THE BOOK OF ISAIAH
Keep Yourself from Idols
Isaiah 44 10/27/13 SCC
How absurd to imagine that something we can make could actually deliver us from problems we could not free ourselves from! Surely those who serve idols are spiritually blind.
GOD’S CLAIM TO BE SOVEREIGN IS BASED ON WHO HE IS AND WHAT HE HAS DONE 44:6-8
The LORD declares His absolute sovereignty 6
1. The passage begins with the claims of the Lord for absolute authority as the one true God. "The Lord, the King of Israel, his Redeemer, the Lord of Armies." The first one is “The Lord,” the personal name of the covenant God. The second one, “the king of Israel,” stresses that the covenant is a theocracy. The third, “his Redeemer,” shows how the Lord delivered His people from sin and bondage. The next one is new --“The Lord of Armies” often translated “Lord of hosts” and indicates that the Lord has at His disposal all armies, terrestrial and celestial. It means that God has the resources to carry out anything He desires or decrees. So in a passage that will ridicule and mock idols and idol-makers, the prophet uses these to introduce the Lord who will claim absolute sovereignty for Himself.
2. "I am the first and I am the last, and beside Me there is no God." This exclaims His exclusive sovereignty: He begins everything and He ends everything, He is the Creator and He will be the Judge. But He also is eternally present the eternal I AM. The New Testament will use similar motifs for our Lord Jesus Christ: "I am the alpha and the omega." He is the beginning and the end, the full revelation, the final authority, the Living Word.
3. The text adds that besides the Lord there is no god. This does not deny that people worshiped other gods, or that there were spiritual powers behind their idols. But it does deny that they are gods. There can be but one true God. Everything else is a created being. Every being has to be categorized, creator or created; and there is only one who is creator. No other religion in the ancient world held to such a dogmatic affirmation of exclusive monotheism. There was nothing inclusive about the true Biblical faith in God. The spirit of idolatry, whether in the ancient world or in modern Christendom is to rob God of His unique divinity and introduce rival gods into religion.
The LORD confirms His claims with prophecy 7
In the form of a question the Lord challenges the pagans to show what other god could predict the future. Here is proof of His exclusive right to divine majesty—the stronger the prediction, the more marvelous the power. God already affirmed in these passages that He predicted the Babylonian captivity as well as the return from exile, long before it happened. This, the prophet says, is proof that The Lord is God, for prophecy is based on the sovereign control of history.
The LORD appeals for faith 8
The Lord’s appeal is for confidence based on the truth of His sovereignty: "Fear not, neither be afraid." The repetition stresses the good news that they do not need to fear other gods or other people for the Lord is the only Rock. It signifies a solid foundation, strength, and security. The expression is couched in an ironic question and answer; "Is there a god beside me? No, there is no Rock; I know not any." So all these solid affirmations about the Lord provide the backdrop for the next discussion--the folly of idolatry.
IT IS UTTERLY FOOLISH TO MAKE IDOLS BECAUSE THEY ARE COMPLETELY WORTHLESS 44:9-20
Idols cannot profit their devotees 9
The folly of idolatry is announced immediately: idols are profitless. The language shows how idolatry reverses creation. In Genesis we read how God turned the chaos without form or structure and without substance into His marvelous creation, culminating in His forming human life as His image. When people cast idols they were forming gods as images of themselves, of mankind. This was the reverse of creation, for we are the image of God. So Isaiah says it is "vanity" and changes creation back into chaos. Recall how Paul in Romans 1:18-31 explains that they refused to worship the Creator but instead worshiped the creatures. So God gave them up to their evil desires to self-destruct. When people reverse the order of creation in their faith and worship there can be no profit, only shame.
Idols are subject to human frailty 10-13
How ridiculous to worship something made by people rather than a higher power! Those who "create gods" are merely mortals, and they make their images in the forms of "human beings"--after the beauty of mankind, to dwell in a house (v. 13). They work intently to create their gods. The absurdity of the entire process is thus underscored by these motifs. God is not a human, does not need a house, does not require food (see Ps. 50:7-14), and does not conform to the desires and limitations of mankind. To be the image of God means that we are His servants; to make God in our image means that He is our servant. Only shame can come from such a chaos; shame in the sense of devastation and ruin--certainly no salvation. 3 times emphasizes being ‘put to shame’. It is ridiculous! It is laughable! It is absurd. But the humor of it all is tempered by the sad fact that people do worship idols.
Idolatry is bound to the creation 14-20
Verse 14: The prophet describes the lunacy of making an idol out of wood, from a tree that the idol maker could not create. The point is that idols and idol-makers can never rise above the status of being bound to, part of, or limited to the creation. God is above the creation; idols, even including Satanic spirits and powers behind them, are all part of God's creation. Idolatry can never free itself of the charge of worshiping the creation and not the creator.
Verse 15-17: The prophet marvels that when the pagan makes an idol, half of the tree is used as fuel to keep one warm, or to bake food, but the other half becomes a god to be worshiped--he bows down to a stump of wood and proclaiming it as a god prays to it for salvation.
Verse 18-20: This, to the prophet, is the epitome of spiritual blindness. It will be of no value at all; "they feed on ashes" (v. 20). Worshiping an idol is to the soul what feeding on ashes would be to the body. There is no nourishment or satisfaction. An idol made of wood, even though beautifully carved and decorated, is of no greater substance than the ashes it could become in a fire. And to worship such a "god" is disastrous, because God will destroy both the idol and those who worship it.
NB: (1) It is worth noting that those who make idols are also dependent on God's creation for their raw materials. They can never be free from depending on Him. They did not create the tree, water it, and cause it to grow--God did all that. All the idol-maker can do is rob God of the material as well as the glory. The idolater is always depending on what God has done, but perverting it. (2) The point that is timeless in idolatry, no matter what form it comes in: what you can produce by your own intelligence and your own power is no more powerful than you yourself; and, if you yourself could not deliver yourself from your difficulty, how do you expect that something that you have produced will be able to do it? Whatever it is upon which people depend for meaning in life, or to which people look to find security and safety in life, in the place of God--these are the essential ingredients of idolatry. (3) But how foolish to think that something we have created will meet all those needs; how ridiculous to think that we can write our own religion and make our own gods. The point that the Bible makes over and over again is that you and I need a God that is greater than we are--a God who created us.
ONLY THE LORD IS THE SAVING GOD WORTHY TO BE PRAISED FOR HIS FORGIVENESS AND REDEMPTION 44:21-23
The Lord is faithful to His promise to redeem 21-22
Verse 21: We have a call for the people to repent for their indifference to their covenant God and to build their faith and their hope in Him. "Remember these things," is strengthened by the guarantee "you shall not be forgotten by me.” To remember the Lord is to activate the faith, to live according to the covenant promises, to turn to Him in contrition for forgiveness, to renew the pilgrimage that was interrupted by the folly of idolatry. God made them; they did not make Him. God is the master, and they are the servants. And God can forgive and redeem. Conversely, while they are to remember, God affirms they will not be forgotten. Idolatry makes God the servant and humans the master. That must now be reversed. In conjunction with the theme of "servant" is the twofold explanation for it: You are my servants because (1) I formed you and (2) I redeemed you. In contrast to the theme of making idols, God reminds them that He formed them not vice versa.
Verse 22: The second explanation is that God had forgiven them. The imagery of blotting out as a thick cloud their transgression is as if the darkness was swept away and clear blue sky appeared. Here the Lord declares that He has forgiven them, and He has redeemed them. The imagery of thick dark clouds being swept away gives the idea that sin and guilt is depressing and burdensome like heavy clouds and gray skies, but forgiveness is like blue skies and bright sunshine. The people need only to avail themselves of His provision of forgiveness to have the "clouds" lifted, to return to Him with contrite hearts and renewed allegiance.
The LORD is worthy of universal praise 23
There is every reason to rejoice in the Lord, to sing and break into rejoicing, for the Lord has demonstrated His power over idols and idolaters by redeeming His people. The primary reference in the idea of "redemption" refers to the deliverance of the believing remnant from exile in Babylon. There would have been some who actually came to faith at that time, and so their redemption was both salvation (in the New Testament sense) as well as deliverance from bondage. But this passage also adds the spiritual meaning of the deliverance: the "redemption" from exile also involved the forgiveness of sins. Every saving act of God, every deliverance or redemption or healing, is in some way connected to divine forgiveness or spiritual cleansing. The forgiveness may be the basis of it, connected to it, or the result of it. The prophet calls for creation as well as people to sing to God. The inclusion of the tree here is probably an allusion to the material used for the idol. All trees are part of God's creation; when they flourish under His care and blessing, they sing praise to the Creator. All creation will sing to the Creator (see Ps. 65).
1. It is utter foolishness making and worshiping an idol against the backdrop of the reality of the sovereign Lord God of the universe, the One who forgives our sins. We do this every time we place our hope in something or someone we believe can deliver us or we hope to reward us.
2. We create idols of things or situations or persons because we want to control the situation. We then buy into the wisdom of the world. From the very beginning of their existence through the exile idolatry was the great sin of Israel. They, like the pagan nations around them, wanted a god that they could control--one that they could see, that was like them. They did not want to be the only people on the earth to worship an invisible God.
3. God cannot be controlled nor can we make idols of him to fit our situations with the hope that we can guarantee the outcome. If you carve a ‘retirement’ image for yourself and place hope in that then you place hope in your ability to control circumstances that will lead to a retirement of your own making. It is impossible to do. You cannot control circumstance no matter how strongly you bound and protect that god.
4. John's last words warned: "keep yourself from idols." We must not think that anything we can produce, whether a good work, or a job, or an institution, or an empire, can produce spiritual security or meet our spiritual needs, or see us through the difficult times of life. No, we need someone who is above us to deliver us from the troubles we find ourselves in that we have brought upon ourselves and cannot solve. It is the Lord alone who can deliver. It is this way because He is God; and it must be this way so that He, and He alone is, may be offered endless praise.