Yesterday I stumbled across a passage I’ve read several times, but I noticed something I’d never noticed before. It started off the way I remember:
“Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden.
Bel and Nebo are the names of two gods of Babylon, a powerful nation that conquered the known world, including Israel and Judah–God’s chosen people. Babylon seemed unstoppable, and it seemed that their gods were unstoppable.
But then it all changed. Cyrus and the Persian army defeated Babylon. Then the statues of these “powerful” gods–Bel and Nebo–were unceremoniously tossed onto oxen and carried away. Apparently the idols were nearly too heavy for the poor cattle.
“They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.” (46:2)
Although they supposedly helped men of war overcome their enemies and take captives, Bel and Nebo couldn’t do a simple
thing like help a cow with his burden. Plus, now these idols are the burden; they are the captives. As a further irony, Nebo was a spokesman god–a kind of prophet. I’ll bet he didn’t prophesy his own downfall. He never saw it coming, but the Lord did. Over and over again in Isaiah, God reminds his people that his words are the only words that come to pass.
What struck me was that the Lord makes a contrast between the helplessness of the idols and his own fatherly actions.
“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born.” (46:3)
Unlike false gods (idols) that need people to carry them, the true God carries his people. He goes on…
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” (43:4)
It’s almost as if God is shouting. “My people, I know you are tired: I will carry you! I know you lack resources: I will sustain you! I know you need help: I will rescue you!.”
Perhaps we don’t have a physical idol sitting on our shelf or in our living room, but we have idols in our minds and hearts that aren’t the true God. And the thing about an idol is that the worshipper does all the work. Some cultures even have idols that need food.
I realized that if I feel like I have to “make it all happen,” then I’m probably serving an idol, not God. If the pressure is all on me, it’s like carrying around a lifeless god that can’t take care of itself, let alone me. Many times as I’ve prayed, I’ve looked back and thanked the Lord for how he has carried me and my family. It takes the pressure off knowing that God has been and will be in the driver’s seat. And if I trust him, I can expect that God will continue to carry me.