Isaiah 44

Today’s Old Testament reading in the daily office is a favorite of mine.1 The reading is Isaiah 44:9-20 and it’s a little long to reproduce, particularly in poetry form, so here’s a link.

It has a nice dose of prophetic judgment, but it’s the incredulity of Isaiah that really stands out. “Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing?” (v. 10, ESV). Who does that? No, seriously, who does that? The passage follows immediately after YHWH’s reminder of his character, his essence. Looking upon God and his nature—proven by his acts among and for his people—how could these people make idols?

Isaiah continues, decrying the very absurdity of any idol-making. You cut up some wood, you throw some in the fire. Get yourself warm, cook up some vittles. And with the leftover bits, carve yourself a nice god!

Who. Does. That.

Oops.

Me. I do that. We do that.

It’s easy to think that I don’t since I don’t do any actual idol-carving. But we as residents of “the developed world” are in fact quite quick to look to our own achievements for salvation. There is a common rhetoric about about idols that decries setting any particular thing up in the place of God as the one we ultimately serve. The downside of this sort of talk is that it neglects all of the small idols we make and set out for ourselves. We are quick in our personal lives and as a society to identify a problem (or, more likely, misidentify a symptom as a problem) and then figure out how we can fix it. It’s easy to see this in technology, medicine, politics, education—you name it. If we just had a new tool. If we just had a new medicine. If people only knew. If we all just banded together.

But the Bible is quick to point out that our problems are far deeper than they appear. “Humans striving and failing to fix problems by themselves” is a repeated theme of the Old Testament. Humans misidentifying symptoms as root problems is also a repeated theme.

The things we build are not deserving obedience or obeisance. We are deluded when we think that what we fashion can save us from problems that are in fact bigger than we are. They are powerless and they make us powerless because they separate us from God.


  1. You probably know by now I have a lot of favorites. #sorrynotsorry

Leave a Reply