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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Isaiah 46

Verse 1


(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.

Verse 2

(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.

Verse 3

(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.

Verse 4

(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.

Verse 5

(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).

Verse 8

(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.

Verse 9

(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.

Verse 11

(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.

Verse 12

(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.)

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Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Isaiah 46". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.