Unprofitable Idols

All who fashion idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit. Their witnesses neither see nor know, that they may be put to shame” (v. 9).

- Isaiah 44:9–20

Despite his questionable Christian orthodoxy and lifestyle, the British poet W.H. Auden was able to capture something of the attitude of fallen humanity toward the Creator. In his long poem For the Time Being, Auden puts into verse the unspoken prayers that sinners would offer to the Almighty if given half the chance: “O God, put away justice and truth for we cannot understand them and we do not want them… . Be interesting and weak like us, and we will love you as we love ourselves.” Apart from the intervention of the Lord’s sovereign grace, we detest the God who has revealed Himself and His character, preferring a tame, manageable god unworthy of worship.

The first commandment deals with our proclivity to choose other deities to worship besides the one, true creator God, while the second commandment addresses the sin of making God after our own image and likeness (Ex. 20:1–6). This was a perennial problem for the Israelites, who created visual representations of Yahweh throughout the centuries. It remains a problem for the church today, not so much in the construction of artwork that depicts the divine essence but in our proclivity to water down or ignore God’s wrath or pervert His love to make Him an indulgent grandfather, passing this idol off as Yahweh, the covenant Lord of Israel and the only true God. Within the visible covenant community, too many men and women are calling for us to deny the faith of our fathers and mothers because they find God’s holiness offensive, His grace cheap, and His Word worthless.

Such idol-making is foolish at best, as Isaiah reveals in today’s passage. The prophet mocks those people who from the same block of wood make their idols but also procure fuel for the fire. Though the craftsman should see that these dual uses for the wood render the constructed deity lifeless and impotent to save, the artisan misses this fact because His heart is deluded. Instead of seeking to worship the One who is able to redeem, he would rather turn from this Savior to a god that is more to his liking, even if this god is in fact no god at all (Isa. 44:9–20).

God forbids us to depict Him according to a pattern we find to be more palatable than how He is described in Scripture. If we would know Him, then we must look to the one image of Himself that He has approved — Jesus Christ, “the image of the invisible God” in whom “all the fullness of God” is “pleased to dwell” (Col. 1:15–20).

Coram Deo

The Creator has indeed revealed His express image in the Lord Jesus Christ; therefore, may we look to Him in order to understand who God is. Do you want to understand God’s kindness? Look to Jesus. Do you want to know God’s righteous anger? Look to Jesus. Everything that God is we can see in the person of Christ Jesus, and to conceive of Him in any way beyond what He has revealed in His Word is speculative and potentially idolatrous.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 97:7
Acts 19:21–41

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