Christ in the Old Testament (Part XII)

Christ in the Old Testament, Theology

Christ in the OT 12 Christ the Right Arm of God

Christ: The Right Arm of God

Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?” asks the prophet (Isa 53:1), as he begins his lengthy and mysterious prophecy of the Suffering Servant which is probably the high water mark for all Messianic prophecies in the OT. The arm or right hand of the LORD will be our last in this series of blogs (except for some concluding thoughts). Like several of the most recent posts, this one is easy to misunderstand.

When people think of the “arm” of the LORD, many probably anthropomorphize the idea. God doesn’t literally have an arm, anymore than he literally has eyes or wings. God is Spirit. We wholeheartedly agree with this, in as much as we are talking about the One Being called God. However, when the Bible speaks of God’s arm or his right hand (see Deut 4:34; 9:29; 26:8), it has something more concrete in mind than merely symbolizing God vis-à-vis personification.

The “right hand” in the ancient world was a way of describing a position or seat of great authority and power that a particular individual, such as a general or captain, holds under the command of the king. God seated Christ “at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named” (Eph 1:20-21), after he “disarmed” and “triumphed over them” (Col 2:15), having made them subject to him (1 Pet 3:22).

The arm of the LORD is similar in this respect. We can see that the arm and right hand of God are related in the same way a human hand and arm are related by not identical. “You have a mighty arm; strong is your hand, high your right hand” (Ps 89:13). The arm seems to be what the right hand (man) carries out. The arm stands for military power (Deut 4:34; Isa 30:30), creative power (Isa 51:9; Ps 89:11, 14),[1] and God as a judge (Isa 51:5).

For this post, I would like to look at the arm as it is described in the Exodus as it regards salvation and judgment. The first verse describing it says, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm” (Ex 6:6). We find this salvation theme with the right hand and/or arm in other places as well (Ps 98:1; Isa 33:2; 52:10). Moses then sings of the beginning of this prophetic fulfillment, “Terror and dread fall upon them; because of the greatness of your arm, they are still as a stone, till your people, O LORD, pass by, till the people pass by whom you have purchased” (Ex 15:16). Who shall do this? The LORD is a man of war; the LORD is his name” (15:3). Moses sees the arm of the LORD as the man of war, Yahweh, the angel of Yahweh, who is later called the LORD of Hosts (Hos 12:4-5).

Creation of Adam croppedIsaiah reflects on this very same thing and says, “Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name” (Isa 63:11-12). This time we can see the relationship between the arm and the name. But dictionaries are very provocative when they boldly asserts things like, “‘Arm’ is used as a hypostasis in Isa 63:12. Here the zerôaʿ stands for an independent power going side by side with Moses and stressing the function of Yhwh as Shepherd and leader of his people”[2] “Hypostasis” is exactly how Christians describe the divine and human natures in the One Person of Jesus Christ (the hypostatic union) and the relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Three Hypostases) to the Godhead (in one Ousia).

Into this theology, the last chapter of the Bible has Jesus himself saying, “Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay each one for what he has done” (Rev 22:12). This is a paraphrase of Isaiah 40:10 and the Messianic prophecy that says, “Behold, the Lord GOD (Adonai Yahweh) comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.” Thus, Greg Beale concludes, “What is prophesied of the Lord in Isaiah is now prophesied by Jesus to be fulfilled by himself.[3] No wonder then that Jude says Jesus saved a people out of the land of Egypt (Jude 1:5, see Christ in the OT Part II).

Thus, in answer to the original question of this post, John’s Gospel says, “Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: “Lord, who has believed what he heard from us, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” (John 12:37-38). Indeed, Jesus is the Arm the LORD, the great military commander who carries out justice on the earth, and who powerfully saves his people. Isaiah predicted this salvation would come through a great twist of irony. The Arm of the LORD would be revealed through the Suffering Servant. He would win the victory over sin, death, and the devil by suffering and dying for our sins and being raised from the dead.


[1] These texts combine the original creation and God’s mythical battle with the sea monster from pagan stories with the new creation God is doing in his military battle at the Exodus as he assaults and defeats Rahab, the Egyptian-Pharaonic “sea monster.” For more on the connection to the Exodus, Pharaoh, and how the arm is “the vehicle by which he conquers see J. K. Hoffmeier, “The Arm of God versus the Arm of Pharaoh in the Exodus Narratives,” Bib 67 (1986): 378–87; last accessed 8-29-2014.

[2] B. Becking, “Arm,” ed. Karel van der Toorn and Pieter W. van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 90.

[3] G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007), 1156.

(By: Doug Van Dorn)

2 thoughts on “Christ in the Old Testament (Part XII)

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