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FRAMEWORKS: Isaiah 46: Helpless idols, delivered Israel


v.1-7: The helpless gods of Babylon

v.8-13: The Lord calls Israel to pay attention, His salvation comes


[Preliminary notes: In chapter 45 the Lord spoke of using Cyrus who, when Isaiah spoke his prophecy, would be unknown to his listeners. However when it happened and the Babylonians carried away Israel and destroyed Jerusalem, it was Cyrus the Persian, to whom the Babylonian empire fell, who restored Israel. Now in this chapter the Lord refers to the gods who the Babylonians would rely upon [v.1-7] to show they too will be carried away, as happened under Cyrus. Verses 8-13 reassure Israel that salvation is on God's agenda for them.]



v.1-7: The helpless gods of Babylon


v.1 The gods of Babylon are carried on donkeys, heavy loads

v.1   Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
    their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
    a burden for the weary.

v.2 They fall before the conquerors unable to help anyone

v.2   They stoop and bow down together;
    unable to rescue the burden,
    they themselves go off into captivity.


v.3 Now my people who I created, listen to me the burden-bearing God

v.3   ‘Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
    and have carried since you were born.

v.4 I've carried you through life to old age and will rescue you

v.4   Even to your old age and grey hairs
    I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
    I will sustain you and I will rescue you.


v.5 Is there anyone to whom you can compare me?

v.5   ‘With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
    To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?

v.6 Rich people provide gold and have it made into images they then worship

v.6   Some pour out gold from their bags
    and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
    and they bow down and worship it.

v.7 Wherever they set it up, there it stay, immovable

v.7   They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
    they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
    From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
    it cannot save them from their troubles.


[Note:  Verses 1 & 2 – the beasts of burden carrying the Babylonian idols – are contrasted with verses 3 & 4 – the Lord who carries the burden that is the people of Israel. In the light of this comparison He asks who or what could be compared to Him v.5 and reminds them how idols are ‘made' by foolish rich people [v.6] but again reminds them [more comparison] that idols are lifeless and have to be carried and when they are put down they can do nothing [v.7]. The implication is that God is very different.]



v.8-13: The Lord calls Israel to pay attention, His salvation comes


v.8 Think about this you who have rebelled against me

v.8   ‘Remember this, keep it in mind,
    take it to heart, you rebels.

v.9 Remember our past together, I am a unique God

v.9   Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.

v.10 My sovereign purposes cannot be resisted

v.10   I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, “My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.”

v.11 When I call a conqueror from afar he will come

v.11   From the east I summon a bird of prey;
    from a far-off land, a man to fulfil my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
    what I have planned, that I will do.

v.12 You who have rebelled and are now unrighteous, listen

v.12   Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
    you who are now far from my righteousness.

v.13 My plan that is right is coming soon, Jerusalem will be blessed

v.13   I am bringing my righteousness near,
    it is not far away;
    and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
    my splendour to Israel.


[Note:  Israel have historically rebelled against the Lord and so He now calls these rebels to bear these things in mind [v.8], to remember that, unlike idols, He has moved in their circumstances in history [v.9] to fulfil His sovereign plans [v.10]. So – to the rebels – if He calls a conqueror from the east [Babylon] to come and discipline them, he will come [v.11]. Thus, still addressing the rebels, the stubborn, He warns that He will bring salvation but it will come in such a form that He will remove or change the unrighteous to create a righteous people. This is exactly what happened through the Exile.]


[Concluding comments: There is a coherence in the ongoing prophecies that speak into the future, that speak of salvation that will come to Israel – through captivity and then deliverance. Babylon will take them into captivity but will in turn be brought down so that Israel can be delivered by the Persian conqueror. God won't just restore a still unrighteous Israel but will use the captivity to purify their hearts and create a new righteousness which we see when we read Ezra and Nehemiah.]



Continue to Chapter 47