“The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” Deuteronomy 33:27
There are two sides to a Christian life.
One is the active side. We are urged to faithfulness in all duty, to activity in all service, to victory in all struggle, to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.
But there is another side. We are to trust, to have quietness and confidence, to repose on God. It is well that we sometimes think of the latter aspect of our Christian faith. This is well presented to us in a Bible verse which says, “Underneath are the everlasting arms.”
The picture suggested is that of a little child, lying in the strong arms of a father who is able to withstand all storms and dangers. We think of John lying upon Christ’s bosom. At the two extremes of life, childhood and old age—the promise comes with special assurance. “He shall gather the lambs in His arms, and carry them in His bosom” (Isaiah 40:11), is a word for the children. “Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you!” (Isaiah 46:4), brings its blessed comfort to the aged. God comes to us first in our infancy, through our mothers, who carried us in their arms. Yet they are only dim revelations of God for a time. They leave us after teaching us a little of God’s tenderness—but God Himself remains when they are gone, and His arms never unclasp!
The thought of God’s embracing arms is very suggestive. What does an arm represent? What is the thought suggested by the arm of God enfolded around His child? The language is human. The Scriptures speak continually of God in this way. They tell us of His eyes looking down to behold His people—that He never slumbers nor sleeps; meaning that His watchful care never intermits. They tell us that He listens to earth’s cries, and hears the sighing of the oppressed, and the groaning of the prisoner in his dungeon; meaning that He hears our cries of distress. They speak of His wiping away tears, as a mother would dry a child’s tears; meaning that He comforts His people in their sorrow. They represent Him as holding us by the right hand, as a father holds his child’s hand in his own, when it walks over dangerous places; meaning that His guidance is personal and strong.
All these, and like statements in human language of what God does for His people—are efforts to explain to us by means of human acts with which we are familiar, His wonderful care and kindness. Thus the figure of the arm as applied to God—is to be interpreted by what it would mean in human friendship.
One meaning is protection. A father puts his arm about his child when it is in danger. God protects His children, “With your mighty arm You redeemed Your people” (Psalm 77:15). “Be our strength every morning, and our salvation in time of trouble” (Isaiah 33:2). “His arm brought salvation” (Isaiah 59:16).
Life is full of peril. There are temptations on every hand! Enemies lurk in every shadow—enemies strong and swift! Many people think of death with fear, dreading to meet it. But life has far more perils—than death! It is easy and safe to die—when one has lived a holy life. But it is hard to live. Yet we are assured that “life” cannot separate us from the love of God. “Underneath are the everlasting arms!”
Another meaning is affection. The father’s arm drawn around a child—is a token of love. The child is held in the father’s bosom, near his heart. The shepherd carries the lambs in his bosom. John lay on Jesus’ bosom. The mother holds the child in her bosom, because she loves it. This picture of God embracing His children in His arms—tells of His love for them. His love is tender, close, intimate. He holds them in the place of affection.
It is especially in the time of danger or suffering—that the mother thus embraces her child. She takes him up when he has fallen and has hurt himself—and comforts him by holding him in her arms, and pressing him to her bosom. “As one whom his mother comforts—so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13), is a divine word. A mother said that her little sick one, had scarcely been out of her arms for three days and nights. Holding in the arms—is a peculiar privilege of love—for times of pain and suffering. It tells therefore of our heavenly Father’s tenderness towards His own when they are in distress.
Another thought suggested by an arm is strength. The arm is a symbol of strength. A mother’s arm may be frail physically—but love makes it strong. When it is folded about a feeble child, all the power of the universe cannot tear the child away. We know what it is in human friendship, to have one upon whose arm we can lean with confidence. There are some people whose mere presence seems to give us a sense of security. We believe in them. In their quiet peace, there is a strength which imparts itself to all who lean upon them. Every true human friend, is more or less a strength to us. Yet the surest, strongest human strength—is but a fragment of the divine strength. His arm is omnipotence. “In the Lord Jehovah is everlasting strength” (Isaiah 26:4). His is an arm that can never be broken. Out of this clasp—we never can be taken. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish—ever! No one will snatch them out of My hand!” John 10:28
Another suggestion is endurance. The arms of God are “everlasting.” Human arms grow weary even in love’s embrace; they cannot forever press the child to the bosom. Soon they lie folded in death. A husband stood by the coffin of his beloved wife after only one short year of wedded happiness. The clasp of that love was very sweet—but how brief a time it lasted, and how desolate was the life that had lost the precious companionship! A little baby two weeks old, was left motherless. The mother clasped the child to her bosom and drew her feeble arms about it in one loving embrace; the little one never more will have a mother’s arm around it. So pathetic is human life with its broken affections, its little moments of love, its embraces that are torn away in one hour. But these are everlasting arms—these arms of God. They shall never unclasp!
There is another important suggestion in the word “underneath.” Not only do the arms of God embrace His child—but they are underneath — always underneath. That means that we can never sink—for these arms will ever be beneath us, wherever we may be found. Sometimes we say the waters of trouble are very deep; like great floods they roll over us. But still and forever, underneath the deepest floods—are these everlasting arms. We cannot sink below them—or out of their clasp!
And when death comes, and every earthly thing is gone from beneath us, and we sink away into what seems darkness—out of all human love, out of warmth and gladness and life—into the gloom and strange mystery of death—still it will only be—into the everlasting arms!
When Jesus was dying, He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). He found the everlasting arms underneath Him when His spirit left the torn body. Stephen died, praying, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (Acts 7:59). To a believer, dying is simply breathing the life—into the embrace of God. We shall find the divine arms underneath us. Death cannot separate us from the love of God.
This view of the divine care is full of inspiration and comfort. We are not saving ourselves. A strong One, the mighty God—holds us in His omnipotent clasp! We are not tossed like a leaf on life’s wild sea—driven at the mercy of wind and wave. We are in divine keeping. Our security does not depend upon our own feeble, wavering faith—but upon the omnipotence, the love, and the faithfulness of the unchanging, the eternal God! We can never sink away in any flood. No power in the universe can snatch us out of His hands. Neither death nor life, nor things present, nor things to come, can separate us from His love!
By J. R. Miller (1840-1912)