Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.” “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.” [Isaiah 49:14-16a (NLT)]
To the delight of the girls who attended the party, my daughter-in-law hired a Mehndi artist for my grand-daughter’s birthday celebration. Using a red-orange paste made from the dried leaves of the henna plant, the artist adorned the girls’ hands or arms with assorted intricate floral motifs. Since all of the family on her mother’s side is from India, this ancient form of body art is familiar to my grand. Although she’s attended several Mehndi parties, most of her guests have not. A Mehndi party for close friends and family is an important pre-wedding tradition in any Indian wedding. Along with plenty of food and music, there are henna artists. While they take only a few minutes painting designs on the guests, they spend several hours painting intricate geometric shapes and floral and paisley motifs on the bride’s hands, arms and feet. Hidden somewhere among the elaborate patterns on her body is the groom’s name.
Tradition holds that finding the hidden name is a game the newlyweds play on the wedding night. If the groom manages to find his name hidden among all of the designs, he will be the boss of the marriage; if he doesn’t, his wife rules the roost! Determining the boss in the relationship, however, isn’t why God says He’s written Israel’s name on the palms of His hands. Nevertheless, having the name of the bride’s beloved written on her hands always reminds me of God’s words in Isaiah 49.
At the time of Isaiah’s prophecies, Israel was facing hard times and captivity. Although they were the ones who abandoned God, they thought God had forgotten them and no longer cared whether or not they existed. In these verses, God reassures Israel that He will never forget them and, as a sign of His commitment, He’s even written Israel’s name on the palms of his hands.
Assuring Israel that He loves them like a mother, God compares forgetting them to the impossibility of a nursing mother forgetting her suckling child. Having nursed my children, I guarantee a nursing mother can’t forget her infant. If her hungry baby doesn’t make his presence known with howling, her uncomfortably full breasts will remind her that it’s time to feed him. Nursing mothers aren’t likely to forget their babies but, even if they could, God says He won’t because Israel’s name is inscribed on His hand.
The Hebrew word used was chaqaq and meant far more than just applying dye to someone’s skin; it meant to cut in, carve, or engrave. Unlike Mehndi which fades in two to three weeks, Israel’s name was permanently cut into God’s hands. Used figuratively, these two analogies symbolized God’s eternal commitment to His people and His covenant promises.
As Christians, what do promises made to Israel mean to us? In the Old Testament, Israel is used in several ways: Israel is a person (Jacob), a people (the descendants of Jacob’s twelve sons), the “promised land” (a mass about the size of Rhode Island), the northern kingdom after the kingdom divided, and sometimes even the southern kingdom of Judah. In the New Testament, however, Israel takes on a new meaning. Rather than a person, people, land mass, or political nation, Israel is a spiritual kingdom. Before Jesus, it was one’s bloodline that defined an Israelite; it’s different now. As the Apostle Paul explains, a true Israelite now is someone who believes in the Messiah Jesus Christ. It is faith, rather than things like circumcision and descending from Abraham’s bloodline, that makes us “sons of Abraham.” God’s promises to Israel are promises made to us because they’ve been received by faith rather than bloodline.
Fear not, no matter how dark the days, God will never forget us—our names are etched into the palms of His hands!