I Won't Forget
Preached at Sasayama Bethel Church
1. "Will a woman forget her own suckling child? Will a mother not have compassion on her own child that she gave birth to? Even if women might forget, I will never forget you," (Isaiah 49:15). This is the message given to us for today. But, in order for us to hear this as a message directed to us, we need to consider the kind of people to whom it was addressed in the first place. The text just before it reads like this: "Zion says. The Lord has abandoned me, my Lord has forgotten me." We see that the words spoken just around it were originally in regard to Zion, which is Jerusalem. Furthermore, it was about Jerusalem as it bemoaned that "My Lord has forgotten me."
My Lord Has Forgotten Me
2. At the background to these words is what happened in the Babylonian captivity. In 587 B.C.E., after Jerusalem was besieged for two years by the Babylonian army as commanded by Nebuchadnezzar, it fell at last, (Second Kings chapter twenty-five). The temple at Jerusalem was burnt down, the city walls completely demolished, and its ruling class was hauled off to Babylon. Thus, the kingdom of Judah languished and spent more than forty years. The first generation in captivity died out in a foreign land. Though the generation changed and time moved on, Jerusalem was still then the same desolated place. Nothing changed. The grieving voice was still audible there, "The Lord has abandoned me. My Lord has forgotten me."
3. Today, the scriptural message we are given is but a response to these words of groaning. We cannot overlook that fact. The reason I say that is not all the people back then were lifting their voices with grief. The Lord said, "I will never forget you." But, there were surely some people there who were unable to hear that message.
4. First of all, there were some of them there who had already given up their faith in the Lord. These people had a general way of thinking regarding war between nations that was common to the ancient Orient. In their way of thinking the battle was between the gods. When one's country was defeated in battle, they thought that the gods of their own country had been defeated. Thus, when a country was defeated, many people gave up the gods of their country and resigned their souls to the gods of the victorious country. The figure that the miserable captives, who had been captured and transported from the kingdom of Judah, had seen in Babylon was that of the Chaldeans brimming with self confidence and with their splendid temple of Marduk and their rituals glamorously unfurling before them. It would not be surprising that there would be many among the captives attracted to the Babylonian pantheon and giving up on the Lord. In Ezekiel the words of the people of Judah are quoted as "Let us serve the idols of wood and stone like the different countries do and like the different races in various parts of the world do," (Ezekiel 20:32). It must not have seemed strange at all for the people to talk like that. The Lord of Israel was a powerless god to them and it was bad luck that they had been under a god like that. The occurrence of defeat was nothing except disaster and they must have considered themselves as cursed.
5. Secondly, as might be expected, there were some who kept burning with hatred and hostility against the Babylonians as the enemy country. For example, we might see how that in places like Psalm one hundred thirty-seven, the depth of their grudge is reflected. "O daughter Babylon, O destroyer. What happiness there will be! For the ones who get even with you for the treatment that you gave us, and for the ones who seize your infants and smash them against the stones!," (Psalm 137:8-9). When we only think of the Bible as a book that teaches the way humans ought to be, we will trip over this imagery. However, before that, the Bible shows us the epitomes of humanity and of the world. In all reality, no one is supposed to harbor hatred towards those who would do brutal deeds against them if even they murdered one's own flesh and blood parents or ripped apart their loved ones right in front of their eyes. Of course, feelings of hatred might come up and there will undoubtedly be some who will ultimately never take one step outside of those feelings, but stay put in their hate.
6. But there were also some who did not keep thinking of their misfortunes nor stay stuck in animosity and grudges. They grieved like this, "The Lord has forsaken me. My Lord has forgotten me." In a place like that they thought of their relationship between them and the Lord.
7. We can see in Lamentations a similar grief to that one. "O Lord, now and forever more, you are the one on the throne that lasts for generation upon generation. How long will you forget us, and why forsake us without end? O Lord, let us return to your seat, we will turn back to you. Renew our days, make them like the olden days. You have been bitterly angry and totally forsaken us," (Lamentations 5:19-22). He is praying here to "let us return to your seat" because they had been separated from God up to now. He has seen that he had been turning his back in rebellion against God. Therefore, in verse sixteen it says, "How disastrous! We have sinned."
8. So then, the words of "The Lord has forsaken me" are not at all a bitter complaint against the Lord. For, they had seen in themselves that if they were cast out it was because they had to be. For, they saw in themselves that if they were forgotten it was because they deserved to be. The words of "The Lord has cast me out," you might say, is an expression of grief for their sins. It is their sorrow in which they feel sorry for their sins.
9. Also, those who grieve their sins in this way hear God addressing them there: "Will a woman forget her own suckling child? Will a mother not have compassion on her own child that she gave birth to? Even if women might forget, I will never forget you." This is the inaudible message to those grieving for the disasters that have befallen them and for those grieving their misfortunes. This is an inaudible message for those looking at someone else for the source of their bad times and for those who keep hating someone else for the source of their woes.
I Carve You In The Palms Of My Hands
10. Also, the Lord goes on more to say, "Behold, I carve you in the palms of my hands," (verse sixteen).
11. The word for "carve" is a word used when engraving pictures or letters into bricks or things like that. If applied like this to the hand, it might include some pain and bruises. Actually, what the scripture is saying here, many people think, is probably some sort of tattooing. Etching a tattoo includes some pain. After the pain, the part that is tattooed in never comes off. That's kind of what it means when God never forgets Zion though it must be cast out, or us sinners though we must be cast out. God continually bears the pain that way and takes the load of our sin. That's how he engraves us into his hands.
12. When we give this some thought, we will be drawn to specifically think of the hands of the One who appeared on this earth within a historical time. Jesus cried out on the cross, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?," (Matthew 27:46). The sinless Lord Jesus, who had no reason to be forsaken to be all alone, lifted up his grieving voice as a castaway. Thus then, he became one with us, who by our nature deserved to be castaway. By becoming one with us in Jesus, God engraved us onto his hands. By the piercing of his hands through huge nails, he carved us in. The wounds of his hands remained even after he was resurrected. Didn't the risen Lord show those wounds of his to Thomas? That means that even in his kingdom the Lord will still have the signs of redemption on his hands. Upon those hands, upon those perforated"holey" hands we too are engraved as a pardoned people.
13. So, in this truth that we are carved into the Lord's hands also lies the hope of our salvation and also the hope of our eventual resurrection. I am going back to the prophecy of Isaiah. In continuation after the words of "Behold, I am carving you on the palms of my hands" the Lord goes on to say, "Your wall of protection is [to be] behind me all the time."
14. The fortress walls were already supposed to have been demolished. But, the Lord was looking at the walls. He sees the walls re-built. The Lord was not looking at the figure of the miserable present, but at the figure of the revived future. Since that is so, we too must lift up our eyes and by faith look across this world where the word of God has been fulfilled. The Lord says, "Lift up your eyes, you should look out across. They all will be assembled and come to you. I am alive, says the Lord. You will put all of them on you like ornaments and tie them like the belt of a bride. Your destroyed, ruined and desolated land will become too tight to let you dwell in it," (verse eighteen and nineteen). Where in the world would the foundation to a hope like this lie? It lies there in the Lord saying "I am alive." The basis for that hope lies in the the Lord's pardoning their sins, carving them into his hands, saying that I will never forget you and in that he was looking at the shape [of things] revived back later.
15. Then, the Lord goes on to say, "You say in your hearts, Who has fathered these children and given them to me?...Who has raised these children for me?...Where have these children been?," (verse twenty-one). Who? Of course, it is the Lord himself. Where? With the Lord. Yes, indeed. While Zion was still ruins, while no hope was to be had, while they were grieving "The Lord has cast me off," [things] were already being taken care of by the Lord. In the desolate reality of the world, he was already setting things up for their revival.
16. So, that's how the prophet gave the word of the Lord announcing their remission of sin and restoration. [He gave the word] so that a people would rise up from within their grief as a people pardoned by the Lord, and a people carved into the Lord's hands. Is our every day life still in a ruined state? Is our church dilapidated and falling apart? Is our denomination, the Church of Christ in Japan, in a state where its protective walls still can't be rebuilt? As for the imagery of the children returning, do we say, where in the world are they? However, whether we are grieving our bad times, bearing grudges, hating and putting the responsibility for it all on others, or rather we are grieving over things as our own sin, the word of forgiveness and revival is already given to us. Either way that being said, in having this hope, we can rise up once again. -- Because the Lord has engraved us too on the palms of his hands and said, "Will a woman forget her own suckling child? Will a mother not have compassion on her own child that she gave birth to? Even if women might forget, I will never forget you."