Bel crouches; Nebo cowers. Their idols weigh down beasts and cattle. The images you carry are burdensome, a load to the weary animal.
I. THE HUMILIATION OF BEL AND NEBO. These were the tutelar gods of Babylon and its suburb, Borsippa. Merodach, or Marduk (Jeremiah 50:2), is another name of a being closely related to or identical with Bel. The idols of the Chaldeans are given up to the beasts, and the images once carried in solemn procession by the priests and nobles are put upon the backs of beasts of burden. Herodotus and Diodorus tell us of the golden statue of the great god at Babylon (the Greeks called him after their own, Zeus), and the great golden table in front of it - a "table of demons" - and the golden altar. The image was said to have been carried away by Xerxes (Herod., 1:183). These gods, then, once held as mighty, tutelar, delivering saviours in one of the greatest cities in the world, have themselves gone into captivity. Themselves they could not save. Had these gods been really Divine, they would surely have rescued their own images. Conceived as persons by the heathen, they are, in the prophet's arguments, convicted of being without any of the proper ability of personality. "It is difficult not to think of the last strange journey of these desecrated images," remarks a commentator (cf. Layard's picture of the 'Procession of the Bull beneath the Mound of Nimrod'). The power of the heathen god depended on the faith, i.e. the imagination, of his worshippers. The overthrow of Babylonian power was a great shock to the heathen imagination. It showed that the power in which they had believed was an illusion and a lie from the Hebrew point of view. And so ever; the powers of this present world and its princes and its illusions are seen passing away before the prevalence of true religion.
II. THE PROVIDENCE OF JEHOVAH OVER HIS PEOPLE. He is what the gods counterfeited - a wise superintending Being, a faithful supporting Being, to his people, alike in war and in peace; the gods of conquered peoples had failed to be this, according to the prophet, and according to ancient thought generally. Jehovah is this. Note the extreme tenderness of the representations of him in this attitude to his folk. Not a timid and trembling captive but may appropriate the truth to his own consolation. He is as the Nurse, they as the little helpless infant (cf. Isaiah 63:9; Deuteronomy 1:31; Exodus 19:4; Psalm 28:9; Hosea 11:3). But the thought of the human parent and nurse reminds us of mortality and of transiency belonging to human conditions. "The devoted watchfulness of the parent dies away when his child has come to maturity; and he is commonly removed by death when his offspring has attained to old age." Not so with Israel and Jehovah. Israel is always the object of the motherly care and affection of God (Isaiah 42:14; Isaiah 49:15; Isaiah 66:9, 13). "Even to old age I am the same" (see Psalm 71:18, where the people speak as one person). "Even to grey hairs I will bear; I have made, and g will carry, and I will bear and will rescue."
III. HIS APPEAL TO THE REASON OF THE PEOPLE. Ever we seem to hear him saying, "Come now, and let us reason together. There are rebellious ones" (ver. 8), yet Jehovah still reasons with them. Once more the piece of manufactured helplessness called an idol is placed before their thought. What can it do for men? They "cry unto it, but it cannot answer, nor save them out of trouble." Is Jehovah to be compared with that thing? And then the positive argument is again brought forward. Jehovah alone has the power of prediction. "From the very beginning of a period of history he can announce the far-off issue, utterly incalculable to human eyes." If, then, now he has announced his purpose, it will stand. If the bird of prey, the eagle Cyrus, has been called from the east, it will be to the certain execution of a mission from Jehovah. To trust in him is to have all difficulties solved, all confidence restored. To believe in Providence; to be assured that the world's history at any moment, at this moment, is not a mere play of passion, caprice, and chance, but that things are working together to an end foreseen; - this is strength, because this is reason. And God would have his people understand what true reason brings to religion; that religion is reason and sense, while idolatry is weakness, folly, and unreason.
IV. THE NEARNESS OF GOD'S SALVATION. This, too, is an emphatic thought (cf. Isaiah 56:1). Righteousness and salvation are but two aspects of the same blessing. Yet men may be "far off." How? It is not space, it is not time, that separates from God. It is in the heart that men are near or far. The power of imagination must not be forgotten. In one sense God is no more near or distant at one time than another, nor to one person than another; that our reason assures us. Yet the evidence of feeling and of imagination is otherwise. They tell us that he may be "near" or "far." It is, then, in ourselves that the cause must be sought. The warm affection, the lively fancy, the open and lowly intelligence, - these bring him near. The obdurate heart - which means the dull intelligence, the sluggish fancy, the state of coldness in the affections - this may place him wide as the poles asunder from man. What is needed in religion, alike in its intellectual and its practical aspects, is simplicity, yielding childlikeness, impressionableness to great and obvious truths. - J.
Numbers 11:12); as a man his son (Deuteronomy 1:31); as an eagle its young (Deuteronomy 32:11). The seneetus and canities in verse 4 are self-evidently the nation's, but not as if this were at present in a senile state, but the yet future and latest days of its history. Up to that moment Jehovah is He, i.e. the Absolute One, and always the same (chap. 41:4). As He has done hitherto, He will act in the future — bearing and saving.
1. This is an incident in the fall of Babylon. Cyrus has broken in, and the mighty city lies open to the Persian army, exasperated by long waiting at her gates. The blood of her nobles has flowed freely over the marble floors of her palaces; most of her defenders are slain. Women and children are cowering in the inmost recesses of their homes, or filling the streets with screams of terror and appeals for help, as they fly from the brutal soldiery. The final and most sanguinary conflicts have taken place within the precincts of the idol temples; but all is still now. The priests have fallen around the altars which they served; their blood mingling with that of their victims, and their splendid vestments are become their winding sheets. And now, down the marble staircases, trodden in happier days by the feet of myriads of votaries, 1o, the soldiers are carrying the helpless idols. The stern monotheism of Persia would have no pity for the many gods of Babylon; there are no idol-shrines in the land of the sun-worshippers where they could find a niche: but they are borne away as trophies of the completeness of the victory. There is Bel, whose name suggested that of the capital itself. How ignominiously it is handed down from its pedestal! And Nebo follows. The hideous images, lavishly inset with jewels and richly caparisoned, are borne down the stately steps, their bearers laughing and jeering as they come. The gods get little respect from their rude hands, which are only eager to despoil them of a jewel. And now, at the foot of the stairs, they are loaded up on the backs of elephants, or pitched into the ox-waggons. In more prosperous days they were carried with excessive pomp through the streets of Babylon, wherever there was plague or sickness. Then the air had been full of the clang of cymbals and trumpets, and the streets thronged with worshipping crowds; but all that is altered. "The things that ye carried about are made a load, a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity" (Isaiah 46:12, R V). So much for the gods of Babylon being borne off into captivity.
Bel boweth down.Ba'al ( = lord), and like that word is a generic name applicable to any deity. When used as a proper name it usually denotes Merodach (Marduk), the tutelary divinity of the city of Babylon (Jeremiah 50:2; Jeremiah 51:44); although there was an older Bel, who is spoken of as his father. The elevation of BelMerodach to the chief place among the older gods, as recorded in the mythical Chaldean account of the Creation (Tablet 4:1 ff.), is the legendary counterpart of the ascendency acquired by Babylon over the more ancient cities of the Euphrates valley. Nebo (Nabu) was the son of Merodach; the chief seat of his worship being Borsippa, in the vicinity of Babylon. His name, which is supposed to be from the same root as the Hebrew nabi', "prophet," seems to mark him out as the "speaker" of the gods (another point of contact with Mercury, "the chief speaker" — Acts 14:12). He was also regarded as the inventor of writing. The frequency with which the Chaldean kings are named after him (Nabo-polassar, Nebu-chadnezzar, Nabo-nidus) has been thought to show that he was the patron deity of the dynasty.
(Prof. J. Skinner, D. D.)
2. Close on this graphic picture of the discomfiture of the gods of Babylon, we are invited to consider a description of Jehovah, in which the opposite to each of these items stands out in clear relief. He speaks to the house of Jacob, and to all the remnant of the house of Israel, as children whom He had borne from the birth, and carried from earliest childhood. Their God needed not to be borne, He bore; needed no carriage, since His everlasting arms made cradle and carriage both. Such am He had been, He would be. He would not change. He would carry them, even to hoar hairs. He had made and He would bear; yea, He would carry and deliver.
3. This contrast is a perpetual one. Some people carry their religion; other people are carried by it. Some are burdened by the prescribed creeds, ritual, observances, exactions, to which they believe themselves to be committed. Others have neither thought nor care for these things. They have yielded themselves to God, and are persuaded that He will bear them and carry them, as a man doth bear his son, in all the way that they go, until they come to the place of which God has spoken to them (Deuteronomy 1:31; Isaiah 63:9).
(F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
(F. Delitzsch, D. D.)
(J. A. Alexander.)
I. FALSE CONFIDENCES PASS AWAY.
1. The Lord has made a full end of false gods and their worship. "Bel boweth down," &c. Not only concerning Bel and Nebo, but concerning many a set of heathen deities, a note of exultant derision may be taken up. "The idols He shall utterly abolish."
2. The like thing has happened unto false systems of teaching. If you are at all readers of the history of religious thought, you will know that systems of philosophy, and philosophical religions, have come up, and have been generally accepted as indisputable, and have done serious injury to true religion for a time; and yet they have vanished like the mirage of the desert.
3. It will be just the same with us if we trust in false confidences of any sort; such, for instance, as our experiences, or attainments, or services, or orthodox belief.
II. OUR GOD ABIDES ALWAYS THE SAME. "Even to your old age I am He." He is always the same in Himself, and always the same to His people.
1. We rightly expect trials between here and heaven; and the ordinary wear and tear of life, even if life should not be clouded by an extreme trial, will gradually wear us out. What saith our God concerning the days of decline and decay? He says to us, "I am He." He will not grow weak. His eye will not be dim. His ear will not be heavy.
2. If life should flow never so smoothly, yet there are the rapids of old age, and the broken waters of infirmity, and the cataract of disease — and these we are apt to dread; but why? Is it not sure that the Lord changes not?
3. In the course of years, not only do we change, but our circumstances change. If you are where you ought to be, your confidence is in God now, and you will have the same God then, and He will still be your guardian and provider. His bank will not break, nor His treasury fail.
4. "Ah!" say you, "but what I most mourn is the death of friends." Yes; that calamity is a daily sorrow to men who are getting into years. But the Lord says, "I am He," as much as to say, "I am left to you, and will not fail you."
5. Some trouble themselves more than there is need concerning prophetic crises which are threatened. We know so little of the future that to worry about it will be the height of unwisdom. The Lord took care of the world before we were here to help Him, and He will do it just as well when we are gone. We can leave politics, religion, trade, morals, and everything else with Him. What we have to do is to obey Him, and trust Him, and rejoice in Him.
6. "Still," says one, "there are such evil tokens in the Church itself as must cause serious apprehension to godly men." But never despair of the Church of God, for of her it is true, "Even to hoar hairs will I carry you; to your old age I am He." The Head of the Church never alters. His choice of His Church is not reversed. His purpose for His Church is not shaken. We shall see better days and brighter times yet, if we have but faith in God and importunity in prayer.
III. WHILE FALSE CONFIDENCES PASS AWAY, GOD WILL FOR EVER BE THE SAME. His former mercies guarantee to us future mercies.
1. He says, "I have made." It is well to remember the mercy of God to us in our formation, and in the first days of our birth and infancy. But God made us in another sense. He new-made us.
2. Then He also tells us that He has carried us; and if we have been carried by Him, He will carry us the rest of the way. What a great care has our gracious God, since none of His children can run alone without His power, His love, His grace!
3. Practically, God's mercies through life are always the same. Notice two things which are always here — the same God and the same mercy. There is nobody else here but the Lord alone with His people. You and your God; and you are nobody but a poor thing that has to be carried. God's great "I," and that alone, fills up the whole space.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
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