Our Burden Bearing God

Isaiah 46:1-4
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, October 19, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew

Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary. They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity. "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. Even to your old age and grey 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.

Isaiah 46:1-4

The Burdensome Idols

Isaiah 46 and 47 speaks about "Our Burden-Bearing God." If you say you have no burden, this message has no use for you, but you would also be lying. We must come to God with an needs, trials and problems of every kind. The living God, the eternal I AM, is in our midst to help us.

Ours is a fallen world, full of troubles. Eliphaz the Temanite counseled Job, "Man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward." God said to Adam, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground from which you were taken." We are told that every inclination of the thoughts of man's heart is only evil all the time (Genesis 6:5). David, the psalmist and great king, confesses, "Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me." Every person born into this world is weary and burdened. From birth to death, we are steeped in troubles.

To whom can we turn in all our misery? We may seek help from idols, but they cannot remove our burdens. In fact, they will only add to them until we are crushed by their weight. So Isaiah tells us, "Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary. They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity."

Who are these idolatrous gods who stoop and bow? Bel, also known as Marduk, was the city-god of Babylon and head of its pantheon. His name is found in Belshazzar, which means, "Bel, protect the king." Nebo was Bel's son, the city-god of Borsippa, southwest of Babylon. The god of writing and education, his name is found in Nebuchadnezzar, which means, "Nebo, protect the boundary."

These gods were brought out in procession during each new year's festival. The people believed these gods would write on tablets the fates decreed for their nation for the coming year. Of course, it was all a lie. These gods could not do anything. In fact, in 703 B.C., when the Assyrian king Sennacherib attacked Babylon, the king of Babylon, Merodach-Baladan, had to evacuate his helpless gods!

All gods of the nations are idols and lies because they are merely the creation of fallen man. So as man carries them about, he grows tired and weary. We are told: "Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low," or, according to the Septuagint, "Bel is fallen, Nebo is broken." These gods cannot even rescue their own images, which are on their way to captivity! Instead of helping man, they only weary him. Instead of removing the burden from man's shoulders, idols only add to it.

- Impotent to Save

The gods of this world cannot help any man, especially in times of crisis. What did the gods of Egypt do when the eternal I AM came to deliver his people from Egyptian slavery? Take a look at Exodus 12:12: "On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn-both men and animals-and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord." The gods of Egypt could do nothing, and all the firstborn died.

First Samuel 5:1-4 recounts what happened when the ark of the living God was placed in the temple of Dagon: Dagon's idol fell down and broke. Second Samuel 5:21 speaks about a battle in the Valley of Rephaim, in which David fought against the Philistines and defeated them. As they fled, the Philistines abandoned their useless gods, leaving them for David to destroy.

Daniel 2 tells us that Nebuchadnezzar had a dream, which all the soothsayers and wise people of Babylon were commanded to tell and interpret. Relying only on their idols, they failed. Daniel alone was able to give the dream and its interpretation, because he received it from the one true God. Again, in Daniel 5, Belshazzar and his nobles were drinking when suddenly a hand appeared and wrote on the wall: "Mene, mene, tekel, uparsin." The king was so terrified that his trembling knees gave way. None of his soothsayers could interpret the meaning of the writing, except Daniel, whose God told him what it meant.

Thus, Scripture clearly discloses all the gods of the world as impotent, incompetent lies which cannot help us in times of crisis. Yet these false gods pretend that they are God himself. Isaiah 47:8-10 speaks regarding Babylon: "Now then, listen, you wanton creature, lounging in your security and saying to yourself, 'I am, and there is none besides me. . . .' Your wisdom and knowledge mislead you when you say to yourself, 'I am, and there is none besides me.'" This is the biggest lie the idols of the world put forth-they claim to be the eternal I AM.

In truth, all idols represent demons, as we read in 1 Corinthians 10:20-21: ". . . [T]he sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord's table and the table of demons." Let us be very clear: All idolatry is demon worship.

Isaiah 45:20 also states that idols are impotent to save: "Gather together and come; assemble, you fugitives from the nations. Ignorant are those who carry about idols of wood, who pray to gods that cannot save." The same is spoken in 46:7: "They lift it to their shoulders and carry it; they set it up in its place, and there it stands. From that spot it cannot move. Though one cries out to it, it does not answer; it cannot save him from his troubles."

- Modern Idols

The idols we worship today may not be wood or stone, but they are just as impotent to save. All religions, including liberal Christianity, are idolatry. As mere creations of fallen man's reason, they are wickedness in the sight of God and cannot save anyone. In this country alone we have a proliferation of such false religions; every day a new one sprouts up, and those who are rebellious, stubborn, and unbelieving will be sucked into it. All cults contradict God's own revelation of Jesus Christ; thus, they are all idolatrous.

Additionally, all man-made philosophies are hollow, idolatrous, and cannot save. Yet sinful man hides himself under the bush of the philosophy he creates. But human philosophy cannot save, nor can science. Yes, science is the study of creation, but creation cannot save man, so to trust in science is also idolatrous. In vain, fallen man also seeks salvation through pleasures, whether alcohol, drugs, sex, money or power, but it is all idolatrous. These things cannot save you; they only add to your burden until you are crushed.

In due time, all forms of idol worship will depress the worshiper and destroy him. Isaiah 45:16 speaks of this: "All makers of idols will be put to shame and disgraced; they will go off into disgrace together." Confidence in idols is confidence in nothing. Therefore, if you are an idol worshiper today, I urge you to abandon your trust in any idols and to trust in the true God, the eternal I AM. He will save you.

Our Burden-Bearing God

We have seen that all idols fail when crisis strikes. Who, then, can help miserable and weary man? The answer is given in Isaiah 46:3-4. If you are thirsty, if you are hungry, if you are weary, if you are depressed, if you are unsaved-wake up and listen! The eternal God is speaking to you: "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth. 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."

"Listen to me!" God says to his elect remnant, his chosen ones. "Away from all idols! Away from creature worship! "

Only the God of the Scriptures can bear our burdens and help us in our crisis. He alone saves us. He alone is the I AM-the self-existent, uncreated, infinite, personal God. He alone is God; there is no other. The God of the Scriptures transcends creation and time, and directs history to his desired end. He alone can plan, predict, dictate, and bring to pass his plan in history, and no one can prevent him from doing what he pleases.

It was this God who called Abram out of the Ur of the Chaldees and made him father of Israel. He sustained Israel in her conception, brought her forth as a nation, and has carried her ever since. In the same way, God has sustained us from our conception and birth. In fact, he loved us before the creation of the world, as we read in Ephesians 1:4 and 2 Timothy 1:9. It is this God who sustains us every day, not the idols of the world. In fact, even idol worshipers are sustained by this eternal God! He upholds us by the power of his outstretched arm; in him we live and move and have our being.

Have no fear! The eternal I AM, the triune God, loves us and cares for us. Not only did he sustain us in the womb and in our infancy, but he sustains us in our childhood, through our teenage years, into our adulthood, and, as he promises here, even to our old age and gray hairs. What a commitment of God to us! There is no interruption in God's love; it is from everlasting to everlasting. He is the God of all tenses-he helped us in the past, he helps us in the present, and he will help us in the future. He is our God, who was and is and is to come. He loved us before the creation of the world, he loves us now, and he will love us for eternity.

In Isaiah 46:4 God says, "I am he;" in other words, "I AM THAT I AM." He alone is the changeless, self-consistent, non-contingent, self-existent, self-dependent, covenant-keeping God. Then he says, "I myself made you." In the Hebrew text the emphasis is on the pronouns:_ "I myself made you-not idols, not Bel, not Nebo, not an angel. I myself !"_

O child of God, understand this great truth: God himself made you! That means two things: First, he formed you in your mother's womb, and, more than that, he made you again as a new creation. First Peter 1:3 says, "In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Everyone who is in Christ is a new creation: "the old is gone; the new has come!" This is speaking about divine regeneration of a dead sinner: now his eyes are open; he loves God and his word; he prays to God and does God's will with zeal. That is what Christianity is all about. But never think you just decided to become a Christian. It was he himself who made you.

- "I Myself Will Carry You"

God next says, in verse four, "I myself will carry you." It is interesting to study paganism and idol worship. I was brought up in an idolatrous country where I saw people carrying their idols around. Such pagans become weary from carrying these idols. But our God carries us. In this world, parents take care of their children, and then children are to take care of their weak, aged parents. But our heavenly Father will never become weak. We will never take care of him, but he will take care of us, not only in our infancy, but to our old age.

In the Western world, youths are worshiped while the aged are warehoused. Nobody cares about them. But our God cares for us. He conceived us in our mother's womb, gave us birth, sustained our life, and took care of us all these years. Now we find the silver streak in our hair; don't worry! This God who took care of us in our mother's womb will take care of us in our old age.

Several scriptures describe how God carries us throughout our lives. Deuteronomy 32:10-11 says, "He shielded him and cared for him . . . like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads it wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions." Here God is likened to a large eagle with a great wingspan who carries his eaglets on his wings. In this manner God carried his people from Egypt to Palestine, and in like manner he carries us.

In Deuteronomy 1:31 another metaphor is found: "There you saw how the Lord your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place." I am sure every father has enjoyed the experience of carrying his son. PGM The son does not want to walk at all; he enjoys being carried and is unhappy when you put him down. In the same way, our God carries us, all the way to heaven.

In Psalm 28:9 another metaphor is used: "Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever." Not only is God called an eagle and a father, but here he is called a shepherd. He will carry, sustain, and help us-in our old age, in our weakness, in our troubles, and in our loneliness-even at the hour of our death. Maybe your children will warehouse you somewhere. But if you are a child of God, God will be there to help you and strengthen you, to guide you, to carry you, and to fill you with the Holy Ghost.

Deuteronomy 33:27 tells us: "underneath are the everlasting arms." Underneath us there is a solid foundation-God himself. The crucified hands of Christ Jesus will bear us up, no matter what. In our misery, pain and trouble, he is there. We see his everlasting arms through the eyes of faith.

Finally, God says, "I myself will deliver you." Our God shall deliver us from all our foes. No Egypt can keep us as slaves. No Assyria can destroy us. Chapters 36-39 of Isaiah tell how Sennacherib came and pretended he was God. But the Almighty said, "No, you are not God!" No Babylon can prevent our God from saving us. Long before Cyrus was ever born, God spoke through his prophet in Isaiah 45:13, "I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free. . . ." God did as he promised: "I myself will save you."

In Isaiah 46:9-10 God tells us, "Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: 'My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.'"

What is the primary purpose of God? To save his people. And there is another subsidiary purpose-to judge everyone else. That is all there is to it. Those who are elect have been saved, are being saved, and will be saved. But every unbeliever in Jesus Christ will be judged by him. This is God's plan and purpose, and nobody can block him from accomplishing it.

What a wonderful truth! If God has determined to save a sinner, there is nothing that person can do to thwart that. This is the doctrine of "irresistible grace." Yes, the sinner himself will repent, believe, and surrender to Jesus Christ. But it is God who causes him to do all that. No one can resist his purpose and plan. Whom he intends to save, he will save.

- "I Will Give You Rest"

The Scriptures tell us that God himself in Christ carries our burden. What is our burden? What is it that depresses us? What is it that prevents us from enjoying God and being reconciled to him? It is the infinite guilt of our sin. And there is only one way this burden can be lifted off our conscience. God says, "I myself will save you." He does not send an angel to do it; he himself does it. Listen to the words of John the Baptist: "Behold the Lamb of God who taketh away the sin of the world!" Yes, God sent Cyrus to set Israel free from Babylonian exile, but Cyrus could not remove the burden of guilt from Israel's conscience, as he himself was an idol worshiper. God himself must remove our guilt and save us.

So, in the fullness of time, God sent his Son, the eternal I AM, "born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that [they] might receive the full rights of sons" (Galatians 4:4-5). "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul tells us "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them" (2 Corinthians 5:18).

Isaiah 53 says, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (v. 6); "Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows" ( v. 4); "By his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many and he will bear their iniquities" (v. 11); "For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (v. 12).

This Christ-who was crucified, risen, ascended, seated as Lord over all-calls all sinners through the gospel. He invites all those who are weary of their burdens of sin and idolatry to come to him for rest. Don't go to idols which can do nothing: "Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low."

The idols of the world can only make man weary; but the eternal I AM, Jesus Christ, God/man, offers rest to all who will trust in him. Jesus said, "All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away." To the thirsty, the weary, the depressed, the hungry and the sick, Jesus Christ says, "Come to me." He will embrace and accept them, as the prodigal son found out.

God removed once for all our burden of infinite guilt when he died for us on the cross. The strong one, the devil, has been defeated once for all by the coming of the stronger one, the eternal God, Jesus Christ. I urge you to listen to his gracious call: "Come unto me, all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest."

- "Listen To Me"

Again and again in this passage God exhorts us, "Listen to me!" "Listen to me!" The call of the gospel is coming to us, and we need to listen. Faith comes by hearing the gospel proclaimed by a human being. We have no excuse for being depressed and miserable any more. The eternal I AM came into the world, and was crucified, died, rose, ascended, and reigns as Lord of all. Now he calls us, "Come to me! Listen to me!" which means hear, understand, repent, and believe.

What is our greatest problem? We have no righteousness. We are not in right relationship with God. But to those who have no righteousness, God offers his divine righteousness free of charge. To those who have no salvation, he offers salvation, gratis.

God says in 46:12-13, "Listen to me, you stubborn-hearted, you who are far from righteousness. I am bringing my righteousness near, it is not far away; and my salvation will not be delayed. I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel." That is what the incarnation is all about-Jesus Christ came from heaven to earth and brought his righteousness to us. He is our righteousness, peace, life and hope. One has to be stubborn-hearted not to come to Jesus Christ.

Yes, all of us made idols in our own image and likeness, but God says he will remake us in his image and likeness: "I will grant salvation to Zion, my splendor to Israel." Instead of shame and disgrace, he gives us glory. He gives us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for weeping, and a garment of praise for a spirit of depression. We can have it today, this very moment.

Child, teenager, newlywed-if you have trusted in Jesus Christ, you have nothing to fear. Middle-aged ones, do not worry-you have nothing to fear. Silver-haired ones, listen to the prayer of the psalmist in Psalm 71: "Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone" (v. 9); "Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation" (v. 18). Old people, do not accept being warehoused or declared useless. Listen to the language of Psalm 92:14: "They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, 'The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.'" God will never leave his people; he is always with us, even to our old age. He himself will carry us, sustain, us, and give us all we need.

We should find encouragement in the words of John Wesley:

Sunday 28 [1789] . . . This day I enter on my eighty-sixth year. I now find I grow old: 1) My sight is decayed, so that I cannot read a small print, unless in a strong light; 2) My strength is decayed, so that I walk much slower than I did some years since; 3) My memory of names, whether of persons or places is decayed, till I stop a little to recollect them. What I should be afraid of is, if I took thought for the morrow, that my body should weigh down my mind and create either stubbornness, by the decrease of my understanding, or peevishness, by the increase of bodily infirmities. But thou shalt answer for me, O Lord my God. (James Montgomery Boice, Psalms, Vol. 2: Psalms 42-106, [Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996], 594.

We can also be encouraged by another eighty-six-year-old man, Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. His enemies wanted him to worship Caesar by bowing and offering a small amount of incense. This would have saved his life, but he said no. Before he was martyred Polycarp declared: "For eighty-six years I have been [Christ's] slave, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?" (Boice, p. 596).

Finally, consider the words of the aged apostle Paul in his final letter to Timothy: "[I]f we endure, we will also reign with him . . . . For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure . . . . The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen" (2 Timothy 2:11; 4:6, 18).

Abandon Your Idols

John closes his first epistle with this exhortation: "My dear children, keep yourselves from idols." I also plead with you now to abandon all your idols! Oh, I am sure you will say, "I don't worship any idols of wood." That may be true, but idol worship is especially prevalent now in the Western world. Our idols are beauty, health, brilliance, money, power and philosophies. But I tell you, they can never lessen our burden; they only add to it.

Psalm 68:19 says, "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens." God bears our burdens daily, moment by moment, and there is no one else who does so. In 1 Peter 5:7 we are told to cast all our cares upon the Lord because he cares for us.

So children, young people, adults, old people, I beseech you to abandon all idols and surrender to the Lord Jesus Christ. Trust in the Lord, our only burden-bearer. On the cross he took away our infinite guilt once and for all by his sufficient sacrifice of atonement.

Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; they will fall and be broken like Dagon. They will fail us in every crisis, especially at the hour of our death. Only Jesus can save us. The Bible says salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given by God in the whole world by which we must be saved. May we look to him today and be saved. Amen.

God does not want us to live by fear or by chemicals or by psychology or by philosophy or by anything else. He wants us to live by Christ-by his word and by his Spirit-for the glory of God. May God have mercy on us and help us to begin living for him this day. Amen.

Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew

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