In my last post, we explored Isra’el the Chosen in Yesha’yahu 44:1-5. In this post, we explore Worthless Idols in Yesha’yahu 44:6-23.
6 Thus says Adonai, Isra’el’s King and Redeemer, Adonai-Tzva’ot: “I am the first, and I am the last; besides Me, there is no God.
A long argument against idols begins with an assertion of the uniqueness of Adonai. In Revelation 1:8, we hear Yeshua declaring that He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last.
7 Who is like Me? Let him speak out! Let him show Me clearly what has been happening since I set up the eternal people; let him foretell future signs and events.
Only Adonai can foretell the future, something that He does through His prophets.
8 Don’t be frightened, don’t be afraid. Didn’t I tell you this long ago? I foretold it, and you are My witnesses. Is there any God besides Me? There is no other Rock – I know of none.”
The invocation of witnesses places this passage in a courtroom setting. These witnesses will bear testimony to the fact that only Adonai is a Rock – a place of protection and stability – not the false gods of the nations. As proof of His deity and supremacy, Adonai does what no other god dares to prophesy the future. And yet even this didn’t keep His people from being seduced by idols.
9 All idol-makers amount to nothing; their precious productions profit no one; and their witnesses, to their own shame, neither see nor understand. 10 Who would fashion a god or cast an image that profits no one anything? 11 All involved will be ashamed, but more than anyone else, the people who made them. Let them all be assembled, let them stand up; let them fear and be shamed together.
Verses 12-20 describe the construction and worship of an idol. Ancient texts describing the making and care of idols confirm such a process. Pagan Near Eastern religious leaders probably did not believe that an idol was the actual god, but they did believe that the god made its power and presence known in the physical object. Thus, the idol was a strong representation of the deity. Laypeople, on the other hand, likely made a stronger association between idols and the deities, taking the graven wood or metal to be a true deity. In any case, Yesha’yahu’s argument was one that reduced all idolatry to its absurd foundation.
12 A blacksmith makes a tool over burning coals; with his strong arm, he shapes it with hammers. But when he gets hungry, his strength fails; if he doesn’t drink water, he grows tired. 13 A carpenter takes his measurements, sketches the shape with a stylus, planes the wood, checks it with calipers, and carves it into the shape of a man; and, since it is honored like a man, of course, it has to live in a house.
Some ancient idols were made from metal and others from wood. The description of their manufacture emphasizes that these were human creations.
14 He goes to chop down cedars; he takes an evergreen and an oak; he especially tends one tree in the forest, plants a pine for the rain to nourish.
Yesha’yahu went back in this verse to the beginning of the process of constructing an idol – the planting and cultivation of a tree.
15 In time, when it’s ready for use as fuel, he takes some of it to keep himself warm and burns some more to bake bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, carves it into an idol and falls down before it. 16 So half of it he burns in the fire; with that half, he roasts meat and eats his fill; he warms himself; says, “It feels so good, getting warm while watching the flames!” 17 With the rest of the log he fashions a god, a carved image, then falls down before it; he worships it and prays to it. “Save me,” he says, “for you are my god!” 18 Such people know nothing, understand nothing. Their eyes are sealed shut so that they can’t see; their hearts too, so they can’t understand.
These verses express the ultimate absurdity of idolatry. The same wood used to construct an idol was also used for kindling a fire to keep warm and to cook food. Yesha’yahu was aware that ancient Near Eastern people utilized rituals that intended to turn the wooden idol into an object of worship.
19 Not one thinks to himself or has the knowledge or the discernment to say, “I burned half of it in the fire, baked bread on its coals, roasted meat and ate it. Should I now make the rest an abomination? Should I prostrate myself to a tree trunk?” 20 He is relying on ashes! A deceived heart has led him astray; so that now he won’t save himself, just won’t say, “This thing in my hand is a fraud!”
This thing in my hand is a fraud is a reference to an idol that represented a false god and was nothing at all. Not only is there stupidity in idolatry, but there is a tragedy, as well, because of its inability to deliver. Idols can’t deliver you, but they can and will dehumanize you.
3 Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. 4 Their idols are mere silver and gold, made by human hands. 5 They have mouths, but they can’t speak; they have eyes, but they can’t see; 6 they have ears, but they can’t hear; they have noses, but they can’t smell; 7 they have hands, but they can’t feel; they have feet, but they can’t walk; with their throats they can’t make a sound. 8 The people who make them will become like them, along with everyone who trusts in them. ~ Psalm 115:3-8 (CJB)
A person becomes like that which he worships. When we worship the Lord, we become more like Him (see 2 Corinthians 3:18). Conversely, if we worship an idol, we’ll become like that idol.
21 “Keep these matters in mind, Ya‘akov, for you, Isra’el, are My servant. I formed you; you are My own servant; Isra’el, don’t forget Me.
Isra’el will benefit from remembering the lesson about the absurdity of idolatry since that will keep Adonai’s people from practicing false worship. Adonai formed His people; they did not create their god as the idolaters did. Isra’el was the servant of Adonai. Even to these people who are trapped by idols, even to these people struggling with sin, the Lord says, “I have not forgotten you.”
22 Like a thick cloud, I wipe away your offenses; like a cloud, your sins. Come back to Me, for I have redeemed you.” 23 Sing, you heavens, for Adonai has done it! Shout, you depths of the earth! Mountains, break out into song, along with every tree in the forest! For Adonai has redeemed Ya‘akov; He glorifies Himself in Isra’el. ~ Isaiah 44:6-23 (CJB)
That’s the good news of the Gospel. This is what makes evangelism so exciting. We can go to people and proclaim the good news that their sins are forgiven, that Adonai neither records nor remembers their sin.
In my next post, we learn of Yerushalayim to Be Inhabited ~ Part 1 in Yesha’yahu 44:24-28.
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