I have been thinking a lot lately about a phrase the Bible uses several times (sometimes in a positive sense, other times in a negative sense). That phrase is this (or similar to it): “The hand of the Lord…” or we could (and I will) also include this phrase: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon…” This is the great need in our lives, families, churches, business, “ministry” etc…the hand of God. It’s His “hand” on our lives and His Spirit that makes (and will make) all the difference.
Consider the following Scripture, stories and examples:
First of all, in a negative sense, Moses warned Pharaoh that if he didn’t let God’s people go, “the hand of the Lord will bring a terrible plague on your livestock in the field…” (Exodus 9:1-4). God will not bless our disobedience or rebellion against Him! If we oppose Him, He will oppose us.
Later, in the book of Judges when God’s people are being unfaithful to Him, we are told in Judges 2:15: “Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them, just as he had sworn to them. They were in great distress.” God will not bless our unfaithfulness!
In 1 Samuel 5:11-12 the Philistines have captured and have in their possession the ark of the covenant but the people told the rulers this: “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy upon it. Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.”
Psalm 75:8 says: “In the hand of the Lord is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.”
In 1 Samuel 7:13 we are told: “Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines.”
In Acts 13:8-11 we are introduced to a sorcerer named Elymas who we are told: “…opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun.” Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.”
I think these Scriptures speak for themselves that it’s not a good thing for the “hand of the Lord” to be against you!
But consider these cases when the “hand of the Lord” was “with” His people!
Joshua 4:23-24 says: “The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what he had done to the Red Sea when he dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always fear the Lord your God.”
In 2 Kings 3:15-19 we are told: “While the harpist was playing, the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha and he said, “This is what the Lord says…” Elisha being able to prophesy about something that happened before it happened was linked to “the hand of the Lord” coming upon Him.
In 1 Chronicles 28:19 King David gives this testimony to His son Solomon in regard to all the preparations and plans he made for the temple that Solomon would build: “All this,” David said, “I have in writing from the hand of the Lord upon me, and he gave me understanding in all the details of the plan.” David didn’t just make up his own ideas for God’s temple. God instructed and inspired him. His hand was upon Him!
In Ezra 7:6 we are told about Ezra that: “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.” The kings’ favor in granting him what he needed to do what he was being called to do was again directly linked to “the hand of the Lord” being “on Him.” It wasn’t his eloquence that persuaded the king. It wasn’t his “fundraising skills.” It was the “hand of the Lord” upon Him to accomplish what God had put on his heart to do.
Ezra 7:8-10 goes on to say this: “Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him. For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Notice a key point here in regard to the “gracious hand of God” being “on us” is that Ezra had committed himself to study, obey and teach the Word of God. We can be sure that God will be “with us” in a special way when we devote ourselves to Him, the study and application of His Word, and making disciples as Jesus called us to do as followers of His (Matthew 28:18-20).
Ezra 7:27-28 also records Ezra’s “testimony of praise” in regard to what was accomplished and how Ezra found “courage” and “encouragement”: “Praise be to the Lord, the God of our fathers, who has put it into the king’s heart to bring honor to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem in this way and who has extended his good favor to me before the king and his advisers and all the king’s powerful officials. Because the hand of the Lord my God was on me, I took courage and gathered leading men from Israel to go up with me.” It was all the Lord’s doing that Ezra was able to do what he did!
Isaiah 25:9-10 and Isaiah 41:17-20 speak of God’s salvation, favor and blessing. It talks of Him bringing forth new life and once again it is because of the hand of God. In fact, Isaiah 41:20 actually says that God will do the things described for this purpose: “so that people may see and know, may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”
Isaiah 66:14 says: “The hand of the Lord will be made known to his servants, but his fury will be shown to his foes.”
The hand of the Lord speaks of blessing, favor when towards His people…but it also speaks of judgment and wrath when against His enemies and those who oppose Him. Surely we want to experience His hand being made known in the first sense, not the later sense!
Some of my favorite examples and stories that stir up my faith in regard to the Spirit of God coming upon people, are found in the book of Judges:
Judges 3:9-11 records: “But when they cried out to the Lord, he raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother, who saved them. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him, so that he became Israel’s judge and went to war. The Lord gave Cushan-Rishathaim king of Aram into the hands of Othniel, who overpowered him. So the land had peace for forty years, until Othniel son of Kenaz died.”
Judges 6:34-35 records: “When the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, and he blew a trumpet, summoning the Abiezrites to follow him. He sent messengers throughout Manasseh, calling them to arms, and also into Asher, Zebulun and Naphtali, so that they too went up to meet them.” The Spirit of God coming upon Gideon resulted in him “sounding” a call to battle that men responded to. Chapter 7 goes on to record an unlikely victory, through an unlikely tactic that resulted in Israel experiencing a great victory over their enemies.
Judges 11:29 records: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.” Judges 11:32-33 goes on to record the result: “Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.” Once again, the key was not military might, but God’s favor, God’s Spirit, coming upon them and giving them the victory.
Judges 14:5-6 records an incident when Samson “tore apart” a young lion with his bare hands as if it was just a “young goat.” Verse 6 tells us how this was accomplished and it wasn’t because Samson ate his “spinach” that day. It was because: “The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power…”
Judges 14:19 speaks of another time when: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle.”
Judges 15:14-15 records a time when: “As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the Lord came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.”
The real source of Samson’s strength was the Spirit of God coming upon Him.
In 2 Chronicles 15:1-8 we are told: “The Spirit of God came upon Azariah son of Oded.” As a result he went out to meet King Asa and declared to him boldly the Word of God and history of what happened when Israel sought God with all their hearts. He encouraged King Asa then personally in verse 7 saying: “But as for you, be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” Verse 8 tells us the result: “When Asa heard these words and the prophecy of Azariah son of Oded the prophet, he took courage.” That courage translated into specific actions that were in accordance with God’s will.
In 2 Chronicles 24:20 we are told: “Then the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah son of Jehoiada the priest. He stood before the people and said, “This is what God says: ‘Why do you disobey the Lord’s commands? You will not prosper. Because you have forsaken the Lord, he has forsaken you.'”
This was not a pleasant or easy thing to say. But because of the Spirit of God coming upon Zechariah, he was able to say something hard to say to people who did not want to hear this, but nevertheless needed too, for it was the Word of the Lord. When the Spirit comes upon His, He gives us a boldness we don’t possess in and of ourselves. Ezekiel 11:5-7 also makes this point: “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon me, and he told me to say: “This is what the Lord says: That is what you are saying, O house of Israel, but I know what is going through your mind. You have killed many people in this city and filled its streets with the dead. “Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says…” Micah 3:8 likewise records: “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin.”
Clearly it requires the power of the Spirit of God to speak boldly about sin and call sinners to repentance! Even preaching the Gospel requires the Spirit of God! How could Peter only a little over a month prior deny Jesus in fear, but then in Acts 2 & 4, boldly proclaim the Gospel and call people to repent and trust in Him? The difference in Acts 2 is that the Holy Spirit came upon them before He preached and then in Acts 4:8, he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” and spoke to the people!
2 Chronicles 20:14-17 talks about a time when “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jahaziel…” and he prophesied the Word of God to King Jehoshaphat and all those in Judah and Jerusalem regarding a specific situation they were seeking God about. Due to that word and their obedience to that word, God brought about a great victory for His people.
Lastly, we come to Jesus who is our greatest example. Yes, He was God in human flesh, but the way He “operated” “ministry” wise was by the anointing and power of the Holy Spirit. It wasn’t until “He saw heaven being torn open” and the Spirit came upon Him like a dove (Mark 1:10-11) and He was filled with the Spirit (Luke 4:1) and subsequently led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Matthew 4:1) whereby after overcoming Satan’s temptations He came out of that place “In the power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) that He began His public ministry. (By the way, notice those who want the Spirit’s fullness in their life, must follow His leading and will undergo much testing, trials, temptation and tribulation!). And then when He read from the prophet Isaiah in His hometown, the section He quoted (and applied to Himself!) was this: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19). In Acts 10:38 Peter in relating to Gentiles about Jesus’ earthly ministry said: “…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.”
The “secret” to Jesus’ ministry was clearly the Spirit of the Lord! If true for Him, how much truer must that be for us! He was the Son of God but it was the Spirit of God and power of God and presence of God that He was anointed with and operated in the works that He did. God’s work, which is “spiritual” requires the Spirit’s power! Man’s power is not sufficient. Psalm 127:1 speaks of toil apart from the blessing of God: “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.”
Jesus in fact said in John 15:5-8: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”
If you read the biographies and testimonies of men and women used by God—you will also begin to note this same theme. Many of them, such as D.L. Moody, Adoniram Judson, and in more modern times, men like Jim Cymbala, were frustrated at the lack of power and fruit in their lives and ministry or experienced a new level of fruitfulness and power when the Spirit of God worked in their lives or the “hand of God” rested upon them and their ministry. God was with them. That is what makes and made all the difference.
And this applies not only in what we may think of as “ministry” but just life in general and every aspect of life. Isn’t it God that ultimately makes the difference and God that we need in every area of life? In our jobs, businesses, in our parenting, in our marriages, in our relationships…every aspect of life…we need God! But we must do things God’s way and be faithful to Him and His Word if we want God to be with us. Obedience to Him and faithfulness to Him is crucial. God will not bless our unfaithfulness or disobedience to Him and His Word. But He will bless obedience and faithfulness to Him and His Word. The prophet Azariah in 2 Chronicles 15:2-3, when the Spirit of God came upon him, said: “Listen to me, Asa and all Judah and Benjamin. The Lord is with you when you are with him. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will forsake you.” We need to be “with God” if we want God to “be with us!”
But you read that language when you read about Joseph in Genesis 37-50. Despite what was done to him and despite the places he found himself there was a consistent and similar testimony that developed. Potiphor recognized that “the Lord was with Him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did” (Genesis 39:3). When Joseph was later thrown in prison, Genesis 39:20-23 records: “But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” And of course when Joseph stood before Pharaoh, Pharaoh recognized there was no one like him (though it was only because God was with him) and appointed him second in charge of all of Egypt! God with us…is what makes all the difference! These men were not super-human. They simply knew God’s supernatural power in and on their lives and “ministry!”
What is impossible for man becomes possible with God. In fact Zecheriah 4:6-7 says: “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord Almighty. “What are you, O mighty mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become level ground. Then he will bring out the capstone to shouts of ‘God bless it! God bless it!'” It’s the Spirit of God and power of God and hand of God that makes all the difference!
Acts 11:19-21 records that when persecution broke out in Jerusalem and scattered the believers to different places (actually fulfilling Jesus’ words to His disciples in Acts 1:8 that they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, which is another example to us that what Satan intends for harm…God uses for good…the saving of many lives, as Joseph told his brothers in Genesis 50:20!). But we are told in Acts 11 that some unnamed men who were actually Greeks and began to share the Good News of Jesus Christ (the Gospel) with other Greeks in Antoich. And verse 21 tells us that “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” And so a great work and key church began through unknown men who simply shared Jesus with others. The key to their “success” was not that they were “church-growth experts.” The key was not that they were eloquent or had “star power.” The key was the hand of the Lord was with them!
This is the need of the hour. We need to call upon God to fill us with His Spirit and for His Spirit to come upon us. We need to pray for His blessing and for His hand to be with us. What we most need is a touch from heaven. It is only this that will change us and our earthly limitations and problems. God’s work can only be done through God’s Spirit empowering us as we walk in His will and speak His Word. We can’t produce results or fruit. It’s God’s fruit that can only come via God’s Spirit. Our need is not for formula’s or a “man” or more of merely man’s efforts and idea’s. Our need is for God Himself. It is to Him that we must turn to, look to, and cry out to. Only He can help us and change us and enable us to do what He has called us to do.
Isaiah 41:17-20 says: “The poor and needy search for water, but there is none; their tongues are parched with thirst. But I the Lord will answer them; I, the God of Israel, will not forsake them. I will make rivers flow on barren heights, and springs within the valleys. I will turn the desert into pools of water, and the parched ground into springs. I will put in the desert the cedar and the acacia, the myrtle and the olive. I will set pines in the wasteland, the fir and the cypress together, so that people may see and know may consider and understand, that the hand of the Lord has done this, that the Holy One of Israel has created it.”
Psalm 44:1-8 says this: “We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. With your hand you drove out the nations and planted our fathers; you crushed the peoples and made our fathers flourish. It was not by their sword that they won the land, nor did their arm bring them victory; it was your right hand, your arm, and the light of your face, for you loved them. You are my King and my God, who decrees victories for Jacob. Through you we push back our enemies; through your name we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame. In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever.”
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 Biblica. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.