July 28, 2008

God Rolls Up His Sleeves
by Pastor George Van Alstine

When we explain God in human terms, we call this “anthropomorphism.â€? It means, literally, seeing God as if he were a human. Anthropomorphisms can be misleading, if we allow ourselves to believe God literally has a body, or has human thoughts and emotions. But they can also be helpful, because we would probably not be able to “pictureâ€? God at all without them.

The Bible uses anthropomorphisms freely, probably so that we will understand that God is real and tangible, not just an idea or an ethereal force. Bible writers talk about God’s eyes and ears, his anger and his happiness. We as humans find it easier to connect with God through the help of these anthropomorphisms.

A favorite anthropomorphism of Bible writers is “the arm of the Lord.â€? The arm signifies strength and purposeful action. When God’s “armâ€? is mentioned, it is to call our attention to the fact that God is doing something.

Isaiah had spent fifty-one chapters recounting the many failures of God’s people and the resultant judgment they were suffering at the hands of enemy nations. Then in chapter 52 he begins to talk about the miraculous deliverance God will bring to them, and through them to the world. These words describe the future action God will take as though it had already happened:
“The Lord has bared his holy arm before the eyes of all nations; and the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.â€? (Isaiah 52:10)
“The Lord has bared his holy armâ€?—God has rolled up his sleeves, ready to go to work! When a laboring man rolls up his sleeves, he is indicating he wants no shirt fabric in the way of his unleashed strength. And when that bare arm glistens in the sun, others can see the muscle definition, and know for sure the job is going to get done.

There are times when God seems to be inactive, not doing much about the problems in the world or in our lives. Paul preached a famous sermon in Athens, Greece. He said that for long periods of human history, God seemed to “overlook . . . human ignoranceâ€? (Acts 17:30). The old King James Version translated this, “The time of this ignorance God winked at.â€? Well, whatever this apparent waiting by God is all about, when he rolls up his sleeves and bares his arm, the “winkingâ€? time is over. It’s the moment for action!

It’s interesting that Isaiah uses this anthropomorphism to introduce the heart of his prophetic message—his great vision of the Suffering Servant, whom we have come to know as Jesus, the Messiah (Isaiah 52:7-53:12). When God rolls up his sleeves and acts, his great and mighty work is sending his Son to save his people! We might expect that his bared arm would come down in judgment, but instead it embraces with love.

There’s often a parallel experience in an individual’s life. You may flounder around, not taking God’s purpose for you very seriously, toying with sin and ignoring the consequences. God seems to be “winking,â€? not very interested in your willful, careless living.

But at any moment, in his time, God will roll up his sleeves! He’s ready for action, and his eyes are on you. He means business.

Will he come down on you in punishment? He’d rather not. He’d rather wrap you up in his arms of love. He’s already done the dirty work through his Son on the cross.