What Isaiah Says About the Burden of Carrying Idols, ישעיהו מו:א-ו / Isaiah 46:1-6

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Introduction to Isaiah 46:1-6

These passages from Isaia46:1-6 are a continuation of the themes being given to us that provide a summation of the superiority of God over the gods of the nations. Themes such as the assurance of salvation, and God’s ability to save. For example, Isaiah 45:17 speaks of an everlasting salvation for Israel, while verses 20-21 emphasize that there is no other God besides the Lord, highlighting His knowledge of the future. Isaiah 46 continues these themes, contrasting the burden of carrying idols (v.2) with God’s promise to carry and save His people (v.4). The Scriptures describe idolatry as a significant burden because it involves placing trust and reverence in objects or entities that cannot offer guidance, support, or salvation. In addition to this, idolatry keeps one in the bondage to sin, something only the God of Israel and His Messiah are able to break us free from. The prophets, particularly Isaiah, emphasize the contrast between the helplessness of idols and the power of God. For instance, Isaiah 46:1-2 speaks of idols being a heavy load to the weary beasts that carry them, symbolizing the spiritual burden and futility of worshiping these man-made objects. Idolatry leads to spiritual blindness and separation from God, who is the only source of truth, true life, and salvation. In Isaiah 44:9-20, the absurdity of idol worship is highlighted, showing how people invest their time and resources into creating idols that cannot speak, hear, or deliver them in times of trouble. In the New Testament, idolatry is seen as anything that takes the place of God in one’s life, which can be a burden because it hinders a person’s relationship with God and can lead to moral and spiritual decay. For example, Paul writes the following according to Romans 1:25 on idolatry.

Romans 1:25  
1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. (KJV οἵτινες μετήλλαξαν τὴν ἀλήθειαν τοῦ θεοῦ ἐν τῷ ψεύδει καὶ ἐσεβάσθησαν καὶ ἐλάτρευσαν τῇ κτίσει παρὰ τὸν κτίσαντα, ὅς ἐστιν εὐλογητὸς εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας, ἀμήν.)

Romans 1:25 discusses the error of worshiping created things rather than the Creator, which is a form of idolatry. We note the Greek word μετήλλαξαν whose stem (ἀλλάσσω) means ”to change, exchange” the truth. Surveying the use of this stem in the NT text, we note the special significance Paul attaches to the compound καταλλάσσω and its derivatives, which occur only in Paul’s letters. He uses this verb 6× across three passages. In one of these contexts the subject is the reconciliation of human beings with one another (1 Corinthians 7:11), but the other two passages, where the cognate noun καταλλαγή is also used, deal with the believer’s relationship to God (Romans 5:10–11, 2 Corinthians 5:18–20, the noun occurs also in Romans 11:15). This concept that deals with a person’s relationship with God is what Paul is speaking of here in Romans 1:25 on exchanging the truth of God into a lie. We must believe what God’s word states in the Scriptures! In addition, idolatry is a burden because it misdirects human devotion and trust away from God, who alone can carry and save His people, as stated in Isaiah 46:4. This misplaced devotion can lead to a life encumbered by the weight of false hopes and the inability to experience the freedom and peace that comes from a relationship with God and walking in His holy and righteous ways. We also note how Isaiah 46 speaks of God’s righteousness and power to bring to pass His plans (verses 7 and 12-13). These things fit into this section of Isaiah because they are connected to the Servant King Messiah of God that Isaiah is promising to come and deliver God’s people. Note the parallels of resting in the Messiah according to the following verses:

Matthew 11:28–30  
11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (KJV Δεῦτε πρός με πάντες οἱ κοπιῶντες καὶ πεφορτισμένοι, κἀγὼ ἀναπαύσω ὑμᾶς. ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφʼ ὑμᾶς καὶ μάθετε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, καὶ εὑρήσετε ἀνάπαυσιν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν· ὁ γὰρ ζυγός μου χρηστὸς καὶ τὸ φορτίον μου ἐλαφρόν ἐστιν.)

John 3:16–17  
3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 3:17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (KJV οὕτως γὰρ ἠγάπησεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν κόσμον, ὥστε τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ ἔδωκεν, ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς αὐτὸν μὴ ἀπόληται ἀλλʼ ἔχῃ ζωὴν αἰώνιον. οὐ γὰρ ἀπέστειλεν ὁ θεὸς τὸν υἱὸν εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἵνα κρίνῃ τὸν κόσμον, ἀλλʼ ἵνα σωθῇ ὁ κόσμος διʼ αὐτοῦ.)

1 Corinthians 10:14  
10:14 Wherefore, my dearly beloved, flee from idolatry. (KJV Διόπερ, ἀγαπητοί μου, φεύγετε ἀπὸ τῆς εἰδωλολατρίας.)

The themes found in Isaiah 45:14 through Isaiah 46 is echoed in the NT text concerning the God of Israel and His Messiah Yeshua. Yeshua invites all who are weary to come and find rest in Him, and Paul writes that there is futility in idolatry, and to flee from idolatry. The assurance of knowing that we are saved by faith in the Messiah and the God of Israel are seen in passages such as John 3:16-17. We also note how the NT commands believers to trust in the God of Israel and His plan for righteousness and truth, and to turn from idolatry and embrace the salvation that God has provided in the Messiah. We note how this demonstrates how the God of Israel is the One whose power works through His Messiah to bring victory and deliverance. It is contrasted here in Isaiah 46 when one asks the question in relation to these things, “How can a god that you have to carry around with you ever save you?” Note how it is man who carries, saves, and delivers the idol gods from destruction (i.e. in case of fire) as opposed to the God of Israel who is not represented by any idol (Shemot / Exodus 20:1-6) and He is the One who carries us. The major emphasis is that there is no comparison of the God of Israel to the idol gods of the nations. And that the Lord God Almighty who takes care of His people, will continue to do so until the end (Isaiah 46:3-4). We can confidently know that God and His Messiah can be trusted! We can also know with confidence that there is salvation in the Savior Son of God, Yeshua the Messiah!

Masoretic Text (MSS) on Isaiah 46:1-6

Isaiah goes on saying the following according to Isaiah 46:1-2.

ספר ישעיה פרק מו
א   כָּרַע בֵּל קֹרֵס נְבוֹ הָיוּ עֲצַבֵּיהֶם לַחַיָּה וְלַבְּהֵמָה נְשֹֻאֹתֵיכֶם עֲמוּסוֹת מַשָּׂא לַעֲיֵפָה: ב   קָרְסוּ כָרְעוּ יַחְדָּו לֹא יָכְלוּ מַלֵּט מַשָּׂא וְנַפְשָׁם בַּשְּׁבִי הָלָכָה:       

Isaiah 46:1 states, “Bel boweth down, Nebo stoopeth, their idols were upon the beasts, and upon the cattle: your carriages were heavy loaden; they are a burden to the weary beast. (כָּרַע בֵּל קֹרֵס נְבוֹ הָיוּ עֲצַבֵּיהֶם לַחַיָּה וְלַבְּהֵמָה נְשֹֻאֹתֵיכֶם עֲמוּסוֹת מַשָּׂא לַעֲיֵפָה)” Isaiah 46:2 “They stoop, they bow down together; they could not deliver the burden, but themselves are gone into captivity. (קָרְסוּ כָרְעוּ יַחְדָּו לֹא יָכְלוּ מַלֵּט מַשָּׂא וְנַפְשָׁם בַּשְּׁבִי הָלָכָה)” 

Cross References for Isaiah 46:1-2: Jdg 18:17–18, 21, 24; 1 Sa 5:1–5; 2 Sa 5:21; Ps 63:1; Is 2:18; 10:11; 21:9; 45:20; 46:1, 7; Je 5:1–5; 10:5; 43:12–13; 48:7; 50:2–4; 51:44, 47; Ho 10:5–6; Am 5:26; Wis 14:11; Let Jer 6:4, 27, 41; Bel 3, 13–20

Isaiah 46:1 opens by naming two Babylonian deities: Bel (בֵּל) and Nebo (נְבוֹ). These deities were significant deities in the Babylonian pantheon, and their historical context is deeply intertwined with Babylonian culture and religion. Bel, also known as Belus or Marduk, was considered the chief deity of Babylon. The name Bel means “lord” and is akin to the term Ba’al used in various Semitic languages. (Note that Ba’al means lord or husband, and so this provides the picture of the one who joins his or herself with Ba’al makes a covenant similar to that of marriage making the idol god one’s husband and lord.) Bel was associated with Jupiter and was often referred to as the creator god in Babylonian mythology. Nebo, also known as Nabu, was the god of wisdom and writing and served as the son and interpreter of Bel. Nebo’s name signifies “prophet” or “herald,” and he was associated with Mercury. He was particularly revered in the city of Borsippa, near Babylon. The verses from Isaiah 46:1-2 present a vivid contrast between the idols of Babylon and the God of Israel. The Hebrew text uses specific words to emphasize this contrast. כָּרַע (Kara) and קֹרֵס (Kores) mean ‘to bow down’ or ‘stoop/bend’, are used to describe the idols Bel and Nebo. These words convey a sense of helplessness and submission, as these gods are depicted as being unable to save themselves, let alone their worshippers. עֲצַבֵּיהֶם (Atzabeihem) refers to the ‘idols’ or ‘images,’ highlighting the man-made nature of these gods. נְשֹֻאֹתֵיכֶם (Nesuotekhem) and עֲמוּסוֹת (Amusot) mean ‘carried’ and ‘impose a heavy yoke,’ respectively, and illustrate that these idols, which were supposed to carry the burdens of the people, have become burdens themselves. לַעֲיֵפָה (La’ayefah) means ‘weary’ or ‘tired/exhausted,’ indicating the exhaustion of the beasts of burden, which is metaphorical for the spiritual weariness of idolatry. The Hebrew text describes the Babylonian deities Bel and Nebo as being carried on beasts of burden, unable to escape their heavy burdens and the weariness of their journey. In the context of Isaiah 46:1-2, these deities are depicted as powerless and burdensome, unable to save themselves or their followers during the fall of Babylon. This imagery serves to highlight the inability of idols compared to the sovereignty and power of the God of Israel. The historical context suggests that during the Persian conquest of Babylon, idols like Bel and Nebo were transported as spoils of war, emphasizing their helplessness and the futility of idol worship.These features of the Hebrew text underscore the futility of idol worship and the sovereignty of God, who, unlike the idols, carries His people and does not become a burden to them. 

As for New Testament parallels, while Isaiah 46:1-2 is not directly quoted, the theme of the futility of idolatry and the sufficiency of God is echoed in the New Testament. For example, in Acts 17:24-25, Paul speaks to the Athenians about the God who made the world and everything in it, stating that He does not live in temples made by human hands, nor is He served by human hands, as if He needed anything. This reflects the idea that God is not like the idols that need to be carried and cared for; instead, He is the one who provides and cares for His creation. The biblical narrative uses these deities to contrast the living God of Israel, who needs no one to carry Him, with the lifeless idols of Babylon that must be carried by beasts of burden. This serves as a powerful reminder of the one true God’s supremacy over man-made idols.

The map shows the regions of conquest for Babylon and Media. Note something about the Babylonian religion, Marduk’s son Nebo (or Nabu) is the god of the scribe and of intellectual pursuits, had his seat at Borsippa, which was 10 miles south of Babylon. The name of this Babylonian god had an influence on the names of the Babylonian rulers, such as Nabopolassar, Nebuchadrezzar, and Nabonidus, it is likely that Nabu was the god these rulers took their name from connecting them to the gods. It is likely due to this approach, the rulers were also worshiped as gods, just as we see in the Egyptian and Roman religions. This makes sense with the account of Daniel 3 and how King Nebuchadnezzar made a gold statue of himself and decreed that at the sound of musical instruments, all people should bow down and worship this idol. The penalty for not doing so was death in a blazing furnace. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who were Jewish exiles, refused to comply with the order, leading to their famous trial by fire from which they emerged unharmed. We note how the historical account fits well with the events of the Biblical narrative. (John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah, Chapters 40–66, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998, p 228–230.) The point that Isaiah is making is that these gods need to be carried, and they place a heavy burden upon the people. The idea is that if the idol god needs to be carried, he would be of no help when trouble comes. 

Isaiah continues saying the following according to ISaiah 46:3-4.

ספר ישעיה פרק מו
ג   שִׁמְעוּ אֵלַי בֵּית יַעֲקֹב וְכָל-שְׁאֵרִית בֵּית יִשְֹרָאֵל הַעֲמֻסִים מִנִּי-בֶטֶן הַנְּשֹֻאִים מִנִּי-רָחַם: ד   וְעַד-זִקְנָה אֲנִי הוּא וְעַד-שֵֹיבָה אֲנִי אֶסְבֹּל אֲנִי עָשִֹיתִי וַאֲנִי אֶשָּׂא וַאֲנִי אֶסְבֹּל וַאֲמַלֵּט:       

Isaiah 46:3 states, “Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, which are borne by me from the belly, which are carried from the womb: (שִׁמְעוּ אֵלַי בֵּית יַעֲקֹב וְכָל-שְׁאֵרִית בֵּית יִשְֹרָאֵל הַעֲמֻסִים מִנִּי-בֶטֶן הַנְּשֹֻאִים מִנִּי-רָחַם)” Isaiah 46:4 “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you. (וְעַד-זִקְנָה אֲנִי הוּא וְעַד-שֵֹיבָה אֲנִי אֶסְבֹּל אֲנִי עָשִֹיתִי וַאֲנִי אֶשָּׂא וַאֲנִי אֶסְבֹּל וַאֲמַלֵּט)”

Cross References for Isaiah 46:3-4: Ex 19:4; 32:1–4; Nu 11:12; Dt 1:31; 32:11, 39; Ps 18:35; 22:10; 28:9; 48:14; 58:3; 71:6, 18; 102:27; 119:117; 139:13; Is 1:9; 6:13; 10:21–22; 41:4; 43:13; 44:1–28; 46:4, 12; 48:8, 12; 49:1, 5; 51:1; 63:9; Mal 3:6; Let Jer 6:16–22

Here the Lord God Almighty calls out to Israel through Isaiah to hear and listen, and how He has both birthed and carried Israel. The verses from Isaiah 46:3-4 contain several key Hebrew words that carry rich meanings and implications for interpretation and application. For example, שִׁמְעוּ (shim’u) means “Listen” or “hear.” Here the verse opens with the word שִׁמְעוּ which is written as an imperative verb and is meant to call us to attention and to obedience, emphasizing the importance of the message. The words בֵּית יַעֲקֹב (beit Ya’akov) and בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל (beit Yisra’el), the “House of Jacob” and “House of Israel,” respectively, these are written to represent the entire nation of Israel, including all descendants of Jacob. The word הַעֲמֻסִים (ha’amusim) means to load up or place a heavy yoke and is interpreted to mean “Who have been upheld” or “borne.” It conveys how the Lord God Almighty has bore the burden of the people and continues to support His people from the moment they emerged from the womb. The word הַנְּשֻׂאִים (han’su’im) reiterated how the Israel is the one “Who have been carried.” This reflects God’s care and sustenance throughout life. We note that the Lord God does this for all of those who are His people, and those who join themselves with the God of Israel through faith in the Messiah! The Lord God says זִקְנָה (ziqnah) that even in your “Old age” He will keep His promises, this symbolizes the full span of life during which God promises His presence in our lives. In verse 4 the word אֶסְבֹּל (esbol) again reiterates “I will carry” or “I will bear” to reassure us that God will not only support but also rescue and deliver. These words collectively emphasize God’s enduring commitment to His people, from birth to old age, highlighting His role as sustainer, bearer, and deliverer. These things also emphasize how we are to trust in the Lord God Almighty and not fret for what life might bring us. 

In the New Testament, similar themes of God’s care and sustenance are echoed. 

Matthew 6:25–34  
6:25 Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment? 6:26 Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? 6:27 Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? 6:28 And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: 6:29 And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 6:30 Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? 6:31 Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? 6:32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. 6:33 But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. 6:34 Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (KJV Διὰ τοῦτο λέγω ὑμῖν· μὴ μεριμνᾶτε τῇ ψυχῇ ὑμῶν τί φάγητε [ἢ τί πίητε], μηδὲ τῷ σώματι ὑμῶν τί ἐνδύσησθε. οὐχὶ ἡ ψυχὴ πλεῖόν ἐστιν τῆς τροφῆς καὶ τὸ σῶμα τοῦ ἐνδύματος; ἐμβλέψατε εἰς τὰ πετεινὰ τοῦ οὐρανοῦ ὅτι οὐ σπείρουσιν οὐδὲ θερίζουσιν οὐδὲ συνάγουσιν εἰς ἀποθήκας, καὶ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος τρέφει αὐτά· οὐχ ὑμεῖς μᾶλλον διαφέρετε αὐτῶν; τίς δὲ ἐξ ὑμῶν μεριμνῶν δύναται προσθεῖναι ἐπὶ τὴν ἡλικίαν αὐτοῦ πῆχυν ἕνα; Καὶ περὶ ἐνδύματος τί μεριμνᾶτε; καταμάθετε τὰ κρίνα τοῦ ἀγροῦ πῶς αὐξάνουσιν· οὐ κοπιῶσιν οὐδὲ νήθουσιν· λέγω δὲ ὑμῖν ὅτι οὐδὲ Σολομὼν ἐν πάσῃ τῇ δόξῃ αὐτοῦ περιεβάλετο ὡς ἓν τούτων. εἰ δὲ τὸν χόρτον τοῦ ἀγροῦ σήμερον ὄντα καὶ αὔριον εἰς κλίβανον βαλλόμενον ὁ θεὸς οὕτως ἀμφιέννυσιν, οὐ πολλῷ μᾶλλον ὑμᾶς, ὀλιγόπιστοι; Μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε λέγοντες· τί φάγωμεν; ἤ· τί πίωμεν; ἤ· τί περιβαλώμεθα; πάντα γὰρ ταῦτα τὰ ἔθνη ἐπιζητοῦσιν· οἶδεν γὰρ ὁ πατὴρ ὑμῶν ὁ οὐράνιος ὅτι χρῄζετε τούτων ἁπάντων. ζητεῖτε δὲ πρῶτον τὴν βασιλείαν [τοῦ θεοῦ] καὶ τὴν δικαιοσύνην αὐτοῦ, καὶ ταῦτα πάντα προστεθήσεται ὑμῖν. Μὴ οὖν μεριμνήσητε εἰς τὴν αὔριον, ἡ γὰρ αὔριον μεριμνήσει ἑαυτῆς· ἀρκετὸν τῇ ἡμέρᾳ ἡ κακία αὐτῆς.)

Matthew 11:28–30  
11:28 Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 11:29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 11:30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (KJV Δεῦτε πρός με πάντες οἱ κοπιῶντες καὶ πεφορτισμένοι, κἀγὼ ἀναπαύσω ὑμᾶς. ἄρατε τὸν ζυγόν μου ἐφʼ ὑμᾶς καὶ μάθετε ἀπʼ ἐμοῦ, ὅτι πραΰς εἰμι καὶ ταπεινὸς τῇ καρδίᾳ, καὶ εὑρήσετε ἀνάπαυσιν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὑμῶν· ὁ γὰρ ζυγός μου χρηστὸς καὶ τὸ φορτίον μου ἐλαφρόν ἐστιν.)

In Matthew 6:25-34, Yeshua teaches not to worry about life’s needs because our Father in heaven knows them and will provide. This parallels what Peter says in 1 Peter 5:7 how believers are encouraged to cast all their anxieties on the Lord God because He cares for them. These passages reflect the same assurance of God’s ongoing support and deliverance as promised in Isaiah 46:3-4. In addition, the concept of God carrying His people through life can also be paralleled with Yeshua’s invitation according to Matthew 11:28-30, where He calls the weary to come to Him for rest, indicating He will bear their burdens, much like the promise in Isaiah. Another parallel can be found according to John 10:27-28, Yeshua says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” This passage parallels Isaiah 46:3’s emphasis on being attentive to the voice of God in the Scriptures. In summary, the Hebrew words in Isaiah 46:3-4 contribute to the depth and richness of the text, emphasizing God’s sovereignty and constancy. These parallels reinforce these concepts, demonstrating the timeless nature of God’s care for His people. These principles are well defined in the Torah which provides the imagery of a father carrying a child (Devarim / Deuteronomy 1:31), a shepherd carrying a lamb (Tehillim / Psalms 28:9), and an eagle carrying its babies (Shemot / Exodus 19:4, Devarim / Deuteronomy 32:11). Note that there will never come a time when we outgrow our dependence on God. We are as dependent on the God of Israel in old age as we were when we were infants (Tehillim / Psalms 71:9, 71:18). Throughout Isaiah,we read about the promise of deliverance, and this is established on the assertion that God is the sole creator (see Isaiah 40:21-31, 43:1, 43:15–16, 44:2, 44:24-28, etc.). The points that Isaiah is making are consistent with all of the Scriptures. The Lord God Almighty made us and the entire world, and is the One who has and continues to sustain us, and is able to deliver us from anything.

Isaiah goes on saying the following according to Isaiah 46:5-6.

ספר ישעיה פרק מו
ה   לְמִי תְדַמְּיוּנִי וְתַשְׁווּ וְתַמְשִׁלוּנִי וְנִדְמֶה: ו   הַזָּלִים זָהָב מִכִּיס וְכֶסֶף בַּקָּנֶה יִשְׁקֹלוּ יִשְֹכְּרוּ צוֹרֵף וְיַעֲשֵֹהוּ אֵל יִסְגְּדוּ אַף-יִשְׁתַּחֲווּ: 

Isaiah 46:5 states, “To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like? (לְמִי תְדַמְּיוּנִי וְתַשְׁווּ וְתַמְשִׁלוּנִי וְנִדְמֶה)” Isaiah 46:6 “They lavish gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they worship. (הַזָּלִים זָהָב מִכִּיס וְכֶסֶף בַּקָּנֶה יִשְׁקֹלוּ יִשְֹכְּרוּ צוֹרֵף וְיַעֲשֵֹהוּ אֵל יִסְגְּדוּ אַף-יִשְׁתַּחֲווּ)”

Cross References for Isaiah 46:5-6: Ex 15:11; 20:5; 32:1–4; Job 41:10; Is 40:18–19, 25; 41:6–7; 44:1–28; 46:5–8; Je 10:4; 49:19; Ho 13:2; Let Jer 6:16–22

Here the Lord God asks who can he be compared to? These verses in Isaiah 46:5-6 again challenge the people to consider the nature of God compared to idols. These things highlight the problem people had with idolatry back in those days! The Scriptures use the word תְדַמְּיוּנִי (tedammeuni) meaning “liken me,” questioning how one could compare God to anything else. Further emphasis is made in the word תַשְׁווּ (tashvu) asking if it is possible to “make equal” and idol god, suggesting the absurdity of equating God with idols. The scriptures go on asking תַמְשִׁלוּנִי (tamshiluni) how can you “compare me” to an idol god, indicating the incomparability of God. The absurdity of these things are found in the words הַזָּלִים (hazzalim) “lavish,” and צוֹרֵף (tzoref) “goldsmith,” both of which describe the act of pouring out gold as if it were something significant and the craftsman who makes idols, highlighting the human origin of these gods. The end result is the empty bowing down to these idols of stone and wood that are overlaid with silver (כֶסֶף) and gold (זָהָב). All of these words emphasize the folly of idolatry and the unique sovereignty of God. They remind us that God cannot be reduced to the level of created things and that worship should be directed to the one true God who is incomparable and sustains life.

Note how the NT text writes about these very same things.

Acts 17:28–30  
17:28 For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. 17:29 Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device. 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: (KJV ἐν αὐτῷ γὰρ ζῶμεν καὶ κινούμεθα καὶ ἐσμέν, ὡς καί τινες τῶν καθʼ ὑμᾶς ποιητῶν εἰρήκασιν· τοῦ γὰρ καὶ γένος ἐσμέν. γένος οὖν ὑπάρχοντες τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ὀφείλομεν νομίζειν χρυσῷ ἢ ἀργύρῳ ἢ λίθῳ, χαράγματι τέχνης καὶ ἐνθυμήσεως ἀνθρώπου, τὸ θεῖον εἶναι ὅμοιον. τοὺς μὲν οὖν χρόνους τῆς ἀγνοίας ὑπεριδὼν ὁ θεός, τὰ νῦν παραγγέλλει τοῖς ἀνθρώποις πάντας πανταχοῦ μετανοεῖν,)

Here Paul speaks of the futility of idolatry, and the supremacy of God. He is speaking to the Athenians who had an altar to the “unknown god” which they worshiped because they thought perhaps, they might have missed a god that was angry with them. There Paul is declaring that there are no other gods, and that this unknown god he is declaring to them today! He also states that God is not  like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of mortals. This reflects the message of Isaiah, emphasizing that God is beyond comparison and cannot be represented by material objects. Similarly, to the Corinthians, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, “Therefore concerning the eating of things offered to idols, we know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is no other God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.” This passage echoes the message that Isaiah is making according to Isaiah 46:5-6, emphasizing the importance of turning to the one true God and not to idols or false gods. It also highlights the uniqueness and sovereignty of God, as well as the centrality of Yeshua the Messiah in our lives and our relationship with our Father in heaven.  Obviously, the thought of worshiping something you had provided the metal for and a craftsman had produced was so wildly contradictory. Paul argues that these are not gods, and that there is only one True God, the God of Israel, and His Messiah Yeshua, whom he sent to save us from our sins!

Rabbinic Commentary on Isaiah 46:1-6

The Targum Jonathan is an Aramaic and Rabbinic translation of the book of Isaiah and therefore is a valuable resource for continuing to study the book of Isaiah!

תרגום יונתן בן עוזיאל אל ישעיה פרק מו:א-ו
א  חֲמִיט בַּל אִתְקְטֵף נְבוֹ הֲווֹ צַלְמָנֵיהוֹן דְמוּת חֵיוָא וּבְעִירָא מַטוּלֵי טַעֲוָתְהוֹן יַקִירִין עַל נָטְלֵיהוֹן וְאִנוּן מְשַׁלְהַיָן: ב  אִתְקְצִיצוּ וְאִתְקְטִפוּ כַּחֲדָא וְלָא יָכִילוּ לְשֵׁיזָבָא נַטְלֵיהוֹן וּפִלְחֵיהוֹן בְּשִׁבְיָא אֲזָלוּ: ג  קַבִּילוּ לְמֵימְרִי דְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְכָל שְׁאָרָא דְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל דִרְחִימִין מִכָּל עַמְמַיָא וַחֲבִיבִין מִכָּל מַלְכְּוָתָא: ד  וְעַל עַלְמָא אֲנָא הוּא וְעַד עֲלָם עַלְמַיָא מֵימְרִי קַיָם אֲנָא בָרֵית כָּל אֱנָשָׁא וַאֲנָא בַדְרֵית יַתְהוֹן לְבֵינֵי עַמְמַיָא אַף אֲנָא אֶשְׁבּוֹק לְחוֹבֵיהוֹן וְאֶסְלַח: ה  לְמַן תְּדַמוּן קֳדָמַי וּתְשַׁווּן וּתְכַוְנוּן קֳדָמַי בִּקְשׁוֹט: ו  הָא עַמְמַיָא גָבָן דְהַב מִכִּיס וְכַסְפָא בְּמֹאזְנַיָא תַּקְלִין אָגְרִין קִינָאָה וְעָבֵיד לֵיהּ דַחֲלָא סָגְדִין אַף מִשְׁתַּעְבְּדִין:

Targum Jonathan son of Uziel Isaiah 46:1-6
46:1 Bel is bowed down, Nebo is cut down. Their images are in the likeness of serpents and beasts. The burdens of your idols shall be heavy upon those who carry them; because they be exhausted. 46:2 They are cut off, yea, they are altogether cut to pieces, and they were not able to deliver them that carried them; and their worshippers are gone into captivity. 46:3 Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who are beloved above all nations, yea, beloved above all kingdoms. 46:4 Even unto eternity I am He, and my WORD shall endure for ages after ages. It is I who have created all men, and I have scattered them among the nations, yea, I will forgive their sins, and I will pardon. 46:5 To whom will ye liken me, and equal me, and compare me in truth? 46:6 Behold, the people collect gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they do it reverence. (TgJ)

ספר ישעיה פרק מו
א   כָּרַע בֵּל קֹרֵס נְבוֹ הָיוּ עֲצַבֵּיהֶם לַחַיָּה וְלַבְּהֵמָה נְשֹֻאֹתֵיכֶם עֲמוּסוֹת מַשָּׂא לַעֲיֵפָה: 
לוגוס
א  חְמִיט בֵל אִתקְטֵיף נְבֹו הְוֹו צַלמָנֵיהֹון דְמוּת חֵיוָא וּבעִיר מַטוּלֵי טָעְוָתְהֹון יַקִירִין עַל נָטְלֵיהֹון וְאִינוּן מְשַלהַן׃ 
ספריה 
א  חֲמִיט בַּל אִתְקְטֵף נְבוֹ הֲווֹ צַלְמָנֵיהוֹן דְמוּת חֵיוָא וּבְעִירָא מַטוּלֵי טַעֲוָתְהוֹן יַקִירִין עַל נָטְלֵיהוֹן וְאִנוּן מְשַׁלְהַיָן: דַחֲלָא סָגְדִין אַף מִשְׁתַּעְבְּדִין:

This prophecy deals with the victories of Cyrus King of Persia and Media and his conquest of Babylon. The prophecy also deals with the downfall of Babylon, even though the name of Cyrus is not used in this chapter. Isaiah urges the people to cleave to the God of Israel, and how Babylon’s idols will collapse in disgrace. Isaiah opens saying that the idols cannot save themselves, that they need to be carried by men. Likewise, those how serve the idols will be like them, and their wisdom and culture will ultimately fail as the God of Israel reduces the nation to nothing by a great defeat. Isaiah opens in the TgJ saying the following according to Isaiah 46:1, א  חֲמִיט בַּל אִתְקְטֵף נְבוֹ הֲווֹ צַלְמָנֵיהוֹן דְמוּת חֵיוָא וּבְעִירָא מַטוּלֵי טַעֲוָתְהוֹן יַקִירִין עַל נָטְלֵיהוֹן וְאִנוּן מְשַׁלְהַיָן: 46:1 Bel is bowed down, Nebo is cut down. Their images are in the likeness of serpents and beasts. The burdens of your idols shall be heavy upon those who carry them; because they be exhausted. (TgJ) In the Targum Jonathan translation of Isaiah 46:1, the Aramaic text differs from the Hebrew Bible translation in that it emphasizes the idolatry of Babylonian gods Bel and Nebo and how idols are of serpents (חֵיוָא) and beasts (וּבְעִירָא). 

Definition list:

חֲמִיט (Hamit) – Bel is bowed down
בַּל (Baal) – Bel
אִתְקְטֵף (Itqetef) – is cut down
נְבוֹ (Nevo) – Nebo
הֲווֹ (Havu) – were
צַלְמָנֵיהוֹן (Tzalmaneyhon) – their images
דְמוּת (Demut) – in the likeness of
חֵיוָא (Cheidva) – serpents
וּבְעִירָא (Ubeiraa) – and beasts
מַטוּלֵי טַעֲוָתְהוֹן (Matulei Tavathen) – the burdens of your idols
יַקִירִין (Yakiren) – shall be heavy upon
עַל נָטְלֵיהוֹן (Al Nateleyhon) – those who carry them
מְשַׁלְהַיָן (Meshallehayan) – they be exhausted

We note the parallel to the Egyptian religion and how the imagery of the serpent is everywhere. The differences between the Aramaic and Hebrew translations do not significantly alter the interpretation and application of these verses, as both convey the message that idols are powerless and burdensome. There are no explicit parallels in the NT text to the content of this verse, however, the overall theme of the Bible’s rejection of idolatry is consistent throughout both the Tanakh and the NT texts. For example, the NT speaks of the emptiness of idolatry and the superiority of God over idols in Acts 19:26, Paul speaks about gods made by human hands being no gods at all, which echoes the sentiment of the worthlessness of idols as seen in the Targum. Rashi has the following to say concerning the interpretation of this verse.

Rashi on Isaiah 46:1 Part 1
כרע בל קורס נבו. אלהותיהם של בבל כרעו קרסו ל’ שחוק של עכו”ם הוא כמי שיש לו חולי מעים ואינו מספיק לישב על מושב בה”כ עד שהוא נתרז:
Bel squats; Nebo soils himself The deities of Babylon squatted and soiled themselves. This is an expression of ridicule of the idols, like one who suffers from diarrhea and does not manage to sit down on the seat in the privy before he discharges with a splash.
כרע בל קורס נבו. אישקרופי”ר בל קונקיא”ה נבו כך שמעתי משמו של רבינו גרשום מאור הגולה:
Bel squats; Nebo soils himself Heb. כָּרַע בֵּל קֹרֵס נְבוֹ. Akropid sei Bel; konkiad sei Nebo. Bel squats; Nebo soils himself. So I heard in the name of Rabbenu Gershom, the Light of the Diaspora.
היו עצביהם. צלמי צורתם של בל ונבו היו לחיה ולבהמה נדמו להיות כחיה וכבהמה שמזהימין ומלכלכין עצמן ברעי שלהם:
their idols were The images of the forms of Bel and Nebo were to the beasts and the cattle, compared to the beasts and the cattle, which soil and dirty themselves with their droppings.
נשואותיכם עמוסות משא. רעי שבמעיהם כבדות הם לעמוס כמשא לאדם עיף לפיכך קרסו כרעו יחדיו הקריסה עם הכריעה:
what you carry is made a load, a burden The feces in their bowels are heavy to bear like a burden for a weary man. Therefore, they soiled themselves and squatted together, the soiling with the squatting.

Rashi, in his commentary on Isaiah 46:1, draws several conclusions that highlight the ridicule and futility of idol worship. He interprets the verse as a metaphorical depiction of the Babylonian deities Bel and Nebo being humiliated, likening them to a person who is unable to control their bowels. Here are the key points from Rashi’s commentary: Ridicule of Idols: Rashi sees the verse as mocking the idols of Babylon. He compares the gods to someone with diarrhea, unable to reach the toilet in time, which is a demeaning image for deities that were revered by many. Physical Debilitation: The gods are described as squatting and soiling themselves, indicating a loss of control and power, which is contrary to the expected omnipotence of a deity. Comparison to Animals: Rashi notes that the idols are compared to beasts and cattle, which naturally soil themselves. This comparison further diminishes the status of the idols, equating them with non-rational animals. Burden of Idolatry: The commentary suggests that the idols, which are supposed to carry the burdens of their worshippers, instead become burdens themselves. This inversion highlights the ineffectiveness of idols and the misguided trust placed in them. Rashi also mentions that he heard this interpretation from Rabbenu Gershom, indicating the transmission of exegetical tradition and the importance of scholarly lineage in Jewish interpretation. Overall, Rashi’s commentary emphasizes the absurdity of idol worship and the superiority of the God of Israel, who, unlike the idols, is a true support to His people. The Lord God Almighty supports us and gives us strength to endure and remain faithful!

ספר ישעיה פרק מו
ב   קָרְסוּ כָרְעוּ יַחְדָּו לֹא יָכְלוּ מַלֵּט מַשָּׂא וְנַפְשָׁם בַּשְּׁבִי הָלָכָה:       ג   שִׁמְעוּ אֵלַי בֵּית יַעֲקֹב וְכָל-שְׁאֵרִית בֵּית יִשְֹרָאֵל הַעֲמֻסִים מִנִּי-בֶטֶן הַנְּשֹֻאִים מִנִּי-רָחַם: 
לוגוס
ב     אִתקְצִיצוּ אִתקְטִיפוּ כַחדָא לָא יְכִילוּ לְשֵיזָבָא נָטְלֵיהֹון וּפָלְחֵיהֹון בְשִביָא אְזַלוּ׃ ג     קַבִילוּ לְמֵימְרִי דְבֵית יַעְקֹב וְכָל שְאָרָא דְבֵית יִשׂרָאֵל דִרחִימִין מִכָל עַמְמַיָא חַבִיבִין מִכָל מַלכְוָתָא׃ 
ספריה 
ב  אִתְקְצִיצוּ וְאִתְקְטִפוּ כַּחֲדָא וְלָא יָכִילוּ לְשֵׁיזָבָא נַטְלֵיהוֹן וּפִלְחֵיהוֹן בְּשִׁבְיָא אֲזָלוּ: ג  קַבִּילוּ לְמֵימְרִי דְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְכָל שְׁאָרָא דְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל דִרְחִימִין מִכָּל עַמְמַיָא וַחֲבִיבִין מִכָּל מַלְכְּוָתָא: 

Isaiah continues according to the TgJ saying in Isaiah 46:2-3 the following, ב  אִתְקְצִיצוּ וְאִתְקְטִפוּ כַּחֲדָא וְלָא יָכִילוּ לְשֵׁיזָבָא נַטְלֵיהוֹן וּפִלְחֵיהוֹן בְּשִׁבְיָא אֲזָלוּ: 46:2 They are cut off, yea, they are altogether cut to pieces, and they were not able to deliver them that carried them; and their worshippers are gone into captivity. ג  קַבִּילוּ לְמֵימְרִי דְבֵית יַעֲקֹב וְכָל שְׁאָרָא דְבֵית יִשְׂרָאֵל דִרְחִימִין מִכָּל עַמְמַיָא וַחֲבִיבִין מִכָּל מַלְכְּוָתָא: 46:3 Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who are beloved above all nations, yea, beloved above all kingdoms. (TgJ) The Aramaic text of Targum Jonathan for Isaiah 46:1 differs from the Hebrew Bible translation in several ways. In verse 2, the Hebrew text says, “They stoop, they bow down together; They could not deliver the burden, But themselves are gone into captivity.” while the Aramaic translation says, “They are cut off, yea, they are altogether cut to pieces, and they were not able to deliver them that carried them; and their worshippers are gone into captivity.” In verse 3, the Hebrew text says, “Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, Which are borne by me from the belly, Which are carried from the womb” and the Aramaic translation states “Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel, who are beloved above all nations, yea, beloved above all kingdoms.” The differences in the Aramaic text can affect our interpretation and application of these verses, particularly in how the text refers to the house of Jacob and the remnant of the house of Israel. The Hebrew translation emphasizes the idea of being carried and cherished by God from birth and youth, which may have implications for how we understand God’s relationship with His people. The Targum translation emphasizes all being loved above all the other kingdoms. These are themes of God’s faithfulness and care for His people, from the womb and above all other nations. The idea of being carried and saved by Him, are present in the NT passages, such as Matthew 11:28-30 and John 10:27-30. In Matthew, Yeshua speaks of his yoke and burden being lite and of giving people rest and the peace of God. The following commentary from Siddur Sefard speaks of the mercy and compassion of God, and of being born by God.

Siddur Sefard, Shabbat Mincha, Korbanot 27
May the Father of mercy have compassion on the people borne by Him, and may He remember the covenant with the patriarchs; may He rescue our souls from evil times; and may He rebuke the evil impulse from those who have been carried by Him; and may He graciously grant us eternal survival; and fulfill our requests in beneficent measure, [for] deliverance and compassion.

Here the Siddur Sefard on the Shabbat Mincha prayer, there are comments on God being merciful, and of the compassion of God to make a people who are born of God. This parallels something Yeshua said in the NT text according to John 3:1-7.

John 3:1–7  
3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 3:2 The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 3:4 Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born? 3:5 Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 3:6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 3:7 Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. (KJV 3:1 Ἦν δὲ ἄνθρωπος ἐκ τῶν Φαρισαίων, Νικόδημος ὄνομα αὐτῷ, ἄρχων τῶν Ἰουδαίων· 3:2 οὗτος ἦλθεν πρὸς αὐτὸν νυκτὸς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ῥαββί, οἴδαμεν ὅτι ἀπὸ θεοῦ ἐλήλυθας διδάσκαλος· οὐδεὶς γὰρ δύναται ταῦτα τὰ σημεῖα ποιεῖν ἃ σὺ ποιεῖς, ἐὰν μὴ ᾖ ὁ θεὸς μετʼ αὐτοῦ. 3:3 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἄνωθεν, οὐ δύναται ἰδεῖν τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. 3:4 Λέγει πρὸς αὐτὸν [ὁ] Νικόδημος· πῶς δύναται ἄνθρωπος γεννηθῆναι γέρων ὤν; μὴ δύναται εἰς τὴν κοιλίαν τῆς μητρὸς αὐτοῦ δεύτερον εἰσελθεῖν καὶ γεννηθῆναι; 3:5 ἀπεκρίθη Ἰησοῦς· ἀμὴν ἀμὴν λέγω σοι, ἐὰν μή τις γεννηθῇ ἐξ ὕδατος καὶ πνεύματος, οὐ δύναται εἰσελθεῖν εἰς τὴν βασιλείαν τοῦ θεοῦ. 3:6 τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τῆς σαρκὸς σάρξ ἐστιν, καὶ τὸ γεγεννημένον ἐκ τοῦ πνεύματος πνεῦμά ἐστιν. 3:7 μὴ θαυμάσῃς ὅτι εἶπόν σοι· δεῖ ὑμᾶς γεννηθῆναι ἄνωθεν. 3:8)

Note that this interpretation comes from Yeshua and is a reference to what God did for His people according to Shemot / Exodus 19:4, “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings.” The Hebrew translation on Isaiah 46:3 emphasizes the importance of being born of God as it states, “Israel which are borne by Me from the belly, which are carried by Me from the womb.” The concept of being born of God as Yeshua claims to Nicodemus is a Torah based concept, and again is illustrated here for us according to Shemot / Exodus 19:4 and Isaiah 46:3 from the rabbinic literature. The point is that we need something given to us from above on the inside so that we have this desire to live and walk in God’s holy and righteous ways! So that we demonstrate the fruits of the spirit in our lives each day! 

ספר ישעיה פרק מו
ד   וְעַד-זִקְנָה אֲנִי הוּא וְעַד-שֵֹיבָה אֲנִי אֶסְבֹּל אֲנִי עָשִֹיתִי וַאֲנִי אֶשָּׂא וַאֲנִי אֶסְבֹּל וַאֲמַלֵּט:       ה   לְמִי תְדַמְּיוּנִי וְתַשְׁווּ וְתַמְשִׁלוּנִי וְנִדְמֶה: ו   הַזָּלִים זָהָב מִכִּיס וְכֶסֶף בַּקָּנֶה יִשְׁקֹלוּ יִשְֹכְּרוּ צוֹרֵף וְיַעֲשֵֹהוּ אֵל יִסְגְּדוּ אַף-יִשְׁתַּחֲווּ: 
לוגוס
ד     וְעַד עָלְמָא אְנָא הוּא וְעַד עָלַם עָלְמַיָא מֵימְרִי קַייָם אְנָא בְרֵית כָל אְנָשָא אְנָא בַדַרִית יָתְהֹון לְבֵינֵי עַמְמַיָא אַף אְנָא אַשבֹוק לְחֹובֵיהֹון וְאַסלַח׃ ה     לְמַן תְדַמֹון קֳדָמַי וּתַשוֹון וּתכָוְונוּן קֳדָמַי בִקשֹוט׃ ו     הָא עַמְמַיָא גָבַן דְהַב מִכִיס וְכַספָא בְמֹוזְנַיָא תָקְלִין אָגְרִין קֵינָאָה וְעָבֵיד לֵיה דַחלָא סָגְדִין אַף מִשתַעבְדִין׃
ספריה 
ד  וְעַל עַלְמָא אֲנָא הוּא וְעַד עֲלָם עַלְמַיָא מֵימְרִי קַיָם אֲנָא בָרֵית כָּל אֱנָשָׁא וַאֲנָא בַדְרֵית יַתְהוֹן לְבֵינֵי עַמְמַיָא אַף אֲנָא אֶשְׁבּוֹק לְחוֹבֵיהוֹן וְאֶסְלַח: ה  לְמַן תְּדַמוּן קֳדָמַי וּתְשַׁווּן וּתְכַוְנוּן קֳדָמַי בִּקְשׁוֹט: ו  הָא עַמְמַיָא גָבָן דְהַב מִכִּיס וְכַסְפָא בְּמֹאזְנַיָא תַּקְלִין אָגְרִין קִינָאָה וְעָבֵיד לֵיהּ דַחֲלָא סָגְדִין אַף מִשְׁתַּעְבְּדִין:

Isaiah goes on saying the following according to the TgJ on Isaiah 46:4-6, ד  וְעַל עַלְמָא אֲנָא הוּא וְעַד עֲלָם עַלְמַיָא מֵימְרִי קַיָם אֲנָא בָרֵית כָּל אֱנָשָׁא וַאֲנָא בַדְרֵית יַתְהוֹן לְבֵינֵי עַמְמַיָא אַף אֲנָא אֶשְׁבּוֹק לְחוֹבֵיהוֹן וְאֶסְלַח: 46:4 Even unto eternity I am He, and my WORD shall endure for ages after ages. It is I who have created all men, and I have scattered them among the nations, yea, I will forgive their sins, and I will pardon. ה  לְמַן תְּדַמוּן קֳדָמַי וּתְשַׁווּן וּתְכַוְנוּן קֳדָמַי בִּקְשׁוֹט: 46:5 To whom will ye liken me, and equal me, and compare me in truth? ו  הָא עַמְמַיָא גָבָן דְהַב מִכִּיס וְכַסְפָא בְּמֹאזְנַיָא תַּקְלִין אָגְרִין קִינָאָה וְעָבֵיד לֵיהּ דַחֲלָא סָגְדִין אַף מִשְׁתַּעְבְּדִין:46:6 Behold, the people collect gold out of the bag, and weigh silver in the balance, and hire a goldsmith; and he maketh it a god: they fall down, yea, they do it reverence. (TgJ) Note how the Targum states that it is the Lord God who scatters men among the nations, and it is God who forgives and pardons sin. The power of God is declared here again saying who can compare to the God of Israel in truth, and Isaiah goes on saying that men however will collect gold and silver and make their own gods and show reverence to their own gods as opposed to the Creator. The phrase מֵימְרִי קַיָם (memri qayam) translates to “my Word shall endure,” and suggests how God’s Word is eternal, and is active and sustaining the world. Notice how these things affect how we perceive God’s promises and fulfillment of His word over time. We can be confident to trust in the Lord! In addition, the Targum adds the notion of God scattering people among nations and then forgiving their sins, which is not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrew text of these verses. This addition reflects the idea that redemption is in God’s hands. 

In the NT text, there are themes that resonate with the content of Isaiah 46:4-6, particularly in the writings of Paul. Romans 11:29 mentions the absoluteness of God’s gifts and calling, which parallels the idea of God’s enduring word and unchanging nature according to the Targum. Additionally, the concept of God carrying His people through all stages of life can be seen in 2 Corinthians 4:9, Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; (KJV) speaks of the promises of God that He does not abandon us and He does not destroy us, but sustains us and works in our lives to transform us. Note how the Targum helps in the interpretive process offering insights into the Jewish thought and theology of the time, which is consistent with what we have according to the NT text.

Midrash Rabbah on Bereshit 90 Part 2 has the following interpretation of these verses from Isaiah.

Bereshit Rabbah 90:2
וַיֹּאמֶר פַּרְעֹה אֶל יוֹסֵף וגו’ אַתָּה תִּהְיֶה עַל בֵּיתִי וגו’ (בראשית מא, לט מ), שֶׁלֹא יְהֵא אָדָם נוֹשְׁקֵנִי חוּץ מִמְּךָ, (בראשית מא, מ): וְעַל פִּיךָ יִשַּׁק כָּל עַמִּי, שֶׁלֹא יְהֵא פְּרוֹקוֹפִי חוּץ מִמְּךָ. (בראשית מא, מ): רַק הַכִּסֵּא, אָמַר רֵישׁ לָקִישׁ שְׁתֵּי פָּרָשִׁיּוֹת הִכְתִּיב לָנוּ משֶׁה בַּתּוֹרָה וְאָנוּ לְמֵדִים מִפָּרָשַׁת פַּרְעֹה הָרָשָׁע, כָּתוּב אֶחָד אוֹמֵר (דברים כח, יג): וְהָיִיתָ רַק לְמַעְלָה, יָכוֹל כָּמוֹנִי, אֶתְמְהָא, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר רַק, גְּדֻלָּתִי לְמַעְלָה מִגְדֻלַּתְכֶם, וְאָנוּ לְמֵדִים אוֹתָהּ מִפַּרְעֹה הָרָשָׁע, אַתָּה תִּהְיֶה, יָכוֹל כָּמוֹנִי, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר רַק, גְּדֻלָּתִי לְמַעְלָה מִגְדֻלָּתֶךָ. וְהָדֵין (ויקרא יט, ב): דַּבֵּר אֶל כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם קְדשִׁים תִּהְיוּ, יָכוֹל כָּמוֹנִי, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר (ויקרא יט, ב): כִּי קָדוֹשׁ אֲנִי ה’ אֱלֹהֵיכֶם, קְדֻשָּׁתִי לְמַעְלָה מִקְדֻשַּׁתְכֶם, וְאָנוּ לְמֵדִים אוֹתָהּ מִפַּרְעֹה הָרָשָׁע, (בראשית מא, מד): אֲנִי פַרְעֹה, יָכוֹל כָּמוֹנִי, תַּלְמוּד לוֹמַר אֲנִי פַרְעֹה, גְּדֻלָּתִי לְמַעְלָה מִגְּדֻלָּתֶךָ. רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ דְּסִכְנִין בְּשֵׁם רַבִּי לֵוִי אָמַר מִן אֲנִי שֶׁל בָּשָׂר וָדָם אַתְּ לָמֵד אֲנִי שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא, מַה אֲנִי שֶׁל בָּשָׂר וָדָם עַל יְדֵי שֶׁאָמַר פַּרְעֹה הָרָשָׁע לְיוֹסֵף אֲנִי פַרְעֹה הָיָה לוֹ כָּל הַכָּבוֹד הַזֶּה, לִכְשֶׁיָּבוֹא אֲנִי שֶׁל הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא (ישעיה מו, ד): אֲנִי עָשִׂיתִי וַאֲנִי אֶשָּׂא, עַל אַחַת כַּמָּה וְכַמָּה.
“Pharaoh said to Joseph: Since God has disclosed all this to you, there is no one as insightful and wise as you” (Genesis 41:39).
“You will be in charge of my house, and my entire people will be sustained at your directive; only the throne will I make greater than you” (Genesis 41:40).
“Pharaoh said to Joseph…You will be in charge of my house…” – there will be no person who will kiss me other than you. “And my entire people will be sustained [yishak] at your directive” – there will be promotions only through you. “Only the throne” – Reish Lakish said: Moses gave us in writing two portions in the Torah, and we learn them from the portion of the wicked Pharaoh. One verse says: “You will be only [rak] above [and not below]” (Deuteronomy 28:13). Does it, perhaps, [mean you will be] on a par with Me? Impossible! The verse states: “Only” – My greatness will be above your greatness. We learn this from the wicked Pharaoh: “You will be” – does it, perhaps, [mean you will be] on a par with me? The verse states: “Only” – my greatness is above your greatness.
And this – “speak to the entire congregation of the children of Israel, and say to them: You shall be holy” (Leviticus 19:2) – does it, perhaps, [mean you will be] on a par with Me? The verse states: “For I, the Lord your God, am holy” (Leviticus 19:2) – My sanctity is above your sanctity. We learn this from the wicked Pharaoh. “I am Pharaoh” (Genesis 41:44) – does it, perhaps, [mean you will be] on a par with me? The verse states: “I am Pharaoh” – my greatness is above your greatness. Rabbi Yehoshua of Sikhnin said in the name of Rabbi Levi: From the “I” of flesh and blood, you derive the “I” of the Holy One blessed be He. Just as regarding the “I” of flesh and blood, through the wicked Pharaoh saying to Joseph: “I am Pharaoh,” [Joseph] received all this honor; when the “I” of the Holy One blessed be He will come: “I have made, and I will bear” (Isaiah 46:4), all the more so.

Overall, the midrash on Bereshit Rabbah 90:2 highlights the idea that God’s plan of salvation is complex and multifaceted, and that he works through both human and divine agents to bring about his will. In Bereshit Rabbah 90:2, the Midrash explores the character of Joseph and his rise to power in Egypt as a parallel to the Messiah’s role in redemption. The rabbis draw a comparison between Joseph, who was sold into slavery and later became a savior to his family and nation, and the Messiah, who is also seen as a savior. The midrash parallels what God does in the Messiah. Note also the position of Joseph, and how Yeshua is found to be in the same position in relation to God our Father in heaven. The Midrash highlights Joseph’s virtues and his unique position, granted by Pharaoh, which is likened to the Messiah’s relationship with God. Just as Joseph was second only to Pharaoh, the Messiah holds a special place in relation to God. This comparison is used to illustrate the concept of the Messiah as a leader who will guide and save the people, much like Joseph did. This concept of the suffering servant (Messiah ben Yoseph) is seen as a precursor to the final redemption and is associated with the trials and tribulations that will occur before the coming of the Messiah ben David. The reasoning behind these parallels is rooted in the rabbinic hermeneutic (PaRDeS) on scripture and the desire to find deeper meaning and connections within the biblical narrative. By linking Joseph’s story with the concept of the Messiah, the rabbis provide a framework for understanding the redemptive process and the qualities that the Messiah will embody. This is how we are to recognize the Messiah of God in the NT text. Note that generally speaking, Judaism today wants to ignore these details about the Messiah Yeshua, neglecting the analysis on the Messiah ben Yoseph, and is looking only for the Messiah ben David, the conquering king. The NT text however considers both the Messiah ben Yoseph and the Messiah ben David. These things parallel Yeshua and what he did and the figure of the Messiah ben Yoseph, the one who was to come prior to Messiah ben David. Yeshua’s life and teachings are seen as fulfilling the prophecies and expectations of the Messiah, and his position in relation to God, just as the Midrash is describing. Upon Yeshua’s return, he will come as the Messiah ben David, the conquering king! The significant aspect of these things is to recognize how the Midrashic interpretations and the NT narratives both use the story of Joseph as a typological foreshadowing of the Messiah’s role and mission. All of these things direct us to Yeshua, the Messiah of God, and how we are to recognize that salvation and redemption have been brought in Yeshua!