Isaiah 46
Barnes' Notes
This chapter is a continuation of the argument before commenced to show the folly of idolatry, and to induce the captive and exile Jews to put their trust in Yahweh. The argument consists of the following particulars:

I. The idols of Babylon should be overthrown Isaiah 46:1-2. The prophet sees those idols removed from their places, laid on beasts of burden and borne away. They were unable to deliver their city from the arm of the conqueror, but were themselves carried into captivity. The exiles, therefore, had the certain prospect of deliverance.

II. God appeals to the fact, that be had always protected the Jewish people; that he had dealt with them as a parent in the infancy and youth of their nation, and be solemnly assures them that be would not leave them in their old age and their trials Isaiah 46:3-4.

III. He shows them the folly of idolatry, and the vanity of idols Isaiah 46:5-7. They could not aid or defend in the day of trial; and, therefore, the people should put their trust in the true God.

IV. He appeals to them by the recollection of former events, and reminds them of his merciful interposition Isaiah 46:8-9.

V. He appeals to them by the fact that he had prcdicted future events, and especially by the fact that he had raised up a distinguished conqueror - Cyrus - who would accomplish all his pleasure Isaiah 46:10-11.

VI. He assures them that his righteous purpose was near to be accomplished, and that he would restore Zion to its former splendor, and that his salvation should be made known to his people Isaiah 46:12-13.

The scene of this prophecy is laid in Babylon, and at the time when the city was about to be taken by Cyrus, and the Jews about to be delivered from captivity. The idols of the Chaldeans, unable to defend their city, are borne in haste away for safety, and Cyrus is at the gates. The design is to give to the exiles there an assurance that when they should see these things, they should conclude that their deliverance drew near; and to furnish them thus with ample demonstration that Yahweh was the true God, and that he was their protector and friend In their long and painful captivity also, they would have these promises to comfort them; and when they surveyed the splendor of the idol worship in Babylon, and their hearts were pained with the prevalent idolatry, they would have also the assurance that those idols were to be removed, and that that idolatry would come to an end.

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.
Bel boweth down - Bel or Belus (בל bēl, from בעל be‛ēl, the same as בעל ba‛al was the chief domestic god of the Babylonians, and was worshipped in the celebrated tower of Babylon (compare Jeremiah 50:2; Jeremiah 51:44). It was usual to compound names of the titles of the divinities that were worshipped, and hence, we often meet with this name, as in Bel-shazzar, Bel-teshazzar, Baal-Peor, Baal-zebub, Baal-Gad, Baal-Berith. The Greek and Roman writers compare Bel with Jupiter, and the common name which they give to this idol is Jupiter Belus (Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxvii. 10; Cic. De Nat. Deor. iii. 16; Diod. ii. 8, 9). Herodotus (i.-181-183) says, that in the center of each division of the city of Babylon (for the Euphrates divided the city into two parts) there is a circular space surrounded by a wall. In one of these stands the royal palace, which fills a large and strongly defended space.

The temple of Jupiter Belus, says he, occupies the other, whose huge gates of brass may still be seen. It is a square building, each side of which is of the length of two furlongs. In the midst, a tower rises of the solid depth and height of one furlong; on which, resting as a base, seven other turrets are built in regular succession. The ascent on the outside, winding from the ground, is continued to the highest tower; and in the middle of the whole structure there is a convenient resting place. In this temple there is a small chapel, which contains a figure of Jupiter in a sitting posture, with a large table before him; these, with the base of the table, and the sear of the throne, are all of the purest gold. There was formerly in this temple a statue of solid gold, twelve cubits high. This was seized, says Herodotus, by Xerxes, who put the priest to death who endeavored to prevent its removal.

The upper room of this tower was occupied as an observatory. The idol Baal, or Bel, was especially the god of the Phenicians, of the Canaanites, of the Chaldeans, of the Moabites, and of some of the surrounding nations. The most common opinion has been, that the idol was the sun (see the notes at Isaiah 17:8-9), and that, under this name, this luminary received divine honors. But Gesenius supposes that by the name Jupiter Belus was not denoted Jupiter, 'the father of the gods,' but the planet Jupiter, Stella Jovis, which was regarded, together with Venus, as the giver of all good fortune; and which forms with Venus the most fortunate of all constellations under which sovereigns can be born. The planet Jupiter, therefore, he supposes to have been worshipped under the name Bel, and the planet Venus under the name of Astarte, or Astareth (see Gesenius, Commentary zu Isaiah, ii. 333ff, and Robinson's Calmet, Art. Baal). The phrase 'boweth down,' means here, probably, that the idol sunk down, fell, or was removed. It was unable to defend the city, and was taken captive, and carried away. Jerome renders Confractus est Bel - 'Bel is broken.' The Septuagint, Ἔπεσε Βὴλ Epese Bēl - 'Bel has fallen.' Perhaps in the language there is allusion to the fact that Dagon fell before the ark of God 1 Samuel 5:2-3, 1 Samuel 5:7. The sense is, that even the object of worship - that which was regarded as the most sacred among the Chaldeans - would be removed.

Nebo stoopeth - This was an idol-god of the Chaldeans. In the astrological mythology of the Babylonians, according to Gesenius (Commentary zu Isaiah ii. 333ff), this idol was the planet Mercury. He is regarded as the scribe of the heavens, who records the succession of the celestial and terrestrial events; and is related to the Egyptian Hermes and Anubis. The extensive worship of this idol among the Chaldeans and Assyrians is evident from the many compound proper names occurring in the Scriptures, of which this word forms a part, as Neb-uchadnezzar, Neb-uzaradan: and also in the classics, as Nab-onad, Nab-onassar. Nebo was, therefore, regarded as an attendant on Bel, or as his scribe. The exact form of the idol is, however, unknown. The word 'stoopeth,' means that it had fallen down, as when one is struck dead he falls suddenly to the earth; and the language denotes conquest, where even the idols so long worshipped would be thrown down. The scene is in Babylon, and the image in the mind of the prophet is that of the city taken, and the idols that were worshipped thrown down by the conqueror, and carried away in triumph.

Their idols were upon the beasts - That is, they are laid upon the beasts to be borne away in triumph. It was customary for conquerors to carry away all that was splendid and valuable, to grace their triumph on their return; and nothing would be a more certain indication of victory, or a more splendid accompaniment to a triumph, than the gods whom the vanquished nations had adored. Thus in Jeremiah 48:7, it is said, 'And Chemosh shall go forth into captivity, with his priests and his princes together' (compare Jeremiah 44:3, margin.)

Your carriages - That is, they were laden with the idols that were thus borne off in triumph.

They are a burden - They are so numerous; so heavy; and to be borne so far. This is a very striking and impressive manner of foretelling that the city of Babylon would be destroyed. Instead of employing the direct language of prophecy, the prophet represents himself as seeing the heavy laden animals and wagons moving along slowly, pressed down under the weight of the captured gods to be borne into the distant country of the conqueror. They move forth from Babylon, and the caravan laden with the idols, the spoils of victory, is seen slowly moving forward to a distant land.

They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.
They stoop - Bel, and Nebo, and all the Babylonian gods (see Isaiah 46:1).

They could not deliver the burden - The word 'burden' here, probably means the load of metal, wood, and stone, of which the idols were composed. The gods whom the Babylonians worshipped had not even power to protect the images which were made to represent them, and which had now become a heavy burden to the animals and wains which were carrying them away. They could not rescue them from the hands of the conqueror; and how unable were they, therefore, to defend those who put their trust in them. The Vulgate renders this, 'They could not deliver him that bare them.' The Septuagint, 'You are carrying them like a burden bound on the weary, faint, and hungry; who are all without strength, and unable to escape from battle; and as for them, they are carried away captives!'

But themselves - Margin, as Hebrew, 'Their soul.' The sense is, that the gods thus worshipped, so far from being able to defend those who worshipped them, had themselves become captive, and were borne to a distant land.

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:
Hearken unto me - From this view of the captive gods, the address is now turned to the Jews. The utter vanity of the idols had been set before them; and in view of that, God now addresses his own people, and entreats them to put their trust in him. The address he commences with words of great tenderness and endearment, designed to lead them to confide in him as their Father and friend.

And all the remnant - All who were left from slaughter, and all who were borne into captivity to Babylon. The language here is all full of tenderness, and is suited to inspire them with confidence in God. The idols of the pagan, so far from being able to protect their worshippers, were themselves carried away into ignoble bondage, but Yahweh was himself able to carry his people, and to sustain them.

Which are borne by me - Like an indulgent father, or a tender nurse, he had carried them from the very infancy of their nation. The same image occurs in Deuteronomy 1:31 : 'And in the wilderness, where thou hast seen how that the Lord thy God bare thee, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that ye went, until ye came into thins place.' A similar figure occurs in Exodus 19:4 : 'Ye have seen, how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself' (so Deuteronomy 32:11-12; compare Numbers 11:12; Isaiah 63:9). All this here stands opposed to the idols of the Babylonians. They were unable to protect their people. They were themselves made captive. But God had shown the part of a father and a protector to his people in all times. He had sustained and guided them; he had never forsaken them; he had never, like the idol-gods, been compelled to leave them in the power of their enemies. From the fact that he had always, even from the infancy of their nation, thus protected them, they are called on to put their trust in him.

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.
And even to your old age, I am he - Or rather, I am the same. I remain, unchangeably, with the same tenderness, the same affection, the same care. In this the care of God for his people surpasses that of the most tender parent, and the most kind nourisher of the young. The care of the parent naturally dies away as the child reaches manhood, and he is usually removed by death before the son or daughter that excited so much solicitude in infancy and childhood, reaches old age. But not so with God. His people are always the objects of his tender solicitude. Age does not make them less dependent, and experience only teaches them more and more their need of his sustaining grace. The argument here is, that he who had watched over the infancy of his people with so much solicitude, would not leave them in the exposures, and infirmities, and trials of the advanced years of their history. The doctrine is, first, that his people always need his protection and care; secondly, that he will never leave nor forsake them; thirdly, that he who is the God of infancy and childhood will be the God of age, and that he will not leave or forsake his people, who have been the objects of his care and affection in childhood, when they become old. For though this passage refers primarily to a people, or a community as such, yet I see no reason why the principle should not be regarded as applicable to those who are literally aged. They need the care of God no less than childhood does; and if they have walked in his ways in the vigor and strength of their life, he will not cast them off 'when they are old and gray-headed.' Hoary hairs, therefore, if 'found in the way of righteousness.' may trust in God; and the 'second childhood' of man may find him no less certainly a protector than the first.

To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
To whom will ye liken me - (see the notes at Isaiah 40:18, Isaiah 40:25). The design of this and the following verses is to show the folly of idolatry, and the vanity of trusting in idols. This is a subject that the prophet often dwells on. The argument here is derived from the fact that the idols of Babylon were unable to defend the city, and were themselves carried away in triumph Isaiah 46:1-2. If so, how vain was it to rely on them! how foolish to suppose that the living and true God could resemble such weak and defenseless blocks!

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.
They lavish gold - The word used here means properly to shake out; and then to pour out abundantly, or in a lavish manner. It is used in connection with the idea of squandering in Deuteronomy 21:20; Proverbs 23:21; Proverbs 28:7. Here the idea is, that they spared no expense; they poured out gold as if it were vile and worthless, in order to make an idol. The design of this verse is, to show the superstition of those who were idolaters; and, particularly, how much they were willing to devote in order to maintain idol-worship.

Out of the bag - They pour their gold out of the bag, or purse, where they have kept it; that is, they lavish it freely.

And weigh silver in the balance - Perhaps the idea is here, that they used silver so lavishly that they did not wait to count it, but weighed it as they would the grosser metals. The word used here and translated 'balance' (קנה qâneh), means properly "cane, reed, calamus"; then a measuring reed or rod Ezekiel 40:3, Ezekiel 40:5; then a rod, or beam of a balance, or scales (Greek ζυγὸς zugos).

And hire a goldsmith - (See the notes at Isaiah 40:19-20).

And he maketh it a god - The goldsmith manufactures the gold and the silver into an image. The object of the prophet is to deride the custom of offering divine homage to a god formed in this manner (see the notes at Isaiah 44:9-19).

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.
They bear him upon the shoulder - They carry the idol which they have made on their shoulder to the temple, or place where it is to be fixed. This circumstance, with the others, is doubtless introduced to show how ridiculous and absurd it was to offer divine homage to a god whom they could thus carry about on the shoulder.

And set him in his place - Fix the idol on its basis or pedestal, in its proper niche, or place in the temple. The whole design of this verse is to contrast the idol with Yahweh. Yahweh is uncreated and eternal; the idol, on the contrary, is made by human beings, is borne about, is fixed in its place, has no power to move, remains there until it is taken down, and has no ability either to hear or save those who worship it.

Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors.
Remember this - Bear in mind what is now said of the manner in which idols are made. This is addressed, doubtless, to the Jews, and is designed to keep them from idolatry.

And show yourselves men - Act as men; throw away the childish trifles of idolaters. The word used here (התאשׁשׁוּ hithe'oshâshû' occurs nowhere else in the Bible. It is according to Gesenius, derived from אישׁ 'ı̂ysh, "a man," and means to act "as a man." A similar word is used in 1 Corinthians 16:13 (ἀνδρίζεσθε andrizesthe, from ἀνήρ anēr, a man), and is correctly rendered there, 'quit you like men.' This Greek word often occurs in the Septuagint. It is used as a translation of אמץ 'âmats, in Joshua 1:6-7, Joshua 1:9, Joshua 1:18; 1 Chronicles 28:20; 2 Chronicles 32:7; Nehemiah 2:1; of גדל gâdal in Ruth 1:12; of חזק châzaq, in Deuteronomy 31:6-7, Deuteronomy 31:23; Joshua 10:25; 2 Kings 2:12; 2 Kings 12:8; 1 Chronicles 28:20, and in several other places. Jerome renders the Hebrew word here, 'Be confounded;' the Septuagint, Στενάξατε Stenachate) - 'Groan;' the Syriac, 'Consider,' or understand. The meaning is, that they were to act as became people - not as children; as became those endowed with an immortal mind, and not as the brutes. So Kimchi renders it: 'Be men, and not brutes, which neither consider nor understand.'

O ye transgressors - Ye who have violated the laws of God by the worship of idols. In the time of Manasseh, the Israelites were much addicted to idolatry, and probably this is to be regarded as addressed to them, and as designed to recall them from it to the worship of the true God.

Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me,
Remember the former things ... - Bear in mind the repeated and constant proofs that have been given that Yahweh is the true God - the proofs derived from the prediction of future events, and from the frequent interpositions of his providence in your behalf as a nation.

For I am God - (See the notes at Isaiah 44:6).

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:
Declaring the end from the beginning - Foretelling accurately the course of future events. This is an argument to which God often appeals in proof that he is the only true God (see Isaiah 41:22-23; Isaiah 43:12; Isaiah 44:26).

My counsel shall stand - My purpose, my design, my will. The phrase 'shall stand' means that it shall be stable, settled, fixed, established. This proves:

1. That God has a purpose or plan in regard to human affairs. If he had not, he could not predict future events, since a contingent event cannot be foreknown and predicted; that is, it cannot be foretold that an event shall certainly occur in one way, when by the very supposition of its being contingent it may happen either that way, or some other way, or not at all.

2. That God's plan will not be frustrated. He has power enough to secure the execution of his designs, and he will exert that power in order that all his plans may be accomplished. We may observe, also, that it is a matter of unspeakable joy that God has a plan, and that it will be executed. For

(1) If there were no plan in relation to human things, the mind could find no rest. If there was no evidence that One Mind presided over human affairs; that an infinitely wise plan had been formed, and that all things had been adjusted so as best to secure the ultimate accomplishment of that plan, everything would have the appearance of chaos, and the mind must be filled with doubts and distractions. But our anxieties vanish in regard to the apparent irregularities and disorders of the universe, when we feel that all things are under the direction of an Infinite Mind, and will be made to accomplish his plans, and further his great designs.

(2) If his plans were not accomplished, there would be occasion of equal doubt and dismay. If there was any power that could defeat the purposes of God; if there was any stubbornness of matter, or any inflexible perverseness in the nature of mind; if there were any unexpected and unforeseen extraneous causes that could interpose to thwart his plans, then the mind must be full of agitation and distress. But the moment it can fasten on the conviction that God has formed a plan that embraces all things, and that all things which occur will be in some way made tributary to that plan, that moment the mind can be calm in resignation to his holy will.

And I will do all my pleasure - I will accomplish all my wish, or effect all my desire. The word rendered here 'pleasure' (חפץ chepēts) means properly delight or pleasure 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalm 1:2; Psalm 16:3; Ecclesiastes 5:4; Ecclesiastes 12:10; then desire, wish, will Job 31:16; and then business, cause, affairs Isaiah 53:10. Here it means that God would accomplish everything which was to him an object of desire; everything which he wished, or willed. And why should he not? Who has power to hinder or prevent him Romans 9:19? And why should not we rejoice that he will do all that is pleasing to him? What better evidence have we that it is desirable that anything should be done, than that it is agreeable, or pleasing to God? What better security can we have that it is right, than that he wills it? What more substantial and permanent ground of rejoicing is there in regard to anything, than that it is such as God prefers, loves, and wills?

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.
Calling a ravenous bird from the east - There can be no doubt that Cyrus is intended here (see the notes at Isaiah 41:2, Isaiah 41:25). The east here means Persia. The word rendered 'ravenous bird' (עיט ‛ayiṭ) is rendered 'fowl' in Job 28:7; 'bird' or 'birds' in Jeremiah 12:9; 'fowls' in Genesis 15:11; Isaiah 18:6; and 'ravenous birds' in Ezekiel 39:4. It does not occur elsewhere in the Bible. It is used here as an emblem of a warlike king, and the emblem may either denote the rapidity of his movements - moving with the flight of an eagle; or it may denote the devastation which he would spread - an emblem in either sense especially applicable to Cyrus. It is not uncommon in the Bible to compare a warlike prince to an eagle Jeremiah 49:22; Ezekiel 17:3; and the idea here is, probably, that Cyrus would come with great power and velocity upon nations, like the king of birds, and would pounce suddenly and unexpectedly upon his prey. Perhaps also there may be here allusion to the standard or banner of Cyrus. Xenophon (Cyrop. vii.) says that it was a golden eagle affixed to a long spear; and it is well remarked by Lowth, that Xenophon has used the very word which the prophet uses here, as near as could be, expressing it in Greek letters. The word of the prophet is עיט ‛ayiṭ; the Greek word used by Xenophon is ἀετὸς aetos. The Chaldee has, however, given a different rendering to this passage: 'I, who say that I will gather my captivity from the east, and will lead publicly like a swift bird from a distant land the sons of Abraham, my friend.'

The man that executeth my counsel - Margin, as Hebrew, 'Of my counsel.' It may either mean the man whom he had designated by his counsel; or it may mean the man who should execute his purpose.

Yea, I have spoken - He spake it by the prophets; and the idea is, that all that he had spoken should be certainly accomplished.

Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness:
Hearken unto me - This is designed to call the attention of the skeptical and unbelieving Jews to the important truth which he was delivering. Many among them might be disposed to say that the fulfillment was delayed, and he therefore calls upon them to attend particularly to his solemn declarations.

Ye stout-hearted - The phrase 'stout-hearted' would naturally, denote those who were bold and courageous. But here it evidently means those whose hearts were strong against God; who nerved themselves to resist and oppose his plans and government; who were stubborn and rebellious.

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.
I bring near my righteousness - The word 'righteousness' here evidently denotes his truth; the fulfillment of his promises. His righteous and true character would be manifested to them so plainly and clearly that they would be able no longer to doubt. It would not be remote in time, or in place, but it would be so near that they could see it, and so plain that they could no longer doubt or misunderstand it.

And my salvation shall not tarry - The people shall be delivered from their bondage at the exact time which has been predicted.

I will place salvation in Zion - Zion or Jerusalem shall be rebuilt, and salvation shall emanate from that as from a center to the whole world.

Israel my glory - The people whom he had chosen, and who reflected his glory. God's honor and glory on earth are seen in, and by the church, and he designs that the church shall be the means of making his glory known among people. Or it may mean I will give my glory to Israel. I will show to them my perfections, and will make their nation the place of the manifestations of my glorious attributes.

Notes on the Bible by Albert Barnes [1834].
Text Courtesy of Internet Sacred Texts Archive.

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