MEMORY VERSE: ISAIAH 46: 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.
Isaiah 46 indicates God has a plan and is committed to it. His plan is to save His people, and nothing will keep Him from accomplishing this plan of salvation, not even the hardheartedness of the people He will save. We are created in His image, He loves and cares for mankind.
THE CONTEXT (ISAIAH 42:1 – 48:22)
The Babylonian Empire would ultimately destroy Judah and its capital city of Jerusalem in 587-586 BC. Many of the survivors would be carried into captivity and forced to settle outside the city of Babylon where they would dwell for approximately seventy years. To the captives or those facing captivity, it likely seemed impossible to believe God was in control and could save them and bring them back home. Yet, this was exactly what God planned to do. In chapters 42-48, we see a continuation of the hopeful message of Israel’s coming redemption from the Babylonian exile.
Isaiah moves back and forth between the concept of Israel as the servant of the Lord and an individual as the Servant of the Lord (Jesus). God delights in His servant. How can God be pleased with His servant and then call that same servant deaf and blind? The nation of Israel was stubborn and many times acted deaf and blind. In fact, Isaiah will even present King Cyrus, a Persian king, as the servant of the Lord in later chapters. Thus, in chapter 42, we have two servants being described. One is an individual that is later identified as Jesus, and one is the nation of Israel. It is Israel that was deaf and blind, as God said in Isaiah 6:9-10.
In 42:10, Israel was told to sing a new song because there would be the possibility of redemption for the whole world. God’s redemption was not limited to Israel only. Rather, all of the populated places of the world, including the Gentiles, would be offered redemption into the family of God. This message would be heard beyond the land of Israel and Babylon (45:22). This call became reality in Jesus’ Great Commission to His disciples.
Matt:28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.
19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
Isaiah 43-45 gives more information about the future restoration from Babylon. God would redeem His people from captivity by His power (43:8-13) and pour out His spirit on His people so that they would flourish. As nature grows and blossoms from God’s blessing, so too would His people. By His power, God would bring forth Cyrus, the Persian king to accomplish His purpose of saving His people from captivity.
Chapter 46 encourages God’s people to trust that He would accomplish His plans. To this end, God reassured them that Babylon would fall and be put to shame because God was and is the one in charge (chap. 47). Chapter 48 explains that while Israel was stubborn, God’s grace was even more steadfast in pursuing the salvation of His people. In the end, those who trust in God will find redemption, but those who do not turn to Him will find no peace (48:22).
THE TRUE GOD (ISAIAH 46:3-7)
Chapter 46 starts out with a likely reference to a religious festival in Babylon known as Akitu. As part of the ceremony, idols representing the Bablonian gods Nebo and Bel (sometimes called Marduk) were decorated and carried around the city on a cart – a practice we see detailed in Isaiah 46:1-2. Isaiah depicted these idols as small and bent things. He mocked them in a way that left no doubt they were powerless.
3 "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.
Here, as in Deut. 6:4, God reminds Israel to “listen up!” God called His people to pay attention to what He had done in the past and what He was about to do in the future. In Deuteronomy, Israel was on the verge of entering the Promised Land; in Isaiah, Israel was about to be restored to the Promised Land. In both cases, the emphasis was on trusting God based on His past actions. The fact that the people were addressed as “House of Jacob” in Isaiah may also indicated a restored unity to the people of God. No longer would there be a divided northern and southern kingdom.
God is the Creator and the One who carries His people. The image of birthing and carrying shows both God’s parental care and His power. He brought the people into the world and was with them as they grew. At no time were they outside of His control, even though it might have felt like they were.
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.
God described Himself with a series of “I” statements. These two statements reinforce the images of sustaining and carrying from verse 3. As He saved His people from Egypt, so too would He save them from Babylon.
As parents age, it becomes the child’s duty to care for them, even as the parents cared for the child in his early life. Yet God did not switch roles with His people as time passed by. He was the One who would provide for His people in their twilight years. God is powerful and unchanging. In contrast idols do nothing. They must be carried around and stood up.
THE FOCUS OF THE PEOPLE NEEDED TO BE ON THEIR GOD INSTEAD OF THEIR SITUATION.
5 "To 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. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles.
IN ESSENCE, THEY DID NOT VIEW GOD AS ENOUGH.
The reason the Israelites went into captivity was because they were worshiping other gods. In essence, they did not view God as enough and so engaged in idol making and illicit worship to hedge their bets. It was like a person who has several relationships going at once, just in case one of them doesn’t work out. God made it clear that idols were lifeless objects. God is the powerful Divine living being. Isaiah wanted Israel to realize the folly of expecting something they made to deliver them from their troubles.
Jer. 10: 3 For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
4 They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter.
5 Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them; they can do no harm nor can they do any good."
Isaiah raised the question of whether they were wise to worship that which they had to carry. How much power can an idol have if it cannot get to where it needs to be?
THE TRUSTWORTHY ONE (ISAIAH 46:8-11)
8 "Remember this, fix 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.
This was a call to action. Remembering the nature of idols leads to the rejection of their worship. Remembering what happened long ago was a call to trust God on the basis of His past acts of salvation. They were to take courage in facing the challenges of captivity. Many still did not think God could really deliver them, and they continued to turn to lifeless idols.
God, in His stubborn grace, once more reminded them of His faithfulness from the beginning. Continuing with the command to remember, God encouraged the doubter to remember their very earliest history and perhaps even the creation of the world itself. The very existence of Israel and every nation in the world could be attributed to one indisputable fact. God stated: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” God once again used “I” statements to emphasize His uniqueness. No other gods had a part in the past, present, or future events playing out in the lives of the Israelites. No idol could be credited with the events of history. Only God working out his will through the nations is reality.
Isaiah 40: 15 Behold, the nations are like a drop in a bucket, and are regarded as a speck of dust on a balance. Behold, he lifts up the islands like a very little thing.
Isaiah 46:10 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 will I bring about; what I have planned, that will I do.
God is all-powerful and always has been. As further support for these ideas, God reminded the people that He had predicted the events they were experiencing. With the phrase, “I declare the end from the beginning, God made it clear that rather than being a sign of His defeat, the exile was actually evidence of His control of events. God had repeatedly warned the people that if they failed to turn away from their sin, they would be exiled from the land of Israel. However, there was also hope, for God promised that when the people turned back to Him, He would rescue them.
Cyrus, who was named in 44:28 and 45:1, would allow the captives to return home. God had planned the events Israel would experience.
THE JUST ONE (ISAIAH 46:12-13)
12 Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are far from 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.
In these final verses, God, through His prophet Isaiah, returned to the initial command stated in verse 3. “Listen to me, you hardhearted”. The result of listening should have been a love for God, but many of the Israelites remained hardhearted. They did not believe God would do what He said He would do. God had demonstrated He is faithful to His word, and He had even predicted the future. There was no reason to doubt His future redemptive action for the people in exile. Yet some still did not believe.
Deliverance would happen on God’s timetable. It would not delay but would come at exactly the time He determined. God described this as my salvation; it belonged to Him. The people could do nothing to save themselves. Idols certainly could not save them. Only God could deliver them and return them to their land. The restoration of the people had always been the plan. The exile and punishment were always meant to produce the needed change in the hearts of the people so that they could be restored to a right relationship with the Lord.
The beauty, splendor, and salvation of Israel will shine throughout the world as time moves forward in the future.