As an English teacher I appreciate figurative language, especially in the Bible.  That is why I have a great deal of affection for the Old Testament.  It is absolutely rich with imagery.

It is also why I’m very careful to quote it as if it is literal.  As with God engraving my name, I’m not sure that is literally true, but an image that demonstrates how much he cares and loves me and knows me.  That has always been a beautiful image and understanding of who God is.  I’m OK with it not being literal.

I teach my students that your prior-knowledge or lack thereof can be the impetus or obstacle to a greater understanding of a text. I just listened to a podcast that proved this point and made my own understanding of Isaiah 49:6 even more significant to me.

Hank Fortener, of Mosaic Church Los Angeles, gave a message centering on the compassionate image of God.  He explained that owners of slaves would often have their names branded into the palms of their slaves’ hands in order to claim them if any of them ever got lost or tried to escape.  The audience of Isaiah would have known this piece of information.

As a result, this image becomes more than just an image of God’s knowledge and remembrance of me, but His declaration that He belongs to me.  Sounds odd saying it and reading it, but it seems that is much of the message of that statement.

Isaiah 49:15 begins with another image, the image of the mother who cannot forget her own child.  If you think of that analogy part of her remembrance of her child is not just due to obligation but due to a mutual bond that is between mother and child.  I call mom, my mom.  It’s possessive.  She calls me her daughter.  Again, possessive.  Part of the reason we cannot ever forget each other is because we belong to one another.  I am hers; she is mine. 

Claiming God as mine seems a little strange and a little self-indulgent but that is because I’m used to thinking about possessing things, not people. To think that God belongs to me seems to lesson him to a “thing.”  But, this is the very notion that moves me.  God, with his power and his knowledge of who I am, chooses to have a relationship with me, not built on his power and his ownership, but on a belonging, one he creates and arranges.  This is not how he is obligated to operate; this is how he chooses to do so.  That is an amazing love.

So literal or figurative, that image will forever mean to me that I have God and God has me. I am his and he is mine.  I will feel some song lyrics very differently now.