In my humble opinion, J.R.R. Tolkien proved to be the greatest fiction writer in the English language with his trilogy of books, The Lord of Rings. For our purposes here, there is a character in the second of the three books worth noting, one Gríma Wormtongue. Wormtongue, aptly named, was an atrocious advisor to King Théoden. Why? He was in league with the forces of evil. Though the King thought his words wise, sweet to the taste, they truly were poisonous drippings, as the snake twisted the truth.
Such men are not quarantined to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, able to be found even in the Mid-Atlantic. Craig Kocher arrived as campus chaplain in August 2009 at the University of Richmond, an institution of “higher learning” begun by Virginia Baptists in 1830. “Educated” at Duke Divinity School, Kocher had been called to his post under the guise of advising students as a minister of truth and faith. But Kocher could not serve truth and faith, for he was a servant of Satan, firm in the Serpent’s clutch, doing his master’s bidding. Like Wormtongue, Kocher dripped sweet poison from his lips. And what was his poisonous lie?
“Everyone is on an equally valid journey of faith and discovery. We all, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, worship the same god and believe the same fundamental things. No one is hell-bound, we are all simply on our own journeys to the enjoyment of the afterlife.”
God disagrees with Satan and his peons; and he makes his disagreement strikingly clear in Isaiah 46. Far from asserting that he is one of many, that he shares his courts with other deities, or that it is neutral if you recognize him as God or choose to recognize Allah or decide to simply live for yourself, God’s thesis claim in Isaiah 46 is:
I am God alone, singularly standing in my Godness.
This claim thunders home as he asks the question with obvious answer in verse 5 of our passage this morning, “To whom will you liken me and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be alike?” Nobody, there is not one. Yahweh is incomparable.
He uses 13 verses to irrefutably establish this claim in two ways. First, God examines the contenders, all that which “competes” with him for the praise of man. Second, God examines himself. Following this twofold examination, God makes demands upon his people.
With that, let us read together Isaiah 46:
Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast. 2 They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.
3 Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: 4 And even to your old age I am he; and even to gray hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you
5 To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like? 6 They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship. 7 They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.
8 Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. 9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.
12 Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, that are far from righteousness: 13 I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.
Let us first consider: God’s Examination of the Contenders
God takes up his examination of the idols, the false gods, in verses 1-2 and 6-7.
Isaiah 46:1-2: Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast. They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.
In these verses, Yahweh specifically examines Bel and Nebo, but what we learn about them is true of all false gods.
What we find is that all contenders are pitiful, powerless, pretenders.
So, who are Bel and Nebo? I doubt you will find anyone in Queens who actively worships them as divine.
J. Alec Motyer, in his Isaiah commentary, writes, “Bel (Marduk) was the city-god of Babylon and head of the Babylonian pantheon [like a Zeus figure]. Nebo (Bel’s son) was the city-god of Borsippa near Babylon and the god of writing and wisdom. His image was brought annually to Babylon to accompany his father in the New Year procession and to write on the Tables of Destiny the fates decreed by the gods for the coming year.”
Bel and Nebo held a special place of reverence in the eyes of Babylon—the world’s superpower at the time. They were worshiped as divine and men put their trust in them. But they were simply idols, impotent to move and impotent to save. “Beasts and cattle” carry them, groaning under the dead-weight of their load, weary of the burden.
“They could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity.”
These false gods, once paraded into Babylon in celebration, have shown themselves without ability to defend the city against attackers, and are thus paraded out in the shame of captivity. Bel and Nebo show themselves —in their incompetence—to be no gods at all, unless we use that word interchangeably with primordial slime, dandelions, or oompa-loompas.
Look with me at Isaiah 46:6-7, where God continues his examination of all contenders for deity outside himself:
They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship. 7 They bear him upon the shoulder, they carry him, and set him in his place, and he standeth; from his place shall he not remove: yea, one shall cry unto him, yet can he not answer, nor save him out of his trouble.
God’s verdict is plain: they are powerless.
Far from making anyone or anything, false gods are made by man, his material wealth and mental imaginings. “They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god.” The false gods are powerless to make.
The false gods are powerless to move. As God made plain in verses 1-2, these pretenders must be “lifted to their shoulders”, carried, set in place and secured that they would not fall over. How pathetic is that, the pantheon propped by people!
The false gods are powerless to hear and powerless to speak. They are deaf and dumb to the cries of the idolaters. One crying to an idol might as well speak to a wall, for he is just as likely to get an answer.
God’s survey of the contenders and their impotence concludes, at the end of verse 7, with a statement of their inability to save any who trust in them.
Though Bel and Nebo are no longer popular targets of praise, we know from Romans 1 that mankind has been sinning since the Garden of Eden by putting their trust in and giving their devotion to that which is not God. As John Calvin said, “Man’s nature, so to speak, is a perpetual factory of idols.” Do you sit here this morning only giving lip-service to the Lord? Have you given your very self to him? What God has made clear to us about our idols, those persons or things for which we live instead of God, makes it plain that to go on living for them is the height of folly.
The false gods have been measured; they have been weighed; and they have been found lacking, as weighty as wind and worthy as waste.
Idols that do not know, do not speak, do not act and do not save are worthy of mockery, not of trust.
Let us now consider: God’s Examination of Himself
Having dealt with Bel and Nebo, as well as Allah, the deified government of the humanists, the pleasure of the hedonists, the preferences and freedom of the post-modernists, and all other challengers, God turns the focus on himself with the remaining verses.
Isaiah 46:3-4, 8-13: “3 Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: 4 And even to your old age I am he; and even to gray hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you…8 Remember this, and shew yourselves men: bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. 9 Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, 10 Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it. 12 Hearken unto me, ye stubborn of heart, that are far from righteousness: 13 I bring near my righteousness; it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory.”
The foundation of this section is found in verses 9-11. What God tells us in the rest is built on that foundation. In verse 9 Yahweh answers his question posited in verse 5.
Question: “To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?”
Answer: “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.”
That is the conclusion of the matter, the definitive statement. To whom will you compare Yahweh, or make him equal? Nobody, for he is God. That is enough. He need not say more. But he does. God declares his Godness to us. And what does he choose to highlight here in this passage?
In verse 10 we read, “Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done.” Here we find a contrast in the extreme. Because the false gods are no gods, less animate than newborn kittens, they can say nothing. God is God though, and he is a speaking God. And he declares and speaks of all things in sum total, “the end from the beginning”. He has declared the future from the past of eternity, “from ancient times the things that are not yet done”.
Now, how is it that God can declare the end from the beginning, from eternity past things not yet done? Imagine I came over to your home for dinner one evening and regaled you with stories of Jon Edwards. I told you about his military and telephone company careers. I told you about how in old age he so served his wife that he literally broke his back helping his wife stand up from a chair following her stroke. I told you about his excitement watching his son’s basketball teams, about how he always said everything was fine, and about his morning routine of making coffee for his wife and himself to be sipped while they read the Bible together. I told you how he let me mow his lawns in the summers. What would all my declaring show? It would demonstrate my knowledge of Jon Edwards. In fact, for anyone to declare anything truthfully they must have knowledge of that thing.
So for God to declare the end from the beginning, from ancient times things not yet done, he must, and does, have total knowledge. He has no bandwidth limitations or blind-spots. God must know all things, beings, and doings in all time in order to declare them. God alone is omniscient, with absolute knowledge over the past, present, and future (even over the future decisions and actions of man).
Who is comparable to God? Does he not stand alone in his Godness?
How is this so? How is it that God has such expansive knowledge? He provides the answer in the second half of verse 10 through verse 11. “Saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure: 11 Calling a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.”
God alone is the all-wise God, his wisdom deep beyond measure. The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 11:33, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!” From the deep, cavernous springs of God’s wisdom bubbles forth his sure counsel. He needs no other, and looks to no other counselor. Men have attempted to provide for God their highly estimated counsel, but his response is clear, “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2)?
Counseling himself with limitless wisdom, God has a purpose that is all-expansive. Though the false figurine gods are made, brought here, stood up, and taken there apart from their will, for they have no will, God has a sure and set purpose.
And it is this God alone, in the magnificence of his Godness, who is able to accomplish his purpose in full without fail. He confidently declares even the distant future for he can and will do all that he has purposed. That which he has spoken he will bring to pass.
God knows all things well before they happen or are, even those things done by willing man, because he has a divine counsel that will stand, because his purposes in total are accomplished always without fail or exception. And they are accomplished so surely because he actively does his purposes and brings them about. Job testifies to this correctly when he says, “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).
Only those who serve the unthwartable God serve the true God.
A.W. Pink rightly writes, “A ‘god’ whose will is resisted, whose designs are frustrated, whose purpose is checkmated, possesses no title to Deity, and so far from being a fit object of worship, merits naught but contempt.” For someone to speak of a god who is not sovereign is for them to speak of a not-God, a non-deity unworthy of worship. This is true whether he is an Open Theist, someone who thinks God merely predicts what will happen, and then is constantly in response mode to the free agency exercised by man every day, or a Hindu. Paul speaks of the true God that, “In him [Christians] have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). In contrast to the idols made by man, his amethyst or imagination or governments, the Only True God is in the heavens, doing all that he pleases (Psalm 115:3).
What God has made plain is that he alone is the Sovereign, and that his absolute sovereignty is inextricable from what it means for him to be God. While there is an abundance of toys and flying monkeys called god by fallen man, made of silver and gold, unable to move, unable to speak, unable to decree, unable to act, God is the One True God, to be known as he has revealed himself to be, in his Godhood, his Godness. Pink, who seems to have uniquely steeped well in what God says in Isaiah 46:9-11, writes,
“The Godhood of God! What is meant by the expression? This: the omnipotency of God, the absolute sovereignty of God. When we speak of the Godhood of God we affirm that God is God. We affirm that God is something more than an empty title: that God is something more than a mere figure-head: that God is something more than a far-distant Spectator, looking helplessly on at the suffering which sin has wrought. When we speak of the Godhood of God we affirm that He is “King of kings and Lord of lords.” We affirm that God is something more than a disappointed, dis-satisfied, defeated Being, who is filled with benevolent desires but lacking in power to carry them out. When we speak of the Godhood of God we affirm that He is “the Most High.” We affirm that God is something more than One who has endowed man with the power of choice, and because He has done this is therefore unable to compel man to do His bidding. We affirm that God is something more than One who has waged a protracted war with the Devil and has been worsted. When we speak of the Godhood of God we affirm that He is the Almighty.”
God is God, the absolutely sovereign God.
For God to be sovereign, and thus to be God, it means that he is free and unconstrained to act according to his own counsel in actively and successfully bringing about all his purposes in all things and all details in all time—from eternity past to eternity future.
While God is sovereign over the force of gravity and the flow of the Hudson River, God highlights his sovereign work in judgment and salvation in Isaiah 46. In verse 11 we read that God will call, “a ravenous bird from the east, the man that executeth my counsel from a far country: Yea, I have spoken it, I will also bring it to pass; I have purposed it, I will also do it.”
God speaks of this same “ravenous bird” in Isaiah 41:2, “Who stirred up one from the east whom victory meets at every step? He gives up nations before him, so that he tramples kings underfoot; he makes them like dust with his sword, like driven stubble with his bow.” This one from the east is spoken of as a giant, crushing kings underfoot, as a dry, hot wind, scorching the earth in its path and leaving only stubble. Who is he? God identifies him by name in Isaiah 45:1 as Cyrus, who was to be the future king of Persia.
Though these passages make clear that Cyrus was going to be a great conqueror, plucking up kings and nations like a red-tailed hawk rocketing to earth to snatch rabbits in its talons, he is never the focus of them. The focus is always on God, who sovereignly had chosen to use Cyrus to judge nations.
It is God who calls him in 46:11.
It is God who stirs him up and gives up nations before him in 41:2.
It is God who royally anoints him, who grasps his right hand, who subdues the nations before him, who looses the loins of kings, who opens city gates to him, and who crushes fortified cities in 45:1-3. The same God who would use Babylon to punish unrepentant Judah was to use Pagan Cyrus to punish Babylon. Isaiah 41:4 reads, “Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning? I the Lord, the first, and with the last; I am he.” God is sovereign in judgment, using a foreign king to bring about his ends.
Not only is God sovereign in judgment, he is also sovereign in the salvation of his people. In Isaiah 46, he draws attention to his past sovereign working of salvation for his people, his sovereign, sustaining, saving work for his people during the coming exile, and gives promise of a future work of salvation, guaranteed on the basis of his absolute sovereignty, his Godness.
In verse 3 we read, “O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb.”
God had elected his people for salvation from before their existence as a nation. Then, when they were nothing, he gave Isaac to Abraham. When they were slaves, he made them a nation. Commenting on the use of the word “made” in verse 4, Motyer writes, “The people’s existence depends on the Lord.” He brought them out of Egypt in the Exodus. He brought them through the wilderness, feeding and watering them along the way, going before them as their God. He had brought them into the Promised Land (the very land from which they would be exiled for their idolatry, their looking in trust and dependence to others) and kept them there though their enemies were numerous and strong. When we read verse 8 and into 9, we think of these very acts of God. “Remember this, and shew yourselves men: Bring it again to mind, O ye transgressors. Remember the former things of old.”
Though the nation would be exiled for their idolatry, God insists upon his own Godness that he will indeed savingly preserve his elect remnant even through the exile. Verse 4: “And even to your old age I am he; and even to gray hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.”
The chapter ends in verses 12-13 with God speaking of his future work of salvation, that which he would sovereignly accomplish. “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.” In these verses we are presented with the fundamental problem with God’s chosen people and the solution which God will sovereignly secure. God’s chosen people are sinful. While God is totally righteous, they are unrighteous. Is this not the primary consideration of Romans 1-3? The righteousness of God and the unrighteousness of man. What does it mean for God to be righteous? John Piper’s definition of God’s righteousness is consistent with what we learned from Romans. “God’s righteousness is his unswerving commitment to preserve and display the glory of his name.” God is sovereignly all about himself, meaning that the target of all his plans, purposes and actions is his glory, the celebration of his name and the display of his magnificence. And that is all of rightness and goodness because he is the greatest, the most worthy, the most lovely of all that is, the very Creator of all outside himself. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever. Amen.”
God’s people are sinful in that from their conception, their disposition toward God is one of animosity, treating him as if he is weak, insignificant, unworthy, unlovely. They worship themselves and things God has made, instead of being fully dedicated to the adoration of their Maker. They have lived as if each individual is king, with the authority to select which fake deity to whom they desire to pledge allegiance, as if they were free agents in the matter. The consequence of such rebellious idolatry is rejection by God and a hellish death. And yet God, the one bent on his own glory, makes clear that he has set his own glory upon, staking his name to, Israel. How can this be? How can this be right of God?
While his people are far from his righteousness, God would bring his righteousness to them in his great future act of salvation, the New Exodus. God’s intention, set before time, was to bring his elect out of their exile due to sin and back into his place with him enjoying his blessings forever. He would do this by sending the Messiah, the Davidic King, the only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. Such was his sovereign pleasure.
The Christian gospel, as declared in the crown jewel that is the book of Romans, is that God Almighty has, with all moral perfection, sovereignly accomplished all the necessary work to declare his sinful elect “righteous” before him, justifying them instead of crushing them.
He has acted to justify his ungodly and idolatrous people. As is obvious by the exile of Judah into Babylon, God will not excuse sin. But far from it, God has brought his righteousness near by putting forward himself in the person of Jesus Christ to die on the cross as a substitute for his people. At the cross, centuries after Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus made the most lopsided trade in all human history, the great exchange. Jesus the sinless one took upon himself the unrighteousness of his people, and gave them as a gift his own perfect record. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
What heights of display of God’s absolute sovereignty!
What he planned, he declared, he accomplished. God is sovereign to save his people.
The Examinations Complete, First of the Sorry Excuses for “gods”, Then of the Singular God in His Absolute Sovereignty, We Must Now Consider the Demands God Makes Upon His People in This Chapter.
The demands in this chapter are the very demands God makes upon each of us. The Singular Sovereign God demands repentance and faith. His case is clear and irrefutable. All contenders are merely pretenders, impotent in all their lack of ways. God is God, the only all-wise, all-knowing, all-sovereign Lord of lords. He is sovereign in the judgment of sinners and in the salvation of his elect.
So what must we do? Each of us must hate and reject our idolatry and trust in the Lord God. Repentance is a changing of mind and course. God commands us to listen to him, not to any other who would entice us or call for our ear. “Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel” (46:3). “Hearken unto me, ye stubborn of heart, that are far from righteousness” (46:12). Do not look upon the perceived potential of the other. For those to whom Isaiah first prophesied, they were to remember Yahweh’s saving acts of old in the Exodus and look forward to His grand act in the New Exodus. For us as Christians, we are to remember God’s great work of salvation in Jesus on the cross, and look forward to our glorious future ahead.
If you are not a Christian, God has been kind to bring you to this page to read these truths. I implore you, repent and believe in Jesus, and so be saved. Christ died for the sin of all who would trust him, was buried, and rose on the third day. Repent and believe while the day is still called, “Today”.
If you are a Christian, God calls you today to singularly trust the one who made you and who will bear you to the end.
God stands alone in his Godness. He is incomparable. There is no one like him. Though many vie for the number one spot, claiming worthiness of worship, God decimates his opponents in Isaiah 46 by showing them all to simply be chumps, himself the only sovereign Lord, who judges and who saves. Let us put aside our weak and pathetic imaginings of God. Let us receive the biblical testimony of his grandeur. Let us cease to speak and act as if any contender is legitimate or worthy of respect or consideration. And let us stand firm when reviled for our faith in Christ, knowing that as God sovereignly preserved his remnant through the exile, so shall he preserve his saints to the very day of the return of the King.