“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands. . .”
A word of comfort directed to Zion!
To Zion, enveloped in the darkness of captivity in Babylon!
Where the Word of God had come to the captives through the prophet,—”Sing, O heavens; and be joyful, O earth; and break forth into singing, O mountains: for the Lord hath comforted his people, and will have mercy upon his afflicted.”
But where Zion said, “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.”
To which Zion the Lord responds: “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.”
“Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hand . . .!”
To dejected, downcast, hopeless children of God, this Word of God comes!
A solid Word of comfort!
“I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands!”
And, as it was seven or eight centuries before Christ came; so it is now, twenty centuries after He came—the people of God need comfort!
In the midst of the world steeped in sin, in the world that increases in iniquity, where sin and death still abound; in the world wherein it often appears that all things are against the people of God; wherein the very generations of the believers which are called the church of God deteriorate, amalgamate and go hand in hand with the world; wherein the child of God finds it increasingly difficult to maintain his own spiritual equilibrium and distinctiveness—in that world the true people of God often succumb to gloominess and fear. In that world, too, they are required to bear the reproaches and shame of the cross of Christ they are expected to carry; but to them come also in the providence of God sufferings of this present time. They see their dear ones snatched away; they feel the gnawing pains of disease; and the night of this present time often appears to have no end. And in the throes of despondency they often cry out, as did the remnant in Babylon: “The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me.” They need comfort!
And no more reassuring Word can be given to them than that which is spoken here to the captives, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands!”
You understand, of course, that the Lord here through the prophet speaks to His people in terms of human language not only, but in terms of human faculties. That is the only language and the only way they can comprehend what God is saying to them. We know from His Word that God is Spirit, and that they who worship. Him must worship Him in Spirit and in truth; and that can only mean that God Who is essentially Spirit has no hands such as you and I have. Yet He condescends to the level of our perception to speak to us even concerning Himself in the conceptions of human life. So that the expression, “the hands of the Lord,” is a figurative expression, signifying that which is very near to Him, and closely connected to His very Person. When He says, therefore, “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands,” He means to convey to us the-truth that we are very near to Him. He has an image of us inscribed upon His Person, according to which He sees us continually before Him.
We also have images, pictures of loved ones, which we cherish; pictures of those of whom we hold fond recollections. We set them in the most prominent places in our homes, where we cannot help but see them often. Most generally does the picture appear more fonder to us when it represents the likeness of a dear one who is far distant from us, or of one who has been removed from us by the hand of death. Oh, how we cherish their images! One glance at them brings back to our memories fond relationships. Especially is this so when the image represents a father or mother, a wife or husband, or perhaps a little infant we dandled upon the knee. Such a picture is dear to us, and we would not part with it for any price. It is a priceless treasure.
So also, only in a far more real sense, God has an image of His people upon the palms of His hands. He does not have it stashed away somewhere in a closet, nor does He put it in a place where only casually He may look at it. But He has it in a most prominent place. It is near to Him as His hands. It is fixed upon His very Person. It can never be lost out of sight. We are always consciously before Him.
Perhaps you ask the question: But is that image an exact likeness of what I really am? Does that image which God has on His hands look precisely like me?
And the answer is an unequivocal: Yes! It is the exact portrait of you and me. We look exactly as we are inscribed upon His hands.
Oh, you say, how terrible! A picture of me as I am by nature? My image as I am now, a sinner, a murderer, an adulterer, a thief, a liar? Is it a picture of me in my corruption, with all the lines of depravity marked all over my body, with death working in me, with all my filthy stains, and all my dirty garments?
Stop, O child of God!
Ask no more foolish questions!
You are thinking only in terms of that which is earthly. You are thinking of image-making only in terms of the modern camera, with its ability to take your picture precisely as you appear before its lens. When you ask the above questions, you are thinking only of what you look like after the fall of man in Paradise. You are conceiving of yourself only as you are by nature, but apart from grace.
To be sure, if that were the image God has on His hands, there would be ample occasion for fright. If that constituted the image God retains of us, then I for one could not rest day or night. Then all I could possibly expect from Him would be the dispensations of His holy wrath.
For God never changes! He remains eternally righteous, holy, and good. And He maintains Himself in all His glorious virtues. Then surely all I could ever expect would be the continual outpouring of His holy and hot displeasure. For God is angry with the wicked every day, and the curse of the Lord abides in the house of the ungodly. And if my image is that of a wicked, corrupt, ungodly sinner, then surely He will not leave me alone, but He must needs afflict me because of my sins, both my original as well as my actual sins. If the prophet had come with such a word to the despondent captives, he could in no sense ease their suffering, nor would he set them straight in their mistaken notion that the Lord had forsaken and forgotten them. He would only aggravate their distresses, and make himself an object of reproach. And if that is the way we must explain this Word of God to you, beloved, then you would have much reason to rebel against this Word of God.
But in no sense of the word may this Word of God thus be interpreted!
God does indeed have a perfect image of His people inscribed upon the palms of His hands, but it is not the image of us as we are by nature. Rather, (thanks be to His holy Name) it is the image of us as we are in Christ. It is the perfect image as we are perfect in Him. It is our picture as we are, without sin, without corruption, as we are holy and righteous in our Redeemer. As Christ, the Only Begotten, is righteous, holy, glorious, most beautiful; so we are the perfection of beauty as we are engraven on God’s hands.
That image is the original image of Zion which God has eternally known in love. From before the foundation of the world God has not only determined upon the image of Zion, but He also sees Zion according to that perfect image. Eternally He has in love chosen Zion in Christ. Fact is, He never sees us apart from Christ. In Christ He sees us as redeemed, cleansed, and holy. In Christ He beholds us redeemed through the way of sin and grace, and presented without spot or wrinkle in the assembly of the elect in life eternal. In Christ we appear before Him in the perfection of beauty. So God sees us eternally. That is the image which is engraven upon the palms of His hands.
That we are engraven on His hands, is also a figure of speech. It signifies that we are so permanently etched that the image can never be erased or blotted out. Our photographs, though they may last a long time when they are properly cared for, may fade and lose their original luster and beauty. Then, too, because we are subject to change, and through age and illness and many other reasons, we find that it is necessary to take successive pictures to keep up with the exact likeness. Not so is it with the image which God has engraven upon His hands.
That word “engraven” is a beautiful word, pregnant with deep thought. It comes from a word which means literally; to decree or ordain. It points us, therefore, to God’s counsel, according to which He eternally determines and ordains all things, and therefore also our image. In the counsel of His decrees He eternally wills a people perfected and made righteous and holy in Christ Jesus. And as it were by the steel point of His counsel He engraves them upon the palms of His hands. So also He loves them and they are the objects of His affection. Never could He love them as dirty, filthy, hell-bound sinners. We have a righteous God, beloved, Who loves righteousness, and militates against all evil. Shall that God love us, while we are sinners, it must be then that He does so only as He sees us perfected in Christ. Oh, indeed, God loved us when we were sinners, and in due time Christ died for the ungodly. And even as we are in the midst of all our sin and corruption, the infinite bowels of God’s mercy yearn after us. But it is because He always sees us according to the perfect image of His Son. He sees us always, too, as we shall become perfect in Christ. That we are now, in spite of all our sin and corruption,—perfect in Christ! So we shall be also in the day of Christ—we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be transformed into His perfect image. But God sees us as we always were and forever shall be—in the beauty of holiness. That image can never be destroyed. We are deeply engraven by that counsel of His decrees in the hands of His love.
What an abiding comfort!
Comfort it was also for the children of Zion caught up in the bondage of Babylon.
Surely, the children of Zion will have to retract the accusations they made while disconsolate in the throes of captivity. Then they charged that the Lord had forsaken them and had forgotten His people. Zion must know that Jehovah, their God, could never forget them whom He had sovereignly foreknown, and engraven in the palms of His hands. Believing Zion will hear the message of the prophet and be greatly comforted. Indeed, the heavens may sing, and the earth may rejoice: for the Lord hath comforted His people, and will have mercy upon His afflicted. Even in the midst of the dark night of their captivity, Zion may be jubilant with praise; for the Lord loves His people, and will redeem them, perfecting them according to the image He has of them in His hands.
No different is it for the people of God today!
That is, for that people who are enveloped in the darkness of this present evil world, and to whom it often appears that the Lord tarries too long in the realization of His promise to return quickly. That is, for that people who often become weary in their battle against sin and darkness, and complain that their God has forsaken them. That is, for that people who pine away upon beds of affliction, or are required to bear a cross that often seems too heavy to carry.
Let them find the only true consolation that can lift them up in the words of this text.
Not much comfort is it for them to know that some time the present night of darkness will pass away. Though it may give some relief to know that the troubles will not last forever, they have no real easement of their present pain.
But nothing gives more comfort than to know that the faithful covenant Jehovah holds us in the hallow of His hands, and that He Who never sleeps, beholds us as we really are, precious in His sight!