The passage of Isaiah 44:9-20 tells the story of someone who builds an idol out of the other half of a piece of wood that he uses to cook his food.
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.” 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.”
Isaiah 44:16-17 NASB
On the surface, this seems kind of silly. How could someone craft an idol, and then worship it1? What transformation could make something lesser than us (because we made it ourselves) become more important than us – to the point where it becomes worthy of our worship? Surely that doesn’t make sense. (See also Habakkuk 2:18-19, 1 Samuel 12:21.)
What if the idol in this example wasn’t a little statue, though? What if it was one of many other things that humans have built, instead?
- Technology is man-made, but yet we spend countless hours of our lives attending to glowing screens, often just to dismiss a notification that we don’t even care about. That might not be traditional “worship”, but it certainly shows that we value bits and bytes – or what they bring to us – above other things (like watching where we’re going while walking and texting).
- Great buildings are just “things”, but whether they are malls, homes, or church buildings, we certainly spend a lot of time, money, and attention on them. My house, for instance, requires regular “offerings” of appliances, drain cleaner, and water softener salt.
- Even ideas and plans that we come up with can turn into idols when they become the focus of our attention, rather than the goals we were trying to achieve with them. How many “movements” were started with someone having a good idea, but – over time – brought in those who started to care more about the movement, rather than the principles upon which it was founded? Over time, these can become (at best) ineffective, and (at worst) corruptions of the purpose for which they were started.
In Acts 19:23-41, though, it seems that certain craftsmen who made trinkets for others (souvenirs, perhaps, of the pagan goddess Artemis) may not have believed much in Artemis’s power to save them. Instead, it sounds to me like their god was the money made from selling these crafts, and they were willing to start a riot to keep the revenue stream going. They were indentured to idols for a deity they didn’t necessarily even believe in.
For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, was bringing no little business to the craftsmen; these he gathered together with the workmen of similar trades, and said, “Men, you know that our prosperity depends upon this business.
Acts 19:24-25 NASB
Regardless of what we make, let us each remember that things built by us are (by definition) lesser than us. Furthermore, we should keep in mind that since we are created by God, we are (again, by definition) lesser than Him. There’s no way that we can make something worthy of that kind of worship – the worship that God deserves – whether we worship other things intentionally, or without realizing it.
Thus you shall say to them, “The gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”
Jeremiah 10:11 NASB
(See also Acts 17:24-29)
Instead, let us take a little time away from those things that would otherwise be idols to us, and remember their (and our) respective roles in the grand scheme of things. May we give credit and worship to the Creator, not what we create.
- I understand that some who make images, statues, or paintings sincerely intend for them to just remind people of the true God. Here, though, I’m talking about those who believe that either these constructed items are gods, or that they can be used to bend a god’s will to their own. However, even innocent reminders can become idols to others, if we’re not careful (remember how the bronze serpent was mis-used, as described in 2 Kings 18:4), so approach even the first scenario wisely. ↩