In our Wednesday night study (Walking in the Excellencies of God) last night we began to discuss the triune nature of God by exploring the voluminous testimony of Scripture that there is only one God. The major implication of monotheism is that Yahweh alone is worthy of worship. One way that the prophets drive this truth home is by exposing the absurdity of worshiping idols.
We’ve noted many times at Providence that though we may not worship literal, physical idols made by human hands as the Israelites did, we do have other objects of worship that should be considered idols. We could say that anything that is more important to us than God is an idol. So our idols could be almost anything including career, sex, material comforts, and entertainment. We can even worship as idols things that are good things, like the safety of our children or a godly reputation.
So how might we go about destroying our worship of these false gods? Isaiah 44 and Jeremiah 10 provide us with a paradigm. Let’s walk through one of these passages and see how it exposes the absurdity of idol worship and how we might use it to overcome our idols.
Isaiah begins by asserting that Yahweh is the only God:
6 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: "I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god. 7 Who is like me?
“Who is like me?” The implied answer is, “no one!” That is the question and implied answer that must be applied to our every idol. Our idols must be compared to the One True God and exposed for all the ways that they fall short. Let’s suppose that the idol we are dealing with is the praise of men (John 12:43). That is, we want so badly for others to think highly of us that we’ll sin in order to attain it or we’ll sin if we don’t attain it. As Isaiah does with idols of wood and metal in Isa 44, we must hold up the praise of men next to the magnificence of Almighty God so that the praise of men is shown to be nothing by comparison.
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.
Isaiah describes a man creating an iron idol. Here the “creator” is the man, but this creator is a creator who gets hungry and thirsty and whose strength fails. If the “creator” is this needy, how much more needy will be the idol which depends upon man for its existence? Isaiah is exposing the absurdity of idolatry. He continues by describing the making of an idol from wood:
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!"
What could be more ridiculous than using half of a tree to cook your food and making the other half into a god before which you fall down and worship? The portion that became the god could just as well have been fuel for a fire! Again, the prophet demonstrates the absurdity of worshiping idols. He then provides a contrast by pointing to the greatness of Yahweh:
21 Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant; I formed you; you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me. 22 I have blotted out your transgressions like a cloud and your sins like mist; return to me, for I have redeemed you.
The idols made by men are worthless. They “do not profit” (v9); but Yahweh, by contrast, is all powerful. The idols of Israel were formed by men; but Israel was formed by Yahweh. The idols of Israel can do nothing but sit wherever they are placed; but Yahweh is a redeemer of souls.
Every idol is going to have its own unique absurdity when compared to the One True God. Our objective is to find that absurdity and magnify it by comparing it to the superiority of our God.
In the case of the idol of the praise of men, we could prayerfully think through the essence of this false god. A helpful picture for understanding this idol is found in John 12:42-43, where the Jews believed in Christ but refused to confess him for fear of the Pharisees. They feared the displeasure of the Pharisees, which would lead to being put out of the synagogue, more than they feared the displeasure of God for rejecting Christ. At its core, a desire for the praise of men is really the fear of man as opposed to the fear of God. We seek man’s pleasure and fear man’s displeasure rather than seeking God’s pleasure and fearing God's displeasure. We perceive that it will be more beneficial for us to have the pleasure of men than the pleasure of God. Where is the absurdity?
Consider the power of man versus the power of God: The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? (Psa 118:6) Man is impotent in the face of the power of Yahweh. There is nothing man can do to me against the will of God. Why on earth would I seek the pleasure of man and fear the displeasure of man over against that of God? It’s absurd.
Consider also the heart of man versus the heart of God. The Scriptures teach that every intention of the thoughts of the heart of man are only evil continually (Gen 6:5). Man’s heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick (Jer 17:9). On the other hand, God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exo 34:6). He demonstrated His love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). Why then would I seek the favor of the fickle, evil heart of man over the gracious, forgiving, saving heart of God? It’s absurd.
Consider also the wisdom of man versus the wisdom of God. Men, professing to be wise, became fools in rejecting God (Rom 1:22). The foolishness of God is wiser than men…(1 Cor 1:25). Indeed, the wisdom of God is so vast it cannot be fathomed (Rom 11:33). In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3). So even if men had it within their power and inclination to do me good, they do not have the wisdom to carry it out in the best way possible. God alone is good, powerful, and wise. Why then would I desire the favor of men over the favor of God? Why would I expect that man could do good for me in a way that God could or would not? It’s absurd.
There are undoubtedly other ways in which worshiping the praise of men is absurd, but this demonstrates how one might go about thinking through such things using Isaiah 44 as a paradigm. Having identified the absurdity, then we could meditate on this daily – both the absurdity of the idol and the superiority/magnificence of God, praying that God would help us grow to hate the idol and love Him.
I encourage you to take a look at Jeremiah 10 and think about how it also might help you discover the absurdity of idolatry and make war on false worship.