I like reading the book of Isaiah — it’s full of passion and word-pictures; but some sections are quite mysterious.
For example, in Isaiah 33:1 it says, “Woe to you, destroyer, you who have not been destroyed! Woe to you, betrayer, you who have not been betrayed! When you stop destroying, you will be destroyed; when you stop betraying, you will be betrayed”.
Huh? Come again?
Let me read on ... got to Isaiah 49:16, “Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms”. What? My name is written on God’s hand? I think in pictures, and I can clearly visualize this — my name scribbled on His hand. Like when I don’t want to forget to buy peanut butter, and quickly write ‘pb’ on my hand.
Let me just read this again, “Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms”.
The Hebrew word kharath means to cut out, to engrave, to inscribe. Oh, I get it. It’s not just like inky writing on my hand that can wash out. It means engraved, etched in. Like when Moses got the ten commandments (Ex 32:16), God gave him two stone tablets, with the law engraved on it with His finger.
The same word. Kharath. Etched out, engraved.
Now my picture-mind really goes into over-drive. Engraving on a stone — that takes serious effort. Cutting grooves into a hard surface with a sharp tool. It takes time too.
And it is permanent.
Many Bible commentaries explain kharath as used in Isaiah 49:16 as an action like tattooing. Adam Clarke1 explains:
This is certainly an allusion to some practice, common among the Jews at that time, of making marks on their hands or arms by punctures on the skin.
Now I am really intrigued. God has a tattoo with my name on His hand? Getting a bit amused too — this will upset some Christians who have concerns about tattoos!
In that moment of reflection, thinking about Isaiah 49, talking to God about the mysteries and wisdom of His word, my sanctified imagination gave me a clear picture. Suddenly, Jesus was before me, with His hands outstretched right in front of my face. Cannot miss the crucifixion marks in His palms.
‘Yes, your name is engraved on my hands’, He whispers to me gently, “you are mine.”
Oh, Jesus! Left me shaking for the rest of the afternoon.
Isaiah 49:16 Look, I have inscribed your name on my palms.What is your response to this extraordinary act of love?
(16) Behold, I have graven thee . . .—The words point to the almost universal practice of tattooing. A man thus “engraved” the name of his god, or the outlines of his home, or the face of her he loved, upon his hands or arms. So, by a boldly anthropomorphic figure, Jehovah had “graven” Jerusalem on His hands. He could not open them, i.e., could not act, without being reminded of her. The “walls” may be either those of the earthly city lying in ruins, or those of the heavenly Jerusalem.
Behold, I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands - This is another argument in answer to the complaint of Zion in Isaiah 49:14. There have been various interpretations of this passage. Grotius supposes that it refers to a custom of placing some mark or sign on the hand, or on one of the fingers when they wished to remember anything, and appeals to Exodus 13:9. Lowth supposes that it is an allusion to some practice common among the Jews at that time, of making marks on their hands or arms by means of punctures in the skin with some sign or representation of the city or temple, to show their zeal and affection for it.
1Adam Clarke was a theologian and Bible scholar who lived in the 18th century, most famous for writing a Bible commentary which took him 40 years to complete.