Isaiah 49:14-18 – Can a Woman Forget?


Isaiah 49:14-18


Contrary to the exiles’ fear, God has not forsaken them. God could no more do that than a mother could forsake her child–indeed, even less so.


Here we hear Zion lament that God has forsaken the people. The prayer sounds exactly like the voice of Psalm 22:1. In this case, however, God responds with a counterclaim. No, says God, I have not forgotten, and I will not forget. In Second Isaiah, God often responds to Israel’s laments positively and tenderly; but sometimes, when needed, God calls the lament into question, disputing its validity (see also 40:27).

The prophet uses the image of the nursing mother to describe God’s compassion for Israel. How could a mother possibly forget the child at her breast? Yet, even if she could, God could not. God is a mother and more than a mother, just as God, in other texts, is a father and more than a father (Hosea 11:9). Parental images are used often in the Bible to describe God’s relation to Israel, because they work well to speak both of the constant love and occasional discipline that a parent must exercise. Still, the human images are never perfect. Humans may fail; God will not.

In one of the book’s pictures of surprising intimacy, God claims to have “inscribed” Israel “on the palms of my hands.” Elsewhere the reverse is true: Israel writes on its hand God’s name (44:5). God and Israel are like two teenage lovers who have written each other’s names on their hands–all the more surprising since such tattoos were forbidden in Israel (Leviticus 19:28). Here, love breaks the constraints of law