Isaiah has repeatedly spoken out against the people’s idolatry based on the uselessness of idols. In Isaiah 41 we saw Isaiah denigrate idols because of the idols’ inability to explain the meaning of the past and tell the future. In Isaiah 43 Isaiah criticized trusting in idols because idols are unable to save the people. Isaiah is going to focus on these two criticisms again in chapter 44. Why is this so important to God? Why does God want to persuade us to tear out our idols? God has declared a coming transformation of the people’s heart so that they will no longer see their worship as a burden but will desire to called by the Lord’s name and identify themselves with God’s people (43:22-44:5). God is going to pour out his Spirit on their descendants. A time of renewal and refreshing is coming. To experience this pouring out of God’s renewal and refreshing, the people had to tear out their idols. God is going to give us the motivation to have the renewal of mind and heart that God requires to belong to him.
God Is Unique (44:6-8)
The first point God makes is that he is unique. There is nothing and no one like him. God is the King of Israel. God is the Redeemer. God is the Lord of Armies. God is eternal and therefore his works span the whole scope of human history, from beginning to end (44:6). God knows their past problems and will be available for future help. There is no other god (44:6). No one is like God (44:7). No one can do what God can do (44:7). There is no rock (44:8). God is the only stability for life. “In an always changing, unstable world, there is One who does not change, a ‘Rock’ to which beaten, battered people may cling” (Oswald, 502). God does not have to say much about himself because the alternatives are utterly absurd.
The Absurdity of Idolatry (44:9-20)
Isaiah begins with an excellent picture of idolatry. “All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit.” We too easily dismiss instructions concerning idolatry because we only think of images of stone, metal, or wood as an idol. We look at our lives and since we do not have some graven image in our house, we believe we are immune from the commands concerning idolatry. Isaiah shows what idolatry truly is. Idolatry is what we delight in. The NIV and HCSB read, “The things they treasure.” The things or people that we treasure and delight in are our idols. Isaiah is going to tell how foolish it is to place our hope and treasure in anything else but God. Now notice the irony of idolatry. The things that we value have no value. The things we treasure do not profit. Isaiah declares in verse 10 that only a fool fashion a god that has no value and cannot help one bit!
In verses 12-17 Isaiah illustrates the foolishness of idolatry. In verse 12 Isaiah shows how absurd idolatry is. The ironsmith does all of this work to fashion his idol but the idol does not help him. Rather, the idolater becomes hungry, thirsty, and faint. If these idols truly helped, then why is the idolater not supported in his work? The point is that God gives strength to the weak, but the idolater is weakened further by making the idol. Idolatry does not make us stronger but weak. Pursuing things other than the Lord wastes our time, wastes our strength, and wastes our effort, leaving us worse off than we were before we began the pursuit.
The absurdity of the idolater continues in verse 13. The idolater shapes his god after what he knows and after what he sees. The idol reflects us with all our weakness and limitations. Idolatry is not just making a god but it is making the god that we want it to be. All that an idol can do is reflect our limited knowledge and limited glory. The finished product is nothing higher than what we know — ourselves in all our feeble glory.
Verses 14-17 further describe the foolishness of idolatry. How can you trust in something that you have power over? Isaiah points to the trees. You may cut down the trees, or let the trees grow, or plant the trees. Then with some of the wood you burn it for a fire. With the rest of the wood you make an idol and worship it. How can a log save you when the log can’t save itself? How can we be delivered by something that we must save or plant or conserve? This is the present problem with the idol worship of the earth and the creation that we see today. If you have to save it, why are you worshiping it? If you have to protect it, then why do you find your life meaning in that pursuit? Here is what God wants us to understand: if something depends on you, you cannot depend on it. How can something that needs your help ever save you? If something needs you, then you cannot depend on it to be your help in time of need.
Yet this is exactly what humans do. We put our treasure in the things of this world and in the cares of this world. We find our value in new cars, new houses, new toys, and the like yet we have to protect and preserve these items. How can we submit ourselves to these things that cannot help or save us but we must protect and save them? I have to put a car cover over my car to protect it from the sun since it sits outside. How foolish to find my treasure or value or meaning in a car that I have to save! There is only person that does not depend on you. God does not depend on you. This truth is what qualifies him to be our God. If he needed us, then this would not do us any good. Consider another idol, the idol of sex. People are giving themselves into pornography, sex before marriage, promiscuity, adultery, homosexuality, and the like because they are looking for true joy, pleasure, and escape. But the problem is the same. If it depends on you, then it cannot give you what you are looking for. The moment ends and now you are back to the same position what you were before. You are no better off for all your work and waste of time. If you have to do it, then it is not to be depended on. If you have to save it, then it is not worth your life pursuit. If you have to help it, then you should not treasure it.
This truth includes other people. I saw on social media recently someone pose the question, “What is your passion?” This question was from a Christian who wanted to know what others, including other Christians, thought. One Christian man said his wife is his passion and is the reason he gets out of bed in the morning. This sounds so wonderful and sounds like a good answer, but I submit to you that it simply is idolatry. What will you do if your spouse dies and your reason for getting out of bed is your spouse? What will you do when family crisis strikes? What will you do when your hope is in another person and things do go like you want? Our passion is Christ alone. We get up in the morning for Jesus. That is what makes us live, not our children or spouse. Friends, I am greatly concerned that we have been blinded by Satan concerning these things because these idols are not immoral. However, immorality was not the only reason for the condemnation of idolatry. God must be our desire and treasure. This is what the scriptures teach. I received an email from a Christian who had unexpectedly lost her husband to a disease. She wrote in her email that she is angry at God and does not know how see can live without him. The problem is that she had her treasure in the wrong person. God is the treasure. Even our society pressures people to be married as if there is something wrong or something lacking if you are unmarried. Do not buy this lie. All you need in life is Christ.
Unfortunately, we simply do not see this. Isaiah tells us that the third problem with idolatry is that it blinds our hearts and our minds. Notice verses 18-20 as he tells us the delusion that we fall under when we treasure anything else but God. Idolatry darkens our hearts, destroying our power to think rightly and rationally. Have you talked to someone and thought, “Wow, that person is crazy in the way they look at life?” Isaiah agrees. What happens is that the longer we keep thinking in this idolatrous way, the more our minds are darkened. I believe I told you a story about an experiment on television where a hunter would live with an animal lover. Could they teach each other? Would they learn from each other? The hunter had a dog that he loved. The animal lover thought she was going to make a great point to him. If the hunter had to choose between saving his dog and saving her, which would he do? The hunter said to the animal lover, “Even though I don’t know you, I would save you.” The animal lover argued with the hunter, “Oh no. You don’t even know me. You would have to save your dog.” This reveals the darkened thinking that comes from idolatry. You can love your animals and love your pets all you want. But the life of a human is vastly higher than that of an animal, which God teaches from the time of the flood forward in the scriptures. We become so blinded by our idolatry that we cannot ask the right questions.
We get so blinded by our idolatry that if our spouse does not make us happy, we look for sex or companionship with someone else. The problem is, what will you do when that person does not make you happy anymore? This is why divorce is ever increasing. We are putting our treasure in the wrong people and in the wrong things. This is why we become entangled in vices and habits that cannot be broken. We are placing our comfort and joy in something other than God. As verse 20 says, we cannot see that there is a lie in our right hand. Our idol is a lie that does not satisfy and does not save. All the promises of an idol are a lie.
God Alone (44:21-23)
Thus God calls to the world to return to the Lord because he has redeemed us. God has made us and therefore we are his servants. Further, God sent Christ as the redemption price to pay for our sins. He has bought us and we belong to him. Sing for joy for the Lord is our God. We can depend on him. We can rely on him. God forgives of our idolatry. He is the rock of our hope and he is all that we need in life. Seeing God and what he offers us is to cause us to tear these idols out of our hearts and lives, and declare that we belong to the Lord alone.