H. Linden University Presbyterian
Church, Las Cruces, NM USA (revised February 2011)
46 The context is the defeat of Babylon by Cyrus. The fall
shows her gods were unable to deliver the city/nation from its enemies. In
Isaiah 36 & 37, the God of Israel delivered Jerusalem from the greatest power on earth
when He killed the Assyrian army. That victory was one in which no arrow or
sword of man was used; God did it directly (37:36). Now Babylon
shall fall to Cyrus with the sword, because Babylon’s gods cannot save (v.6).
46:1,2 Bel (note Belshazzar
in Daniel 5:1) was Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. Nebo was another famous god, so much
so his name appears in the name of some Babylonian kings. (Note Nebuchadnezzar
in Daniel 1:1.)
picture in v.1 gives is of a fallen city; the gods are being evacuated. They
have no power to save Babylon
or themselves. They must be carried by beasts that are weary from the load. The
gods these images represent do not come to rescue their physical
representations. Babylon had carried Jerusalem into captivity;
now her gods go into captivity. (See 1 Samuel 5:1-4 for Dagon falling before
the ark of the Lord.)
contrast is vivid. Israel’s
God cannot be carried and needs nothing from anyone. He carries them. “The
people I have upheld” uses the verb “loaded” to line up with v.1. The Lord not
only keeps His nation alive, He is the Lord Who made them a people in the past
and Who will carry them forever. Israel is supported by everlasting
arms (Deuteronomy 33:27). A god who needs help cannot be a help. The promises
of God are to all Israel
and must be received by faith, but the eternal benefits are to the remnant. The
concept of survivors is stated here as all
you who remain.
Statements of God’s
Dealings with Israel which Appear to be Contradictory
to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save”
(46:3,4, ESV). This sounds like the care of Israel expressed in Deuteronomy
God repeatedly asserts in Scripture
and here in Isaiah 46 that it has been His commitment to carry and preserve His
but He often spoke in words of very stern rejection of them:
14:22,23 “ … None of the men who have seen my glory and my signs that I did in
Egypt and in the wilderness, and yet have put me to the test these ten times
and have not obeyed my voice, shall see the land that I swore to give to their
fathers. And none of those who despised me shall see it.
95:10,11 For forty years I loathed that
generation and said, "They are a people who go astray in their heart, and
they have not known my ways."
Therefore I swore in my wrath, "They shall not enter my rest."
Jeremiah 5:29 Shall I not punish them for these things?
declares the LORD, and shall I not avenge myself on a nation such as this?"
Jeremiah 6:19 Hear, O earth; behold, I am bringing disaster
upon this people…
7:15 And I will cast you out of my
sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.
Jeremiah 7:20 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: behold, my
anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon
the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be
Jeremiah 7:29 "… the LORD has rejected and forsaken
the generation of his wrath.'
Jeremiah 9:15,16 Therefore thus says the LORD of hosts, the
God of Israel: Behold, I will feed this people with bitter food, and give them
poisonous water to drink. I will scatter them among the nations whom neither
they nor their fathers have known, and I will send the sword after them, until
I have consumed them."
many more texts like these examples from Jeremiah. One could collect a large
number of both kinds. The severity of judgment does not wipe out the promise, “I will not destroy you completely”
(Jeremiah 5:18). Many texts teach that there is a remnant, and no prophet does
this more than Isaiah. That is the case here in Isaiah 46:3. A new
definition of Israel
emerges. Israel in unbelief
is destroyed, so that we may consider them not Israel at all. (See Romans 9:6.) In
contrast, the remnant survives because the Lord has graciously intervened to
save and preserve them. This remnant is called the House of
in 48:1, the House of Israel is spoken of as a group of hypocrites. The remnant
is the Israel God preserved through the ordeal of the Babylonian Captivity and
ever since. It is true that all who believe, including Gentiles, are children
of Abraham (Galatians 3:29). There is more: eventually, the Lord will turn
godlessness away from Jacob. Then, according to Romans 11:26, we will rejoice
that all Israel will be saved. In
Romans 11, there is no doubt in that context that this statement all Israel will be
saved has reference to ethnic Israel.
46:5-7 Some texts focus on the ability of the Lord
vs. the inability of idols to predict or speak. This paragraph raises the
matter of how wrong it is to make a comparison. Contrast is proper; comparison
is wrong. The worshipper of God must recoil when comparisons are made with our
Lord. We reject every suggestion of similarity. The only similarity between the
gods and God is in the spelling. (The name Michael is a rhetorical question,
meaning, “Who is like God?” The answer is No one! In Daniel 12:1, Michael is a
most appropriate name for the archangel.)
is nothing in all creation to which God can be compared. All attempts at a
likeness for the Trinity, such as the analogy of water as ice, liquid, and
steam, result in error. Liquid water and ice are different in nature; the
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are identical in nature. Failure to find a good
analogy is wonderful! It shows He is transcendent, unique, and unlike us. A god
who is like us is a mere reflection of us and is not the real God. In v.7 the
gods cannot move, answer or save; they are a waste of good gold. Failure to
worship the true God will always lead to an absurd replacement for Him.
46:8-11 The many references to idols in the Old
Testament show that devotion to them was a persistent occurrence in Israel.
In this paragraph the Lord now tells how He is to be known. A blind man cannot
see the glittering presence of an idol, but to know the Lord, his handicap is
no hindrance. He too, may follow the commands of these verses. The exhortation
is sharp. They are ordered to remember, fix it in the mind, and take it to
heart. They are called rebels! This opens two subjects: 1) How is God known if not represented by an
image? 2) What is the sin of rebellion
is known by His record – by what He has done. His people must remember their history and His
long, merciful, and gracious dealing with them, the former things. Cultures enthralled with the present and in
disdain of the past are dangerous. This is a key feature in our surrounding
culture. We must reflect on the history of God’s deeds, a theme that often
appears in the worship of the Psalms (78, 105,106). The Lord refers often to
the Exodus as the model of future and greater acts of salvation (10:26; 11:16; Jeremiah
23:7). He is the same Lord. God is known by: His words, deeds, creation and
image. The only true image of Him is the exact likeness that Jesus is of His
Father, yet even that image is not the physical body of Christ but what He is
as a Person (Colossians 1:15; Hebrews 1:3). To fix in mind and remember is a
commandment to all His people in every age. We are commanded to remember what
God has done and to believe Him for what He will do. The command to remember
occurs 15 times in Deuteronomy. Repeatedly it is, “Remember that your were
slaves in Egypt”
(for example: Deuteronomy 24:22).
policy and practice is to make known the end from the beginning. Does any other
religion do such a thing? In Eden,
He told of a Person to come Who would crush the devil (Genesis 3:15). This
announcement was made right at the beginning of the human rebellion! He
promised in Abraham’s day that all peoples would be blessed through Abraham
(Genesis 12:3). In David’s day, He promised a son of David would rule over His
people in a perpetual dynasty (2 Samuel 7:11-16). Though the world is very
wicked, in Isaiah 11:9 He says the entire earth will be full of the knowledge
of the Lord. God says what He will do when there is nothing else that would
make us think it could ever happen.
God’s sovereign decision His people complain about His decision to
rescue by means of Cyrus (45:9-11). God’s people fretted at the wisdom of God’s
providence. Nevertheless, God does not buckle, note: “My purpose will stand, and I
will do all that I please” (v.10; see also 14:24-27). The Jews, not surprisingly, wanted a
restoration of their nation in the likeness of the reign of David and Solomon.
The Lord was not granting them what the glory they craved, namely, independence
from other nations with the visible throne of David restored. Such a desire
will be fulfilled only at the Second Coming in a way beyond imagination (Ephesians
3:20,21). God’s purpose that the Jews should live under Gentile power, prepared
the way for the Diaspora. It also prepared the way for our own time in which
the church exists in the context of governments which know not the Lord. In
every nation, and not limited to the restricted borders of Israel, God
calls for His Name. (See Acts 15:12-18.)
God’s sovereign right God has made His decision and announced it.
He does not back down from it. It is true that Cyrus was a foreigner, a
frightening bird of prey, yet in the authority of God as God, He summoned this
man to do His will. Pilate reminded people of his authority in similar words,
“What I have written, I have written” (John 19:22). Sinful man resists God’s
assertion of sovereignty. If the Lord gave up His sovereignty, He would not be
the God He is, and there is no other. We would like to do what we please, and
that is evil; God does what He pleases, and that is wonderful. He is not in
need of, nor subject to our opinion.
46:12,13 In v.8 His
people were called “rebels”. Here their moral resistance to His will is
mentioned again. Resistance or not, God will do what He will do. He does not
consult with man; He announces to us, and yet He will hear our prayers. In
spite of their sin against Him, He will act in righteousness for their benefit.
The kind of salvation that comes through Cyrus will happen, but Cyrus cannot
liberate from sin. That will take another Deliverer. Chapter 48 will say more
of their sin, and in that chapter Christ as Messiah will speak for the first
time in Isaiah.
Isaiah 47 The Lord anointed Cyrus to subdue nations
and specifically to act for the benefit of captive Israel (45:1-4). To liberate Israel means Babylon itself, the greatest of all the
nations, must be defeated. Chapter 47 describes the humiliation of Babylon, why God used
them against His people, and why He now judges them for their sin, pride, and
47:1-4 Babylon no longer sits in
a throne. God in vengeance has acted against her; she has been deposed and sits
in dust. Her dainty life, pictured as a young woman with a life of ease, is now
the life of a slave. Her elegant life is over. Worse, Babylon is a girl who has been violated
(v.3). Later verses will speak of her massive pride; these speak of her glory
gone, her humiliation at the hand of the Lord. This is a great reversal; the
captor is crushed and the captive runs free (14:1-4).
happens because God is the Redeemer Who assumes Israel’s burden as His. He is the
Lord Almighty with such strength that the might of Babylon is a drop in the bucket (40:15-17).
He is the Holy One of Israel, committed to His covenant; He cannot break His
promise to this most undeserving nation. Isaiah 46:8 and 48:8 speak of Israel
as rebels. This is their ungrateful nature even after their release from Babylon! The Lord is
still committed to them in His covenant.
47:5-10 The next
three paragraphs quote Babylon.
She speaks of herself as the eternal queen that will continue forever (v.7), “I
am, and there is none besides me,” (two times, vv.8,10) and “No one sees me!”
(v.10). This is the kind of speaking that is only proper for God. (See
47:5-7 Babylon sits silent, imprisoned in
darkness, and no longer giving orders. God had used them as His tool to punish
His people, just as He did the Assyrians in chapter 10. It is justice that Jerusalem received severe
judgment from God’s hand after many warnings from prophets like Jeremiah. When
that judgment came, Babylon
was ruthless with the helpless such as the elderly. Babylon did not bother to think about their
actions or their consequences from the hand of the Lord. Now under Cyrus, it is
to be punished for its cruelty.
47:8,9 There are consequences. Babylon was complacent and careless,
confident of its security, but it fell in one day! (Daniel 5; see also
Revelation 18:7,8,10,17,19). It had very large walls to protect it, but here Isaiah
mentions only the failure of its sorceries to help.
47:10,11 In v.10 Babylon speaks of itself in language
appropriate to the Lord. They said, “I am and there is none beside me.” (See
trust included the self-confidence in the fear/disaster they could instill in
others, but disaster came back on them (v.11). They were deluded to think their
city was impregnable. When sudden
disaster came, there was no way to respond and no ransom could be paid. Babylon gave much
attention to astrology in order to know the future (v.13), but had a sudden
downfall with no forewarning.
The Medes and Persians entered into Babylon secretly by
diverting the river. Once they were inside, it was too late; the enemy was quickly
into the palace itself; they captured and killed the king. Babylon fell in one night while it was having
a drunken party. (See Daniel 5).
47:12-15 Idolaters turn to their gods to save them. Babylon’s gods did not.
They turn to soothsayers, astrologers, and those who make incantations, because
they want to secure the future. Those in this religious trade had the
uncertainties of the human heart for their market, yet when the crisis came
they gave no advance warning or help. In time of trouble, the experts on the
future forsook their clients and ran off to save themselves. All the time,
effort, and money Babylon’s
citizens had devoted brought weariness but no benefit. The real Savior reminded
the ones they trusted could neither save from nor tell of what was coming. In
great contrast, the real God told all this in the days of Isaiah more than 150
years before it happened. And the real God did save His people from the power
Isaiah 48 is a very grim chapter.
After the command to “comfort my
people” (40:1), Isaiah spoke often of Israel’s sin. In 40:27 they
complain that the Lord does not know their trouble – a false and sinful thing
to think. They refused to obey (42:24), were spiritually blind and deaf (43:8),
and burdened the Lord with their sins (43:24). When they learned the merciful
provision of the Lord to deliver them from Babylon through the Gentile conqueror Cyrus,
they again complained (45:9) and questioned God (45:11). The Lord called them
rebels (46:8). Though the Lord answered their rebellion by proclaiming His
sovereign right to decide how He would save from Babylon (46:9-11), they had no change of
heart. He says they were stubborn-hearted and far from righteousness (46:12).
In chapter 48 the sinfulness of Israel
receives even more attention. (One of the worst things the New Testament can
say of the people of Israel
is that they were just like their fathers (Acts 7:51-53; 1 Thessalonians
2:14-16). Since they were so incorrigible, why would God delay His wrath? Why
did He not just cut them down (v.9)? Isaiah 48 tells why. The glory of God was
on the line. He would glorify Himself by showing Himself as the Savior of
terrible sinners. It also has the beginning of God’s ultimate answer to their
sin. Here for the first time in Isaiah, the Lord Jesus Christ speaks
(vv.16,17). Often the Bible takes the approach of this chapter: to understand
salvation, one must first face up to sin. And so the grim chapter, ending with
no peace for the wicked, also turns our attention to Christ.
This paragraph is a blunt accusation of hypocrisy. They are called by
the name of Israel,
and they take oaths in the name of the Lord, but their profession is false. If
they believe their own propaganda, they only fool themselves not God. They are
citizens of the holy city in name but not heart; they rely on the God of Israel
in pretence, not reality.
Yet for all their inconsistency God still speaks of Himself
as ‘the God of Israel’, showing He has not disowned them. Here is the patience
of God. He is also ‘the Lord Almighty’, indicating His ability to change this
Lord shows why He accused them of gross insincerity. He had shown them through
Isaiah a number of former things well established in the record of Isaiah: the
announcement of Cyrus, the fall of Babylon,
and the return from captivity. These things written in the time of Isaiah were
foretold “long ago” (vv.3,5). The words were written by Isaiah, yet God says it
was He who announced and made them known.
Part of God’s strategy in this case was to predict long in
advance, but in fulfillment to act very suddenly. No one but God saw or said
would fall. There were no prior indications of Babylon’s danger. No one had time to make a
prediction in the name of an idol. Unlike the siege of other cities, the fall
of Babylon was
not obvious; it came as a shock. This is why God acted suddenly. If someone had
had the opportunity to give credit to an idol, that is what would have
happened. This shows how obstinate they were in their unbelief. It also shows
how amazing it is that God would still claim Israel as His. The Lord presses His
point; they are challenged to admit that what He says here is true. He called
on them to hear and see; the predictions had been in their possession longer
than that generation lived. They were a people who when they saw, could not
perceive (6:9,10). Sin does more than corrupt conduct; it destroys the mind
(Colossians 1:21; 2 Timothy 3:8).
A major change of perspective occurs at this point. Previously the
declaration of a former thing might be a reference to the Exodus (43:16-18),
and the future matter would be concerning Cyrus (41:23-25 & 43:14). By
chapter 48, Isaiah has progressed beyond that. In vv. 3-6 God called on them to
admit that certain predicted things had already been fulfilled. They could see
the word had been carried out. Now the Lord is about to announce things still
new, things still hidden from them and unknown to them. Some predictions had
been in existence for many years. Some are about to be created fresh, a
revelation never given to anyone before. God is about to reveal the unknowable,
things known only to Him. The Spirit of the Lord was upon the prophet to open
up new mysteries, God’s secret wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:6-14). The attention
will change from redemption out of Babylon
to redemption from sin. Cyrus was God’s anointed for the lesser salvation; none
other than the Lord God Himself in human flesh will be the Redeemer from our
48:8-11 The great
mystery of grace There is no
saving grace unless it is in the context of sin. That sin results in judgment
is a clear connection in Scripture. This paragraph speaks of God’s amazing
restraint in judgment against His people. Vv.1-6 make clear that their claim of
being His people is a false claim on their part, but God’s seriousness about
that covenant with Israel
was a genuine commitment on His part.
In v.7 they claimed to have understanding. In v.8 God says
they have never been a people with open ears. (Note the contrast: in 50:4,5
Christ’s ears are open to the Word of God.) The rebellion of Israel is not
recent; it had always been that way. After receiving the Ten Commandments, they
worshiped the Golden Calf. Before he died, Joshua pleaded with them to put away
their foreign gods (Joshua 24); the Book of Judges shows they did not. There is
no time in the Old Testament in which Israel was proven to be faithful.
They were rebels from birth, and God knew this. Why would He choose them? Why
did He endure them? The answer is given in v.9. God’s reasons were only in God
Himself. He deliberately chose a covenant-breaking people He would have to
transform in order to make the covenant formula true, “I will be your God, and
you will be my people.”
The continued existence of Israel has two profound
aspects. 1) God, for His own glory
restrained His wrath (v.9). 2) God acted
to remove the sin that deserves His wrath, a subject Isaiah will develop later.
God cannot suspend His justice; He can restrain wrath only if that justice will
be satisfied. The only reason God can restrain wrath is the sacrifice of
Christ. Soon Isaiah will reveal that Christ will be abhorred in 49:7; He will
offer His back to those who beat Him in 50:6, and He will be pierced for their
transgressions in 53:5. God restrained wrath on people He was determined to
save, because He did not hold back justice on their Savior for their sin! The basis of sin forgiven is only the
sacrifice of Christ.
The motive God has
in saving sinners goes far beyond our danger and need. The reason He lavished
the riches of His grace on undeserving rebels (v.8) is that we might be to the
praise of His glory (Ephesians 1:3-14). Isaiah 48 does not refer to any element
in the sinner to explain why God did not kill them immediately. Three times God
refers to Himself (i.e., His sake) as the full reason. Israel thought
they understood (v.7) what are really the unsearchable depths of the wisdom and
knowledge of God (Romans 11:33-36). God never found a favorable response in Israel that
would sway Him to preserve them. Instead, He found reasons in Himself to save
them. All needed response to the Lord, such as faith and repentance, are gifts
to His people (Philippians 1:29; Acts 5:31). This shows up also in the
covenant-keeping response prompted by the Spirit in the new covenant. God said
He would pour His Spirit on the House of Israel (Ezekiel 39:29) and so cause
them to be careful to keep His laws (Ezekiel 36:26). The faithful Lord produces
faithfulness in His own (Galatians 5:22,23).
The next paragraphs all open with “listen” vv.12,14,16. In v.1 the
wayward house of Jacob called themselves by the name ‘Israel’, but it was a farce. Now
God calls them by the name ‘Israel’
with the result that His call will produce the result. (For God’s call see
Romans 8:28-30; 1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Timothy 1:8-10). God’s call is a summons, as
in John 6:44. When He summons the stars and the heavens, they all stand at
attention to do His will. With that same power He has called Israel to be
His. No power on earth can stop Him (Romans 8:38,39). God does not make a fool
of Himself by taking on a project in which He will fail, so all Israel
will be saved (Romans 11:26; Isaiah 59:20,21). He says, “I am first” – no one
made Him commit to Israel;
it was His loving initiative. He says, “I am last” – looking to His finished
accomplishments when all His own will be His people and He will be their God,
(Revelation 21:3). Neither Babylon nor Israel’s sin
can defeat Him.
This final statement of the Lord using Cyrus repeats that he was called (41:2,4) to his task. When he
the stated will of the Lord was fulfilled in the observation of those reading
Isaiah. This demonstrated that the one God called to do this did it. So it will
be with Israel;
God’s call is irrevocable (Romans 11:29).
Cyrus was God’s chosen ally. This meant another dominant
Gentile power would overshadow their lives and subordinate the Jewish nation.
They must accept that this is what God had decided. This was God’s mighty arm
(Later in 53:1, the Arm of the Lord
to rescue will be Christ.) Israel
had trouble submitting to God’s wisdom in raising up Cyrus, and they would
eventually reject Christ. Cyrus did not fit their national aspirations – one
still evident when the disciples said, “Lord, are you at this time going to
restore the kingdom to Israel?"
(Acts 1:6). They would have accepted Jesus as king if only He would do their
will (John 6:14,15).
By now it should be clear that there is a greater need (salvation from
sin) and a greater Deliverer needed for it, One Who is the Servant of the Lord
to save Israel.
Isaiah says again that they should listen. Then another Person speaks in v.16.
He was present for the first announcement and present for the fulfillment; in
fact, He is the fulfillment. This Person is sent by the Sovereign Lord, and
endowed with the Spirit just as in 61:1. (See also 11:2 & 42:1). The One so sent is
the Lord Jesus Who came from the Father (John 1:14). The Holy Spirit descended
upon Him (Luke 3:22). Wicked Cyrus was never filled with the Holy Spirit, nor was
Cyrus an answer to sin. Isaiah introduced Christ the Messianic Redeemer as the
Deliverer from the greater danger.
We have all three Persons
of the Holy Trinity in 48:16: the Sovereign Lord (the Father) sent me (Christ)
with His Spirit. Likewise all three Persons appear in 61:1. )
Sin remains a persistent theme. Israel paid no attention to God’s
commands and lost peace. In a very dry climate, a river may flow all the time,
but streams flow only when there is rain. Obedience results in perpetual peace
like a river. Israel
lost peace; under God’s chastening her descendants were not like the sand of
the seashore (Genesis 22:17). If they had righteousness, they would never be
destroyed. In the gospel of Christ, God gives full perfect righteousness as a
gift to faith (Romans 5:1,17), plus righteousness in conduct as a work of the
Spirit (Romans 8:1-4).
needed to flee from Babylon
and thereby learn where their redemption came from. Sadly, they are still in
their sin, with no peace for the wicked. With that sobering review of sin the
Cyrus page is turned. The need of a Savior is made clear in somber words – no peace. However, the very next words
(49:1) will be from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ. Israelites may call
and yet not be saved. They can even flee Babylon
and not be saved. One can be baptized and in covenant with the Lord and never
be a true covenant keeper. Another Person must enter Israel;
He will be called Israel,
because He is the only one worthy of the name. He alone has kept covenant and
will be a covenant for us! (49:8). He will be born in the line of David, in
of Bethlehem. The Lord
has called Him to this great task of making something of sinful Israel. To
accomplish this, the Father the Lord Jesus to His great task as Savior, as
chapter 49 will elaborate. All who are joined to this Israel (Christ) become true Israel. In this
great salvation God will be glorified (48:9-11).
in my notes on Isaiah 2-4 Appendix A: The Impact
of Remnant Doctrine on Current Controversies