Isaiah 46 COMMENTARY (Ellicott)

Isaiah 46
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast.

(1) Bel boweth down, Nebo Stoopeth.—Bel or Belus (“Lord “), is perhaps identical with Marduk or Merôdach, but see Note on Jeremiah 1:2. Nabu (“ the Revealer”) was a kind of Assyrian Hermes. Isaiah sees the idols carried off as spoil, at the command of Cyrus, a heavy burden for the beasts that drag them. An inscription recently deciphered by Sir H. Rawlinson (Journal of Asiatic Society, Jan. 1880, quoted by Cheyne) presents the conduct of the conqueror under a somewhat different aspect. In that inscription he describes himself as a worshipper of Bel and Nebo, and prays to them for length of days. The king would seem from this to have been as wide in his syncretic liberalism as Alexander the Great was afterwards. How are we to reconcile the two? May we say that the prophet idealises the policy and character of the king, or that the monotheistic element which appears in his treatment of the Jews (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-2) was, after all, dominant in his action, in spite of episodes like that indicated in the inscription. It is possible that the recognition of the Babylonian deities may have followed on the submission of the people, and been preceded by some rougher treatment. Anyhow the contrast makes it probable that the prophecy was not written after the inscription.

Your carriages.—Here, as elsewhere (1 Samuel 17:22; Acts 21:15) in the sense of things carried; i.e., in this case, the images of the gods, which used to be carried in solemn procession, but are now represented as packed into a load for transport. So Herod. (1:183) states that Xerxes carried off from Babylon the golden image of Zeus (sc. Bel), the grandson thus fulfilling the prediction which his grandfather apparently had left unfulfilled.

They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.
(2) They could not deliver the burden.—The deities are, for the moment, distinguished from their images. They are powerless to rescue them. So far as they have a soul or being at all, that very being is carried away captive.

Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:
(3) Hearken unto me.—The prophet’s choice of words is singularly emphatic. The false gods are borne away as a burden. The true God bears, i.e., supports, His people. He is able to bear that burden. Every “I” is emphasised in the Hebrew.

And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.
(4) Even to your old age.—The care of a mother ceases, in the natural course of things, before a man grows old, but the fatherly, we might almost say the mother-like, maternal care of Jehovah for His chosen ones endures even to the end of life.

To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
(5) To whom will ye liken me?—The argument against idolatry is renewed in nearly its old form (Isaiah 40:18-25; Isaiah 44:9-17). The fate of Bel and Nebo is urged against those who thought that they might worship Jehovah as those deities had been worshipped. Such had been the sin of the calves at Bethel and at Dan. Like it had been the act of Israel when it had carried the ark into battle against the Philistines (1 Samuel 4:5).

They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship.
They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.
Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
(8) Shew yourselves men.—As elsewhere, the prophet’s challenge is couched in the language of irony. The worshippers of idols should at least have the courage of their convictions. A conjectural emendation gives the opposite meaning, Be ye deeply ashamed.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
(9) I am God.—The first predicate is El, the mighty and strong one, the second Elohim, the one true object of worship. The verse that follows asserts what in modern language would be called the omniscience and the omnipotence of God.

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
(11) Calling a ravenous bird.—Cyrus is thus described as Nebuchadnezzar is in Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 17:3. The image derives a special significance from the fact that the standard borne by Cyrus and his successors was a golden eagle (Xen., Cyrop. vii. 1. 4; Anab. i. 10, 12). (Comp. also Matthew 24:28; Luke 17:37.) The “sun-rising” is, of course, Persia; the far country” probably represents Media.

I have spoken.—The word of Jehovah passes, unlike that of the false gods, into a certain and immediate act.

Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness:
(12) Ye stouthearted.—The word, like analogous terms in Ezekiel 2:4; Ezekiel 3:7, implies at once obduracy and ignorance. Such as these are self-excluded at once from the “righteousness” and the “salvation” of Jehovah, which ultimately imply, and coincide with each other. Their unfaithfulness, however, does not hinder the faithfulness of God. He brings near His salvation to all who are ready to receive it. (Comp. Isaiah 56:1.)

I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.
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