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
Where we are:
Part 1: Judgment
Part 2: Historical Interlude
Part 3: Salvation
When this takes place:
Chapter 14 likely takes place at the beginning of Hezekiah’s reign.
Isa. 14:27: The Lord of Hosts Himself has planned it; therefore, who can stand in its way? It is His hand that is outstretched, so who can turn it back?
Chapters 13-24 feature a series of divine oracles, or declarations, against the nations surrounding Israel. The great powers of Isaiah’s day, and days to come, that set themselves against the Lord of Hosts will be brought low; only the coming kingdom of the Messiah will endure the test of time.
Many Bible commentators point with fascination to verses 12-15. Do these verses speak of a Babylonian king, or of Satan? Perhaps both. In what is known as the “law of double reference,” Isaiah may be showing us Satanic qualities in evil earthly leaders, just as other Old Testament prophets use godly leaders to foreshadow the coming Messiah. In any case, both Satan and evil rulers will be brought low.
Israel’s Return (Isa. 14:1-2)
Although judgment will fall on God’s rebellious people, the Lord will “choose Israel again” (v. 1). Their restoration is grounded in their election as God’s chosen people (see Ps. 102:13-22). God’s choosing of Israel – as well as Judah, Jerusalem, David and Solomon – is an important Old Testament theme, especially in 1 and 2 Chronicles and the Psalms.
The fact that non-Israelites (“the nations”) will join Israel also is an important teaching in Scripture (see, for example, Isa. 56:6; 60:10; 61:5). Israel’s role will be reversed. Rather than captives, they will be captors. And rather than exiles, they will reside safely in their homeland, a nation restored to international prominence as in the days of King David.
Israel’s Taunt against Babylon (Isa. 14:3-23)
Verses 3-21 record a song, or a taunt, that will be sung by people freed from the clutches of the king of Babylon. “The song’s overall message is that people will be amazed that this great king is cast down like the monarchs of other cities. People will rejoice in his demise for they had lived in fear of him” (John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary : An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1061).
But who is this king of Babylon? Many commentators believe he is Satan, especially based on the description in verses 12-14. Tertullian (A.D. 160-230) and Gregory the Great (A.D. 540-604) were the first to offer this view, which is now widely accepted. In the New Testament, Jesus uses language similar to that of Isaiah’s to describe Satan (Luke 10:18). However, while verses 12-14, along with Ezek. 28:12-19, could describe Satan’s pride and subsequent downfall, the context of Isaiah 14 points squarely to an earthly king. It’s possible that Isaiah is employing the “law of double reference” in this passage, showing us Satanic qualities in evil earthly leaders, just as other Old Testament prophets use godly leaders to foreshadow the coming Messiah. In support of this view, let’s consider King Sennacherib.
Sennacherib rules Assyria from 705-681 B.C. By this time in history, Babylon is a vassal state under the authority of the Assyrian empire. For example, Tiglath-Pileser III, a predecessor of Sennacherib, crushes a Babylonian revolt and is crowned king of Babylon in 728 B.C. Though Nineveh is the capital of Assyria, Babylon becomes its cultural center and the Babylonian god Marduk is widely worshiped throughout the Assyrian empire. Assyria’s Sargon II (B.C. 722-705) and Sennacherib also call themselves kings of Babylon.
After Sargon dies in 705 B.C. and Sennacherib becomes king, there is much rebellion throughout the Assyrian empire, including Babylon. In 689 B.C., Sennacherib marches on Babylon to subdue the rebellion. He destroys the city and floods the ruins, although it is rebuilt years later. Sennacherib’s assassination in 681 B.C. (2 Kings 19:37) is welcome news to the surrounding nations, especially Judah.
The song-taunt of verses 3-23 features two dominant themes, according to D.A. Carson. “The broken oppressor is the first theme [vv. 4b-11]; his real epitaph is the unspeakable relief the world feels at his passing. God’s name for such thrusters is not ‘men of destiny’ but ‘he-goats’ (the literal meaning of the Hebrew word translated leaders [in verse] 9), a description almost as deflating as the pathetic state to which they are all seen to come…. The fallen morning star is the second theme [vv. 12-21], i.e. the tyrant’s fatal ambition rather than his oppression…. The idea of storming heaven … was certainly connected with Babylon (i.e. Babel; Gn. 11). One of its ironies is the idea that to be like the Most High (14) is to be self-exalted, whereas it is to be self-giving (cf. Phil. 2:5-11.). The ugliness as well as the brevity of the false glory is powerfully shown in vs 16-21″ (The New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, Is 14:3).
Judgment on Assyria (Isa. 14:24-27)
Though Assyria ultimately would fall to Babylon in 605 B.C., this prophecy refers to the kingdom’s defeat on the “mountains” of Israel (v. 25), a reference to the work of the Angel of the Lord who destroys 185,000 Assyrians in 701 B.C. (see 2 Kings 19; Isa. 37:36-38).
Judgment on Philistia (Isa. 14:28-32)
These verses tell of a critical test of faith for Hezekiah. Judah’s King Ahaz, who was pro-Assyrian, is now dead. The Philistines approach his successor, Hezekiah, and propose an allied rebellion against the weakened Assyria. Such a plot is tempting to Hezekiah, and even if it weren’t, the Philistines are not a people to be offended at this time (see 2 Chron. 28:18-19). What should the king do? The Lord provides a three-fold response. First, the Assyrians are not finished (v. 29). Second, the Philistines are a doomed people (vv. 30b-31). And third, true warfare is in the hands of God (vv. 30a, 32). The bottom line: trust God, not human alliances or intrigue.
Gary V. Smith comments: “Every generation of leaders is called to acts of faith, to choose a path of utter dependence on God rather than alternatives that initially look more defensible. People are challenged not to do what may seem the most reasonable thing from a human perspective, but to do what God instructs them to do…. The circumstances may be a health crisis, the loss of a job, or an international political crisis, but the answer is always the same: trust in God for refuge. Most of the time people know what God would want them to do. The really difficult question is: Are they willing to follow God’s direction?” (New American Commentary: Isaiah 1-39, p. 326)
Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips