As he describes the rebelliousness of the kingdom of Israel, Isaiah repeatedly uses the phrase quoted above. Four times in two chapters (and once in an earlier chapter—2 Nephi 15:25, Isaiah 5:25), he concludes his reprimand with the same statement: “For all this his anger is not turned away,” he says, “but his hand is stretched out still.”
What is the meaning of the stretched-out hand? The most obvious interpretation, from the context, is that it represents God’s justice. Most translations of the Bible adopt this interpretation. For example:
- “Yet for all this, his anger is not turned away, his hand is still upraised” (New International Version).
- “But even then the LORD’s anger will not be satisfied. His fist is still poised to strike” (New Living Translation).
- “But even this did not stop him from being angry, so he kept on punishing them” (Contemporary English Version).
Nephi interprets this passage differently. When he comments on these chapters, he reassures us that God’s arm of mercy is perpetually extended towards us, even when we are rebellious and unresponsive to His invitation:
Wo be unto the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of Hosts! For notwithstanding I shall lengthen out mine arm unto them from day to day, they will deny me; nevertheless, I will be merciful unto them, saith the Lord God, if they will repent and come unto me; for mine arm is lengthened out all the day long, saith the Lord God of Hosts (2 Nephi 28:32).
After Nephi’s death, his brother Jacob shares the allegory of the olive trees, which emphasizes God’s patience and longsuffering. Jacob then provides a similar reassurance:
How merciful is our God unto us, for he remembereth the house of Israel, both roots and branches; and he stretches forth his hands unto them all the day long (Jacob 6:4)
Last Sunday, Elder Brian K. Ashton taught us the importance of a correct understanding of the character of God. He shared his wife’s experience of growing in confidence as she better understood God’s love:
For her entire life, my wife, Melinda, has tried with all her heart to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. Yet, beginning in her youth, she felt unworthy of Heavenly Father’s love and blessings because she misunderstood His nature. Fortunately, Melinda continued to keep the commandments in spite of the sadness she felt. A few years ago, she had a series of experiences that helped her better understand God’s nature, including His love for His children and His gratitude for our even-imperfect efforts to do His work.
She explains how this has influenced her: “I now feel sure that the Father’s plan works, that He is personally invested in our success, and that He provides us with the lessons and experiences we need to return to His presence. I see myself and others more as God sees us. I am able to parent, teach, and serve with more love and less fear. I feel peace and confidence rather than anxiety and insecurity. Instead of feeling judged, I feel supported. My faith is more certain. I feel my Father’s love more often and more deeply.” (“The Father,” General Conference, October 2018).
Today, I will remember that God’s “hand is stretched out still.” I will remember that He is focused on helping me be successful. I will surely experience consequences for my unwise choices. But even when I do wrong, I can always trust that His arm of mercy is extended, ready to help me as soon as I’m ready to receive His help.