Isaiah 49 begins with what is called a Servant Songs There are four Servant Songs in Isaiah’s. These songs are about the Servant of the Lord, the promised Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Israel had failed God as his representative to the nations. But God’s redemptive plan was not thwarted. God’s anointed Servant would fulfill his plans for Israel and the nations.
Verse 13 records the proper response to this good news: “Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the Lord has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted.” Sovereign grace invokes universal praise. All creation should sing praise for God’s comfort and compassion toward his afflicted people.
Verse 14 records the perverted response to this good news: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.’” “Zion” is Jerusalem. The city is personified. The place represents the people. God promised his Servant will deliver Israel. The people of God do not believe the promise of God. Unable to see past their present circumstances, they claim the Lord has forsaken and forgotten them. This is Zion’s perspective on the Babylonian Captivity.
- Their situation made them feel that God had forsaken them.
- They were in their situation because they had forsaken God.
Do not trust your feelings. Zion feelings were real but not right. Our emotional response to life’s circumstances can be authentic but not accurate. If you are a child of God and feel your heavenly Father has forsaken you, your feelings are lying to you. Isaiah 40:27 asks, “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God”? There are times when our feelings of despair, depression, and discouragement need to be rebuked by the truth of God’s word.
Isaiah 49:15-16 says, “Can a woman forget her nursing young, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” The word “love” is not used in these verses. Yet this passage is one of the strongest declarations of the loyal love of God in scripture. God will never forget those who trust in him. Isaiah 49:15-16 is a threefold confirmation of God’s love for you.
The Picture of God’s Love
Verse 15 asks, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” This rhetorical question assumes a negative answer. Even the despondent Israelites would agree and affirm that a mother will not forget her child. Yet the Lord states this obvious truth in persuasive language.
The verse pictures a woman who becomes pregnant and has a child. God asks, “Can a woman forget her nursing child?” The child is not in its terrible twos or troublesome teens. It is a nursing child – a newborn that draws sustenance from its mother’s breast. The cries of the child will not let her forget him. Without the cries, her maternal instincts tell her when it is feeding time. Her body and soul will not let her forget. Is it possible that “she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” “Compassion” corresponds to “forget.” If her child is in pain, trouble, or danger, a mother cannot do nothing. A mother’s lovehas to do something to help her child. The disciples fled when Jesus was arrested. Mary stood at the foot of the cross.
When Crystal and I were engaged, we had a lot of conversations about children. She wanted to wait. I thought we should be open. In our first year of marriage, she felt sick and went to the doctor. I was preaching in Detroit. As I ate lunch next, Crystal called. Crying, she screamed, “You got me pregnant!” I did not know what to expect when I arrived home. But that fast, my wife become a excited, devoted, and protective mother.
There is a mystical love between a mother and child. The child came from the seed of the father. But the child was a part of the mother. They were one as the baby formed in her womb. Everything a pregnant mother does affects two people. When the child is born, it comes back to the mother to feed on her breasts.
- A child’s bloodline goes through the father.
- A child’s lifeline goes through the mother.
You have to cut the baby from the mother! In 1 Kings 3, the Lord tells Solomon to ask what for whatever he wished. Solomon asked for wisdom. 1 Kings 3 then illustrates the wisdom of Solomon. Two prostitutes came to the new king. They were both sleeping with their babies. One died in bed with her. In the middle of the night, she switched babies. Both mothers claimed the living baby. Solomon said cut the baby in half and give each a portion. The birth mother said let the other have the baby. Solomon knew that a real mother wants the best for her child. This is the picture of love God paints to say to Zion that he would never forsake and forget them.
The Promise of God’s Love
Verse 15 asks, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” The presumed answer is the incorrect answer. Verse 15b answers, “Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” It is said, “A mother loves at all times.” That is not always the case. A woman may forget or forsake her child. When the news reports a mother abusing or abandoning her children, it is shocking because it is not natural. For the same reason, abortion is not moral, even though it is legal. A mother’s instinct is to nurture her child, not slaughter it. Yet verse 15 says, “Even these may forget.”
When Syria besieged Samaria, there was a famine in the land. A woman cried out to the king of Israel for help. In 2 Kings 6:28-29, she explained, “This woman said to me, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.’ So we boiled my son and ate him. And on the next day I said to her, ‘Give your son, that we may eat him,’ But she has hidden her son.” The hiding mother was desperate enough to kill someone else’s son, not her own. God says, “Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.”
In scripture, God reveals himself as a Father. Seeking to overcome patriarchalism, theological liberals wrongly emphasize the motherhood of God. Isaiah 49:15 is a key prooftext. Scripture condemns the abuse of women. It does not do so by picturing God as a mother. Verse 15 does not claim the love of God is like that of a mother. It claims the love of God is greater than that of a mother. Divine love is infinitely greater than human love. The love of God surpasses the love of a mother or father. Psalm 27:10 says, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.”
Isaiah 49:15 is a remarkable promise: “I will not forget you.” It is first a promise to Israel. It is a promise to the church of Jesus Christ. And it is a promise to everyone who trusts in the Lord. A godly mother does not play favorites. Yet the one who is in need, pain, or trouble gets her special attention. So it is with God. God loves you as if you are the only one to love. You are unforgettable to God. Sin, sickness, sorrow, suffering, or Satan cannot cause God to forget you. It is the Father’s unique, unconditional, and unchangingpromise: “I will not forget you.” Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”
The Proof of God’s Love
The question of God’s love is answered in verse 15. God will not forget those who trust in him, even if a mother forgets her nursing child. After proclaiming his love, God proves his love. If the language of verse 15 is not dramatic enough, verse 16 is even more graphic. The love of God is illustrated in verse 15. The love of God is incarnated in verse 16.
God works with love-stained hands. Verse 16 says, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” “Behold” is a call to attention. With outstretched hands, God says, “If you think I have forgotten you, look at my hands.” This is an anthropomorphism. John 4:24 says, “God is spirit.” God does not have physical hands. God beckons us to examine his metaphorical anatomy to prove his loyal love. It was customary for the master to be written on the servant’s hand. In condescending grace, the servant is written on the master’s hand.
This is an accomplished fact, not a future promise. You did not write your name on God’s hand. God has engraved you on his hands. You can never be erased from God’s memory. Leviticus 19:28 says, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves. I am the Lord.” Yet God says, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” This is more than a tattoo. God has “engraved” you on his hand. You are not painted on his hands. You have been carved into his hands.
Your name is not engraved on his hands. You are engraved on his hands. On the palms of his hands, not the back of his hands. Both hands! When the sheep are placed on his right, you will be included because he has engraved you on his hand. When the goats are placed on his left, you will not be included because he has you engraved on his hands. The figure is literal. When Jesus was nailed to the cross for your sins, God engraved you on the palms of his hands. John 20:20 says, “When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord.”
God sees with love-filled eyes. Verse 16 says, “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.” In the ancient world, major cities were surrounded by walls. The walls marked the border of the city. Moreover, the walls were the primary defense strategy. The city wall represented strength, stability, and security. This section of Isaiah’s prophesy addresses the time when the people of God were in Babylonian Captivity. The city walls of Jerusalem were broken and burnt down. This is why Zion claimed the Lord had forsaken and forgotten her. The Lord replies, “Your walls are continually before me.” Not just the temple, but the walls were before him.
God is concerned about the spiritual matters in your life. God is also concerned about everything else in your life. He does not see things as they are. He sees them as they will be. Isaiah 66:13 says, “As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.”If you are lost in sin, true comfort is only found in the Lord. If you feel forgotten, true love is only found in the Lord.