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Responding Appropriately to Chastisement (1): Lifting Up Drooping Hands

Responding Appropriately to Chastisement (1): Lifting Up Drooping Hands

Responding Appropriately to Chastisement (Hebrews 12:1217) 


Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees: and make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. (Heb. 12:1213) 


In Hebrews 12, the subject is God’s chastisement. Many Christians view chastisement only as painful consequences for specific sins. But chastisement is wider than that. Chastisement is any suffering inflicted by God in love upon his children to teach and to correct them. Even Jesus, God’s perfect Son, was chastised, although not corrected: “he learned obedience by the things which he suffered” (Heb. 5:8). Many of the circumstances of our personal lives, our ecclesiastical lives, and the events in our nation and in the world are sent upon us as chastisement (and upon the wicked world as judgment), not necessarily because we have sinned in some particular way (although we ought not too quickly rule it out), but in order to teach us. God gives us practical lessons in patience and in contentment in order to impress upon us our helplessness and to quicken our hope in the coming of his Son. It is one thing to read about such things in the textbook (the Bible); it is quite another thing to be exercised in them (v. 11).

When God turns our life upside down, so that the familiar disappears and the unfamiliar takes its place, we do well to humble ourselves under his mighty hand (1 Pet. 5:6). 

In Hebrews 12:12ff, the lesson is practical: What should be our response to God’s chastisement? The answer is to strengthen the weak hands and the feeble knees. The reference is to Isaiah 35:3-4: “Strengthen ye the weak hands and the feeble knees. Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong.” Hands and knees are necessary for action: without strong hands and knees, we are not energetic or agile, and we cannot run, jump, or fight. Our hand is our strength, while our knees support our legs and feet. The hands of Isaiah 35 and Hebrews 12 hang down and are weak; they lack strength and vigor. Such hands, hanging down by the sides of the body, accomplish nothing. Feeble knees can barely support the legs, so that standing is difficult, walking is painful, and running is impossible. 

These weakened limbs are symptomatic of a spiritual problem. In Isaiah 35, the prophet explains: “Say to them that are of a fearful heart” (v. 4). One with drooping hands and feeble knees, therefore, is afraid. In Hebrews 12, the application is slightly different: “lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds” (v. 3). Drooping hands and feeble knees indicate discouragement. Discouragement is a sense of helplessness that so saps our strength that we become weary, we neglect our calling in life, or we live out our calling only with great difficulty and reluctance. 

In discouragement, we find it difficult to pray, pointless to study Scripture; we tire of public worship; and we neglect our calling to witness. Our hands hang down, and our knees are feeble. A discouraged husband/father finds no enthusiasm for his work, makes no effort in his marriage to love and serve his wife, and neglects his children by not zealously raising them in the fear of the Lord. A discouraged wife/mother finds the pressure of looking after the home a great burden: the house never stays clean; the children don’t seem to listen; the children’s misbehavior drains her strength; and her husband shows little appreciation, so why bother? Her hands hang down and her knees are feeble. A discouraged single becomes so tired of being alone that she refuses to serve in the church. A discouraged child/young person finds his studies frustrating, difficult, or boring: “I never make progress, so why bother?” he thinks. His hands hang down, and his knees are feeble. 

If you find yourself tempted to abandon your duties in home, work, school, and church; if you find your strength and courage failing; if you find negativity or even paralysis creeping over your soul, you are discouraged. Your hands are hanging down and your knees are feeble. 

The command of Scripture is “wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees” (Heb. 12:12). The exhortation is not merely to elevate the hands, but to restore them to their former strength or to rectify and set them straight. The Greek verb rendered “lift up” is one from which the word “orthopaedic” is derived. Hands are raised when strength is restored to them; and knees are strengthened and straightened so that they function properly again. Only with such limbs do we “run with patience the race that is set before us” (v. 1). Isaiah explains: “Strengthen ye the weak hands and confirm the feeble knees” (Isa. 35:3). Scripture gives no excuse for passivity and listlessness. God does not say, “Put your feet up and excuse your weak hands and knees.” God says, “Lift them up!” This is an exhortation to renewed activity and zeal. 

Since drooping hands and feeble knees are not a physical problem, the word of God does not here prescribe physiotherapy or muscle training, but spiritual remedies. The first remedy is to consider the context: “Wherefore lift up” (v. 12). Quickly survey the instruction on chastisement in the previous verses.

Consider, first, the good purposes of God in the trials that discourage you. Chastisement “yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (v. 11). God aims at our sanctification: “that we might be partakers of his holiness” (v. 10).

Consider, second, the good reasons we have to submit to the Father’s rod: he is worthy of more submission than an earthly father (v. 9); chastisement is evidence of our sonship (vv. 78); and God chastens us only out of love (v. 6).

Consider, third, the exhortation from Proverbs, which is the book of practical wisdom: “My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him” (Prov. 3:11; Heb. 12:5). Solomon understood our natural tendency to despise chastisement or to faint at it, and he urges us to respond appropriately.

Consider, fourth, the example of Jesus, who did not faint, although he experienced much worse suffering than we do (vv. 23).

And consider, fifth, the example of the saints of the past: they all faced opposition, difficulty, hardship, discouragement, and chastisement, but they did not draw back. They strengthened and lifted up their drooping hands and feeble knees. They continued to run, to fight, and to serve the Lord (Heb. 10:3812:1). 

In other words, strength for our weak hands and feeble knees comes from the word of the truth of the gospel. In Isaiah 35:4, we read, “Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not, behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompense: he will come and save you.” Say to them! Hands are strengthened, knees are confirmed, and discouraged saints are lifted up to duty and service when they hear about God. To the discouraged saint, the gospel says, “God will come and save you.” God will reward his people and recompense judgment upon his enemies. We remember the power of God; we remember the love of God; we remember God’s unfailing covenant mercies. When we remember our Savior Jesus, who died for us, who atoned for our sins, who redeemed us from sin and death, and who was resurrected to give us life, we receive strength for our hands and knees, and health for our bones. 

If your hands and knees are strong, then praise God for it! If you vigorously, joyously, and eagerly serve the Lord, God’s grace is working in you abundantly. But do not forget others: How are their hands and knees? Do they droop? Are they feeble? We must encourage, strengthen, and support one another. The strong must encourage the weak. We must be attentive to the spiritual condition of others. We are running a race together. If fellow saints are weak and discouraged, we must recognize this and come to help them. If you are struggling, you must share your burdens, receive encouragement, and take heed to the gospel. Cast your burdens on the Lord, for he is a sympathetic Savior (Heb. 4:1416).

How easy it is to do the opposite! How easy it is to discourage others, to complain about our hardships, and to refuse to seek help from others! Let us be encouragers and let us receive encouragement from our fellow saints by faith! 

Having applied the spiritual orthopaedic remedies of the gospel to our drooping hands and feeble knees, we are ready to perform the activity of Hebrews 12:13, “And make straight paths for your feet.” When our feet are hanging down and our knees are feeble, walking in the straight path of Christian commitment and duty is impossible. With strengthened limbs, we will make straight paths and we will walk in them.

We walk, therefore, in new obedience. We live in faithfulness in marriage, single life, and family life. We live out our callings in the home, the workplace, the school, and the church. We obey all of God’s commandments. We follow God, while we cling to Christ, bearing our cross, and enduring hardness as good soldiers of Christ (2 Tim. 2:3). We do these things by the power of his grace, relying on him, praying to him, and seeking his aid. And when we stumble, we have constant recourse to the blood of Christ to cleanse us from our sins.

So, lift up your drooping hands and your feeble knees. Lift up the drooping hands and feeble knees of your fellow saints with words of encouragement, so that they, too, might walk on the straight path. 

Finally, the exhortation is necessary not merely for our own spiritual welfare and vitality, but also for the sake of others. Discouragement and carelessness affect others: the church becomes demoralized and the work of the church suffers when hands are allowed to hang down and when knees remain feeble. This applies especially to the lame: “lest that which is lame be turned out of the way” (Heb. 12:13). 

“Lest” means “so that not.” Therefore, it gives a warning or a negative purpose. A lame person is crippled; he is in danger of being turned out of the way, of giving up altogether. There are lame members in the church, and there are lame periods in our lives. Do not despise or neglect the lame members: they especially need the encouragement of the stronger saints. Do not turn them out of the way, but aim at their healing: “but let it rather be healed” (v. 13). Perhaps one of your fellow saints is lame: how you speak to him, how you treat him, and how you are an example to him will make a huge differenceperhaps the difference between his being healed or his being turned out of the way. 

Are your hands drooping? Lift them up! Are your knees feeble? Strengthen them! Are the knees of your fellow saints feeble? Strengthen them, especially the hands and knees of the lame, by speaking the comfortable words of the gospel to them! Christ has died for our sins; God’s grace is sufficient for us; trials and chastisements are for our profit; and our God shall come and save us. Therefore, with renewed vigor, we walk and run in the straight paths of God’s word to his glory. 


Return to the RFPA blog next week for the next part in this series, Responding Appropriately to Chastisement (Hebrews 12:12–17).


Martyn McGeown is a pastor in the Protestant Reformed Churches. He is also the editor of the RFPA blog and the author of multiple RFPA publications.

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