The Idol of Our Strength
In Isaiah 44, God points out to the Israelites the futility of their pursuit of idols. Too our detriment we often look at idol worship as something done by uneducated and ignorant people who are somehow behind us in their intellect. This is to our detriment for we rarely see our own behavior pictured in the lives of the nation of Israel.
Isaiah 44 is unique in that it points out three types of idols that the Israelites have built and worshipped. I know, I know, you may ask why a preacher can only have three points. I don’t know why things sometimes work out that way, but in this text there are three ways that the Israelites crafted their idols. As I read the text a connection seemed clear to me as to why these idols were built.
Now, if you have read much of the Old Testament, or even if you just heard some of the stories growing up you are probably familiar with the overall why – rebellion against God. However, it wasn’t rebellion simply for the sake of rebellion. Rebellion, of any sort, is so that someone may profit in a way that they are not currently experiencing.
The child who passes a note in class, in spite of strict warnings not too, does so, not just from spite towards their teacher, but because they have something to gain from passing the note. I believe it is important for us to consider this when we look at the idolatry of the Israelites and, more specifically, the areas in which we seek our own personal gain today. These three pictures of idolatry are areas in which we still struggle today.
Those who make an image, all of them are useless,
And their precious things shall not profit;
They are their own witnesses;
They neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed.
Who would form a god or mold an image
That profits him nothing?
Surely all his companions would be ashamed;
And the workmen, they are mere men.
Let them all be gathered together,
Let them stand up;
Yet they shall fear,
They shall be ashamed together.
The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals,
Fashions it with hammers,
And works it with the strength of his arms.
Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails;
He drinks no water and is faint.
The Idol Built From Strength
The picture of a blacksmith is of one who takes strong metal, heats it, and forms it into a desired shape. By his strength, control, and the heat of the fire, the metal is formed. As someone who does not have the strength and training of a blacksmith I would find myself at a loss in attempting to fashion anything within his shop.
The same would certainly be true for some believers. They are without much strength in living what we might call a “Christian life.” You could hand them the hammer of legalism, and the tongs of self-control and they would be at a loss. They might could come near the fire of self-righteousness but would not understand how to shape and form the metal if they were able to heat it.
Not so for I. I have swung the hammer of legalism. The tongs of self-control, while sometimes used for personal gain, are not unfamiliar to my hand. Please don’t misunderstand me to say that self-control is not needed and necessary, but as the Apostle Paul so clearly points out it can be a danger.
Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self- imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh.
An Idol Built From Strength – Power
To see if have an idol built from strength lurking around our lives we would do well to check the things that we admire about ourselves. Do we spend too much time admiring our ability to do or not do certain things? Is our measurement of others based on the fact that they are made in the image of God and in need of a personal relationship with Christ? Or is our measurement of others based on how they match up to the “strengths” of our lives.
If we value individuals based on how closely they resemble us then I would imagine that an idol of strength is hidden somewhere within the confines of our home. It is our power that encourages us to see others as less than us unless they can match our abilities and strength.
An Idol Built From Strength – Control
Every individual that I have ever met has some area of their life in which they desire to have more control. For some it may be in controlling their tongue. Others may seek control in their anger, their lust, dependence upon , and anything you might can think of that would fit into that blank.
When we judge others from an area in which we believe we have control then we are asking that they be measured by what we can achieve. This isn’t to say that there are not any standards but I am speaking of our willingness to begin our evaluation and judgment of others from an area in which we feel comfortable.
Therefore, before we mock the Israelites for their idolatry, we might do well to check and see if there is a blacksmith’s forge lying somewhere around our house. We should also check the smell of our clothes to see how close we may have been to fire by which we can shape and bring into being our idols.