"Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isa. 41:10).
Rachel, Jacob's beloved wife, died in childbirth, giving birth to Jacob's last son (Gen. 35:16-21). As she was dying, she named the boy Ben-oni. Ben-oni means "son of my sorrow" or "son of my trouble." That's not a very cheery name. It's not a name you'd expect to hear on a playground, "Hey, Son-of-My-Sorrow, do you want to play tag?"
Jacob, his father, gave Ben-oni a new name, Benjamin, which means "son of my right hand" or "son of my power." That's not a bad name for a boy. I can imagine a father cheering, "Great tackle, Son of My Power."
As far as I know, we are allowed to shake hands again now. Did you know we typically use our right hand when shaking hands to show we aren't holding a sword? Oh, you don't usually carry a sword? Weird. Times may change, but that's why we shake our right hands. It's a show of peace.
That's not to say being a left-hander is bad. You have to love a good left-handed pitcher or hockey player. Even better, one of my favorite Bible stories is about a left-hander who also happened to be a Benjamite (Judges 3:12-30). The Benjamites were known for having many left-handers, contrary to what one would expect, given Benjamin's name.
The story of Ehud has everything: oppression, political intrigue, heroism, and feces. Eglon, the king of Moab, had strengthened his grip over the Israelites because of their wickedness. He oversaw eighteen years of oppression. But then the LORD decided his time was up, and a plan was hatched.
Ehud was sent to bring tribute to Eglon, who the Bible calls "a very fat man." Ehud came to Eglon as he was sitting in his roof chamber to cool down. He told Eglon he had a message for him. Eglon, intrigued, dismissed his servants and got up. Scholars debate why he was so excited. There are some very interesting theories, but we don't have time for them here.
Anyway, intrigued, Eglon got up and came over to Ehud. With his left hand, Ehud took the sword from his right thigh, where security wouldn't have thought to check too carefully, and thrust it into the belly of the very fat king. The sword disappeared into the folds. Eglon soiled himself. Ehud closed the doors of the roof chamber and escaped. Eglon's servants didn't come in to check on him because they assumed Eglon was using the bathroom. Eglon stank. Ehud escaped. He sounded the trumpet. Israel rose up. They defeated the Moabites. Israel had peace for eighty years.
Pretty good story, right? Why did I tell it? Just for fun? Well, partly that, I suppose, but we'll come back to it in a bit, so stick with me.
Isaiah 41 is all about Israel's deliverance, too. It also deals with hands, although there's no very fat king. The prophet likely has Cyrus in mind as the immediate (although not ultimate) fulfillment of his words. Cyrus was the great Persian king who freed the Jews from captivity and helped them rebuild Jerusalem and the temple. He was the answer to the Israelite's prayers. Their enemies, now his enemies, trembled and fled before him.
When a ruler put someone at his right hand, he was giving him equal power to himself.
I love verse 13 in this chapter. God says through the prophet, "For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, 'Fear not, I am the one who helps you'" (Isa. 41:13). God fights for them with one hand, his right hand, and with the left, he comforts them. His left-hand holds their right hand like a father with a toddler on a walk around the block. What a picture of grace and love!
When a ruler put someone at his right hand, he was giving him equal power to himself. This happened with Joseph and Pharoah when Joseph, Benjamin's brother, became the second most powerful person in Egypt. Christ also is spoken of as being at a right hand. We confess in the creeds that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God. Having died and risen, he ascended. Having set aside the full use of his divine powers to become sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21), he now rules all things for our benefit. This is the ultimate fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy for Israel and for the Gentiles.
The devil, like Eglon, didn't see it coming. He was living high on the hog. He thought he had won. God's right hand hung limp, dead on a tree. But Satan underestimated our Lord. Like Ehud, he had a surprise for the devil, and though his heel was bruised, he crushed the ancient serpent's head.
The devil thought he'd won, that old fool. He thought that he'd swallowed Christ whole in the grave, but Christ our Word, as with a two-edged sword, burst the devil's belly. And the devil stunk. And Ben-oni became Benjamin. And the trumpet sounded. And we are delivered by God's righteous right hand; our Deliverer, with pierced yet beautiful hands, tender and yet fierce in battle.
Psalm 121 is a beautiful psalm. It pops up daily in the liturgy of the hours of the Western church, in Midmorning Prayer or Terce. It captures well what life is like when we are upheld by God's righteous right hand, our Jesus, a life lived like a child with a gentle yet powerful father who holds and guides with one hand and fights valiantly for us with the other. I think it's a good way to close this out:
"I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time forth and forevermore."