18 “What profit is an idol
when its maker has shaped it,
a metal image, a teacher of lies?
For its maker trusts in his own creation
when he makes speechless idols!
19 Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!
Can this teach?
Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver,
and there is no breath at all in it.
20 But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.” – Habakkuk 2:18-20 ESV
In this final “woe,” God deals with the ubiquitous problem of idolatry. Ever since the Fall, mankind had been on a virtual binge, seeking for comfort, guidance, provision, and protection from anything and everything other than their creator God. In the opening chapter of Romans, Paul portrays this wholesale abandonment of God by fallen humanity in stark terms.
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:21-23 NLT
They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! – Romans 1:25 NLT
Man, made in the image of God, was wired for worship. Adam and Eve had been created by God to have unbroken fellowship with Him. Their lives were intended to bring Him glory through their faithful obedience to His creation mandate.
Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.”
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” – Genesis 1:26-28 NLT
But because of their decision to disobey God by eating the fruit of the one tree He had forbidden, any further access into His presence was denied, and the focal point of their worship was lost. And it didn’t take long before sin had so marred the image of God in man, that the Almighty determined to wipe them from the face of the earth.
The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth.” – Genesis 6:5-7 NLT
Yet, God had chosen to spare Noah and his family, allowing them to begin the process of repopulating the earth again.
“And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” – Genesis 9:7 ESV
And, obviously, Noah and his family were successful in fulfilling God’s creation mandate. They were fruitful and refilled the earth. But their fruitfulness was accompanied by ever-increasing faithlessness. According to the apostle Paul, the nations of the earth developed a perverse penchant for substitute gods, choosing to replace the one true God with deities of their own making. And it wasn’t long before their decision to displace God resulted in rampant godlessness.
Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too. – Romans 1:29-32 NLT
And yet, God, in His grace and mercy, chose to begin again. He chose a single man, Abraham, and promised to make of him a great nation. This man’s descendants would become God’s treasured possession on whom He would pour out His blessings and with whom He would make an everlasting covenant.
“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God…” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT
But one of the primary criteria associated with God’s covenant commitment with the descendants of Abraham would be their refusal to worship any other gods.
“You must not have any other god but me. You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods.” – Exodus 20:3-5 NLT
And yet, generations after the death of Abraham, his progeny would have proven their inability to keep their end of the agreement. The nation which had been set apart by God as His own would have established an unprecedented track record of spiritual infidelity. And by the time Habakkuk penned the words of the book that bears his name, the apostasy of God’s people would have become untenable and unforgivable.
The whole reason God was sending the Babylonians against the people of Judah was due to their unfaithfulness. And God had chosen to use an idolatrous nation to bring His judgment upon His idolatrous children. The people of Judah, like their northern kin in Israel, had made a habit of worshiping false gods. So, God was going to fulfill His promise to discipline them for their disobedience. He would do to them exactly as Moses had warned generations earlier.
“The Lord will exile you and your king to a nation unknown to you and your ancestors. There in exile you will worship gods of wood and stone!” – Deuteronomy 28:36 NLT
If they wanted to continue to worship false gods, Yahweh would make sure they had every opportunity – but not in the land that He had graciously provided for them. They would find themselves exiled in a foreign land, surrounded by pagan gods and powerful enemies.
And this final woe points directly at the primary problem going on in Judah. God’s chosen people were guilty of spiritual adultery. They had “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” (Romans 1:23 ESV). Or, as the New Living Translation puts it, “…instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles.”
God reveals the sheer idiocy behind their decision to replace Him with man-made gods.
“Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake;
to a silent stone, Arise!” – Habakkuk 2:19 ESV
Their decision to substitute the one true God with gods of their own creation was ludicrous. It made no sense. And God sarcastically portrays the stupidity of their decision.
“What good is an idol carved by man,
or a cast image that deceives you?
How foolish to trust in your own creation—
a god that can’t even talk!” – Habakkuk 1:18 NLT
“To speechless stone images you say,
‘Rise up and teach us!’
Can an idol tell you what to do?
They may be overlaid with gold and silver,
but they are lifeless inside.” – Habakkuk 1:19 NLT
This is not the first and only time God had exposed the ridiculous nature of Judah’s idolatry. He had also spoken through Isaiah, clearly denunciating and debunking the veracity and value of idols.
The idol makers encourage one another,
saying to each other, “Be strong!”
The carver encourages the goldsmith,
and the molder helps at the anvil.
“Good,” they say. “It’s coming along fine.”
Carefully they join the parts together,
then fasten the thing in place so it won’t fall over. – Isaiah 41:6-7 NLT
How foolish are those who manufacture idols.
These prized objects are really worthless.
The people who worship idols don’t know this,
so they are all put to shame.
Who but a fool would make his own god—
an idol that cannot help him one bit? – Isaiah 44:9-10 NLT
The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
“Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat
and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
How can the rest of it be a god?
Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?” – Isaiah 44:19 NLT
Only a fool would fail to recognize the obvious absurdity of idolatry.
The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes.
He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
“Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?” – Isaiah 44:20 NLT
And yet, here was the nation of Judah facing the very real prospect of having another idolatrous nation invade their borders and destroy their cities and towns. They were poor, deluded fools who had put their hope and trust in pieces of wood and stone. These lifeless and utterly helpless icons of man’s arrogant pride would prove to be unreliable when the judgment of God fell.
Later on, in the book of Isaiah, God issues a tongue-in-cheek challenge to the people of Judah. They could put their trust in their false gods, but the outcome of their efforts would prove less-than-successful.
“Let’s see if your idols can save you
when you cry to them for help.
Why, a puff of wind can knock them down!
If you just breathe on them, they fall over!
But whoever trusts in me will inherit the land
and possess my holy mountain.” – Isaiah 57:13 NLT
And God points out to Habakkuk that the man-made, lifeless gods the people of Judah had chosen to worship were no substitute for Him.
“But the Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth keep silence before him.” – Habakkuk 2:20 ESV
God was not some elf-on-a-shelf, made from human hands and carried from one place to another. He was “the Lord,” Jehovah, “the existing one.” And He was in His holy temple, looking down on His disobedient and unfaithful people, and preparing to unleash His righteous indignation upon them.
The God of the universe is a jealous God who will not share His glory with anyone or anything. He will not put up with the worship of false gods. Yes, He will tolerate this behavior for a time, patiently putting up with the fickleness and unfaithfulness of fallen humanity. But the day is coming when He will eliminate all the false gods manufactured by fallen men. And all the earth will stand before Him in reverent awe and stunned silence.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.