A polite person is testament to diligent mothering. Mothers are guardians of polite behavior. When someone is rude we think, “didn’t his mother teach him not to do that?” All the basic dictums of polite society still resonate in our mother’s voice: “don’t slam the door, don’t chew with your mouth open, don’t interrupt, don’t stare, and don’t point at people.”
Children, especially, love to point at those who appear strange or comical. They are given to the perspective of Lizzy Bennett’s father in Pride and Prejudice, “what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?” But pointing the finger means more than calling attention. It implies condemnation, accusation, and judgement. The phrase, “to point the finger” indicates guilt. Witnesses in court are often called to “point out the accused.”
No one wants the “finger of blame” pointed at them. Especially if the finger is God’s. In his classic painting, Belshazzar’s Feast, the Dutch painter, Rembrandt, captured the terror of this. The painting graphically portrays the moment, chronicled in Daniel 5, when Belshazzar literally sees the ‘handwriting on the wall.’ At a moment of great national peril with Cyrus besieging the gates of Babylon, Belshazzar throws a great feast. To add to the revelry, he brings out the bowls and goblets looted from the Temple in Jerusalem to use as serving pieces. Belshazzar thought himself untouchable behind the walls of Babylon, but God had a word for him.
“Then from [the Lord’s] presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. This is the interpretation of the matter: Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”DANIEL 5:24-28
None of us wants to hear that we have been weighed in the balances and found wanting. Especially from God. Belshazzar lifted himself up against the Lord of Heaven. He despised God’s judgement, his holiness, his sovereignty, and his grace. And the finger of God’s judgement was pointed at him.
The phrase, ‘the finger of god,’ was common in the ancient world for divine revelation or judgement. We find it in the Old Testament in reference to God’s creative work in Psalm 8 and His revealing work in Exodus 31 and Deuteronomy 5. And in the New Testament Jesus used the phrase in Luke 11.
Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” while others, to test him, kept seeking from him a sign from heaven. But he, knowing their thoughts, said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is laid waste, and a divided household falls. And if Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. And if I cast out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.LUKE 11:14-21
But the first occurrence of the phrase ‘the finger of God’ is on the lips of Egyptian magicians. Without warning, the third plague of Egypt brought swarms of gnats upon man and beast. Until this, the magicians mimicked the plagues in microcosm. Enough to convince the Egyptians that the plagues were not divine judgement. But even by their secret arts they could not conjure gnats from dust. And they declare to Pharaoh “this is the finger of God.”
But Pharaoh refused to repent. The finger of God’s judgement was pointed squarely at him, yet he bowed up. For once the magicians spoke truth. But it was a hard truth to accept. And Pharaoh’s heart was hardened. He refused to relent or repent. His only hope was the mercy of God. Yet his heart became even harder. What about you? Is the finger of God pointed in your direction?
The hard truth is that the finger of God is pointed at us all. Acknowledge it or not, we have been weighed and found wanting. Or as Paul put it in Romans 3:23-24, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
The hard truth is that we all face God’s judgement. But the happy truth is that judgement need not be the last word. Jesus endured the judgement of God for sin on behalf of those who believe in Him. Join us as we examine Exodus 8:16-19 and consider hard truths about God’s judgement and the happy truth that in even in wrath God has remembered mercy in the gospel.
We meet from 5:00 – 6:30 pm in The Commons at St. Andrews Anglican Church at 8300 Kanis Rd in Little Rock for worship. Get directions here or contact us for more info. You can also join us on Facebook Live @RiverCityARP or on YouTube.