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Bible Commentaries
Isaiah 46

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Isaiah 46:0


Babylon's Idols and the True GodDead Idols and the Living GodThe Lord Supports IsraelThe Lord of the World and the Idols of Babylon (Isaiah 45:20-13)The Fall of Babylon
Isaiah 46:1-2(1-2)Isaiah 46:1-2(1-2)Isaiah 46:1-2(1-2)Isaiah 46:1-2(1-2)Isaiah 46:1-13(1-13)
Isaiah 46:3-4(3-4)Isaiah 46:3-4(3-4)Isaiah 46:3-4(3-4)Isaiah 46:3-4(3-4)
Isaiah 46:5-7(5-7)Isaiah 46:5-7(5-7)Isaiah 46:5-7(5-7)Isaiah 46:5-7(5-7)
Isaiah 46:8-11(8-11)Isaiah 46:8-11(8-11)Isaiah 46:8-11(8-11)Isaiah 46:8-11(8-11)
Isaiah 46:12-13(12-13)Isaiah 46:12-13(12-13)Isaiah 46:12-13(12-13)Isaiah 46:12-13(12-13)

READING CYCLE THREE (see Guide to Good Bible Reading)


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. Leupold, in his commentary on Isaiah, p. 147, reminded me that

1. in Isaiah 14:0 the kingdom of Babylon is judged

2. in Isaiah 46:0 the idols of Babylon are judged

3. in Isaiah 47:0 the nation, personified as a queen, is judged

B. Babylon, in the Bible, is a metaphor for all human society organized and functioning apart from God. It is mankind's attempt to meet his needs with his own resources. Babylon is personified as the great whore in Revelation 18:0.

Verses 1-2

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 46:1-2 1Bel has bowed down, Nebo stoops over; Their images are consigned to the beasts and the cattle. The things that you carry are burdensome, A load for the weary beast. 2They stooped over, they have bowed down together; They could not rescue the burden, But have themselves gone into captivity.

Isaiah 46:1 “Bel” Bel (BDB128, KB 132, Akkadian for “lord”) is a similar title to the Canaanite title Ba'al. This is a reference to the chief god of the Akkadian pantheon (Enlil, who was called “lord”). As Babylon came to power the chief deity's name was changed to Marduk (BDB 597, cf. Jeremiah 50:2).

“Nebo” This was the son of Marduk (named only here in the OT) and was the god of learning and writing (BDB 612). Bel and Nebo can be seen in many of the Babylonian names of the period (Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 1:1]; Nebushazban [Jeremiah 39:13]; Nebuzaradan [Jeremiah 39:9]; Nabopolassar [first king of Neo-Babylon, and Nebuchadnezzar's father]; Nabonidus [Belshazzar's father, last king of Neo-Babylon]; Belteshazzar [Daniel 1:7]; Belshazzar [Daniel 5:1]). These were the two chief gods of the Babylonian pantheon.

“bowed down. . .stoops over” There is a play on the concept “bow down” (BDB 505, KB 499). It relates to Isaiah 45:23, the deities of Babylon are bowing before YHWH the Creator.

“you carry. . .load. . .the burden” There is a play on the word “carry” in Isaiah 46:1-2 and 3-4. First of all the idols of Babylon must be carried on beasts of burden to try to escape the Persians or in ritual marches through the street of the large cities. God carries His children, both metaphorically in the womb and later, throughout their lives (cf. Isaiah 46:4). It is the inability of the Babylon gods to hear, to act versus the care, provision, and grace acts of the God of Israel, with which they are contrasted in Isaiah 46:1-4.

Isaiah 46:2 “But have themselves gone into captivity” Here these Babylonian idols are personified as going into captivity with their people.

Verses 3-4

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 46:3-4 3”Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from birth And have been carried from the womb; 4Even to your old age I will be the same, And even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; And I will bear you and I will deliver you.”

Isaiah 46:3 “Listen” This, like Isaiah 46:12, is a Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 1033, KB 1570). See note at Isaiah 44:1.

“the remnant” See Special Topic below.


“have been carried from the womb” This primarily is a reference to God as parent and Israel as child. However, it also refers to the formation of the nation of Israel beginning with the Exodus (cf. Deuteronomy 1:31; Isaiah 63:9).

Isaiah 46:4 “Even to your old age” God not only created Israel but will sustain her (i.e., “carry” or “bear” them, cf. Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 1:31; Deuteronomy 32:11).

“I shall be the same” This (lit. I Am He, cf. NKJV) is the concept that God does not change (cf. NJB, cf. Malachi 3:6). Even though Israel has been unfaithful to the covenant, God remains faithful. He is the God of covenant loyalty. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!

“And I will bear you and I will deliver you This is a reference to the nation of Israel, but it is individualized also to every believer (SINGULAR VERBS). Notice the VERBS in Isaiah 46:4.

1. God had created Israel (Qal PERFECT, BDB 793, KB 889)

2. God will continue to provide and protect

a. bear you - Qal IMPERFECT, BDB 687, KB 741 (twice)

b. carry you - Qal IMPERFECT, BDB 669, KB 724 (twice)

c. deliver you - Qal IMPERFECT, BDB 572, KB 589

Verses 5-7

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 46:5-7 5”To whom would you liken Me And make Me equal and compare Me, That we would be alike? 6Those who lavish gold from the purse And weigh silver on the scale Hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; They bow down, indeed they worship it. 7They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it; They set it in its place and it stands there. It does not move from its place. Though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; It cannot deliver him from his distress.”

Isaiah 46:5 “To whom would you liken Me” This is the emphasis that no one can be compared with YHWH (cf. Isaiah 43:11; Isaiah 44:6, Isaiah 44:8; Isaiah 45:6). This is a comparison between YHWH and the idols of the nations (cf. Isaiah 40:18-20; Isaiah 44:9-20).

Notice the parallelism.

1. to whom would you liken Me - Piel IMPERFECT (BDB 197, KB 225)

2. and make Me equal - Hiphil IMPERFECT (BDB 1000, KB 1436)

3. and compare Me - Hiphil IMPERFECT (BDB 605, KB 647)

4. that we should be alike - Qal IMPERFECT (BDB 197, KB 225)

YHWH is unique! He is the ever-living, only-living, one true God (see Special Topic: Monotheism). Also note the theological concept of Trinity, see Special Topic: The Trinity.

Isaiah 46:6-7 These two verses are the contrast between the one true God of Isaiah 46:5 and the idols of the nations.

1. people give money to make images and then bow down and worship them (Isaiah 46:6)

2. they then move them here and there but they cannot move themselves; the idols cannot deliver (Isaiah 46:7)

Verses 8-11

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 46:8-11 8”Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. 9Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 10Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, 'My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure'; 11Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.”

Isaiah 46:8 “Remember” This verse and the first line of Isaiah 46:9 contain a series of IMPERATIVES.

1. remember, Isaiah 46:8 - Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 269, KB 269)

2. be assured, Isaiah 46:8 - Hithpoel IMPERATIVE (BDB 84, KB 100)

3. recall, Isaiah 46:8 - Hiphil IMPERATIVE (BDB 996, KB 1427)

4. remember, Isaiah 46:9 - same as #1

Number 2 is a rare form. The Aramaic Targums translate it as “take courage,” possibly from a related Arabic root (cf. Leupold, p. 145).

“you transgressors” This shows that some in Israel still had doubts about the way God was performing His task of redemption (cf. Isaiah 45:9-11, the book of Habakkuk). This same group is referred to in Isaiah 46:12 as “the stubborn minded” of the Jewish people.

Isaiah 46:9 “the former things long past” This could refer to

1. YHWH's ancient covenant with Abraham (cf. Isaiah 43:18; Isaiah 65:17; Jeremiah 16:14; Jeremiah 23:7)

2. YHWH's acts of birthing (i.e., the Exodus) them

3. Israel's ancient promise to be loyal and abide by the covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 32:7)

4. YHWH's proof of His existence by predicting the future (cf. Isaiah 46:10, Isaiah 46:11; Isaiah 42:9)

“For I am God” See note at Isaiah 46:5.

Isaiah 46:10-11 Again, God is using the example of predictive prophecy to show that He is in control of history. The emphasis on His purposes, mentioned so often in Isaiah 46:10-11, shows that history is not random but has a divine purpose (i.e., teleological; cf. Isaiah 14:24, Isaiah 14:26; Isaiah 25:1). This assurance of YHWH fulfilling His Divine Plan is also seen in Isaiah 14:24; Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 40:8; Isaiah 55:11 (see Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., pp. 371-390).

The phrase in 10a is theologically parallel to Isaiah 41:4; Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 48:12. YHWH is the “present one” from the “very” beginning to the “very” end (i.e., the first and last)!

Verses 12-13

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Isaiah 46:12-13 12”Listen to Me, you stubborn-minded, Who are far from righteousness. 13I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; And My salvation will not delay. And I will grant salvation in Zion, And My glory for Israel.”

Isaiah 46:12-13 This is a very important passage and shows that God will have mercy even on unbelieving Israel. This shows that the Jewish people did not deserve God's love and mercy. Many of them were still stubborn and stiff-necked (cf. Isaiah 48:4), but God brought salvation to them because of Who He is and not because of who they are (cf. Ezekiel 36:22-38). This is the New Covenant model (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Isaiah 46:12

NASB, NKJV, LXX, PESHITTA“righteousness” NRSV“deliverance” TEV, JPSOA, NJB“saving justice. . . justice”

The Hebrew word used twice is “righteousness” (BDB 842). BDB says it is used of the salvation of God (#6a), Isaiah 45:8; Isaiah 46:13; Isaiah 51:6.

The Hebrew term “salvation” (BDB 448) is parallel in Isaiah 46:13b.

This is literally

1. My counsel (BDB 420) will stand - BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERFECT

2. All My purpose (BDB 481 CONSTRUCT 343), I will accomplish - BDB 793 I, KB 889, Qal IMPERFECT

“Who are far from” This description of God's covenant people is contrasted with the nearness (“it is not far off,” Isaiah 46:13b) of YHWH's deliverance

1. through Cyrus II (temporal)

2. through the Messiah (eschatological)

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Isaiah 46". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/isaiah-46.html. 2021.
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