the strength of their hands

I (metaphorically) wandered into Jeremiah 31 this morning, which prophesies the return of exiles.

I was struck by some of the phrasing. As my eyes were drifting over it, this didn’t happen chronologically in terms of the text, but instead I hopped back and forth over the words.

Some snippets

First my eyes were drawn to the hope of verse 13:

I will turn their mourning into joy,
I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

Present circumstances will change.

Then I considered verse 11:

For the Lord has ransomed Jacob,
and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

‘Hands too strong for him…’ I reflected on this idea that, however strong the hands are that ‘hold onto’ God’s people, who keep them captive, God can always redeem them.  But sometimes they are too strong for us. Only God can release us from their grip, from the strength of their hands.

Then (still going backwards for some reason!) I ended up in v2 and 3

The people who survived the sword
found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest,
the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

This is the New Revised Standard Version. ‘From far away’ can also be translated as ‘from long ago’, but I was moved by this ‘far away’ image because, as I mentioned to some people recently, faith feels a bit of a foreign land to me at the moment.

Yes, I acknowledge the original context, but that is not to say I can’t consider it at a personal level.

What have I survived, what battles have I gone through? What wilderness have I found myself in, and what grace accompanies it? Do I even need to ask these questions? I reflect on the words. I don’t have to ‘force them to apply’ to my situation but I sit with them, absorbing them, finding comfort in that process.

I remind myself, as ever, of the vastness of God’s love, even when I feel inadequate, tired, unlovable and faithless – for God is faithful. And because of his love, God continues his faithfulness towards his people.

By Lucy Hannah

Lucy is a mixed media artist with a particular interest in acrylics and feltmaking. She is also an experienced writer and editor.

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