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Question #428

What about the Left Hand of God?

I have been studying about THE RIGHT HAND of God.  Can you speak about the left hand of God?  Can you explain Is. 45:6,7 in more detail.  Is the darkness mentioned from the left hand?  Was it the left hand of God that was revealed in Job’s life?  What about Ecc. 10:2,3?

The Answer:

As you have undoubtedly discovered, scripture contains little about God’s left hand. More is said about his right hand. This, however, has nothing to do with how badly history has treated “lefties.” The Latin word for “left handed” means “sinister.” Scripture does not treat it so badly. It was an advantage in battle (Judges 3:15-30, 20:16; 1 Chron. 12:2). Although the left side was often opposed to the right in such matters as goats on the left and sheep on the right (Mt. 25:31-46), it is not necessarily intended to denigrate the left hand. When a division is made there must be a separation in some direction. Notice that to move to the left side of the judge is a movement to the right by those facing him. The lesson is the division, not the side on which each group placed. Being on God’s left hand is not always bad. The heavenly hosts are on both his right hand and his left (2 Chron. 18:18; 1 Kings 22:19). God did not distinguish between left and right when he said through Isaiah, “This is the way, walk ye in it; when ye turn to the right hand, and when ye turn to the left (30:21). The Old Testament describes walking in God’s will as turning “neither to the right hand or to the left” (Dt. 5:32, 17:11, 28:14; Josh. 1:7, 23:6; 2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chron. 34:2). Why, then, does the right hand always come in first and the left hand come in second? Perhaps the simplest reason is that most folks are right handed as a result of which we live in a right-handed world. Thus, when the scripture speaks in terms of a favored hand such as Christ sitting on the right hand of God, it could signal no more than the fact that, as often, God is being described anthromorphically. This might also account for Eccl. 10:2. When divisions are made for any reason, understandable descriptions must be used. Remember that then as now we live in a “right handed” world. But also remember that sitting on the left hand is not undesirable. The mother of James and John asked that Jesus seat her two sons one on his right hand and one on his left (Matt. 20:21). In the pseudepigraphical book of 1 Enoch the archangel Gabriel is seated at the left hand of God. In his apocryphal book Hermas, in his ninth parable, writes of Christ and the Holy Spirit, “They stand, one on His right band and the other on His left” (9:35). (Dictionary of the Apostolic Church (2 Vols.). 1916-1918 (J. Hastings, Ed.). New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.) There is no Biblical reference that supports either source.

To understand the meaning of Isa. 45, go to Classes: Isaiah; Lesson 16, Chap. 45:1-7.

A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature has an informative article on the subject:

LEFT HAND, RIGHT HAND Biblical phrases referring to the right hand reflect a widespread human cultural attitude, namely the recognition that for most people the right hand is both stronger and more adept than the left, and is the hand with which many tasks are instinctively undertaken. The corollary has often been that left-handedness is regarded as odd, undesirable, and even antisocial; hence the view embodied in the word sinister (Latin for “left hand”). No such hostile attitude to left-handedness can be found in Scripture; there are stories of left-handed heroes, such as Ehud in Judg. 3:15–30 (cf. the left-handed soldiers of Benjamin in Judg. 20:16 and David’s Benjamite warriors in 1 Chron. 12:2; interestingly, “Benjamin” in Hebrew means “son of my right hand”!).

A general disposition to prefer the right hand is nonetheless evident and persists in subsequent tradition. Eccl. 10:2 links “a wise man’s heart” with his right hand, and “a fool’s heart” with his left. When the Son of Man separates the sheep from the goats at the Last Judgment, it is to the damned “on the left hand” that he says, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matt. 25:41). (A classical parallel may be found in Plato’s myth of Er [Republic, bk. 10], where at death the just souls take the righthand upward path while the unjust must take the downward path on the left.) Rabbinic tradition also establishes hell to the left of God, and heaven on his right side (Midr. Ps. 90:12).

The right hand is often mentioned as a symbol of strength, both for human beings and anthropomorphically for God (e.g., Job 40:14; Isa. 48:13). This metaphor for God’s power is used chiefly in connection with creation or the deliverance of God’s people. For George Herbert, in “Providence,” the right and left hand of God signify two aspects of the divine will:

For either thy command or thy permission

Lay hands on all: they are thy right and left.

The first puts on with speed and expedition;

The other curbs sinnes stealing pace and theft.

Another symbolism concerns the place at the right hand of a person or God, i.e., the place of preeminent dignity and favor (cf. 1 Kings 2:19; Ps. 110:1). Christ being enthroned at the right hand of the Father signifies his being God’s agent in salvation.

In patristic writings scriptural distinctions between right and left are often ingeniously allegorized. Thus, in St. Augustine’s discussion of the miraculous draught of fishes (John 21), the multitude of fish caught when, as Jesus directed, the disciples cast their net “on the right side of the ship” represent “those who stand on the right hand, the good alone.” Augustine contrasts this incident with an earlier miracle recorded in Luke 5:3–7:

On that occasion the nets are not let down on the right side, that the good alone might not be signified, nor on the left, lest the application should be limited to the bad; but without any reference to either side, He [Jesus] says, “Let down your nets for a draught,” that we may understand the good and bad as mingled together. … He showed thereby in the former case that the capture of fishes signified the good and bad presently existing in the Church; but in the latter, the good only, whom it will contain everlastingly, when the resurrection of the dead shall have been completed in the end of this world. (In Joan. Ev. 122.6)

This broad tradition is evident in the conventions of visual and literary iconoaphy. In medieval drama, such as the Jeu d’Adam, hellmouth is typically located to the left of God (i.e., on the audience’s right). In medieval illustration left / right symmetries are common: the Biblia Pauperum, e.g., following patristic precedent, shows Eve created from the left side of Adam, whereas blood and water issue from the pierced right side of Jesus, the Second Adam—the first anticipates the Fall and signals human mortality, the second bespeaks redemption and the gift of eternal life. Milton in Paradise Lost (2.755-58) has Sin born out of the left side of Satan’s head. Later, in Blake’s Vision of the Last Judgement “the right hand of the Design is appropriated to the Resurrection of the Just; the left hand … to the Resurrection of the Wicked.” The traditional bias is recalled also by Vladimir Nabokov in Laughter in the Dark (1938) when Margot’s two lovers, the one favored, the other unwelcome, touch her on each knee, “as though Paradise had been on her right hand and Hell on her left” (chap. 17). Other literary allusions (e.g., Carlyle, Sartor Resartus, 1.8; 3.3) derive from Jonah 4:11, where God explains to hard-hearted Jonah his compassion toward Nineveh, in which live “more than sixscore thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left” (i.e., young children), or from Jesus’ injunctions concerning secrecy in almsgiving: “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth” (Matt. 6:3). The latter text is the subject of frequent parodic adaptation, as in P. G. Wodehouse, Meet Mr. Mulliner (“He was a man who never let his left hip know what his right hip was doing”). In Christopher Isherwood’s Mr. Norris Changes Trains, Mr. Norris introduces Herr Schmidt as “my secretary and my right hand. Only in this case, Mr. Norris tittered nervously, ‘I can assure you that the right hand knows perfectly well what the left hand doeth’“ (chap. 2). (Jeffrey, D. L. (1992). A Dictionary of biblical tradition in English literature. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans.)

Finally, in the interest of full disclosure I must reveal that a southpaw wrote this answer. It was surely a southpaw who concluded that God must be left-handed because Christ is sitting on his right hand. Of course the truth is that, other than anthropomorphically, God has no hands at all. He is a Spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24).

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)