Isaiah: Prince of Prophets—The Worthlessness of Idols
Israel’s God is a powerful redeemer. In our text for this evening Isaiah paints a picture of a the true and living God, and the powerlessness of idols. It is a lesson the Church needs to be taught from time-to-time. he prophet introduces this theme (44:6-8) by exalting Jehovah as king and redeemer of Israel, and the one eternal living God, who founded Israel and revealed himself to him as his impregnable Rock.
“This is what the LORD says— Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God. Who then is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and lay out before me what has happened since I established my ancient people, and what is yet to come— yes, let him foretell what will come. Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one.” (Isaiah 44:6–8, NIV84)
After proclaiming the glory, and majesty and power of the Lord Almighty, the prophet turns his attention toward the idols that Israel is so prone to worship. He reminds them of the shame of idol worship. He reminds them of the folly of idol worship. Why would the people of God turn their backs on the Lord Almighty to worship such insignificant imposters? He gets the heart of the issue in verse 20: “ ... a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” (Isaiah 44:20, NIV84)
As we shall see, Isaiah’s attack against idolatry is a satirical description of the manufacture of idols. Idols were constructed by clumsy tools and weak workmen. The same wood used to make an idol is used to make fires for cooking. Those who worshiped idols practiced grand self-deception.
Isaiah tells Israel that while the heathen fashioned their gods, Yahweh fashioned his people. They must ever remember their calling as God’s servant. God had not forgotten his people. In his grace he would blot out their sins. God therefore invites his people to respond to that grace by returning to him with all their heart. The undeserved redemption of Israel called forth universal praise to the Lord (44:21–23).
I. THE WORTHLESSNESS OF FALSE IDOLS
- “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing?” (Isaiah 44:9–10, NIV84)
- those who make and worship them are fools
- Isaiah says that all who make idols are nothing
- the word for nothing in verse 9 is the same word translated as without form or desolate and used in Gen. 1:2 to describe the wasteland that was earth before God’s Spirit moved upon it
- a creature who would actually create a Creator our of wood or stone and then worship the thing his own hands have created is a person who is spiritually desolate
- the thing they treasure is actually worthless
- those who would defend an idol as a deity worthy of worship are blind and ignorant and out to be ashamed
- our God is deeply concerned that nothing should deprive His people of the blessing that comes by the pure worship of the Great I Am
- to that end Israel was given specific commandments governing the worship of God
- the first is simple
- “Thou shall have no other Gods before me”
- the second commandment builds on the first
- neither are they to create a representation of any deity including a portraiture of Jehovah
A. AN IDOL CAN NEVER ADEQUATELY PORTRAY THE LIVING GOD
- have you ever had a picture taken of yourself and when it was developed said to yourself, "That doesn't look like me at all!"
- let's face it, some folks are just not photogenic
- it's not any different for God
- I think that every time man tries to paint the face of God, God looks down and says, "Hey, that doesn't look a bit like me. You blew it again!"
- when it comes to making gods, man's problem has been that we've always invented god in our own image
- most of the ancient civilizations that we are familiar with did this
- there gods were not sovereign, omnipotent, and omniscient, but were more like super heros
- the gods of the ancients were nothing more than humans who had supernatural abilities
- there were times in her history when Israel was guilty doing the same thing
- they tried to give Jehovah an outward, physical form--usually in the shape of a calf
- what's more, they assumed that God was just like them
- God's response?
- I ain’t nothing like you!
- “These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you. But I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face.” (Psalm 50:21, NIV84)
- ILLUS. In his book Your God is Too Small, J.B. Phillips says we tend to give God many names which aren't actually his names: Managing Director, Puppeteer, Magician, Resident Policeman, and Fun-hater. Perhaps my favorite word for God is munch-vasen. It means wish-being and I think is aptly describes the ‘god’ of the health-and-wealth preaching crowd.
- our society has taken Jesus and recreated him in our own cultural likeness
- to hear some Fundamentalist preachers preach you would assume that Jesus is a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Republican
- to hear some Liberal preachers preach you might draw the conclusion that Jesus is a revolutionary who, if he were on earth today, would abolish capitalism and re- distribute the world's wealth and land in a more "fair" way
- he is the "Son of God who taketh away the sins of the world"
- ILLUS. The great 3rd century theologian, Augustine, wrote that, "Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used." That's obvious. But he also went on to say that idolatry is also "Using anything that is meant to be worshiped."
II. THE WRATH UPON FALSE IDOLS
- “He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and infamy.” (Isaiah 44:11, NIV84)
- in Isaiah’s day there was a whole cottage-industry in the manufacture of idols
- Isaiah reminds Israel that the ‘gods’ they are worshiping were made by mere mortals!
A. GOD IS AROUSED TO JEALOUS ANGER WHEN HIS PEOPLE SET UP IDOLS
- “You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me,” (Exodus 20:5, NIV84)
- the Israelites constantly aroused God's jealousy and provoked Him to anger by straying after other Gods
- is God jealous because there actually are other gods?
- of course not!
- Psalm 96:5 "For all the gods of the nations [are] idols: but the LORD made the heavens."
- Psalm 115:4-7 "But their idols are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but they cannot smell; they have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but they cannot walk; nor can they utter a sound with their throats."
- God is jealous because He cannot stand our divided loyalty
- one of the saddest chapters in the life of Israel was during the period of the monarchy when Israel was ruled by wicked, idolatrous kings
- yes, they sacrificed to the true God
- but they also worshiped the gods of the pagans who lived in the lands around them
- 2 Kings 17:33 "They worshiped the LORD, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they ad been brought."
- Psalm 86:11 “Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.”
III. THE WORKMANSHIP OF FALSE IDOLS
- “The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” (Isaiah 44:12–17, NIV84)
- Isaiah now proceeds to point out how the idols are made, the very description constituting a mockery of idolatry
- idol worship is foolish
- the idols that craftsmen fashion offer no relief to the men who make them
- he still grows faint
- idol worship is laborious
- it takes time and effort to fashion an idol, but in the end what the craftsman fashions looks suspiciously like himself–he shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory
- ILLUS. In Kyoto Japan is a shine called the “Temple of 1000 Buddhas” that dates back to the 12the century. Directly in the centre of these 1000 statues there sits an impressive giant buddha statue covered in gold. Each Buddha looks just a little bit different. Worshipers enter the shrine and find the Buddha that looks more like themself. That’s the Buddha they worship and offer incense to. How convenient!
- the very same tree used to carve an idol that become the focus a the craftsman’s worship is used to keep him warm and cook his food
- he gets more benefit from the utilitarian use of the wood than the idol he carves from it and then cries out to it, “Save me; you are my god”
- ILLUS. “You are my god” is emphatic which means the worship is saying “My god art thou and thou alone.”
- the Apostle Paul explains this rebelliousness to us in his letter to the Romans
- “For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” (Romans 1:17–25, NIV84)
IV. THE WICKEDNESS PROMPTING FALSE IDOLS
- “They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” (Isaiah 44:18–20, NIV84)
- those who carve out idols willfully blind themselves to the truth
A. IDOL WORSHIP CAN BE VERY SUBTLE
- in the New Testament, there is a very strange statement that the Apostle John makes to his readers
- “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true—even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:20–21, NIV84)
- why would the Apostle end his letter with such a statement?
- ILLUS. The great 3rd century theologian, Augustine, wrote that, “Idolatry is worshiping anything that ought to be used.” That obvious. But he also went on to say that idolatry is also “Using anything that is meant to be worshiped.”
- do you try to ‘use’ God as a means to an end?
- let me ask you a couple of diagnostic questions:
- Question #1: Do you want God?
- Question #2: Why?
- now, if you answered “No” to question #1, there is not much more I can say to you
- question #2 is the important one, “Why do you want God?”
- someone might say, “I want God, because I want a happy life.” –sounds legitimate
- the problem is, you’re now using God as a means to an end–a happy life
- a happy life has become you idol and you’re using God to acquire it
- do you see how subtle idolatry can be?
- one is from the Old Testament and the other is from the New Testament
- ILLUS. The OT passage speaks of Saul’s disobedience to the direct command of God. He is confronted by the prophet Samuel. Samuel, speaking for God, says, “But Samuel replied: ‘Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the voice of the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.” (1 Sam. 15:22-23)
- when you puff out your chest, and cross you arms and tell God, “No, I’m not gonna do it your way” you’re setting yourself upon the throne of your life–and that’s idolatry
- ILLUS. Listen to the Apostle Paul: “For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” (Ephesians 5:5, NIV84)
- Paul tells us that those with a covetous spirit are guilty of idolatry
- Jesus himself spoke of this in his Sermon on the Mount
- “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:24, NIV84)
B. MAKING GOD LORD
- how does the second commandment relate to us in our faith?
- what we worship is important because we become like the things we honor
- ILLUS. As the people of Israel were about to enter the Promised Land, Moses gives them some instructions. He warns them about falling to the temptation of worshiping ‘other gods.’ He tells them: “ ... in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.”
What must you do if you’ve set up idols in your heart? The answer comes from an OT passage. Israel had set up idols throughout the land. It was a low-point in the life of the nation. Manasseh, the king, experienced a spiritual awakening and his eyes were opened to the ungodly corruption and moral depravity which had consumed the nation because of idolatry. His response was to take the idols that had been set up in the Temple of God and cast the out of the city. He then repaired the altar of God and offered sacrifice.
“He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the LORD, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the LORD and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the LORD, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:15–16, NIV84)
You must do the same ...
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1–2, NIV84)