|Mercy Street Church of Christ
THE FINGER OF GOD
by Leroy Garrett
If I cast out demons with the finger of God, then surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. — Luke 11:20
There is something of a mystery about the apparent supernatural power of Pharaoh’s magicians. When Aaron cast his rod down before Pharaoh and it turned into a serpent, the magicians were able to do likewise, even if Aaron’s serpents swallowed up the others. Then when the plagues came — first the Nile turned to blood, then the frogs, the gnats, the flies — the magicians by their impressive enchantments were able to do something similar.
It was the fifth plague, the pestilent and unrelenting lice that was upon man and beast alike, with all the dust of Egypt turning into lice, that proved too much for the sorcerers and magicians. Exodus 8:19 tells us: “Then the magicians said to Pharaoh: ‘This is the finger of God.’ But Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, just as the Lord had said.”
We are not to make too much of this. It was not a confession by the pagans of Egypt that Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, was the one true God and that the plague of lice was his handiwork. The magicians were conceding that the awful plague was supernatural and beyond their cleverest enchantments. The plague was the work of God, any God, some God, they were saying. What interests us is that they are the first in the Bible to use the term “finger of God.” But the phrase is consistent with terms used by God himself in this same context, such as in Exodus 7:4: “But Pharaoh will not heed you so that I may lay My hand on Egypt,” and Exodus 7:5: “The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out My hand on Egypt and bring out the children of Israel from among them.” In Jewish tradition “the finger of God on the right hand of God,” along with “the mighty hand of God” became a metaphor for the mighty works of God.
The only other time that “finger” is used in the Old Testament as a metaphor of God’s handiwork is Psalm 8:3-4: “When I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers, The moon and the stars which You have ordained, What is man that You are mindful of him.” This psalm depicts God as both the creator and sustainer of the universe, and interestingly names his fingers as the creative instrument.
It is noteworthy that Jesus makes use of the “finger” metaphor when it is so rarely found in the Old Testament or in Jewish writings, and he is the only one in the New Testament who makes use of it. The writer of Hebrews makes substantive use of Psalm 8, but makes no reference to the verse that mentions the fingers of God.
What is especially remarkable is that Jesus apparently identified the finger of God as the Holy Spirit. The parallel passage to Luke 11:20, which has Jesus casting out demons by the finger of God, is Matthew 12:28, which reads: “If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.” Luke has Jesus saying he cast out demons by the finger of God, while Matthew has him saying he did so by the Spirit of God. They do not contradict each other because both can be right. As Jesus discussed his conquest over demons in reference to the coming of the kingdom he must have used both terms. The finger of God is the Holy Spirit!
This “finger” metaphor enhances our view of the Spirit’s mission in our lives. If we think of Christ as God’s missionary to the world, for which he gave his life, we are to think of the Spirit as a missionary to the church. Christ came to save the world; the Spirit came to conform the church, every believer, into the likeness of Christ. The “fruit” of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23 — love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control — are attributes of Christ, intended for every Christian. Notice that “fruit” is singular, meaning that all attributes go together to make up the fruit of Christlikeness.
This differs from the “gifts” of the Spirit in 1 Corinthians 12, plural, meaning that a believer may have one or more of the gifts, but not necessarily all of them. The Spirit gives different gifts to believers, but he produces but one fruit for every believer, conformity to the image of Christ. The finger of God at work!
An impressive passage of the finger of God at work in the ongoing transformation of the believer into the image of Christ is 2 Corinthians 3:18: “All of us, with our unveiled faces like mirrors reflecting the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the image that we reflect in brighter and brighter glory; this is the working of the Lord who is the Spirit” (New Jerusalem). That last line could read, This is the working of the finger of God.
Unlike Moses whose face was veiled to hide such glory as shone from his face, we believers have unveiled faces that reflect like mirrors the image of Christ, and we are constantly being transformed into that image in brighter and brighter glory. This is the doing of the Holy Spirit, the finger of God. What a stunning promise to the Christian! And, according to Romans 8:29, all this was the eternal plan of God: “For whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son.”
And Paul the apostle reveals that this likeness to Christ goes right on into eternity, that we take on his spiritual image in this world and his bodily image in the world to come: “Our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ , who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to his glorious body” (Philippians 3:20-21).
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