“Stretch out your hand” God says – God’s work and our hands

I don’t know as much about King David as I should.  David’s place in biblical history has been of interest only insofar as he was presaged and ordained by the Lord, God and established the line into which Jesus was born.  And his psalms – those I love and rest in and marvel at.  What I know most about David is in the psalter where I see why and how God used David to draw others to Him.

But I’ve never really been interested in or curious enough about David to elevate him as a model for or leader of my personal spiritual journey with God.  The following are my un-informed, un-studied and perhaps even ignorant impressions of David:

  • David talks a lot to God, but I haven’t sensed God talking to David – that is, David just seems to talk, talk, talk, full throttle – or do, do, do full throttle.  Not much room in David’s story for God to get in an explicit Word.
  • There’s too much human personality in the little I know of David for me to want to know more of him in order that I might know more of God.

My hunches about him were confirmed when I delved into some of my seminary textbooks and bible software to see if God ever spoke directly with David. After a few phrase searches, like “the Lord then said to David” and “an angel of the Lord told David” and after reading the account of David in Eerdman’s Dictionary of the Bible, the lack of direct conversation between God and David struck me as notable. Of all the prophets I searched, including Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jacob and Samuel, David stands alone as having a heart for God, but no direct, one-on-one encounters with the Lord, God. I find this so interesting given that more space is devoted to David and to compositions attributed to him in the Old Testament than to anyone except Moses. And he is the most fully developed Old Testament character – the greatest king in Israel’s history – in which a vivid portrait of a complex individual, with all his strengths and weaknesses is recorded.[i]

Why all this talk about David?  It was a prompt from today’s reading in the Old Testament from Exodus.  And Moses – the one in whom the most space is given in the Hebrew Scriptures. It was at this verse,

26 Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.’ 27So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth.

Charlton_Heston_20At first, I simply ‘saw’ Charlton Heston raising his hand over the sea – that movie is indelibly etched. Then I paused and thought, why didn’t God just do this? Why did he have someone do what some might consider his ‘dirty work?’ And when both the Israelites and the Egyptians saw Moses raise his hand over the sea, why did both know that it was one, holy, God? Why didn’t the Egyptians, especially, think of Moses as having earned favor in their cultic god’s eyes? If Moses hadn’t raised his hand but the sea had covered them anyway, wouldn’t they have been more likely to believe that it was Moses’ God at work? Why did God use Moses this way?

Of course, we know why. It is through and by our hands that God’s will and work is done. Seeing is believing. Moses had been in direct conversation with God and was doing just what was asked – he trusted the Lord to lead God’s people out of bondage, he trusted that he, Moses, had been called to do this. To be God’s hands, to do God’s work. So that they – us – would believe.

michelangelo12In contrast, David’s first act for God – his hands for God’s glory – the slaying of Goliath – was initiated – as it is written and presented – by David himself.  There’s no pause in the narrative that suggests the Lord, God said to David, “Go to Saul, tell his you will slay Goliath.”  At my pause – thinking about Moses, then David, my brain eyes went to the marble statue of David by the divinely inspired Michelangelo. One can’t help but be awestruck at the strength, resolve, and beauty of theDavid envisioned by the artist of others from biblical history including Moses, Jesus, Mary and of course Adam and God, Himself. But in looking at the carving, I don’t see God’s presence in David’s hand – as I do in the rather cheesy film clip of Moses. Rather I see God’s presence in the Hands_of_God_and_Adamsculptor’s hands – in Michelangelo’s.  I can almost hear God saying to the artist, “Go, tell my story through your hands.  Paint. Sculpt. Draw.”

Though in the grand scheme of things we know God was at work behind the scenes, moving David to the Philistine battleground, ensuring that his chosen would eventually be anointed. But the way in which David steps into the biblical narrative with his heart for God, is in such contrast to Moses.

God didn’t instruct David to raise his hand against Goliath. David inserted himself into the drama and asserts his own prowess and skill and strength – his pride is at work – to protect God’s honor and claiming he and only he can handle this task.

And yet, the outcome is the same. God’s will be done. Those who witnessed both acts – the seas covering the Egyptians, and Goliath slain by David – believed. And the glory was given to the Lord, God.

From Exodus:

30 Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. 31 Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses. [1]

From 1 Samuel 17:

But David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, 47 and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.” [2]

Today’s reading has me thinking about all the varieties of prophetic leadership in God’s church, today. Seems many are attracted to the personality of the leadership – like the Israelites attracted to the man after God’s heart, David. Something about him – wanting to be like him, perhaps – was compelling. He was a warrior, a lover, a man of words as a poet, and a musician – quite a renaissance man. Moses? God’s heart was after him – reluctant, the epitome of pious humility[ii] functioning as a prophet, priest, judge and king. A man of few words but many divine actions. God chose both – and others of course and most importantly, Jesus – to lead God’s people to Him.

What I’m thinking about today is just how God uses leaders today of His church. Some lead by doing just what they hear the Lord saying to them – speak this Word now, by grace and God’s hand know you are free, do this action here, stand firm here, hear what the Spirit is saying, obey the commandments to love God and one another. Others bring to God’s church a heart for God and a conviction of their own worthiness to lead and more of a warrior, us-them sensibility to the church. Others still are a blend of both.

It is never one or the other. God uses all sorts of people and experiences to be made known to us.

god's work our handsGod’s work. Our hands. How is God working in the leadership of your church?

Praise Him.

Monday’s Daily Office Readings: AM Psalm 1, 2, 3; PM Psalm 4, 7
Exod. 14:21-31; 1 Pet. 1:1-12; John 14:(1-7)8-17

[i] Coogan, Michael D. The Old Testament: A Historical and Literary Introduction to the Hebrew Scriptures, Oxford University Press, New York 2006

[ii] Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible, David Noel Freedman, editor, Wm B Eerdman’s Publishing, Grand Rapids 2000 p 921

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