Behold, I have graven you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me.
These words are a singularly bold metaphor, drawn from the strange and half-savage custom, which lingers still among sailors and others, of having beloved names or other tokens of affection and remembrance indelibly inscribed on parts of the body. Sometimes worshippers had the marks of the god thus set on their flesh; here God writes on His hands the name of the city of His worshippers.
I. Here we have set forth for our strength and peace A DIVINE REMEMBRANCE, MORE TENDER THAN A MOTHER'S (ver. 15). When Israel came out of Egypt, the Passover was instituted as a memorial unto all generations, or as the same idea is otherwise expressed, "it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand." Here God represents Himself as doing for Israel- what He had bid Israel do for Him. They were, as it were, to write the supreme act of deliverance in the Exodus upon their hands, that it might never be forgotten. He writes Zion on His hands for the same purpose. The text does not primarily refer to individuals, but to the community. But the recognition of that fact is not to be allowed to rob us of the preciousness of this text in its bearing on the individual. For God remembers the community, not as an abstraction or a generalised expression, but as the aggregate of all the individuals composing it. We think of "the Church," and do not think of the thousands of men and women who make it up. We cannot discern the separate stars in the galaxy. But God's eye resolves what to us is a nebula, and every single glittering point of light hangs rounded and separate in the heaven. There is no jostling nor confusion in the wide space of the heart of God. They that go before shall not hinder them that come after. That remembrance which each man may take for himself is infinitely tender, The echo of the music of the previous words still haunts the verse, and the remembrance promised in it is touched with more than a mother's love. "I am poor and needy," says the Psalmist, "yet the Lord thinketh upon me." But do not let us forget that it was a very sinful Zion that God thus remembered.
II. THE DIVINE REMEMBRANCE GUIDES THE DIVINE ACTION. The palm of the hand is the seat of strength, of work; and so, if Zion's name is written there, that means not only remembrance, but remembrance which is at the helm, as it were, which is moulding and directing all the work that is done by the hand that bears the name inscribed upon it. For His Church, as a whole, He does more amidst the affairs of nations. You remember the grand words of one of the psalms. "He reproved kings for their sakes, saying, Touch not Mine anointed, and do My prophets no harm." It is no fanatical reading of the history of earthly politics and kingdoms, if we recognise that one of the most prominent reasons for the Divine activities in moulding the kingdoms, setting up and casting down, is the advancement of the Kingdom of heaven and the building of the City of God. "I have graven thee on the palms of My hands," and when the hands go to work, it is for the Zion whose likeness they bear. But the same thing applies to us individually. "All things work together"; they would not do so, unless there was one dominant will which turned the chaos into a cosmos. "All things work together for my good."
III. THE DIVINE REMEMBRANCE WORKS ALL THINGS, TO REALISE A GREAT IDEAL END, AS YET UNREACHED. "Thy walls are continually before Me." When this prophecy was uttered, the Israelites were in captivity, and the city was a wilderness; "the holy and beautiful house where the fathers praised Thee was burned with fire," the walls were broken down; rubbish and solitude were there. Yet on the palms of God's hands were inscribed the walls which were nowhere else! They were "before Him," though Jerusalem was a ruin. It means that Divine remembrance sees "things that are not, as though they were." In the midst of the imperfect reality of the present condition of the Church as a whole, and of us, its actual components, it sees the ideal, the perfect vision of the perfect future. So, the most radiant optimism is the only fitting attitude for Christian people in looking into the future, either of the Church as a whole, or of themselves as individual members of it.
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me.