Isaiah 41 is written to an exiled people group, held captive in Babylon. And in this moment, we have an encouraging word from God to His people. God begins with a word of hope and strength – do not be afraid. He says this because he knows they are afraid and in a new and unfamiliar land. God wants to remind them that He is with them and has not forgotten about them, even in their captivity, far away from their home, their comfort, their familiarity. He is reminding them that He is their source of comfort and strength – He is their God who loves them.
God then tags on an endearing term—”worm Jacob, little Israel.” Now, I had to pause on this one and do some digging—I mean, context really matters as it is not everyday that I am called a worm. A worm is low to the ground—literally, and lowly, as in not held in high esteem. The use of this word worm was used to remind Israel of their need for a posture of humility in the presence of God. Afterall, Israel had acted in pride and had walked away from God, hence their captivity. It’s in this precise moment, when God qualifies His encouragement to not be afraid by saying “worm Jacob, little Israel” that he is calling on them to remember their position as it relates to him—He is God; they were not, nor are we.
There is a deeper meaning to the use of this term worm—one that a Hebrew would have understood, but perhaps the modern day reader may not. Worm also means the color scarlet. The color scarlet may conjure up all sorts of imaginative significance in the Bible for you, but let’s focus on scarlet dye, which was highly sought after and used for many noble and esteemed purposes. Yet, here is the really fascinating truth—the scarlet color came from the mother worm through an act of sacrifice to protect her eggs. Let me explain the process. When the female scarlet worm was ready to give birth to her young, she would attach her body to the trunk of a tree, fixing herself so firmly and permanently that she would never leave again. The eggs were deposited beneath her body and thus protected until the larvae were hatched. As the mother died, the crimson scarlet fluid would stain her body and the surrounding wood. From the dead bodies of such female scarlet worms, the commercial scarlet dyes of antiquity were extracted.
Truly an amazing gift unfolds in the deeper meaning of this one little word worm. While God is lovingly putting Israel in their place, He is simultaneously reminding them of His enduring presence, and His forthcoming promise of His Son Jesus Christ, and His passionate demonstration of love for all humanity.
In this moment, read verse 14 again and pause and meditate on what you have learned. Think about who God is in his mightiness and how this contrasts to us and our smallness; how He remembers us and yet we forget Him; about how He encourages us and is always with us. And how we should understand that the best way for us to live into this richly faceted relationship, no matter where we are in life, is to remember the presence of God and the posture of our humility. After all, it was God who humbled Himself through the passionate act of sending His one and only Son, Jssus to be born of a virgin, to die a criminal’s death, and to rise again as the victorious Lord of Lords.
One last note that may offer a great conclusion—in this same verse, the word “redeemer” is used for the first time in the entire scroll of Isaiah. So, in our smallness and in our humility, our mighty God will help us, deliver us, and redeem us—just as he did for the Israelites. God is with us in our humility, Amen.