Isaiah 46:1-13 Exploring the Passage

Below are some preliminary questions to assist in the study of this passage. For a comprehensive study of the passage, download the Study Guide (PDF download).

1. With what does the Lord compare and contrast Himself in Isaiah 46:5-6 (printed below?)

To whom can you liken me, and with whom can you equate me, and with whom can you compare me, and whom do I resemble? (6) There are those who pour gold out of their money bags and weigh out silver on the scales; they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god. Then they bow down to it; indeed, they worship it. (Isaiah 46:5-6)

In verses 5-6 the Lord compares and contrasts Himself with the gods of gold. The Lord, who is the incomparable God, asks, “To whom can you liken me? …and with whom can you compare me…?” (verse 5) There is no response to His inquiry, because there is no one with whom He can be compared, He alone is God and there is none other. As the Lord Himself points out, the gods of the nations are nothing more than idols of gold (verse 6). A man donates a lavish amount of gold, with his silver he hires a goldsmith, and the smith fashions for him an idol of gold that he and his family then bow before in worship.

2. What is the point being made in verse 7 (printed below?)

They bear their idol upon their shoulder; they carry it and set it in its place, and there it stands—from its place it will not move. One may cry out to it; but it cannot answer, nor can it save him from his troubles. (Isaiah 46:7)

Verse 7 is indicating how utterly foolish it is to trust in such “gods.” The man carries his golden idol home; there he sets it in its appointed place—the place from which it cannot move. In time of need he may cry to this god for help, but it cannot answer and it cannot save.

3. How are the Babylonian idols described in verses 1-2 (printed below?)

Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden, they are placed upon the cattle. The images that are carried around are burdensome; they are a burden to the weary beasts. (2) They stoop low and bow down together; they could not bear the burden; rather, they themselves have gone into captivity. (Isaiah 46:1-2)

As verses 1-2 indicate, far from saving anyone in time of trouble, the Babylonian idols themselves had to be saved! “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low”—the chief gods of Babylon are brought to a state of humiliation. Isaiah here envisions the great golden idols of Babylon being taken down by their worshipers to be transferred to safety from the approaching Persian invaders. As Isaiah goes on to say, the idols of Babylon “could not bear the burden”—indeed, the burden of saving their people proves to be too great for them, they cannot save those who trust in them. On the contrary, “they themselves have gone into captivity”—the idols of Babylon prove to be unable to save their people, and there is none to save them.

4. In contrast to the so-called gods of Babylon, how does the Lord describe Himself? See Isaiah 46:3-4 (printed below)

Listen to me, O house of Jacob, and all you who remain of the house of Israel—those who have been borne by me from the time of their birth, those who have been carried by me from the time they came out of the womb. (4) Even to your old age I am he—Jehovah, your God; and even when you have gray hairs, I will carry you. I have made you, and I will bear you; indeed, I will carry you and I will deliver you. (Isaiah 46:3-4)

In contrast to the so-called gods of Babylon, the Lord declares that He has carried—and cared for—His people from the time of their birth, and He will continue to do so throughout the years of their old age. He is the God who is able and faithful. In contrast to the idols that have been made by man, the Lord, the Creator of all things, is the One who has made His people and He will ever take care of them.

5. What does the Lord say of Himself in verses 9-11 (printed below?)

Remember the former things of long ago; for I am God and there is none other. I am God, and there is none like me, (10) declaring the end from the beginning and declaring from ancient times things that have not yet occurred. I declare, My purpose shall stand; and I will accomplish all that I please. (11) From the east I summon a bird of prey; from a far country I call the man who will fulfill my purpose. Indeed, I have spoken, I will also cause it to happen; that which I have planned, I will also accomplish. (Isaiah 46:9-11)

The Lord once again asserts that, in distinction from the idols of the world, He, indeed, is God, and He alone is God. As God He is able to foretell future events, declaring the final outcome at the beginning, long before the events have materialized on the stage of history. Indeed, because He is God, the Lord is able not only to conceive His plans, He is able to fulfill His plans, bringing them to final fruition. One such purpose that He reveals in verse 11 is His plan to raise up Cyrus as king of Persia in order to use him to effect the release of His people from their Babylonian captivity.