His Hand is Stretched Out Still

By: Bored in Vernal
October 11, 2010

For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

OT SS Lesson #36

When you read the words of the prophet Isaiah that [the Lord's] hand is stretched out still, does it give you comfort, or does it cause you to tremble?

The phrase is a picturesque one, occurring four times in Isaiah chapters 9 and 10 (9:12, 17, 21; 10:4). These chapters are included in the Isaiah passages found in the Book of Mormon. The refrain has been interpreted in two different ways in biblical exegesis.

The Lord’s Arm Stretched Out in Mercy

In the consensus of LDS thought, it is explained that although the House of Israel has sinned and the Lord’s anger is not turned away, yet his hand is stretched out to forgive and redeem his people. A footnote to Isaiah 9:12 clarifies the phrase as follows: “In spite of it all, the LORD is available if they will turn to him,” and refers the reader to the Topical Guide heading “God, Access to.”

In his Oct 2006 Conference address “Prophets in the Land Again,” Jeffrey R. Holland reflected this interpretation of the phrase when he stated,

To all of you who think you are lost or without hope, or who think you have done too much that was too wrong for too long, to every one of you who worry that you are stranded somewhere on the wintry plains of life and have wrecked your handcart in the process, this conference calls out Jehovah’s unrelenting refrain, “[My] hand is stretched out still.” …His is the pure love of Christ, the charity that never faileth, that compassion which endures even when all other strength disappears. I testify of this reaching, rescuing, merciful Jesus, that this is His redeeming Church based on His redeeming love…”

LDS audiences are most familiar with this interpretation of Isaiah’s poetic chorus. After watching BYU Broadcasting “Insight into Isaiah,” Kelly Miller wrote her own verses on the subject. Part of Kelly’s poem reads:

As He extends mercy and assurance

His softly flowing waters fill,

Ever offering hope and guidance.

Where e’er we turn, His hand is stretched out still.

The Lord’s Arm Stretched Out in Judgment

Little do most Mormons realize there is another way of looking at this familiar phrase. Note the context in Nephi’s quotation of Isaiah 5:

Therefore, is the anger of the Lord kindled against his people, and he hath stretched forth his hand against them, and hath smitten them; and the hills did tremble, and their carcasses were torn in the midst of the streets. For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still. (2 Nephi 15:25)

In this interpretation the Lord’s hand is stretched out in judgment against a rebellious nation. Moeller’s commentary on Isaiah 9 reads:

Here God declares himself as the one who is bringing these calamities. The reason: because the punishments have not turned the people to him. Since they continue in their abandonment of the source of their help he will allow further calamities to overtake them. …There was more to come from the hand of a wrathful God. This series will only end with the complete destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel and their extinction as a political entity.

Analysis

I think the tension between these two readings was found in the General Conference talks this past weekend.  Some of the speakers emphasized the mercy and inclusiveness of the Restored Gospel, while others maintained the justice and firmness of strict commandments.  Is this a necessary tension in keeping members repenting of their sins while inspiring them to continue to make progress?  Do you personally respond better to punishment, or to encouragement?  Do you think one of the above readings of this phrase is better or more accurate than the other?  Or do you think there is a place for both interpretations?

For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

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17 Responses to His Hand is Stretched Out Still

  1. cornponebread on October 10, 2010 at 5:24 AM

    Many years ago I went for a walk downtown at lunchtime. The downtown area was a fascinating mix of old and new architecture, familiar and unfamiliar foods, and all manner of different characters. Sure, there were the businessmen and women in their suits, tradespeople on their lunch break, and then there was the usual assortment of loonies who roamed the streets. There were the regular characters whom I had come to expect on a regular basis, but every now and then a new one would arrive on the scene. Sometimes they’d be back, other times it was a single appearance. On this day, a young fellow was running up and down the street, shouting at the top of his lungs. I couldn’t decide if he was enraged, terrified or impassioned, but I shall never forget the words he screamed, over and over and over: “All people are NOT created equal! Some are the head, some are the tail. You need a positive and a negative to get power!” And he continued shouting this slogan over and over for the whole half hour I was down there.

    Now what has this got to do with BiV’s observation? I think about the message of a positive and a negative. Yes, it’s how electricity works. The earth has opposite poles. It’s even how a magnet works. I think about the contrasts in the architecture, in the foods, in the people, and I am reminded of one thing. “There must needs be an opposition in all things.” In ALL things.

    One of Aesop’s fables has a man blowing hot and cold out of the same mouth. So even as the Lord’s hand is stretched out, the same hand can rebuke us or invite us. So is the Lord wielding or welcoming? I suppose that is up to us. The scriptures clearly tell us that He does both. And I do believe it is necessary. If He did not wield, many of us would run amok. If He did not welcome, what would be the purpose of our existence?

    I had a co-worker once who said she believed in a FORGIVING God, but she took that to mean that she could do whatever she wanted, and He would forgive her. I think in our world today, people are more concerned with permissiveness and what they can get away with. Yet God has told us how He does things, and as much as we may not want to believe that He might unleash his vengeance upon us, the very fact remains that he MUST do so, or He would cease to be God. He is not only a God of forgiveness and a God of mercy, but He is also a God of JUSTICE and BALANCE. (This discussion is not about the Savior’s roll in this, so that can wait for another day.) Thus he same arm that is extended to us in welcome absolutely must also be the arm that is extended in wrath.

    It is important to remember that neither His wrath nor His welcome are arbitrary. They are both governed by set rules, the SAME rules, and we cannot have one without the other. If this tension serves to motivate us, then so be it. I believe that after we have experienced the vengeful side, the idea is that we are motivated to not go there again. If we have chosen the better course first, then hopefully we are motivated to continue on that course and not to delve into the unknown. This is all laid out in 2 Nephi 2, so any discussion of conflict should include reference to that.

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  2. Stephen Marsh on October 11, 2010 at 6:03 AM

    The comment and the original post go well together. It is not one or the other, it is both.

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  3. Jeff Spector on October 11, 2010 at 6:23 AM

    Very nice post! the OT seems to have a very specific formula in the Books of the Prophets.

    1. Israel, you’re messing up.
    2. If you don’t stop messing up, here is what will happen.
    3. If you stop messing up, Here is what I am prepared to do for you.
    4. Here is what true happiness following the Lord looks like.

    We don’t typically get all that in a single conference talk but there is the mix of those who tell one part of the story and some that tell the other parts.

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  4. Mike S on October 11, 2010 at 8:02 AM

    Nice message. I do think both approaches are necessary. We are even told in D&C than when rebuke is necessary, to afterward pour forth an increase in love.

    Much of this is personal style, as opposed to the message. I think much of the recent controversy over BKP’s talk relates back to D&C. There was rebuke in the talk, but not the expression of increased love afterward. Maybe, maybe not, but I think that if Elder Uchtdorf gave a talk on the same subject matter, and without changing an “official” stance, things might have come off differently.

    It is a hard balance, but both are necessary.

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  5. GBSmith on October 11, 2010 at 8:58 AM

    I guess I’d understand it better if I knew how God’s “anger” is manifested these days. I don’t think people tend to see personal trials or tragedies as manifestations of God’s punishment or natural disasters either, for that matter. The anger and punishment would be more of a motivator if I knew what it was.

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  6. Mike S on October 11, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    #5 GBS

    I look at God’s “anger” differently. I think the effects of our actions are contained in the actions themselves – they may just take some time to express themselves. For example, someone may get away with being dishonest for a while, but it ultimately catches up with them. The seeds of divorce are sown in the first acts that may not express themselves for years or decades.

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  7. Bored in Vernal on October 11, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    GBSmith, what a powerful comment. It really made me think. I suppose I can’t point to any personal trials or tragedies as punishment. And I CERTAINLY don’t believe natural disasters are manifestations of God’s anger. Our own angst or discomfort over having sinned? I don’t know if we can point to that as coming from the Divine, either. But how do we reconcile that with how it was seen in the scriptures? Was their point of view just WRONG?

    Interesting.

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  8. Mike S on October 11, 2010 at 11:48 AM

    BiV:

    It was much more common in ancient cultures to ascribe God’s role to things we would consider more natural today. In the past, years of drought and years of plenty were seen as God’s will. Today, we would talk about El Nino cycles and climate changes. A great treatment of how this transition in man’s thinking regarding God occurred is in the book, “The Evolution of God” by Robert Wright.

    It does beg the question: Is God truly behind all of these and we are just too cynical today? Or were the ancients too quick to ascribe natural things to God?

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  9. FireTag on October 11, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    LDS theology seems to be comfortable much of the time with a God that is bound by natural law. More widely held Christian views that God had personal freedom to create any natural laws He wished still have trouble explaining why natural laws would be created that are fundamentally different from God’s own nature. You can tell a lot about the designer from the design.

    Moderns in Western civilization have trouble with a notion that God isn’t cuddly. We want to believe that bad things won’t happen even if we mess up. Failing that we want to believe that bad things won’t happen if we stop messing up.

    But the fact is that the Designer built the occurrence of pain into the system. (Just look up what the “Death Star Galaxy” is, shown in my gravitar.) Our trust in a God who “judges” us this way must ultimately be guaranteed by realizing it’s what He’s chosen to experience in His own design by going to the cross.

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  10. hawkgrrrl on October 11, 2010 at 12:15 PM

    This kind of puts the Q12 in the role of good cop, bad cop. I too was thinking about this. It’s not arbitrary that some gravitate to bad cop and some to good cop. People seem predisposed.

    Mike S – I believe the scripture you are referencing actually says “reproving betimes with sharpness,” not “rebuking.” A more accurate interpretation would be “re-teaching from time to time with clarity.” Yet, hardcore folks like to quote it as if they are justified in their harshness.

    Of course, prophets are not known for their courtesy and niceness. I personally prefer courtesy when we have to wound someone, but that doesn’t seem to be the way of those whose calling is to warn. I guess that’s part of why it’s a thankless job. People like to kill the messenger, especially when the messenger emphasizes the negativity of the message rather than the hope.

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  11. Will on October 11, 2010 at 1:56 PM

    BIV,

    Great post as usual.

    For those of you that have served on a High Council this is what it reminds me of – in a church court, half of the council advocates justice, while the other half pleads for mercy.

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  12. Thomas on October 11, 2010 at 5:32 PM

    Profoundly put, FireTag. Ditto for the OP.

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  13. Jim on October 11, 2010 at 11:30 PM

    Hey BiV!

    I’ve missed having you here in the desert the past couple years as I’ve deep dived into Isaiah.

    I don’t have much to add to the great thoughts above (both your post and in the comments), but to support the idea that much of Isaiah can be taken both as expressing His justice and His mercy.

    WRT God’s punishment: the modern view v. the OT view. I tend toward the modern view of a namby, pamby (errr…merciful) God that doesn’t inflict suffering. But I just listened to a discourse by Nibley (who was a mercy-oriented socialist in many ways) where he notes that in 3 Nephi 9 Christ himself emphasizes “many great destructions have I caused” over and over.

    In every age, mankind thinks they are more advanced philosophically than ages past. But I’ve studied philosophy and we’re in the same place as the ancient Greeks. I think the cultural understanding of God swings on a pendulum regardless of the eternal nature of God.

    However, Nibley also goes on to point out that He only caused these destructions when the wickedness of the people was so great that they were killing the prophets – meaning it was absolutely impossible to bring repentance to the people.

    I think the punishment is generally measured and meted out with exquisite refinement, to the end result of greatest mercy, without regards to human timelines.

    Anything we as humans do, whether it is good cop/bad cop, HC deliberations or otherwise, or merely clumsy imitations.

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  14. Paul on October 12, 2010 at 7:41 AM

    Very nice BiV. Thanks.

    Regarding GSB’s question, I think as individuals we sometimes attribute our trials to our actions or decisions, but it is unseemly to do that for someone else. And, as the Savior taught, not every trial is the result of our actions.

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  15. Rigel Hawthorne on October 12, 2010 at 6:24 PM

    “There was more to come from the hand of a wrathful God.”

    I think we have been conditioned in some ways to believe that a ‘wrathful God’ disappeared with the closure of the Old Testament. We have some modern attributes to God’s wrath, such as the prophetic warning of ETB that the Lord is ‘not pleased’. We also know of JS losing the Lord’s favor over the lost manuscript. Psalms 11:5, however, uses stronger language: ‘The Lord trieth the righteous: but the wicked and him that loveth violence his soul hateth.’

    So what does it mean that the Lord hates the soul of the wicked? And how does he both love the lost sheep and hate the soul of the wicked at the same time? Seeing his outstretched hand as both ready to be merciful and at the same time ready to judge makes this a little more clear.

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  16. Geoff of A on October 13, 2010 at 6:15 PM

    Thought prevoking BiV. As far as the trials in all our lives, I believe most are the natural consequences of our previous decisions. There are exception such as unexpected illness or medical conditions.

    As far as the motivation of our leaders I am more inclined to think it is a result of their cultural background. That some are more conservative and others more liberal and the direction of the Church is determined by that ballance. Their individual views could be changed or confirmed by things like the consequences of Prop8 which might cause some to review their conservative position while for others it will confirm it, depending on how hard line they are, or able to question.

    Inspiration and revelation in my experience rarely contradict a persons previous views.

    So I believe we could have a healthier Church if we had a more liberal and inclusive group of Apostles. ( and perhaps younger) Is there a way to find out the political/ cultural views of the 15?

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  17. [...] Does the verse mean his hand is still stretched forth in anger (as Steve thinks it may)–or that he stretches forth in entreaty, to gather them (and us) if only they (we) will repent?  I had assumed the latter, but the more that I look at it, Steve has a point (!). For those with definitely too much time on their hands, I found an interesting blog with general authority references that suggests yet a third way to look at the phrase–Wheat & Tares, His hand is stretched out still. [...]

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