Working backwards through the Scriptures, the “finger of God” is encountered in the book of Daniel, when “the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the royal palace wall” (5:5b), with this occurring during a great banquet being hosted by King Belshazzar of Babylon. In an era in which the book of Daniel commanded a great deal of attention, and which was quite obviously on Jesus’ mind, owing to His constant reference to Daniel’s Son of Man, this instance of usage is quite worthy of the attention of all eager students of Jesus and Scripture.
In the story, Daniel is called upon to interpret what the finger has written, eventually informing the king that it pronounced his doom. Daniel informed the king that “God has numbered your kingdom’s days and brought it to an end… you are weighed on the balances and found to be lacking… your kingdom is divided and given over to the Medes and Persians” (5:26b,27b,28b).
Now, it cannot be overlooked that at this banquet “Belshazzar issued an order to bring in the gold and silver vessels---the ones that Nebuchadnezzar his father had confiscated from the Temple in Jerusalem---so that the kings and nobles, together with his wives and concubines, could drink from them… As they drank wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone” (5:2b,4). The writer reports that it was “At that very moment the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote.”
It must be noted that Belshazzar was drinking from that which had been plundered from the Temple, doing so as a strong man, fully armed, guarded in his own palace, and seemingly safe with all of his possessions. However, it was “in that very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, was killed. So Darius the Mede took control of the kingdom” (5:30-31a). A stronger man attacked him and conquered him, surely plundering all of Belshazzar’s once safe possessions. Might this very story have been on Jesus’ mind as He spoke of and acted out the finger of God?
The finger of God is also referenced in conjunction with the delivery of the Ten Commandments. In Deuteronomy, Moses reports that “The Lord gave me the two stone tablets written by the very finger of God, and on them was everything He said to you at the mountain from the midst of the fire at the time of that assembly” (9:10). Likewise, in Exodus, it is recorded that “He gave Moses two tablets of testimony when He had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, tablets of stone written by the finger of God” (31:18). By making mention of the finger of God in reference to Himself, Jesus brings the hoped for and ultimately inevitable comparisons to Moses into play.
Though Matthew’s presentation of Jesus as the new Moses is quite explicit, Luke’s is more subtle. Where Matthew has Jesus referencing a commandment by saying “you have heard that it was said, and then adding the rejoinder of “but I say unto you,” Luke’s Jesus is less forceful and less overt. A perfect example from Matthew has Jesus saying “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy’” (5:43), before offering up His response of “But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you” (5:44). In Luke, Jesus says “But I say to you who are listening: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who mistreat you” (6:27), omitting the “you have heard that it was said.” The “you have heard that it was said,” making reference to the Mosaic law and the interpretation of that law, is implied.