Isaiah Chapter 46


Divine Judgment on Babylon's False Deities.

three chapters that now follow form another of those significant
trilogies that we have learned to be a characteristic feature of this

1: Chapter 46: Judgment on Babylon's false Deities.
2: Chapter 47: On Babylon herself.
3: Chapter 48: Restoration of Israel.

This short chapter also clearly divides into three parts, thus:

1: Verses 1, 2: Babylon's idols go into captivity.
2: Verses 3 to 11: The contrast with Israel's Jehovah,
with warning to the apostate mass.
3: Verses 12, 13: Salvation revealed.

The Seer now speaks of Babylon's gods:

1: Bel sinketh down, Nebo collapses,
Their idols are carried by beasts and by cattle.
The things that ye carried are now made a load,
And weary the beasts are that drag them.
2: They stooped, aye, they sank down together;
Nor could they deliver the burden;
But they themselves go into bondage.

once more we see Dagon, under another name, falling prone before
Jehovah. How impossible it is to stop at these dumb senseless idols!
Who can question but that on the stage of this comparatively little
planet, the earth, we are shown that which is invisible. An awful drama
is being enacted, in which the human actors are the visible figures of
the spirit-powers behind them. Scripture gives us the clearest proof of
this. Even today, when Bel is unknown, and Nebo a strange
unintelligible word to most Christians, we hear the beloved disciple
telling us that all the multitudinous false prophets of this age are
really only "mediums" for the spirits behind them. "Try the spirits,"
he says, "because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1
John 4:1), thus identifying the false prophets with the evil spirits.
So it is here. Bel! Who is Bel? What do we care about a piece of stone
to which they may have attached the name "Bel." But behind that "Bel"
is he who was created the fairest of all the principalities and powers,
to whom was given the name that he has long lost, "Shining one, star of
the morning" (Eph. 6), and we—even you and I—wrestle not against
human Babylonian or Assyrian potentates, but against Bel, Nebo, and all
their lords, the spirit-powers that were behind those earthly empires,
and who still resist our enjoyment of our own portion in Christ (Eph.
6:9). Here are our foes. This is our battlefield. From this point of
view it is good indeed to see Bel bowing down and Nebo stooping; the
collapse of these vain images is a prophecy of the day when that
"strong angel" shall bind with a chain the "old serpent which is the
Devil and Satan," and shall consign him to the bottomless pit, to leave
this poor earth untouched by his foul presence for a "thousand years"
(Rev. 20:2, 3).

It is a pleasant sight. See, the images once carried
in processions are on the ground; they must be lifted up and loaded on
the beasts that bear the heavy weight with difficulty; and the "gods"
they represent cannot deliver that helpless burden; but must, in their
utter impotence, accompany those images into the bondage to which they
are now being ignominiously carried. It is the climax of absurdity,
gods being carried away as booty to grace the triumph of their

How can we avoid thinking of Him who, by the paradox
of being overcome, overcame principalities and powers, stripping them
of all honor, and made a show of them openly? (Col. 2:15). Then not
only "Bel" and "Nebo" were opposing, but holy Michael and Gabriel were
powerless to accomplish what His death so perfectly effected—the
putting away of sins forever. O helpless Bel! O impotent Nebo! Nay,
more, for we hear the elect angels joining with us in self-obliterating
ascription of worthiness to the Lamb "to receive power, and riches, and
wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing" (Rev. 5:12),
for He has done what they could not.

"Bel" is an abbreviation of
the familiar "Baal," meaning "lord"—"Beel-zebub" of the Gospels, where
he is called "the prince of the demons." "Nebo" means "prophet" or
"speaker." Thus the heathen of Lycaonia thought the more silent
Barnabas to be "Bel," or Jupiter, the Greek prince of the demons, and
Paul to be "Nebo," or the Greek Mercury, as being the chief speaker.

But now for the contrast:

3: Listen to Me, O ye household of Jacob,
And ye, the whole remnant of Israel's house,
Ye who've been borne by Me from the womb,
Ye whom I've carried from lap1 of (your) mother.
4: E'en to old age I am He!
And to the day of grey head
'Tis I who will carry you.
'Tis I who have made, 'tis I who will bear,
'Tis I who will carry and will deliver.2
5: To whom can ye then liken Me,
Place side by side and compare,
That we should be equal?
6: They who pour gold from a bag,
And weigh out the silver with balance;
These hire a goldsmith to make it a god,
Prostrate themselves, and so worship!
7: They lift it high on their shoulder,
And thus do they carry it off;
Then set it down in its place,
Nor can it thence ever remove.
Men pray—but there is never an answer,
Nor can it save any from trouble!
8: Call this to mind, quit you as men,
Take it to heart, ye apostates,
9: Remember (your nation's) beginnings,
Even from days that are far back.
For I am God—there is no other!
God—and like Me there's none!
10: Foretelling the end from beginning;
From times that are far-off, the future,3
Saying My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all of My pleasure.
11: Calling from sun-rise a ravenous bird;
From a land afar-off, the man of My counsel,
I've not only spoken, but will bring it to pass;
I've not only purposed, but also will do it.

tenderly the Lord here speaks to the poor "House of Jacob, the remnant
of Israel," and so to all new-created in Christ Jesus, for are not all
the promises of God Yea and Amen in Him? His gracious ways with Israel,
as a nation, so tender, so faithful, are but pictures of the same
gracious ways with individuals in Christ now. As surely as Israel will
never be cast away as a nation, so never will be the feeblest who have
put their hearts' trust in Jesus the Lord. In sharpest contrast with
the impotence of those idols, whose beginnings go only as far back as
the money-bags of the wealthy, and that have themselves to be carried,
He Himself creates Israel and begins the good work with His people. He
carries them from the beginning of their existence, nor will He ever
cease to care for them even to old age, and when the weakening effect
of the years is shown in gray hair. While this applies directly to the
nation of Israel, yet what a comfort it is to those who have come to
the time when they are "such as the aged," and feel the increasing
infirmities that accompany the passing of time, but sometimes question
whether the grace of our Lord may be counted on to offset these. To the
end He loves, to the end He deigns to serve. We then may grasp that
threefold promise, based on His work of new creation: He will bear, He
will carry, He will deliver! The picture is of a helpless weeping
infant, lying on the ground; the mother takes it up, then carries it in
her arms, and soothes its cry, till the ever-less-frequent sobs tell of
troubles departing.

Did not our Lord use a very similar figure when
He pictured Himself as a Shepherd finding His poor lost sheep? He lifts
it up from the brambles and the mire, then lays it on His shoulders,
and not till He gets it safely home does He lay it down!

varied to the end is Christian experience! As a rule, old age in the
Christian is a time of calm meditation on all the way that he has been
led through the wilderness of this life; and many a tear of sorrow
bedews his eyes as he remembers opportunities lost that never were
repeated, many a sad fall, many a shameful wandering of heart; but the
same eye overflows with tears of thankfulness at the tender patience
with which God in Christ has dealt with him, forgiving his errors, and
healing all his backslidings. Such an old age is like the evening of a
calm summer day. But not always is the evening sky cloudless. At times
a poor believer's sun goes down behind a cloud. We recently heard of
one suffering from senile decay, and—as sometimes occurs in such
cases—had lost all hope of his soul's salvation. Well may we be assured
that in all such physical frailties no change whatever is in His Heart
who "knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14);
nor will He ever leave nor forsake the soul that has ever leaned upon
the Lord Jesus for repose. Never! How could He? We are all "in Christ"
by new birth, and we might as well speak of God again forsaking His
Beloved One, as to forsake any thus in Him. No! To old age and to gray
hairs, He will carry till He has us all Home. If death cannot separate
us from His love in Christ, we may be sure the involuntary frailties of
age or mental disease cannot do so.

Well may God challenge any
comparison of rivals with Himself, as in verse 5; and well may we
respond: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth
that I desire in comparison with Thee" (Ps. 73:25).

Now once more
we have the beginnings of a "god." Rich men give the gold and silver,
hire a goldsmith, and the metal, when formed, becomes the object of
worship. But it has to be carried to its place, and there it stands
immovable, deaf, blind, silent, helpless! Will ye, cries Jehovah with
indignation, will ye compare such with ME?

Oh, the power of gold!
Was there ever a day when it was more worshiped than today? Was there
ever a day in which it had more power? The wealthy of earth pour out
their gold to obtain superior "spiritual privileges." They can afford
the very best; let the poor take the leavings! The brightest
intelligences, the keenest scholar, the most eloquent orator is ever
sought by the wealthy! And if wealth seeks them, the hirelings seek the
wealth. Colleges are endowed with the rich man's gold, and to show to
whom that gold has been really dedicated, they respond, alas, by
pouring out a broad and ever-broadening stream of youth well-based
in—infidelity! Infidelity, the product of gold! Beloved
fellow-believer, is that God's way? Or is it still that really "to the
poor the Gospel is preached," and, as of old, preached by the poor.

is there not a failure in the correspondence between the impotent idol
and our mighty dollar? Can that dollar do nothing? Does it not secure
deference, pleasure, ease and comfort? Who can deny it? Yet place these
to the credit of money, there are a few weighty items to go to the
debit side of the account. Mark that disappointed heart that expected
full satisfaction to come with wealth. Empty and hungry still, it cries
with him who was the wealthiest of men: "Vanity of vanity—all is
vanity!" No peace, no rest, no joy waits here on wealth. It is as
impotent as those idols to respond to the hunger of the poor heart of
man.4 And how often it brings discord and moral ruin to those that inherit it!

the Church, too, who does not know the large proportion of trouble
among the true people of God that lies at the door of "money" and the
love of it? Eliminate every discord that is directly or indirectly due
to money, and comparatively few would remain.

Shall we, then,
compare the living God, our God and Father, with gold and silver? Our
hearts confess their shame that even such a question should be asked,
and utter their cry: Oh, so to know Him that we too may esteem all
things but loss for the excellency of that knowledge and in every dark
and gloomy day of trial wait alone on Him with hope and confidence!

8 is somewhat ambiguous as to who is addressed, for the first line
seems an encouragement to the true, the second a warning to the false.
But the former is probably the Spirit's counsel to the wavering who
were tending to idolatry, and merges into the threatening tone to the
apostate mass. Let this contrast make you firm, lay it well to heart,
ye whose hearts are even now departing from the living God.

have in the next verses the one strong evidence of true Deity. Who can
foretell what still lies in the future save He who so controls the
events of earth as to bring to pass what His counsel had predetermined
to be done (Acts 4:28). So here: "Look back," He says, "look back to
the very beginning of your nation. Its whole history has been plain
before Me; and now I foretell to you that an executor of my judgments
on Babylon, your oppressor, is on the way. Will that not strengthen you
to quit you like men?"

Is this a cup of cheer from which we are
forbidden to drink? Can we not look back at fulfilled prophecy that
shall give life to our nerveless faith? Surely we can. Did He not
foretell that the mustard-seed should become so great that the birds of
the air should rest in its branches? Has that not been fulfilled beyond
all controversy, in the growth of that which was but a grain of
mustard-seed in that upper room in Jerusalem, until now a popular and
nearly apostate Christianity shelters the very spirits of evil,
pictured by those "birds" that can only destroy the good seed sown?
(Matt. 13:4, 19).

Did He not foretell, even at the very
beginning, when there was not the faintest hint of anything but an
immediate collapse of all His claims, that in the sphere of professed
faith in Himself there would be introduced such man-exalting,
pride-feeding doctrine till that "kingdom of Heaven" should become
completely leavened with the evils that are today all about us?

He not say that this degeneracy should go on till all was leavened?—a
contingency that involves in itself, the taking out of that sphere the
only hindrance to that complete leavening, the living members of His
Body. Consider His own words to the seven Churches; has not the course
of the professing Church, as there foretold, been so fully fulfilled
that for the little while left we may not cast away our confidence that
has great recompense of reward, but quit us like men in our confidence
of His coming for us? Aye, and here what a blessed contrast! No bird of
prey, no judgment-bringing "eagle," do we now look for; but still, as
long ago, we are waiting for the Son from heaven who shall come as
Saviour. How loudly does the whole condition of the prophetic earth cry
for that coming!

12: Hearken to Me, ye strong-hearted,
From righteousness ye that are far off,
13: Near is My righteousness, and not afar,
Nor doth My salvation delay:
Salvation will I to Zion accord,
To Israel will I give glory!

stout-hearted are those who in obstinacy wilfully resist all such
evidences as "that a notable miracle hath been wrought, we cannot deny;
but, that it spread no further, let us straitly threaten" (Acts 4:4).
Those men were surely very far from righteousness, although they, and
all like them, always claim to be the only ones who are righteous. It
is the Christless religious who are the "stout-hearted," for are they
not well-intrenched? Who can convince the "religious" man that he needs
salvation? Is he not spending a fair proportion of his life in careful
and respectable religious observances? Who so constant in attendance at
Church, at least to a sufficient degree? Who so decently liberal in
contributions? Is he not doing his best, and what more can any man do?
Ah, poor man! He is quite ignorant of the righteousness of God, that
righteousness in which God must ever deal with sinful man, which meets
its perfect satisfaction in "Christ as the end of the law for
righteousness to everyone who believeth." It is thus that God's
righteousness is very near indeed to the confessedly guilty; and well
it is for us that it is so, for it was when we were without any
strength that Christ died for the ungodly.

So our chapter closes with
the constantly repeated promise of God's salvation being found in Zion,
His glory given to Israel. Nor do they err who press that Zion stands
as a symbol of grace as in contrast with Sinai—it surely does for
believers now, as Heb. 12:22 explicitly states—but when they tell us
that the prophet himself meant the Church, of which he knew absolutely
nothing, and not the nation to which he had been directly commissioned
to go, in that, we are compelled to say, they greatly err.

Do you
find it weary waiting for the Lord's coming unto salvation? How long
have you known Him as your own Saviour? Think then, beloved, think; and
suppose He had come one day before that, where would you have been?
There are others today of His poor wandering children who will be
thankful that He waited till they were safe in Him. It is ever a "very
little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." No
reader of the Scriptures in any generation could find discouragement in
reading that as it will be many centuries before He comes, they might
settle down in the world, for any present hope is bound to be in vain.
No; every reader has been compelled to read, and, when that reading is
mixed with faith, to be cheered and strengthened by the renewed hope in
the words: "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come
will come, and will not tarry" (Heb. 20: 36, 37).


So Delitzsch, nor is it unjustifiable, for the Hebrew word has always
the idea of maternal tenderness well expressed by our "lap."

2 The fivefold reiteration of "I" is emphatic.

3 Lit., "What not done."

4 Even as I write, I read in "The New York Times" of a man who commits suicide and leaves fifteen million dollars behind him.