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Isaiah 42-45: Behold My Servant: Chapter 15: Foolish Idolatry

Isaiah 44:9-11 says,

9 Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. 10 Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to not profit? 11 Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame.

The idolaters lost their case in the divine court, because “their own witnesses” (that is, their gods which “fail to see or know”) failed to make a credible case. So the Judge explains to them why they lost.

The Judge’s Verdict

The NASB uses no quotation marks in verses 9-20, because the translators interpret this as a simple statement of fact coming from Isaiah himself. But I see this entire section as the ruling of the Judge, spoken to the idolaters. The judgments of the law, after all, are designed to teach and correct sinners. To condemn idolaters without explaining where they went wrong would not be particularly helpful to them.

God’s explanation tells the idolaters that “mere men” have crafted their idols. A creator is always greater than that which he creates. Hence, the craftsmen themselves are greater than their idols.

Likewise, according to God’s laws of labor, men own that which they make, even as God owns that which he creates. God creates a tree; man shapes that tree into something useful, such as a table. God will always own the wood, but man owns the table. Labor is energy, and labor is property. Each owns his own labor.

So when men “fashion a god or cast an idol,” God owns the gold and silver, but man owns the idol. The absurdity is in the fact that an idol is supposed to be greater than the man who fashioned it, but the reverse is true. Foolish men create gods in their own image and then pretend that the gods are greater than the craftsmen.

Man is Incapable of Creating Genuine Gods

God continues in Isaiah 44:12, saying,

12 The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary.

In other words, the craftsmen themselves are too weak and frail to create a genuine God. When he is hungry, he becomes weak. If he does not hydrate himself, he “becomes weary.”

Isaiah 44:13 continues,

13 Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house.

Gods made of gold and silver were affordable only to the wealthy or perhaps to a city as a whole. The average poor man might only afford a wooden god to “sit in a house.”

Isaiah 44:14, 15 says,

14 Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. 15 Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread, he also makes a god and worships it; he makes a graven image and falls down before it.

Wooden idols are made from trees that a man might plant. When it grows tall enough, the man can choose whether to use the tree as fuel for a fire or to make a god out of it. He may treat it as a sacred object or despise it as fuel to warm himself. It is not sacred unless the man declares it so by his own will.

Isaiah 44:16, 17 continues,

16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god.”

A big tree might have a dual use. Half of it is burned as fuel, while the other half of the same tree is made into a god. The wood is no different in either half. Whether it is to be despised or sanctified depends fully on the will of man. The arrogance of man is seen in his belief that he has the power by his own “free will” to determine which half of a tree is sacred and which is just fuel for the fire! One half of the tree warms him, while the other half is supposed to deliver him!

Men’s Lack of Understanding

Isaiah 44:18 says,

18 They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend.

This refers back to the often-stated theme of the blind and deaf people, whose eyes have been blinded and whose ears have been deafened. In every case God takes credit for doing this by His own sovereign will. Those who lack an understanding of God’s word and do not know the mind of God are not in a position to heal themselves. Yet there is an appointed time for everyone, where their eyes and ears will be healed. Those who are healed early are blessed; the rest will see and understand at the Great White Throne, where every tongue will swear allegiance to Christ (Isaiah 45:23).

Because God takes credit for blinding the people, He obligates Himself by the law of love to heal their blindness as well. More than that, He must make the outcome greater than the beginning. All things must work together for good (Rom. 8:28), because the alternative is to have a tyrannical God rather than a God of love. Paul says in Rom. 11:32,

32 For God has shut up all in disobedience so that He may show mercy to all.

Those who understand the sovereignty of God in Romans 9 without also understanding the love of God in Romans 5 tend to make God a tyrant. They usually tell us that God has blinded most people and chosen only a few for salvation. The blind ones He casts into a burning torture pit forever, they say. That hardly pictures a God of love—or even a God of justice. It is only when we understand that God has promised to save all mankind that God’s reputation as a God of love can be preserved.

That is why it is vital to understand the restoration of all things and to know that the end of history comes only when all things are put under the feet (authority) of Jesus Christ, as Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 15:27, 28. Being under His feet is not the same as burning in hell. It is only by understanding the mind of God and His law that we might avoid creating our own idols designed by our own imagination.

Isaiah 44:19, 20 concludes,

19 No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, “I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination. I fall down before a block of wood!” 20 He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”

Those who are blind and deaf cannot see how illogical it is to worship “a block of wood,” when he has just cooked a meal with the other half of the tree. Yet because he is blind, “he cannot deliver himself,” that is, he cannot help but believe such nonsense. His gods cannot open his eyes or ears, and so he is totally oblivious to the fact that he is grasping a lie in his right hand and can’t let go.

Only a miracle can enlighten him. Only the hand of God can open blind eyes and give men true, divine logic (Logos). But meanwhile, “the word [logos] of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor. 1:18). To the world, it is illogical that salvation would come through a crucified Messiah. But to those whose eyes have been opened to divine logic, “it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18).

Likewise, it was seemingly illogical for Moses to cast a tree into the bitters waters of Marah to make the waters sweet (Exodus 15:23-25). But the tree prophesied of the cross that alone can heal the bitterness in our hearts.

It was again illogical for Elisha to cast a tree into the Jordan to retrieve the lost iron axe head (2 Kings 6:5, 6). But again, the tree was the cross by which the iron kingdom of Dan. 7:7 will be retrieved in the end, so that God may be all in all.

The Blindness Healed

The logic of the cross is illogical to unenlightened men, but to us it is the power of God. This is the lesson given by the great Judge that enlightens idolaters when they lose their case before the divine court. In fact, the Judge’s explanation to the idolaters in Isaiah 44:9-20 sets the pattern for the greater judgment at the Great White Throne, where all will be enlightened. There God will heal their blindness and restore their ears to hear the word. as Paul affirms in Phil. 2:10, 11,

10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and that every tongue will confess [exomologeo, “profess”] that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

They will not be forced to bow, nor will they be forced to confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, as so many have taught. Forced confessions show the power of God, but not His glory. It is the glory of God to reveal Himself so that men bow to Him out of awe at the wisdom of God. Paul had learned this truth from Isaiah 45:23, which he quoted in the verse above. But the apostle referenced this verse again in Rom. 14:11 with slightly different wording,

11 For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.”

To “confess” (i.e., “profess”) Christ, then, is to “give praise to God.” Isaiah 45:23 says they will “swear allegiance” to Him. Paul was telling us that all of these sinners at the Great White Throne judgment will be converted after seeing Christ for who He really is. In addition, they will be filled with the Spirit, for their confession is “that Jesus Christ is Lord.” Paul says in 1 Cor. 12:3, “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.”

So let us cast aside the idols of the heart that we have created by our own will and the images by our own imagination of His nature. The word of God is logical, but not to the world. As our minds are renewed, however, we will come to understand the marvelous plan of God and be able to say with the Apostle Paul in Rom. 11:33,

33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!