Isaiah Chapter 46

CHAPTER FORTY-SIX

Divine Judgment on Babylon's False Deities.


The three chapters that now follow form another of those significant trilogies that we have learned to be a characteristic feature of this prophet:

1: Chapter 46:Judgment on Babylon's false Deities.
2: Chapter 47:On Babylon herself.
3: Chapter 48:Restoration of Israel.

This short chapter also clearly divides into three parts, thus:

1: Verses 1, 2:Babylon's idols go into captivity.
2: Verses 3 to 11:The contrast with Israel's Jehovah,
with warning to the apostate mass.
3: Verses 12, 13:Salvation revealed.

The Seer now speaks of Babylon's gods:

1: Bel sinketh down, Nebo collapses,
Their idols are carried by beasts and by cattle.
The things that ye carried are now made a load,
And weary the beasts are that drag them.
2: They stooped, aye, they sank down together;
Nor could they deliver the burden;
But they themselves go into bondage.
Here once more we see Dagon, under another name, falling prone before Jehovah. How impossible it is to stop at these dumb senseless idols! Who can question but that on the stage of this comparatively little planet, the earth, we are shown that which is invisible. An awful drama is being enacted, in which the human actors are the visible figures of the spirit-powers behind them. Scripture gives us the clearest proof of this. Even today, when Bel is unknown, and Nebo a strange unintelligible word to most Christians, we hear the beloved disciple telling us that all the multitudinous false prophets of this age are really only "mediums" for the spirits behind them. "Try the spirits," he says, "because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1), thus identifying the false prophets with the evil spirits. So it is here. Bel! Who is Bel? What do we care about a piece of stone to which they may have attached the name "Bel." But behind that "Bel" is he who was created the fairest of all the principalities and powers, to whom was given the name that he has long lost, "Shining one, star of the morning" (Eph. 6), and we—even you and I—wrestle not against human Babylonian or Assyrian potentates, but against Bel, Nebo, and all their lords, the spirit-powers that were behind those earthly empires, and who still resist our enjoyment of our own portion in Christ (Eph. 6:9). Here are our foes. This is our battlefield. From this point of view it is good indeed to see Bel bowing down and Nebo stooping; the collapse of these vain images is a prophecy of the day when that "strong angel" shall bind with a chain the "old serpent which is the Devil and Satan," and shall consign him to the bottomless pit, to leave this poor earth untouched by his foul presence for a "thousand years" (Rev. 20:2, 3).

It is a pleasant sight. See, the images once carried in processions are on the ground; they must be lifted up and loaded on the beasts that bear the heavy weight with difficulty; and the "gods" they represent cannot deliver that helpless burden; but must, in their utter impotence, accompany those images into the bondage to which they are now being ignominiously carried. It is the climax of absurdity, gods being carried away as booty to grace the triumph of their conquerors!

How can we avoid thinking of Him who, by the paradox of being overcome, overcame principalities and powers, stripping them of all honor, and made a show of them openly? (Col. 2:15). Then not only "Bel" and "Nebo" were opposing, but holy Michael and Gabriel were powerless to accomplish what His death so perfectly effected—the putting away of sins forever. O helpless Bel! O impotent Nebo! Nay, more, for we hear the elect angels joining with us in self-obliterating ascription of worthiness to the Lamb "to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honor, and glory, and blessing" (Rev. 5:12), for He has done what they could not.

"Bel" is an abbreviation of the familiar "Baal," meaning "lord"—"Beel-zebub" of the Gospels, where he is called "the prince of the demons." "Nebo" means "prophet" or "speaker." Thus the heathen of Lycaonia thought the more silent Barnabas to be "Bel," or Jupiter, the Greek prince of the demons, and Paul to be "Nebo," or the Greek Mercury, as being the chief speaker.

But now for the contrast:

3: Listen to Me, O ye household of Jacob,
And ye, the whole remnant of Israel's house,
Ye who've been borne by Me from the womb,
Ye whom I've carried from lap1 of (your) mother.
4: E'en to old age I am He!
And to the day of grey head
'Tis I who will carry you.
'Tis I who have made, 'tis I who will bear,
'Tis I who will carry and will deliver.2
5: To whom can ye then liken Me,
Place side by side and compare,
That we should be equal?
6: They who pour gold from a bag,
And weigh out the silver with balance;
These hire a goldsmith to make it a god,
Prostrate themselves, and so worship!
7: They lift it high on their shoulder,
And thus do they carry it off;
Then set it down in its place,
Nor can it thence ever remove.
Men pray—but there is never an answer,
Nor can it save any from trouble!
8: Call this to mind, quit you as men,
Take it to heart, ye apostates,
9: Remember (your nation's) beginnings,
Even from days that are far back.
For I am God—there is no other!
God—and like Me there's none!
10: Foretelling the end from beginning;
From times that are far-off, the future,3
Saying My counsel shall stand,
And I will do all of My pleasure.
11: Calling from sun-rise a ravenous bird;
From a land afar-off, the man of My counsel,
I've not only spoken, but will bring it to pass;
I've not only purposed, but also will do it.
How tenderly the Lord here speaks to the poor "House of Jacob, the remnant of Israel," and so to all new-created in Christ Jesus, for are not all the promises of God Yea and Amen in Him? His gracious ways with Israel, as a nation, so tender, so faithful, are but pictures of the same gracious ways with individuals in Christ now. As surely as Israel will never be cast away as a nation, so never will be the feeblest who have put their hearts' trust in Jesus the Lord. In sharpest contrast with the impotence of those idols, whose beginnings go only as far back as the money-bags of the wealthy, and that have themselves to be carried, He Himself creates Israel and begins the good work with His people. He carries them from the beginning of their existence, nor will He ever cease to care for them even to old age, and when the weakening effect of the years is shown in gray hair. While this applies directly to the nation of Israel, yet what a comfort it is to those who have come to the time when they are "such as the aged," and feel the increasing infirmities that accompany the passing of time, but sometimes question whether the grace of our Lord may be counted on to offset these. To the end He loves, to the end He deigns to serve. We then may grasp that threefold promise, based on His work of new creation: He will bear, He will carry, He will deliver! The picture is of a helpless weeping infant, lying on the ground; the mother takes it up, then carries it in her arms, and soothes its cry, till the ever-less-frequent sobs tell of troubles departing.

Did not our Lord use a very similar figure when He pictured Himself as a Shepherd finding His poor lost sheep? He lifts it up from the brambles and the mire, then lays it on His shoulders, and not till He gets it safely home does He lay it down!

How varied to the end is Christian experience! As a rule, old age in the Christian is a time of calm meditation on all the way that he has been led through the wilderness of this life; and many a tear of sorrow bedews his eyes as he remembers opportunities lost that never were repeated, many a sad fall, many a shameful wandering of heart; but the same eye overflows with tears of thankfulness at the tender patience with which God in Christ has dealt with him, forgiving his errors, and healing all his backslidings. Such an old age is like the evening of a calm summer day. But not always is the evening sky cloudless. At times a poor believer's sun goes down behind a cloud. We recently heard of one suffering from senile decay, and—as sometimes occurs in such cases—had lost all hope of his soul's salvation. Well may we be assured that in all such physical frailties no change whatever is in His Heart who "knoweth our frame, and remembereth that we are dust" (Ps. 103:14); nor will He ever leave nor forsake the soul that has ever leaned upon the Lord Jesus for repose. Never! How could He? We are all "in Christ" by new birth, and we might as well speak of God again forsaking His Beloved One, as to forsake any thus in Him. No! To old age and to gray hairs, He will carry till He has us all Home. If death cannot separate us from His love in Christ, we may be sure the involuntary frailties of age or mental disease cannot do so.

Well may God challenge any comparison of rivals with Himself, as in verse 5; and well may we respond: "Whom have I in heaven but Thee? and there is none upon earth that I desire in comparison with Thee" (Ps. 73:25).

Now once more we have the beginnings of a "god." Rich men give the gold and silver, hire a goldsmith, and the metal, when formed, becomes the object of worship. But it has to be carried to its place, and there it stands immovable, deaf, blind, silent, helpless! Will ye, cries Jehovah with indignation, will ye compare such with ME?

Oh, the power of gold! Was there ever a day when it was more worshiped than today? Was there ever a day in which it had more power? The wealthy of earth pour out their gold to obtain superior "spiritual privileges." They can afford the very best; let the poor take the leavings! The brightest intelligences, the keenest scholar, the most eloquent orator is ever sought by the wealthy! And if wealth seeks them, the hirelings seek the wealth. Colleges are endowed with the rich man's gold, and to show to whom that gold has been really dedicated, they respond, alas, by pouring out a broad and ever-broadening stream of youth well-based in—infidelity! Infidelity, the product of gold! Beloved fellow-believer, is that God's way? Or is it still that really "to the poor the Gospel is preached," and, as of old, preached by the poor.

But is there not a failure in the correspondence between the impotent idol and our mighty dollar? Can that dollar do nothing? Does it not secure deference, pleasure, ease and comfort? Who can deny it? Yet place these to the credit of money, there are a few weighty items to go to the debit side of the account. Mark that disappointed heart that expected full satisfaction to come with wealth. Empty and hungry still, it cries with him who was the wealthiest of men: "Vanity of vanity—all is vanity!" No peace, no rest, no joy waits here on wealth. It is as impotent as those idols to respond to the hunger of the poor heart of man.4 And how often it brings discord and moral ruin to those that inherit it!

In the Church, too, who does not know the large proportion of trouble among the true people of God that lies at the door of "money" and the love of it? Eliminate every discord that is directly or indirectly due to money, and comparatively few would remain.

Shall we, then, compare the living God, our God and Father, with gold and silver? Our hearts confess their shame that even such a question should be asked, and utter their cry: Oh, so to know Him that we too may esteem all things but loss for the excellency of that knowledge and in every dark and gloomy day of trial wait alone on Him with hope and confidence!

Verse 8 is somewhat ambiguous as to who is addressed, for the first line seems an encouragement to the true, the second a warning to the false. But the former is probably the Spirit's counsel to the wavering who were tending to idolatry, and merges into the threatening tone to the apostate mass. Let this contrast make you firm, lay it well to heart, ye whose hearts are even now departing from the living God.

We have in the next verses the one strong evidence of true Deity. Who can foretell what still lies in the future save He who so controls the events of earth as to bring to pass what His counsel had predetermined to be done (Acts 4:28). So here: "Look back," He says, "look back to the very beginning of your nation. Its whole history has been plain before Me; and now I foretell to you that an executor of my judgments on Babylon, your oppressor, is on the way. Will that not strengthen you to quit you like men?"

Is this a cup of cheer from which we are forbidden to drink? Can we not look back at fulfilled prophecy that shall give life to our nerveless faith? Surely we can. Did He not foretell that the mustard-seed should become so great that the birds of the air should rest in its branches? Has that not been fulfilled beyond all controversy, in the growth of that which was but a grain of mustard-seed in that upper room in Jerusalem, until now a popular and nearly apostate Christianity shelters the very spirits of evil, pictured by those "birds" that can only destroy the good seed sown? (Matt. 13:4, 19).

Did He not foretell, even at the very beginning, when there was not the faintest hint of anything but an immediate collapse of all His claims, that in the sphere of professed faith in Himself there would be introduced such man-exalting, pride-feeding doctrine till that "kingdom of Heaven" should become completely leavened with the evils that are today all about us?

Did He not say that this degeneracy should go on till all was leavened?—a contingency that involves in itself, the taking out of that sphere the only hindrance to that complete leavening, the living members of His Body. Consider His own words to the seven Churches; has not the course of the professing Church, as there foretold, been so fully fulfilled that for the little while left we may not cast away our confidence that has great recompense of reward, but quit us like men in our confidence of His coming for us? Aye, and here what a blessed contrast! No bird of prey, no judgment-bringing "eagle," do we now look for; but still, as long ago, we are waiting for the Son from heaven who shall come as Saviour. How loudly does the whole condition of the prophetic earth cry for that coming!

12: Hearken to Me, ye strong-hearted,
From righteousness ye that are far off,
13: Near is My righteousness, and not afar,
Nor doth My salvation delay:
Salvation will I to Zion accord,
To Israel will I give glory!
The stout-hearted are those who in obstinacy wilfully resist all such evidences as "that a notable miracle hath been wrought, we cannot deny; but, that it spread no further, let us straitly threaten" (Acts 4:4). Those men were surely very far from righteousness, although they, and all like them, always claim to be the only ones who are righteous. It is the Christless religious who are the "stout-hearted," for are they not well-intrenched? Who can convince the "religious" man that he needs salvation? Is he not spending a fair proportion of his life in careful and respectable religious observances? Who so constant in attendance at Church, at least to a sufficient degree? Who so decently liberal in contributions? Is he not doing his best, and what more can any man do? Ah, poor man! He is quite ignorant of the righteousness of God, that righteousness in which God must ever deal with sinful man, which meets its perfect satisfaction in "Christ as the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believeth." It is thus that God's righteousness is very near indeed to the confessedly guilty; and well it is for us that it is so, for it was when we were without any strength that Christ died for the ungodly.

So our chapter closes with the constantly repeated promise of God's salvation being found in Zion, His glory given to Israel. Nor do they err who press that Zion stands as a symbol of grace as in contrast with Sinai—it surely does for believers now, as Heb. 12:22 explicitly states—but when they tell us that the prophet himself meant the Church, of which he knew absolutely nothing, and not the nation to which he had been directly commissioned to go, in that, we are compelled to say, they greatly err.

Do you find it weary waiting for the Lord's coming unto salvation? How long have you known Him as your own Saviour? Think then, beloved, think; and suppose He had come one day before that, where would you have been? There are others today of His poor wandering children who will be thankful that He waited till they were safe in Him. It is ever a "very little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry." No reader of the Scriptures in any generation could find discouragement in reading that as it will be many centuries before He comes, they might settle down in the world, for any present hope is bound to be in vain. No; every reader has been compelled to read, and, when that reading is mixed with faith, to be cheered and strengthened by the renewed hope in the words: "For yet a very, very little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry" (Heb. 20: 36, 37).

Footnotes:


1 So Delitzsch, nor is it unjustifiable, for the Hebrew word has always the idea of maternal tenderness well expressed by our "lap."

2 The fivefold reiteration of "I" is emphatic.

3 Lit., "What not done."

4 Even as I write, I read in "The New York Times" of a man who commits suicide and leaves fifteen million dollars behind him.