The Lord asks his people in Isaiah 49:15, “Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?” How would we, his people today, answer that question, I wonder?
If the question were put to mothers with infants, I expect they would answer with a resounding, “No!” Women simply do not forget the infants who grow in their wombs and suckle at their breasts. On the contrary, such is the strength of their love that mothers can often hardly put their children out of mind, even when it is necessary and good to do so. “No,” we want to answer, “a woman cannot forget her sucking child!”
But this is not the answer that God gives. He says, “Even these may forget …” What a shocking thought! As unlikely and as unnatural as it seems, God says, even mothers, of all people, can forget their infants and lose their love for them.
God is not saying this in order to cast aspersions on a mother’s love. Rather, he is saying it to emphasise his own love. A mother’s love is powerful—so powerful that it is almost unbreakable—but God’s love is greater. There is no “almost”, no “perhaps”, no “what if”, in God’s love. It is given with the full backing of, and has the same character as, his absolute holiness and his infinite power. Even nursing mothers may forget their infants, yet, the Lord declares, “yet I will not forget you.”
Well, if a mother’s love is not adequate to express the power and permanence of God’s love, what is? The Lord offers this picture: “Behold,” he says (v.16), “I have graven you on the palms of my hands …”
I have cut your name into my palms in the same way that a scribe cuts a word into a stone. I have engraved you onto myself—that is how permanent my love is for you!
Now, of course, the Lord is speaking figuratively. He is trying to help us understand his love by drawing a picture of it. Yet there is a sense in which we may take it literally.
For 2,000 years ago, as foretold in Isaiah 7:14, a virgin conceived and bore a Son, whose name was Immanuel, meaning “God is with us”. This foetus, this infant, this boy, this adolescent, this man, Jesus, was God incarnate, God come in human flesh. Indeed, as Paul declares in Colossians, “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell”; and again, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (1:19; 2:9).
It pleased God, who is Spirit (John 4:24), to assume a physical body in the man Jesus. Jesus had a physical body just like ours. He had—and still has—limbs and organs just like us. And it is upon the hands of Jesus that God has engraved a reminder of us.
At Calvary, the hands of the Son of God were nailed to the cross for us. He was wounded for our transgressions. And to the present day, even as he sits this very moment at the right hand of God making intercession for us, his hands bear the marks of his sacrificial love. The moment the nails were hammered home at Calvary, we were forever written upon his hands.
We Christians can sometimes doubt that Jesus still loves us. We can sometimes doubt that, having saved us, he will keep us to the end. At such times, we need to hear his words to Thomas: “Put your finger here, and see my hands … do not be faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). When we see and touch by faith the hands that were pierced for us, we appreciate anew that Christ’s love for us is as permanent as the scars he got to save us.
Easter is a time of assurance for all Christians, for it reminds us of the strength of our Saviour’s love. It reminds us that, although we sometimes forget him, he never forgets us. Indeed, he has promised, “I will not forget you. Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands.”