Divine Forgetfulness and Remembrance

Can God ever forget us?

Yesterday I penned a piece on forgetfulness. I looked at two types of this, from a spiritual perspective. When we forget God, that is bad news. But when God decides to forget our sins, that is great news. I offered a number of biblical passages on each. See it here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2024/03/15/on-forgetfulness/

Also yesterday I penned a piece on God’s love and our need of receiving and experiencing that love. It centred on a film which really brings some of these truths home – even though it is not a Christian film. It is found here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2024/03/15/all-you-need-is-love/

But here I want to look at another aspect of God: while he forgets our sin, he never forgets us. In the first article I had mentioned that I wanted to look in much more detail at one of the passages I shared there: Isaiah 49:13-18. This is how it reads:

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 afflicted.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me;
    my Lord has forgotten me.”
“Can a woman forget her nursing child,
    that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb?
Even these may forget,
    yet I will not forget you.
Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
    your walls are continually before me.
Your builders make haste;
    your destroyers and those who laid you waste go out from you.
Lift up your eyes around and see;
    they all gather, they come to you.
As I live, declares the Lord,
    you shall put them all on as an ornament;
    you shall bind them on as a bride does.

So much can be said about this bit of Scripture. First, the context involves Israel and its captivity in Babylon. They would have had very good reason to think that Yahweh had abandoned them and forsaken them. How could this even have happened to God’s chosen people? How could they be in exile with Jerusalem and the temple levelled?

And one thing is certainly obvious: those who claim that the God of the Old Testament is only a wrathful and vindictive being, while it is in the New Testament alone that we find a God of love and grace, are completely wrong. God is both loving and holy in both Testaments. He never changes.

Also, this text is such good news for all believers today. I too have often asked if God has forgotten me or forsaken me. When I feel this way, it should be a regular habit of mine to return to this passage and prayerfully meditate on it. The love and grace and compassion of God does not get much clearer than this – at least in the OT.

Let me offer a few bits of commentary on this wonderful passage. Alec Motyer remarks: “The word ‘love’ is not used in these verses, but they could hardly be more redolent of the reality.” Or as John Oswalt comments:

God uses the strongest images of personal attachment to protest that he has not forgotten or forsaken Zion. He asks a rhetorical question concerning mothers and their attachments to the children they have borne in their wombs and nursed at their breasts. Can mothers forget? The assumed answer is, “Of course not!”…


The truth is that while most mothers cannot forget the children of their wombs and breasts, some do. We have only to think of the recurring stories of mothers standing passively by while their boyfriends abuse the mothers’ children. But whatever the failures of mothers, God does not forget! God’s attachment is more than a mother’s. The prophet asks us to think of a mother’s attachment and then go one step farther. That is what God’s attachment to us is. Much the same point is made in Ps. 27:10: “If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.” We must never allow our sense of God’s offended justice to obscure the truth from our eyes that he is love. Earthly love, as wonderful as it is, may cease, but his love has no limits whatsoever.

Image of Isaiah For You: Enlarging Your Vision of Who God Is (God's Word for You)
Isaiah For You: Enlarging Your Vision of Who God Is (God's Word for You) by Tim Chester (Author) Amazon logo

And as Tim Chester states: “When Isaiah writes those words, they’re simply a graphic image of God’s commitment to his people—like people who write reminders to themselves on their hands in pen. It’s as if God has tattooed our names on his hands. But these words have added power for us because God’s commitment to us is written in the scars on the palms of Jesus. He can never forget his people.”

Many more commentators can be drawn upon here but let me once again turn to ‘The Prince of Preachers.” In May of 1863 Charles Spurgeon gave the sermon, “A Precious Drop of Honey”. So much of it could be shared here, but the following portions will suffice:

“I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands.” This seems to show us, first of all, that God’s remembrance of his people is constant. The hands, of course, are constantly in union with the body. In Solomon’s Song we read, “Set me as a seal upon thy hand.” Now this is a very close form of remembrance, for the seal is very seldom laid aside by the Eastern, who not being possessed with skill in the art of writing his name, requires his seal in order to affix his signature to a document; hence the seal is almost always worn, and in some cases is never laid aside. A seal, however, might be laid aside, but the hands never could be. It has been a custom, in the olden days especially, when men wished to remember a thing to tie a cord about the hand, or a thread around the finger by which memory would be assisted; but then the cord might be snapped or taken away, and so the matter forgotten, but the hand and that which is printed into it must be constant and perpetual. O Christian, remember that by night and by day God is always thinking of you. From the beginning of the year even to the end of the year, the Lord’s eye is upon you, according to his precious word — “I, the Lord do keep it, I will water it every moment, lest any hurt it I will keep it night and day.” Your remembrance of God is intermittent; you thought of him this morning when you rose from your beds; you are trying to think of him now, and this evening again your thoughts will go up to him; these are only times and seasons of remembrance, but God never ceases to recollect you. The finite mind of man cannot constantly be occupied, if it is to engage in other pursuits, with any one thought; but the gigantic mind of God can allow of a million trains of thought at once. He is not confined to thinking of one thing, or working out one problem at a time. He is the great many-handed, many-eyed God; he doeth all things, and meditateth upon all things, and worketh all things at the same time; therefore he never is called away by any urgent business so that he can forget you. No second person ever comes in to become a rival in his affection towards you. You are fast united to your great Husband, Christ, and no other lover can steal his heart; but Jesus, having chosen you, doth never suffer a rival to come. You are his beloved, his spouse, the darling of his heart, and he has himself said, “Mine eye and my heart are toward thee continually.” Every moment of every day, every day of every month, and every month of every year, is the Lord continually thinking upon you, if you be one of his.


Still further, the text as a whole, seems to show us that this recollection on God’s part is practical. We are engraven upon his heart — this is to show his love; we are put upon his shoulders — this is to show that his strength is engaged for us; and also upon his hands, to show that the activity of our Lord will not be spared from us; he will work and show himself strong for his people; he brings his omnipotent hands to effect our redemption. What would be the use of having a friend who would think of us, and then let his love end in thought? The faithfulness we want is that of one who will act in our defence. We need one who so cares for us, that against every arrow of the adversary he will lift up the shield; and for every want will find a supply. We want an active sympathy from God. Surely this is the intention of the text. “I have graven thee upon the palms of my hands;” as if everything that God touched left a memorial of his people on it; every work he did, he did it with the same hands that carved the remembrance of his people. Do you see the drift of it? If he moulds a world between his palms, and then sends it wheeling in its orbit, it is between those palms which are stamped with the likeness of his sons and daughters, and so that new work shall minister to their good. If he divides a nation, it is always with the hand that bears the remembrance of Zion. Scripture itself tells us this, “When he divided the nations, he set the bounds of the people according to the number of the children of Israel.” The great wheel of providence, when God makes it revolve, works for the good of the people whom he hath called according to his purpose. There are many strings, but they are all in one hand, and they all pull one way, to draw a weight of glory to the chosen: there are many wheels, and innumerable cogs, and as you and I look about us, we cannot understand the machinery; we cry, “O wheels, what do ye work?” but the end, the end, if you stood there and saw the end of everything, you would see that God has stamped all the wheels with the memory of his children, so that the result is always good, and only good to those whom he has engraven on the palms of his hands. It is, then, a practical as well as a constant sympathy.

Can we ever thank God enough for this precious drop of honey? Never forget his great love for you. He never forgets us.

[1780 words]

One Reply to “Divine Forgetfulness and Remembrance”

  1. A common mistake among Christians relates to promises that God has specifically made to Israel, such as Isa 49:16. They seem to think these promises apply to Christians but no longer to Israel.

    Many years ago, the church I was attending spent months using Isa 49 as the basis for praying for the lost to be gathered into the church. But I never heard anyone pray for the Jews to be brought back into their restored homeland – which is what this entire chapter is about.

    On the other hand, Pope Francis and Justin Welby, the leaders of the two largest Christian denominations, have repeatedly backed the “two state solution”, which involves the division of the land that God repeatedly promised as the “everlasting possession” of the Jewish people (eg, Gen 17:8).

    Many Christians think Israel isn’t relevant to them. But as I once pointed out to a Catholic friend, if God needn’t keep the many promises he has made to Israel – which Paul says in Rom 11:29 are irrevocable – then why should he keep his promises to us?

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