“Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands: thy walls are continually before me.” Isaiah 49:15-16
There are times in our lives when we might feel forgotten, neglected, left out, or just plain lonely. I recently met someone who told me she had been alone all her life, until Jesus became her best friend. You might say perhaps such feelings are just a normal part of human nature, as we are emotional beings. But then there are people and children in this world who are abandoned and cast off. Ebola patients, AIDS carriers, and many of the elderly all suffer from neglect. Who can resist the cry of a motherless child?
The world is also filled with people who feel unwanted, suffer from depression, and are afflicted by despair. Some look for solace in food, alcohol, or drugs. The truth is they all need the Father’s love. Jesus’ parable of the lost son pictures the Father God waiting for His sons’ return. God waits for them and then lovingly restores. He is a God who is a Father to the fatherless and sets the lonely in families (Ps. 68:5-6).
Isaiah though records the cry of a whole nation that feels abandoned. Zion’s great plea to the LORD was: “Why have you forsaken and forgotten us? Are we not your chosen people, and now look at us: exiled and taken as slaves.” God answers through His prophet and reminds Israel that He will never forget them, even though they are under His judgment and subject to His discipline (ls.1:2-27). The LORD responds to Zion’s cry with a very Jewish answer: a question to their question. To this plaintive plea from Israel’s remnant, He immediately answers: “Does a mother forget her nursing infant? She may neglect it, but I will never forget you.”
The LORD then provides an even more vivid reminder to Zion of how much He is aware of them. “I have tattooed you on the palms of my hands.” Of course this is a figurative illustration since God is a Spirit, but the image of a man with a pair of tattooed palms is unforgettable. Jerusalem is what the LORD God has engraved on his inner hands and its “walls are, continually before me.”
Isaiah uses the Hebrew word katab to describe how God’s hands are marked. It means: inscribed, carved, engraved, or portrayed. Perhaps “portrayed” is the best representation of how God sees Jerusalem and the Jewish people. It is more than just an inscription or a list of names, but rather presents an image or picture that is depicted on His hands, such as a tattoo. The Hebrew word kafim is used to describe God’s palms, and can represent a pair of wings, since the first letter in the word is peh, meaning open. The word in the singular is kaf. It can mean a palm or spoon. Literally God is saying to His people, “I hold you in the hollow of my hands. I have you lifted up and before me.” A precious word to all of us.
Inkings used to be the provenance of carnival workers, bikers, sailors, and prisoners. Today, tattoos are in style, and accepted by society. Hollywood stars, rock legends, and everyone else either sports a new ‘”tat” or wants one. People look to tattoo “artists” to get something unique or personal so as to highlight a memory, to show their accomplishments, to identify with a group, or just be a living piece of art.
Christian Quarter Road
Near the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on Christian Quarter Road is a tattoo shop run by the Razzouk family. They have been in this business for over 700 years. Their forefathers used tattoos to mark Christian Copts in Egypt with a small cross on the inside of the wrist to grant them access to churches. Those without it would have difficulty entering the church; therefore, and from a very young age (sometimes even a few months old) Christians would tattoo their children with the cross identifying them as Copts.
In past centuries and even today, Christian pilgrims sought out their shop after the completion of their journey. Many times, pilgrims would be seen patiently waiting in line for their turn to be tattooed, since the demand for such a mark was so great. These believers would usually desire a cross or some another religious symbol to be inked onto their body. A date also had to be added to the tattoo. This mark would serve as proof of the sojourner’s pilgrimage and be used as an indelible souvenir. This practice is still ongoing even today, especially with pilgrims arriving from Christian Orthodox lands such as Russia.
Make No Mark
God demanded that His people “make no marks on their body” for they were a holy people (Lev. 19:28). Tattoos, cuttings and piercings were the domain of idol worshipers. In ancient times, it was customary for pagans to tattoo themselves as a sign of commitment to their deity, similar to an animal which was branded by its owner. The prophets of Baal “cut themselves” in a failed effort to gain their god’s approval (I Kgs. 18:27-28). Slaves were also tattooed.
The rabbis interpreted God’s command as a moral law. Man was created in God’s image, therefore why pervert what He has made by adding marks. More importantly the Jews as God’s people were already “marked” since the LORD required every male to be circumcised as the sign of being under His covenant.
I Have Inscribed YOU
God is not advocating disobeying His law by His words to the Jewish exiles in Babylon. He is giving them a vivid illustration as to His great love for them. A tattoo inscribed on the palms of your hands is permanent. These marks stay with you for the rest of your life. A tattoo on your palms, though is always in your sight, whether you are eating, working, or playing. The palm is one of the most delicate and sensitive parts of the body. To tattoo the palm requires enduring a lot of pain.
God is saying to His people, “I see you and am aware of you Israel.” “You are not in the dust of past, but take hope for I have plans for you. Plans not for evil but for good to bring you as a people to my expected end” (Jer. 29:11). He again speaks to the remnant of Israel through Isaiah and says: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid My face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer” (Is. 54:7, 8).
I Will Never Forget YOU
Scientists have calculated that the average person touches their face about one to three times every five minutes, which adds up to between 200 and 600 times a day. If the LORD God had a physical body, He would constantly see Jerusalem and the Jewish people on the palms of his hands hundreds of times a day, just in that act alone.
It is as if God is saying to us “I cannot work, I cannot even open the palm of my hand without seeing the memorials of my chosen people: I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” For God is full of kindness to his people, and cannot forget them. May they never forget Him and heed the scripture in Psalms “Forget none of His benefits” (Ps. 103:2).
This promise in Isaiah is also for the believer. Perhaps you are feeling empty, lonely, depressed, or in despair. God has your name inscribed in the palm of His hands. He really does! He who has formed you also has declared that He will never forsake you or desert you. God does not abandon His children.
The Marks on Jesus
The risen Jesus invited Thomas, the doubting apostle, to “behold his hands” and reach forth his finger and place it in the “print of the nails.” Then again in answer to Thomas’ disbelief, Jesus told him to thrust his hand into His side (Jn. 20:25, 27).
The marks of Jesus are there for eternity. John writes that when the Lord comes in the clouds, every eyes will see Him, including “they also which pierced Him” (Rev. 1:7). The angels praise the Lamb that was slain since the foundation of the world (Rev. 5:12). The disciples on the Emmaus road recognized Jesus in the breaking of the bread. I believe the moment He handed them the bread, they saw the marks of the cross on His palms, and knew Him.
These eternal nail prints are always before His face. He sees and knows the cost it took to bring “many sons and daughters to glory” (Heb. 2:10). Jesus, in His great love, is not about to forget you and I. He holds us all in the palms of His nail scarred hands.
Some believers claim that Jesus has a tattoo, based on John’s description of Jesus in Revelation. This is a case of pushing the truth too far. John in his vision sees the heavens open with the Lord approaching on a white horse. He sees Him in all His glory as general of the heavenly armies, “and on his vesture and on his thigh a name written KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16).
The Greek word for vesture is himaton, meaning a large outer garment or robe. The lower part of that robe could have His titles written on it. Some expositors suppose that these names were on the edge or hilt of the sword which descended from His thigh. Others see Jesus returning with a banner which has His victorious titles embossed upon it. The Greek word for thigh is meron. It really doesn’t tell us other than that the titles are on His thigh.
The Savior while on earth was observant in all aspects of Jewish religious law. He declared that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it (Mt. 5:17). As our LORD and KING, He will return also as the long awaited Jewish Messiah. Jesus will fulfill the religious law and be seen without tattoos, otherwise He would not be accepted as the Messiah. Every eye though will see the marks on His body.
Marked for Eternity
The Lord will in eternity “mark” us as His own. You will receive much more than a new garment or finding your name written in the Lamb’s book of Life. John heard the angel of church of Philadelphia proclaim: “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down from heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name” (Rev. 3:12).
John again notes that those who have been faithful to the Lamb “shall see his face; and his name shall be on their foreheads” (Rev. 22:4).
How will He “mark” us? It won’t be with ink, but with the glory fire of God radiating out from our temples. You will also have the name of Jerusalem written on your person. Many people I meet in lands far away from Jerusalem tell me of their desire to visit this city. I respond with this verse. Perhaps, they may never have an opportunity to see the Holy City this side of their lives. No matter, they will live in the New Jerusalem for all eternity and have its name “written “on their persons.
A New Name
The LORD also gives you a new name in His kingdom. Perhaps you never cared for your earthly name or felt you were misnamed or were never given a name. I once visited a local village somewhere along in the Mosquito Coast in Honduras. We were there on a medical and ministry mission. Many of the women we saw brought their babies to us. These babies had no names. They had had so many children or felt others had taken the name they chose for their own that they neglected to name their child. We were honored to name these little ones. God will gift us in eternity with a new name.
Names also speak of accomplishments. You will be given a new name in light of your accomplishments on earth. A popular custom in Israel is also for new immigrants to take a new name on arriving in the country. They lay aside the name given them in the former land and choose one that speaks of their forthcoming life in a new land.
The Walls of Jerusalem
The LORD tells His remnant in Babylon that the walls of Jerusalem are always before His eyes. Jerusalemites love the walls of their city. Perhaps it is the security of knowing you are in a walled city and safe from marauders. Jerusalem is the heart and soul of every Jewish person. Yet here in this moment, those exiles in Babylon knew their beloved city was in ruins. The walls were rubble, the houses destroyed, and still God spoke to them as He saw the city: restored, rebuilt, and with its precious walls before Him.
Our God sees the future in our lives, not as things are today. You may feel forsaken or abandoned but God knows the end from the beginning. It is He who brings encouragement and restoration. It is He who tells the brokenhearted that while “weeping may endure for a night, joy cometh in the morning.”
A Word from the Lord
I am not a God who forgets you. I do not forget what I create. I formed you in the womb and knew you before you were born. You may chose to leave me, and walk your own path, but I will not leave you. I may hide my face for a moment because of your sin, but my mercies are everlasting. I will forget your sins as far as the east is from the west, if you choose to come to me in repentance.
I am a God of remembrance. I remembered Noah, Hagar, Rachel, and Joseph. You are always before me. Does not my Word say that I shall deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also and him that has no helper (Ps. 72:12)? Cry out to me in your night seasons. I will hear and quickly send help from my throne. Your name, your presence is precious to me. Just as I heard my children of Israel when they cried unto me in the desert and by the rivers of Babylon, I will hear you.
I hear the cry of every lost child, the infirm, the elderly and all who call out to my name. I send my angels to them. I also need your prayers. Your intercessions allow my will to be done on earth. Your prayers allow me to move in men’s hearts. I have given men free will to do as they want, but your prayers enable my still soft voice to be heard, so they may know and act on it.
Lord, we thank you that we are always before you. You have promised that you will never leave us or forsake us. You have said that you are with us until the end of the world. Your presence is wherever two or three are gathered. We thank you, Lord, that in times of loneliness, heart ache, sorrow and pain we can call upon the name of the LORD and you will answer us.
“How long will thou forget me O LORD? Forever? How long will thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorry in my heart daily? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: Lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death” (Ps. 13:1-3).
“Remember now the Creator in the days of thy youth…” (Eccl.12:1a).
“Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm” (S. of Sol.: 8:6a).
“For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love, which ye have showed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints and do minister” (Heb. 6:10).
Jerusalem, Lest I Forget Thee by Gene Little
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