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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 46

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-13

Isaiah chapter 46. Now in Isaiah 46:1-13 we get a short contrast between God, the true and the living eternal God that created the heavens and the earth, and the false gods that these people were worshipping. And the tragic thing is these people were the Israelites, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They had turned to idolatry. And as you read the prophecy of Isaiah and of Jeremiah, they are crying out against the idolatry of the people, warning them that their continued idolatry would bring upon them the judgment of God. Using Babylon as His instrument of judgment, and that they would be going into captivity as the result of their idolatry. You remember Jeremiah cried out, "For My people have committed two sins; one, they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living water, and they have hewn out for themselves cisterns, cisterns that can hold no water" ( Jeremiah 2:13 ).

Men will worship something. Men will believe in something. They must. Every man has a god. But there are some religious systems that hold no water at all. They just do nothing for the people who believe, but bring them into captivity. And so God's cry against the people.

Now it is interesting in some of the most recent archaeological excavations there in Israel, above the springs of Gihon on that section of the hill that comes down that was known as Ophel, which was the site of the ancient city of Jerusalem in David's day and on through to Hezekiah's time, there in the houses that have recently been excavated by the archaeologists, houses that were actually destroyed by the Babylonian army. Houses that have laid in ruins for 2,500 years. As they uncovered the stones and the rubble of these houses, within the houses they have found multitudes of little pagan gods, the gods that the people had worshipped, the gods that the people had turned to. And thus, we find actually by the archaeologist's spade just tremendous confirmation to what Isaiah is saying, as he is rebuking the people for their worship of the false gods.

Now he speaks concerning two of their false gods, and they had many.

Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth; their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy laden; they are a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity ( Isaiah 46:1-2 ).

And so he speaks of their worship of these false gods. But he points out a great truth here, and that is, their false gods became a burden. Even the cattle strain under the load of them. For as was the custom, the false gods would be brought out of their temples or out of their centers of worship, placed upon carts and driven through the streets on the various festivals and holy days in which they worshipped those particular gods. Sometimes they would be borne by the men on a platform as they would walk with the poles on their shoulder.

Now, these things are not totally uncommon today. There is a holiday in Mexico for the Virgin Guadalupe and you can go down on that holiday and you can see them as they take the statues of the Virgin Guadalupe and put them in these glorious chariots or carts and all, and they'll carry the Virgin Guadalupe through the street as the people kneel and bow and genuflect and so forth and worship the Virgin Guadalupe. So these things are not totally unfamiliar even in our day. But they were very common in those days. And here the people of God, who should surely know better, have turned to the worship of Bel and of Nebo. But in reality, the worship of these false gods constituted an interesting study, because these gods couldn't even carry themselves. They had to be carried by man. And in man carrying them or in the beast pulling them, they became a burden and they bowed down and stooped those who tried to carry them or bear them along.

Now in contrast to that, God declares,

Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel ( Isaiah 46:3 ),

Now here is an interesting verse because the remnant of the house of Israel would have been those from the Northern Kingdom, who, when the Assyrians conquered the Northern Kingdom, fled down into Judah. So there was a remnant when the Northern Kingdom fell, there was a remnant from each of the tribes that escaped and came down to Judah and became a part of the Southern Kingdom at that time. The rest of them were dispersed by the Assyrians into the various parts of the world. But many of them from the various tribes came and settled in Judah after the Assyrian invasion.


the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me ( Isaiah 46:3 )

In contrast to these people bearing their gods or carrying their gods, God declares, "I am carrying you."

and I've carried you from the womb: And I will carry you till you come to the grave; until your grey hairs, your old age. I am he that carries you: for I have made you, and I will bear you; and I will carry you, and I will deliver you ( Isaiah 46:3-4 ).

And so the true and the living God, rather than having to be carried, will carry you; rather than having to be supported, will support you. So it all depends on what kind of a god you want. Do you want a god that you have to support? Or do you want a god that will support you? You want a god that you have to carry? Or do you want a god that can carry you? You want a god that will bring you into captivity, or do you want a god who is able to deliver you? And this is the contrast that has been made between the false idols that the people had turned to when they had turned away from God and the true and the living God.

Now God said,

To whom will ye liken me ( Isaiah 46:5 ),

Now, they had made their images of their gods. They had carved or they had made their molds and poured in the hot metals and had their molten images, or they had carved the likenesses of their god. Now God said, "If you were going to carve a likeness of Me, what would you make Me like? What kind of a figure would you make? What would be the likeness? What would you liken Me to?"

[or to what would you try] to make me equal, or to compare me, that we may be like? ( Isaiah 46:5 )

What kind of a comparison can you make with God? That is, anything that we know on the human level. What are you going to make Him like? If you're going to start to carve Him out, how and in what? Are you going to carve Him out like a man? When God is a Spirit, where do you start in carving the likeness of a spirit? Now he again speaks of how they had made their own gods in various... and have you seen some of the idols of these gods? These carvings that they made and said, "That is god." These carvings that they bowed down to and worshipped. These carvings that they have built great temples for. Have you ever seen idols of Diana? She is supposed to be god. Many people worshipped her. The multi-breasted Diana, breasts all down the front of her. And she is god. The nourisher of life in a symbolic form. And so they say, "That's god." And so they worship this image or idol of Diana or Astarte.

So God said, "What are you going to make Me like?" Now he is talking about their making gods.

For they lavish gold out of the bag, and they weigh silver in the balances, and then they hire a goldsmith; and he makes it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship it ( Isaiah 46:6 ).

Now, he was made by a man, and yet the people are so foolish as to fall down and worship it. Imagine, he makes a god. Men make their own gods.

Somehow within the consciousness of man, innate within, there is the consciousness of God. And it is just a part of man's nature to worship. So that you'll find in every culture, even the most primitive cultures, there are forms of worship of God or of gods. And in most cases, men have made gods after the projections of themselves. "If I were God, this is what I would do. This is how I would do it." And so they make up their legends of their gods. And they have super power in hunting and great cunning abilities. And they worship that.

Down in the jungles of South America where the primitive people do not wear clothing, and when the storms come their bodies are cold and shivering, some of them do not make permanent dwelling places but are nomadic. Now, these people in their minds think, "If I were God I would live in that tree because it's so big and strong and when the wind comes and the rain descends, it doesn't seem to be affected. It doesn't shiver with the wind like I am shivering. So if I were God, I would be in that tree and I would live in that tree." And so you find them worshipping a tree and they have trees that they've set out for special worship. That's god.

Or the full moon that gives light in the jungles at night. And so you'll find them out in the full moon, arms around each other, in a circle as they do their little dance and then their little chants as they are worshipping their god. For, "If I were God I would ride there in the moon and I would give beautiful light at night, the silvery light through the jungles and so forth." And so they worship the moon.

Now the Greeks had interesting concepts of God. And they're expressed in, "If I were God I would live on mount Olympus and I would look down and I would see these men down below. And those earthlings, those mortals would not have a chance with the beautiful maidens that are there, for I would use my supernatural powers to charm them and to bewitch them and I would take advantage over those mortals." And so you have your various concepts of God that men have created in their own mind.

So here is the interesting thing. He makes a god. And then the people bow down and worship it. And then,

They bear him on their shoulders ( Isaiah 46:7 ),

This is our God.

they carry him [on their shoulders], and they set him in his place, and he stands in his place; and he doesn't move from it: yes, they will cry unto him, yet he can not answer them, nor save him out of their trouble ( Isaiah 46:7 ).

And yet people worship these things that cannot move, cannot respond, cannot talk to them, and they worship them in lieu of worshipping the true and the living God. That's the tragedy. People say, "Well, I don't believe in God." Well, they don't believe, what they mean is, in a God who created the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them and sent His Son to die for man's sins. They don't believe in the true and the living God, but they believe in god. And they have a god. But they refuse to worship the true and the living God who is able to help them and respond to their needs. And instead they are worshipping gods that cannot be of any help to them whatsoever, but will only bring them into captivity. They worship, really, the gods of pleasure so many times. But you give your life over to pleasure and you're going to end up with lust. So many people worshipping the god of the intellect. You give yourself over to the god of intellect and you're going to end up with pride. So many people are worshipping the god of power and their whole life is dedicated to the power principle and they end up with greed. So God speaks out about these false gods. They cannot answer you. They cannot move. They cannot even carry themselves.

Remember this, [God said] and show yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none other; I am God, and there is none like me, For I have declared the end from the beginning ( Isaiah 46:8-10 ),

There is no God that is able to declare the end from the beginning. There is no religious system outside. Well, there just is no religious system really that has been predicated upon the ability of God to declare from the beginning what the end of the matter or a situation is going to be.

and from ancient times the things that are not yet done ( Isaiah 48:10 ),

At that time of Isaiah's writing there were prophecies that still had not been fulfilled.

saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do my pleasure ( Isaiah 48:10 ):

So God has already established what shall be. That cannot change. God said, "I will do My pleasure."

Calling ( Isaiah 46:11 )

And now He refers back to chapter 45 where He said that Cyrus the king of the Medo-Persians would be His instrument in releasing the children of Israel from their Babylonian captivity. Now that's a hundred and fifty years before Cyrus was born. That's why God is declaring, "There's no God like me. I'm declaring to you before it happens what's going to happen. I'm naming the fellow before he is ever born. He doesn't know Me, but I'm calling him by his name. And his name is Cyrus and he's going to allow you to be released from your captivity." And so referring back to that prophecy of Cyrus, He said,

Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executes my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, and also I will do it ( Isaiah 46:11 ).

Now you go ahead and read the history and you'll find that God did do it. He purposed it. He did do it. And Cyrus was the name of the Medo-Persian king that gave the decree that the children of Israel might return from their captivity in Babylon. Giving unto the children of Israel that permission to go back and to rebuild the temple.

Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: 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 ( Isaiah 46:12-13 ).

And so God promises that their salvation, their righteousness will be placed in Zion.


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Isaiah 46". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/isaiah-46.html. 2014.
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