when such things happen to them do not turn to seek the Lord. (v.7-10) He is sure that what has happened is not the consequence of his evil but is, instead, the direct working of God – which is what this verse is about.

There is, therefore, an important lesson to learn here – we need to learn to understand the source of bad things that happen to us and certainly not to blame God. God may certainly be allowing whatever it is to happen but as far as He is concerned it will ALWAYS be for our good, for the good of those who love Him (for others He may bring disciplinary judgment to bring them to their senses). Declare Rom 8:28 out loud! As David the psalmist declared, “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.” (Psa 25:10) If we feel confused at times, Isaiah reassures us: “He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” (Isa 2:3)

So how may bad things come about? It may be our own wrong desires that have brought it (Jas 1:13-15). It may, as we’ve seen previously, be the work of Satan through those open to his leading. A third reason may be simply because we live in a fallen, broken, often dysfunctional world where things go wrong, accidents happen, illnesses strike etc. The apostle Paul gave the picture of a groaning (Rom 8:19-22), a frustrated, imperfect world because of the presence and effects of Sin in it. So whatever is going on that on the surface appears bad, remember our Rom 8:28 verse – God IS moving behind the scenes on your behalf, He is working to bring blessing and good out of what is happening and that challenges us to pray, “Lord open my eyes to see.”