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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 46

Kingcomments on the Whole BibleKingcomments

Verses 1-2


With this chapter there will be a change of subject. Now there will follow three prophecies about the idolatry in Babylon. However, there is a connection with the previous chapters because the prophet has foretold what Israel can expect through the begetting and service of Cyrus. Now Isaiah is going to show what Cyrus will do to Babylon, making the powerlessness of Babylon and his idols clear. This Persian ruler will be the instrument in the hand of the LORD to judge the gods of Babylon.

At the same time, the three prophecies contain things that are still future in connection with Israel, and are an exhortation to God’s people to keep themselves completely free from idolatry. The first prophecy is in this chapter, the second is in Isaiah 47 and the third is in Isaiah 48. The first deals with the gods, the second with Babylon itself, and the third with those who are freed from Babylon and depart from it.

The third and final prophecy finds its full fulfillment in the end times, when God’s people are called to depart from the prophetic Babylon, the religious system in the end times (Revelation 18:4). That system is recognizable to us in professing Christianity with the papacy at its head.

Idols Have to Be Carried

The main gods of Babylon – Bel and Nebo – are presented as gods who succumb. “Bel’ means ‘lord’. It is the title of Enlil, the father of the gods, and later of Marduk, the god of the city of Babylon, similar to the idol Jupiter of the Romans. Bel is represented by a large human statue with the horns of a bull. The image speaks of ‘worldly power’. “Nebo” is one of the main idols, similar to the idol Mercury of the Romans. It is the god of writers and intelligence. He is the son of Marduk and the protector of the royal family. It represents ‘worldly wisdom’. Their names can be found in names of persons like Belsazar and Nebuchadnezzar.

“The beasts” that carry them, such as camels and elephants, collapse, as well as “the cattle” on which they are loaded, such as horses and donkeys (Isaiah 46:1). In spite of all efforts, these gods do not reach the place where they are supposed to be brought to safety. Instead of being carried around in a procession to their honor – a ritual that takes place every year with New Year – they become a booty of the conqueror (Isaiah 46:2). They fell into the hands of their enemy Cyrus and could not be saved. That is how impotent they are. They could not save themselves, let alone save others.

Verses 3-4

The LORD Bears His People

The rest of the chapter consists of three admonitions. The first is to Israel (Isaiah 46:3-Judges :), the second to the apostates of the people, those connected with the idolaters (Isaiah 46:8-1 Kings :), the third to the rebellious (Isaiah 46:12-1 Chronicles :).

The first admonition reminds the people of their unique origins and support. As the seed of Abraham, they were formed and carried by God (Deuteronomy 1:31; Deuteronomy 32:11-2 Kings :) and He has cared for them from their earliest days (Isaiah 46:3). That is the past. As for the future, He is the Unchanging. He promises that He will carry them (Isaiah 46:4), a great contrast to the gods of Babylon that must be carried (Isaiah 46:1-Exodus :) and that are unable to help and carry their servants.

It is the Lord Jesus Who “upholds all things by the word of His power” (Hebrews 1:3). He it is Who “Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross” (1 Peter 2:24). And it is also He Who as the High Priest now carries us on His shoulders and on His chest (cf. Exodus 28:12-Joel :). God has carried His people on eagle wings and brought them to Himself (Exodus 19:4). It is an encouragement for the remnant to whom the LORD assures that His care for them will not fail in their exercises, no matter how long they take, no matter how old they get. It is also an encouragement for every old believer in our time.

The question today is also: Do we carry the things we idolize or does God carry us? Idols like money and pleasure do not give support and outcome when life ends. Nor can they carry us through the difficulties. But those who know God, revealed in Jesus Christ, are carried by Him to and beyond the end of life to be with Him forever.

Verses 5-7

The Idols Mocked

Is this God to be compared with someone or is there something to be equated with Him (Isaiah 46:5)? To ask the question is to answer him. Place any idol beside Him and the foolishness to invest money in that god and call upon him will become clear (Isaiah 46:6-Judges :). It does not matter if it is a god of gold for the rich or a god of wood for the poor, because what is the use of a god you have to carry with you and lug him around? God ridicules the gods and those who lug with them. Putting your hope in such gods is the stupidest thing you can do.

Verses 8-11

There Is No Other God

The second admonition begins with a call based on the foregoing. It is addressed to those who surrender to idolatry. Let them be men, that is, let them be powerful instead of faltering (Isaiah 46:8). Let them think of what has happened before, of the great truths regarding His Person, He Who is totally unique, to Whom no one is equal (Isaiah 46:9). He determines the course of history (Isaiah 46:10). That is why He can predict it. He has always foretold how things will go. Has He ever shamed them in this? What He has said in the past has all come true. Let them therefore learn the lesson of history and take it to heart.

That He is perfectly trustworthy has been proven by His actions throughout the history of the people. This will also be proved in the future when He introduces the man of His counsel (Isaiah 46:11). This is about Cyrus. He is the “bird of prey” from the east, that is Persia. He is looking for prey, that is Babylon. Through this man the LORD will bring judgment on the enemies of Israel and thereby also liberate His people.

Here again, Cyrus is a picture of the Lord Jesus, Who will also come from the east to judge the enemies of His people and thereby liberate and bless His people. With a double promise, “I will bring it to pass” and “I will do it”, the LORD establishes its fulfillment.

It is good for the believer if he remembers the past, that he learns from the past how the Lord helped and guided and set him free. It awakens the soul to praise Him and it stimulates faith and hope for the future.

Verses 12-13

His Righteousness Is Near

The third admonition is addressed to those who resist God’s will. They are the “stubborn-minded” (Isaiah 46:12). Their unbelief has caused doubt on God’s promises and removed the desire to know them. As a result, they are without the salvation He gives on the basis of righteousness. But there is salvation for those who accept His terms (Isaiah 46:13). Isaiah is here again evangelical. He offers God’s righteousness. They can accept it without making certain efforts or making a far journey (cf. Deuteronomy 30:11-2 Chronicles :; Romans 10:6-2 Samuel :).

Righteousness is the basis for salvation. God will give salvation to Zion and His glory will come to Israel. His “salvation” is a clear reference to the coming of the Lord Jesus. Salvation is connected to His Name and His work. In Him God gives salvation to Zion and His glory to Israel.

This will be done on the basis of His righteousness which He has established for Israel. That foundation is, as for us, the death of Christ. The glory of the LORD who will leave the people (Ezekiel 9:3; Ezekiel 11:23) will return to them. This will happen in full measure, so that Israel, which shines in Divine splendor, will reflect His glory with dignity.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Isaiah 46". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/isaiah-46.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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