The idols could not save themselves, but God saves his people. (1-4) The folly of worshipping idols. (5-13)
Verses 1-4 The heathen insulted the Jews, as if their idols Bel and Nebo were too hard for Jehovah. But their worshippers cannot help them; both the idols and the idolaters are gone into captivity. Let not God's people be afraid of either. Those things from which ungodly men expect safety and happiness, will be found unable to save them from death and hell. The true God will never fail his worshippers. The history of the life of every believer is a kind of abstract of the history of Israel. Our spiritual life is upheld by his grace, as constantly as our natural life by his providence. And God will never leave them. The Author will be the Finisher of their well-being, when, by decays, they need help as much as in infancy. This promise to Israel, enfeebled and grown old as a nation, is applicable to every aged follower of Christ. When compassed about with infirmities, and perhaps those around begin to grow weary of you, yet I am He that I have promised to be, He that you would have me to be. I will bear you up; carry you on in your way, and carry you home at last. If we learn to trust in and love him, we need not be anxious about our remaining days or years; he will still provide for us and watch over us, both as the creatures of his power, and as new-created by his Spirit.
Verses 5-13 Here the folly of those who made idols, and then prayed to them, is exposed. How does the profuseness of idolaters shame the niggardliness of many who call themselves God's servants, but are for a religion which costs them nothing! The service of sin always costs a great deal. God puts it to them what senseless, helpless things idols are. Let, then, the Jews show themselves men, avoiding such abominations. Many Scripture prophecies, delivered long ago, are not yet fulfilled; but the fulfilling of some is an earnest that the rest will come to pass. Nothing can help more to make us easy, than to be assured that God will do all his pleasure. Even those who know not and mind not God's revealed will, are called and used to fulfil the counsels of his secret will. Heaven and earth shall pass away, sooner than one tittle of the word of God. Obstinate sinners are addressed. Such were far from acceptance, but they were summoned to hearken to the word of the Lord. The salvation of a sinner begins with a humble and contrite heart, that trembles at God's word, with godly sorrow working true repentance, and faith in his mercy, through the obedience unto death of our Divine Surety. Christ, as the Divine righteousness and salvation to his people, would come in the appointed time. His salvation abides in his church for all believers.
Isaiah 46:1-13 . BABYLON'S IDOLS COULD NOT SAVE THEMSELVES, MUCH LESS HER. BUT GOD CAN AND WILL SAVE ISRAEL: CYRUS IS HIS INSTRUMENT.
1. Bel--the same as the Phoenician Baal, that is, lord, the chief god of Babylon; to it was dedicated the celebrated tower of Babylon, in the center of one of the two parts into which the city was divided, the palace being in the center of the other. Identical with the sun, worshipped on turrets, housetops, and other high places, so as to be nearer the heavenly hosts (Saba) ( Jeremiah 19:13 , 32:29 , Zephaniah 1:5 ). GESENIUS identifies Bel with the planet Jupiter, which, with the planet Venus (under the name Astarte or Astaroth), was worshipped in the East as the god of fortune, the most propitious star to be born under Bel and the Dragon, Bel was cast down by Cyrus.
boweth . . . stoopeth--falleth prostrate ( Isaiah 10:4 , 1 Samuel 5:3 1 Samuel 5:4 , Psalms 20:8 ).
Nebo--the planet Mercury or Hermes, in astrology. The scribe of heaven, answering to the Egyptian Anubis. The extensive worship of it is shown by the many proper names compounded of it: Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuzar-adan, Nabonassar, &c.
were upon--that is, were a burden (supplied from the following clause) upon. It was customary to transport the gods of the vanquished to the land of the conquerors, who thought thereby the more effectually to keep down the subject people ( 1 Samuel 5:1 , &c. Jeremiah 48:7 , 49:3 , Daniel 11:8 ).
carriages--in the Old English sense of the things carried, the images borne by you: the lading ( Acts 21:15 ), "carriages," not the vehicles, but the baggage. Or, the images which used to be carried by you formerly in your solemn processions [MAURER].
were heavy loaden--rather, are put as a load on the beasts of burden [MAURER]. HORSLEY translates, "They who should have been your carriers (as Jehovah is to His people, Isaiah 46:3 Isaiah 46:4 ) are become
2. deliver--from the enemies' hands.
burden--their images laid on the beasts ( Isaiah 46:1 ).
themselves--the gods, here also distinguished from their images.
3. in contrast to what precedes: Babylon's idols, so far from bearing its people safely are themselves borne off, a burden to the laden beast; but Jehovah bears His people in safety even from the womb to old age ( Isaiah 63:9 , Deuteronomy 32:11 , Psalms 71:6 Psalms 71:18 ). God compares Himself to a nurse tenderly carrying a child; contrast Moses' language ( Numbers 11:12 ).
4. old age--As "your"--"you"--"you," are not in the Hebrew, the sentiment is more general than English Version, though of course it includes the Jews from the infancy to the more advanced age of their history ( Isaiah 47:6 ).
I am he--that is the same ( Psalms 102:27 , John 8:24 , Hebrews 13:8 ).
I will bear . . . carry--Not only do I not need to be borne and carried Myself, as the idols ( Isaiah 46:1 ).
5. ( Isaiah 40:18 Isaiah 40:25 ).
6. ( Isaiah 40:19 Isaiah 40:20 , 41:7 .) They lavish gold out of their purses and spare no expense for their idol. Their profuseness shames the niggardliness of professors who worship God with what cost them nothing. Sin is always a costly service.
7. cry . . . can . . . not . . . save--( Isaiah 45:20 , with which contrast Isaiah 45:19 ).
8. show yourselves men--Renounce the childishness of idolatry as shown in what precedes ( 1 Corinthians 14:20 , 16:13 , Ephesians 4:14 ). In order to be manly we must be godly; for man was made "in the image of God," and only rises to his true dignity when joined to God; virtue is derived from the Latin vir, "a man."
bring . . . to mind--rather, "lay it to heart."
transgressors--addressed to the idolaters among the Jews.
9. former--namely, proofs of the sole Godship of Jehovah, from predictions fulfilled, and interpositions of God in behalf of Israel ( Isaiah 45:5 ).
10. ( Isaiah 45:21 , Isaiah 41:22 Isaiah 41:23 , 44:26 ).
yet--not in the Hebrew. Translate, "What had not been done" [HORSLEY].
do all my pleasure--( Isaiah 53:10 , Romans 9:19 ).
11. ravenous bird--Cyrus so called on account of the rapidity of his marches from the distant regions of Persia to pounce on his prey eagle on a spear (see the heathen historian, XENOPHON, 7, where almost the same word is used, aetos, as here, ayit).
executeth my counsel--( Isaiah 44:28 , 45:13 ). Babylon represents, mystically, the apostate faction: the destruction of its idols symbolizes the future general extirpation of all idolatry and unbelief.
purposed . . . also do it--( Isaiah 43:13 ).
12. stout-hearted--stubborn in resisting God ( Psalms 76:5 , Acts 7:51 ).
far from righteousness--( Isaiah 59:9 , Habakkuk 2:4 ).
13. near--antithetical to "far" ( Isaiah 46:12 , Isaiah 51:5 , 56:1 , Isaiah 61:10 Isaiah 61:11 , Romans 10:6-8 ).
righteousness--answering to "salvation" in the parallel clause; therefore it means here, "my righteous deliverance"; righteous, because proving the truth of God's promises, and so contrived as to not compromise, but vindicate, His righteousness ( Isaiah 42:21 , Romans 3:26 ).
Zion . . . my glory--rather, "I will give salvation in Zion; to Israel (I will give) my glory" [HORSLEY]. ( Isaiah 63:11 , Psalms 14:7 , Luke 2:32 ).