In the sixth century before Jesus lived, Israel’s glory days were over. The land had been sacked by the mighty Babylonian Empire, and the majority of the people were expelled from their homeland. For the next hundred years, the Israelites, God’s People, were virtually refugees. Through the Old Testament prophets, the Lord kept promising their deliverance, but it was hard for them to believe in the face of the hopelessness of their daily existence.
It was during this time that the words of Isaiah 49 were written. In a profound way, the Lord compares his unbreakable connection to his people with the suffering of refugee families, and even with the bonding of a mother to her child. As you read these excerpts from the prophecy, think of the separated families on our southern border, as well as the children in refugee camps in the Middle East. Beginning with verse 8:
Thus says the Lord…,
saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
God has already protected and nourished them during their escape journey:
They shall feed along the ways,
on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
Refugees come from the four corners of the earth:
Lo, these shall come from far away,
and lo, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the distant south.
God re-affirms his promise of deliverance:
Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.
It’s hard for them to keep believing in the face of human harshness and cruelty:
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
God’s answer melts our hearts:
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
or show no compassion for the child of her womb?
Even these may forget,
yet I will not forget you.
See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are continually before me.
There’s even a word of hope for those whose children have been torn from them:
Then you will say in your heart. …
I was bereaved and barren,
exiled and put away —
so who has reared these?
I was left all alone —
where then have these come from?”
Thus says the Lord God:
“I will soon lift up my hand to the nations,
and raise my signal to the peoples;
and they shall bring your sons in their bosom,
and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.
Kings shall be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
With their faces to the ground they shall bow down to you,
and lick the dust of your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who wait for me shall not be put to shame.
I will contend with those who contend with you,
and I will save your children.”
You don’t want to contend with God, so, junk the jacket!
— Pastor George Van Alstine