“Thus says the LORD: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the LORD. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word. He who slaughters an ox is like one who kills a man; he who sacrifices a lamb, like one who breaks a dog’s neck; he who presents a grain offering, like one who offers pig’s blood; he who makes a memorial offering of frankincense, like one who blesses an idol. These have chosen their own ways, and their soul delights in their abominations; I also will choose harsh treatment for them and bring their fears upon them, because when I called, no one answered, when I spoke, they did not listen; but they did what was evil in my eyes and chose that in which I did not delight.”” (Isaiah 66:1–4 ESV)
God seems to be constantly reminding us that He cannot be pinned in, domesticated or manipulated by the systems, institutions and laws that He has given us. All of the ceremonies, laws, worship, covenants and military victories were (and still) are designed to point to the glory of God and the worship of the Creator. Instead the people regularly attempted to use these religious things in an attempt to manipulate God in to getting what they wanted. The problem is that what they wanted was His benevolent blessings more than they wanted Him. God looks favorably on the dependent, lowly & contrite spirit that recognize their spiritual bankruptcy and throw himself on the grace and mercy of God. (Matthew 5)
God views our worship that is not accompanied by a trembling, contrite heart is wicked as murder or idolatry. God is not interested in external compliance to His laws – God is after heart level transformation and increasing affection for Him. The people were using compliance to their Levitical worship in an attempt to control God and get Him to bless and protect them. We, too, often times, believe that God “owes” us protection, blessing or prosperity because of our morally clean lives or ability to keep God’s commands. This is idolatry that reveals a heart that is more interested in God’s blessings and gifts than is in knowing or walking with Him – this is the default mode of the human heart, but even Christians must carefully guard their hearts and ask what their true motivations are – what their desire is for and where their real treasures are. Our affections matter, they are the central component in the battle for our faith.
The people found hope, strength and identity in chasing an endless array of political alliances. To say that there is no hope, surface level identity or strength in worldly pursuits is not true. They do, however lack that capacity to provide true, deep soul satiating satisfaction that is sustainable. Their endless pursuit of idols and alliances kept them energized. “You were wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say, “It is hopeless”; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint.” (Isaiah 57:10 ESV). It is frightening that God would allow man to find satisfaction – even if it is fleeting – apart from Him. This is the Passive Wrath of God. The people’s faith was revealed but what caused them to fear – man. Though they had outward signs of allegiance to God – their hearts were revealed by what they feared, what they wanted and what they looked to to provide them with protection, significance & salvation. God said, “let your idols deliver you.”.
“You journeyed to the king with oil and multiplied your perfumes; you sent your envoys far off, and sent down even to Sheol. You were wearied with the length of your way, but you did not say, “It is hopeless”; you found new life for your strength, and so you were not faint.
Whom did you dread and fear, so that you lied, and did not remember me, did not lay it to heart? Have I not held my peace, even for a long time, and you do not fear me? I will declare your righteousness and your deeds, but they will not profit you. When you cry out, let your collection of idols deliver you! The wind will carry them all off, a breath will take them away. But he who takes refuge in me shall possess the land and shall inherit my holy mountain.” (Isaiah 57:9–13 ESV)
Idols are powerless to deliver. Ancient idols, created by craftsmen, were powerless to save, deliver or strengthen – the same is true of our modern, shiny, sophisticated idols. Just as God formed us, so do craftsmen form idols – but these creators are human: they tire, get sick, get hungry & thirsty. All idols are created out of created things that God gave mankind. They used the wood to make a fire to bake their bread and then used what was left to fashion a “god” and then bow down and worship it, saying “deliver me!” They cannot see that this is a created thing that they are looking for transcendence from. Created things cannot provide transcendent answers. On top of that, God has blinded them and shut up their hearts so that they cannot see the futility of their pursuit.
What do you delight in? What do you look to for answers, satisfaction, identity, fulfillment? These are your idols. The heart will always worship something – either God or an idol. Many times these are good things that we turn in to god things; things like marriage, family, faithful service, hard work or kid’s activities. We teach our children what is worthy of worship and what they should seek to establish their true identity in life by what we will really trust in and what we really point them to – it may be athletics, relationships, morality, education or financial independence. All of these things are good, but they are not designed to be our ultimate pursuit; they cannot hold the weight of our worship. What “gospel” are you preaching to yourself and your children? What do you say is worth all of your time, energy and pursuit? What is your life ordered around? This is what you really worship. Is Jesus just one of many gods in your life?
“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. Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? Behold, all his companions shall be put to shame, and the craftsmen are only human. Let them all assemble, let them stand forth. They shall be terrified; they shall be put to shame together.
The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”” (Isaiah 44:9–20 ESV).
“Behold, the LORD is riding on a swift cloud and comes to Egypt; and the idols of Egypt will tremble at his presence, and the heart of the Egyptians will melt within them” (Isaiah 19:1 ESV). “They will inquire of the idols and the sorcerers, and the mediums and the necromancers; and I will give over the Egyptians into the hand of a hard master, and a fierce king will rule over them, declares the Lord GOD of hosts.” (Isaiah 19:3–4 ESV).
Egypt’s ultimate trust was in their idols and the ultimate result was oppression. Where is your ultimate trust? Does that trust lead you in to freedom or oppression? The interesting thing about idols is that you can inquire of them for wisdom and direction, but they don’t answer. Where do you go for wisdom, insight and direction?
The real problem with the world are the good things that become the best things.
[An idol is] the thing that provides meaning, the thing I live for.
Identifying our idols is easy – if you loose it then life won’t be worth living.
Listen to World Idols (Acts 17:16-21) by Tim Keller:
“For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.” (Isaiah 8:11–15 ESV)
The people of Judah are afraid of surface level threats because they have no fear of God. They have such a low view of the majestic grandeur of the Creator that they are easily shaken by what is going on around them. We should not fear what others fear, nor dread what others dread for our eyes are fixed on the transcendent majesty of the King of all the earth. He is our strength, protection, hope, salvation and strength. God promises to preserve a remnant of faithful, loyal disciples while the remainder of the people remain stiff-necked and complain against God while they are taken in to exile. A patient trust in God characterizes those whom are part of the remnant. Is our faith really in God, or is it in other things – surface level things that distract us from full devotion? “I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” (Isaiah 8:17 ESV)
Listen to Gospel-Centered Worship by Matt Chandler:
“Most people spend their lives trying to make their heart’s fondest dreams come true. Isn’t that what life is all about, “the pursuit of happiness”? We search endlessly for ways to acquire the things we desire, and we are willing to sacrifice much to achieve them.” Counterfeit Gods (location 213 Kindle edition) by Tim Keller