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 9 takes place during the reign of Ahaz, Judah’s wicked king. While Isaiah’s ministry focuses on the southern kingdom, this chapter speaks to the northern kingdom of Israel as well. Even though the Israelites will face the darkness of military defeat, the day is coming when they will see “great light” as the Messiah lives and ministers in Galilee.
Isa. 9:6: For a child will be born for us, a son will be given to us, and the government will be on His shoulders. He will be named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.
This chapter highlights God’s Son and God’s sovereignty. Verses 1-7 give us additional information about Immanuel (Isa. 7:14), who will be a gift from heaven, God incarnate, and a light to all people. Verses 8-21 describe the punishment God is about to inflict on His own people, even though their defeat at the hands of the Arameans and Philistines will not lead to repentance.
Verse 6 is one of the clearest Old Testament passages affirming the deity and the humanity of the Messiah. He will be born a male child, yet is from age to age Mighty God and Eternal Father.
The Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:1-7)
The devastation of Israel at the hands of Assyria eventually will give way to an age of universal peace. In fact, the very lands about to experience darkness and death will be the first to see the light of a new day with the coming of the Messiah. As Matthew’s gospel makes clear, the region of Israel referred to in Isa. 9:1 is the first to rejoice in the light brought by Christ’s preaching (Matt. 4:12-17).
While Isa. 7:14 focuses on Messiah’s birth and 11:1-16 on His kingdom, verses 6-7 of chapter 9 lay great emphasis on His person. The first three titles imply deity:
- The word “wonderful” as in “Wonderful Counselor” regularly means “supernatural” in scripture. See, for example, Judges 13:18. In addition, Isa. 28:29 describes Yahweh as “wonderful in counsel” (KJV).
- “Mighty God” is a term ascribed to “the Lord, the Holy One of Israel” in Isa. 10:20-21.
- “Everlasting Father” has no exact parallel but is significant. “Father signifies the paternal benevolence of the perfect Ruler over a people whom he loves as his children. Peace in Hebrew implies prosperity as well as tranquility” (D.A. Carson, New Bible Commentary, 21st Century Edition, S. Is 9:1). While Messiah is a distinct person from God the Father, Jesus clearly claims to be both Messiah and co-equal with the Father (John 10:30). “Father of Eternity” is a better translation, according to Warren Wiersbe. “Among the Jews, the word ‘father’ means ‘originator’ or ‘source.’ For example, Satan is the ‘father [originator] of lies’ (John 8:44, NIV). If you want anything eternal, you must get it from Jesus Christ; He is the ‘Father of eternity'” (Be Comforted, S. Is 9:1).
The fourth title, “Prince of Peace,” speaks to Messiah’s character. Luke 2:14, John 14:27, Acts 10:36, Rom. 5:1-10, and Eph. 2:14-18 are a few of the New Testament passages that point to Jesus as the One who brings peace to human hearts and to a sin-sick world. Matthew Henry comments: “As a King, he preserves the peace, commands peace, nay, he creates peace, in his kingdom. He is our peace, and it is his peace that both keeps the hearts of his people and rules in them” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 9:1).
Finally, verse 7 emphasizes the scope of Messiah’s kingdom. It will be vast and never-ending (see Dan. 7:14, 27; Micah 4:7; Luke 1:32-33; Rev. 11:15). He will maintain righteousness as His rule conforms to God’s holy character. “This will all be accomplished by the zeal of the Lord Almighty. The coming of the millennial kingdom depends on God, not Israel. The Messiah will rule because God promised it and will zealously see that the kingdom comes. Without His sovereign intervention there would be no kingdom for Israel” (John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, S. 1:1053).
God’s anger, Israel’s arrogance (Isa. 9:8-21)
The rest of the chapter warns that God is about to punish Israel at the hands of the Arameans and Philistines. Even though Israel will be destroyed, she will not repent and turn to the Lord. Lawrence O. Richards writes, “Isa. 9:6-7 describes the universal reign of the Messiah. Then the rest of the chapter suddenly shifts to describe the judgment about to be visited on the Northern Kingdom, Israel (vv. 8-21). How are these linked? Jesus’ reign is marked by universal allegiance to God. Israel’s tragic history was marked from the beginning by rebellion against Him (1 Kings 12). Those who will not submit to the Lord will surely experience not the blessing of messianic times, but the havoc and ruination that crushed Israel” (The Bible Readers Companion, Electronic edition, S. 417).
Verses 9-10 describe the arrogance with which the northern kingdom regards God’s wrath. Though their sun-dried bricks will not stand, the people plan to rebuild with more expensive and durable cut stones. And though sycamores are abundant and used for their antiseptic qualities, which induced the Egyptians to use sycamore to encase their mummies, the northern tribes boast that they will rebuild with the aromatic, knot-free, and more valuable cedar.
Verses 11-12 describe what is about to happen. The foes of Rezin, king of Aram and an ally of Israel, will consume the northern kingdom. Specifically, the foes are other Arameans and the Philistines. While this is the Lord’s doing, it does not bring Israel to repentance and therefore does not quench the wrath of God. Verse 12 ends with a refrain that is repeated three more times in the following verses: “In all this, His anger is not removed, and His hand is still raised to strike” (see Isa. 9:12, 17, 21; 10:4).
The words in verse 14 – “So the Lord cut off Israel’s head and tail, palm branch and reed” – comprise a merism, a figure of speech using opposite extremes to include the whole spectrum. Verses 15-17 provide the needed detail. The elders (the head) and the false prophets (the tail), the leaders and those who are misled – even the fatherless and widows will reap judgment because “everyone is a godless evildoer” (v. 17).
Verses 18-21 describe the wickedness of God’s people as a consuming fire, with the people themselves as fuel. As God directs punishment against them, they are destroyed by enemies from without and rivals from within. “Ephraim’s own wickedness was destroying the nation, the way a fire destroys a forest or a field,” writes Warren W. Wiersbe. “But the sinners would become fuel for the fire God could kindle! In their greed, the people of the Northern Kingdom were devouring one another (v. 20) and battling one another (v. 21); but they would soon be devoured and defeated by Assyria” (Be Comforted, S. Is 9:1).
Matthew Henry writes: “The reason why the judgments of God are prolonged is because the point is not gained, sinners are not brought to repentance by them. The people turn not to him that smites them, and therefore he continues to smite them; for when God judges he will overcome, and the proudest stoutest sinner shall either bend or break” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 9:8).
Copyright 2008 by Rob Phillips