GEMS FROM THE OLD TESTAMENT
“Can a woman forget her nursing child, and not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.”
For nearly seven centuries, from the time of Moses to the time of Isaiah, God repeatedly warned His people against disobedience and idolatry. He not only warned, He pleaded. “I have stretched out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, according to their own thoughts.” (Isaiah 65:2)
Eventually, however, even God’s patience ended and divine judgment fell. In 722 B.C. the Northern Kingdom of Samaria was defeated and deported by the Assyrians. In 586 B.C. the Southern Kingdom of Judah met the same bloody fate at the hands of the Babylonians.
Both of these invasions brought unspeakable suffering to Israel—slavery, loss, destruction, families torn apart. Yet, for the Jews, the Babylonian Captivity was a disaster of immeasurable proportion; not merely because of the carnage, death, or enslavement, but even more so because of the destruction of Jerusalem and its holy Temple.
Since the reign of Solomon, the Temple in Jerusalem had been the symbol of God’s presence among His people, the place for His Name. But now, with the Temple gone, presumably God had gone too—or so many Israelites thought: “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, and my Lord has forgotten me.’” (Isaiah 49:14)
But God had not forgotten or forsaken His people, though He had every right and reason to do so. Instead, amid judgment He displayed mercy. Amid sorrow He promised joy. Even when grieving over Israel’s downfall, the prophet Jeremiah wrote: “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
The Babylonian captivity was dreadful. Yet, there are other forms of captivity and exile. A troubled marriage or disabling disease can feel like captivity. Loneliness and loss can seem like exile. In such difficult circumstances we too may cry out with the captive Israelites: “The Lord has forsaken me. My Lord has forgotten me.”
Yet, though we may feel forsaken and forgotten by God, He never forsakes us; He never forgets us. Not only do we have His word on this—“I will not forget you” (verse 15); we also have His palm prints.
Using unmistakable imagery, God assured the frightened, forlorn Israelites: “See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” (verse 16) The Hebrew word for inscribed in this verse, CHA-KAK, literally means “to cut into.” God’s constant reminder of Zion would not be a string tied around His finger or ink dried on His hand; rather, the name of Zion, His people, cut into His palms—always close, always visible, everlasting.
Personally, I can’t read about ‘cuts in God’s palms’ without thinking about the nail-prints in Christ’s hands. One of the first things Jesus did after His resurrection was to show His disciples the wounds in His hands, feet, and side—the proof of His identity, the proof of their salvation, the proof that they had nothing more to fear.
The same nail-prints speak the same message to us: “I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands.” And on the basis of those PALM PRINTS we exclaim with Paul: Nothing in all creation “shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” (Romans 8:39)
Mark Weis is pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in Cape Coral, Florida.