Isaiah describes the Babylonian planet gods Bel (Jupiter) and Nebo (Nabu, Mercury) at the beginning of chapter 46. They are weary, bowed and stooped in defeat and fatigue. Their images are being carried on carts because they are incapable of bearing them themselves. The could not deliver (malat) the burden (massa), and are taken into captivity, presumably by the all-conquering Cyrus (44:28-45:1).
Yahweh is different. ”Hear,” He announces to Jacob and Israel, echoing the Shema. He addresses Israel and Jacob who have been born from birth, carried (nasa’, the root of massa) from the beginning (v. 3). Who has borne Israel? Yahweh emphatically says it is He (the first person pronoun, ani, is used 4x in verse 4), and he promises to continuing bearing Israel into his old age.
But there’s been a scene change.
Bel and Nebo were too weary to bear the burden (massa) of their gear; Yahweh bears (nasa’) children in the belly and the womb. Bel and Nebo could not deliver (malat) Babylon from Cyrus; Yahweh not only bears Israel in the womb but “delivers” him (malat; cf. Isaiah 66:7, where malat means “deliver a child”). The burden has become the burden of pregnancy, and Yahweh promises that He will bear Israel until he is fully borne, until the day he is finally delivered.
He proves Himself the God who bears, and the God who delivers.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Thursday, October 18, 2012 at 7:43 am
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