ISAIAH 46 COMMENTARY
EDITED BY GLENN PEASE
Gods of Babylon
1 Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low;
their idols are borne by beasts of burden.[a]
The images that are carried about are burdensome,
a burden for the weary.
1.BARNES, Bel boweth down - Bel or Belus ( bel, from beel, the same as baal was the chief domestic god of the Babylonians, and was worshipped in the celebrated tower of Babylon (compare Jer_50:2; Jer_51:44). It was usual to compound names of the titles of the divinities that were worshipped, and hence, we often meet with this name, as in Bel-shazzar, Bel-teshazzar, Baal-Peor, Baal-zebub, Baal-Gad, Baal-Berith. The Greek and Roman writers compare Bel with Jupiter, and the common name which they give to this idol is Jupiter Belus (Pliny, Nat. Hist. xxxvii. 10; Cic. De Nat. Deor. iii. 16; Diod. ii. 8, 9). Herodotus (i. 181-183) says, that in the center of each division of the city of Babylon (for the Euphrates divided the city into two parts) there is a circular space surrounded by a wall. In one of these stands the royal palace, which fills a large and strongly defended space.
The temple of Jupiter Belus, says he, occupies the other, whose huge gates of brass may still be seen. It is a square building, each side of which is of the length of two furlongs. In the midst, a tower rises of the solid depth and height of one furlong; on which, resting as a base, seven other turrets are built in regular succession. The ascent on the outside, winding from the ground, is continued to the highest tower; and in the middle of the whole structure there is a convenient resting place. In this temple there is a small chapel, which contains a figure of Jupiter in a sitting posture, with a large table before him; these, with the base of the table, and the sear of the throne, are all of the purest gold. There was formerly in this temple a statue of solid gold, twelve cubits high. This was seized, says Herodotus, by Xerxes, who put the priest to death who endeavored to prevent its removal.
The upper room of this tower was occupied as an observatory. The idol Baal, or Bel, was especially the god of the Phenicians, of the Canaanites, of the Chaldeans, of the Moabites, and of some of the surrounding nations. The most common opinion has been, that the idol was the sun (see the notes at Isa_17:8-9), and that, under this name, this luminary received divine honors. But Gesenius supposes that by the name Jupiter Belus was not denoted Jupiter, the father of
the gods, but the planet Jupiter, Stella Jovis, which was regarded, together with Venus, as the giver of all good fortune; and which forms with Venus the most fortunate of all constellations under which sovereigns can be born. The planet Jupiter, therefore, he supposes to have been worshipped under the name Bel, and the planet Venus under the name of Astarte, or Astareth (see Gesenius, Commentary zu Isaiah, ii. 333ff, and Robinsons Calmet, Art. Baal). The phrase boweth down, means here, probably, that the idol sunk down, fell, or was removed. It was unable to defend the city, and was taken captive, and carried away. Jerome renders Confractus
est Bel - Bel is broken. The Septuagint, Epese Bel - Bel has fallen. Perhaps in the language there is allusion to the fact that Dagon fell before the ark of God 1Sa_5:2-3, 1Sa_5:7. The sense is, that even the object of worship - that which was regarded as the most sacred among the Chaldeans - would be removed.
Nebo stoopeth - This was an idol-god of the Chaldeans. In the astrological mythology of the Babylonians, according to Gesenius (Commentary zu Isaiah ii. 333ff), this idol was the planet Mercury. He is regarded as the scribe of the heavens, who records the succession of the celestial and terrestrial events; and is related to the Egyptian Hermes and Anubis. The extensive worship of this idol among the Chaldeans and Assyrians is evident from the many compound proper names occurring in the Scriptures, of which this word forms a part, as Neb-uchadnezzar, Neb-uzaradan: and also in the classics, as Nab-onad, Nab-onassar. Nebo was, therefore, regarded as an attendant on Bel, or as his scribe. The exact form of the idol is, however, unknown. The word stoopeth, means that it had fallen down, as when one is struck dead he falls suddenly to the earth; and the language denotes conquest, where even the idols so long worshipped would be thrown down. The scene is in Babylon, and the image in the mind of the prophet is that of the city taken, and the idols that were worshipped thrown down by the conqueror, and carried away in triumph.
Their idols were upon the beasts - That is, they are laid upon the beasts to be borne away in triumph. It was customary for conquerors to carry away all that was splendid and valuable, to grace their triumph on their return; and nothing would be a more certain indication of victory, or a more splendid accompaniment to a triumph, than the gods whom the vanquished nations had adored. Thus in Jer_48:7, it is said, And Chemosh shall go forth into captivity, with his priests and his princes together (compare Jer_44:3, margin.)
Your carriages - That is, they were laden with the idols that were thus borne off in triumph.
They are a burden - They are so numerous; so heavy; and to be borne so far. This is a very striking and impressive manner of foretelling that the city of Babylon would be destroyed. Instead of employing the direct language of prophecy, the prophet represents himself as seeing the heavy laden animals and wagons moving along slowly, pressed down under the weight of the captured gods to be borne into the distant country of the conqueror. They move forth from Babylon, and the caravan laden with the idols, the spoils of victory, is seen slowly moving forward to a distant land.
2. CLARKE, Their carriages were heavy loaden Their burdens are heavy - For
nesuotheychem, your burdens, the Septuagint had in their copy nesuotheyhem, their burdens.
3. GILL, Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth,.... These are names of the idols of Babylon. Bel is by some thought to be the contraction of Baal, the god of the Phoenicians, called by them
Beel; so "Beelsamin" (h), in the Phoenician language, is Lord of heaven: but rather this is the Belus of the Babylonians, who was a renowned king of them, and after his death deified; whom Nebuchadnezzar, according to Megasthenes (i), calls Belus his progenitor, and by whom Babylon was walled about. This idol is, no doubt, the same with Jupiter Belus, who had a temple in Babylon with gates of brass, and which was in being in the times of Herodotus (k), as he reports. This name is sometimes taken into the names of their kings, as Belshazzar or Beltesbazaar. Nebo was another of their idols, an oracular one, from whom, by its priests,
prophesies of things future were pretended to be given out; for it may have its name from , "to prophesy", and answers to the Apollo or Mercury of other nations. The Alexandrian copy of the Septuagint has very wrongly, instead of it, Dagon the god of the Philistines; and so the Arabic version "Dsagon". This name Nebo was also taken into the names of the kings of Babylon, as Nabonassar, Nabopalassar, Nebuchadnezzar, and others. As Bel is the same with Belus, so Nebo is the same with Beltis, the queen Megasthenes or Abydenus speaks of in the same place;
and Bel may design the sun, and Nebo the moon, which may have its name from , "to bud forth", or "make fruitful", as the moon does; see Deu_33:14. It is said of both these deities, that they "stooped" or "bowed down"; being taken down from the high places where they were set upright, and looked grand and majestic, and where they might be seen and worshipped by the people. Jarchi gives the words another sense, that it represents in a sarcastic way these idols, as through fear, in a like condition that men are in, in a fit of the colic, who not being able to get to the solid stool, are obliged to bend their knees, and ease themselves as they can (l). Aben Ezra seems to refer to the same signification of the word, when he says the sense was well known, but it was not fit to write it. The prophet goes on in the derision of these idols: their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle; that is, being taken down, and broke to pieces for the sake of the silver, and gold, and brass that were about them, or they were made of, they were put into sacks by the Persians, and laid upon camels, and mules, and horses, and transported into Media and Persia. Jarchi interprets it, their idols are like to beasts, which defile themselves with their dung as they do; and so the Targum renders it, "their images are "in" the likeness of serpents and beasts.'' These were the forms of them: your carriages were heavy loaden, they are a burden to the weary beast; this seems to be spoken to the Persians, who loaded their carriages, and their beasts, with this lumber, that their wagons were ready to break down, and their cattle groaned under the weight of it; a sarcastic jeer at the idols which were become the plunder and prey of the soldiers. It was usual at the taking of cities to demolish the idols of them; and this was typical of the demolition of Heathen idols, and the cessation of Heathen oracles in the Gentile world, through the spread of the Gospel in it, in the first times of Christianity.
4. HENRY, We are here told,
I. That the false gods will certainly fail their worshippers when they have most need of them,
Isa_46:1, Isa_46:2. 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