June 29, 2017

For by their own sword they did not possess the land, and their own arm did not save them, but Your right hand and Your arm and the light of Your presence. Psalm 44:3


It’s the Fourth of July, a day when our thoughts turn to our country’s freedom, and often to a symbol of our independence, the Statue of Liberty.

We’ve all seen the photos, and many of us have actually visited the icon. But here are some statistics about her, courtesy of the National Park Service:


Height: 151 feet, 1 inch

Ground to the tip of the torch (which includes the base): 305 feet, 1 inch

Length of hand: 16 feet, 5 inches

Index finger: 8 feet

Length of right arm: 42 feet

Width of right arm: 12 feet

Thickness of outer copper sheeting: 3/32 inches, or the thickness of two pennies placed together

Wind factor: 50 mph winds make the Statue’s body move up to 3 inches, and the torch up to 6 inches

Crown: the 25 windows symbolize gemstones and heaven’s rays shining over the world; the crown’s 7 rays represent the world’s 7 seas and continents


On the New York Public Library’s website, I just read a story about how the arm, hand and torch figured into getting the Statue situated in New York harbor.

The original idea was to place “Liberty Enlightening the World” (Lady Liberty’s official name) as a lighthouse at the entrance to the Suez Canal. Then France proposed it as a gift to America. The catch was that the U.S. had to provide the pedestal via fundraising, an idea not greeted with much enthusiasm here.

So designer Frederic Auguste Bartholdi decided he would raise the money by sending Liberty’s arm, hand and torch on a tour.

First stop: the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exposition. Visitors bought tickets to climb a ladder in the arm up to the torch. Despite the interest, the New York Times reported, “From present appearances we have now all of the statue that we shall have unless we are willing to pay the cost of finishing it, and it is more than doubtful if the American public is ready to undertake any such task.”

The clever Bartholdi replied that maybe he’d allow Philadelphia to have the statue instead of New York. That sparked the city to announce it would display the sculpture in Madison Square while awaiting the rest of the statue (Madison Square is at the intersection of Fifth, Broadway and 23rd Street; the sports and entertainment arena, Madison Square Garden, used to be located nearby, hence its name).

The “Arm of Liberty” remained in Madison Square for six years, from late 1876 to 1882. “It is understood that just in proportion as money is furnished, other pieces of the statue [sic] of Liberty will be erected in parks and squares of this City,” the Times sardonically reported. “It is proposed to erect the two legs of the statue at one of the entrances of the Central Park. Persons who pass between the shadows of those two Titanic legs will undoubtedly be filled with all sorts of lofty emotions, but it must be confessed that a pair of detached legs, having no connection with either a body or skirt, will fail to satisfy those who insist that art should faithfully copy nature. It would probably be better to place the legs upside down in the middle of the Central Park lake.”

By 1882, though, New York was becoming very possessive of Liberty, the newspaper noted. “This statue is dear to us, though we have never looked upon it, and no third-rate town is going to step in and take it from us. Philadelphia tried that in 1876, and failed. Let Boston be warned in time that she can’t have our Liberty. We have more than a million people in this City who are resolved that this great light-house statue shall be smashed into minute fragments before it shall be stuck up in Boston Harbor.”

The Washington Post couldn’t resist a dig. “You would have been surprised to see how nicely the statue fitted the [Washington] monument. It really seemed to have been made for it.”

Donations for the pedestal had been trickling in; now the New York fundraising began in earnest, with benefit concerts, art exhibitions, souvenir sales and a campaign by Joseph Pulitzer’s World newspaper. Emma Lazarus donated her poem, “The New Colossus”, which was later engraved on a bronze plaque and mounted on the pedestal.

Finally, on October 28, 1886, the Statue of Liberty was dedicated.

And to think it all came about through the exhibition of an arm, hand and torch.

The Bible alludes to God’s arm and hand as symbols of His power in several passages, mostly in the Old Testament. Beginning in Exodus, He promises to figuratively use them to deliver the Israelites out of oppression in Egypt: “I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment” (6:6). After He did, Moses told the people, “Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand” (Exodus 13:3).

Psalm 136, called “the Great Hallel” (“the great praise”) in Jewish liturgy, is recited at that commemoration, Passover, when “with a strong hand and an outstretched arm,” God divided the Red Sea and overthrew Pharaoh and his army. Moses and Miriam’s song of deliverance alludes to it as well (Exodus 15:6). Deuteronomy reiterates the same imagery (4:34, 5:15, 6:21, 7:19, 11:2, 26:8), and it even gets a mention in the New Testament (Acts 13:17).

Isn’t it a relief to have a strong arm fight your battles? Scripture says God’s not only capable of doing so, but also willing: “The Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear” (Isaiah 59:1). He knows that just as the Israelites weren’t able to secure their own rescue, we too don’t have the capacity or strength to manage by ourselves, especially in light of our bent to do things our own way: “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God…He saw that there was no man…no one to intercede; then His own arm bought salvation to Him” (Isaiah 59:2, 16). Because there was no qualified (i.e. sinless) mediator, God bridged the gap between Him and us through His Son Jesus.

And here’s another comfort: God’s arms are not only potent, they’re loving. “There is none like the God of Israel, who rides the heavens to your help, and through the skies in His majesty. The eternal God is a refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:26-27).

Tough yet tender…that’s our God.


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