In Is. 46:1-2 we read of the chief gods of the Babylonians, Marduk and Nebo:
“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. They stooped over, they have bowed down together; they could not rescue the burden, but have themselves gone into captivity.”
Bel is a reference to the chief deity of Babylon whose name was Marduk. He was the most important and tutelary god (guardian deity) among the Babylonians. Nebo was the son of Marduk and revered as the god of divine interpretation. His name, Nebo, is etymologically related to the Hebrew word nabiy‘, which is the word for prophet. Thus, Nebo was seen as the spokesman for Marduk.
The name of Nebo was often seen in the names of Babylonian kings, such as Nebuchadnezzar. He was also worshipped as the savior god – the god who delivered. That is the subject under discussion in vv. 1-2 – the impotency and weakness of these gods, their inability to save, and the futility of trusting in them. The statement that they have “bowed” and “stooped” is a reference to the overthrow of these pagan deities. They are tottering gods and stumbling idols, being carried away in humiliation and disgrace.
In vv. 5-8 Isaiah says that they are but images carved from wood and covered with gold or silver. They cannot see, hear, speak, or help. They just stand in one place, unable to move and having to be carried. So, the Babylonians lifted their idols onto their shoulders and carried them about:
“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” (Is. 46:7).
But notice the incredible contrast in v. 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; even to your old age, I shall be the same, and even to your graying years I shall bear you! I have done it, and I shall carry you; and I shall bear you and I shall deliver you.”
The Babylonians carry their gods, but Israel’s God carries them! In Babylon, Marduk and Nebo are carried on the shoulders of men, but in Israel men are carried on the shoulders of Jehovah.
The Lord says, “… even to your old age . . . and even to your graying years I shall bear you.” Mothers carry their children when they are infants, but they do not usually carry them into adulthood and certainly not when they are old and gray. But God says, “I have carried you from your birth and I will continue to carry you even to your old age.”
The expression “from birth . . . to your old age” is a Hebrew idiom. The often-used expression “from Dan to Beersheba” means “from Dan to Beersheba and everyplace in between.” When Joel prophesied that the Spirit would be poured upon the “old men” and the “young men,” it means “the old men, the young men, and everyone in between.” “From alpha to omega” means “from the first letter of the alphabet to the last letter of the alphabet and every letter in between.” In this instance, the idiom means “from birth, to death, and all the years – every moment – in between.”
The significance of this is seen in v. 8: “Remember this, and be assured” [lit. firm]. One translation renders it, “Remember this and place yourself on a firm foundation.” The only place to stand is on the firm and sure foundation of the God who has carried you from birth, through all of your years, and has promised to carry you unto the end. You cannot rely on your own strength or ability, nor can you trust in human wisdom or intellect.
Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last, and there is no God besides me. And who is like me? Let him proclaim and declare it; yes, let him recount it to me in order, from the time that I established the ancient nation. And let them declare to them the things that are coming and the events that are going to take place. Do not tremble and do not be afraid; have I not long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides me, or is there any other Rock? I know of none.” (Is. 44:6-8; emphasis mine.)
The One who long since announced and declared His purpose says, “There is no other God but me and there is no other Rock.” There is only one foundation to build upon, and when you are built on that Rock there is no anxious fear – “Do not tremble and do not be afraid.”
The Foundation that is firm and the Rock that is reliable is the FAITHFULNESS of God. This “determined loyalty” is the heart of the Old Testament word hesed, meaning “steadfast love.” You will never have to carry Him; He will always carry you – every day of your life.
Notice that God’s faithfulness is not based on your goodness or worthiness. In Is. 46:8 this promise of a foundation is given to those who are called “transgressors” and in v. 12 to those identified as “stubborn minded” and “far from righteousness.”
This is not to make light of sin or to suggest that God winks at disobedience. It simply means that even though Israel had transgressed and missed God’s righteousness, He would not abandon them. His faithfulness is not rooted in our character, but His. He is at His best when we are at our worst. When we are the weakest, He is the strongest. When our sin is great, His grace is greater. He gives His best when we deserve it the least. He has a steadfast love and determined loyalty that will never, ever let go of you and will never, ever give up on you. His faithfulness is the foundation that will keep you in any storm.