God, Mormon

Hands of Man, Hands of God

“Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.” 
― John Paul II

Who am I? Who are you? What is it that defines who we are?

In large part, what we do with the (give or take) 2.239 billion seconds or 71 years in the average lifespan says the most about who we are and who we ultimately become. Generally, what we say with our voice and what we do with our hands over and over and over again are the most prominent outward indicators of what makes us, us. Our actions rarely betray who we are deep inside. We could make this more complicated but overall, I think this is generally true.

If your worldview accepts a morality that consists of good and evil, where God represents all good and the devil represents all evil, their influence pulling us in either direction, then you may find the rest of this post to be of interest.

Boiling it all down to the very basics, then, the key players in the life story are God, the devil, and man (i.e. women and men).

The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo

The Creation of Adam, by Michelangelo

If hands represent our everyday choice-making between good and evil, could we not use “hands” to also represent the roles of God and the devil in the struggle for the soul?

In scripture, the word “hand” is significant, at least if measured by frequency of use. In the Old Testament, “hand” or “hands” appears 1,459 times. The word shows up about a thousand more times in additional scripture. It appears only 17 times in the Book of Moses, where we learn beautiful concepts about our relationship to God through the verses that use the word, “hand.”

The relatively brief Book of Moses is one of the LDS canonized books (like the Book of Mormon) revealed to Joseph Smith. It contains extra-Biblical accounts of Moses and his vision of ancient patriarchs Adam, Enoch and Noah. For any skeptics, Yale University professor Harold Bloom found it surprising that the book contains a great deal of ancient Jewish material unavailable to Jews and Christians of Smith’s time. He is also a fan of Smith, calling him an “authentic religious genius.” But my purpose here isn’t to defend the book’s validity, neither was it Bloom’s (although unlike Bloom, I do believe the book is of divine origin). Instead, my aim is to share this broadly, with the view that anyone could gain valuable insight from these words.

I go through each of the Book of Moses’s 17 references to “hands” below to show what looks to be a deliberate use of the word in various contexts to teach the distinction between the hands of God, man, and the devil. I try to keep my editorializing to a minimum ––

Workmanship of God’s Hands

Worlds without end

The word “hands” is found at the very beginning of the book in the fourth verse. In a grand vision, God promises to show Moses only part of the workmanship of his hands.

Moses 1:4 And, behold, thou art my son; wherefore look, and I will show thee the workmanship of mine hands; but not all, for my works are without end, and also my words, for they never cease.

God’s hands and words are incomprehensibly endless, but he is willing to show a comprehensible amount to Moses, revealing who he is.

God Protects Man’s Agency (ability to choose)

A few chapters later after a creation story similar to that found in Genesis, when only focusing on the “hand” verses, we learn that God acted to protect the freedom of Adam and Eve.

Moses 4:28 And I, the Lord God, said unto mine Only Begotten: Behold, the man is become as one of us to know good and evil; and now lest he put forth his hand and partake also of the tree of life, and eat and live forever…

This Book of Mormon reference offers an explanation of why God’s intervention was necessary.

Relationship Between the Hands of Man and the Devil

While God prevented Adam from living forever in sin with no redemption by eating the forbidden fruit a second time, he did not prevent Satan from tempting God’s children. Note how the word “hands” is used in the next verse:

Moses 5:29 And Satan said unto Cain: Swear unto me by thy throat, and if thou tell it thou shalt die; and swear thy brethren by their heads, and by the living God, that they tell it not; for if they tell it, they shall surely die; and this that thy father may not know it; and this day I will deliver thy brother Abel into thine hands.

In this first reference of Satan and hands, Satan promises to empower Cain’s hands.

Man Covets with Hands

Cain obeys Satan and murders his brother, feeling a sense of power and glory by the act of his own hands, as he explains here:

Moses 5:33 And Cain gloried in that which he had done, saying: I am free; surely the flocks of my brother falleth into my hands.

The principle reason behind the murder was to gain possession of his brother’s flocks and find freedom.

Consequences of Intentional Wickedness

The Lord curses Cain because of the sinful deed committed by Cain’s hand:

Moses 5:36 And now thou shalt be cursed from the earth which hath opened her mouth to receive thy brother’s blood from thy hand.

Hand of Man is Capable of Great Destruction

In the next verse using the word hand a chapter later, Satan’s influence spreads through rage, war, and bloodshed, all committed through “a man’s hand.”

Moses 6:15 And the children of men were numerous upon all the face of the land. And in those days Satan had great dominion among men, and raged in their hearts; and from thenceforth came wars and bloodshed; and a man’s hand was against his own brother, in administering death, because of secret works, seeking for power.

When held in contrast with the first instance of “hands” at the beginning of the book, we know that the works of God’s hands are great and endless. Yet so far, we hear nothing of Satan’s hands, their power and glory, only that his power is wrought through the hand of man to “administer death.”

God Controls All Things

In the next verse the Lord promises the great prophet Enoch that he will not be harmed by men, “for all flesh is in my hands.”

Moses 6:32 And the Lord said unto Enoch: Go forth and do as I have commanded thee, and no man shall pierce thee. Open thy mouth, and it shall be filled, and I will give thee utterance, for all flesh is in my hands, and I will do as seemeth me good.

We read in the previous verse that the Lord has power over all flesh, including the ability to keep Enoch from being hurt or harmed. This promise is fulfilled in the next verse when “no man laid hands on him.” This new information leads me to wonder whether earlier, Satan was able to “deliver” Abel into Cain’s hands, or if he simply told Cain what he was capable of doing with or without Satan’s help.

Moses 6:39 And it came to pass when they heard him, no man laid hands on him; for fear came on all them that heard him; for he walked with God.

Why was Enoch so fortunate to be protected when so many millions are not? The answer comes later…

Satan’s Hand Brings Darkness

In the next chapter, we see the first reference to Satan’s hand. Note that only one hand is mentioned, not two, as used previously for both God and man. So far, we know that the Lord’s hands are all-powerful and that man’s hands can do great evil.  In detailed imagery almost out of a horror film, he is described as holding a great chain veiling the earth with darkness:

Moses 7:26 And he beheld Satan; and he had a great chain in his hand, and it veiled the whole face of the earth with darkness; and he looked up and laughed, and his angels rejoiced.

I would be interested to know why a chain is used and how a chain could veil the earth with darkness. A chain is referenced in 7:57 below, which is probably the connection?

God Knows His Creations, Weeping Over the Wicked

We are taken from this terrible scene soon thereafter when Enoch is permitted to view the workmanship of God’s hands. God has created man, he learns, and man was given knowledge and agency:

Moses 7:32 The Lord said unto Enoch: Behold these thy brethren; they are the workmanship of mine own hands, and I gave unto them their knowledge, in the day I created them; and in the Garden of Eden, gave I unto man his agency;

And then we see again the great power of the Lord’s hands and how the people living among Enoch are the most wicked of all the Lord’s workmanship:

Moses 7:36 Wherefore, I can stretch forth mine hands and hold all the creations which I have made; and mine eye can pierce them also, and among all the workmanship of mine hands there has not been so great wickedness as among thy brethren.

The previous verses also provide an answer to the age-old question why, if the Lord’s hand has power over all flesh, he allows wars, murders, destruction, and suffering? If he is able to keep the hands of men from harming Enoch, his prophet, why doesn’t he stop all destruction and suffering? The answer is plainly given in 7:32 above, where we see that he gave man agency.

I believe the reason the Lord intervened to prevent Enoch from getting hurt is that he had given Enoch a commandment. So in this case, the Lord would not allow anyone to stop him from fulfilling that command. Some might scoff and say that is unfair, but was the command a dictatorial directive to harm others? No! It was to help the people return to God so there could be peace. If anyone was inconvenienced, it was Enoch. But because of his great faith, my guess is he was willing to comply.

What’s more, we learn in the next few verses that it pains the Lord greatly to see those who have chosen rage and murder. We learn here that both the Lord and all the workmanship of the Lord’s hands weep for those who follow Satan.

Moses 7:37 But behold, their sins shall be upon the heads of their fathers; Satan shall be their father, and misery shall be their doom; and the whole heavens shall weep over them, even all the workmanship of mine hands; wherefore should not the heavens weep, seeing these shall suffer?
Moses 7:40 Wherefore, for this shall the heavens weep, yea, and all the workmanship of mine hands.

See this excellent book for more on the theme of God weeping, and how, in the author’s perspective, it “makes sense of life.”

God’s Hand Protects Noah

Continuing on, we move to the Noah account where, similar to the promise given to Enoch, the Lord preserves the ark, because it was held in the Lord’s own hand.

Moses 7:43 Wherefore Enoch saw that Noah built an ark; and that the Lord smiled upon it, and held it in his own hand; but upon the residue of the wicked the floods came and swallowed them up.

Again, this might be seen as an interference of the Lord on the agency of man, but we read that Noah was commanded to build the ark to save those who followed him, so in this case, and because of the great faith of Noah, the Lord preserves the ark with his own hand.

Standing on the Right Hand of God

Finally, the account turns to the time of Jesus, when he is lifted on the cross and then resurrected.

Moses 7:56 And he heard a loud voice; and the heavens were veiled; and all the creations of God mourned; and the earth groaned; and the rocks were rent; and the saints arose, and were crowned at the right hand of the Son of Man, with crowns of glory;

Being saved, according to this verse, is akin to being crowned, when found in favor at the right hand of Jesus, and then in the next verse, the right hand of God.

Moses 7:57 And as many of the spirits as were in prison came forth, and stood on the right hand of God; and the remainder were reserved in chains of darkness until the judgment of the great day.

And the spirits, or those who had died before Christ’s resurrection, were freed from prison and enabled to stand at God’s right hand, also in a saving manner.

The Good in Our Hands

This appears to be a complete sermon on the difference between the hands of God and the hands of man and the hand of Satan. However, there is one more use of the word “hands” in the next and last chapter of Moses that adds more meaning to the word. Here, Lamech names his son, Noah, and provides a blessing to him using the word “hands”:

Moses 8:9 And he called his name Noah, saying: This son shall comfort us concerning our work and toil of our hands, because of the ground which the Lord hath cursed.

It is almost as if the Lord is reminding us that after only using the word “hands” to describe the stark difference between His hands and the devil’s, as well as comparing His vast creation with man’s vast destruction, that the hand of man is not only prone to evil.

Lamech’s hands, we are told, “worked and toiled” for many years in order to gain some value from the cursed land. Lamech didn’t promise that his son, Noah, would heal the ground. Rather, Noah would comfort his parents and family in their work.

Perhaps the lesson here is that as we go through life, we must keep our hands busy, following the example of our creator by “toiling and working,” remembering that we are the workmanship of hands greater than ours, and not fearing the hands of them who are following one whose only accomplishment is spreading darkness, rage, and murder.

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The Hands of God

When we consider the greatness of the Lord’s creation made by His own hands, reflect on the significance of the Savior’s hands as pierced and scarred for our sake.

If I were innocent and subjected to crucifixion, my hands fastened to a wooden beam by nails, there would not be much significance tied to the event. The most that could be said is that, being innocent, I was punished wrongfully. The Savior’s hands, however, created and produced “worlds without number.” Those very hands were pierced, having been subjected to the most heinous crime ever inflicted. Their crime: killing God.The Crucifixion

After reading through these verses, I can’t help but think that of all the ways that the murder of the Creator could have occurred, the method of execution was slow and excruciatingly painful, accomplished by spreading out the arms and piercing the hands with nails. In the case of Jesus Christ, the hands pierced were the very hands that created all things and upon which all things created are dependent. Truly, the Lord descended below all things.

“And one shall say unto him, What are these wounds in thine hands? Then he shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.” Zechariah 13:6

Even more personally and significantly, he says to you and I,

“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” 1 Nephi 21:16

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Summary of headings for the Book of Moses verses above to see the flow of “hand” references:

  • Workmanship of God’s hands
  • God protects man’s agency
  • The hands of man used by the devil
  • Man covets with his hands
  • Consequence of man’s intentional wickedness
  • Hand of man is capable of great destruction
  • God can control all things by his hands
  • Satan’s hand brings darkness
  • God knows all of His creations and weeps over those who choose wickedness
  • God’s hand protects Noah
  • Standing on the right hand of God
  • The good in our hands
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Your thoughts?