Saturday, November 5, 2016

Comfort My People: The Prophecies Of Isaiah, Day 130

Comfort My People:
The Prophecies Of Isaiah
Day 130

Today, as promised, we study a passage about idolatry that is intended to be absurdly amusing in a dark sort of way. The Lord explains the fashioning of an idol in simple terms, so simple anyone involved in the practice should have been able to clearly see the foolishness of worshiping anything made by human hands. The Lord is reasoning with idolaters about the foolishness of carving a block of wood from a tree and bowing down to it, asking it to save them. 

The Lord tells us the story of a man who sets out to carve an image from wood. "He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or an oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow." (Isaiah 44:14) As we studied earlier in the book of Isaiah, it was important to choose a type of wood that won't rot, for there's nothing ickier than trying to pray to a rotting god. This troublesome issue alone should have been enough to bring mankind to his senses. Is a god incapable of keeping his image from rotting worth worshiping? If a god cannot protect that which symbolizes him, how can he protect mankind?

When the time comes to cut the tree the craftsman has chosen, he divides it into sections for different purposes. "It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread." (Isaiah 44:15a) The wood which has been reserved for the making of an idol is not considered too holy for ordinary uses, which is another indication that the god the carving will represent is no deity. This god doesn't exist at all except in the mind of its maker. 

Instead of seeing the truth for what it is, Bible scholar J. Alec Motyer describes the warped thinking of the craftsman, "The idolater's 'logic' suggests that what has given him the physical benefit of cooked food and the comfort of bodily warmth can also nourish his soul." (from Isaiah, pp 279-280) Because his thinking has gone so far astray, this is what the craftsman does next. "But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it." (Isaiah 44:15b) His heart has wandered so far from God that he has lost the ability to think logically, to trace the lineage of the tree all the way back to its Maker. Instead he ascribes power to the tree itself instead of to its Creator. His mind is like the mind of the pagan Gentiles of whom the Apostle Paul said, "They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts." (Ephesians 4:18) Earlier in the week we studied the type of ignorance that brings shame. It isn't the ignorance of not having heard the truth. In no way does it indicate any sort of disability or impairment. It's the ignorance of knowing better but doing it anyway, of turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to God and going one's own way. It's the ignorance that comes from deliberately hardening one's heart toward the Lord. 

The idolatrous craftsman has hardened his heart toward God to the point that he cannot think things through. "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 44:16-17) The tree from which the idol was carved wasn't able to save itself from being cut down or to keep part of itself from being used for firewood. How then can this idol save the one who made it?

The Lord, the Great Physician, diagnoses what is wrong with the idolatrous mind. "They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand." (Isaiah 44:18) Who was it that plastered over their eyes and closed their minds? They did it themselves! God gave them healthy eyes but they covered them. He gave them hearing ears but they stopped them up. He created mankind in His image and gave men and women the intelligence to have fellowship with Him, but they closed their minds to Him and walked away. The hardening of our hearts toward the Lord is like committing a crime. The first time we do it, it will bother us. We may disobey Him to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season but thinking about our sin will trouble us. But then we commit the same sin against Him a second time, then a third, then a fourth. And each time it gets a little bit easier. Our consciences don't shout as loudly. In fact, the day comes when we can shut off the voice of our consciences as easily as we can push the mute button on our TV sets. 

The idolatrous craftsman has hardened his heart against the Lord for so long that he might as well be literally blind and deaf and ignorant. He is no longer capable of logical reasoning, nor are any of his fellow idolaters. "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?' Such a person 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 44:19-20) The idol in this man's hand is as worthless as the ashes in his fire pit over which he warmed himself and cooked his food. The idol can no more satisfy his hungering soul than eating the ashes can satisfy his hungering stomach. It's a lie and he has fallen for it.

I have held lies in my right hand. I have held onto lies with both hands. I have held on so tightly that the Lord has had to pry my fingers loose one by one to get me to let go of the lies I clung to so desperately. I have valued other people and other things more than I have valued my precious Creator and Redeemer. Worst of all, I have valued my own ambitions and foolish desires above the righteous living our Lord asks of us. I might as well have been feeding on ashes, so worthless were these things in comparison to our incomparable God. But thanks be to Him, because of His love for me He wanted something better for me. My Redeemer said, "Let go of these worthless things. They will never satisfy your soul. In place of them I will give you a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair." (Isaiah 61:3) 

We will never be perfectly sinless so long as we live in human bodies in a fallen world but while we live this earthly life the Lord wants to deliver us from feeding on ashes. Our Father, like any good father, wants the best for us. It would behoove us all from time to time to get quietly in His presence and ask Him to reveal to us anything we have allowed to become an idol in our lives. Temptation faces us every day and we can end up in trouble faster than we think. We live in a world that constantly tells us we will be happier if we just had more money or more status at work or a better spouse or a bigger house or a nicer car or a fancier wardrobe. The world tells us we would be perfectly satisfied if only we were thinner or looked prettier or younger. The world tells us we would be less stressed if only we would drink a lot more or calm ourselves with pills or relieve our anxiety by looking at pornography or having illicit relationships. But nothing will ever fulfill us if our hearts aren't right with God. We were created for fellowship with Him. Nothing short of walking closely with our Creator will cure the emptiness in our souls. We can stop feeding on ashes and instead be given a crown of beauty. We can stop comparing ourselves with others and crying over what we don't have and instead be able to fully enjoy all that the Lord has blessed us with. He promises us the oil of joy and gladness in place of our spirit of mourning. He will even give us a better wardrobe by allowing us to trade in our dowdy old robes of despair for a glorious garment of praise. Who else offers us such benefits? What lie can accomplish what our Lord can accomplish for us? Why would we settle for anything less than His best?

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