12 December 2013

Isaiah 46:1-13

"Even to your old age I am he, even when you turn grey I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save." (v. 4)


The prophet has railed against idolatry (Isaiah 44:9-20), named Cyrus as the one to bring liberation to Israel (Isaiah 44:26-28) and emphasised repeatedly the unique incomparable nature of God. There is a suggestion though that his message is not getting through: now for the first time two of the recipients of idolatrous worship need to be named and explicitly compared with the Lord.

Bel and Nebo (verse 1) were prominent Babylonian deities, carried in the New Year's Day celebration and processed from one city to another with great fanfare. Yet rather than enabling divine intervention to lift burdens, they themselves are a burden to be carried (verse 1). How can a god that you have to carry around with you ever save you? In comparison God the Eternal One has always carried the House of Israel from birth to death: in youth and in old age, the creator is also the sustainer and the saviour (verses 3-4).

The association of Babylon with these impotent gods and of Israel with almighty God underlines the comparative powerlessness of the Babylonians who hold Israel's remnant captive. The prophet challenges the exiled community to face truths about God with a summary of divine sovereignty (verses 8-11) recalling both the Lord's deeds in the past and foresight for the future. God will be faithful in delivering all that has been promised. The calling of Cyrus, "the man for my purpose from a far country" (v. 11), is part of the divine plan and although it will mean that salvation and freedom will not come to Israel in a way they were expecting it (ie through David's line), God is to be trusted because of the nature and the actions now and in the past of the Eternal One. For Israel, says the Lord, the key to living faithfully is to remember both who I am - "God, and there is no other" (v. 9) - and who they are: "Israel my Glory" (v. 13).

To Ponder

  • "Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other" (v. 9). When you are unsure of God's presence, what "former things" do you find it helpful to recall? Why are these things precious?
  • What are the things, ideas, or attitudes that you carry around which are burdensome and could usefully be laid down?

Bible notes author

The Revd Tim Woolley