Isaiah 49:16
The idea of the passage is that the plan of Jerusalem remained in God's sight, though the Chaldeans had devastated it, and even broken down its walls. It could all be built again, after the plan in the Divine mind. Thus impressively it is suggested that nothing, no sort of outward circumstance or calamity, can remove us from God's thought and care. His supreme care is for us, and that abides through all conceivable changes of condition and circumstance. "It was the custom among the Hebrews and other Eastern nations to trace upon the palms of the hands the outlines of any object of affection or admiration. By this means the traveller always had before him a visible memorial of the city or place he had visited. The sketch, although necessarily imperfect, was nevertheless indelible, as it was produced by puncturing the skin with a sharp instrument, and introducing into the punctures a peculiar dye, very much in the same manner in which a sailor prints on his arm the figure of an anchor or the initials of his own name. From the indestructible nature of the sketch the process might be called a species of engraving." Dean Plumptre says, "The words point to the almost universal practice of tattooing. A man thus ' engraved' the name of his god, or the outlines of his home, or the face of her he loved, upon his hands or arms. So, by a boldly anthropomorphic figure, Jehovah had 'graven' Jerusalem on his hands. He could not act without being reminded of her." Roberts says that "he never saw or heard of things being engraved on the palms of the hands. The palms are, however, believed to have written on them the fate of the individual, and from this, it is common to say, in reference to men or things, they are written on the palms of his hands." The assurance given in this figurative form may be opened in two directions.

I. ALWAYS IN SIGHT, TO BE CARED FOR. This is true of friends who truly love one another - of husband and wife, of parent and children. They may not be always in bodily sight; they are always in thought, which is soul-sight. Of God it is said, "He careth for you." We are always in his thought. Round us, wherever we may be, are the "everlasting arms."

II. ALWAYS IN SIGHT, TO BE WORKED FOR. This is quite an additional idea. Others may care for us, who have nothing to do for us or can do nothing. God's care is an active care, finding due expression in tendings, watchings, providings, and arrangings. He keeps us before him, in order that he may do for us exceeding abundantly more than we ask or think. - R.T.

Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands.
It is not only the name of Zion which is engraved on His hands, but her picture. And it is not her picture as she lies in her present ruin and solitariness, but her restored and perfect state. "Thy walls are continually before Me."

(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)

This is faith's answer to all the ruin and haggard contradiction of outward fact. Reality is not what we see: reality is what God sees. What a thing is in His sight and to His purpose, that it really is, and that it shall ultimately appear to men's eyes. To make us believe this is the greatest service the Divine can do for the human. It was the service Christ was always doing, and nothing showed His Divinity more. He took us men and He called us, unworthy as we were, His brethren, the sons of God. He took such an one as Simon, shifting and unstable, a quicksand of a man, and He said, "On this rock I will build My Church." A man's reality is not what he is in his own feelings, or what he is to the world's eyes; but what he is to God's love, to God's yearning, and in God's plan. If he believe that, so in the end shall he feel it, so in the end shall he show it to the eyes of the world.

(Prof. G. A. Smith, D. D.)

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.)

This figure suggests —

I. CONSTANT REMEMBRANCE. It is impossible not to observe that which is written on the hands. H writing were on the face, it would not be seen, on the breast it would not be observed. But the hands are always before us.

II. DEVOTED HELP. The hands are for work, and the Almighty wishes us to infer that His people are not only remembered, but helped.

III. PERMANENT CONSIDERATION. "I have graven thee." Writing will wear off. That which is graven will and must remain.

IV. PAINFUL EFFORT. To engrave on the hands evidently refers to the process of engraving, which causes pain. Has God made no sacrifices for His people? Is not every redeemed soul written in crimson marks in the palm of the hands and the feet of the crucified Redeemer?


God's promises are not exhausted by one fulfilment. They are manifold mercies, so that after you have opened one fold, and found out one signification, you may unfurl them still more and find another which shall be equally true, and then another, and another, and another, almost without end. I believe that the text belongs primarily to the seed of Israel; next, to the whole Church as a body; and then to every individual member.

I. I intend to CONSIDER OUR TEXT VERBALLY, pulling it to pieces word by word. Every single word deserves to be emphasised.

1. We will begin with the word, "Behold." "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands." "Behold" is a word of wonder; it is intended to excite admiration. Wherever you see it hung out in Scripture, it is like an ancient sign-board, signifying that there are rich wares within, or like the hands which solid readers have observed in the margin of the older Puritanic books, drawing attention to something particularly worthy of observation. Here, indeed, we have a theme for marvelling. "Behold" in our text is intended to attract particular attention. There is something here worthy of being studied.

2. We pass on now to the next word, "I." The Divine Artist is none other than God Himself. Here we learn the lesson which Christ afterwards taught His disciples — "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you." No one can write upon the hand of God but God Himself. Neither our merits, prayers, repentance, nor faith, can write our names there. Nor did blind chance or mere necessity of fate inscribe our names; but the living hand of a living Father, unprompted by anything except the spontaneous love of His own heart. Then, again, if the Lord hath done it, there is no mistake about it. If some human hand had cut the memorial, the hieroglyphics might be at fault; but since perfect wisdom has combined with perfect love to make a memorial of the saints, then no error by any possibility can have occurred.

3. Take the next word, "have." Not "I will," nor yet "I am doing it"; it is a thing of the past, and how far hack in the past! Oh, the antiquity of this inscription! "From everlasting to everlasting Thou art God"; from everlasting to everlasting Thou art the same, and Thy people's names are written on Thy hands! Yet, methinks, there may be a prophetic reference here to a later writing of the names, when Jesus Christ submitted His outstretched palms to those cruel graving-tools, the nails. Then was it surely, when the executioner with the hammer smote the tender hands of the loving Jesus, that He engraved our names upon the palms of His hands.

4. But the next word is "graven." The Rev. John Anderson, of Helensburgh, told me that while travelling in the East he has frequently seen persons with the portraits of their friends upon their hands, so that wherever they went, as one in this country would carry the portrait of a friend in a brooch or a watch, they carry these likenesses printed on their palms. I said to him, "Surely they would wash out." They might by degrees, he said, but they frequently had them pricked in with strong indelible ink, so that there, whilst the palm lasts, there lasts the memorial of the friend. Surely this is what the text refers to. I have graven thee in; I have not merely printed thee, stamped thee on the surface, but I have permanently cut thee into My hand with marks which never can be removed. That word "graven" sets forth the perpetuity of the inscription.

5. Shall we take that next word? "Thee." It does not say, "thy name." "Thee." See the fulness of this! I have graven thy person, thine image, thy case, thy circumstances, thy sins, thy temptations, thy weaknesses, thy wants, thy works; I have graven everything about thee, all that concerns thee; I have put thee altogether there. It is not an outline sketch, you see; it is a full picture, as though the man himself were there. Darest thou dream that God forgets thee?

6. We have hitherto taken every word, but we must now take the next two or three. We are engraven, where? Upon His "hands." We are not graven upon a seal, for a seal might be slipped from the finger and laid aside, but the hand itself can never be separated from the living God. It is not engraven on the huge rock, for a convulsion of nature might rend the rock with earthquake, or the fretting tooth of time might eat the inscription out; but our record is on His hand, where it must last, world without end. Not upon the back of His hands where it might be supposed that in days of strife and warfare the inscription might suffer damage, but there upon the palms of His hands where it shall be well protected. The tenderest part shall be made the place of the inscription; that to which He is most likely to look, that which His fingers of wisdom enclose, that by which He works His mighty wonders, shall be the unceasing remembrance, pledging Him never to forget His chosen. It does not say, "I have graven thee upon the palm of one hand," but "I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands." There are two memorials. His saints shall never be forgotten, for the inscription is put there upon the palm of this hand, the right hand of blessing, and upon the palm of that hand, the left hand of justice. I see Him with His right hand beckon me — "Come, ye blessed," and He sees me in His hand; and on that side He says, "Depart, ye cursed," but not to me, for He sees me in His hand, and cannot curse me. Oh, my soul, how charming this is, to know that His left hand is under Thy head, while His right hand doth embrace thee.


1. God's remembrance of His people is constant. The hands, of course, are constantly in union with the body. In Solomon's Song we read, "Set me as a seal upon thine arm." Now this is a very close form of remembrance, for the seal is very seldom laid aside by the Eastern, who not being possessed with skill in the art of writing his name, requires' his seal in order to affix his signature to a document; hence the seal is almost always worn, and in some cases is never laid aside. A seal, however, might be laid aside, but the hands never could be. It has been a custom, in the olden days especially, when men wished to remember a thing, to tie a cord about the hand, or a thread around the finger, by which memory would be assisted; but then the cord might be snapped or taken away, and so the matter forgotten, but the hand and that which is printed into it must be constant and perpetual. Oh, Christian, by night and by day God is always thinking of you.

2. This recollection on God's part is practical. We are engraven upon His heart — this is to show His love; we are put upon His shoulders — this is to show that His strength is engaged for us; and also upon His hands, to show that the activity of our Lord will not be spared from us; He will work and show Himself strong for His people; He brings His omnipotent hands to effect our redemption. What would be the use of having a friend who would think of us, and then let his love end in thought? The faithfulness we want is that of one who will act in our defence. Do you see the drift of it? If He moulds a world between His palms, and then sends it wheeling in its orbit, it is between those palms which are stamped with the likeness of His sons and daughters, and so that new work shall minister to their god. If He divides a nation, it is always with the hand that bears the remembrance of Zion. Scripture itself tells us, "When He divided the nations, He set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel." The great wheel of providence, when God makes it revolve, works for the good of His people.

3. This is an eternal remembrance.

4. This memorial how tender! We have heard of one, an eastern queen, who so loved her husband that she thought even to build a mausoleum to his memory was not enough. She had a strange way of proving her affection, for when her husband's bones were burned she took the ashes and drank them day by day, that, as she said, her body might be her husband's living sepulchre. It was a strange way of showing love, and there was a marvellous degree of strange, fanatical fondness in it. But what shall I say of this Divine sympathetic mode of showing remembrance, by cutting it into the palms she It appeareth to me as though the King had said, "Shall I carve My people upon precious stones? Shall I choose the ruby, the emerald, the topaz? No; for these all must melt in the last general conflagration. What then? Shall I write on tablets of gold or silver? No, for all these may canker and corrupt, and thieves may break through and steal. Shall I cut the memorial deep on brass? No, for time would fret it, and the letters would not long be legible. I will write on Myself, on My own hand, and then My people will know how tender I am, that I would sooner cut into My own flesh than forget them."

5. This memorial is most surprising. Scripture, which is full of wonders, yet allows a "Behold" to be put before this verse — "Behold!"

6. It is also most consolatory. When God would meet Zion's great doubt — "God hath forgotten me," He cheers her with this — "I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands." There is no sorrow to which our text is not an antidote.


1. Is it not your duty to leave your cares behind you to-day?

2. If you must not have cares, you should not have those deep sorrows and despairs.

3. If this text is not yours, how your mouths ought to water after it.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

I. THE FEAR EXPRESSED, which led to the utterance of our text (ver. 14).

1. This fear has been felt by very many.

2. It has some. times been very plaintively expressed.

3. And some, too, are very obstinate while they are in that condition, for the passage contains a very unreasonable complaint. Read verse 13, "Jehovah hath comforted His people," &c. Yet, in the teeth of that double declaration Zion said, "Jehovah hath forsaken me," &c.

4. I suppose Zion came to this conclusion because she was in banishment.

5. Yet I think that there is some measure of grace mingled with this fear. Lot me read you this passage straight on: "Jehovah hath comforted His people, and will have mercy upon His afflicted. But Zion said, Jehovah hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me." She did not say that till God had visited her. There is in your soul a longing after God. This is the work of His Holy Spirit! Besides, although the text is a word of complaint, it has also in it a word of faith: "my Lord." Did you notice that? Zion calls Jehovah hers though she dreams that He has forsaken her. I do love to see you keep the grip of your faith even when it seems to be illogical. Hold on this assurance with a death-grip. If you cannot hold on with both hands, hold on with one; and if sometimes you can hold with neither hand, hold on with your teeth.

II. THE COMFORT BESTOWED. "I have graven thee," &c. What is it that makes it so certain that God cannot forget His people?

1. God remembers His .eternal love to His people, and His remembrance of them is constant because of that love. God's suffering love secures His memory of us.

2. By the expression, "I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands," God seems to say, "I have done so much for you that I can never forget you."

3. When a memorial is engraven on a man's hand, then it is connected with the man's life.



1. Does Christ remember us as I have tried to prove that He dose? Then let us remember Him. "This do ye in remembrance of Me."

2. Let us not only remember Him at His table, but let us remember Him constantly. Let us, as it were, carry His name upon the palms of our hands.

3. Practically. We ought so to wear Christ on our hands that whatever we touch should be thereby Christianised.

4. Let the name of Christ, and your memory of it, become vital to you.

( C. H. Spurgeon.)

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