For one main reason, hands are a particularly big deal to me. And when I read about hands in Scripture they really stick out.
It all started while I was pregnant with our first child and we were graduating from seminary. That last semester was bananas—between me and my husband we had five part-time jobs and full courseloads. I had an expanding waistline and a corresponding, expanding vocabulary: Braxton-Hicks, efface, bulb syringe. It was during that time when my husband started having nerve pain in his hands and arms. The electric pain started in his fingers on one hand. Everyday tasks started to become difficult or impossible. He had to dictate his master's thesis to me as I typed for him. By the time our six-pound baby girl was born the month before we graduated, my husband had pain up to both of his elbows. He held our snugly newborn for a few weeks until she grew too heavy to cradle in his arms. Some years and surgeries later, the pain is still there.
With that brief backstory about hands, I hope you’ll see why this passage in the Book of Ruth means so much to me and find encouragement from it as well.
In chapter one we meet Naomi, who becomes bereft of her husband and two sons while living in a country they were never supposed to live in. Naomi’s devastation is not one of mere loneliness but one of livelihood. She has nothing left, and to top it all off there is a famine in the land. Then Naomi hears that God has visited his people and given them food (1:6). Naomi put one foot in front of the other in the midst of her grief and set out for Bethlehem. Her two Moabite daughters-in-law wanted to go with her, but she urged them to stay with their families and get on with their lives. The ladies protested, but Naomi was adamant:
“No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (1:13b).
It is a gross understatement to say that it is a frightening thought that God’s hand is against you. What mind could bear such dreadful horror? But even though this is Naomi’s perspective, she keeps walking… to Bethlehem (the “house of bread”)… hoping for food from God’s hand. The dynamic character of Naomi is astonishing. But what gets me every time is what occurs immediately after Naomi bitterly declares, “the hand of the LORD has gone out against me.”
“Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her” (1:14, emphasis mine).
While Naomi believed that God’s hand was against her, he was holding her in his grip of grace through Ruth. If you know the story then you remember that because of Ruth, Naomi is rescued. Read the rest of that story again, and see how Ruth’s hands held on tight to Naomi and worked tirelessly to provide for her in barley fields. Marvel at how Ruth’s hand was given in marriage to Boaz, and then laid a grandson in Naomi's lap. That grandson lined up to take his place in the lineage of David, a shepherd-king from Bethlehem. David, of course, is the ancestor of the greatest Shepherd-King to come from Bethlehem. God’s hand was clearly doing more than what Naomi ever imagined.
Even in Pain We Can Treasure Christ
Jesus stretched out his own hand to touch a leper and healed him (Luke 5:13). Jesus told a man to stretch out his withered hand and he healed him (Luke 6:10). The One who fashions us in our mother’s womb (Job 31:15) can certainly heal my husband’s hands. And we do pray for healing.
But because of the cross we understand that our biggest need is not a pain-free, disability-less life. If the Author of Life allowed himself to be executed on a cross to bear away our sin, then sin must be a far more deadly problem than we can comprehend. Our biggest need is to be reconciled to God, but because of our sin we justly deserve God's wrath. With our sin problem resolved on the cross, we are restored to fellowship with God through faith in his Son. Death is not the end of the story for Naomi, or Jesus, or for us. Death did not keep the Author of Life—he burst out of the grave three days later never to die again. Healing for our earthly bodies is certain as we, too, can look forward to a resurrection like his (Rom. 6:5).
As those who suffer pain and loss, and bear with our loved ones who suffer, we think of ourselves as having our hands full of trouble. Every day we have reminders that we have been given more than we can handle. But because of grace, being "given more than you can handle" can be a tremendously encouraging thought as we see that it is God himself who will carry us through it all.
Jesus is trustworthy. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand (John 3:35). The hands that were stretched out on the cross for you are the all-powerful, sovereign hands that are restoring the fractured cosmos to the praise of his glory. Even in pain, you can trust the handiwork of our Shepherd-King, who tends his flock and gathers the lambs in his arms, gently leading those that are with young (Isa. 40:11). He will take you by the hand and keep you (Isa. 42:6).