Friday, November 4, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 129

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 129

The Lord tells the people that He is their only helper. There is salvation in no one else.

"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." (Isaiah 44:6) When Isaiah preaches this message the people of Judah have not yet fallen into the idolatry which will be prevalent in the generation that will go into captivity. In Isaiah's day they had a godly king who followed the Lord and removed the idols from the land. But periods of idolatry were in Judah's past and the human weakness that leads mankind into following after the wrong things is always present. Temptation is in our path daily. The world constantly offers us substitutes for the living God, promising us that more money or things or status or substances or relationships or carnal pleasures will fill up the emptiness in our souls. A false god doesn't have to be a carved block of wood overlaid with silver or gold. Satan has refined his tactics over the millennia. He knows that in prosperous first-world countries we would refuse to bow before a graven image but we would eagerly line up to bow before wealth or success. Anything that means more to us than God, or anything we think about more than God, or anything we spend more time serving than God, is just as much an idol as one carved from a block of wood.

The Lord offers the people an opportunity to prove that there is anyone anywhere like Him. "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 them 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 44:7-8) 

The Lord begins to reason with the people regarding the foolishness of idolatry. "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 nothing? People who do that will be put to shame; such craftsmen are only human beings. Let them all come together and take their stand; they will be brought down to terror and shame." (Isaiah 44:9-11) It's an awful feeling to look back and realize that we have treasured worthless things. There are things in my past I treasured to the point of near-obsession and now I see how foolish that was. I wish I could say I'll never fall into that trap again, but human nature being what it is, if I escape it will be because of the help of the Lord and not because of my own strength. The idolaters are expending a great deal of energy to produce and worship their idols but it's all in vain. The Lord says their ignorance is shameful. Ignorance isn't shameful when we don't have the opportunity or intelligence to know better, but this is not the case with the people of Judah. They are the witnesses of the Lord. They have seen His power and glory. They have received His awesome deliverance. They have been given the law and the prophets and the written word of God. Their ignorance is without excuse, just as our ignorance today would be without excuse, for we have had the opportunity to hear and to read the word of God.

Now the Lord begins to set forth a very simple and logical argument against worshiping something our hands have made. "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." (Isaiah 44:12) Here we find a metalworker pushing himself to exhaustion to craft a useless idol. Everything involved in this industry is done by human strength. If we are not able to help ourselves in our own power, how can an idol we construct by our own power help us? The metalworker keeps with it til he is about to pass out from hunger and thirst, but all his efforts are in vain. The image forged in the fire will be powerless to do anything for the one who made it. This man has lost his strength doing foolish work and he does not know it. We see the contrast between his efforts and what the Lord has promised to those who trust in Him, "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and now grow weary, they will walk and not be faint." (Isaiah 40:31)

We are given another example and this one involves a woodworker. "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 human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine." (Isaiah 44:13) This woodworker takes a tree that the Lord created and carves an idol from it in the image of man who is but a created being. Mankind is indeed glorious, for we are the workmanship of God and are fashioned in His image, but we are not gods. The same hands that made the tree the woodworker is using for an idol are the same hands that made human beings. We are all God's workmanship and He alone is to be worshiped.

Tomorrow the Lord will describe idol-making in such a way that we can actually laugh at the absurdity of it. I think He intended it to strike us as sarcastically funny so that the foolishness of it gets through to us. Whenever I think of idolatry, I can't help remembering being a small child in Sunday school class on a day when the teacher explained idolatry to us. We were very young and weren't quite getting it so she decided to make an example of a Windex bottle that was sitting on the window ledge. She grabbed it and placed it on the floor and bowed down before it, saying, "Oh great Windex bottle, please help us!" Young as we kids were, we immediately saw how absurdly funny this was and the classroom erupted with laughter. None of us would have willingly bowed before a visible idol because even at our tender pre-school age we understood how pointless it was. But it's a safe bet that every one of us who was in that classroom back in the 1970s has bowed before a less tangible idol. Maybe we've served the idol of success and prestige, doing some questionable things to get ahead in our careers. Or we've served unhealthy or illicit relationships. Or perhaps we've trusted in substances or bad habits to get us through hard times. Serving idols like these is every bit as absurd as bowing before that Windex bottle. They are powerless to help or save us. 

God alone is our helper, for He is the only God. The One who created us loves us and wants a relationship with us. He wants to be who we turn to when we need help and He wants to be who we turn to when we are happy and want to shout praises for our blessings. Let's turn to Him first and not last. Let's not allow anyone or anything to take His place in our lives. Then we will soar on wings like eagles, running the race without getting weary, walking through this life without growing faint.

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