Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning; Leaning on the everlasting arms.
For many years God’s people have been singing these comforting words from a hymn written by Elisha A. Hoffman. This greatly-loved song expresses the words of Moses shortly before his death:
The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms (Deuteronomy 33:27).
In the same chapter of the Bible, in which Moses pronounces a blessing on each of the tribes of Israel, we read:
While this verse does not mention God’s arms, but rather his shoulders, the picture given is that of someone lying on the chest of a strong, protective person, with that person’s arms embracing their loved one.
God’s arms and our arms are interesting to compare and contrast. Our human arms are used for many important purposes, and one of these is to help others. One way we may do this is to give protection (and its partners comfort and security), as the above scriptures declare so eloquently about the strong arms of God.
Another way we may use our arms to help others is for rescue, as when we reach down into a pit and lift out an injured child. When God promised the Israelites that he would rescue them from slavery in Egypt, he said, “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement” (Exodus 6:6). God’s “outstretched arm” is mentioned often in the Old Testament, frequently combined with God’s “mighty hand.” Referring again to the Exodus, God asks:
Has any god ever tried to take for himself one nation out of another nation, by testings, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, or by great and awesome deeds, like all the things the LORD your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes (Deuteronomy 4:34)?
We may also use our arms to help others with important work they cannot do alone. When a barn burns to the ground in an Amish community, for example, all the neighbors use their arms to rebuild the barn. They give their power and strength, and exercise mercy, toward those needing help. God does the same for his people, and often uses only one arm to accomplish his will.
Perhaps surprisingly, when speaking of God, the Bible uses the singular form “arm” much more than the plural “arms.” However, if we notice the many references to God’s “wings,” then the amounts of plural and singular terms seem to be closer together.
God’s “wings”—another term for God’s strong arms and nurturing hands—are mentioned beautifully in the words of Boaz to Ruth:
One more way we may use our arms to help others, in addition to giving protection, rescue, and labor, is to offer invitation and welcome. In the same way that the father of the rebellious son ran to him, “threw his arms around him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20), so we may, by God’s grace, extend such an invitation and welcome to someone who has hurt us deeply.
Similarly, our gracious Lord will welcome us back to himself after we have departed from him, as we see in these sad words of Jesus:
The biblical invitations and welcomes of God to enter and receive his kingdom are very real and very sincere to everyone, but Jesus insists on one condition:
‘Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them (Mark 10:15-16).
God longs for us to have the humility and trust of a small child, yet even when we go astray, and then repent, he uses his strong arms to gather and restore us.
He gathers the lambs in his arms
He gently leads those that have young (Isaiah 40:11).
With all of these glorious teachings about the arms of God, we do well to cry out to our Lord as Isaiah did:
clothe yourself with strength (51:9)!
As we live day by day, and throughout each day, we may be greatly encouraged by the biblical truth about God’s arms. With his strong arms he protects us, rescues us (even when we are not aware of danger), works mightily to help us in our daily labor, and continually invites us to come closer to him and receive his welcome and blessing.
God’s arms never, ever weaken, but our arms, as well as our other body parts, lose their strength regularly. Even our will and courage falter. When this happens, the book of Hebrews has just the right words for us.
Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. ‘Make level paths for your feet,’ so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed (12:12-13).