Rev. Kuiper is pastor of Southeast Protestant Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
There are anthropomorphisms in Scripture, figures of speech in which human characteristics are ascribed to God in order that we may better understand Him and His works. God’s repentance is such a figure: God is not a man that He should repent; He never changes or does any thing for which He is sorry. Yet we read of the repentance of God several times, because to our limited minds it seems that God changes in respect to His dealings with the sons of men.
When we read in the Scriptures of God’s hand(s), fingers, eyes, nostrils, and more, we might be tempted to call these references anthropomorphisms: we ourselves have these features, and it is as if God possesses them too. Not so. It is better to think of these features as being perfect and original in God, and in us only in a derivative, creaturely way. They belong to the image of God in us, especially to that aspect of the image which enables us to bear God’s likeness. The hand belongs to our being image-bearers, which allows us to function as kings.
God has a hand in the absolute, original sense. By His hand He made all things (Acts 7:50); His hand is glorious in power (Ex. 15:6); and His hand is never shortened or limited (Is. 59:1). His hand protects us from the enemy, so that the child of God cannot be plucked out of it (John 10:29-30). Because God’s hand is near, we cannot be moved (Ps. 16:8), but rather we enjoy the pleasures and treasures which are at His right hand for evermore (Ps. 16:11). God will never forget us, for He has graven us upon the palms of His hands; we are ever before Him (Is. 19:16).
When an ancient potentate wished to show his pleasure and confidence in another person, he set him on the right hand of his person and throne. Thus, when God expressed His pleasure, approval, and trust in the man Christ Jesus, He commanded that Christ sit at His right hand (Ps. 110:1), which is the right hand of the Majesty on high (Heb. 1:3). That this position is not one of idle repose, but one of active dominion is shown by Stephen shortly before his death, for he saw Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55). The slain lamb is worthy to receive the book of the seven seals out of the right hand of Him that sat upon the throne, to open the book, and to bring to pass all things that must come to pass in history. He strikes through kings in the day of His wrath (Ps. 110:5) and gathers His people out of all nations.
Scripture speaks of things not made with hands to emphasize their heavenly, spiritual character. We are circumcised in Christ with the circumcision made without hands (Col. 2:11). This is the work of the Spirit of Christ whereby He cuts away the foreskin of our hearts (Jer. 4:4) that we may put off the body of the sins of the flesh. The first covenant had a tabernacle built by Moses to divine specifications. Christ has entered, as a High Priest of good things to come, into a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands (Heb. 9:11). So also at the moment of our death we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (II Cor. 5:1).
But Scripture also speaks of human hands, the creaturely reflection of the hands of God. There was a ceremony in the early church similar to Old Testament anointing, called the laying on of hands (Acts 6:6; Acts 13:3; I Tim. 4:14). The laying on of hands by an officebearer symbolized appointment unto a church office, and qualification by the Holy Spirit to do the work which the office entails (Acts 8:17; II Tim. 1:6). The early church, as well as the church today, had the practice of shaking hands; this is not a matter of good manners, but a giving of the right hand of fellowship (Gal. 2:9). How pleasant and how good it is when brothers and sisters observe this sign, especially on the Lord’s Day.
The human hand is very skillful. The psalmist vows, “If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning (to play the harp)” (Ps. 137:5). With our hands we are to work. Paul did, to put to shame the criticizing Corinthians (I Cor. 4:12). The same apostle commands us to labor, working with our hands the thing which is good (Eph. 4:28). Then we will not steal or be burdensome to our neighbor, but we will have to give to the needy. Paul comes pretty close to telling us to mind our own business when he exhorts us to “study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands” (I Thess. 4:11).
Finally, that which is at hand is near. John the Baptist preached that the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matt. 3:2). So did Jesus (Matt. 10:7). The coming of the Lord is at hand (Phil. 4:5). And because the end of all things is at hand we are to be sober, and watch unto prayer (I Pet. 4:7).