THE BOOK OF ISAIAH

The Lordís Superiority to the Gods of Babylon

Isaiah 46 SCC 11/10/13

1. In this section the prophet mocks the deities of Babylon who will not only fail to save their people, but also have to be rescued themselves. By way of contrast, the Lord saves His people to the uttermost.  The reason for this great disparity between those gods and the Lord is clearly the truth that The Lord is the one true God, sovereign over all creation.

2. It is hard for modern believers to imagine how great the struggle with idolatry must have been.  All nations made claims that their god or gods were the most powerful; and that was usually backed up by military conquests and enslavement of other people, thus showing superiority over their gods. Idolatrous people do not hesitate to add other deities to their collection. So in a conquest they might assimilate the gods of the defeated tribes, as if those deities were actually supporting the conquering armies.  At the exile it was hard for the Israelites to protest that their God the Lord was sovereign over the nations, when the temple was destroyed, the cities wiped out, and the people carried away.

3. But the true believers could look to the messages of the prophets to point out that God had predicted His people would be taken into captivity.  That was unusual. No people had a deity who punished His own people.  They were always nationalistic gods.  But the words of the prophets came true; so the remnant knew God was in control, even though His people could claim no victory.  And now, with the prophescies about a return, they could also see God's sovereignty.  The nations of Assyria and Babylon may have held the power, but their gods did not accomplish thatóThe Lord did.  He did this only for His purposes; now that a new purpose was in line, The Lord would overthrow Babylon too.  So when we consider the question of which God can save, we shall have to keep in mind how Israel's God withheld His salvation until the right time, and then how He saved His people.  Here, too, we can see His sovereignty, for He has His plan and His schedule. 

IDOLS that cannot even save themselves are worthless to rely upon 1-2

Verse 1: He ridicules the idols. These deities are carried around on animals and slaves as part of their normal ritual processions.  They could become very heavy. The text alludes to beasts, elephants, and camels probably, that would carry the images of these deities in processions, or festival enthronements. Rather than lifting burdens, these idols created them for their worshippers.

Verse 2: And when the trouble comes, those who carry them will flee, not saving their gods! The announcement says that Bel and Nebo, Gods of Babylon, will not be able to save themselves. The prophet foresaw the idol images and the Babylonian gods being carried off into captivity (by Cyrus), powerless to aid their worshippers. God was about to bring in Cyrus; and when He did, the Babylonian gods would be of no help.  So, this little section is indirectly a prediction of the fall of Babylon. How absurd to trust in deities that cannot save themselves; how absurd for the Israelites to fear deities that have to be rescued when the Lord judges the city. 

ONLY the Lord saves His people to the very end in their bleakest moments 3-4

Verse 3: Here is a call for the house of Jacob and the remnant of Israel to listen to the Word of the Lord.  The contrast--the Lord does not need to be saved, He saves His people. The contrast between the Lord and pagan gods is drawn out further: the deities that those animals bore or carried became a burden to the weary beasts; but the Lord bears up and carries His people. The Lord supports and sustains His people throughout their lives, even to their old age, when they have the hoary head.  He had carried Israel (as a burden sometimes) throughout her history. The contrast is striking--you will grow old, but I AM.  And, unlike pagan gods, immobile, the Lord is not only capable of movement; He is the prime Mover, the One who delivers.  The benefits to God's people can be summarized in the verbs used: "I have made . . . I will bear . . . I will carry . . . I will deliver." 

SINCE Idols are not comparable to the Lordís power then rely on the Lord 46:5-11

Verse 5: These verses repeat the challenge that has appeared previously beginning in chapter 40. The Lord demands to know who is like Him. With whom can anyone compare the Lord? The words form a challenge, but they are also rhetorical questions, for the implication is that there is no one comparable.

Verse 6-7: He picks up the theme again of pagans making gods carrying them around in processions, and placing them in temples--where they did not move until carried somewhere.  Not only are they immobile in their niches, when people cry to them for help, they cannot answer and cannot save anyone from any trouble.  The point is that if these gods are all that can be stood up to compete against the Lord, there is no competition.

NB: Here is an essential component of idolatry: attaching significance to something we believe can rescue us if needed.

Verse 9: Now the Lord turns to His people to call for them to act upon the spiritual heritage they have.  The key introductory theme here is remember this . . . bring it to mind . . . remember.  The idea of remembering has to do with recalling the promises of God and putting them into practice by faith.  Here the remnant--addressed as transgressors because of their refusal to step out in faith on the Word of the Lord and because of their sins that brought them to Babylon--is to remember the nature of their God.  He may be addressing them as transgressors to underscore that in spite of what they have done His promises are sure.  And they can be a part of it. He is sovereign and powerful, calling things to happen before they do, declaring His will, and fulfilling His plan.  The plan here is the restoration of Israel to her land and mission.  So this is a call for the people to respond by faith to the Word.

Verse 10-11: After reiterating that He is God and that there is no one else, the Lord focuses the themes of His sovereignty and prophecy in the expression My purpose will be established--God will do His will. With this Cyrus is introduced as "a ravenous bird" from the east 11.  Cyrus, then, was the focus of the predetermined plan of deliverance; and no one can tell God what He should or should not do.  The sum of the matter is: I have spoken, I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, I will also do it.

THE power of the Lord is able to completely deliver 46:12-13

Verse 12: Now the Lord declares His power to save.  He addresses the obstinate, those whose wills would be hard to break.  First he addressed the remnant, the house of Jacob, then transgressors, and now stubborn. Like their ancestors in Egypt they were always resisting the new prophet.  They had grown accustomed to their lives in exile, and were not ready for a whole new program. Probably some were able to comply with their pagan captors and thus live at peace. The stories in Daniel suggest there were captives who fell down before Nebuchadnezzar's statute--just not Daniel and his friends.  Jews could have done so all the while knowing in their hearts it was mere compliance.  It was a way to survive.  Daniel showed them another way.  And Isaiah's word here was shaking up their systemótheir way to survive. They are also described as far from righteousness, which here means they were not yet delivered from exile. They were indeed slow to believe the words of the prophet, especially the words that this prophet had written. But until they responded they would be in spiritual and national difficulty. So they were to hearken--listen to the message and respond favorably (cp., James 1:19-26).

Verse 13: The two key words in this section are righteousness and salvation. The promise is clearly for salvation--the deliverance from exile and the restoration to Jerusalem the result being the glorious work of God through God's people. This proves to be Isaiahís final appeal to Israel to accept the Lordís will, to believe what he says and trust what he does; though even as he makes his appeal he senses that it is falling on deaf ears.

Conclusion 

1. Because the Lord is the sovereign Lord God, He is fully able to do what He has planned to do--save His people.  He will defeat and humiliate all false worshipers and their gods who can in no way save. 

2. The reason for this reminder is we may all but have given up on deliverance. They had all but given up on getting free. They were not keen on going back; Zerubbabel (in 536 B.C.), Ezra (in 455 B.C.), and Nehemiah (in 444 B.C.) had great difficulty getting people to return.  This message would then serve to rekindle confidence among the people of God, who may have been wavering with words like "Where is the promise of His coming?"  The prophet has compared this deliverance to the exodus of Egypt; well, the people here seem to be very much like the people back there--stiff-necked.

3. It is critical that we remember, recall and confirm by acting in faith on the promises, that the Lord has a plan that cannot be stopped or changed by anyone, and that the Lord has the power to fulfill His plan, and that the Lord will deliver His people to the shame and humiliation of all the pagans and their false worship.  God would deliver His people from oppression in the world.

4. Hold fast the faith that we have received, our conviction of the sovereignty of God, and live out our assurance that there is no salvation apart from faith in Him.  We might be in the world, but we are not of the world, for this world and its evil system is about to pass away. We as the people of God live in a world dominated by paganism with its false gods and oppressive beliefs.  It is easy to relinquish our confidence and courage, and just live quietly in our faith, not engaging in spiritual warfare.  But the Word of the Lord mocks false beliefs, and calls for us to live in active faith in the promises of God, looking for the Lord's great deliverance of His people, both now in spiritual victories and in the end in redemption from the bondage of this world. 

5. We may not actually worship false gods; but we may dilute our faith with rival affections and devotions that must not remain.  If the Lord is the absolute sovereign God who meets all our needs, then we owe Him our absolute allegiance.