This question is sourced in the belief that we’re really not that bad – because we really don’t understand God’s law and how severely we have broken it.
You can’t get 10 seconds or 10 inches into the 10 Commandments without seeing how completely bad we are by God’s standards. Isaiah 64:6 says, “Our righteousness is as filthy rags” in God’s sight. The very things we believe would commend us to God are the things that are most despised in His eyes – because those are the things that make us think we don’t need Jesus.
Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young (Isaiah 40:10–11, esv).
Have you ever given much thought to God’s arms? (“God has arms?” you might be wondering.) When God describes His arms, He doesn’t tell us their circumference or how much He can lift—those are human, physical terms, like the jock showing off at the gym. But God’s description of His arms tells us some awesome things about Him. In fact, the dual description of God’s arms in this passage shows us His power and His comfort.
“Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him.” When the Bible talks about God’s right arm, it refers to His powerful, ruling arm—His justice, His holiness, and His strength. God is like that. He is all that and more.
But then the very next verse describes His tender shepherd arm. “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” If you’ve spent any time in church, sadly you’ve probably heard one extreme or the other: a ton of preaching about the transcendent, holy, awesome Judge or a ton of preaching about the tender, loving, merciful Shepherd. But He’s both, right? In this passage we clearly see both. Don’t let God’s nearness minimize His transcendence nor let His transcendence make you think He isn’t very aware of you individually.
Imagine a shepherd in the fields, and this gives you a picture of God. A shepherd can oversee hundreds of sheep, but he holds only one at a time. He gathers the lambs one by one in his arms. The point here is that this awesome God cares for you. Personally. Individually. Yes, He’s guarding a big flock, but when He cares for the lambs, He tends to them one by one. This is God’s love for you. Personal. Individual. Attentive. Aware. Devoted. That’s how He cares for you.
When He carries His lambs, He holds them “in his bosom.” Picture that. He doesn’t hold us awkwardly squirming at arms’ length. No, He draws us close, right to His own heart.
And He will “gently lead those that are with young.” The sheep that is about to give birth is vulnerable, with unique needs. And the shepherd accommodates those needs. In the same way, when our needs are great, the Lord is that much more attentive to us. Some of us are at a point of acute need right now in our business or in our family. God knows what it is. And just as pressing as that need is, His attention matches that. He’s on it! He is right there, gently leading those whose circumstances demand additional care.
So which one is He – mighty or tender? Yes. His arm is a picture of absolute power and unconditional love.
That’s your King. That’s your Shepherd.
As I behold You, my Lord God, I am in awe of who You are. You are the King. You rule the universe with Your feet up. Absolute power. You are also my Shepherd. You lovingly hold me close and tend to my heart. Absolute love. Open my eyes that I may see You more clearly, and stir in me fresh worship and love for You. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.
“…Make straight in the desert a highway for our God…” Isaiah 40:3
The King will not be put in a box. Making a highway means leveling every high place, not just those which are convenient or comfortable. If you want the presence of the King more than the semblance of control, get ready…
“Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low…” Isaiah 40:4
What are the ‘hills’ in your life? Those common things that hinder access to what the Lord wants to do? They’ve gotta come down… #getready