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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Isaiah 46

 

 

Verses 1-13

EXPOSITION

Isaiah 46:1, Isaiah 46:2

THE FALL OF THE GODS OF BABYLON. Among the direct consequences of the victories of Cyrus will be the downfall, in a certain sense, of the Babylonian idolatry. The prophet expresses the downfall by material imagery, graphically describing the fate of the idols themselves. But we must regard him as exulting mainly in the thought of the blow that would be dealt to idolatry in general, and to the Babylonian fond of it in particular, by the substitution of the non-idolatrous and almost monotheistic Persians for the polytheistic and grossly idolatrous Babylonians, in the sovereignty of the Asiatic world. The Babylonian religion no doubt maintained itself at Babylon until and beyond the time of Alexander; but it had lost all its prestige. From the state religion of the chief empire of Western Asia, it had sunk to the position of a provincial cult.

Isaiah 46:1

Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth. In the later Babylonian period, to which Isaiah's prophetic vision transports him, Bel and Nebo (if we understand by Bel, Bel-Merodach) were decidedly the two principal gods. Of the seven kings of the last dynasty, three had names in which Nebo, and two names in which Bel or Merodach, wad an element. Bel-Merodach and Nebo are the chief gods worshipped by Nebuchadnezzar and Neriglissar. Bel, Nebo, and Merodach are the only three Babylonian gods that receive acknowledgment from Cyrus in the so-called 'Cyrus Cylinder.' Bel is, in the Babylonian, "Bil," or "Belu," and means simply "lord." There was an ancient god of the name, one of the First Triad (Anu, Bel, and Hen or Hod), who came by degrees to be identified with Merodach, the tutelary deity of Babylon. Bel-Merodach was the βῆλος (Belus) of the Greeks and Romans, who was worshipped in the great temple of Babylon, now represented by the ruin called "Babil." His name forms an element in those of Bel-lush, Bel-kudur-azur, Bel-ipni. Bel-zakir-isknn, and Belshazzar, all of them kings or viceroys of either Babylonia or Assyria. Nebu was the Babylonian god of learning, and has therefore been compared to Mercury. He was the special deity of Borsippa. The name is thought to be etymologically connected with the Hebrew nabi, prophet. The "bowing" and "stooping" of Bel and Nebo has primary reference to the overthrow of their images by the conqueror; but includes also the idea of the fall of the gods themselves in the opinions of men. Their idols were upon the beasts. The Chaldean images generally—not only those of Bel-Merodach and Nebo, but also of Ann, and Hen, and Beltis, and Ishtar, and Nergal, and Sin, and Shamas, and Gula, and others—would be torn from their shrines, and placed upon the backs of beasts of burden, to be carried off by the conquerors. No doubt this was the case with a large number of the images, which were among the most precious of the spoils seized by the soldiers. But it appears that numerous exceptions were made. Neither Cyrus nor Cambyses touched the famous golden image of Bel-Merodach at Babylon, which was first carried off from the great temple by Xerxes (Herod; 1.183). Cyrus, moreover, restored various idols, which Nabonidus had taken to Babylon from provincial towns, to the temples to which they of right belonged. But though their fate was in tiffs way often delayed, ultimately it is probable every valuable idol was carried off and committed to the melting-pot. Your carriages were heavy loaden; rather, the things that ye carried (in procession) are now borne along heavily. The allusion is to the contrast between the light-hearted carrying of the images on festal occasions by their votaries (Isaiah 45:20), and their slow transport to foreign lands on the backs of wearied beasts.

Isaiah 46:2

They stoop, they bow down together; i.e. all the Babylonian gods would suffer equally—not one would be able to protect himself. They could not deliver the burden. A distinction is here made between the god and the idol, which have hitherto been identified. The god was, in each case, unable to deliver, or save from capture, the heavy "burden" of gold, or silver, or bronze (i.e. his own image) which was carried off on the back of the "weary beast." On the contrary, the gods themselves—the "souls" of the images, immanent in them—were carried off with the images into captivity.

Isaiah 46:3-8

AN ADMONITION TO ISRAEL. Israel should learn from the fate of the Babylonian idols to trust in Jehovah, who can and will deliver them, rather than in gods of gold and silver, which can give no aid, either to themselves or others.

Isaiah 46:3

All the remnant of the house of Israel. The address is not to those who had remained faithful of the ten tribes (as Delitzsch supposes), but to the captives of Babylon, designated in these later chapters indifferently as "Jacob" or "Israel" (Isaiah 40:27; Isaiah 41:8, Isaiah 41:14; Isaiah 42:24; Isaiah 43:1,Isaiah 43:28; Isaiah 44:1, Isaiah 44:21, Isaiah 44:23; Isaiah 45:4, etc.), never as "Judah," and constantly mentioned as a "remnant"—all that was left of the oppressed and down-trodden nation (see Isaiah 1:9; Isaiah 10:20-22; Isaiah 11:16. etc.). Borne by me. Carried in the everlasting arms, as a child in the arms of its nurse or mother (comp. Isaiah 63:9). From the belly … from the womb. From the very beginning of the national existence.

Isaiah 46:4

Even to your old age I am he; even to hoar hairs, etc. The nurse—even the mother—soon grows tired of carrying the child, and leaves him to shift for himself. But God's tender care for his people lasts from their infancy, through their boyhood and manhood, to their old age. The everlasting arms never weary. God's watchfulness, his providence, his protection, never fail. I have made, and I will bear. The maker of a thing has naturally regard to what he has made, loves it, desires its good, seeks to defend and save it.

Isaiah 46:5

To whom will ye liken me? (comp. Isaiah 40:18.) Am I to be likened to the idols of Babylon? Will you make images of me? Bethink you what the very nature of an idol is how contrary to my nature! My idol would be no more capable of helping itself or others than the images of Nebo or Bel-Merodach.

Isaiah 46:7

They bear him upon the shoulder (see the comment on Isaiah 45:20). Here, however, it is not the carrying in procession that is spoken of, but the conveyance of the imago by the workman from his own workshop to the temple where it is to be set up. The carrying of heavy burdens upon the shoulder is mentioned by Herodotus (2.35), and frequently represented on ancient monuments. From his place shall he net remove; i.e. he (the god) will have no power of moving an inch from the spot on which he is set up. There he will stand motionless, till some one comes and pushes him or pulls him from his place.

Isaiah 46:8

Remember this, and show yourselves men; or, remember this, and stand firm. Isaiah is addressing those who waver between true religion and idolatry. Hitherto they have not fallen away, but they are in danger of so doing. Remember, he says to them, or "bear in mind constantly the impotence of the idols, and the power of Jehovah, and then stand firm—remain in your old faith—do not be drawn over to so foolish a thing as idolatry." O ye transgressors. It is to be a "transgressor" even to contemplate the turning from Jehovah to idolatry. Israel has been already "called a transgressor from the beginning" (Isaiah 48:8).

Isaiah 46:9-11

A FURTHER ADMONITION GROUNDED ON OTHER MOTIVES. Israel is exhorted to continue firm in the faith

Isaiah 46:9

Remember the former things of old; i.e. God's wonderful dealings with Israel in times past—the miracles in Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea, the deliverances from Midian, and Ammon, and the Philistines, and Zerah, and Sennacherib—which proved him God in a sense in which the word could be applied to no other. I am God I am God. In the original, "I am El I am Elohim." El is "the Mighty One," "the Omnipotent;" Elohim, "the Godhead" in all its fulness.

Isaiah 46:10

Declaring the end from the beginning; i.e. "possessed of the very highest prophetic power, able to declare from the very beginnings of history its ultimate issues" (see Genesis 3:15; Genesis 16:12; Genesis 21:18, etc.). My counsel; rather, my purpose, or my plan (comp. Psalms 33:11; Job 23:13; and supra, Isaiah 14:24).

Isaiah 46:11

Calling a ravenous bird; rather, a bird of prey. The imagery is quite natural, and exactly parallel to that by which Nebuchadnezzar is termed "an eagle," both by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 44:22) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 17:3). There is no need to suppose any allusion to the fact, if fact it be, that the Persians from the time of Cyrus had for a standard a golden eagle, with wings outspread, on the top of a spear-shaft (Xen; 'Cyrop.,' 7.1, § 4; 'Anab.,' 1.10, § 12). From the east (comp. Isaiah 41:2, Isaiah 41:25). Both Persia and Susiana, which were the primary seats of the power of Cyrus, lay to the east of Babylon, the latter due east, the former somewhat to the south-east. Even Media might, according to Hebrew usage, be described as east, though lying almost due north-east.

Isaiah 46:12, Isaiah 46:13

AN ADMONITION TO THE OBDURATE IN ISRAEL. God's mercy extends even to those who resist his grace. They who have been hitherto stiff-necked and "far from righteousness," have a special warning addressed to them, Salvation is drawing nigh; the deliverance of Israel is approaching; there is no time to lose; will they not east in their lot with the true Israel, and take advantage of the deliverance when it comes?

Isaiah 46:12

Ye stout-hearted (comp. Ezekiel 2:6; Ezekiel 3:7; and infra, Isaiah 48:4). The LXX. translate by σκληροκάρδιοι.

Isaiah 46:13

I bring near my righteousness; i.e. "my righteous judgment is approaching—that judgment which involves vengeance on my enemies, mercy and deliverance to my people." This latter is the salvation that shall not tarry. In Zion. The headquarters of the "salvation" shall once more be Mount Zion, or Jerusalem, where God's people shall once more take up their abode, and which shall be "the centre of the renovated nation" (Delitzsch).

HOMILETICS

Isaiah 46:1-11

The effect of God's temporal judgments upon nations on the religious history of the world.

In the ancient world, where religions had no revealed or historic basis, but had been evolved by degrees from the thought or imagination of each people, the fate of a religion depended greatly upon the course of secular history, and the success or failure that attended upon the arms of the nation professing it. As no people could have a rational, or, consequently, a firm belief in a system based upon imagination, each was ready to adopt any other which seemed to prove its superiority by triumphs and victories. The downfall of an empire involved, for the most part, the downfall of the system which its rulers had made the state religion; or, if not its absolute downfall, its depression and gradual decay. When God raised up a conquering power, he gave an impetus to its religious system, which was either imposed by force upon conquered tribes, or, in many cases, voluntarily accepted by them. The gross and sensuous idolatry of Assyria and Babylon had obtained almost exclusive possession of Western Asia through the conquests of the Assyrians and Babylonians between the twelfth century b.c. and the sixth. When Cyrus captured Babylon and shattered the Babylonian empire, this idolatry received its death-blow. The subject nations either reverted to their ancient creeds or adopted the belief of the new conquerors. Zoroas-triauism became the predominant religion of civilized Asia. In Babylon itself and its neighbourhood a small knot of believers clung to the old superstition; but, generally speaking, it was discredited, and had to make way for the dualism of Persia. Dualism suffered in its turn when the Persian empire was overthrown by Alexander the Great, and continued under a cloud during the Parthian period, at the close of which it once more reasserted itself under Artaxerxes, son of Babek, who brought the Parthian empire to an end. Military success, similarly, established Mohammedanism as the religion of Syria and Egypt, Asia Minor, Persia, Upper India, Turkestan, Turkey, and North Africa, even Christianity suffering when God's judgments fell on the effete and debased Byzantine empire. The only religion that has been but slightly affected by military success and failure is the religion of Christ. Originally spreading, like leaven, silently and gradually, without any help from conquerors or from the secular arm, till, having become the religion of the mass of his subjects, it was adopted as the state religion by Constantine; it resisted the great influx of the barbarians into the Roman empire; and, instead of disappearing before Teutonic and Scandinavian heathenism, converted its conquerors. Unarmed missionaries spread it through Central and Northern Europe, through Georgia, Armenia, and Mesopotamia, and again into Abyssinia and the African desert, in America alone was it propagated by the sword. Gradually progressive in almost every quarter, once only and in one quarter has it retrograded through a Divine judgment. The followers of the Arabian prophet were allowed to sweep it from the greater part of the East, from Egypt and from Northern Africa, for a time from part of Spain; but this judgment, provoked by immorality, coldness, and heresies of various kinds, was not a final judgment—already, in all the regions temporarily lost to it, the religion of the cross has recovered a footing, and is gaining ground. Propagandism by the sword has now ceased; but everywhere the course of secular history is so ordered that Christianity comes more and more to the front. Islam is dying out; Brahminism is shaken to its basis; Buddhism has well-nigh spent itself. The religion on which God has set, and is each year more clearly setting, the seal of success is Christianity.

HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON

Isaiah 46:1-13

The religion of Jehovah contrasted with idolatry.

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; Psalms 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, Isaiah 66:13). "Even to old age I am the same" (see Psalms 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" (verse 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.

HOMILIES BY W.M. STATHAM

Isaiah 46:4

God's care for the aged.

"And even to your old age I am he," etc. What a contrast between God and man! Concerning how many may it be said that they are forgotten in old age! Sometimes even children are faithless to their parents, and age has died in a workhouse, when children have been well-to-do. But change comes, too, in other relationships. The world does not want us when we are worn out. Its sweet songs can charm no more. The cunning of the worker's hand fails. The preacher faints. A new generation of strength and health has won the palm. Then, mark—

I. THE SURPRISE. Even. At the time when the world draws off, God comes nearer. Weakness is always welcome to him. He loves to comfort. His infinite strength is not weakened by all outgoings of help to others. Wherever, in age, sickness confines us, or solitude keeps us, there is our Father. Even then, when heart and flesh faint and fail. He has not merely promised this, but the Jacobs of the world can attest the truth: "All my life long." And apart from promise and experience, it is God's nature so to do.

II. THE REASONS.

1. "I have made." God will not, as Job says, forget us, because "thou hast a desire to the work of thy hands."

2. "I have rescued." What else says the prophet? "I will carry and deliver you." What we could not bear away, God, in the person of his Son, will do for us. "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world!' Hoar hairs may have their perfect whiteness, but hoar hearts have not, and we need a Saviour to the end. Nor is this all. Old age has its sorrows as well as its sins. The young have not always sympathy with the old. They do not understand what it is to feel so "alone," with buried generations behind, who once joined in the race of life with them, and who worshipped with them in the house of God. Those who admired and understood and loved them are gone, and a generation has risen up who know not Joseph. Beautifully does the next verse begin, "To whom will ye liken me?" "Even to your old age I am he." Always a Father, always a Saviour, always a Friend.—W.M.S.

HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON

Isaiah 46:1-4

Men bearing gods, and God bearing his people.

The pitiable and even ludicrous insufficiency of idolatry is admirably drawn in this picture. We see the beasts bowed down with the images of the helpless deities of Chaldea In what striking and glowing contrast does the relation of Jehovah to his people appear! From the very infancy of Israel God had borne them in the arms of his faithfulness and power; and his tender kindness in the past would extend to the furthest future. Even to old age he would bear them; they might confidently lean on his strength; they might count with absolute assurance on his protecting care, on his delivering grace. "I will carry, and will deliver you." We learn—

I. THAT FALSE TRUSTS, SO FAR FROM LIGHTENING OUR BURDENS, ARE A HEAVY WEIGHT TO CARRY. Men make mistakes now which are as serious in their consequences as that made by the Babylonians. They put their trust in things which prove to be delusive and even burdensome. This is trite of unwise friendships; of ill-gained or excessive wealth; of exalted positions, which we have not strength to fill, or high honours which we have not grace to carry; of learning in one direction, unbalanced by knowledge in other directions. You see men who thought to bless themselves with these "idols," who expected to be enriched and sustained by them, staggering under their weight, blinded and misled by them, betrayed and ruined by them. Instead of their gods carrying them, they have to carry their gods.

II. THAT TRUST IN GOD WILL BE JUSTIFIED BY THE LONGEST LIFE. (Isaiah 46:4.)

1. God continued his mercies to us from our birth to our regeneration; though we knew him not, he girded us (Isaiah 45:5). He fed and clothed and sheltered us.

2. He undertook to befriend us when we gave ourselves to him, and he has done so. He has made good to us his kindest words of promise.

3. A time of special trial may confront us: the pillar and mainstay may have fallen; unfriendly seasons or adverse circumstances may have stripped us; sickness may have weakened us, or infirmity may be visibly advancing on us. Our human powers, our earthly prospects, may be failing and waning.

4. But we may go on undaunted, untroubled. "The Lord will provide." We have a strong consolation—we whose hope is in the Lord our God.

Isaiah 46:8

Manliness in relation to religion.

"Remember this, and show yourselves men." The prophet calls on the people of God to show themselves to be men, either by exercising their powers of recollection and reason in remembering the facts and arguments he has adduced, or by taking appropriate, manly action in the recollection and realization of these convincing and constraining reasons. Religion is a manly thing in both these aspects. So far from its being the childish or effeminate thing which its enemies have been pleased to call it, it is a sphere of thought and of action in which the very highest and noblest attributes of our humanity have fullest scope.

I. AS A SPHERE OF HUMAN THOUGHT.

1. It is the most elevated. All objects of creation are worthy of regard, and the study of them is full of recompense. But they differ in the degree of their worthiness; there is an ascending scale, and they culminate in the Divine. The noblest study of mankind is God his nature, his character, his will, his kingdom.

2. It is the most obligatory. Men, as men, should consider that which most claims their attention, should dwell on those themes which most demand their thought and care. And these are found in Divine blessings, Divine dealings, Divine messages, Divine beauties and excellences. We are never doing anything more worthy of our manhood than when we are recalling and realizing what God is, what he has done, what he has been to our race and to ourselves, what sovereign and supreme claims he has on our reverence and love.

II. As A SPHERE OF HUMAN ACTION. If there be anything which can be said to be manlier than patient and earnest thought on the highest themes, it is:

1. Deliberate choice of the wisest and best course—the determination, at all costs and spite of all inducements, to take that course which commends itself to our judgment as the right and the wise one. This is exactly what men do when they surrender themselves to the will of God, to the service of Jesus Christ.

2. Resolute and persistent pursuit of it. Where does manliness find nobler illustrations than in the persistent worship of God under cruel persecution, the immovable adherence to sacred conviction under the wearying and worrying assaults of worldly and frivolous associates, the steadfast endeavour to extend the kingdom of righteousness and to raise the condition of the degraded, notwithstanding all the discouragements that await the Christian workman?—C.

HOMILIES BY R. TUCK

Isaiah 46:4

Grace for a long life.

"Even to boar hairs will I carry you." Reference is made more especially to the prolonged life and varied experience of the nation; but the promise and assurance are equally applicable to the individual—they exactly match other assurances which are addressed to individuals. And Israel may always be regarded as the type of the godly man. For us all life is full of changes, surprises, and calamities. We have nothing absolutely stable and unchangeable, nothing always true and trustworthy, unless God is such. In an exquisite fragment of autobiography,—by Dr. Horace Bushnell, found dimly pencilled on a stray sheet of paper, is the following indication of the rest a soul finds in the permanence, the unchangeableness, of God: "My mother's loving instinct was from God, and God was in love to me first therefore; which love was deeper than hers, and more protracted. Long years ago she vanished, but God stays by me still, embracing me in my grey hairs, as tenderly and carefully as she did in my infancy, anti giving to me as my joy and the principal glory of my life that he lets me know him, and helps me, with real confidence, to call him my Father." This truth of God's permanent gracious relations with those who put their trust in him was stated in its Christian form by the Apostle John (John 13:1), when, speaking of his Master, he said, "Those whom he loveth, he loveth unto the end." It may be noticed that, while mother's love and interest never flags or fails, mother's work, of bearing, tending, carrying, does change and pass as the children grow older. So even with a mother God may be contrasted; for he tends even to old age, even to the end. Opening the general topic suggested by the text, we may observe that the promise—

I. ASSUMES US TO BE IN GRACIOUS RELATIONS WITH GOD. Sometimes those relations are presented under the figure of a "covenant." At other times they are seen as relations brought about by "redemption"-work in our behalf. Here the closer, more natural, more personal, relations of parents and children are referred to. God is represented as feeling towards us like the mother who bore us. Compare the psalmist's sense of the motherly relation in his plea, "When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up."

II. DECLARES THAT THE RELATION SHALL BE KEPT UP TO THE END. Such an assurance is necessary, not because we fear any changeableness in God, but because we fear that the wilfulness and changeableness in us may grieve him, and lead him to remove his grace from us. The comfort of the promise of the text lies in the confidence it gives us that our waywardness will not outweary our God. "Though we believe not, yet he abideth faithful."

III. INVOLVES GRACE SUFFICIENT FOR MAINTAINING THE RELATION. It is not a promise of grace at the end, but unto the end. All along the way we may be quite sure of adaptations of Divine grace such as may go into the words "carry," "bear," "deliver."—R.T.

Isaiah 46:8

God's call to exercise right reason.

"Show yourselves men." This is the language of irony. Worshippers of idols should have the courage of their convictions. They should not be such children as to confound the spiritual God with dumb, senseless idols, who can neither counsel nor save. "Remember this, that has often been told you, what senseless, helpless things idols are, and show yourselves men—men, and not brutes; men, and not babes. Act with reason, act with resolution, act for your own interest. Do a wise thing, do a brave thing, and scorn to disparage your own judgment, as you do when you worship idols" (Matthew Henry). The point presented for consideration is—that God is served by the diligent and faithful use of our faculties, and not by crushing them.

I. GOD IS BEST SERVED BY MAN AT HIS BEST. A very curious perversion of St. Paul's glorying in his infirmities is the notion, which prevails in some quarters, that the more ignorant, weak, and foolish we are, the better we can serve God's purposes. It is the universal truth that God works out his best purposes through the consecration of man's best and most cultured powers to his service. It is only the exception of Divine grace that God is pleased sometimes to use man's feebleness. Sometimes, indeed, it is so, that "out of the mouths of babes and sucklings God perfects praise;" and his so doing efficiently persuades us of the absolute sovereignty of Divine grace; but the normal law is that God shall be served by the best culture and the wisest use of just those powers and faculties which he has himself given us. Let babes be babes, and honour God with infant songs. Since we are men, it is the best-cultured and most fully matured manhood that we must lay upon his altar. When reproached by a mere sentimentalist that "God had no need of his learning," the cultured divine very wisely as well as smartly replied, "And he has as little need of your ignorance." We must be in every way the best possible for God, and this includes our mental best.

II. MAN AT HIS BEST IS BUT A SERVANT OF GOD. This conviction will keep him in his place, whatsoever his attainments may be. It is the constantly observed fact that fulness of learning and a genuine humility go together hand-in-hand. It is a "little knowledge" that puffeth up, a "little culture" that nourishes self-will. The things we have in the household and family life, for daily use, need not be chipped, ugly, or inefficient things; they may be in the best shapes, and may be artistic in appearance, pleasant to the eye, without losing their practical usefulness. So we can be the truest, wisest, most cultured, most beautiful men and women, and yet keep in perfect simplicity the humility and the joy of our service.—R.T.

Isaiah 46:10

The goodness of God's pleasure.

"My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure." An anthropopathic expression. Care is necessary in transferring human sentiments and feelings to God. Words may come to be applied in such a way to men that they cannot be wisely used for God. A man's "pleasure" has come to stand for his mere "self-willedness," his unreasoning and often unreasonable "wishes." A man's "pleasure" is simply the thing that he "likes." In such senses we cannot properly apply such a word to God. In the text, the word "pleasure" is associated with the word "counsel," and the suggestion made is that the counsels of the infinite wisdom and goodness are such that God can find a personal pleasure in carrying them out. Just as he looked upon all his creation-work, called it good, and found pleasure in it, so he looks upon all the operations of his providence, for nations and individuals, and finds pleasure in watching them as they bear towards the final issue of universal good. It may be shown that every being finds its pleasure "after its kind," according to its nature; and we ought to have the utmost satisfaction in God's getting his pleasure because of what we know of him. His pleasure must be like him, worthy of him; and that is enough.

I. WHAT IS PLEASANT TO GOD MUST BE RIGHT. For men that is true which is expressed in the proverb, "Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." Man finds his pleasure in that which is doubtful, and even in that which is wrong. But we have the most perfect confidence that God finds no pleasure in anything that is not through and through right. If he is well pleased, then we are sure that the thing is right. Indeed, so fixed is this relation between "God" and "right," that, for us, the right has come to be simply "God's will."

II. WHAT IS PLEASANT TO GOD MUST BE KIND. That is, it must have taken all due consideration of the well-being and the wishes of others; and it must involve a going out of God, as it were, beyond himself, to live in the feelings of others. The essence of pleasure is unselfish concern for others. And God may do all his "pleasure," because he proposes only that which secures our highest welfare. What may be spoken of as the highest pleasure God can know? We are assured that he has "no pleasure at all in the death of the wicked, but that he turn from his evil way and live." God's supreme pleasure is found in redeeming; in all that this most suggestive and comprehensive word involves. "The Lord taketh pleasure in them that tear him, in those that hope in his mercy."—R.T.

Isaiah 46:12

Stout-heartedness.

"Ye stout-hearted, that are far from righteousness." Ezekiel has other terms. "For they are impudent children and stiff-hearted" (Ezekiel 2:4); "For all the house of Israel are impudent and hard-hearted" (Ezekiel 3:7). The term "stout-hearted" expresses stubborn and confirmed opposition, rebelliousness, obduracy, a state of mind and heart that is beyond the influence of any gracious pleadings and persuasions. And such "stout-heartedness" involves the man's own self-willed exclusion from the "righteousness of God." The stout-hearted man gets far away from God, because he has no intentions of obedience to him. The plea of the text is sent to those exiles who were slow to believe in their deliverance through the agency of Cyrus; and it must be admitted that all the later information we have concerning Cyrus helps us to understand how unlikely a person he was for the carrying out of Jehovah's purposes. Not even yet have we sufficent information to permit our understanding the national circumstances and political pressure which, humanly speaking, led to the restoration. The plea of the text is full of force for all sinners who refuse to accept the offers of mercy and salvation which God has been pleased to make to them. The "stout-hearted" can even refuse God's mercy in Christ Jesus. But the refusal is rebellion and insult; and the stone that should be a foundation must prove a stone that falls and crushes. Matthew Henry regards these "stout-hearted" as "the unhumbled Jews, that have been long under the hammer, long in the furnace, but are not broken, are not melted; that, like the unbelieving, murmuring Israelites in the wilderness, think themselves far from God's righteousness (that is, from the performance of his promise, and his appearing to judge for them), and by their distrusts set themselves at a yet further distance from it, and keep good things from themselves, as their fathers, who could not enter into the land of promise because of unbelief." A study of this state and condition of mind and feeling may follow along three lines.

I. STOUT-HEARTEDNESS AS A NATURAL DISPOSITION. There is a natural obstinacy, a self-willed tendency to object and to resist, which parental training ought to correct, test it should get established as a bad bias for life. Severe child-chastisements only can check this evil.

II. STOUT-HEARTEDNESS AS A PRODUCT OF CIRCUMSTANCES. Illustrate from the distressed condition of exiles in Babylon, the long delay in Divine deliverance, etc. We can hardly wonder that some should say, "Why should we wait for God any longer?"

III. STOUT-HEARTEDNESS AS A RESULT OF ACTS OF WILFULNESS. Nothing is more morally injurious than for us to be successful in first transgressions and little sins, and so to become hardened and proud in our hearts.—R.T.

Isaiah 46:13

God's people are God's glory.

"For Israel my glory." He glories in them. He is glorified in them. He ought to be glorified in them. Some read the clauses from which the text is taken so as to throw out a different meaning: "And I appoint in Zion salvation, unto Israel (I give) my glory." God's glory is thus represented as connected with his salvation and his righteousness. God's glory is his faithfulness and his redemption. As we have so often the declaration of God's interest in Israel, his joy in her, and the honour he expects her to be to him, we take the simpler thought suggested by the English Version, and suggest such a homily as may be suitable for a week-night service or prayer-meeting. God's people are God's glory; they bring honour to him, as we see—

I. WHAT HE DOES FOR THEM. Illustrate from God's moving away all obstacles, and constraining unlikely agents to serve him in the restoring of the exiles to their loved city and country.

II. WHAT HE DOES IN THEM By the very delay of his promise, and by his gracious sanctifyings, preparing them to get the very best moral and spiritual blessings out of their deliverance.

III. WHAT HE DOES WITH THEM. Making them a spectacle and a witness for himself, to their own age and the surrounding nations; and making the marvel of their story a testimony to his faithfulness and mercy to all ages, until the end of the world shall come.—R.T.

 


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Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Isaiah 46:4". The Pulpit Commentary. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/tpc/isaiah-46.html. 1897.

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