God’s Right Hand…Changes Everything!
A little while ago, I was doing some study on the theology of illness. In course of my reading, I was looking at some of the lament Psalms, particularly Psalm 77. Verses 7-12, according to the New International Version, are as follows:
7 "Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?" Selah
10 Then I thought, "To this I will appeal: the years of the right hand of the Most High."
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
The flow of the Psalm is straightforward enough. In the opening verses, the Psalmist reflects on what appears to be the "silence" of God in the midst of suffering. But it was verse 10 that caught my attention. What could it mean to appeal to the "years of the right hand of the Most High?" This translation is not only "clunky" but difficult to understand.
I suppose one could make sense of the NIV translation in light of verse 11 which appeals to remembering some of the miracles God did in the past. Thus, in light of my ongoing cry to God for help, I can appeal to the history of God's dealing with his people, the years of his mighty deeds and his deliverance of his people. Since that history reminds me of God's faithfulness, I can appeal to the "years of the right hand of the Most High" to comfort me in my present need. But somehow, that still didn't yet quite sit well with me.
A comparison of other Bible versions on verse 10 shows some surprisingly novel translations. The NRSV renders the verse: "And I say, 'It is my grief that the right hand of the Most High has changed.'" The New Jerusalem Bible concurs: "And I said, 'This is what wounds me, the right hand of the Most High has lost its strength.'"
That's pretty different, isn't it?
What could, for example, the NRSV translation possibly mean? How and in what way might we think of the "right hand" of the Most High being changed? Theologically, I have problems with that concept since the rest of the Bible seems to insist that God's ways do not change. Unfortunately, this translation falls short as well.
The main problem here is in how the Hebrew word shenoth [???????] should be translated. The Hebrew lexicons tell us it could be translated either as the verb "to change" or the noun "year." Depending on which one is chosen, this verse is going to come out sounding quite different!
As I studied this further, I came across Martin Luther's German translation of Psa 77:10, which reads:
"Aber doch sprach ich: Ich muĂź das leiden; die rechte Hand des HĂ¶chsten kann alles Ă¤ndern."
In English, this translates into something like, "But I said: I must suffer this; the right hand of the Most High can change everything." Luther obviously opted to translate shenoth as "change," but unlike the NRSV, his translation is much more consistent with the theology of God in the rest of Scripture! It is not that God's right hand can change, but that God's right hand can change everything!
Using Luther's translation, this helps to make sense of what Psalm 77:10 is saying. We could paraphrase Psalm 77:9-11 this way:
Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion? Selah.
But I said: I must suffer [now] under this brute fact: The right hand of the Most High can change everything. Indeed, I will remember the deeds of the LORD, yes, I will remember your miracles from long ago.
What an amazing promise! Though we may now suffer under the burdens of illness, pain or grief, we can do so with the recognition that by his right hand, God can change anything! There is nothing that we face that is beyond his ability to change. Even if things don't change in the way or in the timing that we might wish, we can rest in the knowledge that God's right hand can change anythingâ€”that he is not caught by surprise by our sufferings.
Indeed, if we press this theology forward to the New Testament, we find that it is Jesus Christ, who is said to be one who sits at the right hand of God (Luke 22:69; Acts 2:33; Rom 8:34). Consequently, we can be even more confident: There is nothing present to our situation that God in Christ cannot change! For as we dwell in Christ, we dwell at the right hand of God himself who does not change, and yet who is in the business of making everything new (cf. Rev. 21:5)!