Zion said, The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me. Christ says: Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:14-16)
Excerpts from class notes also used in prison ministry and pastoral counseling. Note: While the above passage is from Isaiah, this post contains several helpful references to Psalms.
In the Isaiah passage above, Jesus bends over backwards to assure His followers of His faithfulness to us. He guarantees that He will be true to us, to motivate us to trust and obey Him, to be true to Him. Though people are false, Jesus is faithful. Christ-centered interpretation is the right way to read these verses and the whole Bible.1 Isaiah was written near 740BC and chapter 49 is one of the Servant Songs, foretelling Messiah’s coming. Other Servant Songs are contained in Isaiah chapters 42, 50, 52-53. The New Testament contains 66 quotations from Isaiah and 348 allusions to Isaiah, because that’s how Jesus taught His apostles to read and teach the Old Testament (“OT”). Isaiah chapter 49 speaks of God including the Gentiles (non-Jews) in His wonderful plan of salvation.
Christ’s Faithfulness is the Big Issue
The verses above are important because people have been unfaithful and disloyal to us. They have hurt us, walked out on us, abandoned us. Parents, children, spouses, friends, bosses, employees, churches can use us, abuse us, and betray us. Sometimes they take what they want, then drop us. Thank God, Christ is not like that! But the Lord can still feel remote, far away, inactive, or disinterested. Christians can feel unloved, rejected, not accepted, insecure, forgotten, forsaken, uncomfortable, orphaned, defeated, frustrated, restless, anxious, depressed, crushed, and slighted. So Jesus makes great promises in these verses to encourage us and to put steel in our souls for serving Him in hard times.
Matthew Henry notes three ways that God answers prayer: The Lord says Yes and gives us what we want; He says No and gives us something better; or He says Wait and gives us His best later on. Our Heavenly Father knows what we need and His delays are not always denials. But waiting on Him is hard.2
The big issue in Isaiah 49:14-16 and the whole Bible is Christ’s faithfulness. These verses remind me of Lamentations 3:22-26: “Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, ‘The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for Him.’ The LORD is good to those whose hope is in Him, to the one who seeks Him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.” Our brain can feel like a monkey cage at the zoo, with thoughts and emotions jumping, bouncing, swinging from one branch to another. The “monkey mind” feels anxious, overwhelmed, and unable to focus on getting anything done. One remedy for “monkey mind,” also know as “pinball machine brain,” is to remind ourselves of God’s truth and faithfulness, instead of listening to ourselves and our endless internal chatter. We’ve dealt with this more in other articles. See also Psalms 42-43.
Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me. (Psalm 27:10)
Christ’s Followers Can Feel Forgotten
Remember that Jesus’ true followers in Bible times often felt forgotten. Joseph and Daniel were two of the Lord’s favorite people, wise and strong believers, but they were jailed unjustly. When treated unfairly, they were tempted to feel abandoned by God. When Job had his children, possessions, and health all taken away by Satan, Job felt deserted by God and complained. Chapters 3-37 show Job’s painful wrestling between faith and doubt. Many of the OT Psalms are laments, expressing deep sorrow and anguish in the Lord’s people. They ask God to intervene in troubling times and to bless them after natural disasters, plagues, and oppression by enemies. Waiting on the Lord was hard for them and it is for us.
The children of Israel waited 430 years between Joseph’s arrival in Egypt and God rescuing them in the Exodus.3 They groaned in slavery and God heard them and helped them, but the long wait was hard! Naomi in the Book of Ruth lost her husband and two sons and was very discouraged and depressed. She said: Don’t call me Naomi (meaning pleasant, sweet, delightful in Hebrew). Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.4 Don’t have rosy images of Christ’s followers in Bible times. Many had it very hard. That’s why Jesus’ promise in Isaiah 49:14-16 was essential to them and is to us today.
Here are more examples of Christ’s followers feeling forgotten. Martha and Mary were dissatisfied that Christ delayed and didn’t show up when they wanted. They said: “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”5 The disciples were disappointed when Christ allowed them to go through a terrible storm saying, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”6 John the Baptist was Jesus’ forerunner and cousin. In Luke chapter 7, Christ healed the centurion’s servant and raised the widow’s son who had already died. John heard about these miracles and wondered why Christ didn’t free John from unlawful imprisonment. John was never rescued in this life and was beheaded.7 Christ told John, “God blesses those who do not fall away because of me.”8 Jesus wasn’t being cold our callous, but reminding John and us that God usually has a much slower way of working things out in His universe than we expect. Kosuke Koyama called the Lord the “Three Mile an Hour God.”
From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God. (Psalm 22:10)
Christ Gives His Promises to Encourage Us
Real Christian believers can feel forgotten. I have felt that way and you have too. Maybe you feel that way today. We can feel unremembered because we seem so small in Christ’s sight. We seem so undeserving of His attention and care—like a drop in the bucket to God, like dust on the scales. We can feel passed over when we have sinned too often or too badly. We can feel too guilty, too dirty, too polluted and we may fear that Christ will reject us. When everything seems to be going against us, we don’t want to be overlooked. We want to feel seen, heard, and valued by the Lord. That’s how people felt in Isaiah’s day.
Thank God, Christ says: Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:15,16)
These are not just words. Christ backs up His words with His life-saving action.
To be continued. You can read Part 2.
Notes 1 Luke 24:44; John 5:39-40; Heb 10:7; 1 Pet 1:11. 2 Matt 6:8. 3 Exodus 12:40 4 Ruth 1:20-21. 5 John 11:21. 6 Mark 4:38. 7 Mark 6:14-29. 8 Luke 7:23.