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The True God vs. Lifeless Idols
Anciently, Egypt and territories south (verse 14) were not handed over to Cyrus. But they did fall to Cyrus' half-mad son Cambyses, who was a cruel tyrant. In the end time, these areas will actually be delivered from oppression by the returning Jesus Christ. Then they will be given over to the Israelites as servants. Yet what kind of deliverance is that? Consider that their temporary servitude will actually be for their good, because the Israelites they serve will be converted Christians looking out for their interests. These servants will see the goodness of God in action. Treated so well, they and other previously Muslim peoples will at last repent of their former hatred against the Jews and other Israelites.
Verse 18 shows that God's original creation of the earth was not in vain (Hebrew tohu). Therefore Genesis 1:2 should properly be translated, "The earth became without form [tohu] and void [bohu]…" (See the Beyond Today Bible Commentary on Genesis 1 and pages 16-17 of our booklet Is the Bible True? for a more complete explanation of this often debated scripture.)
Again, we see mention of the foolishness of idolatry. It is ridiculous that supposed gods who are worshiped as supernaturally powerful must be carried around by the worshipers (verse 20; Isaiah 46:7). Eventually, "every knee shall bow" to the true God (verse 23). Verse 23 is quoted by Paul (Romans 14:11) to show that we all give account individually to God, and therefore we do not need to spend our time judging our brothers and sisters in Christ (verses 10-13).
Continuing in Isaiah 46, Bel and Nebo (verse 1) are Babylonian deities. "The reference to Cyrus and his victories over Babylon now brings to mind the futile gods of that great civilization, Bel (also called Marduk) and Nebo. Babylon's defeat proves God's superiority (Isaiah 46:1-2). And what a different relationship He has with His people. Pagans carry their gods. The Lord carries His people (vv. 3-4). Israel's incomparable God alone shapes and reveals the future, a future that holds salvation for her (vv. 5-13)…. How wonderful to have a God who holds us up, rather than an idol we must lug around on our shoulders" (Bible Reader's Companion, chap. summary of 46-47).
Only the true God is able to declare what will happen in the future and then bring it to pass. Incidentally, chapter 46 explains how God knows the future. It is not because the future already exists so that He is able to look forward in time. Rather, He declares what will be (verse 10) and in His omnipotence makes sure that it happens (verse 11). Yet it must be explained that He does not cause anyone to sin (James 1:13). Rather, He is able to foretell sin because He knows how demons and people will react under given circumstances—and He has ultimate control over circumstances (see the article "Twist of Fate")
Finally, "a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country" (Isaiah 46:11) is a reference "to Cyrus (Isaiah 41:2) and to the speed and power of his conquests (Isaiah 41:3)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Isaiah 46:11). And as already explained, the coming of Cyrus was a type and forerunner of the coming of Christ in power. It is in Christ that God's righteousness and salvation are at last brought to stubborn Israel (verses 12-13).