God’s Love Engraved on God’s Hands

It was a struggle for the people of Israel to shake off their feelings of abandonment and loss

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”

Isaiah 49:14 (NRSV)

They had lost their homes, businesses, wealth, belongings, loved ones, even their spiritual bearings. Everything would be in shambles, overgrown, who knew what would be left. What resources would there be to rebuild?

So, God brought out two illustrations to comfort them with, and to reassure them that God’s love for them was secure. The first was the bond of a nursing mother, which is demonstrably strong, yet God’s bond to God’s people is even stronger.

Can a woman forget her nursing child
    or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these might forget,
    yet I will not forget you.

Isaiah 49:15 (NRSV)

The second illustration was a little more mysterious.

See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.

Isaiah 49:16 (NRSV)
Cristo mostra le ferite | By Giovanni Antonio Galli – [1], Public Domain

I have read through half a dozen commentators, and nobody had any reference to some ancient rite. So what could this engraving be?

At the end of John’s gospel he described a very emotional scene. Thomas had not been with the others when Jesus first appeared to them, so he said to the rest of the disciples, “I won’t believe your crazy story unless I actually see the nail marks in Jesus’ hands.” 

About a week later, all eleven disciples were together in a locked room when Jesus quietly appeared among them in His glorified body. Now remember, this is the resurrected Jesus, His body is incorruptible, His perfect, eternal body. And yet He held His hands out to Thomas and invited him to touch those piercings.

Thomas was so overcome he fell to his knees, just like the kings and princes in this chapter, and offered to Jesus the highest worship any person had ever given to him, “My Lord and my God.”

So it must be that Isaiah had a vision of the risen Jesus, holding out His hands, the nail marks clearly engraved.

The Incredulity of Thomas | By Caravaggio – Self-scanned, Public Domain

The Resurrection

The Christian teaching on the resurrection begins with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, which is presented as a fact of history and is the proof of most other important teachings.

Illustration of Israel

There is a parallel between understanding resurrection and understanding the restoration of Israel. The restoration of Israel in this text can be understood in two aspects. There is a spiritual restoration in the new covenant as the people recognize and respond to the Lord’s Servant. And there is a literal physical restoration described in this section, as all Israel returns to Jerusalem, sustained by God, and enabled by the nations of the world.

You and I might even think of the establishment of the nation of Israel as a partial fulfillment of that promise.

In the same way, resurrection can be seen in different aspects.

Jesus’s Resurrection

Physical: Jesus’s resurrection was a literal fulfillment of His prophecies, as well as the prophecies of the Hebrew scriptures. Jesus’s resurrection was not simply a resuscitation. Jesus passed from existence in a purely human body to existence in a heavenly body which lives forever. That is the resurrection every believer can look forward to.                   

Spiritual: Another aspect of resurrection is spiritual, since people are spiritual beings as well as physical beings. Paul taught that people begin life as spiritually dead beings, dead in sin. So, the first aspect of our resurrection is internal, when a person puts their faith in the Lord Jesus and receives Him into their inward being through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The same power that raised Jesus from the dead is at work in that person. 

New Creation: That recreation of life happens at the moment of salvation, and it is like a deposit on the physical resurrection that is yet to come. This is the meaning behind the covenant that the Servant would become to His people, leading His people out of darkness, and giving them the Holy Spirit as the seal and deposit on their future inheritance of eternal life with God.

Those who have experienced spiritual resurrection will experience physical resurrection one day.

Restoration Is Certain

In this text, the Servant says to His people,

Your builders outdo your destroyers,
    and those who laid you waste go away from you.
Lift up your eyes all around and see;
    they all gather; they come to you.

Isaiah 49:16-18 (NRSV)

God never stopped thinking about Jerusalem’s broken walls, and what that represented, the empty, forlorn city and the people in exile far away. God would keep God’s promise, after the seventy Sabbath years the people had denied their land had come to completion. Then the Lord would raise the Jubilee and physically restore God’s people in their land.

Then Isaiah suggested a still future fulfillment of this prophecy, since the total number of Babylonian returnees was only 42,360 people.

The children born in the time of your bereavement
    will yet say in your hearing:
“The place is too crowded for me;
    make room for me to settle.”

Isaiah 49:20 (NRSV)

During that time Jerusalem was under-inhabited. In fact, only the leaders lived in Jerusalem. Once the walls were rebuilt, Nehemiah had all those who had returned draw lots so that one in every ten people would relocate to Jerusalem.

Israel’s abundance would not come from her own fertility, but from God’s miraculous provision.

Then you will say in your heart,
    “Who has borne me these?
I was bereaved and barren,
    exiled and put away—
    so who has reared these?
I was left all alone—
    where, then, have these come from?”

Isaiah 49:21 (NRSV)

The same is true today for you and me. When you and I are “abiding in the vine” of Jesus, which is to say, we are in conscious close connection with the Lord, then our lives will bear what Jesus called much fruit—all the fruit of the Spirit, as well as being empowered to do His will.

One of two detached folios from an Ethiopian prayer book illustrating, on the recto, the Crucifixion and, on the verso, the Resurrection, painted and written on parchment in the 17th or beginning of the 18th century in Ethiopia and written in Ge’ez. Chester Beatty Library W 942, f.2v | By Unknown artistPublic Domain

God would bring this all about in due time, and it would be both glorious and complete.

Thus says the Lord God:
I will soon lift up my hand to the nations
    and raise my signal to the peoples,
and they shall bring your sons in their bosom,
    and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
Kings shall be your foster fathers
    and their queens your nursing mothers.

With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you
    and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
    those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.

Isaiah 22-23 (NRSV)

Our Fate Is In God’s Hands

Lichtenplatzer Kapelle in Wuppertal | By Frank Vincentz – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

God reassured God’s people that their fate is not in the hands of their enemies, but in the powerful hands of God alone.

I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
    and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
    that I am the Lord your Savior
    and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.

Isaiah 26 (NRSV)

Most importantly, Isaiah’s final word in this chapter states God’s sovereignty and trustworthiness.

Those who trust in the Lord will never be disappointed.

But to understand the first part of this verse, it helps to know this is what typically happened when a city was under siege for a very long time, so we know this is also what happened to Israel during a very terrible time in their history. What God is saying here is that tables will be turned, and what was done to Israel would now happen to their enemies.

To the listeners of that day, it was fitting justice, and also an awful fact of ancient warfare.

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