And because the gracious hand of my God was on me, the king granted my requests.Nehemiah 2:8
Both Ezra and Nehemiah use the same phrase to describe what enabled them to return from exile and rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem. They both gave credit to “the gracious hand of God” on them.
Ezra came up from Babylon. He was a teacher well versed in the Law of Moses, which the Lord, the God of Israel, had given. The king had granted him everything he asked, for the hand of the Lord his God was on him…Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh year of the king. He had begun his journey from Babylon on the first day of the first month, and he arrived in Jerusalem on the first day of the fifth month, for the gracious hand of his God was on him.Ezra 7:6-9
What is interesting about this phrase is that in other parts of the Bible, when the hand of the Lord is on a person or a people, it’s not a good thing. When the hand of the Lord was upon the enemies of Israel, it always meant judgment and disaster for them. An example of this is when the ark of the covenant was stolen and taken into Philistine territory. Everywhere it went, the hand of the Lord was upon it and that wasn’t a good thing for the Philistines.
The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.”1 Samuel 5:6-7
So let’s put all of this together. Grace is not just forgiveness and mercy; it is the supernatural enablement of God. God’s grace enables us to do what we otherwise could not do on our own. When we are in covenant relationship to God and His hand is upon us, it means that a special grace is upon us. It means His favor is upon us. The practical results of God’s hand being upon us means that breakthrough happens, doors open, things accelerate, and incredible opportunities arise.
When God sets us apart for a particular calling or mission and we decide to obey–despite the hardship–God will often place His hand upon us. His special grace and favor isn’t just about His love for us, but it is also about accomplishing the mission for which He has sent us.
Yet, if we live separated from God, the same hand of God upon us is terrifying. It’s like the Holy Spirit and the covenant relationship are the support structure that allow God’s hand upon us to be a good thing. But if the Spirit isn’t present, if the covenant relationship isn’t there, the weightiness of the hand of the Lord could crush us. Instead of the intense presence of the Lord feeling like love, peace and joy, the intense presence of the Lord feels like fear because of our unresolved sin.
To use a different word picture, the Lord is a consuming fire. For those in relationship to God through Jesus, the fire of the Lord is a refining fire and empowering fire. But to those who remain at a distance from God, that same fire feels like painful judgement. God’s fire is the same. God’s hand is the same. God doesn’t change. But our experience of Him changes based on our relationship to Him.
As followers of Jesus, when the gracious hand of God is on us, I believe we are accompanied on our mission by the angel of breakthrough assigned to bring breakthrough to whatever obstacle may arise before us. When the gracious hand of God is on us, His favor rests on us. The impossible suddenly becomes possible.