17 January 2012

Isaiah 44:9-20

"All who make idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see not know. And so they will be put to shame. Who would fashion a god or cast an image that can do no good?"


In Isaiah 44:7 God dares to invite the speculation "Who is like me?", offering Israel a challenge to respond to the faithfulness of their creator and sustainer with thankful witness. In today's passage, the unique power and glory of the Eternal One is emphasised with a searching examination of those who try to answer that challenge with their own handiwork: idolaters.

The worship of idols, the prophet declares, is senseless (verse 9a), profitless (verse 9b) and only the blindly ignorant can commend it (verse 9c,d). The production of the idol is described as a combination of human skill and use of God-given natural resources. However, this is precisely the reason for the idol's shortcomings: it is the product not of divinity but of human skill and design with all its limitations (verses 10-13) , and of metal and wood, materials which can just as easily be used to prepare food as to be worshipped (verses 15-17). The passage has a slightly mocking tone, reminding us today perhaps of instructions for making gifts on Blue Peter, with the completed idol being 'one I made earlier'. Yet this is no innocent pleasure but has underlying menace: devotion to an idol leads to the idolater becoming gripped in a hold which is hard to brake and which misleads them as to the true nature and identity of God (verse 20). Whilst the idolater holds the idol in their hand, in reality at the same time (despite its inanimate nature) the idol holds the idolater even more tightly in its grip.

Idolatry may seem a strange idea to us today. After all, why would you want to worship something you have made yourself, or someone else has made for you? Yet if an idol is anything that distracts us from God, obscures the divine nature of the Eternal One, and holds us in its thrall, the concept is perhaps not so alien as might first appear.

To Ponder

You are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). But how do you avoid creating an understanding of God too closely in your image?

John Wesley said that "we are encompassed on all sides with persons and things that tend to draw us from our centre" (Sermon 79: On dissipation). Who or what are those people and things for you?

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Tim Woolley

The Revd Dr Tim Woolley is superintendent minister of the Hinckley Circuit in Leicestershire and an adjunct faculty member at Cliff College. Tim has a passion for Wesleyan theology and for fresh ways of being church and doing evangelism, and he is a vice chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together.