by: Cheryl Hauer, Associate Editor
When the Lord speaks of His palms, He uses the word kafim. Interestingly, kaf is both a letter (כ) and a word (כף). In its written form, the sages say the letter represents one who is bent, bowing before the king, but as an ancient pictograph, it resembled the open palm of a hand.
The meaning of the word is actually palm and in modern Hebrew, it means spoon, in keeping with the idea of the palm of the hand. It is upturned and cupped, capable of holding or carrying something. It appears many times in Scripture, almost always as part of the phrase meaning the palms of the hands.
The sages have much to say about the significance of the word palm, and the Talmud places a great deal of importance on its various functions. The word kaf, they say, is closely related to the word kavanah, which means focus. How many times each day do you look at your hands, they ask. Each time, the palm should remind you to focus on the Holy One and His love for you.
Kaf is also related to the word qal, or carry, say some rabbis. This is the word that is used in Psalm 91:12 where we are told that God’s angels will lift up or carry His chosen ones so that they will not dash a foot against a stone.
The position of the palm is also important, we are told. An upturned palm signifies receiving while a downturned palm indicates giving. When we envision God extending His hands over His people, it is with palms down, shielding and giving protection. When the ancient priests recited the Aaronic blessing over the Israelites, it was with hands extended and palms down.
When we lift our hands in worship, it is with palms up, desiring to receive all that the Lord has for us. And further, the rabbis say, when we hold hands with our children, it is palm to palm. Every child loves to hold his father’s hand, the palm of childlike need touching the palm of unfathomable giving.
Isaiah 49:16 has another component, however, that will help us truly understand what the verse is saying. It is the Hebrew word katab, translated inscribed, engraved, graven or carved, depending on your translation. Most Jewish commentators agree that the meaning of the ancient word is best translated inscribed or written. It appears over 200 times in the Scriptures, and represents writing down a message. It could be written on stone, paper, plaster, sand, or skin, but in every instance it means more than just recording something for posterity. According to Vine’s Expository Dictionary, it refers to the unchangeableness and binding nature of the word of God. God has said it, it is fixed, it is written and it will be done. A final meaning of the word is portrayed. This indicates an image or picture, drawn as a likeness or written as a detailed description.
So what was God really saying to His Israelite children when they cried out to Him in despair? In their distress, they have accused Him of forsaking them and His response is impassioned. He refers to the bond between mother and child, inexplicable and sacred. It is a very rare mother that forgets her child, He says, but it could happen—that incredible bond might be broken. “But not so my bond with you,” He says. “I will never forget you. How could I forget you?” He asks. “You have been portrayed on the very palm of my hand. Each time I look at my hands, hundreds of times a day, I am refocused on you. You are there before me always.” He mentions the walls of Jerusalem to further drive home His point. To the ancient Israelites, city walls represented permanence.
It is important to note that the Hebrew, unlike some modern translations, does not say, “I have inscribed your name.” It says, “I have inscribed you.” If we can take this image a bit further, God is not saying He has a list of names written on His hand. It’s not even a collection of faces. God’s cup-like palm is filled with His intimate knowledge of His people, with their very essence, their fragrance, their sum and substance.
In that palm, He will hold them, He will carry them, He will lift them up lest they dash their feet against a stone. His eye is on them every moment of every day and every thought He has ever had toward them, every promise He has ever made, every prophecy that awaits fulfillment cries out to Him from the palm of that hand. Never will He forget those to whom He has pledged Himself. He has said it, it is fixed, it is inscribed, and it will be done. For those of us who love Him, there could be no greater words of consolation.
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