Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment (chapters 1-35)
Part 2: Historical Interlude (chapters 36-39)
Part 3: Salvation (chapters 40-66)
When this takes place:
Chapter 46 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile.
Isa. 46:11 – “I call a bird of prey from the east, a man for My purpose from a far country. Yes, I have spoken; so I will also bring it about. I have planned it; I will also do it.”
“The discussion of Cyrus’s victories on God’s behalf led to thoughts of Babylon’s idols, who had to be carried by their worshipers and were therefore obviously powerless to save them (46:1–2). While Babylon carried their gods, Israel’s God carried them (46:3–4)! While the Babylonians lavished gold on their helpless gods, Israel’s mighty God controlled all of history. By calling in Cyrus – the ‘bird of prey from the east’ – he would destroy Babylon and free its Israelite captives (46:8–13)” (H.L. Willmington, Willmington’s Bible Handbook, S. 370).
Isaiah emphasizes the inability of Babylon’s gods to save the Babylonians from the Persian king Cyrus or prevent the victory that will result in Judah’s return home after 70 years in exile. The prophet calls two of Babylon’s chief gods by name:
- Bel – also known as Marduk, the chief god of Babylon. The celebrated tower of Babylon is dedicated to this god, residing in the center of one of two parts into which the city is divided; the king’s palace is the focus of the city’s other half. Identified with the sun, or with the planet Jupiter, Bel is worshiped in turrets, on housetops and other high places so as to be nearer to the heavenly hosts (see Jer. 19:13, 32:29; Zeph. 1:5). Bel is the Babylonian god of fortune, “the most propitious star to be born under” (Robert Jamieson, A. R.Fausset, David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, S. Is 46:1). According to the Apocryphal book Bel and the Dragon, Cyrus casts down Bel.
- Nebo – the son of Marduk, is the god of writing and learning and is associated with Mercury, or Hermes, in astrology. The extent of Nebo worship is reflected in the compounding of the god’s name with the names of Babylonian kings, for example Nebuchadnezzar.
The Helpless Gods (Isa. 46:1-13)
Once gloriously transported in New Year’s Day processions, the Babylonian gods Bel and Nebo are now seen as heavy burdens being dragged into captivity. They crouch and cower, as if in fear of the Persians, and they are incapable of saving themselves or their Babylonian subjects. The gods credited with empowering Nebuchadnezzar to enslave the Jews are now in shackles. In contrast, the one true God, the Holy One of Israel, has sustained His people from the womb and carried them along since birth (v. 3). From the time of conception to old age, the Lord watches over His people and delivers them from trouble. “I have made you, and I will carry you; I will bear and save you,” the Lord declares (v. 4).
The gods of gold and silver cannot compare to the God of Israel. Pagans hire skilled craftsmen to fashion idols out of precious metals. They place them on sturdy mounts where they may be approached and implored. They kneel down and bow to the gods. They hoist them on their shoulders and set them in prominent places. And they cry out to these hand-molded deities. But the idols don’t budge. They don’t answer the desperate cries. And they can’t save. Like Elijah, who taunted the false gods on Mt. Carmel (1 Kings 18:20-29), Isaiah often derides pagans and their gods (see Isa. 40:18-20; 44:9-20; 45:16, 20; 46:1-2). Unlike these lifeless gods, the one true God hears and saves.
In verses 8-11 the people of Babylon are called to remember what the Lord did “long ago.” The Lord speaks in the past tense, even though His work of defeat (for the Babylonians) and deliverance (for the Jews) is more than a century in the future. God is not bound by time, nor is He troubled by the earth’s mightiest kings. “I declare the end from the beginning,” He says, “and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: My plan will take place, and I will do all My will” (v. 10). God demonstrates His uniqueness by His knowledge and control of the future (Isa. 45:21) and His ability to bring Cyrus from the east like a bird of prey (Isa. 46:11). Interestingly, the standard of Cyrus is a golden eagle on a spear, and he is described by some as having a nose similar to the beak of a hawk or eagle.
Matthew Henry writes: “Cyrus came from the east at God’s call: for God is Lord of hosts and of those that have hosts at command. And, if God give him a call, he will give him success. He is the man that shall execute God’s counsel, though he comes from a far country and knows nothing of the matter. Note, Even those that know not, and mind not, God’s revealed will, are made use of to fulfil [sic] the counsels of his secret will, which shall all be punctually accomplished in their season by what hand he pleases” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 46:5).
The “hardhearted” and “far removed from justice” in verse 12 are the Babylonians, who will experience God’s justice at the hands of the Persians. They also will see the Lord’s salvation as He delivers the Jews, restores them to their homeland and places His majesty in Israel.
Just as Isaiah delivers a message of hope to the Jews when they need it most, the New Testament writers urge Christians to take heart in troubled times. “‘Fear not’ is God’s great promise to us as Christians,” writes Warren Wiersbe. “He is greater than Satan and this world, so we need not fear. He has a purpose for our lives, and He will fulfill it if we trust Him. He will pardon our sins and keep His promises” (Wiersbe’s Expository Outlines on the Old Testament, S. Is 40:1).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips
This eight-part series addresses common objections to the Bible as the Word of God.
Objection 6: The Bible can’t be true because it depicts a different God in the Old and New Testaments.
Critics argue that the God of the Old Testament is distant, vengeful and harsh, engaging in genocide and punishing the innocent. Meanwhile, they say, the God of the New Testament is loving, kind and gracious, eager to forgive. Further, His Son Jesus is a gentle, meek, selfless and all-too-human being who speaks in adoring terms of His Father in Heaven. Complicating things further, the God of the Old Testament is described as one (Deut. 6:4) while the New Testament hints at a triune Godhead consisting of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. How can the Gods of the Old and New Testaments be reconciled as one?
God’s nature and progressive revelation
First, it’s important to note that this objection reveals a basic misunderstanding of what the Old and New Testaments reveal about the nature of God. The writers of www.gotquestions.org put it very well: “The fact that the Bible is God’s progressive revelation of Himself to us through historical events and through His relationship with people throughout history might contribute to people’s misconceptions about what God is like in the Old Testament as compared to the New Testament. However, when one reads both the Old and the New Testaments it quickly becomes evident that God is not different from one Testament to another and that God’s wrath and His love are revealed in both Testaments.”
For example, the Old Testament in many places describes God as “a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth” (Ex.34:6; see also Num. 14:18; Deut. 4:31; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:5, 15; 108:4; 145:8; Joel 2:13). In the New Testament, God’s love for mankind is manifested more fully in the sending of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died for us (John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3-4). Or, consider that in the Old Testament, God deals with the Israelites much as a loving father deals with his children, punishing them for their idolatry but delivering them when they repent of their sins. In much the same way, the New Testament tells us God chastens Christians for their own good. Hebrews 12:6, quoting Proverbs 3:11-12, says, “[f]or the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and punishes every son whom He receives.”
God’s wrath – and jealousy
But what about God’s wrath – and jealousy? Both the Old and New Testaments tell us that God delivers judgment on the unrepentant. He orders the Jews to completely destroy a number of people groups living in Canaan, but only after allowing them hundreds of years to repent (see, for example, Gen. 15:13-16). In addition, God’s order to destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites and others has a divine purpose: “so that they won’t teach you to do all the detestable things they do for their gods, and you sin against the Lord your God” (Deut. 20:18).
When the Old Testament describes God as “jealous” (see Deut. 4:24, for example), the word translated “jealous” (qanna) also means “zealous.” God’s jealousy “is an expression of His intense love and care for His people and His demand that they honor His unique and incomparable nature” (Apologetics Study Bible, p. 273). In the New Testament, Paul tells us that “God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of people who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Jesus Himself often had harsh words for hypocrites (see Matt. 23) and even acted violently against them (John 2:15). He spoke more about hell than heaven, and He is depicted as an angry and wrathful judge in verses foretelling His return (Rev. 19:11-16). Put simply, a God who loves what is good must necessarily hate what is evil.
A Redeemer for a wrecked human race
Throughout the Bible we see a God who patiently and lovingly calls people into a relationship with Him. The entire human race is wrecked by sin, resulting in spiritual and physical death and separation from our Creator (Rom. 3:10, 23; 6:23; Eph. 2:1). Paul writes that the whole world groans beneath the weight of sin (Rom. 8:22). But from the moment Adam and Eve rebelled against God, He provided a way for that broken fellowship to be restored. He began with a promise of a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15); instituted a sacrificial system in which an innocent and spotless animal would shed its blood to atone for – or temporarily cover – man’s sin; and then He sent His Son, the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world (John 1:29; 3:16). When one reads the entire Bible, it becomes abundantly clear that the God of the Old and New Testaments does not change (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8).
Is God one – or three?
Finally, what about the one God of the Old Testament and the triune God of the New Testament? There is no contradiction here. While the Bible emphatically declares that there is one true and living God (Deut. 6:4; James 2:19), the Old Testament hints at the triune Godhead, and the New Testament more fully reveals one God in three persons (see Gen. 1:1-2, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 3:16-17; John 1:1, 14; 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; Col. 1:16; 2:9; Heb. 1:8; 1 Peter 1:2). An ancient saying sums up the difficulty of comprehending the Trinity but the necessity of believing in it: “He who would try to understand the Trinity would lose his mind, and he who would deny the Trinity would lose his soul.”
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips
Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to determine if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. This is how you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit who confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God. But every spirit who does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist; you have heard that he is coming, and he is already in the world now. You are from God, little children, and you have conquered them, because the One who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. (1 John 4:1-4 HCSB)
The Bible not only warns believers about false prophets; it describes them in graphic ways:
- Ravaging wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15; see also Acts 20:29).
- Deceitful workers (2 Cor. 11:13).
- Springs without water, mists driven by a whirlwind (2 Peter 2:17).
- Dreamers who defile their flesh, despise authority, and blaspheme glorious beings (Jude 1:8).
- Liars (Rev. 2:2).
- Antichrists (1 John 2:18).
How do we define a false prophet? Simply put, a false prophet is one who preaches, teaches, or foretells events contrary to the Word of God, yet claiming God as his or her source. As believers, we can guard our hearts from the teachings of false prophets by obeying three commands of the apostle John:
1. Do not believe every spirit. Kenneth Wuest’s translation of 1 John 4:1 puts it this way: “Stop believing every spirit.” The term “spirit” refers to those who claim to have divine gifts for service, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary. We should beware. Jesus warns us of miracle-working false messiahs and false prophets (Matt. 24:23-4). Paul says Satan masquerades as an angel of light, and his followers disguise themselves as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:14-5). Paul further cautions against “deceitful spirits” and “the teachings of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). And he warns that the time will come when people will not endure sound doctrine, but turn aside to myths (2 Tim. 4:3-4). We should be like the Bereans who greeted Paul and Silas. Acts 17:11 says “they welcomed the message with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (emphasis mine).
2. Test the spirits. The Word of God is the yardstick by which all claims of truth must be measured. Here are a few markers. True prophets:
- Are 100 percent accurate when they speak in the Lord’s name (Deut. 18:21-2).
- Exalt God, not themselves or false gods (Deut. 13:1-4).
- Tell the whole truth, not tickle the ears (Ezek. 13:22-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4).
- Proclaim salvation by grace through faith (Gal. 1:8-9).
- Set lifestyle examples (2 Peter 2:1-3).
3. Know the Spirit of God. In his first epistle, John challenges the views of the “antichrists” about who Jesus is. The most important question Jesus ever asked – and the question upon which every person’s eternal destiny hangs – is, “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter answered correctly, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (Matt. 16:16). Believers need to know who the real Jesus is:
- The eternal Son of God, Creator and sovereign Lord (John 1:1-3; Col. 1:16-18; 2:9-10; Heb. 1:3).
- Virgin born (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-25).
- Full deity and full humanity in His incarnation (John 1:14).
- Sinless Savior whose death paid our sin debt (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).
- Raised and ascended in the flesh; seated at the right hand of the Father as our Mediator and Intercessor; and returning Lord who will appear visibly and physically one day (John 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Tim. 2:5-6; Heb. 4:15-16; Rev. 19-22).
John’s words are simple and effective. Christians are people of faith – not a blind, ignorant faith, but a reasonable faith based on the evidence God has given us in creation, Scripture, and in the Person of His Son. While there have always been false prophets, and while there will continue to be those who fleece the flock rather than feed it, we can guard our hearts – and protect our families and our churches – from false teachings if we follow John’s commands: Don’t believe every spirit (that is, every person claiming divine gifting); test the spirits (according to Scripture); and know the Spirit of God (the Holy Spirit’s teaching about the real Jesus as revealed in the Bible).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips