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Isaiah 46, 47: God’s Message to Babylon: Chapter 1: Babylon’s Captivity

In Isaiah 46 and 47, the prophet focuses attention on the fall of Babylon and the deliverance of Israel in the latter days. This is remarkable because Israel had been exiled to Assyria, not Babylon as such. Babylon was, at that time, a province of Assyria, so the two are often confused with each other.

From here on, the prophet mentions Judah only twice (Isaiah 48:1; 65:9). He speaks of Jerusalem 12 times, two of them referring to the earthly city and ten referring to the heavenly city. Fifteen times from chapters 46 to 66 he speaks of Zion in terms of the fallen monarchy that will be restored in the end under the Messiah.

The Zion that fell in the days of Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, is not the same Zion that will be raised up in the end. The resurrected Zion is actually Mount Sion—a different mountain or government. Like a mortal man, the earthly city was slated for destruction so that the heavenly city, like a new spiritual body, could be raised in immortality and incorruption. Paul’s writings make it clear that our own salvation is accomplished by transferring one’s identity from the “old man” to the “new man.” When the “old man” is crucified with Christ, the “new man” is raised in newness of life.

So also is it with the old and new Jerusalem and with the old and new Zion. The old is destroyed, while the new is established and “saved.” Therefore, it is important to understand that the old and new are not the same entity. Neither is that which was begotten by Adamic seed (in the natural manner) the same as that holy son that the Spirit of God has begotten in us through the seed of the word. The Adamic man was sentenced to death in Gen. 3:3, 19, and nothing can reverse that verdict. But we no longer identify with the man that is condemned to death, for we are new creatures in Christ, having God as our Father.

Therefore, as we proceed in Isaiah’s gospel, we need to interpret Isaiah as Paul interpreted it through the lens of the New Covenant. That which is not fully clear in the writing of Isaiah is fully clarified in the writing of Paul and other New Testament writers.

Babylonian Gods Go into Captivity

God speaks to Babylon, even as He speaks to Jerusalem, the kings of the earth, and all of His creation. Having given the Dominion Mandate to Nebuchadnezzar and his successors (Jer. 27:6, 7), God holds Babylon accountable for the manner in which they rule. As with the kings of Jerusalem, God demands that the Babylonians rule the earth according to His own laws.

Hence, when God issues stern warnings to Babylon of impending judgment, it is because of their oppression and misrule.

Isaiah 46:1, 2 begins,

1 Bel has bowed down, Nebo stoops over; their images are consigned to the beasts and the cattle. The things that you carry are burdensome, a load for the weary beast. 2 They stooped over, they have bowed down together; they could not rescue the burden, but have themselves gone into captivity.

Bel is the Babylonian form of the Phoenician name, Baal, to whom had been dedicated the Tower of Babel. He was identified in the night sky as Jupiter, the King’s Planet, with his female consort Venus (or Astarte) and worshiped as the god of Fortune.

Bel was the god of the lower atmosphere and of the (dry) land. Hence, he was the landlord of those who lived on his land. Hence, the term is often translated as “lord.” A lord is first a landlord.

In the dawn of history, men probably referred to the Creator by this title, but as men’s views of God degenerated into apostasy, the character and nature of Bel began to diverge from that of the Creator. As this divergence widened, those who knew the Creator distinguished Him from Bel and thought of him as a separate god competing for ownership of the earth. In other words, who really owns the earth? Who is its true “Lord”?

The name of the last Babylonian king, Belshazzar, means “Bel, protect the king.” In the Babylonian pantheon, Bel had a son named Marduk, who in turn had a son named Nebo. Nebo, the grandson of Bel, was the god of writing and education. His name was invoked in the name of King Nebuchadnezzar. Scholars differ on its meaning. One says it means “Nebo, protect the crown.” Another says, “the prince of the god Mercury.” Others render it, “Nebo is the prince of gods” or “Nebo is the god of fire.”

While the scholars debate the meaning of Nebo, it is enough for us to know that this was a god of Babylon who was being taken down by the true Creator and Owner, the Landlord of all.

Isaiah paints a picture of fleeing Babylonians, who had loaded up their heavy gods on their beasts of burden to escape the destruction of the city. The poor beasts “stooped over” and “bowed down together” as they strained to pull the overloaded carts, but “they could not rescue the burden,” i.e., their gods. Hence, the army of God was able to overtake the refugees and put their false gods “into captivity.”

This is the picture that is painted for us in Isaiah 46:1, 2.

The Message to Israel

The overthrow of Babylon was necessary to deliver the captives of Israel. Isaiah 46:3, 4 says,

3 “Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, you who have been borne by Me from birth and have been carried from the womb: 4 Even to your old age I will be the same, and even to your graying years I will bear you! I have done it, and I will carry you; and I will bear you and I will deliver you.”

The exiled Israelites in Assyria were not subject to Babylon until King Nebuchadnezzar and his father conquered Nineveh (612 B.C.) and took over their territories, including the land of Gamir where the Gamira-Israelites had been settled. The Babylonians then took Jerusalem in 604 B.C., sending the first wave of exiles (including Daniel) to Babylon. Jerusalem was eventually destroyed after it revolted under King Zedekiah, and those survivors too were exiled to Babylon.

Babylon was hundreds of miles south of the land of Gamir, so there would have been little contact between the Judahites and the Israelites. As time passed, they became more and more distinct in language and in ethnicity. This Babylonian captivity only put more distance between the Jews and the Israelites.

Likewise, after the fall of Assyria, many of these Israelites began to immigrate north through the Caucasus Mountains or west into the areas south of the Black Sea. That is where Peter found them centuries later when he wrote to them in 1 Peter 1:1, 2 (The Emphatic Diaglott),

1 Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to the sojourners of the Dispersion, of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 2 chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father…

Peter called them “chosen,” although legally speaking they had been cast off. Nonetheless, Peter knew the promises to the exiled House of Israel, for he was familiar with the writings of the prophets, especially the last half of Isaiah. The vast majority of those Israelites were yet unbelievers, but those who had placed their faith in Christ were “chosen.” These were the ones to whom Peter addressed his letter.

Isaiah himself made it clear that the wisdom and power of God would not fail to bring salvation and deliverance to those exiles, along with the rest of the world. This deliverance was to take place in Israel’s “old age” when the nation figuratively had reached its “graying years.”

Comparing the Creator to Idols

Isaiah 46:5-7 says,

5 “To whom would you liken Me, that we would be alike? 6 Those who lavish gold from the purpose and weigh silver on the scale hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god; they bow down, indeed they worship it. 7 They lift it upon the shoulder and carry it; they set it in its place and it stands there. It does not move from its place; though one may cry to it, it cannot answer; it cannot deliver him from his distress.”

The prophet reminds the far-off Israelites that their gods of gold and silver were man-made. Their gods had to be carried around, because they had no power to move under their own power. When men cried to the false gods for deliverance, they could not answer nor could they deliver anyone from their distress.

In other words, one cannot compare the great Creator with any helpless idol. Isaiah 46:8-11 continues,

8 “Remember this, and be assured; recall it to mind, you transgressors. 9 Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 10 declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’; 11 calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken, truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.”

First the Israelites were called “transgressors,” because it was on account of their continued idolatry that they had been sent into exile. When the prophet told them to “remember the former things long past,” it is plain that this was not fulfilled immediately, for they were still blind and deaf, as we saw in previous chapters. Nonetheless, it implies a promise from God that He would open their eyes in the latter days when the captivity came to an end.

The veil which is stretched over all nations” (Isaiah 25:7) was also to be removed at the same time, opening the eyes of all people. It is clear that the captivities of Israel and Judah established the prophetic timing in this, but yet the fall of Babylon (actually, Mystery Babylon) was to set the entire world free. To accomplish this, the blindness (veil) that covered the eyes of all nations was to be removed.

Isaiah 46:11 alludes to King Cyrus, who came as “a bird of prey from the east” to conquer Babylon. Yet the prophet does not name the type and shadow, because a greater Messiah was to deliver Israel and the world in the latter days. While Cyrus set the pattern in regard to Babylon, Jesus Christ actually fulfills the messianic deliverance in regard to Mystery Babylon. This is the divine plan, the prophet tells us, and there is no power on earth that can withstand the plan of the Sovereign God of Creation.

The prophet concludes in Isaiah 46:12, 13,

12 “Listen to Me, you stubborn-minded, who are far from righteousness. 13 I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; and My salvation [teshua] will not delay. And I will grant salvation [teshua] in Zion, and My glory for Israel.”

Righteousness was not in these “stubborn-minded” Israelites, but God intended to bring them His own righteousness. We know from Paul’s letters that the righteousness of God was to be imputed to us, God calling what is not as though it were (Rom. 4:17, KJV). It is what Martin Luther called an “alien righteousness” that was in Christ, not in us. We appropriate His righteousness when we are part of the body of Christ.

In other words, it is through the coming of Christ that “My salvation” comes to those “who are far from righteousness.” The Hebrew word translated “salvation” in the above is teshua, which is derived from two root words: shava, “to cry out” (for help), and yasha, “to save, deliver.”

Yasha (“to save”) is the verb form that corresponds to the noun Yeshua (“salvation”), which is also Jesus’ Hebrew name. Isaiah’s prophecy is somewhat obscure, but if we look just beneath the surface, we see that the great Deliverer, or Savior, who comes to destroy Babylon, overthrow its gods, and deliver Israel and the world is Yeshua-Jesus the Messiah.