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Isaiah 46:1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops; their idols are on the animals, and on the livestock: the things that you carried about are made a load, a burden to the weary- This appears to be a vision of the gods of Babylon being removed from the city as the Persians advanced. Just as Merodach-Baladan packed his idols on boats, at the approach of Sennacherib. But as I have noted elsewhere, the fall of Babylon didn't happen quite as predicted. Darius the Mede actually maintained the Babylonian gods; of whom Bel and Nebo were the popular ones; although "Bel" is the equivalent of Hebrew 'Baal' and may be a generic name. And so the potential scenario presented elsewhere, of Babylon falling, being destroyed by the fire of Divine judgment Sodom-style, and the exiles returning to Judah- just didn't come about. The various preconditions involving Judah's repentance weren't in place. And so the 'fall of Babylon' prophecies will in essence, although maybe not in every detail, be fulfilled in the fall of latter day Babylon. And this is how we are to understand this picture of the gods of Babylon being put on animals, after being carried about in the various processions earlier. The weary burdened with idols are reapplied to all heavy burdened who can come to the Lord Jesus and be relieved (Mt. 11:28).

So much of later Isaiah is taken up with mockery and criticism of the Babylonian gods and the Marduk cult. The book of Esther, with Mordecai as the joint hero, named as he was after Marduk, demonstrates how caught up were the Jews with the Babylonian gods. Ezekiel repeatedly reveals the idolatry of the captives. Isaiah was therefore an appeal for the Jews to quit the Marduk cult and believe in the radical prophecies about the overthrow of Babylon. The situation is analogous to how the New Testament is full of references to the Roman imperial cult of empire worship. So much of the Bible is like Isaiah and the New Testament- a radical, counter-cultural call to see our present world for what it is, and to perceive that the ways of God simply can’t be mixed in, watered down or compromised with the way of this world. Naturally such criticisms of Babylon and its gods would have been a very risky thing- for Babylon had shown grace to many Jews and they were doing well in rising up the social and economic ladder there. To speak of Babylon in the hostile way the prophets do was a brave and unpopular thing (Is. 13,14,21,46; Jer. 50,51; often in Zechariah). We know from Ez. 8, Jer. 44 and Zech. 5 that many Jews had accepted the idols of their Babylonian conquerors, rather like Ahaz did after his defeat by Assyria (2 Kings 16:10). The spirit of ridiculing the idolatry of Babylon whilst living in it, waiting the call to leave, is so relevant to modern Christians working, living and waiting in latter day Babylon.

Isaiah 46:2 They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves have been carried away into captivity-
The idea as noted on :1 is that the idols were to be carried away out of danger; but now there is the picture of the idols having been captured and being now taken off into captivity. But as explained on :1, this isn't what happened when Babylon fell to the Medes.

Isaiah 46:3 Listen to Me, house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, that have been carried from their birth, that have been carried from the womb-
The remnant of the whole house of Israel refers to the repentant remnant of both Judah and the ten tribes, who were intended to repent and return to Zion together, united by their experience of repentance, grace and forgiveness. The contrast is with how the idols / false gods had to be carried by their people and beasts (:1,2), but Yahweh the true God has carried His people. This is where mere religion and true spirituality are shown to be so different; religion often involves making ourselves feel good by supposedly doing something for God, whereas salvation by grace through faith is about accepting His carrying of us.

Isaiah 46:4 And even to old age I am He, and even to grey hairs will I carry you. I have made, and I will bear; yes, I will carry, and will deliver-
An oft overlooked component of the promises to Abraham which are the core of the Gospel is that “I will be your God”. Land and eternal life in the future, blessings... these are indeed wonderful. But the King of the Cosmos is my God. Oh how rich the promise. So often we read that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I take this to mean that He was there for them, through every moment, He was their God, He alone is without beginning and has immortality in Himself. This continuity in God over history is therefore an encouragement to us that He likewise is the continuous One in our lives too. Israel in captivity felt God had forgotten them; and so they are comforted that they are individuals “which have been borne by me from the belly, which have been carried from the womb: and even to old age I am he, and even to grey hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; yea, I will carry, and will deliver” (Is. 46:3,4). Note how God, who is presented as male, likens Himself to a woman here. As He carried us in the womb, so He will carry us when we are old and grey haired. True to human parenting experience, the baby is always the father’s little baby, even in grey hairs. And this wonderful comfort is so simply because “I am he”. This is an evident reference to God’s Name, YHWH. The mystery of the Name is partly because the declaration of it in Ex. 3:6 implies grammatically that He is, was, and shall be.  This was intended to be a great comfort to Israel in Egypt, who again had felt that God was somehow distant, looking the other way, leaving them in their aloneness. The same Name, the promise of God’s  abiding presence and purpose with us, provides comfort to every one of His people.

God is likening Himself to a woman who carries a child in her womb, then bears it, and then carries it as a baby, but still carries it when the child is an old man. Incidentally, this simile is proof enough that God is not somehow 'anti-women'. The God of all knowledge is aware of a fundamental psychological phenomena in all men; the fear, however passive and buried, of being without their mother; the fear of loneliness, the fear of eternal separation from the woman who bore and carried them. From the president to the happy village grandfather, this sense is there. Perhaps David appreciated this when he referred to a man weeping at his mother's funeral (not his father's) as the ultimate cameo of grieving and desolation of soul (Ps. 35:14). And yet God says that He is in some ways the eternal mother, the one who bore and carried us in babyhood, but the One who will yet carry us when we are gray headed and once again unable to walk. Yet He is also the everlasting Father, through His Son (Is. 9:6). It's a picture of exquisite beauty. Our relationship with God as the One who will never leave us is the only answer to what philosophers call 'the existential problem'; the awareness that has come to every thoughtful soul, the terror of being so alone as we get older, the dread of being without our human roots, of becoming the one to whom others (e.g. our children) look to as their background and root, whilst we ourselves have no tangible link with our past. This problem is defined by C.S. Lewis in The Inner Ring: "I believe that in all men's lives at certain of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside".  This horror of existential loneliness can only be met by our sure knowledge that we have a very personal relationship in the Kingdom of God with our Heavenly Father, who will never ever leave us, and will preserve us unto His eternal Kingdom. 


Isaiah 46:5 To whom will you liken Me and make Me equal, and compare Me, that we may be alike?- This seems addressed to the idolaters within Judah, who were not denying Yahweh but making Him "equal" to the idols by claiming to worship Him through worshipping them.

Isaiah 46:6 Some pour out gold from the bag, and weigh silver in the balance. They hire a goldsmith, and he makes it a god. They fall down- yes, they worship-
The idea is that people pay in gold to a goldsmith, and he then makes that gold into a god, after keeping part of it for himself as wages. This explains the Divine cameraman zooming in on the handover of the gold pieces to the goldsmith. This recalls the picture in Is. 44:15-17, of a man cutting down a tree, using half for an idol and the other half for firewood. The purpose of presenting this bizarre picture was to enable the audience to perceive the utter foolishness of idolatry, although the person caught up in it can't perceive it. And that is a feature of idolatry to this day.

Isaiah 46:7 They bear it on the shoulder, they carry it, and set it in its place, and it stands, from its place it shall not move: yes, one may cry to it, yet it can not answer, nor save him out of his trouble-
This sounds like the processions in Babylon where the idols were carried through the streets on the shoulders of men, and then placed in high places and worshipped. Clearly Is. 40-66 was addressed directly to the returning exiles who would've been familiar with this scene; Isaiah was prophesying all this after Hezekiah had sinned and the captivity had been prophesied in Is. 39. Isaiah has so many detailed allusions to Babylonian life and beliefs that it’s impossible to think that it was all written in Hezekiah’s time, with no reference to the Babylonians. We find the specific names of Babylonian idols (Is. 46:1,2), ceremonies and processions known only in Babylon (Is. 46:7), omens (Is. 44:25), magic and astrology (Is. 47:1,2,12,13). Time and again there is specific reference to leaving Babylon and returning to Judah (Is. 40:3-11; Is. 42:15,16; Is. 48:20-22; 49:9-12; 52:11,12).

Isaiah 46:8 Remember this, and show yourselves men; bring it again to mind, you transgressors-
LXX has this as a call to repentance from idolatry by the exiles in Babylon: "Remember ye these things, and groan: repent, ye that have gone astray, return in your heart". They were to “remember this” that they already knew, and “bring it again to mind” that God is really the great eternal, and His Name is as it is, and they should have had no part in the idol processions spoken of in :7.  

Isaiah 46:9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like Me-
The exiled Jews ought to have had no part in the idol worship of Babylon spoken of in :7. They should have perceived that the magnitude of Yahweh made all other gods and idols of no significance. Our strength against idolatry in its modern forms is likewise found from appreciating the greatness of our God.

Isaiah 46:10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done; saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure-
The emphasis on this (e.g. also Is. 41:26) is understandable seeing that such a specific prophecy regarding the 70 years captivity was to be given and fulfilled. But the emphasis and flavour of the words used is not upon prediction but rather explanation, of attaching meaning to event. God alone can provide such explanation of both past and future events according to the far reaching narrative found in the prophets. The idol religions explained just a few isolated incidents. This is what is unique about the one true God- that He alone attaches meaning to event, both in personal and collective life, and indeed to all human history. Whether we correctly perceive it is another question, but He alone does this and holds the masterplan.


Isaiah 46:11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man of My counsel from a far country; yes, I have spoken, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed, I will also do it-
The servant songs or poems of Isaiah clearly have reference to a Messiah figure who was to appear at the time of the restoration from Babylon. The early songs clearly have reference to Cyrus- he is named as such. Expositors such as Harry Whittaker and J.W. Thirtle have sought to prove the naming of Cyrus as an interpolation, claiming that Isaiah has sole primary reference to the days of Hezekiah. This seems to me to be desperate. The naming of Cyrus, and the specific references to his military campaigns in the prophecies, simply can’t be gotten around. To brush all this off as uninspired interpolation and fiddling with the text of holy Scripture just won’t do. The references to Cyrus aren’t merely the mention of his name. Is. 41:1-5 alludes unquestionably to the dramatic conquest of Sardis by Cyrus in 547 BC. The ‘servant’ is described as swooping down first from the east and then from the north, trampling local rulers beneath him (Is. 41:2-5,25; Is.  45:1; Is. 46:11). This ‘servant’ was to end the Babylonian empire (Is. 43:14; Is. 48:14,15), enable the captive Jews in Babylon to return to their land (Is. 42:6,7; Is. 43:5-7; Is. 45:13), restore Jerusalem and the ruined cities of Judah (Is. 44:26-28; 45:13). There can be no serious doubt that it was Cyrus who fulfilled these things. The servant is a “bird of prey from the east” (Is. 46:11)- according to Xenophon, the eagle was the emblem of Cyrus. The servant “victorious at every step” with lightning speed (Is. 41:2) surely refers to how Cyrus conquered the Medes, the former Assyrian empire, and the Lydians before taking Babylon in 539 BC. We should have no problem with a pagan king being described as God’s “servant”, for that very term is used of Nebuchadnezzar in Jer. 25:9. See on :7. Cyrus failed to live up to his potential (see on Is. 45:4,5) and so the prophecies came to be applied to the Lord Jesus, who was far more fully "the word made flesh" (Jn. 1:14), which is perhaps the idea of "the man of My counsel", the man who would fulfill God's purposes and prophetic word in totality.

Isaiah 46:12 Listen to Me, you stout-hearted, who are far from righteousness-
Despite this laboured and repeated assurance, the exiles were stout hearted, which is how they are described in Ez. 2:4. Time and again in the restoration prophecies we encounter statements intended to answer the skepticism felt by the exiles about the promises of redemption from Babylon (Is. 40:27-31; Is. 42:22; Is. 43:22; Is. 46:12; Is. 48:4,8; Is. 49:14). See on Is. 49:24. It was the invaders of Zion who were the stout-hearted who were to be destroyed (s.w. Ps. 76:5); the hard hearted amongst God's people were and are to  be destroyed at the same time as them, facing the same judgment for having the same heart.

Isaiah 46:13 I bring near My righteousness, it shall not be far off, and My salvation shall not wait; and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel My glory
- This connects back to Is. 5:19, where we read that the Jews mocked Isaiah and his God, saying "Let Him make speed, let Him hasten His work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw near and come, that we may know it!". There was clearly opposition to Isaiah's prophecies. The idea of judgment coming would have been mocked in these kinds of words. But we wonder whether this is really a verbatim quotation from these people; or whether God read their thoughts as effectively saying this, and as being the real implication of their positions. For there is no evidence that Judah abandoned Yahweh; rather did they claim obedience and loyalty to Him, although they claimed the same about their idols whom they worshipped in His Name. But God was not deaf to their words, or the implications of their thoughts and actions. He in fact heard their mocking 'prayer', because He here says that He will "come near" (s.w.) in fulfilment of His counsel or words.

But, perhaps intentionally, these words can be read another way. This idea of bringing salvation near is in the context of the hard hearted Jews being "far" from Yahweh's righteousness. It's as if God wishes to somehow force through His plan of saving them, bringing near the salvation which they pushed far from them. But even then, they refused it. He has the same enthusiasm for human salvation today.