Only the Lord God Grants Salvation

I. The Ineffectuality of Idols (1, 2)

A. Who are Bel and Nebo? These are the names of two of the gods of the Babylonians. God declares his superiority to them, for as stated in 45:16, “The manufacturers of idols will go away together in humiliation.” Likewise, the idols that they make will be classed among other created things, even lower than the beasts of burden.

B. Who are Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar? Nebuchadnezzar incorporates the name of Nebo into his name. Belshazzar incorporates the name of Bel into his name. Their assumption of these names ostensibly gave them divine insight and the prerogative to control the worship required by the people (See Nebuchadnezzar’s proclamation in Daniel 3:1, 15. See Belshazzar’ conduct in Daniel 5:1-5, 22-24).

C. What did the Lord do to them? The Lord humiliated and converted Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 4:36). For his haughtiness and aggressive idolatry, Belshazzar was executed in a foreign invasion (Daniel 4:22-25, 30, 31).


II. The Effectuality of God’s care (3, 4).

A. God calls the descendants of Jacob to listen to him. Incalculable in itself is the truth that Israel’s God spoke to them and revealed his plans to them and insists on their attention to him–“Listen to me!” In Genesis 1, the world came into existence in all its variety as a word from God. In Exodus 20, the law was revealed as “God spoke all these words.” Just as sure as creation and law is the certainty with which God will accomplish his decreed purpose in his people. He has spoken and he speaks only that which has been decreed from before the foundation of the world and is, in fact, intrinsic to omniscience and inherent wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:7; Ephesians 3:9-11; Titus 1:2, 3; 2 Timothy 1:9, 10).

B. God gave birth to the nation of Israel and preserves the remnant. Among the places in which Isaiah mentions the remnant that includes Gentiles are 11:10, 11, 16.

  1. From the time of Abraham, God had started setting aside a people of his own possession (Genesis 12:3). This promise was continued through Isaac (Genesis 26:24), and then through Jacob (Genesis 18:13-15). This word is to the remnant. Those to whom God has given true faith, scattered as a remnant throughout the physical nation, the promise of unfailing sustenance is given. God gave them birth and God now sustains them from generation to generation according to his power and promise.
  2. Though evident from certain events in the Old Testament, the full disclosure of the concept of the remnant in the inclusion of the Gentiles was reserved for the time of preaching under the gospel (Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:9-11; 1 Timothy 2:5-7).

C. No matter what the difficulties may appear to be, the Lord will continue to carry them even to old age. God’s people live in this world but are not of it. They often will appear as weak and unimportant, afflicted and cast down, unimpressive and virtually invisible to the world. They often seem to totter on the edge of extinction, but God has promised that he will never leave them not forsake them. Even in their suffering, God assures them and sanctifies them. Their status of glorification in eternity will make the sufferings of the present age as nothing. They will be a preparation for the “eternal weight of glory” to be given at the resurrection (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). “I will bear you and I will deliver you.”


III. Men must transport and care for the non-deity idols (5-7)

A. Having begun the contrast between Himself and ineffectual idols, the Lord now presses the comparison further (5). God wants his people to have a faith that can stand up to the questions that people ask, so he offers probing questions. He asks a comparison to any of the other so-called gods of the heathen around them. Particularly, in anticipation of captivity, God wants them to know that he will demonstrate his superiority to the gods of Babylon and Persia (See Daniel 3:28-30; 6:18-23).

B. Men make their idols out of vain contrivances (6). Any god worth being a god would be infinite, but the material for these gods is weighed on the scale. Any god worth being a god would be at least a creator, but these gods must be created from the mind of the potential worshiper and the skill of a craftsman. To this non-creating, finite piece of constructed wood and metal the pagan bows himself. Without the blatant action of constructing a god, how many today still find their goals and life and their reason for joy completely bound up in the material of this world and the approval of finite beings?

C. Their idols can neither move themselves nor respond to the petitions of their worshippers.

  1. The Lord God who spoke to Abraham is the Creator of the world and inhabits all space, but his being is not limited by the space he inhabits. In his immensity there is no place where all of him is not. The idols of Babylon, however, must be moved from one place to another and settled in a safe place where they will not be toppled over. The First London Confession says, “That God is of himself, that is neither from another, nor of another, nor by another, nor for another: but is a Spirit, who as his being is of himself, so he gives being, moving, and preservation to all other things, being in himself eternal, most holy, every way infinite in greatness, wisdom, power, justice, goodness, truth.”
  2. Idols have no ears, have no mental mechanisms of response, have no compassion, no power, no empathy, no love, no wrath, no purpose. Their worshippers will find no response for any requests they make nor any redemption from any trouble. Cry, cry to a block of wood and your cry is in vain.

D. Do any of the “gods” of other world religions do what the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ does? Who will compare to him? Who creates and works all things after the counsel of his own will? Who remains just and yet justifies sinners? Who forgives transgressions? Who sends his Son to be the Savior of those who are his enemies, transgressors of his just law, captive to the god of this world, walking according to the course of this world, by nature children of wrath?


IV. God plans all things and moves men according to his purpose (8-11)

A. The Lord lays claim to exclusivity and puts forth the evidence of the past (8, 9). In the beginning of the Ten Commandments we read, “And God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20:1, 2). At their end, the elders of Israel said, “Surely the Lord our God has shown us his glory and his greatness, and we have heard his voice from the midst of the fire. We have seen this day that God speaks with man; yet he still lives” (Deuteronomy 5:24). If this story is told faithfully, surely there will be a corporate memory of this deliverance and this glorious display of power and holiness. Perhaps God calls on them to remember the “Song of Moses” that he gave them before Moses’ death. This song they were to memorize so that when they rebelled “this song will testify against them as a witness; for it will not be forgotten in the mouths of their descendants, for I know the inclination of their behavior today” (Deuteronomy 31:21). In that song, we find these words: “Now see that I am He, and there is no God besides me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; Nor is there any who can deliver out of my hand” (Deuteronomy 32:39). Paul drew to mind the Lord’s words to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Romans 9:17).

B. God’s knowledge, indeed his purposeful control, of all things in all times sets him apart as the only true God. He declares the “end from the beginning” and “from ancient times things which have not been done” (10a). This means that his will for history in all its events was purposed in his eternal decrees of creation, providence, and redemption. As Paul affirmed, we have been “predestinated according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his own will” (Ephesians 1:11). “My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all my good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:10b).

C. Now, in the same way that Pharaoh was raised up by the Lord for his purpose so the “bird of prey from the east, the man of my purpose from a far country” is raised up. As 45:1 predicted, “Thus says the Lord to Cyrus his anointed, . . . for the sake of Jacob my servant, and Israel my chosen one, I have also called you by your name.” The yoke of Babylon on Judah in exile would be broken by this hawk-nosed “bird of prey.” The Darius mentioned in Daniel 5:31, probably was subservient to Cyrus or served as a governing or military leader under Cyrus. He was given charge over the Chaldeans as part of a larger empire of Cyrus. Both Cyrus and Darius served the purpose of God in the restoration of the Jews to their homeland (Isaiah 44: 24-28; Ezra 1:1-4; 5:14-16; 6:1, 2 14).

D. Again, God declares that all of this will happen according to his word. The First London Confession states, “Constancy is that whereby the decree of God remains always immutable; truth is that whereby he declares that alone which he hath decreed.” Here we have words from the Lord which declare that very proposition. God declares only what he has decreed and thus both the words and the event are infallibly certain. “Truly I have spoken, truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it” (11b).


V. God Himself will accomplish the work of salvation according to his own righteousness (12, 13). The Lord speaks to Israel who found themselves in captivity because of their unrighteousness, their ignoring of his laws, of his commands for mercy, justice, compassion, and pure heart-felt worship. They were stubborn in spite of the warning of Isaiah (Isaiah 1:4, 12-14, 17; 3:13-15; 5:20). Their captivity had been set forth with clarity (5:13) and in this passage is assumed by prophecy as present. He has designated his anointed one for this delivery (44:28, 45:1). The present delivery by the anointed Cyrus, however, is short-lived and does not bestow the kind of salvation that will endure to eternity. The more extended purpose of this passage, therefore, is to point to a true deliverance that will have eternal consequences and will solve the issue of unrighteousness forever (Romans 3:21-26 cf Isaiah 1:18). This deliverance will be the true manifestation of the divine glory (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14). The Lord Jesus will be the true anointed one. His perfectly obedient life even unto the death of the cross will constitute the true, unsurpassable, saving righteousness.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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