Isaiah 46 – Bel, Nebo, and Other Beings Inferior to God

Isaiah 46 Bible with Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s Chocolate: Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Forest Mint

Today’s PassageIsaiah 46

Reading today’s chapter, you may have questions from the very first verse–heck, from the first word. The passage begins: “Bel has bowed down, Nebo stoops over” (46:1). Who is Bel? Who is Nebo? Fortunately, we live in a world of information at our fingertips, and with a quick search I found our answer. They’re Babylonian deities.

And they’re weak. We see them bowed down right off the bat, in the humble posture usually reserved for worshippers of gods, not gods themselves. And Isaiah goes on: “Their images are consigned to the beasts and the cattle…they could not rescue the burden, but have themselves gone into captivity” (46:1-2). Idols lack the power to move themselves, so they must be carried. And here, predicting the fall of Babylon to the Persian Empire under Cyrus the Great (see also Isaiah 45:1-7), pack animals are carrying the idols into captivity. If the physical idols represent the gods Bel and Nebo, then their capture represents their impotence.

Guess who else gets carried? The nation of Israel. However, they don’t get carried by captors, but by the God to whom they belong, the Creator YHWH. God promises, “You who have been borne by Me from birth…And even to your graying years I will bear you!” (46:3-4). You know the story of the guy on the beach? Where he’s walking with Jesus and looking at the scenes from his life, and sometimes there’s one set of footprints, and the guy asks Jesus what’s up with that, and Jesus responds, “Those are the times I carried you?” In Isaiah 46, God puts a twist on the scenario: there’s only ever one set of footprints.

All this underscores a recurring contrast between God and idols, God and humanity, God and everything ever. In these last chapters of Isaiah, “I am God and there is no one like Me” (46:9) becomes a mantra, repeated throughout. God is in a category by himself, at the top of that ontological ladder that we talked about yesterday. He alone is the uncreated Creator of the world, the being that exists regardless of whether anything else exists, the being without whom nothing else would exist. God invites his hearers to compare him to a golden idol fashioned by a metalworker: “It does not move from its place; though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; it cannot deliver him from his distress” (46:7). The golden god can’t move or act or respond to human prayers. And that’s the point of comparing the Lord to the idol: don’t look for help to the thing you created. Look to the God who created you.

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