Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yes, they may forget, yet will I not forget you.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Can a woman forget . . .?—The love of Jehovah for His chosen ones is more than that of a father, more tender and unchangeable even than the maternal love which exists often in the most depraved. Even that may perish, but not so His pitying affection.Isaiah 49:15-16. Can a woman forget her sucking child — God is often represented as bearing a fatherly affection toward his people, but here the comparison is raised higher, and he speaks of himself as having a tenderness for them, similar to that which a mother hath toward the fruit of her womb. “The image is common and frequent; yet it is wrought up with so much grace, embellished with so much elegance, and expressed in such pathetic terms, that nothing can exceed it in beauty and force; nothing can convey a stronger idea of the maternal, the more than maternal regard, which God hath for his people.” Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee — The turn in this clause is more expressive than a volume. As if he had said, Earthly parents sometimes are so unnatural and monstrous; but do not entertain such unworthy thoughts of me. Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms, &c. — Mine eye and heart are constantly upon thee. “This is certainly an allusion,” says Bishop Lowth, “to some practice, common among the Jews at that time, of making marks on their hands or arms by punctures on the skin, rendered indelible by fire or staining, with some sort of sign, or representation of the city or temple, to show their affection and zeal for it. It is well known that the pilgrims at the holy sepulchre get themselves marked in this manner with what are called the ensigns of Jerusalem. Maundrell, p. 75; where he tells us how it is performed: and this art is practised by travelling Jews all over the world at this day.” See also Vitringa and Michaelis’s notes. Or the allusion may be merely to the common practice of men, who use to put signs upon their hands or fingers, of such things as they especially wish to remember. Thy walls are continually before me — The ruins and desolations of my church are always in my thoughts, nor shall I forget or neglect to repair them, and grant her deliverance from her enemies, and protection at the proper time.
That she should not have compassion - That she should not pity and succor it in times of sickness and distress; that she should see it suffer without any attempt to relieve it, and turn away, and see it die unpitied and unalleviated.
Yea, they may forget - They will sooner forget their child than God will forget his afflicted and suffering people. The phrase 'they may forget,' implies that such a thing may occur. In pagan lands, strong as is the instinct which binds a mother to her offspring, it has not been uncommon for a mother to expose her infant child, and to leave it to die. In illustration of this fact, see the notes at Romans 1:31.
yea, they may forget; through inadvertency, want of affection, a cruel disposition, hurry of business, sickness, public calamities, &c. Lamentations 4:3, such monsters in nature there may be, though rare:
yet will I not forget thee; he cannot forget, because of is nature, on which forgetfulness cannot properly fall; he will not, because of his promise, which never fails; he may seem to his people to have forgotten them, and he may be thought to have done so by others; he forgets their sins, but not their persons; he cannot forget his love, nor his covenant with them, nor his promises made to them; nor does he forget their love to him, nor their works, words, and thoughts; the righteous are had by him in everlasting remembrance. All this suggests that the Lord stands in the relation of a parent to his people, and they stand in the relation of children to him; they are born of him, and are as it were pieces of himself, and little images of him, and dear to him as the apple of his eye; they are like sucking children, that suck in the milk of his word, and suck at the breasts of his ordinances; and they are used by him in the most tender manner, as infants are; they are kissed by him, and dandled on the knee; they are led by him, and taught to go; he delights in them when they begin to speak in prayer or praise, though in a lisping and stammering manner; all their little actions are engaging, their works done by them, though imperfect, and a great deal of childishness in them; when anything ails them, he sympathizes with them, he takes care of them, and provides for them; and it is a concern to him whenever he is obliged to chastise them, and can he therefore forget them?Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)15. Jehovah’s remembrance of Zion is more enduring than the strongest human affection. Even a mother’s pity for an infant may fail. yea, they may forget] Or, should even these forget (Cheyne).
yet will I not forget thee] See on ch. Isaiah 44:21.Verse 15. - Can a woman forget?.... yea, they may forget. In the siege of Samaria by Benhadad, King of Syria, a mother, we are told (2 Kings 6:28, 29), boiled her son for food. In the last siege of Jerusalem similar horrors are reported (Joseph., 'Bell. Jud.,' 6:03, 4). Mothers have even been known in England who have forced their tender and innocent daughters to commit deadly sin. Yet will I not forget, The love of God surpasses that of either father or mother. "When my father and my mother forsake me," says David, "then the Lord will take me up" (Psalm 27:10). "God is love" (1 John 4:8) in his very essence; and his infinite love is deeper, tenderer, truer, than finite love can ever be. Still, that which is nearest to it upon earth is, doubtless, the love of a mother for her children (see Isaiah 66:13). Isaiah 42:6), is the fruit of his being heard and helped. The infinitives with Lamed affirm in what way the new covenant relation will be made manifest. The land that has fallen into decay rises into prosperity again, and the desolate possessions return to their former owners. This manifestation of the covenant grace, that has been restored to the nation again, is effected through the medium of the servant of Jehovah. The rendering of the lxx is quite correct: τοῦ καταστῆσαι τὴν γῆν καὶ κληρονομῆσαι κληρονομίας ἐρήμους λέγοντα לאמר is a dicendo governed by both infinitives. The prisoners in the darkness of the prison and of affliction are the exiles (Isaiah 42:22). The mighty word of the servant of Jehovah brings to them the light of liberty, in connection with which (as has been already more than once observed) the fact should be noticed, that the redemption is viewed in connection with the termination of the captivity, and, in accordance with the peculiar character of the Old Testament, is regarded as possessing a national character, and therefore is purely external.
The person of the servant of Jehovah now falls into the background again, and the prophecy proceeds with a description of the return of the redeemed. "They shall feed by the ways, and there is pasture for them upon all field-hills. They shall not hunger nor thirst, and the mirage and sun shall not blind them: for He that hath mercy on them shall lead them, and guide them by bubbling water-springs. And I make all my mountains ways, and my roads are exalted. Behold these, they come from afar; and, behold, these from the north and from the sea; and these from the land of the Sinese." The people returning home are represented as a flock. By the roads that they take to their homes, they are able to obtain sufficient pasture, without being obliged to go a long way round in order to find a sufficient supply; and even upon bare sandy hills (Isaiah 41:18) there is pasture found for them. Nothing is wanting; even the shârâb (see Isaiah 35:7) and the sun do not hurt them, the former by deceiving and leading astray, the latter by wearying them with its oppressive heat: for He whose compassion has been excited by their long pining misery (Isaiah 41:17-20) is leading them, and bringing them along in comfort by bubbling springs of real and refreshing water (ינחל, as Petrarch once says of shepherds, Move la schira sua soavemente). Jehovah also makes all the mountains into roads for those who are returning home, and the paths of the desert are lifted up, as it were, into well-made roads (yerumūn, Ges. 47, Anm. 4). They are called my mountains and my highways (differently from Isaiah 14:25), because they are His creation; and therefore He is also able to change them, and now really does change them for the good of His people, who are returning to the land of their forefathers out of every quarter of the globe. Although in Psalm 107:3 yâm (the sea) appears to stand for the south, as referring to the southern part of the Mediterranean, which washes the coast of Egypt, there is no ground at all in the present instance for regarding it as employed in any other than its usual sense, namely the west; mērâchōq (from far) is therefore either the south (cf., Isaiah 43:6) or the east, according to the interpretation that we give to 'erets Sı̄nı̄m, as signifying a land to the east or to the south.
The Phoenician Sinim (Ges. Isaiah 10:17), the inhabitants of a fortified town in the neighbourhood of Area, which has now disappeared, but which was seen not only by Jerome, but also by Mariono Sanuto (de castro Arachas ad dimidiam leucam est oppidum Sin), cannot be thought of, for the simple reason that this Sin was too near, and was situated to the west of Babylon and to the north of Jerusalem; whilst Sin ( equals Pelusium) in Egypt, to which Ewald refers, did not give its name to either a tribe or a land. Arias Montanus was among the first to suggest that the Sinim are the Sinese (Chinese); and since the question has been so thoroughly discussed by Gesenius (in his Commentary and Thesaursu), most of the commentators, and also such Orientalists as Langles (in his Recherches asiatiques), Movers (in his Phoenicians), Lassen (in his Indische Alterthumskunde, i.-856-7), have decided in favour of this opinion. The objection brought against the supposition, that the name of the Chinese was known to the nations of the west at so early a period as this, viz., that this could not have been the case till after the reign of the emperor Shi-hoang-ti, of the dynasty of Thsin, who restored the empire that had been broken up into seven smaller kingdoms (in the year 247 b.c.), and through whose celebrated reign the name of his dynasty came to be employed in the western nations as the name of China generally, is met by Lassen with the simple fact that the name occurs at a much earlier period than this, and in many different forms, as the name of smaller states into which the empire was broken up after the reign of Wu-wang (1122-1115 b.c.). "The name Θῖναι (Strabo), Σῖναι (Ptol.), Τζίνιτζα (Kosmas), says the Sinologist Neumann, did not obtain currency for the first time from the founder of the great dynasty of Tsin; but long before this, Tsin was the name of a feudal kingdom of some importance in Shen-si, one of the western provinces of the Sinese land, and Fei-tse, the first feudal king of Tsin, began to reign as early as 897 b.c." It is quite possible, therefore, that the prophet, whether he were Isaiah or any other, may have heard of the land of the Sinese in the far east, and this is all that we need assume; not that Sinese merchants visited the market of the world on the Euphrates (Movers and Lassen), but only that information concerning the strange people who were so wealthy in rare productions, had reached the remote parts of the East through the medium of commerce, possibly from Ophir, and through the Phoenicians. But Egli replies: "The seer on the streams of Babel certainly could not have described any exiles as returning home from China, if he had not known that some of his countrymen were pining there in misery, and I most positively affirm that this was not the case." What is here assumed - namely, that there must have been a Chinese diaspora in the prophet's own time - is overthrown by what has been already observed in Isaiah 11:11; and we may also see that it is to purely by accident that the land of the Sinese is given as the farthest point to the east, from my communications concerning the Jews of China in the History of the Post-biblical Poetry of the Jews (1836, pp. 58-62, cf., p. 21). I have not yet seen Sionnet's work, which has appeared since, viz., Essai sur les Juifs de la Chine et sur l'influence, qu'ils ont eue sur la litrature de ce vaste empire, avant l're chrtienne; but I have read the Mission of Enquiry to the Jews in China in the Jewish Intelligence, May 1851, where a facsimile of their thorah is given. The immigration took place from Persia (cf., ‛Elâm, Isaiah 11:11), at the latest, under the Han dynasty (205 b.c.-220 a.d.), and certainly before the Christian era.
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