Verses 1–4

We are here told,

I. That the false gods will certainly fail their worshippers when they have most need of them, Isa. 46:1, 2. Bel and Nebo were two celebrated idols of Babylon. Some make Bel to be a contraction of Baal; others rather think not, but that it was Belus, one of their first kings, who after his death was deified. As Bel was a deified prince, so (some think) Nebo was a deified prophet, for so Nebo signifies; so that Bel and Nebo were their Jupiter and their Mercury or Apollo. Barnabas and Paul passed at Lystra for Jupiter and Mercury. The names of these idols were taken into the names of their princes, Bel into Belshazzar’s, Nebo into Nebuchadnezzar’s and Nebuzaradan’s, etc. These gods they had long worshipped, and in their revels praised them for their successes (as appears, Dan. 5:4); and they insulted over Israel as if Bel and Nebo were too hard for Jehovah and could detain them in captivity in defiance of their God. Now, that this might be no discouragement to the poor captives, God here tells them what shall become of these idols, which they threaten them with. When Cyrus takes Babylon, down go the idols. It was usual then with conquerors to destroy the gods of the places and people they conquered, and to put the gods of their own nation in the room of them, Isa. 37:19. Cyrus will do so; and then Bel and Nebo, that were set up on high, and looked great, bold, and erect, shall stoop and bow down at the feet of the soldiers that plunder their temples. And because there is a great deal of gold and silver upon them, which was intended to adorn them, but serves to expose them, they carry them away with the rest of the spoil. The carriers’ horses, or mules, are laden with them and their other idols, to be sent among other lumber (for so it seems they accounted them rather than treasure) into Persia. So far are they from being able to support their worshippers that they are themselves a heavy load in the wagons, and a burden to the weary beast. The idols cannot help one another (Isa. 46:2): They stoop, they bow down together. They are all alike, tottering things, and their day has come to fall. Their worshippers cannot help them: They could not deliver the burden out of the enemy’s hand, but themselves (both the idols and the idolaters) have gone into captivity. Let not therefore God’s people be afraid of either. When God’s ark was taken prisoner by the Philistines it proved a burden, not to the beasts, but to the conquerors, who were forced to return it; but, when Bel and Nebo have gone into captivity, their worshippers may even give their good word with them: they will never recover themselves.

II. That the true God will never fail his worshippers: “You hear what has become of Bel and Nebo, now hearken to me, O house of Jacob! Isa. 46:3, 4. Amos I such a god as these? No; though you are brought low, and the house of Israel is but a remnant, your God has been, is, and ever will be, your powerful and faithful protector.”

1. Let God’s Israel do him the justice to own that he has hitherto been kind to them, careful of them, tender over them, and has all along done well for them. Let them own, (1.) That he bore them at first: I have made. Out of what womb came they, but that of his mercy, and grace, and promise? He formed them into a people and gave them their constitution. Every good man is what God makes him. (2.) That he bore them up all along: You have been borne by me from the belly, and carried from the womb. God began betimes to do them good, as soon as ever they were formed into a nation, nay, when as yet they were very few, and strangers. God took them under a special protection, and suffered no man to do them wrong, Ps. 105:12-14. In the infancy of their state, when they were not only foolish and helpless, as children, but forward and peevish, God carried them in the arms of his power and love, bore them as upon eagles’ wings, Exod. 19:4; Deut. 32:11. Moses had not patience to carry them as the nursing father does the sucking child (Num. 11:12), but God bore them, and bore their manners, Acts 13:18. And as God began early to do them good (when Israel was a child, then I loved him), so he had constantly continued to do them good: he had carried them from the womb to this day. And we may all witness for God that he has been thus gracious to us. We have been borne by him from the belly, from the womb, else we should have died from the womb and given up the ghost when we came out of the belly. We have been the constant care of his kind providence, carried in the arms of his power and in the bosom of his love and pity. The new man is so; all that in us which is born of God is borne up by him, else it would soon fail. Our spiritual life is sustained by his grace as necessarily and constantly as our natural life by his providence. The saints have acknowledged that God has carried them from the womb, and have encouraged themselves with the consideration of it in their greatest straits, Ps. 22:9, 10; 71:5, 6, 17.

2. He will then do them the kindness to promise that he will never leave them. He that was their first will be their last; he that was the author will be the finisher of their well-being (Isa. 46:4): “You have been borne by me from the belly, nursed when you were children; and even to your old age I am he, when, by reason of your decays and infirmities, you will need help as much as in your infancy.” Israel were now growing old, so was their covenant by which they were incorporated, Heb. 8:13. Gray hairs were here and there upon them, Hos. 7:9. And they had hastened their old age, and the calamities of it, by their irregularities. But God will not cast them off now, will not fail them when their strength fails; he is still their God, will still carry them in the same everlasting arms that were laid under them in Moses’s time, Deut. 33:27. He has made them and owns his interest in them, and therefore he will bear them, will bear with their infirmities, and bear them up under their afflictions: “Even I will carry and will deliver them; I will now bear them upon eagles’ wings out of Babylon, as in their infancy I bore them out of Egypt.” This promise to aged Israel is applicable to every aged Israelite. God has graciously engaged to support and comfort his faithful servants, even in their old age: “Even to your old age, when you grow unfit for business, when you are compassed with infirmities, and perhaps your relations begin to grow weary of you, yet I am he—he that I am, he that I have been—the very same by whom you have been borne from the belly and carried from the womb. You change, but I am the same. I am he that I have promised to be, he that you have found me, and he that you would have me to be. I will carry you, I will bear, will bear you up and bear you out, and will carry you on in your way and carry you home at last.”