Blog: Riddles Embedded in Scripture (5/19/21)
by Reverend Dr. Clark G. Armstrong
Marshall Church of the Nazarene
I like a good riddle. But I did not expect one to be embedded in the sacred writings of scripture. Right there in Isaiah 41, I found it in two verses. There didn’t seem to be any posturing the prophet was describing as he spoke to us about how God is our helper in which both verses could be true at the same time. Verse 10 says that as our helper he upholds us with his righteous right hand. But verse 13 says he helps us by holding our right hand. How could he support us with his right hand and hold us with our right hand at the same time?
Three great theologians and Bible scholars were debating this riddle in one of their homes one afternoon. At first they all agreed that it was probably just symbolic in its meaning. One said: “He was just used as a verbal image of how God helps us greatly.” But one of the others asked why the writer changed metaphors in the middle of his illustration. This caused them to wonder what image the prophet was visualizing in his mind, even if it was just a picture to convey the real meaning.
They were thinking. If one of them was facing the other and they took each other by the right hand, it would be a handshake. It would simply be a gesture of greeting or friendship. If they stood side by side or back to back, the left side of one would be in contact with the right side of the other. One said that when his son was very young, he stood on his father’s shoes facing the same direction as the father. Then, as the father held the boy’s small right hand with his larger right hand and likewise the left hand, they walked around the house. It conveyed a fun time together and perhaps an aid in walking or learning to walk.
As the boy grows, the father can show the boy how to hit a baseball, and he can cover the boy’s right hand with the bat in it while guiding him in his follow-through. Later he can do the same when he demonstrates how to shoot an arrow. But these are skills that have been learned. Theologians agreed that these images would not accurately represent the full idea of the Hebrew word used by the prophet for “support” or “hold”.
The closest pictures they could find were two. The first would be if the child was carried on the father’s back and hung around the father’s neck. The second was the “fireman’s carry” used to get a person out of a fire. The person being transported would typically have their right side toward the firefighter’s neck. The “victim” would be collapsed on the firefighter’s right shoulder, but usually the firefighter has their right arm folded completely below and what they are holding or holding would be the person’s left arm (or right leg if they were heavier as an adult would be).
Neither of these two images was completely adequate either. All three accepted. Just then, the wife of the man they were meeting at entered the room. He took her as a mother to show them what the prophet meant. Her right arm was bent into a cradle with her baby’s neck resting perfectly on the crook of her arm like a pillow. In this way, she fully and securely supported this child and her right arm ran along the small right arm of the child. She tenderly and lovingly held his hand and vice versa as they crossed the room.
Now listen to the word of the Lord. “10 So do not be afraid, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand…13 For I am the LORD your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Fear not; I’ll help you.”