Isaiah writes to the people of Israel during a time of degenerating morals in the nation. Many in Israel have turned to the worship of Idols and YHWH God to them is either ignored or they attempt to worship him alongside the others. Because of their constant refusal to repent and return they are to be judged. But even before the judgment falls God begins to compassionately promise them a redeemer; an anointed leader, The Messiah who will redeem them.
In the midst of the forty-ninth chapter of Isaiah is a prophecy about Jesus the Messiah restoring the people of Israel. The promise in the chapter is of salvation coming from Messiah to the Israelites, but that is too small a thing (v6). Thus The Father expands the salvation ministry of Messiah to all of the gentile nations. In the midst of all this great promise of God restoring Israel to increasing glory we come to the 14th verse where Israel utters a complaint that God has forsaken them and the Lord has forgotten them. God responds with great reassurance.
Please stand with me and read with me from Isaiah 49:14-26.
God loves you more (than mom)
Have you ever felt forsaken and forgotten by God? There is no feeling so horrible as believing that God cares nothing for you. This is why God does not sternly rebuke Israel for her bad theology; but instead steps in to explain that he will never forsake or forget them. As we read through these verses we should be reminded not only of their meaning for Israel but of the divine promise made by Jesus, "I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Mat 28:20b NAU)
To any of you who have ever wondered if perhaps God will forget you, or perhaps that he will cease to carry you let me offer these words from the one true God who loves you more than a mother loves her child. He will not forget you in your distress (vv14-16).
Since it is Mother's Day let's just consider for a moment the proverbial love of a mother. We all know what it's like to think of Mom as your last refuge and hope. Ever hear the phrase, “he's got a face only a mother could love?” I have (why are you laughing?).
A Mother's love is almost proverbial. A little boy skins his knees and runs into the house, who does he scream for? He doesn't shout “Daddy!” He knows where the tender compassion lies. He calls out for mom. There is no love like a mother's love. That is part of what we celebrate on Mother's day.
When a baby is born the first parental face they see, and certainly the one they will see most often is mom who gets up for the midnight feedings and cares tenderly for them in their earliest stages of life.
“Zion: the people of Israel,” we're told cries out saying, “YAHWEH has forsaken me, and the Lord has forgotten me.” All they see around them is misery and they assume that God doesn't care.
And God responds to them. “Can a woman forget her nursing child.” There he is in her arms can she forget him? Is it possible that she'll have no compassion on the son of her womb? I suppose it's not impossible. We watch the news, we see the stories of moms who do fall into that category and we shake our heads and we know it's not supposed to be like that.
Make no mistake, God sees those stories too and he knows every detail. But we all know that the typical picture of mom is different, she's the tender compassionate one the last line of defense, the last certain hope that on this earth, you will be loved.
But then God breaks in with the hard facts, Sure it's possible that a mother might forget her child, “but you know what,” God says, “I love you more than your own mother!” God's love is greater than any mother's love. She might have the memory of Child birth but God has engraved your name on his hands. “The nuance of the verb suggests an even stronger assurance, 'As for Me, I am unable to forget you.'”1
Your name isn't written on his hands with ink that might wash off, your name isn't associated to a string on God's finger that he might forget why it's there, your name is etched into his nail pierced hands. When the Lord looks at his hands he does not see an unbroken palm, he sees the marks of love that bear your name! Do you honestly think that the Eternal, All knowing, All Powerful, Unimaginably powerful God of creation can forget you? It's not going to happen. What he says of Israel is true of you who belong to him He will not, cannot forget you for you are engraved into his palm.
God gives you more (than mom)
When we reach down into verses 17-23 we have yet another picture which revolves around the question in verse 21. God's promises to Israel are for far more than mere restoration of the status quo. When God decides to restore Israel it is going to mean more than just setting things up the way they used to be. Look at the verses here and read them with me with this question and answer:
Q: “how magnificent is God's restoration?”
A: “It overflows beyond your expectation (vv21-23)”
Remember that at the moment, people are dropping like flies and God has been warning them of the people of Babylon coming in and utterly destroying them, and then not letting them return to their homes. Now He begins in the 17th verse to describe their builders or their children running back into the land while at the same time their captors are running out the other way. The idea is that the restoration of Israel is going to hurry. As quickly as the next generation comes in one door, the destroyers will be leaving out the other door.
And it's not just the old crowd returning, this is a larger family of Israel. What begins in this verse is an incredibly graphic picture of the totality of restoration in view. In verse 18 God swears by himself saying, “As I live” you will wear them like jewelry. It is a promise that Israel will be adorned with her descendants in the same way a bride wears her best jewelry. In fact the restoration brought about by God's hand will be so overflowing that the places Israel considered empty then would be so overflowing with people that they'd be asking for more room. The future will hold more blessing than before the destruction.
The same is true not only for Israel but also for the redeemed in the eternal kingdom. “how great will God's final restoration for us be?” Is heaven really all that great? Without taking the time to go into all the details I think we can look at the principle here and readily answer that: “yes.” It will be far and above anything you can imagine.
But as soon as we start looking at the promised future and then we kind of snap back to reality as it is today we might be tempted to wonder whether or not God can pull it off. The answer again, is a resounding yes in verses 22-26.
God is more powerful than you think.
In verse 24 they wonder if it's possible for even God to deliver them from the mighty armies of Babylon. In other words they're wondering “Is God really powerful enough to deliver me?” Again the answer is “Yes he is and he will display his power so that the world will know that he is the deliverer! (Vv24-26)
Beginning in the 22 verse God's great love is teamed now with his POWER as he makes the nations bring back the children of Israel. It is not as if the nations will say "OK you may go back," but that they will say, "you may go and I will pay your way!" For a little assurance you can read the stories of Nehemiah and Ezra and see how God made the nations around Israel pay for their restoration, the rebuilding of the temple, the reconstruction of her walls and the return journey of his people. The people wanted to know whether God would be able to deliver them from their bondage. And both God and history declare that the unreserved answer is "yes". Not only can (and will) God deliver Israel he will take up the cause of fighting the tyrants on their behalf.
And here's why: God will bring about a great deliverance: So that all flesh will know that he is their redeemer and Lord, the Mighty one of Jacob. God is jealous that the world will see who he is; and he labors also in our redemption to display himself to the world.
Thus when we refuse to be witnesses for Him, we are failing to give God the glory he is worthy of for we are concealing His light under a bushel instead of posting it in the highest spot for all the world to see.
God loves you more than you know, he will give you more of a reward than you can imagine, and he has more power to accomplish it than you can comprehend. He is the mighty God who comes to deliver. And He will not forget you; for you are engraved upon His hands.
1 Earl D. Radmacher, Ronald Barclay Allen and H. Wayne House, Nelson's New Illustrated Bible Commentary (Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers, 1999), Is 49:15.