Isaiah 46


‘Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary. They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.’ Isaiah 46:1-2

Gods Of Babylon

This chapter, through to chapter 47:15, speaks of the fall of Babylon with her gods.

Isaiah begins by describing the nothingness of the Babylonian gods. The idols of Babylon are contrasted with the eternal God. Idolaters must carry their idols whereas the eternal God carries and delivers those who are His people.

Bel was the name of the Babylonian god, originally as the city patron of Nippur, but then as a second name for the high god, Merodach of Babylon.

Isaiah mocked Babylon by describing their gods burdening down donkeys in procession out of the city into captivity. People did not bow before them. The idols bowed down to get out of the city gates.

Similarly, Jeremiah prophesied shame coming on Bel, Jeremiah 50:2. Bel would have to spit out the nations he had swallowed up, Jeremiah 51:44.

Nebo was a place and divine name meaning, ‘height’. He was the Babylonian god of speech, writing, and water. The worship of Nebo was popular during the Neo-Babylonian era 612-539 B.C. Isaiah mocked parades featuring the idol of Nebo.

Isaiah says that their idols were nothing but a burden to the people. The idol gods couldn’t prevent themselves from going into captivity, much less save their worshipers from bondage.

‘Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.’ Isaiah 46:3-4

God carried Israel from the very beginning, He will carry them and save them.

De Hoff, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Like an indulgent father caring for his people from the day they were born, God watched over and led His people while false gods of heathen people had to be carried about by their worshippers.’

Israel was born out of Egyptian captivity and carried by God throughout her history, Numbers 11:12. Even when the nation became old, God was still with her through her apostasy and restoration.

‘With whom will you compare me or count me equal? To whom will you liken me that we may be compared? Some pour out gold from their bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, and they bow down and worship it. They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer; it cannot save them from their troubles.’ Isaiah 46:5-7

The negative answer, to the question, is the direct result of what precedes, a still further proof given that the idols are nothing. But the further proof is offered that idols are as follows.

1. Made from lifeless material.

2. Made by man who then subjects himself to it.

3. Carried about by man.

4. Unable to move self.

5. Unable to speak.

6. Unable to help.

In view of these things, who would dare to compare an idol with God, it’s foolish, Isaiah 40:18-20 / Isaiah 44:9-20 / 41:5-7 / Isaiah 46:1-2.

‘Remember this, keep it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far-off land, a man to fulfil my purpose. What I have said that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do. Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are now far from my righteousness. I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendour to Israel.’ Isaiah 46:8-13

Another admonition is given to those who would imitate the heathen. These are the apostate Jews who have not yet gone all the way. They are wavering between God and idols.

Man is made in the image of God and has the ability to think. If he will use this ability, he will know that it is foolishness to worship an idol when he could be worshipping the true God.

Idols cannot predict the future and so, Israel was called upon to remember the great works which God had done in the past. The ‘bird of prey from the east’, is the symbol of the golden eagle adorned the flags of Persia. A fitting emblem for Cyrus the Great.

Another admonition is given to the hard-hearted who are not interested in righteousness. God warns them that salvation is at the door, Romans 10:6-9.

Coffman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘There are three reasons visible in these verses which are designed to inspire trust in the chosen people’.

1. They should recall the many wonders God has already performed on their behalf.

2. They should especially remember his power and ability to prophecy events before they occur.

3. They should dwell upon the fact that God has promised to deliver them from captivity.

Go To Isaiah 47