Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast.
There follows now a trilogy of prophecies referring to Babylon. After the prophet has shown what Israel has to expect of Cyrus, he turns to what awaits Babylon at the hands of Cyrus. "Bel sinketh down, Nebo stoopeth; its images come to the beast of burden and draught cattle: your litters are laden, a burden for the panting. They stopped, sank down all at once, and could not get rid of the burden; and their own self went into captivity." The reference to Babylon comes out at once in the names of the gods. Bēl was the Jupiter of the Babylonians and, as Bel-Merodach, the tutelar deity of Babylon; Nebo was Mercury, the tutelar deity of the later Chaldean royal family, as the many kings' names in which it appears clearly show (e.g., Mabonassar, Nabo-polassar, etc.). The pryamidal heap of ruins on the right bank of the Euphrates, which is now called Birs Nimrud, is the ruin of the temple of Bel, of which Herodotus gives a description in i.-181-183, and probably also of the tower mentioned in Genesis 11, which was dedicated to Bel, if not to El equals Saturn. Herodotus describes two golden statues of Bel which were found there (cf., Diodorus, ii. 9, 5), but the way in which Nebo was represented is still unknown. The judgment of Jehovah falls upon these gods through Cyrus. Bel suddenly falls headlong, and Nebo stoops till he also falls. Their images come to (fall to the lot of) the chayyâh, i.e., the camels, dromedaries, and elephants; and behēmâh, i.e., horses, oxen, and asses. Your נשׂאת, gestamina, the prophet exclaims to the Babylonians, i.e., the images hitherto carried by you in solemn procession (Isaiah 45:20; Amos 5:26; Jeremiah 10:5), are now packed up, a burden for that which is wearied out, i.e., for cattle that has become weary with carrying them. In Isaiah 46:1, as the two participial clauses show, the prophet still takes his stand in the midst of the catastrophe; but in Isaiah 46:2 it undoubtedly lies behind him as a completed act. In Isaiah 46:2 he continues, as in Isaiah 46:1, to enter into the delusion of the heathen, and distinguish between the numina and simulacra. The gods of Babylon have all stooped at once, have sunken down, and have been unable to save their images which were packed upon the cattle, out of the hands of the conquerors. In Isaiah 46:2 he destroys this delusion: they are going into captivity (Hosea 10:5; Jeremiah 48:7; Jeremiah 49:3), even "their ownself" (naphshâm), since the self or personality of the beingless beings consists of nothing more than the wood and metal of which their images are composed.
They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.
Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb:
From this approaching reduction of the gods of Babylon to their original nothingness, several admonitions are now derived. The first admonition is addressed to all Israel. "Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel: ye, lifted up from the womb; ye, carried from the mother's lap! And till old age it is I, and to grey hair I shall bear you on my shoulder: I have done it, and I shall carry; and I put upon my shoulder, and deliver. To whom can ye compare me, and liken, and place side by side, that we should be equal?" The house of Jacob is Judah here, as in Obadiah 1:18 (see Caspari on the passage), Nahum 2:3, and the house of Israel the same as the house of Joseph in Obadiah; whereas in Amos 3:13; Amos 6:8; Amos 7:2, Jacob stands for Israel, in distinction from Judah. The Assyrian exile was earlier than the Babylonian, and had already naturalized the greater part of the exiles in a heathen land, and robbed them of their natural character, so that there was only a remnant left by whom there was any hope that the prophet's message would be received. What the exiles of both houses were to hear was the question in Isaiah 46:5, which called upon them to consider the incomparable nature of their God, as deduced from what Jehovah could say of Himself in relation to all Israel, and what He does say from העמסים onwards. Babylon carried its idols, but all in vain: they were carried forth, without being able to save themselves; but Jehovah carried His people, and saved them. The expressions, "from the womb, and from the mother's lap," point back to the time when the nation which had been in process of formation from the time of Abraham onwards came out of Egypt, and was born, as it were, into the light of the world. From this time forward it had lain upon Jehovah like a willingly adopted burden, and He had carried it as a nurse carries a suckling (Numbers 11:12), and an eagle its young (Deuteronomy 32:11). In Isaiah 46:4 the attributes of the people are carried on in direct (not relative) self-assertions on the part of Jehovah. The senectus and canities are obviously those of the people - not, however, as though it was already in a state of dotage (as Hitzig maintains, appealing erroneously to Isaiah 47:6), but as denoting the future and latest periods of its history. Even till then Jehovah is He, i.e., the Absolute, and always the same (see Isaiah 41:4). As He has acted in the past, so will He act at all times - supporting and saving His people. Hence He could properly ask, Whom could you place by the side of me, so that we should be equal? (Vav consec. as in Isaiah 40:25).
And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.
To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship.
The negative answer to this question is the direct result of what precedes, but a still further proof is given in Isaiah 46:6, Isaiah 46:7. "They who pour gold out of the bag, and weigh silver with the balance, hire a goldsmith to make it into a god, that they may fall down, yea, throw themselves down. They lift it up, carry it away upon their shoulder, and set it down in its place: there it stands; from its place it does not move: men also cry to it, but it does not answer; it saves no one out of distress." There is no necessity for assuming that הזּלים is used in the place of the finite verb, as Hitzig imagines, or as equivalent to זלים הם, as Rosenmller and Gesenius suppose; but up to ישׂכּרוּ the whole is subject, and therefore ישׁקלוּ is the point at which the change into the finite verb occurs (Ges. 131, 2). The point in hazzâlı̄m is not the extravagant expenditure, as Ewald thinks, but the mean origin of the god, which commences with the pouring out of gold from a purse (zūl equals zâlal, to shake, to pour out). Qâneh is the lever of the scales (κανών). The metal weighed out is given to a goldsmith, who plates the idol with the gold, and makes the ornaments for it of silver. When it is finished, they lift it up, or shoulder it (ישּׂאהוּ with a distinctive Great Telisha), carry it home, and set it down in the place which it is to have under it (תּחתּיו). There it stands firm, immoveable, and also deaf and dumb, hearing no one, answering no one, and helping no one. The subject to יצעק is any צעק. The first admonition closes here. The gods who are carried fall without being able to save themselves, whereas Israel's God carries and saves His people; He, the Incomparable, more especially in contrast with the lifeless puppets of idols.
They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.
Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
The second admonition is addressed to those who would imitate the heathen. "Remember this, and become firm, take it to heart, ye rebellious ones! Remember the beginning from the olden time, that I am God, and none else: Deity, and absolutely none like me: proclaiming the issue from the beginning, and from ancient times what has not yet taken place, saying, My counsel shall stand, and all my good pleasure I carry out: calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a distant land: not only have I spoken, I also bring it; I have purposed it, I also execute it." The object to which "this" points back is the nothingness of idols and idolatry. The persons addressed are the פושׁעים (those apostatizing), but, as התאשׁשׁוּ shows, whether it mean ἀνδιρίζεσθε or κραταιοῦσθε (1 Corinthians 16:13), such as have not yet actually carried out their rebellion or apostasy, but waver between Jehovahism and heathenism, and are inclined to the latter. התאשׁשׁו is hardly a denom. hithpalel of אישׁ in the sense of "man yourselves," since אישׁ, whether it signifies a husband or a social being, or like אנושׁ, a frail or mortal being, is at any rate equivalent to אנשׁ, and therefore never shows the modification u. אשׁשׁ (אשׁה) signifies to be firm, strong, compact; in the piel (rabb.), to be well-grounded; nithpael, to be fortified, established; here hithpoel, "show yourselves firm" (Targ., Jer.: fundamini ne rursum subitus idololatriae vos turbo subvertat). That they may strengthen themselves in faith and fidelity, they are referred to the history of their nation; ראשׁנות are not prophecies given at an earlier time - a meaning which the priora only acquire in such a connection as Isaiah 43:9 - but former occurrences. They are to pass before their minds the earlier history, and indeed "from the olden time." "Remember:" zikhrū is connected with the accusative of the object of remembrance, and כּי points to its result. An earnest and thoughtful study of history would show them that Jehovah alone was El, the absolutely Mighty One, and 'Elōhı̄m, the Being who united in Himself all divine majesty by which reverence was evoked. The participles in Isaiah 46:10, Isaiah 46:11 are attached to the "I" of כּמוני. It is Jehovah, the Incomparable, who has now, as at other times from the very commencement of the new turn in history, predicted the issue of which it would lead, and miqqedem, i.e., long before, predicted things that have not yet occurred, and which therefore lit outside the sphere of human combination - another passage like Isaiah 41:26; Isaiah 45:21, etc., in which what is predicted in these prophecies lays claim to the character of a prediction of long standing, and not of one merely uttered a few years before. The ראשׁית, in which the ראשׁנות are already in progress (Isaiah 42:9), is to be regarded as the prophet's ideal present; for Jehovah not only foretells before the appearance of Cyrus what is to be expected of him, but declares that His determination must be realized, that He will bring to pass everything upon which His will is set, and summons the man upon the stage of history as the instrument of its accomplishment, so that He knew Cyrus before he himself had either consciousness or being (Isaiah 45:4-5). The east is Persis (Isaiah 41:2); and the distant land, the northern part of Media (as in Isaiah 13:5). Cyrus is called an eagle, or, strictly speaking, a bird of prey (‛ayit),
(Note: The resemblance to ἀετός (αἰετός) is merely accidental. This name for the eagle is traceable, like avid, to a root vâ, to move with the swiftness of the wind. This was shown by Passow, compare Kuhn's Zeitschrift, i. 29, where we also find at 10, 126 another but less probable derivation from a root i, to go (compare eva, a course).)
just as in Jeremiah 49:22 and Ezekiel 17:3 Nebuchadnezzar is called a nesher. According to Cyrop. vii. 1, 4, the campaign of Cyrus was ἀετὸς χρυσοῦς ἐπὶ δόρατος μακροῦ ἀνατεταμένος. Instead of עצתו אישׁ, the keri reads more clearly, though quite unnecessarily, (עצתי אישׁ (see e.g., Isaiah 44:26). The correlate אף (Isaiah 46:11), which is only attached to the second verb the second time, affirms that Jehovah does not only the one, but the other also. His word is made by Him into a deed, His idea into a reality. יצר is a word used particularly by Isaiah, to denote the ideal preformation of the future in the mind of God (cf., Isaiah 22:11; Isaiah 37:26). The feminine suffixes refer in a neuter sense to the theme of the prophecy - the overthrow of idolatrous Babel, upon which Cyrus comes down like an eagle, in the strength of Jehovah. So far we have the nota bene for those who are inclined to apostasy. They are to lay to heart the nothingness of the heathen gods, and, on the other hand, the self-manifestation of Jehovah from the olden time, that is to say, of the One God who is now foretelling and carrying out the destruction of the imperial city through the eagle from the east.
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness:
A third admonition is addressed to the forts esprits in Isaiah 46:12, Isaiah 46:13. "Hearken to me, ye strong-hearted, that are far from righteousness! I have brought my righteousness near; it is not far off, and my salvation tarrieth not: and I give salvation in Zion, my glory to Israel." All that is called in Hellenic and Hellenistic νοῦς λόγος συνείδησις θυμός, is comprehended in καρδία; and everything by which bâsâr and nephesh are affected comes into the light of consciousness in the heart (Psychol. p. 251). According to this biblico-psychological idea, לב אבּיתי may signify either the courageous (Psalm 76:6), or, as in this instance, the strong-minded; but as a synonym of לב סהזקי (Ezekiel 2:4) and לב קשׁי (Ezekiel 3:7), viz., in the sense of those who resist the impressions of the work and grace of God in their consciousness of mental superiority to anything of the kind, and not in the sense of those who have great mental endowments. These are "far from righteousness" (tsedâqâh), that is to say, they have despaired of the true, loving fidelity of Jehovah, and have no wish for any further knowledge of it. Therefore they shall hear, and possibly not without impression, that this loving fidelity is about to manifest itself, and salvation is about to be realized. Jehovah has given salvation in Zion, that is to say, is giving it even now, so that it will become once more the centre of the renovated nation, and impart its glory to this, so that it may shine in the splendour bestowed upon it by its God. We have here the side of light and love, turned towards us by the two-faced tsedâqâh, as a parallel word to theshū‛âh, or salvation. With this admonition to the indifferent and careless, to whom the salvation of which they have given up all hope is proclaimed as at the door, this prophecy is brought to a close. In three distinct stages, commencing with "hearken," "remember," "hearken," it has unfolded the spiritual influences which the fact declared in Isaiah 46:1, Isaiah 46:2 ought to have upon Israel, and resembles a pastoral sermon in its tone.
I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.