Isaiah 49:8-15 (NRSVCE)
Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
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.
Lo, these shall come from far away,
and lo, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the land of Syene.
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.
But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,
my Lord has forgotten me.”
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.
Israel is in exile. They are despondent. They think God has abandoned them, forgotten about them entirely. What we have here is God’s promise that He has not forgotten the promise He made—the promise that He would be their God. He brings to mind the many times He has helped Israel through troubles, and recalls the promises of prosperity to come. You are in exile now, scrounging for whatever you can get. But soon you will not hunger or thirst, you will not feel the sting of the scorching sun or wind, and rather than being outcasts in the slums of the cities, you will walk along the Lord’s roads. And all those roads shall lead to Israel.
Israel knows of the promises of prosperity. But in times like this, it’s difficult for them to feel hope. The people are at their lowest. Strangers in a hostile land, they have no home to call their own. It’s easy for them to think those promises were abandoned. It’s easy to think God has forgotten them. But God’s response is that though many things can be forgotten, He can never forget Israel. Even a mother may forget her child. The mother loves that baby more than anything, but it can happen that she is distracted and, say, accidentally locks the baby in the car. Or forgets to pick him up from daycare. Despite the strength of her love, that’s the reality of human fallibility. But even that mother loves her child. It’s possible, too, for a mother to not only forget her child, but to have no love for him whatsoever. This is supremely evident today in the culture of death we have created for ourselves, as people continue to fight for the right to kill their children. All of this is possible with fallible human beings.
But though it’s possible for a mother to forget her child despite her love, and though it’s possible for a mother to feel no love whatsoever for her child, we are assured that this is never possible with God. Unlike man, God is infallible and immutable. God will never forget us. God will never stop loving us. He has made a covenant with Israel, to be their God. He is not merely “a god.” Or even “God”. He is their God. That is how He identifies Himself. “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He can never cease being their God, any more than you could cease being who you are. “Their God” is who He is. “Our God” is who He is.