Isaiah 46 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Isaiah 46
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verses 1, 2. - THE FALL OF THE GODS OF BABYLON. Among the direct consequences of the victories of Cyrus will be the downfall, in a certain sense, of the Babylonian idolatry. The prophet expresses the downfall by material imagery, graphically describing the fate of the idols themselves. But we must regard him as exulting mainly in the thought of the blow that would be dealt to idolatry in general, and to the Babylonian fond of it in particular, by the substitution of the non-idolatrous and almost monotheistic Persians for the polytheistic and grossly idolatrous Babylonians, in the sovereignty of the Asiatic world. The Babylonian religion no doubt maintained itself at Babylon until and beyond the time of Alexander; but it had lost all its prestige. From the state religion of the chief empire of Western Asia, it had sunk to the position of a provincial cult. Verse 1. - Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth. In the later Babylonian period, to which Isaiah's prophetic vision transports him, Bel and Nebo (if we understand by Bel, Bel-Merodach) were decidedly the two principal gods. Of the seven kings of the last dynasty, three had names in which Nebo, and two names in which Bel or Merodach, wad an element. Bel-Merodach and Nebo are the chief gods worshipped by Nebuchadnezzar and Neriglissar. Bel, Nebo, and Merodach are the only three Babylonian gods that receive acknowledgment from Cyrus in the so-called 'Cyrus Cylinder.' Bel is, in the Babylonian, "Bil," or "Belu," and means simply "lord." There was an ancient god of the name, one of the First Triad (Anu, Bel, and Hen or Hod), who came by degrees to be identified with Merodach, the tutelary deity of Babylon. Bel-Merodach was the Βῆλος (Belus) of the Greeks and Romans, who was worshipped in the great temple of Babylon, now represented by the ruin called "Babil." His name forms an element in those of Bel-lush, Bel-kudur-azur, Bel-ipni. Bel-zakir-isknn, and Belshazzar, all of them kings or viceroys of either Babylonia or Assyria. Nebu was the Babylonian god of learning, and has therefore been compared to Mercury. He was the special deity of Borsippa. The name is thought to be etymologically connected with the Hebrew nabi, prophet. The "bowing" and "stooping" of Bel and Nebo has primary reference to the overthrow of their images by the conqueror; but includes also the idea of the fall of the gods themselves in the opinions of men. Their idols were upon the beasts. The Chaldean images generally - not only those of Bel-Merodach and Nebo, but also of Ann, and Hen, and Beltis, and Ishtar, and Nergal, and Sin, and Shamas, and Gula, and others - would be torn from their shrines, and placed upon the backs of beasts of burden, to be carried off by the conquerors. No doubt this was the case with a large number of the images, which were among the most precious of the spoils seized by the soldiers. But it appears that numerous exceptions were made. Neither Cyrus nor Cambyses touched the famous golden image of Bel-Merodach at Babylon, which was first carried off from the great temple by Xerxes (Herod., 1:183). Cyrus, moreover, restored various idols, which Nabonidus had taken to Babylon from provincial towns, to the temples to which they of right belonged (Journal of Royal Asiatic Society, January, 1880, art. it.). But though their fate was in tiffs way often delayed, ultimately it is probable every valuable idol was carried off and committed to the melting-pot. Your carriages were heavy loaden; rather, the things that ye carried (in procession) are now borne along heavily. The allusion is to the contrast between the light-hearted carrying of the images on festal occasions by their votaries (Isaiah 45:20), and their slow transport to foreign lands on the backs of wearied beasts.
They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.
Verse 2. - They stoop, they bow down together; i.e. all the Babylonian gods would suffer equally - not one would be able to protect himself. They could not deliver the burden. A distinction is here made between the god and the idol, which have hitherto been identified. The god was, in each case, unable to deliver, or save from capture, the heavy "burden" of gold, or silver, or bronze (i.e. his own image) which was carried off on the back of the "weary beast." On the contrary, the gods themselves - the "souls" of the images, immanent in them - were carried off with the images into captivity.
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:
Verses 3-8. - AN ADMONITION TO ISRAEL. Israel should learn from the fate of the Babylonian idols to trust in Jehovah, who can and will deliver them, rather than in gods of gold and silver, which can give no aid, either to themselves or others. Verse 3. - All the remnant of the house of Israel. The address is not to those who had remained faithful of the ten tribes (as Delitzsch supposes), but to the captives of Babylon, designated in these later chapters indifferently as "Jacob" or "Israel" (Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 41:8, 14; Isaiah 42:24; Isaiah 43:1, 28; Isaiah 44:1, 21, 23; Isaiah 45:4, etc.), never as "Judah," and constantly mentioned as a "remnant" - all that was left of the oppressed and down-trodden nation (see Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 10:20-22; Isaiah 11:16. etc.). Borne by me. Carried in the everlasting arms, as a child in the arms of its nurse or mother (comp. Isaiah 63:9). From the belly... from the womb. From the very beginning of the national existence.
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.
Verse 4. - Even to your old age I am he; even to hoar hairs, etc. The nurse - even the mother - soon grows tired of carrying the child, and leaves him to shift for himself. But God's tender care for his people lasts from their infancy, through their boyhood and manhood, to their old age. The everlasting arms never weary. God's watchfulness, his providence, his protection, never fail. I have made, and I will bear. The maker of a thing has naturally regard to what he has made, loves it, desires its good, seeks to defend and save it.
To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
Verse 5. - To whom will ye liken me? (comp. Isaiah 40:18.) Am I to be likened to the idols of Babylon? Will you make images of me? Bethink you what the very nature of an idol is how contrary to my nature! My idol would be no more capable of helping itself or others than the images of Nebo or Bel-Merodach.
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.
Verse 7. - They bear him upon the shoulder (see the comment on Isaiah 45:20). Here, however, it is not the carrying in procession that is spoken of, but the conveyance of the imago by the workman from his own workshop to the temple where it is to be set up. The carrying of heavy burdens upon the shoulder is mentioned by Herodotus (2:35), and frequently represented on ancient monuments (see 'Ancient Monarchies,' vol. 1. pp. 402, 475; 'Herodotus,' vol. 2. pl. opp. p. 177; etc.). From his place shall he net remove; i.e. he (the god) will have no power of moving an inch from the spot on which he is set up. There he will stand motionless, till some one comes and pushes him or pulls him from his place.
Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
Verse 8. - Remember this, and show yourselves men; or, remember this, and stand firm. Isaiah is addressing those who waver between true religion and idolatry. Hitherto they have not fallen away, but they are in danger of so doing. Remember, he says to them, or "bear in mind constantly the impotence of the idols, and the power of Jehovah, and then stand firm - remain in your old faith - do not be drawn over to so foolish a thing as idolatry." O ye transgressors. It is to be a "transgressor" even to contemplate the turning from Jehovah to idolatry. Israel has been already "called a transgressor from the beginning" (Isaiah 48:8).
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
Verses 9-11. - A FURTHER ADMONITION GROUNDED ON OTHER MOTIVES. Israel is exhorted to continue firm in the faith

(1) by the recollection of God's mercies in the past (ver. 9);

(2) by the consideration of his prophetic power (ver. 10); and

(3) by a renewed promise of coming deliverance through Cyrus (ver. 11). Verse 9. - Remember the former things of old; i.e. God's wonderful dealings with Israel in times past - the miracles in Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea, the deliverances from Midian, and Ammon, and the Philistines, and Zerah, and Sennacherib - which proved him God in a sense in which the word could be applied to no other. I am God... I am God. In the original, "I am El... I am Elohim." El is "the Mighty One," "the Omnipotent;" Elohim, "the Godhead" in all its fulness.
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:
Verse 10. - Declaring the end from the beginning; i.e. "possessed of the very highest prophetic power, able to declare from the very beginnings of history its ultimate issues" (see Genesis 3:15; Genesis 16:12; Genesis 21:18, etc.). My counsel; rather, my purpose, or my plan (comp. Psalm 33:11; Job 23:13; and supra, Isaiah 14:24).
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.
Verse 11. - Calling a ravenous bird; rather, a bird of prey. The imagery is quite natural, and exactly parallel to that by which Nebuchadnezzar is termed "an eagle," both by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:22) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:3). There is no need to suppose any allusion to the fact, if fact it be, that the Persians from the time of Cyrus had for a standard a golden eagle, with wings outspread, on the top of a spear-shaft (Xen., 'Cyrop.,' 7:1, § 4; 'Anab.,' 1:10, § 12). From the east (comp. Isaiah 41:2, 25). Both Persia and Susiana, which were the primary seats of the power of Cyrus, lay to the east of Babylon, the latter due east, the former somewhat to the south-east. Even Media might, according to Hebrew usage, be described as east, though lying almost due north-east.
Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness:
Verses 12, 13. - AN ADMONITION TO THE OBDURATE IN ISRAEL. God's mercy extends even to those who resist his grace. They who have been hitherto stiff-necked and "far from righteousness," have a special warning addressed to them, Salvation is drawing nigh; the deliverance of Israel is approaching; there is no time to lose; will they not east in their lot with the true Israel, and take advantage of the deliverance when it comes? Verse 12. - Ye stout-hearted (comp. Ezekiel 2:6; Ezekiel 3:7; and infra, Isaiah 48:4). The LXX. translate by σκληροκάρδιοι.
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.
Verse 13. - I bring near my righteousness; i.e. "my righteous judgment is approaching - that judgment which involves vengeance on my enemies, mercy and deliverance to my people." This latter is the salvation that shall not tarry. In Zion. The headquarters of the "salvation" shall once more be Mount Zion, or Jerusalem, where God's people shall once more take up their abode, and which shall be "the centre of the renovated nation" (Delitzsch).

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