‘But the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews’ (Ezra 5:5)
With our eyes we apprehend reality by visual means. But our optical abilities, however good, are limited. We compensate, of course. We have surgical procedures and spectacles to correct impaired vision. We have created telescopes and microscopes to view realities that cannot otherwise be seen.
But our finite minds find it difficult to understand how God sees and controls all things. It is a mystery to us.
Yet people in this age, as in all ages, readily accept mystery. How many understand how a television works? There are many things we do not understand fully, yet we accept them as real. We live in a world of sophisticated visual communication and control systems that we take for granted.
A person sitting in the control room of a television studio with twelve TV screens can control which image is transmitted to viewers by the flick of a switch. Similarly, at the push of a few buttons, spy satellites can beam in on a selected ‘target’ — wherever it is located around the globe.
Why, then, should it surprise us that God’s own surveillance is unwavering and his hand almighty?
A continual watch
Man strives for ubiquitous sight and achieves remarkable things. But these achievements fall infinitely short of the divine capacity to see and know all things, whether or not they are physically visible.
It is wonderful to think that he keeps a fond eye on his children. He observes them closely and watches over them with tender love. More than any caring parent, God is alert and observes his children intently.
He has his eye on us because we belong to him and he is interested in us: ‘he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord watches over you’ (Psalm 121:3-4).
God is never caught unawares. Nothing happens that he does not expect. We may find ourselves in difficult circumstances inadvertently, but God is in control — he sees the end from the beginning and keeps his eye upon his children to protect and preserve them.
A worldwide watch
God purposes to bless his people, and he scans the globe to watch over them: ‘For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him’ (2 Chronicles 16:9). Other scriptures attest this same truth (e.g. Psalm 33:18; 1 Peter 3:12).
The Lord had sent the people of Israel into captivity in Babylon for their habitual and flagrant violations of his revealed will. They were disobedient and spurned the grace extended to them.
Yet he kept his eyes on them until they were ready to heed his loving counsel. Thus we read in Jeremiah: ‘My eyes will watch over them for their good, and I will bring them back to this land’ (Jeremiah 24:6).
The Lord watched and waited for that time of repentance, ready to restore and reward those who responded to his call (Ezra 1:2-4). Not only does the Lord behold his beloved but he also holds them.
A gracious hand
God’s eye was upon his people to observe them — but his hand was also on them to enable them.
‘This Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him’ (Ezra 7:6).
The clause, ‘the hand of the Lord his God was on him’, runs (with minor variations) like a refrain throughout the book of Ezra. For example, 7:9 says, ‘for the gracious hand of his God was on him’, and again in 8:18, ‘the gracious hand of our God was on us’.
It is always instructive to ponder phrases that are repeated in a portion of Scripture, because they often highlight an important principle. It is as if the Holy Spirit is putting a special emphasis on the issue.
What, then, does it mean for the gracious hand of God to be upon an individual or a people? It means simply that God protects them and provides for them. It also means that he promotes his purposes through them.
It is a truly awesome thing to contemplate that the hand of the Almighty is involved in our everyday affairs on earth — but this is the principle here revealed.
The hand of God speaks of his almighty power. He is omnipotent. Isaiah reminds us of the transcendent majesty of God: ‘Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, or with the breadth of his hand marked off the heavens?’ (Isaiah 40:12).
This verse is a vivid picture of the consummate ease with which almighty God created the universe. It is astounding that such a God takes a personal interest in his people. Even more astounding is the fact that the one through whom and for whom all things were created, became a man and dwelt among us — that he might provide us with ‘redemption through his blood’ (Colossians 1:14-16).
He is the same God who said to his people, ‘See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands’ (Isaiah 49:16).
The power of his hand has not diminished. There is reproof in the Lord’s rhetorical question to Moses, ‘Is the Lord’s arm too short?’ (Numbers 11:23). God still directs that question to his people today, as he did in the time of Jeremiah: ‘I am the Lord, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?’ (Jeremiah 32:27).
‘No’, is the answer faith demands. He is the one who sustains all life, as Job testifies: ‘In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind’ (Job 12:10).
Beneficiaries of his bounty
‘The hand of God’ is an anthropomorphic term for the creative power, providential care, and saving grace of God. His people are the beneficiaries of his bountiful blessings, for he ‘gives us richly all things to enjoy’ and has ‘blessed us with every spiritual blessing … in Christ’ (1 Timothy 6:17; Ephesians 1:3).
But the hand of God also relates his power to punish. The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that ‘it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Hebrews 10:31). God is merciful and mighty, but he is also just and holy.
A day of judgement is coming. That will be a glorious day for those whose sins are covered by the precious blood of the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. But for those outside the covenant of that blood, it will be a terrible day — the beginning of eternal separation from God.
God’s hand of unity
Finally, God’s hand was on his people to unite them. Before ever the remnant of Judah returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple at Jerusalem, God took the initiative and stirred their hearts — he gave them a heavenly concord of purpose.
So we read, ‘Also in Judah the hand of God was on the people to give them unity of mind to carry out what the king and his officials had ordered, following the word of the Lord’ (2 Chronicles 30:12).
Above all, then, ‘the hand of God’ speaks of his divine purpose, unquestionable authority and unlimited ability. Daniel reminds us: ‘He does as he pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to him: “What have you done?”’ (Daniel 4:35).
Knowing that our God is such a God ought to instil security and confidence in our hearts — both in time and for eternity. Remember Jesus’ words: ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand’ (John 10:28).
God indeed both holds and beholds his beloved.