Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—Engraved on the Palm of His Hand
Thanks to the Hubble space telescope, we can look further out into the universe than we ever have before, and in the process we are discovering infinity. For example: With the hubble space telescope we can now see objects in outer space that are so distant and so dim that their luminescent power is 2 billion times fainter than the brightness of the dimmest star that we can see on a very dark night with the naked eye.
Between September 24, 2003 through January 16, 2004, the Hubble space telescope took the deepest image of the universe ever taken. They called it the HUDF image or Hubble Ulta-Deep Field image. It took pictures of the universe that, if we could travel there, would take us 13-billion years. I don’t think we’re going any time soon.
NASA scientists pointed the Hubble telescope toward a region of space in the Fornax Constellation. Fornax is Latin for Furnace and the constellation is in the Southern Hemisphere. From the Earth, it’s one of the blackest regions of space. You just don’t see much. The area of space they looked at was very small. It was comparable to a square millimeter of paper held 1 meter away.
As the Hubble looked into this region of space, it discovered not only stars, but galaxies. And not just a few galaxies but thousands upon thousands. In the HUDF image, astronomers estimate that there are 10,000 galaxies in the photo. And this is just one tiny sliver of the universe. We see evidence of not just stars colliding, but galaxies colliding in cosmic cataclysmic events not fathomable to our puny human minds. Astronomers tell us that there are about 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. Our own Milky War Galaxy is considered and average galaxy and it contains an estimated 200 billion stars. Do the math: 200 billion stars times 170 billion galaxies=one heck of a lot of stars. Like never before, we are discovering the unimaginable immensity of our universe. And in doing so, we discover something about the infinite majesty and power of God Almighty. As the Psalmist wrote...
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after nighty they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4 NIV
If the skies of the Hubble space telescope proclaim the works of God's hands, then God must be pretty busy.
What the Hubble telescope has done for us concerning the heavens, the electron microscope has done for us concerning the earth. All of us remember learning in school about the intricacies of the ecosystem, about species, families, classes, and the incredible diversity within the studies of biology. And maybe you remember learning of the wonderful ways that different parts of the human body work together and contribute to the whole body—from skin, to muscles to liver, kidneys, heart and brain. But that is simple compared to what micro-biologists are learning about some of the smallest life forms on earth. The electron microscope has enabled us to look into the molecules of life, and in doing so we have discovered another universe of unimaginable minuteness.
Our bodies contain trillions of cells, with each working together to make the whole. And in each of these cells, are tightly spiraled DNA strings containing simple chemical protein codes comprising billions of instructions complete with the syntax of language, commas, and periods. Just as the immensity of the universe pours forth speech, so does the infinitesimal structure of a single cell.
When we get to the level of molecular biology the machinery of life stuns us. For example, the little twirling tail of an e-coli bacteria which enables it to get from one place to another is no simple structure. This tail at its base has a molecular motor, including an armature, a stator, a clutch mechanism, and bearings. When the bacteria is moving, it turns on a protein that serves as a clutch that engages the tail. To remain at rest, the protein is turned off, disengaging the clutch. These tiniest molecular machines intricately designed are the building blocks behind all of life in its irreducible complexity! If we accept Paul's argument that in God we live and move and have our being, then God must be incredibly busy on the molecular level too.
I don't know about you, but when I come to know these things, they push me to wonder, to awe, and to amazement. These two illustrations cause me to prostrate myself face-first in the dust and worship because I can do nothing else. They cause me to wonder about God: If God is behind this, not only designing it, creating it, but also sustaining it, then God is a very, very busy God. If God has all this to take care of, why—or how—can he ever focus on me?
This is how the people of Israel felt. We hear their plaintive cry of abandonment in their conversation with God:
God says: “Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.” (Isaiah 49:13, NIV84)
Israel responds: “But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.”” (Isaiah 49:14, NIV84)
God rebukes: ““Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (Isaiah 49:15–16, NIV84)
In this passage we see three things: God’s Compassion, Israel’s Complaint, and God’s Covenant.
I. GOD’S COMPASSION v. 13
- commensurate with the magnitude of God’s salvation is the command that the heavens are to shout, and the earth is to rejoice and the mountains are to burst into song
- the first two verbs in v. 13 are imperatives
- it means that creation has no choice but to shout and rejoice
- the heaven and earth are to shout for joy at the marvelous redemption the God of Israel has accomplished
- ILLUS. In Luke’s account of our Lord’s Triumphal Entry in Jerusalem, the people are shouting, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ The Pharisees in the crowd don’t like this, and the insist that Jesus rebuke his disciple for their blasphamy. Jesus responds, ‘I tell you, if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.’ (Luke 19:39)
- in vv. 1-7 God promises Light in the darkness
- in vv. 8-12 God promises Liberty to the captives
- God will have compassion on His people
- that’s worth rejoicing over
II. ISRAEL’S COMPLAINT v. 14
- the redemption just pictured was contrary to Zion’s experience
- Israel believed that her God had completely abandoned them
- the first verb—forsaken—suggests an outward abandoning while the second verb—forgotten—suggests an inner abandoning
- verse 14 is a cry of unbelief and doubt for God had promised that His Anointed One would come, but it has not yet happened
- ILLUS. I read an article not long ago that said one of the growing psychological disorders in our culture is FOA—Fear of Abandonment. These are people who live in a chronic sense of fear that their world is about to collapse because of the abandonment by those closest to them.
III. GOD’S COVENANT vv. 15-16
- God does not forget his people!
- the truth of v. 15 is profound—it is easier for a mother to forget the child she gave birth to and suckled at her breast, then for God to forget about His people
- Isaiah asks the question Can she forget?
- it’s a rhetorical question in which the answer is obvious—no she cannot
- but as hard as it seems, Isaiah answers she may—It is a rare reality, but nevertheless happens. A mother may forget her child
- but God can not, and will not forget His people
- God’s love, in distinction from even the highest of human love, will never fail
- this is one of the strongest, if not the strongest expression of God’s love in the Old Testament, and is often compared with Jeremiah 31:20
- “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 31:20, NIV84)
- ILLUS. In his commentary on Isa. 49:15, John Calvin—the reformer of the 16th century—wrote: “The Prophet here describes to us the inconceivable carefulness with which God unceasingly watches over our salvation, that we may be fully convinced that he will never forsake us, though we may be afflicted with great and numerous calamities.”
- the Lord proclaims: See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands
- ILLUS. We see examples of engraving stones, such as the tablets God wrote the Ten Commandments on. We see examples of engraving gems with the name of the twelve tribes for the High Priest’s breastplate. We see examples of engraving on signet rings. But there is no record of engraving a name into the flesh of one’s own hand.
- we place our hand on the shoulder of a burdened brother to show our care
- we use our hands to touch our loved ones tenderly
- we shake our hands to give a warm greeting
- it is with the work of our hands that we so often give to others
A. I HAVE ENGRAVED YOU ON THE PALMS OF MY HANDS
- God has cut our names into his hands, so that no matter how busy he is in the vast macroscopic universe or microscopic universe he cannot forget us
- in engraving his name into His hand, God invites Israel to see for themselves the evidence of His love for them
- we have another significant passage in the Bible where men are invited to see the evidence of God’s love for them
- ILLUS. In both Luke and John, when Jesus first appears to his disciples after his resurrection, and they are having trouble believing, do you remember what he said? He says take a look! "See my hands." To Thomas he said "Put your finger here, see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe!”
- at the invitation to see Thomas proclaims My Lord and my God
Prayer - Thanks you for your hands—cut, and wounded so that we can SEE and know that you have never and never will forget us. Thanks for your handiwork that reminds us everyday of your intimate care and love for every creature, creation, and especially us, your children.