Isaiah 49:16, "Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands; thy walls are continually before me."
This morning, very few things occur in the world that fill the heart with peace or swell the soul with joy. Because sin and its effects ravage the world in which we live, confusion and sorrow are more indicative of the events around us. Therefore, for us to be filled with peace and swelled with joy, our hearts and minds must seek ground of a nobler sense and higher plane from day to day. Considering that loss is another indicator of sin and its effects, what can we direct our minds to that is lossless? Scripture consistently and faithfully affirms that God is a lossless Being that does not come short in any regard. Just one chapter over from our study verse in Isaiah 50, God asks a rhetorical question about whether His arm is shortened that it cannot save. The reason that the question is rhetorical is because spiritually sane thinking realizes that God's hand is never shortened that it cannot save.
Our study verse gives some wonderfully illustrative language to highlight God's work that He has just contrasted with man's work. In the preceding verses, God asked whether a mother could forget her small, infant child. Much is declared in the world today about a mother's love, and truly, it is not something to belittle or deny. Yet, taking the highest order of love that the world could recognize or agree upon, God's love trumps even that in the grandest fashion. How inconceivable is it that a mother would forget her child? Yet, it happens. Recent history shows the recurrence of this incomprehensible activity.
How does God's love compare with that? Though we marvel at a mother's love for her child, the sacrifices that she makes for the child, and the seemingly unfathomable amount of energy that she can exert for the child, God shines supreme above it. Mothers make mistakes, and mothers at times can neglect their children or fail to take care of them as they should. None of these things will ever apply to God or hinder His care and keeping of His children. He never forgets. To illustrate that point, God utters the language we find above in our verse.
While we desire to mainly consider the second phrase of the verse, let us briefly consider the first phrase. In years past, I made a common mistake in the way that I viewed and applied that phrase. The reason that I call it common is that many others have made the same mistake in their speaking, preaching, or writing. If memory serves, I wrote a piece on this verse many years ago, in which I misapplied the thought accidentally. Quite often, the verse is analyzed as if a word is inserted into the language. How often do we hear the phrase, "I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands" applied as if the verse read "I have graven thy names upon the palms of my hands?" Truly, our names are in His book, and He knows those names down to the very last one.
Yet, the phrase speaks of something more powerful than that. This is not some illustrative analogy of our names being with Him and on Him. Rather, it is representative language that shows our very persons are represented by our dear Lord on His hands. We think of hands being not only a body part but also used to illustrate the exercise of labour. Whether a man engages in physical labour or not, we call his vocation the "work of his hands." It may be the mind that is exercised or literally the feet, but the term "hands" depicts the labour in a more generalized sense. So, we are graven upon the hands (works) of our Lord.
In a more literal sense, His hands were pierced while suspended on Calvary's cross. As our representative, we were graven (not figuratively in name but in actual representation) by Him through that work and sacrifice. By Him undergoing that work for us, the end result is as if we had actually done the work ourselves. In God's eyes, that work was imputed to our account, and the books were balanced for us. We are graven on His hands.
However, we mainly desire to speak of the second phrase this morning. The phrase "thy walls are continually before me" should bring up connotations of joy, peace, and comfort. While things in the world change and come to ruin, here is something that never changes or passes away. Notice the word "continually" in the phase. The word denotes perpetuation. Nothing in life is truly perpetual – or lasts forever. Here is something God says lasts forever. What is it that lasts forever?
Our walls last forever before Him. In olden times, the word "walls" brought up the idea of defenses. Many times, a city's defenses depended largely on the strength and security of the walls of that city. Many battle scenes in the Old Testament show the conquest of one army over the other by the destruction of the walls of that city. Nehemiah and others spent quite a bit of time restoring the city of Jerusalem, and the effort in restoring the walls with their assorted gates took up considerable space in the book of Nehemiah. The walls were important for the city's success and durability in the face of danger.
Our defenses that God Himself raised are perpetually before Him. As the Watcher over those defenses, none can pry us away from Him. So, not only does He not forget us, He has hedged in a place that cannot be undone. For someone or something to get to us in the place that has set us in, that person or thing would have to break through a defense that is continually before God. Since He never sleeps nor slumbers nor shall fail or be discouraged (Isaiah 45:4-5), that work could not be undertaken at a time when one knew that He would not be paying attention, nor could the work meet with any success as He cannot fail or be overthrown.
Too many times, we hear the statement that Christ loves you and died for you, but that statement is followed up by some command to ensure that the ones that Christ loved and died for will end up with Him. Should that statement be true, then we would have to divorce these two clauses in our study verse from each other. Since we are represented by Christ in His work and in His hand, why should we expect our defenses and secure position to be undone? Those that Christ represented and died for will all remain secure forever before His loving and tender eyes, and the position is completely unassailable by every enemy.
One final extended thought is another wall that is continually before the Lord's eyes: His church. While we understand that local bodies do sometimes vanish away or disband for one reason or another, the Scripture fully supports the perpetuity of the church here on the earth till the Lord Himself returns to take us home. (Matthew 16:18) Therefore, those walls are continually before Him, and no matter what the enemy may do or think, the flame of truth shall never be extinguished from the earth. Someone might then inquire, "If those walls are continually before Him, then how do local bodies die?" The answer is simple, yet powerfully humbling. Local church death occurs when saints leave the city of Zion, not when God forgets to watch over Zion's walls. When people depart to the degree and time that God removes the candlestick from them, His action is simply a declaration that the group has completely absconded from the walls of the city. Therefore, the light of the city no longer dwells with them.
Though life changes and sometimes our lives are marked by chaos, may we thank God perpetually for the continuous gift of keeping that He shows unto us. Not only did He see fit to take our place and represent us, He continually sees fit to preserve us to that great land above. He has further seen fit to bestow a portion of that blessing (earnest of our inheritance) perpetually in this earth. Truly, no thought of comfort could equate or compare with this. The highest order of love and care men know and have for each other pales in the light of the glory of God and His work for and to us.