The book of Isaiah is full of the glory of God, displays of the sinfulness of humanity, prophesies of Christ, and the promises of God. One of my favorite chapters is where Isaiah openly mocks the practice of idolatry in Israel. The commentary bleeds holy sarcasm. Pointed humor juts out everywhere.
Yet, before we jump too quickly jump into the “those idiots” mindset, Isaiah’s comments should cause us to pause and consider what created things we may be worshiping instead of the Creator. What do we think that we can’t live without? What do we think gives (or would give) us purpose and meaning in life? What do we spend the most time and/or money on every month? (For more on human idolatry, check out Timothy Keller’s Counterfeit Gods).
 All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame.  Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?  Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.
 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint.  The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house.  He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it.  Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it.  Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!”  And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
 They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.  No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?”  He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
(Isaiah 44:9-20 ESV)
“Wrong ideas about God are not only the fountain from which the polluted waters of idolatry flow; they are themselves idolatrous. The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.”
(The Knowledge of the Holy p 5)
Amaziah was twenty-five years old when he began to reign, and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Jehoaddan of Jerusalem. And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, yet not with a whole heart.
(2 Chronicles 25:1-2)
Amaziah did many things right according to the Bible but it doesn’t translate to his entire life. And certainly not to his entire heart. Pride led to idolatry and hatred of God’s words and spokesmen and eventually a shameful downfall. All because of not giving his whole heart to following the Lord.
If we are honest, we are not that different than Amaziah. There are certain areas of our life that we don’t want God to touch. Not just those secret sins that are lodged in our heart, but also the “good” dreams, desires, and hopes. Anything we withhold from God is an area of our heart that we are not serving Him with.
Yes, He may change some of those things or even say “no” or “not yet”, but He may say “yes, go for it”. Why not entrust those things to the very personification of Wisdom? Our Father who knows what is best for our heart, our life, and the world around us?
Are we money masters or do we have money masters controlling our lives? It is one or the other. There is no neutral when it comes to money.
In his book Counterfeit Gods, Timothy Keller zeros in on this in his chapter Money Changes Everything. In a masterful dissection of the Almighty Dollar’s hold in a person’s heart with its various manifestations, Keller leads the reader to understand that addressing the surface issues won’t effectively kill our being mastered by money. There is something deeper at work that uses things like money to obtain its desires. It is this deep rooted issue that must be attacked. The question becomes, “How do we get rid of this deep rooted idol?” Keller offers this prescription:
This is why idols cannot be dealt with by simply eliminating surface idols like money or sex. We can look at them and say, “I need to de-emphasize this in my life. I must not let this drive me. I will stop it.” Direct appeals like this won’t work, because the deep idols have to be dealt with a the heart level. There is only one way to change at the heart level and that is through faith in the gospel (p 66).
The solution to stinginess is a reorientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, how he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money – the Cross proves God’s care for you and gives you the security. Now you don’t have to envy anyone else’s money. Jesus’s love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status – one that money cannot give you. Money cannot save you from tragedy, or give you control in a chaotic world. Only God can do that. What breaks the power of money over us is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ, what you have in him, and then living out the changes that that understanding makes in your heart – the seat of your mind, will and emotions. Faith in the gospel restructures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without a complete change of heart will be superficial and fleeting (p 68).
Are we really so different from the children of Israel all those years ago? We live in a different culture and a different time and yet manage to fall into the spiritual traps:
“Did you present Me with sacrifices and grain offerings in the wilderness for forty years, O house of Israel? You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves” (Amos 5:25-26).
Here were the Children of Israel who for forty years were in the very presence of God, witnesses miraculous events, and being delivered the law of God first hand. Yet they were also carrying along their personal “secret” idols.
Are we so different. We may believe in Jesus (and I mean saving faith belief), read our Bibles, pray, go to church, have a personal relationship with our Savior & God yet also carry with us our own “secret” idols. The things that we “can’t live without”. The aspects or items of life that we strive and would give anything to attain. What are some of your secret idols?
A book I am reading dives into three potent and potential idols – money, sex, and power. Timothy Keller’s latest book, Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope that Matters, has been a good read so far and may be well worth looking into if you would like to do some idol smashing in your life.
I was reading through Isaiah last night and came to one of my favorite chapters – chapter 44. I think it is one of my favorites because it demonstrates God’s sense of humor in a somewhat-mocking fashion. Just look at verses 12-17 (ESV):
12 The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. 14 He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
Whenever I read this section I can’t help but start laughing. Isaiah portrays an excellent picture of the stupidity of worshipping created things. This is especially potent when you look at how God is described in the surrounding verses:
- The One who chooses (v1)
- The Lord who formed you from the womb (2)
- Pours out His Spirit & blessing (v3)
- We are those who belong to the Lord (v5)
- The Lord, the King of Israel, the Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts (v6)
- The first, the last, no God besides Me (v6)
- Establisher of the ancient nation (v7)
- Omniscient (v7)
- The Rock (v8)
- The One who will not forget us (v21)
- Wipes away our transgressions & sins as the Redeemer (v22)
- Shows forth His glory in His people (v23)
- The Lord, Redeemer, One who formed us in the womb (v24)
- Maker of all things (v24)
- Confirms the word of His servant & performs the purpose of His messengers (v26)
- Builder of the temple (v28)
It is actually a lot more powerful to look at all those things within the verses themselves (yep…you’ll need to open up and read your Bible). It is a wonder that we would end up in idolatry with such an awesome God. Yet, I think we slip into idolatry – when we elevate something or someone to equal or greater status than God by our actions, thoughts, time, etc. What are some of the idols in your life?
Here is a list of questions from page 168 of Vintage Jesus by Mark Driscoll that may help us discover the idols in our lives:
- Who or what do I make sacrifices for?
- Who or what is most important to me?
- If I could have any thing or experience I wanted, what would that be?
- Who or what makes me the most happy?
- What is the one person or thing I could not live without?
- What do I spend my money on?
- Who or what do I devote my spare time to?