Notes on Isaiah 46-48

Isaiah 46‑48  •  5 min. read  •  grade level: 7
These three chapters close this section of the prophecy, the discussion of Israel's guilty love of idols in presence of the doom of Babylon, the patron of idolatry and the instrument of the punishment of the Jews for that sin.
Chapter 46 in the most spirited way contrasts the fall of the helpless objects of Babylonish worship with God's gracious care of Israel. “Bel [their chief god answering to the Zeus of the Greeks] boweth down, Nebo [answering to the Greek Hermes] stoopeth: their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy laden: they are a burden to the weary beasts. They stoop, they bow down together, they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.” (Ver. 1, 2.) Thus, chief or subordinate, these false deities could do nothing for their votaries, and could not deliver themselves. The victorious foe carries them off as part of the spoil.
On the other hand, Jehovah had carried Israel from their national birth to their old age: “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: 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.” (Ver. 3, 4.)
Next follows the challenge to whom they would liken the God of Israel. As for the Chaldean gods, it was but a question of gold and silver, which the goldsmith made up, and the people fell down and worshipped. (Ver. 5, 6.) “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.” Nor is this the only appeal. It was well to bethink them that the gods of the nations were beneath those that adored them; but the prophet adds (Ver. 9), “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.” Cyrus is here again cited as a striking proof of the reality of God's dealings with His people, and this both in foreknowledge, in declared purpose, and in providential ways. This leads to the concluding call: “Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: 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.” (Ver. 12, 13.) Such is the end.
Chapter 47. shows us the degradation of Babylon itself, as in the preceding chapter we had judgment executed against its gods.
“Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones, and grind meal: uncover thy locks, make bare the leg, uncover the thigh, pass over the rivers. Thy nakedness shall be uncovered, yea, thy shame shall be seen: I will take vengeance, and I will not meet thee as a man. As for our redeemer, the Lord of hosts is his name, the Holy One of Israel. Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called, The lady of kingdoms.” (Ver. 1-5.) The anger of God at His people was no justification of their merciless behavior (Ver. 6), and their confidence in the stability of their resources would be the precursor of ruin. (Ver. 7-10.) “Therefore shall evil come upon thee thou shalt not know from whence it riseth: and mischief shall fall upon thee; thou shalt not be able to put it off; and desolation shall come upon thee suddenly, which thou shalt not know.” What made the taunt the more cutting was Babylon's boast in their sorceries and enchantments; but even so, they could not profit nor prevail. (Ver. 11-15.) As they could not predict, still less could they save.
Chapter 48. is a more direct and exclusive appeal to Israel, to those that come forth “out of the waters of Judah.” It is a beautiful homily to His people (Ver. 1, 2), explaining why God had long foretold, and then suddenly acted. They could not thus defraud Him of His praise. (Ver. 3-8.)
In verse 9 Jehovah tells them why He had not cut them off. “For my name's sake, will I defer mine anger, and for my praise will I refrain for thee, that I cut thee not off. Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction. For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it: for how should my name be polluted? and I will not give my glory unto another.” (Ver. 9-11.)
Then (Ver. 12 et seq.) comes a tender expostulation, accomplished in measure at the return from captivity, but to be fulfilled by and by more fully. Cyrus had not acted without the God who had called him by name. Nor was it (save judicially) he who had ordered things for Israel. The word is, “Jehovah hath redeemed his servant Jacob.” The moral is “There is no peace, saith the Lord, unto the wicked.” It is a misconception of Israel's future to imagine that no future question arises between God and them as to graven images.