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The "finger of God" as used in the Old Testament seems to depict two diversely annotated acts of God.

First, in Exodus 8:16–20, during the plagues of Egypt, it is used by the Egyptian priests to express the superiority of God’s power over theirs.

Second, in Exodus 31:18 and Deuteronomy 9:10, it refers to the method by which the Ten Commandments were written on tablets of stone that were brought down from biblical Mount Sinai by Moses.

From the foregoing two case scenarios, what might we say is the best interpretation of the finger of God? Might we say the “finger of God” depicts his sovereignty? If so, then how can we explain that he used his sovereignty to write on the tablets of stone that were brought down from biblical Mount Sinai by Moses?

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  • Did it occur to you that "finger of God" might simply be a figure of speech, like many other anthropomorphisms in the OT, an not in need of any "interpretation" and not necessarily symbolic? In Hebrew the expression indicates God's involvement in some way in some manifest action. You might compare it with an English expression with a different meaning, "Have a finger in the pie". Forcing an "interpretation" on figures of speech in the OT can distance you from understanding the simple meaning of the text by reading into the text more than what is intended. Nov 16 '19 at 16:46
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    Certainly, the journey of interpreting the Scriptures is one that we must tread in the steps of faith. Nov 16 '19 at 19:57
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The finger of God is the Holy Spirit, as established by the following Synoptic parallel:

Luke 11:14–20

14 And he was casting out a devil, and it was dumb. And it came to pass, when the devil was gone out, the dumb spake; and the people wondered. 15 But some of them said, He casteth out devils through Beelzebub the chief of the devils. 16 And others, tempting him, sought of him a sign from heaven. 17 But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth. 18 If Satan also be divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out devils through Beelzebub. 19 And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges. 20 But if I with the finger of God cast out devils, no doubt the kingdom of God is come upon you. KJV, ©1769

Matthew 12:22–28

22 Then was brought unto him one possessed with a devil, blind, and dumb: and he healed him, insomuch that the blind and dumb both spake and saw. 23 And all the people were amazed, and said, Is not this the son of David? 24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, This fellow doth not cast out devils, but by Beelzebub the prince of the devils. 25 And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: 26 and if Satan cast out Satan, he is divided against himself; how shall then his kingdom stand? 27 And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast them out? therefore they shall be your judges. 28 But if I cast out devils by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God is come unto you. KJV, ©1769

It should also be noted that the same preposition, ἐν, precedes the object of the preposition in each Synoptic parallel. That is, ἐν πνεύματι θεοῦ = ἐν δακτύλῳ θεοῦ.1

Admittedly, this cannot be established from the aforementioned passages of the Torah alone.

Augustine likewise concluded that the finger of God is the Holy Spirit.2

“This man does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the prince of demons.” He (Jesus) had responded, “But if I cast out demons by the Holy Spirit, then the kingdom of God has certainly come upon you” (Matt. 12:24, 12:28). Which another evangelist narrates thus: “If I cast out demons by the finger of God...” (Luke 11:20). What one evangelist called “the Spirit of God,” another evangelist called “the finger of God.” Therefore, the finger of God is the Spirit of God.

Hic non ejicit dæmonia, nisi in Beelzebub principe dæmoniorum; respondit ille, Si ego in Spiritu Dei ejicio dæmonia, certe supervenit in vos regnum Dei (Id. XII, 24, 28): quod alius evangelista sic enarrat, Si ego in digito Dei ejicio dæmonia (Luc. XI, 20). Quod alius evangelista dixit, Spiritus Dei; alius dixit, digitus Dei. Ergo digitus Dei, Spiritus Dei.

Addendum

The dichotomy revolves around how the magicians did not recognize the rest 9 of God’s miracles in Egypt as being performed by the “Holy Spirit”...

Of the nine plagues, the magicians only attempted to emulate the first four.3 The magicians were successful emulating the first three, but when they attempted to emulate the fourth plague, “they were unable to” (וְלֹא יָכֹלוּ).4 Scripture does not mention the magicians attempting to emulate more plagues after the fourth plague. They were likely deterred from further emulation after what occurred during the fourth plague.

When the magicians were unable to emulate the fourth plague, they attributed the prevention to “the finger of God.” They did not attribute “the finger of God” to the first three plagues because they were able to emulate them. Nor did they attribute “the finger of God” to the last five plagues because the magicians never attempted to emulate them; therefore, they were never prevented from emulating them by the finger of God.


Footnotes

1 The KJV translates one as “by” and the other as “with,” but there does not seem to be any obvious reason why such different translations are necessary.
2 Sermo VIII (Sermon 8), p. 74
3 Exo. 7:11, 7:22, 8:7
4 Exo. 8:18

References

Augustinus Hipponensis. Patrologiæ Cursus Completus: Series Latina.Sermo VIII” (“Sermon 8”). Ed. Migne, Jacques Paul. Vol. 38. Petit-Montrouge: Imprimerie Catholique, 1865.

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  • The dichotomy revolves around how the magicians did not recognize the rest 9 of God’s miracles in Egypt as being performed by the “Holy Spirit” if you insist in making us to singly accept it that the finger of God means the Holy Spirit Nov 15 '19 at 19:44
  • Prolly means spirit without a captial "S".
    – Seeker
    Nov 16 '19 at 7:33
  • @ErnestAbinokhauno—I have answered your comment in an addendum. Nov 17 '19 at 1:27
  • 28 But if I cast out devils by the spirit/pneuma/work/input of God, then the war of God is come unto you. God's plan is in motion, has started. It's like when the police find sabotage, a bomb explosion, destruction, etc. and ask, "Whose work is this? What do they hope to achieve?"
    – Seeker
    Nov 17 '19 at 19:07
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What is the best interpretation of the “finger of God” in the Old Testament?

Finger of God

When the magicians priest of Egypt failed to turn dust into gnats as Moses had done, the magicians said to Pharaoh "This is the finger of God."

Exodus 8:16-20 (NASB)

The Plague of Insects

16 "Then the Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the earth, that it may become [a]gnats through all the land of Egypt.’” 17 They did so; and Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and struck the dust of the earth, and there were [b]gnats on man and beast. All the dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were [f]gnats on man and beast. 19 Then the [g]magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.” But Pharaoh’s heart was [h]hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

Exodus 31:18 (NASB)

18 When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.

Deuteronomy 9:10 (NASB)

10 "The Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them were all the words which the Lord had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly."

Obviously God as the Creator of the universe does not have literal fingers, then what does He have?

The two gospel writers , Matthew and Luke give us the answer, Matthew writes that Jesus expelled demons " by means of the spirit of God". Luke on the other hand explained that he did this "by means of the finger of God." ( Jesus as he preached from town to town may have repeated what he said, in a slightly different manner)

Matthew 12:28 (NASB)

28 "But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you."

Luke 11:20 (NASB)

20 But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

So the "finger of God"- "is the spirit of God" , it is the means that God uses to accomplish his will He used his spirit in the creation :" In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters."Genesis 1:1-2 NASB

Compare:

Numbers 11:17 NRSV.

"I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself."

Judges 13:25 NRSV.

"The spirit of the Lord began to stir him in Mahaneh-dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol."

1 Samuel 10:6 NRSV

"Then the spirit of the Lord will possess you, and you will be in a prophetic frenzy along with them and be turned into a different person."

1 kings 22:24 NRSV

"Then Zedekiah son of Chenaanah came up to Micaiah, slapped him on the cheek, and said, “Which way did the spirit of the Lord pass from me to speak to you?."

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  • Let to me, there is so much around this conversation that is begging for clarifications. How is it that it was only when the magicians could not turn dust to gnats that they acknowledged that particular miracle as being performed by the finger of God or the Spirit of God as in your own words? So then, by what other spirits where the other nine plagues performed? Nov 14 '19 at 15:40
  • @Ernest : I did not say,God's inspired gospel writers Mathew and Luke explained it to us, obviously the other nine plaques were also performed by the" spirit of God" or as Luke said the "finger of God." Luke 21:20. The scriptures do not give us all the answers we want to know , the magicians may have acknowledged that the particular miracle as being performed by the finger of God, because God may have made them say it. As in the case of Ba'laam ,when he tried to curse Israel, God made him bless Israel three times. Numb 22:34, 24:1-25 Numb 24:1-25 and 21:21-35. Is this not possible? Nov 14 '19 at 19:23
  • I just noticed you mentioned the Synoptic parallel. +1. Nov 15 '19 at 9:42
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There is nothing in the grammar or the historical context of the time to clarify the meaning of finger of God. The context could help, through substitution of the phrase with different terms to get the best sense. For example, using your term in Exodus 8, it would read, "This is God's sovereignty".

Alternately, I believe the phrase can mean ”the support of God", or "the influence of God", or "the work of God", identifying where the act is coming from, its provenance, its source, it's origin. Those who opposed it were therefore not having the support of God, were fighting against God. Logically, then, the kingdom of God, would mean the campaign of God, the war like response of God against His enemies. By using the phrase, Christ was equating the Pharisees with Pharoah!!!

Acts 5:38“So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

*

Luke 11:14And He was casting out a demon, and it was mute; when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke; and the crowds were amazed. 15But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 16Others, to test Him, were demanding of Him a sign from heaven. 17But He knew their thoughts and said to them, “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and a house divided against itself falls. 18“If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say that I cast out demons by Beelzebul. 19“And if I by Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. 20“But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.

All Scripture from the NASB.

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  • So then, what does it imply to say that he used his “sovereignty” to write on the tablets of stone? Wouldn’t such claims be too twisted as a metaphor explaining substantive writings? Nov 14 '19 at 10:00
  • i already stated that sovereignty could be used to replace finger of God, but the support of God, or the work of God, seems to be a better fit. It identifies a group, a party, a side, and helps to choose whether to be for God, or against God, a recurring theme.
    – Seeker
    Nov 14 '19 at 11:10
  • We are on the same page. Just need to get one or two things straightened out and I can already see that you have started doing that. It is believed that God wrote the commandments as it were with his finger. Now, if we are saying that the “finger of God” could signify “the support of God,” wouldn’t such claims be suggestive of the fact that the commandments were written by some other means through “the support of God?” Nov 14 '19 at 15:31
  • It narrows down to work of God then. Luke 11:19, 20 would read: 19“And if I by the work of Beelzebul cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. 20“But if I cast out demons by the work of God, then you are facing the campaign of God. Bold text mine.
    – Seeker
    Nov 14 '19 at 17:56
  • The dichotomy revolves around how the magicians did not recognize the rest 9 of God’s miracles in Egypt as being performed by his spirit. Nov 15 '19 at 19:43
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"Finger" is often used unidiomatically as the best choice for a small job:

[Mar 7:33 NKJV] (33) And He took him aside from the multitude, and put His fingers in his ears, and He spat and touched his tongue.

[Jhn 8:6 NKJV] (6) This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear.

[Jhn 20:25, 27 NKJV] (25) The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe." ... (27) Then He said to Thomas, "Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing."

"Finger" might be used in different places with different symbolic/idiomatic meaning, depending on the author. However, it appears to me that often operations attributed to the finger of God are being attributed to God's action, similar to speaking of "the hand of God" but with the suggestion that what is impossible to men is simple for God. The Jewish Encyclopedia provides this usage here:

Similar to the English expression "He has more wit in his little finger than you have in your whole body," is the following, found in Ab. R. Natan (ed. Schechter, p. 59). "The finger of Eleazar ben 'Arak out-weighs all the scholars together."

Notice how "finger" is used to suggest "the least bit" or "the smallest effort":

[Mat 23:4 NKJV] (4) "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.

[Luk 11:46 NKJV] (46) And He said, "Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.

[Luk 16:24 NKJV] (24) "Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.'

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  • We must agree that so much is attached to the connotative implications surrounding the use of “the finger of God” in the Scriptures. We must entirely rely upon the work of grace to unravel such mysteries lying at the threshold of religious inquiry and skepticism rather than attempting any virtual exercises in a play upon rhetoric. Nov 17 '19 at 18:28
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@ Ernest Abinokhauno. It seems to me Ozzie Nicolas has correctly defined the meaning of the expression ‘finger of God’, inside the Exo 8:19's context, as equivalent to ‘the spirit [רוח] of God’. The comparisons he presented, based on Mat 12:28 & Luk 11:20, is a convincing matter, really. Also the mention of this expression (‘finger of God’) related to the drawing (carving?) of the ’10 commandments’ on the two stone tablets, from God’s part, is a further confirmation that this conclusion is correct.

On the other part, reading the comments made by Ernest Abinokhauno to the Ozzie Nicolas’ answer I think the latter has - this time – presented a less convincing answer to the legitimate Ernest’s perplexity (“How is it that it was only when the magicians could not turn dust to gnats that they acknowledged that particular miracle as being performed by the finger of God or the Spirit of God as in your own words?”).

Now I try to explain why I think so.

As I explained in my answer #21313, “[…] the inner mind-set of Pharaoh was a sheer refusal to accept the supremacy of IEUE (יהוה) over the universe. Pharaoh did let his mind to be clouded by the convincement he himself was a god, as we well know. He was so persuaded of his divinity/ascendancy over Egypt – and over Israel, particularly. […] From His part, Lord IEUE (יהוה) seeing clearly in the ‘heart’ of Pharaoh, judged he was a ‘(God’s) wrath vessel’ (compare Rom 9:22). The reading of the Pharaoh’s heart revealed to God that the king was – simultaneously – determined to clutch (חזק) with him the Israel’s people, heavily obligating (כבד) them to very hard labours. As regards Pharaoh itself, he would been inflexible (קשׁה) in these decisions of him, never withdrawing from his stance. We well remember the forceful words of Lord IEUE (יהוה): ‘For by now I could have sent forth My hand and I could have struck you and your people with pestilence, and you would have been wiped off the face of the earth. And yet, for this I have let you stand (עםד) – so as to show you My power, and so that My name will be told through all the earth.’ (Exo 9:15-16, Alter).” And, “Realistically, if Lord IEUE (יהוה) had strike Egyptians starting with the death of all their firstborns, it could be enough – probably - this unique plague to bend the unbending Pharaoh. But the revealed purpose of God was to unleash all the 10 plagues (we remember that ‘10’, in a symbolic way, in the Bible means ‘a full stock of something’) He had ideated […].”

A factor we have to take into consideration is that all people involved in that epochal event did must be able to take a decision about the following controversy: “The Supreme God is really IEUE (יהוה), the God of Israel, or he is one belonging to the large group of the Egypt’s pantheon gods?” The mixed crowd mentioned in the Bible account – for an example - that did leave Egypt with Israel did take a decision based on the answer to this question, evidently.

The Egypt’s magicians weren’t stupid, they were only guided in their works by the adversary of God. They were able to replicate the first two plagues because these miracles were inside the capabilities of Satan (Adversary). Differently, the issued challenge of the 3rd plague was beyond the capabilities of Satan. Perhaps this did depend on the particular nature of the miracle to perform. Many Bible translation – from my viewpoint - are lacking in precision to this point. In fact, they translate the expression עפר הארץ ותהי הכנם usually as “… the dust of the earth, and there were lice…”, or the like (see, for some examples, ASV, BBE, Brenton, CEV, ISV, and other). NET2 translation, in this instance, translates better (bold is mine): “All the dust of the ground became gnats throughout all the land of Egypt” (Exo 8:17 [NET 2]). Rightly, the verbal form utilized here isn’t a simple ‘there were’ but ‘became’, since the MT verbal root is היה/הוה , ‘to become’. This seems to indicate that the miracle behind the 3rd plague was a miracle of creation. Surely, the Adversary of God holds a lot of capabilities, included that of the “power of death” (Heb 2:14, NJB). But he is lacking the prerogative of a Supreme God, to create.

Moreover, the 4th plague added further difficulty to the magicians. Why? According the Bible account, just from this plague (4th) the people of Israel starting to be unaffected by the plagues. In fact, we read (bold is mine): “But on that day I will set apart the land of Goshen, where my people dwell, so that no swarms of flies shall be there, that you may know that I am the LORD [lit. IEUE (יהוה)] in the midst of the earth [literally, “you will know that I – IEUE – am to the proximity of the land (of Egypt)”]. Thus I will put a division between my people and your people […].” (Exo 8:22-23, ESV [MT have different verses numbering: 18-19]; see also 9:4; 11:7 for further information).

So, starting with the 4th ‘plague’, it wasn’t enough – for the magicians of Egypt - to replicate the miracle. They have to direct these plague against the unharmed people of Israel, because if they limited themselves to replicate the subsequent plagues (flies/mosquito [4th], livestock pestilence [5th], boils [6th], hail [7th], locusts [8th], darkness [9th], and death of firstborn [10th]) without directing them against the Israelites settled in Goshen, leaving unharmed the people of Egypt, this would build a surreal situation like the following I will present.

Imagine a scene where two persons are struggling together. One of them said to the other, ‘I am stronger than you’, striking the other man with a club in his head. The second, willing to prove now his power to the first, says, “I also are powerful like you”, striking his club in his own head, instead to strike the head of his enemy. Granted, the second person has proved his capability to strike with a club the head of somebody, but he did must strike the head of his enemy, not his own head! You know this would be a vignette fit for a Brothers Marx movie…

We may read an interesting comment at this regard in the ESV (Study Bible) translation (on Exo 8:18-19, bold is mine): “‘This is the finger of God’ (vs. 19). The narrative of the plagues highlights the way that some of Pharaoh’s servants (see also 10:7) begin to recognize what he [Pharaoh] fails to see; the God who sent Moses and Aaron has shown that he has power over Egypt and the Pharaoh’s persistent defiance is harming his own people.”

@Ernest Abinokhauno: I hope these information answer your questions and perplexities.

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  • This answer sounds convincing. But like I wrote to @Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim: the journey of interpreting the Scriptures is one that we must tread in the steps of faith. On the whole, I appreciate your effort. Nov 24 '19 at 19:03
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In the Haggadah which is traditionally read by Jews on Passover during the Seder, there is a section which discusses the number of plagues. It also discusses this topic. It says (using the translation on sefaria.org with slight modifications):

Rabbi Yose the Galilean says, "From where can you [derive] that the Egyptians were struck with ten plagues in Egypt and struck with fifty plagues at the Sea? In Egypt, what does it state? 'Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh: ‘This is the finger of God' (Exodus 8:15). And at the Sea, what does it state? 'And Israel saw the Lord's great hand that he used upon the Egyptians, and the people feared the Lord; and they believed in the Lord, and in Moshe, His servant' (Exodus 14:31). How many were they struck with with the finger? Ten plagues. You can say from here that in Egypt, they were struck with ten plagues and at the Sea, they were struck with fifty plagues." Rabbi Eliezer says, "From where [can you derive] that every plague that the Holy One, blessed be He, brought upon the Egyptians in Egypt was [composed] of four plagues? As it is stated (Psalms 78:49): 'He sent upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, and fury, and trouble, a sending of messengers of evil.' 'Wrath' [corresponds to] one; 'and fury' [brings it to] two; 'and trouble' [brings it to] three; 'a sending of messengers of evil' [brings it to] four. You can say from here that in Egypt, they were struck with forty plagues and at the Sea, they were struck with two hundred plagues." Rabbi Akiva says, "From where [can you derive] that every plague that the Holy One, blessed be He, brought upon the Egyptians in Egypt was [composed] of five plagues? As it is stated (Psalms 78:49): 'He sent upon them the fierceness of His anger, wrath, and fury, and trouble, a sending of messengers of evil.' 'The fierceness of His anger' [corresponds to] one; 'wrath' [brings it to] two; 'and fury' [brings it to] three; 'and trouble' [brings it to] four; 'a sending of messengers of evil' [brings it to] five. You can say from here that in Egypt, they were struck with fifty plagues and at the Sea, they were struck with two hundred and fifty plagues."

I am not sure if this exactly answers your question; however, it might provide some insight into the question you are asking.

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