But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.Exodus 3:19-20
In our Women’s Bible Study at church, we are working through the Book of Exodus using Jen Wilkin’s study, The God of Deliverance. This past week, Jen challenged us to count the number of times the word “hand” is used in chapter 4. It’s used twelve times in a single passage and later in the chapter a thirteenth time. And so today, I want to explore a possible significance to that repetition.
The Background Story
God met Moses at the burning bush and called him to set the Israelites free from Egypt. In His conversation with Moses, God reveals His name, what He has seen, heard, felt, and plans. In fact, God uses the pronoun “I” at least 16 times in as many verses. If you haven’t read Exodus 3:6 – 21 lately, it’s a powerful statement of God’s compassion, eternality, and will to rescue His chosen people.
Noticing repetition sharpens our understanding of the author’s meaning and potential themes in Scripture. “For example, when we pick up on repetitions within a book of the Bible, it helps one understand some of the major themes, purposes, and emphases that the author wanted to impart upon his audience. Such an observation lets us know what the human author, inspired by the Divine Author had on their mind when they took their pen in hand” (Fry, 2023).
So when we get to Chapter 4, the repetition of “hand” pops out. God has already told Moses that Pharaoh will not let the people go unless God stretches out His mighty hand to compel him.
What About Moses’ hand?
In Chapter 4, Moses continues to question God’s call. It’s as if he missed totally all the statements God made about Himself because Moses is focused on himself. “Who am I that I should go?” “What if they ask who sent me? What shall I say?” and “What if they don’t believe me?”
And that’s when God prompts Moses, “What is in your hand?” Moses was a shepherd, and a shepherd’s staff was in his hand. The staff becomes a snake and then becomes a staff again. God instructs Moses to put his hand inside his cloak, and his hand becomes diseased and is healed again.
In each of these instances, there was no inherent power in Moses’ hand. It’s just a hand. But God uses Moses’ hand to teach him a lesson – a lesson about God’s sovereign power revealing His authority over the natural world. God is calling Moses to be His representative to the people of Israel, and in this illustration recorded in Exodus 4, God is emphasizing that He will be with Moses – not just in an ethereal sense but concretely, ready to stretch out His mighty hand! Moses didn’t have the benefit of Peter’s reminder, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
The So-What Question
So, what does this matter? Why should we take note of this passage about God’s mighty hand and Moses’ hand? It reminds me that our God is powerful. He is sovereign over all things. He’s ready and able to not only sustain me in my walk with Him, but He is also my victory over life’s challenges.
God works through the ordinary to make Himself known to us. We should expect to see HIm at work and look for Him in the mundane, the routine work of our hands.
When we submit ourselves to God’s authority and acknowledge His power, we become instruments of His miraculous work in the world. Our reliance on His hand empowers us to achieve the good works to which He has called us.
Isaiah relays God’s message to Israel when he writes,
“But you, Israel, my servant,Isaiah 41:8-10
Jacob, whom I have chosen,
you descendants of Abraham my friend,
I took you from the ends of the earth,
from its farthest corners I called you.
I said, ‘You are my servant’;
I have chosen you and have not rejected you.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Father, You who have chosen us, who have
Rescued us from the dominion of darkness,
You who call us Your friend, You have called
Your people from the four corners of the earth
Called, justified, glorified –
Therefore, we do not fear, remembering
That You are Emmanuel, God with us,
Strengthening, helping, upholding us
By Your mighty hand. We praise
Your Name!! Amen.
Fry, J. (2023). Helping your hermeneutic: Repetition (5 min read) — reformed & confessional. Reformed & Confessional. https://www.reformconfess.com/blog/helping-your-hermeneutic-repetition