“[The Carpenter] 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!
Isaiah 44:14-17 (ESV)
In my message on Sunday I referred to this verse in Isaiah 44 (hear the sermon here). Since then, the passage has been stuck in my head like “Tom’s Diner” by Suzanne Vega. Have you stopped to consider the total absurdity of idol worship?
Here Isaiah puts the whole thing in great perspective. A carpenter finds a cedar or cypress tree. He tends to the tree, which is basically sitting back and letting God do His work; bringing rain and sun to make the tree grow. Then the carpenter cuts the tree down. Most of it is used for fuel, either to heat his house, or to use for cooking. What’s left might get used to make a table or a bench. If there’s anything left over, while the carpenter is sitting on his bench, filled with the food he’s cooked over the fire, maybe he’ll whittle himself a little god. He’ll give it a little body and head, maybe the god is perched on the back of a chariot or sitting on a throne. The carpenter, having fashioned his god, places it on his mantle and bows down to worship it saying, “Save me, for you are my god!”
It is any wonder why God poured out his wrath on Israel. God had revealed himself to His people in the wilderness, delivering them with his mighty hand from Pharaoh and his armies, providing for them in the wilderness, establishing them in the land promised to their fathers. Still, the people “changed its gods, even though they are no gods” (Jer. 2:11), exchanging “the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23). Shame on them, we say, shame on them for following after those worthless idols!
But are we any better? Sure, most of us don’t have little wooden idols on our mantels to which we fall down and pray. We have, however, crafted for ourselves a legion of lesser gods whom we worship and serve:
The Idol of Success: We seem to have convinced ourselves that a steady income and sound investments are a ready substitute for absolute dependence on the steadfast love of God. Work harder for that promotion, climb up the corporate ladder, put a few more dollars in that nest-egg: do this and you will be secure. But wherein lies your trust: in paper, in the promises of man? Jesus taught us something much different. “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust can destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).
The Idol of Politics: “If only my candidate wins this year… If only this bill will pass… If only we could change this or preserve that… then our lives will be secure and we can rest at ease.” It matters not whether you vote Democrat or Republican, Conservative or Liberal; we all fall into the worship of the demigods of politics. How much stock to we put in the campaign promises of those who are running for office? How much faith do we have in their ability to perform? And yet, every year we convince ourselves that if the right person is in the office, things will be much better. Our lives are tossed and turned by the political circus of the day. We tend to forget that it is God who makes nations to rise and to fall (Psalm 22:28). We should not remove ourselves from the political arena – it needs a faithful voice now more than ever. Neither should it be the foundation of our hope:
“The war horse is a false hope for salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue. Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love…” Psalm 33:17-18.
The Idol of Poor Theology: Maybe the most pernicious of idols is that of bad theology. Instead of knowing, fearing, honoring, and worshiping God as He has been revealed in Scripture we have created for ourselves a god in our own image, one who is more easily acceptable, safer, and manageable. We have issues with a God who is jealous of our worship and adoration, we struggle with a God of judgment an wrath, we are stunned by a God who “allows evil to come to good people”; we reject the hard truths of who God is and re-create a god that fits comfortably in our quiet little lives. Hear the words of Isaiah 46:9 “Remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.”
Friends, is there anything in your life you simply couldn’t live without? If your answer to that question is anything other than God’s steadfast love in Jesus Christ, then that has become your idol. Anything that comes before God in our lives has in essence become an idol. I encourage you to spend time this week examining just what brings you confidence and assurance so that we all may cast away our worthless idols and learn to trust in the Lord alone for our hope and salvation.