It is easy to believe that God has forgotten us. When we go through great difficulties and trials the temptation is to believe that we are forsaken and forgotten by God. Israel would be susceptible to this belief as well. They have been invaded by the Babylonian Empire, taken off the land, and sent into slavery. Does God no longer care? Has God forgotten us? Even though the judgment of the Lord is just because of our sinfulness, has God neglected his people? Notice Isaiah 49:14, “But Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.'” So has God forgotten or forsaken his people? This is the question that Isaiah answers in the rest of Isaiah 49.
The Despised Servant (49:7)
In the first six verses of Isaiah 49 we read about the Servant who will bring Israel and the whole world to God, bringing salvation to the end of the earth. The sending of the Servant is God’s primary answer for us to know that we are not forgotten or forsaken by him. Notice what will happen to the Servant (Christ) when he comes, according to verse 7. He will be deeply despised, abhorred by the nation, and the servant of rulers. Isaiah pictures the Servant being rejected by the people and hated by those he came to save. Notice how shocking it is to declare that the Servant will be a servant of rulers. He will not be a king when he arrives. He is not going to be like Cyrus who rules over a nation. He will be the subject of rulers. But the rest of verse 7 points out that this condition of being a rejected, despised, and subjugated Servant will be reversed. Kings and princes will bow down to him because of the Lord. Though rejected by the world, the Lord will exalt him. He is not forgotten by God.
The Time of Favor (49:8-13)
God continues to speak to the Servant. God will give the Servant as a covenant to the people to establish the promises of God given to Abraham. The Servant will call people out of darkness and out of the prisons. Isaiah pictures a new exodus led by the Servant. The Servant is pictured as a new Moses and a new Joshua who calls the prisoners out of their imprisonment. They will be fed along the way to the promised land just as God did when he brought Israel out of Egypt. They will even been fed in the most unexpected places. The Servant embodies all that is intended with the covenant God gave to the people. All the obstacles will be cleared for a return (49:11) and every person throughout the earth is called (49:12). Therefore sing for joy because God has comforted his people and he has compassion on the afflicted (49:13).
Know You Are Not Forgotten (49:14-50:3)
Even though God has declared the coming of the time of favor and the day of salvation, the people still think that God has forgotten and forsaken them (49:14). Therefore God will go even further to prove that he has not forgotten his people. Listen to the beautiful imagery God gives to show that he cannot forget us.
Can a woman forget a nursing child? Is it possible for a mother to lack compassion on her child and forget her nursing child? The answer is that this would never happen! But God amplifies the answer in the rest of verse 15. “Even if these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” Even if you can produce a horrible mother that forgets her nursing child, God is better than that. The second image is found in verse 16. God’s people are engraved on the palms of his hands. Many of you may write notes on your hands so that you do not forget to do something. God says that you are written on his hands. We are always before the eyes of the Lord. What a precious, comforting thought!
God further promises that the enemies of God’s people will be destroyed (49:17-19). The city of God, Zion, is not forgotten. Lift up your eyes and see that God will beautifully adorn you with ornaments as if on a bride. Now do not read this and think that this is referring to Israel’s physical return from Babylonian slavery under Cyrus. Verses 19-23 show that this is not the case. God says that so many people are going to return to the Lord that there will not be room in the city for all the people. God says that he will build a city of people so great and so numerous that the people coming in are going to wonder where they are going to live. The point is that the restoration that God is promising was far more than just putting the Jews back in Jerusalem. God is picturing glorious Zion, the people of God, coming from all over the earth to the Lord to live with him and worship him. The destroyed physical city of Jerusalem will be turned into the glorified spiritual city of God, Zion.
Notice verses 22-23. Earlier in this chapter we saw the Servant despised and rejected later receiving honor and worship from princes and kings (49:7). That promise is now shared with God’s people. Israel will be given a special place and recognized as the Lord’s special people. Verse 23 gives the people the clear message: wait for the Lord to do this. “Those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.” Wait for the Lord means to trust in him to act. These things will happen according to God’s time and purpose. God is stronger than any of our enemies and judgment will come upon them (49:24-26). Every person must acknowledge the Lord or be counted as enemies to be destroyed. The imagery of verse 26 is similar to the imagery in Revelation 19:21 where Christ is pictured utterly destroying his enemies and the enemies of those who belong to him. Those who choose their own way leads to destruction. Our wrecked lives are supposed to point us to God and bring him glory as we acknowledge him.
The final image to confirm that God has not forsaken his people is in the first three verses of chapter 50. God says that nothing is permanent. The divorce papers have not been given. They have not been irrevocably sold. The door is still open to reconciliation. How can anyone think they are forsaken by the Lord? Look at all that God is doing on behalf of his people.
God promised that the day of salvation and the time of favor. In that time God will help, answer, and restore. When the Servant comes in that day, then the fortunes of God’s people will be reversed. Listen to the apostle Paul concerning this passage.
20 Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. 1 Working together with him, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “In a favorable time I listened to you, and in a day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. (2 Corinthians 5:20–6:2 ESV)
God promised that he would not forget his people and even made the point that it was not possible for him to forget his people. His people are engraved on his hands. God will give the Servant in the time of favor and in the day of salvation as a covenant to the people. The apostle Paul takes this passage and says, “Now is the favorable time; now is the day of salvation.” Just as Isaiah 49:7 pictured the Servant being rejected, he is not forgotten by God. Though we may suffer and deal with various trials, we are not forgotten by God. Jesus is our example that God was with him even though he was mistreated while he lived on the earth. God uses the amazing sacrifice of Jesus as proof that we are not forgotten by God.
Although a person’s circumstances may seem difficult or hopeless at times, there are reasons to put one’s hope in God. There are reasons to believe that God has not forgotten you nor has he forsaken you. God is less likely to forget you than a mother is to forget her nursing child. God cannot forget you because you are engraved on his hands. God has not divorced his people, even though we have broken his laws, but has created the day of salvation and the time of favor. God does not forsake his people.
5 Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” 6 So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6 ESV)
27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:27–29 ESV)
Now come back to Paul’s charge to us in 2 Corinthians 6:1,
We appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. (2 Corinthians 6:1 ESV)
You are known by God, cared for by God, and loved by God. He is a compassionate God who comforts the afflicted. Do not let the grace of God be received in vain. Do not live your life thinking God has left you. Do not let your faith be weakened by adversity. Do not fail to wait for the Lord and trust in his promises. If we think that God has forgotten us, then we have received his grace in vain. We are failing to believe in the promises of God. Hold on to the promises of God. It is part of his grace to us who believe.