The idols of Babylon could not save themselves. God saveth his faithful people to the end. Idols are not comparable to God for power, or present salvation.
Before Christ 712.
THE third section of this discourse, contained in the present chapter, is divided into two parts. In the former, or prophetic part, the overthrow of the Babylonish idolatry is foretold, Isaiah 46:1-2 and in the second part, the sinners among the people are called to repentance, and convinced of the vanity of idols, and the true divinity of the God of Israel. And herein we have, first, a kind address to the faithful, assuring them of Jehovah's constant regard towards them. Secondly, The conviction itself drawn from the vanity of idols, and the manner of forming them, Isaiah 46:5-7 from the illustrious works of God in former times, Isaiah 46:8-9 and from the predictions certainly fulfilled, or to be fulfilled by him; whereof this deliverance from captivity is produced as an instance; Isaiah 46:10-11. Thirdly, the unbelievers are particularly refuted, who doubted the completion of these predictions and promises, Isaiah 46:12-13.
Isaiah 46:1-2. Be bowed down— The prophet, as he wrote this, saw the fall of Babylon before his eyes, the city plundered and spoiled, the temples ravaged and destroyed, and the idols of Babylon placed upon the beasts, and carried away into Media and Persia; and as he saw, so he has described; dwelling long and largely, as is common with the prophet, upon the same object; viewing and exhibiting it to view on every side. We may just observe that the prophet, representing the subversion of the Babylonish state in this section, describes it with respect to religion; that is, its shameful superstition. In the following section he sets forth the destruction of the civil state. Bel and Nebo were two principal idols of the Babylonians. See chap. Isaiah 21:9 and Jeremiah 5, 51.
Isaiah 46:3-4. Hearken unto me— The Almighty introduces the reproof that he was about to urge with a preface, in these words, assuring the exiles, in the strongest manner, of the singular and constant care of his providence towards them. The words are very strong and expressive, but the fourth verse will be better understood from the following version: And even, &c.—will I support you: I have done, and I will bear you; I will support and will deliver you. But this whole passage certainly refers in its spiritual sense to the people of God of all ages.
Isaiah 46:5-7. To whom will ye liken me— We have in these verses the conviction itself, exhibiting the vanity of idolatry. The argument is similar to that in chap. Isaiah 40:18, &c. and Isaiah 44:12, &c. except that the discourse in chap. 40: is directed to the Gentiles, but here to the house of Jacob in captivity. The last clause of the sixth verse may be rendered, They adore: yea, they fall prostrate before it.
Isaiah 46:8-9. Remember this— Remember this, and be inflamed with zeal, &c. This is similar to chap. Isaiah 44:21. See also Deuteronomy 30:1. The prophet in the ninth verse proposes a new argument, whereby to prove the divinity of God; namely, the wonderful works which he had done in former times, particularly in delivering his people from Egypt, and settling them in the land of Canaan.
Isaiah 46:10-11. Declaring the end from the beginning— Declaring the event, &c. Another argument for the divinity of the God of Israel is here urged, namely, his foreknowledge and prediction of future events. The prophet subjoins, in the 11th verse, a particular instance of God's prescience. There can be no doubt that Cyrus is meant by the ravenous bird, or eagle from the east. Kings and princes are often compared in Scripture to eagles, Jeremiah 48:40. Ezekiel 17:3. But it has been thought that there is a peculiar propriety in this application to Cyrus, as the eagle well denotes the magnanimity, the quickness of judgment, the celerity in all his expeditions and motions, for which Cyrus was so remarkable. We are also told by Plutarch, that Cyrus had an aquiline nose, and Xenophon expressly relates that his standard was a golden eagle; "which still," says he, "continues to be the standard of the Persian kings." See Cyropoed. book 7: not far from the beginning.
Isaiah 46:12-13. Hearken unto me— God had addressed those kindly, who had suffered themselves, through imprudence, to be seduced from the right way, and whose conversion might more reasonably be expected; but he speaks more severely to the hypocrites, the incredulous, the fierce and proud in heart, who obstinately doubted the completion of his excellent promises: "O you," says he, "who are yourselves far from faith, truth, integrity, and all propriety, full of deceit, hypocrisy, incredulity, hard and bold of heart, and who complain that my salvation is far off, and call my fidelity in question; hearken to me, and know, that my righteousness, or justification, is not far off, but near at hand, and shortly to be revealed." The 13th verse is to be explained from chap. Isaiah 44:23. See ch. Isaiah 62:3 and Habakkuk 2:3.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Two things are here foretold:
1. The miserable estate to which Babylon and her idols would be reduced; Bel and Nebo, the deities they worshipped, so far from being able to protect their votaries, would not be able to save themselves, but, among other spoil, be plucked from their pedestals, and laid as heavy burdens on the weary beasts who carried them: Israel therefore must not fear or worship such wretched and impotent idols.
2. When Babylon's gods shall fail her, the Lord will eminently appear the protector of his people: great had been the care that he had shown them from their infant days, when first they began to grow into a nation, and never would he leave or forsake them in their old age, but bear them above their difficulties, carry them back to their own land, and deliver them from all their oppressors; and such is still his tender regard toward his faithful people. From the womb he took us, and preserved our natural life amid the perils of helpless infancy; but more, he took us from the womb of nature, that we might become children of grace, bore with our weakness and infirmities, and watched over us with more than maternal tenderness; nor will he ever fail the faithful, when the infirmities of old age creep upon them, and infantile weakness returns: his hoary-headed saints are precious in his sight, and he will bear them through all the storms of life, and land them safe on the blissful shores of immortality, where their youth will be renewed as the eagle.
2nd, Israel's besetting sin was idolatry, and many of them, it is to be feared, in Babylon would easily be brought to worship the gods of their conquerors: to them therefore Jehovah seems especially to address himself.
1. God shows them the folly of the most expensive idols: Though they lavished gold and silver out of the bag, it were vain to attempt representing the eternal Spirit, or equalling him who is above all. Their richest gods were motionless and senseless, must be carried to their places, and neither could hear nor grant the prayers of their petitioners. Note; To serve their idol lusts men grudge no expence; to serve the glorious God shall we then count any thing too much to bestow? These idolaters shall rise up in judgment against niggardly professors.
2. He calls upon them to remember and repent of these sinful works. Shew yourselves men, for such service is brutish; or, be ye strong to oppose the torrent of idolatry; or, be fired with zeal against the dishonour hereby shown to God: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors; remember your evil ways, and, as sinners, with shame return to God, who is the only true God; the evidence of which he hath given in all the prophesies, which from the beginning have been exactly accomplished according to his word, and which continue daily fulfilling, and shall all come to pass in their appointed time; for his counsel must stand, and he will do all his pleasure, particularly his design of delivering his people shall be accomplished by Cyrus, called a ravenous, or swift-winged bird, with impetuosity advancing against the Babylonians, to execute God's counsel in their destruction, which, as he hath purposed and foretold, he will perform, and prove therein his divine power and prescience. Note; (1.) It is good for us often to remember and reflect upon our ways, and we shall, in general, find much in them to bewail, repent of, and amend. (2.) As God in all his providences fulfils his own pleasure, it becomes us ever to rest satisfied in his dispensations, and to acknowledge that he doth all things well. (3.) God's people may comfort themselves in the confidence of the accomplishment of those prophesies which are yet unfulfilled, as surely as they have seen the former ones verified: Rome, with her idols, as Babylon, must fall, and God's kingdom be more eminently than ever yet exalted in the earth.
3. God addresses the stout-hearted Jews, that were far from righteousness, who continued unhumbled under all their visitations, and distrusted God's faithfulness; or though they kept up an exterior of religion, and trusted that they were righteous, yet being ignorant of God's righteousness, and proud of their own, were so much the farther removed from the way of salvation. God saith, I bring near my righteousness; either his faithfulness in the fulfilment of his promises, or that glorious display of his righteousness, manifested in the Redeemer, his work and sufferings: it shall not be far off, but in the word of the Gospel brought near to every awakened sinner, to believe in and trust upon; and my salvation shall not tarry, it shall quickly be accomplished; the deliverance of the Jews from their captivity, and the greater deliverance which Jesus should work for every faithful soul; and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory; when they were restored to their own land; or more eminently when the Lord Jesus came to Zion, publishing the Gospel of the kingdom, and his believers received him, glorifying God for the gift of his Son, and eminently shewing forth his praise, both by their lips and in their lives. Note; (1.) Nothing is so fatal to unawakened souls as pride and conceit of their own righteousness. (2.) A free and full salvation is now offered to the perishing sinner. (3.) The stout-hearted, who reject Jesus as a Saviour, will find their stout hearts fail them, when they shall meet him as their judge. (4.) His faithful Israel is the Redeemer's glory; for this he hath formed us; let it be our constant care to approve ourselves to him, that he may be glorified in us and by us.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Isaiah 46". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany