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Bible passage Isaiah 46:1–13

Isaiah 46

Gods of Babylon
 1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
   their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
   a burden for the weary.
2 They stoop and bow down together;
   unable to rescue the burden,
   they themselves go off into captivity.

 3 “Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
   all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
   and have carried since you were born.
4 Even to your old age and gray hairs
   I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
   I will sustain you and I will rescue you.

 5 “With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
   To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
6 Some pour out gold from their bags
   and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
   and they bow down and worship it.
7 They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
   they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
   From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
   it cannot save them from their troubles.

 8 “Remember this, keep it in mind,
   take it to heart, you rebels.
9 Remember the former things, those of long ago;
   I am God, and there is no other;
   I am God, and there is none like me.
10 I make known the end from the beginning,
   from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
   and I will do all that I please.’
11 From the east I summon a bird of prey;
   from a far-off land, a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said, that I will bring about;
   what I have planned, that I will do.
12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted,
   you who are now far from my righteousness.
13 I am bringing my righteousness near,
   it is not far away;
   and my salvation will not be delayed.
I will grant salvation to Zion,
   my splendor to Israel.

New International Version (NIV) Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society

Audio Bible passage

The audio version of the passage is taken from the Contemporary English Version (CEV).

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Idols dominate
Have you ever noticed that the more stuff we have, the more it possesses us rather than we possess it? So easily our precious time and our hearts’ affections are taken up by what is of no eternal value. Idols come in many shapes and sizes in today’s world.

At the beginning of today’s passage there is a stunning comparison of idols to the living God. Idols are a burden, and have to be carried about (vs 1,2). But in dramatic contrast the living God is the One who carries us! From cradle to grave he sustains and rescues us (vs 3,4).

God rescues
Today the Lord is calling us to roll the heavy weight of our anxiety onto him, because he cares about us (1 Peter 5:7). Paul puts it memorably: ‘Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything’ (Philippians 4:6, NLT). The Lord is longing to be gracious to us (Isaiah 30:18), and will pour his peace into our hearts if we will give up trusting in idols and commit everything to him.

The problem with idols is that they cannot save us from our troubles (v 7). In contrast our God is well able to rescue us. He was preparing a conqueror ‘from the east’ (v 11), Cyrus (Isaiah 44:28), to save his people from the Babylonians and bring them safely home. And in the person of Jesus he has brought about an incomparably greater deliverance (v 13).


‘There is no one like you, Lord! Help me to trust you today.’

Andrew Clark

Introduction to Isaiah 46–55

Sermons have wings when they speak to people about their particular situation. That’s certainly true of the messages in Isaiah 46–55. The prophet voices God’s word to the Jews in exile in Babylon. God is still called, in Isaiah’s unique way, ‘the Holy One of Israel’ (eg 47:4), but while earlier the prophet had warned Israel of the exile to come, these messages address the later situation when they’d been in exile a good time and are on the verge of returning home.

The messages interweave comfort and challenge, glorious hope with ongoing warning. Babylon will be overthrown, for sure, and the exiles restored to their homeland. God’s judgement would certainly fall on their oppressors and it would happen in the most unexpected of ways. Such good news should be believed and proclaimed from the mountain tops. Yet the returnees dare not be complacent about their own spiritual state. They needed to repent of their stubbornness and listen to God. Having become accustomed to exile, some doubted God’s ability to rescue them. They needed to wake up and shake off their depressive faithlessness and act on God’s promise. How would this redemption come about? Partly through God rearranging the politics of the time. More fundamentally, though, it would occur because of the ministry of the suffering servant, who threads his way through this section of Isaiah (42:1–4; 49:1–6; 50:4–9; 52:13 – 53:12). These chapters ooze anticipation of the gospel which was made complete in Jesus Christ.

The prophet is a poet who displays an unrivalled ability to paint pictures and capture situations in graphic images. Like all good poetry it speaks to the emotions as well as the mind. To analyse it too much may destroy its impact. Even so, as when visiting an art gallery, a good guide can aid our understanding and help us see what we might otherwise miss.

Alec Motyer, Isaiah, TOTC, IVP, 1999

Deeper Bible study

‘Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.’ (Acts 4:12)

Our world and Isaiah’s have at least one thing in common. They are both populated with hundreds of gods who compete with each other for a loyal following. Some of these so-called deities seemed stronger and more real to exiled Israel than Yahweh, their own God. Isaiah, however, asks them to stop and think for a moment. Then they’d soon see that there was simply no comparison between them.

The God of Israel is a living God, whereas the gods of Babylon, like Bel and Nebo, are lifeless idols, manufactured by human hands and paid for out of people’s own pockets. What sort of gods can they be? Yahweh is a powerful saviour, who lifts people’s burdens from their backs (Psalm 68:19) and sets them free. By contrast, the Babylonian gods, unable to move themselves, become burdens as their devotees parade them through the streets on their shoulders. They couldn’t save a fly, whereas Yahweh powerfully rescues people from trouble. Yahweh is a faithful God, who gave life to people at birth and will sustain them through to their old age. He will never fail or give up, whereas other gods will come and go and prove totally unreliable. Yahweh is a sovereign God who doesn’t just predict the future but determines it and brings it about. The exiles may think nothing is happening, whereas Yahweh, impossible though it might seem, is raising up a new ruler who will release them from captivity and enable them to return home. Babylon’s days are numbered. When Cyrus comes on the scene he will be God’s instrument of change.

In a tolerant age, don’t be trapped into thinking all gods are equal. They’re not. You only have to enquire about the gods others worship to know that none compares with the God of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Derek Tidball

Background: Bel and Nebo

● In the ancient world each nation had its own gods, but many of the characteristics and names are similar.

● Bel was originally a Sumerian god, also known as Enlil. The name is related to Baal, the Canaanite god we meet in the Old Testament. He was associated with wind and storm.

● When Marduk (Merodach in older translations) became the chief god in Babylon he was given the additional name of Bel.

● Nebo was Bel’s son. He was the god of learning, and therefore of writing and astronomy, both highly developed in Babylon. The centre of his worship was at Borsippa, 12 miles from Babylon. In each of the main cities of Babylonia there were temples dedicated to him known as houses of knowledge.

● Names like Belshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar are formed using the names of the gods.

● The images of Bel and Nebo were carried in procession at the New Year festival in Babylon. It is probably this festival that Isaiah mocks in Isaiah 46:1, with the gods being so useless that they have to be carried by animals. At his festival Nebo foretold the fates decreed for the coming year.

● In 702 BC when Sennacherib attacked Babylon, Merodach-Baladan moved the images of the gods out of the city – a further mark of their ineffectiveness. Isaiah apparently refers to this in Isaiah 46:2.

● In prophesying the overthrow of Babylon, Jeremiah foresaw the shaming of Bel (Jeremiah 50:2; 51:44).

● The attitude taken to these gods in the writings of Isaiah and Jeremiah is that they are ineffective and will have to give way before the Almighty God.

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Song: I hear you fumble for words (I am still willing)
Keith Getty & Kristyn Getty
Copyright © 2002 Thankyou Music
Buy this song here

Who O Lord could save themselves (You alone can rescue)
Matt Redman & Jonas Myrin
Copyright (c) 2009 Thankyou Music/Said And Done Music & Jonas Myrin/SHOUT! Publishing/

  • Rachael Hampton | Sunday, 06 August 2017

    V4. Even to old age I am He, and even to hair white with age I will carry you. I have made you, and I will bear: yes, I will carry and I will save you. May all traversing deep waters know that sense of being carried by Him today. He made you and He knows you. Welcome Down Under Hugh and Debbie! That sounds like a very big 3 weeks. Hope we get some warmer Spring weather for you - 12 here today. We could do with God rearranging some politics in our world today! (Alec in Intro to Is 46) Praying for our countries' decision makers, and for ourselves that our hearts will be kept from all idols.

  • Angela Munday | Monday, 07 August 2017

    We know that our Living God continues to create all He requires....."Everything I plan will come to pass." (verse 10) God is alive and His presence can be seen in this world; we have a continual reassurance that His will is being done on earth. It is our responsibility to receive from Him and pass what we have onto others who have a need......"I will be YOUR God ..I made YOU and I will care for you." (verse 4) Lord, may I reflect your compassionate love. Amen.

  • Gilvin Crisifeca | Monday, 07 August 2017

    Praying for the elections taking place tomorrow in Kenya. May truth and justice prevail.

  • Ruth Chisholm | Monday, 07 August 2017

    Reflecting on yesterday's vulnerable bird, and this passage today v9 I am God, there is no one like me, v4 I will carry YOU! And the bird "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Fatherʼs care. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So donʼt be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.' Matthew 10:29‭-‬31

  • Ruth Chisholm | Monday, 07 August 2017

    CAROL praying for you this morning, that you'll be carried today, and feel priceless in God's sight. Praying too for good outcomes. May God bless you and keep you today and every day.

  • Derek Forster | Monday, 07 August 2017

    When peace like a river, attendeth my way, When sorrows like the sea billows roll; Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well with my soul.’ It is well with my soul, It is well, it is well with my soul.

  • Kath Prior | Monday, 07 August 2017

    "Some of these so-called deities seemed stronger and more real to exiled Israel than Yahweh, their own God. Isaiah, however, asks them to stop and think for a moment. Then they’d soon see that there was simply no comparison between them." - It's easy to dismiss someone else's idol and wonder at a person's slavery to it, but this is because it's not real to me. There will be something equally real and seemingly strong in my own life that enslaves me and takes God's rightful place in my devotion - that is my idol. "The dearest idol I have known, what e'er that idol be, help me to tear it from thy throne and worship only thee" (William Cowper's O for a closer walk...)

  • Barbara Sabin | Monday, 07 August 2017

    who daily bears our burdens. Days are filled with sorrow and care, Hearts are lonely and drear; . Cast your care on Jesus today, Leave your worry and fear; Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near. Troubled soul, the Saviour can see, Ev'ry heartache and tear; Burdens are lifted at Calvary Jesus is very near.Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near. Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Calvary, Calvary, Burdens are lifted at Calvary, Jesus is very near

  • Roger Hall | Monday, 07 August 2017

    Talking about Idols, there are some which surface even in my little Church in a peaceful surrounding. "The Holy Sacrament is reserved at the Church now." a little light burns to show you where to genuflect. What's that but inanimate bits of biscuit? Watch out, people going in, you may be looking for a seat, when someone in front of you suddenly stops and curtsies, and everyone falls over! Hilarity. "Oh, but I love the ritual," says one. amen say the rest. Then they think - the Church is strangely losing members. - we'll run out of money. Let's do a fundraiser, with risque jokes, and inappropriate songs. Rudderless. Need a shepherd.

  • David Chipchase | Monday, 07 August 2017

    Welcome to the Great South Land (aka Down Under) Hugh and Debbie. I hope and pray for a safe, healthy and thoroughly enjoyable time here. What is your itinerary?

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