Bowing Bel and Stooping Nebo


Why would Bel bow down and Nebo stoop? It’s not like their real people, so how could they bow and stoop?


Bel bows down; Nebo stoops; their idols are on beasts and livestock; these things you carry are borne as burdens on weary beasts (Isaiah 46:1).

At the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, Babylon was essentially the greatest nation in the entire world. Indeed, Bel and Nebo weren’t real people but were two of Babylon's false gods that represented the nationalistic pride of Babylon.

Bel (aka, Marduk or Marodech [Jer. 50:2]) was the chief among the Babylonian gods and represented the might and power of Babylon. Bel is derived from the Semitic word Baal, meaning “lord.” Baal was also worshiped in ancient Canaan and Phoenicia (cf. Judg. 3:7; 1 Kings 16:31-33; 2 Chron. 28:1-2).

Nebo (aka, Nabu, meaning “the called”) was a prominent Babylonian god. Neb appears in the Code of Hammurabi [1] in the early second millennium B.C. as the son of the national god Marduk. The cult of Nebo played an important part in the annual New Year Festival in Babylon, and this festival is what the sarcastic words of Isaiah 46.1 refer to.

God used Babylon for his own purpose (i.e., to judge Israel for their sins of idolatry and rebellion against him) and would likewise bring it to shame as well (Isa. 46:3-4). As representatives of Babylon’s pride, Bel and Nebo would both be humbled (Isa. 46:1). These gods wouldn't save. In fact, they were so weak they would be carried away from Babylon by mere cattle (Isa. 46:1). They would be burdens upon these beasts just as they were upon the people that worshipped them. Those who trusted in these gods would find out that their gods weren’t deliverers; they would instead be going into captivity with them (Isa. 46:2). Bel would be brought to shame (Jer. 50:2) and be punished (Isa. 51:44).

God is sovereign. God is “the LORD, and there is no other” (Isa. 45:18). He is the only God that can save; “There is no other god besides [him], a righteous God and a Savior” (Isa. 45:18). So, as the sovereign creator of all, the God of the Bible reminds Israel that they should trust only in him. Only God can save and deliver. He isn’t a tiresome burden (Matt. 11:29-30).

What are our Bels and Nebos today? What idols do we have today that are continual burdens to us? Is it the finest home, cars, boats, and the rest of the keep-up-with-the-Joneses materialism? Perhaps positions of power? Why do we trust in such idols when there’s only one true living God.


[1] The Code of Hammurabi (trans. by L. W. King) When Anu the Sublime, King of the Anunaki, and Bel, the lord of Heaven and earth, who decreed the fate of the land, assigned to Marduk, the over-ruling son of Ea, God of righteousness, dominion over earthly man, and made him great among the Igigi, they called Babylonby his illustrious name, made it great on earth, and founded an everlasting kingdom in it, whose foundations are laid so solidly as those of heaven and earth; then Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind. Hammurabi, the prince, called of Bel am I, making riches and increase, enriching Nippur and Dur-ilu beyond compare, sublime patron of E-kur; who reestablished Eridu and purified the worship of E-apsu; who conquered the four quarters of the world, made great the name of Babylon, rejoiced the heart of Marduk, his lord who daily pays his devotions in Saggil; the royal scion whom Sin made; who enriched Ur; the humble, the reverent, who brings wealth to Gish-shir-gal; the white king, heard of Shamash, the mighty, who again laid the foundations of Sippara; who clothed the gravestones of Malkat with green; who made E-babbar great, which is like the heavens, the warrior who guarded Larsa and renewed E-babbar, with Shamash as his helper; the lord who granted new life to Uruk, who brought plenteous water to its inhabitants, raised the head of E-anna, and perfected the beauty of Anu and Nana; shield of the land, who reunited the scattered inhabitants of Isin; who richly endowed E-gal-mach; the protecting king of the city, brother of the god Zamama; who firmly founded the farms of Kish, crowned E-me-te-ursag with glory, redoubled the great holy treasures of Nana, managed the temple of Harsag-kalama; the grave of the enemy, whose help brought about the victory; who increased the power of Cuthah; made all glorious in E-shidlam, the black steer, who gored the enemy; beloved of the god Nebo, who rejoiced the inhabitants of Borsippa, the Sublime; who is indefatigable for E-zida; the divine king of the city; the White, Wise; who broadened the fields of Dilbat, who heaped up the harvests for Urash; the Mighty, the lord to whom come scepter and crown, with which he clothes himself; the Elect of Ma-ma; who fixed the temple bounds of Kesh, who made rich the holy feasts of Nin-tu; the provident, solicitous, who provided food and drink for Lagash and Girsu, who provided large sacrificial offerings for the temple of Ningirsu; who captured the enemy, the Elect of the oracle who fulfilled the prediction of Hallab, who rejoiced the heart of Anunit; the pure prince, whose prayer is accepted by Adad; who satisfied the heart of Adad, the warrior, in Karkar, who restored the vessels for worship in E-ud-gal-gal; the king who granted life to the city of Adab; the guide of E-mach; the princely king of the city, the irresistible warrior, who granted life to the inhabitants of Mashkanshabri, and brought abundance to the temple of Shidlam; the White, Potent, who penetrated the secret cave of the bandits, saved the inhabitants of Malka from misfortune, and fixed their home fast in wealth; who established pure sacrificial gifts for Eaand Dam-gal-nun-na, who made his kingdom everlastingly great; the princely king of the city, who subjected the districts on the Ud-kib-nun-na Canal to the sway of Dagon, his Creator; who spared the inhabitants of Mera and Tutul; the sublime prince, who makes the face of Ninni shine; who presents holy meals to the divinity of Nin-a-zu, who cared for its inhabitants in their need, provided a portion for them in Babylon in peace; the shepherd of the oppressed and of the slaves; whose deeds find favor before Anunit, who provided for Anunit in the temple of Dumash in the suburb of Agade; who recognizes the right, who rules by law; who gave back to the city of Ashur its protecting god; who let the name of Ishtar of Nineveh remain in E-mish-mish; the Sublime, who humbles himself before the great gods; successor of Sumula-il; the mighty son of Sin-muballit; the royal scion of Eternity; the mighty monarch, the sun of Babylon, whose rays shed light over the land of Sumer and Akkad; the king, obeyed by the four quarters of the world; Beloved of Ninni, am I. (Yale Law,

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).