Yahweh declares that He is the only God, Israel’s only Rock (Isaiah 44:8; cf. Exodus 17; Deuteronomy 32). He proves Himself by exposing the folly of idolatry.
“Yet hear now, O Jacob My servant, and Israel whom I have chosen. Thus says the Lord who made you and formed you from the womb, who will help you: ‘Fear not, O Jacob My servant; and you, Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. . . .’” (Isaiah 44:6-28).
Idolaters pursue futile dreams and hopes because their idols are without profit (Isaiah 44:9). All the witnesses who testify in favor of the idol are useless, since they cannot see, hear, or know anything (44:9, 11, 18). Their idolatry makes them insensible and ignorant, since they become like the things they worship (Psalm 115:1-8; 135:15-18). Idolatry is a vicious cycle: Those who fashion idols are vain, and they become more vain when they worship their idols. Idols cannot save them from futility because idols spread futility.
MAKING A GOD
The foolishness of idolatry is self-evident, Isaiah says. For starters, the one who makes the idol is weak and needy. While he works with his hammers, he gets hungry, tired, thirsty (44:12). How can a man of weak flesh create a powerful god? Plus, he makes his images from the same wood that he uses to start a fire for warmth and cooking (44:14-16). But idolatry has blinded him. He doesn’t see how idiotic it is to carve an image from wood and then to bow down to it and ask for deliverance (44:17, 19). He worships part of the wood, while the other part is reduced to ashes; he becomes a “friend of ashes” (44:20), a companion of destruction and death.
RETURN TO ME
Isaiah is not prophesying about the idolatry of the nations. He is talking about the idolatry of Judah. And after showing the folly of idolatry, he issues a call to Israel to remember and turn to Yahweh, the God who formed and redeemed his people (44:21-23). Idolaters try to discern the future by turning to omens and diviners (44:25), but Yahweh has proven that He is the beginning and end, the only God who can declare things that are not yet and bring them to pass. Specifically, He is the God who can speak a word of new creation to Jerusalem and the cities of Judah: “She shall be inhabited . . . . They shall be built” (44:26). He is the God who can divide the sea and lead Israel from bondage (44:27), the God who has the heart of the king in His hand, so that the king of Persia will declare the very words of Yahweh: “She shall be built” (44:28). Worshiping idols is what drove Israel from the land; worshiping idols won’t bring them back. Only Yahweh can do that.
Some Christians believe painted icons and wooden figures put them in contact with God, and in some Christian churches the bread of the Eucharist is an object of veneration. Isaiah would say the same to them as he did to Israel’s idolaters: Don’t you see that you’re bowing to wood and paint, that you are venerating flour and yeast? More generally, an idol is anything we love and trust in more than God. If you think your savings account gives you security, or breathe a sigh of relief when Republicans (or Democrats) win elections, or treasure your family more than Jesus, you are trusting in vanities and your life will be futile.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Monday, September 24, 2012 at 5:44 am
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