He Has Made and Will Bear, Carry, and Save

1 Bel bows down; Nebo stoops;
    their idols are on beasts and livestock;
these things you carry are borne
    as burdens on weary beasts.
They stoop; they bow down together;
    they cannot save the burden,
    but themselves go into captivity.

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the house of Israel,
who have been borne by me from before your birth,
    carried from the womb;
even to your old age I am he,
    and to gray hairs I will carry you.
I have made, and I will bear;
    I will carry and will save.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
    and compare me, that we may be alike?
Those who lavish gold from the purse,
    and weigh out silver in the scales,
hire a goldsmith, and he makes it into a god;
    then they fall down and worship!
They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it,
    they set it in its place, and it stands there;
    it cannot move from its place.
If one cries to it, it does not answer
    or save him from his trouble.

“Remember this and stand firm,
    recall it to mind, you transgressors,
    remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me,
10 declaring the end from the beginning
    and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
    and I will accomplish all my purpose,’
11 calling a bird of prey from the east,
    the man of my counsel from a far country.
I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
    I have purposed, and I will do it.

12 “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
    you who are far from righteousness:
13 I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
    and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
    for Israel my glory.” – Isaiah 46:1-13 ESV

Nabu

Incorporating humor tinged with sarcasm, Isaiah describes two of the primary Babylonian gods as bowing and stooping, as if they actually had life in them. Bel was considered the father of all the gods worshiped by the Babylonians, and Nebo was his son. These gods were worshiped in the form of idols made of stone and precious metals. In some cases, the idols made to represent these false gods were massive in size and required many men to transport them, utilizing carts hauled by cattle or oxen. And Isaiah describes these two lifeless deities as nothing more than heavy burdens borne along by dumb beasts of burden. Not only are Bel and Nebo powerless to lift the burden, they are the burden. And they are stooped and bowed, lying lifeless and defenseless on carts, as they are hauled away as plunder. These false gods will end up in captivity just like all those who worship them.

Suddenly, God speaks and He paints a strikingly different picture. He juxtaposes Himself with these impotent and lifeless gods. While they will end up being borne away on carts, God reminds the people of Judah that He has borne them from the very beginning. It is He who has carried them over the centuries, from the very moment He called Abram out of Ur. Unlike Bel and Nebo, God didn’t require a cart to get from one place to another. He didn’t require human craftsmen to bring Him into existence. He is the eternal and everlasting one. He is the uncreated Creator of all things. And He warned Moses not to allow the people to attempt to portray Him in any form whatsoever.

“But be very careful! You did not see the Lord’s form on the day he spoke to you from the heart of the fire at Mount Sinai. So do not corrupt yourselves by making an idol in any form—whether of a man or a woman, an animal on the ground, a bird in the sky, a small animal that scurries along the ground, or a fish in the deepest sea.” – Deuteronomy 4:15-18 NLT

Yet, before this command could make it from the top of Mount Sinai down to people below, something foreboding and foreshadowing happened. Tired of waiting for Moses, the people decided to make their own gods, demanding of Aaron, “Get up, make us gods that will go before us. As for this fellow Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him!” (Exodus 32:1 NLT). And sadly, Aaron gave into their wishes and commanded them to donate the gold necessary to make an idol.

So all the people broke off the gold earrings that were on their ears and brought them to Aaron. He accepted the gold from them, fashioned it with an engraving tool, and made a molten calf. Then they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.” – Exodus 32:3-4 NLT

This scene would be repeated in one form or another throughout the generations of the Israelites. Even though God had rescued them out of their slavery in Egypt and eventually bore them all the way to the promised land, they would continually turn to gods of their own making. And God had patiently carried the burden of their sin and rebellion for centuries. Amazingly, God reassures His rebellious people of His commitment to continue to bear with them.

“I will be your God throughout your lifetime—
    until your hair is white with age.
I made you, and I will care for you.
    I will carry you along and save you.” – Isaiah 46:4 NLT

Unlike Bel and Nebo, God would not abandon His people. He wasn’t a false god who had to be manufactured by men and carried on carts pulled by livestock. He was God Almighty, and there were no other gods like Him. And He poses a rhetorical question, designed to expose the lunacy behind their infatuation with false gods.

“To whom will you liken me and make me equal,
    and compare me, that we may be alike? – Isaiah 46:5 ESV

In an effort to get them to understand the sheer stupidity of their actions, God exposes the illogical nature of idol worship.

“Some people pour out their silver and gold
    and hire a craftsman to make a god from it.
    Then they bow down and worship it!
They carry it around on their shoulders,
    and when they set it down, it stays there.
    It can’t even move!
And when someone prays to it, there is no answer.
    It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.” – Isaiah 46:6-7 NLT

It all makes no sense, and yet, the people of Israel and Judah had made a habit of doing this very thing. From that fateful moment at the base of Mount Sinai to the days of Isaiah, the people of God had repeatedly made their own gods with their own hands. And God addresses them as what the were: Transgressors. They had violated His law – not once, but repeatedly. And just in case they might have forgotten, God reminds them of just who He is.

“I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.” – Isaiah 46:9 ESV

God has told the people of Judah that they will be invaded by the Babylonians and be taken into captivity. But He has also told them that the gods of the Babylonians will one day be taken into captivity as well, along with all those who worship them. This will happen when the Persians defeat the Babylonians and become the big dog on the block in their place. And God has revealed that Cyrus, the king of the Persians, will one day allow the people of Judah to return to the land of Canaan. These predictions and God’s capacity to bring them to fulfillment are what set Him apart. No false god could do what He does.

“Only I can tell you the future
    before it even happens.
Everything I plan will come to pass,
    for I do whatever I wish.” – Isaiah 46:10 NLT

And God’s unspoken question seems to be: “Why don’t you worship Me?” With all He has done for them over the centuries, it made no sense that they continued to forsake Him for other gods. And yet, they had, time and time again. So, He calls to them one more time, demanding that they pay attention to what He is trying to tell them.

Listen to me, you stubborn of heart,
    you who are far from righteousness:
I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off,
    and my salvation will not delay;
I will put salvation in Zion,
    for Israel my glory.”
– Isaiah 46:12-13 NLT

Why would they not trust God? He had proven Himself faithful. He had put up with their idolatry for generations. He had continued to care for and love them even in the face of their persistent spiritual infidelity. And now He was telling them that His salvation of them was guaranteed. It was as good as done. And as the one true God, He alone is able to say:

“I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass;
    I have purposed, and I will do it.” – Isaiah 46:11 ESV

God boldly and emphatically tells them,  “I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4 ESV). He’s not some stooping, bowing, lifeless idol on a cart. He is the sovereign, all-powerful God of the universe whose plan of redemption for His people is unstoppable. And all He asks in return is that they worship Him for who He is: The incomparable, all-powerful God. 

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Turn and Be Saved

14 Thus says the Lord:
“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush,
    and the Sabeans, men of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours;
    they shall follow you;
    they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.
They will plead with you, saying:
    ‘Surely God is in you, and there is no other,
    no god besides him.’”

15 Truly, you are a God who hides himself,
    O God of Israel, the Savior.
16 All of them are put to shame and confounded;
    the makers of idols go in confusion together.
17 But Israel is saved by the Lord
    with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
    to all eternity.

18 For thus says the Lord,
who created the heavens
    (he is God!),
who formed the earth and made it
    (he established it;
he did not create it empty,
    he formed it to be inhabited!):
“I am the Lord, and there is no other.
19 I did not speak in secret,
    in a land of darkness;
I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,
    ‘Seek me in vain.’
I the Lord speak the truth;
    I declare what is right.

20 “Assemble yourselves and come;
    draw near together,
    you survivors of the nations!
They have no knowledge
    who carry about their wooden idols,
and keep on praying to a god
    that cannot save.
21 Declare and present your case;
    let them take counsel together!
Who told this long ago?
    Who declared it of old?
Was it not I, the Lord?
    And there is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
    there is none besides me.

22 “Turn to me and be saved,
    all the ends of the earth!
    For I am God, and there is no other.
23 By myself I have sworn;
    from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
    a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

24 “Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me,
    are righteousness and strength;
to him shall come and be ashamed
    all who were incensed against him.
25 In the Lord all the offspring of Israel
    shall be justified and shall glory.” – Isaiah 45:14-25 ESV

In verse 13, God makes it clear that Cyrus was going to obey His command to allow the people of Judah to return to their land, and without any incentive attached to his actions.

“…he shall build my city
    and set my exiles free,
not for price or reward,”
    says the Lord of hosts.” – Isaiah 45:13 ESV

He would do it simply because God had ordained it. There was nothing in it for him. He would receive nothing for his efforts. In fact, Cyrus would end up giving more than he would get. The book of Ezra tells us that he “brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods” (Ezra 1:7 ESV). He returned these items of plunder to the Jews. And the Jews would walk away with great wealth because of the decree of Cyrus.

“And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” – Ezra 1:4 ESV

The returning remnant would walk out of Babylon carrying greta quantities of gold, silver, goods, and livestock. But Cyrus would receive nothing for his actions.

And yet, God tells the people of Judah, living in the days of Isaiah, that things will be quite different for their ancestors who are part of the remnant that returns.

“The wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush,
    and the Sabeans, men of stature,
shall come over to you and be yours;
    they shall follow you;
    they shall come over in chains and bow down to you.” – Isaiah 45:14 ESV

What a stark difference. Cyrus, who would obey the will of God, will receive nothing. But the rebellious people of Judah, who were sent into exile because of their disobedience, will receive the wealth of Egypt and the merchandise of Cush. It makes no sense. It even seems a bit unfair. Which brings up the point God made in verse 9.

“Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying,
    ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

This is why it makes no sense to argue with God and to dispute His ways. He does what He deems best. He acts in ways that make no sense. The people of Judah to whom Isaiah was prophesying could not understand why God was going to allow the Babylonians to defeat them and take them captive. And they were prone to dispute and disagree with His methods. But God was letting them know that His ways, while difficult to understand, were always for the best. He was providing them with a glimpse into the future and showing them that this nightmare had a happy ending to it. And if they would only trust Him, they would learn that they had no reason to doubt Him.

The people of Judah deserved no reward. They didn’t even merit their restoration to the land of promise. In the 70 years they would be exiled in Babylon, they would do nothing to earn God’s favor or merit their return to Jerusalem. And yet, God was revealing that they would return and with great wealth. And the Gentile nations that witnessed this God-ordained event would recognize the hand of God in it and respond, “Surely God is in you, and there is no other, no god besides him” (Isaiah 45:14 ESV).

At this point, we have to determine whether the details described in this prophecy have already been fulfilled. We know from the biblical record that the Babylonians eventually defeated Jerusalem and took the people of Judah captive. We also know that 70 years later, King Cyrus issued the decree that make possible their return to the land of promise. And it is a proven fact that the city of Jerusalem and the temple were rebuilt. But when those things happened, did the Egyptians, Ethiopian, and Sabeans follow the people of Judah in chains and bow down before them? Did the Jews find their return to the land accompanied by Gentile subjection and the worship of Yahweh? The book of Nehemiah provides us with an answer to that question:

When Sanballat, Tobiah, the Arabs, the Ammonites, and the people of Ashdod heard that the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem had moved ahead and that the breaches had begun to be closed, they were very angry. All of them conspired together to move with armed forces against Jerusalem and to create a disturbance in it. – Nehemiah 4:7-8 NLT

The Jews were opposed in their efforts to rebuild the city. They were surrounded by enemies who did everything in their power to derail their efforts. And to this day, Israel finds itself facing intense opposition to its presence in the land. So, it would seem that the content of this prophecy remains as yet, unfulfilled.

But the point of this passage is the sovereign work of God and His ongoing role as the Savior of Israel. And the emphasis is on His eternal relationship with His covenant people.

Israel is saved by the Lord
    with everlasting salvation;
you shall not be put to shame or confounded
    to all eternity. – Isaiah 45:17 ESV

While the people of Judah were having a hard time seeing past the news that they were going to fall to the Babylonians, God was focusing on the larger, long-term plan for their well-being. When God created the world, He did so with an eternal strategy in mind. It was never intended to be devoid of human life and filled with confusion.

For the Lord is God,
    and he created the heavens and earth
    and put everything in place.
He made the world to be lived in,
    not to be a place of empty chaos. – Isaiah 45:18 NLT

God did not make an empty world, but one that was meant to be occupied. And He did not tell the people of Israel to seek Him and then hide Himself from them. He had a reason behind His calling of them and it is eternal in scope. And God speaks of a time when He will call all the nations of the earth to come to Him.

“Assemble yourselves and come;
    draw near together,
    you survivors of the nations!” – Isaiah 45:20 ESV

There is a day coming when the nations of the earth will recognize that their false gods cannot save them. They will finally realize that their idols are lifeless and useless. And God will tell them, “there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none besides me” (Isaiah 45:21 ESV). What will cause the nations of the earth to come to this recognition? What will finally make them recognize the futility of their false gods and the reality of God’s status as the one true God.? It will be the unprecedented judgment of God that will come upon the earth during the days of the Great Tribulation. Jesus described those coming days in very stark terms:

“For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been from the beginning of the world until now, no, and never will be.” – Matthew 24:21 ESV

In those days, God will bring unparalleled suffering, destruction, and death upon sinful mankind. But they will refuse to repent. They will remain obstinate and stubbornly resistant to the obvious judgment of God taking place all around them. The apostle John was given a vision of the Tribulation and recorded the amazingly obdurate nature of sinful mankind.

Then the fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was plunged into darkness. His subjects ground their teeth in anguish, and they cursed the God of heaven for their pains and sores. But they did not repent of their evil deeds and turn to God. – Revelation 16:10-11 NLT

And yet, then as now, God’s will is that all men repent and return to Him. Which is why he calls out, “Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:22 ESV). And all that God does is intended to convince sinful mankind that He is the one true God. There are no other gods. And while, during the Tribulation, the world will choose to worship the Antichrist and Satan, God will be persistently proving their weakness and His own power. And by the time the seven years of the Tribulation are over, all the world will find itself bowing down before God, just as He has predicted.

‘To me every knee shall bow,
    every tongue shall swear allegiance. – Isaiah 45:23 ESV

Man can choose to humble himself and worship God, or he will find himself humbled by God and bowing down before Him in fear and subjugation. Isaiah records God’s decree concerning that day.

“The descendants of your tormentors will come and bow before you. Those who despised you will kiss your feet. They will call you the City of the LORD, and Zion of the Holy One of Israel.” – Isaiah 60:14 NLT

And in his letter to the Romans, Paul quotes from Isaiah 45, when he writes:

For the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.'” – Romans 14:11 NLT

God calls on sinful mankind to turn and be saved. He pleads with them to repent of their sinful ways. But if they refuse, the day will come when they bow before Him anyway.

…to him shall come and be ashamed
    all who were incensed against him. – Isaiah 45:24 ESV

All will one day bow before Him – some in humility and worship, others in humiliation and fear. But there will be no one who remains ignorant of His place as the one true God.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Too Ignorant to Know It

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. 10 Who fashions a god or casts an idol that is profitable for nothing? 11 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.

12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 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. 16 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!” 17 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!”

18 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. 19 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?” 20 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

God has made Himself perfectly clear by boldly declaring, “besides me there is no god” (Isaiah 44:6 ESV). Then, as if to see if His audience has gotten the message, He asks, “Is there a God besides me?” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV). And, just in case they failed to nnow the answer to the question, He gave His divine opinion: “I know not any” (Isaiah 44:8 ESV).

He has established Himself as the Creator-God, the one who made Israel. He is Jehovah, the King of Israel. He is their Redeemer, the Lord of Hosts, the first and the last. And He alone is able to “declare what is to come, and what will happen” (Isaiah 44:7 ESV).

And yet, the people of Judah continued to worship false gods – idols they had made with their own hands. They had substituted worship of and reverence for the one true God with the adoration of lifeless and powerless statues made of wood and stone. And God systematically and somewhat sarcastically exposes the absurdity of their actions.

Over time, the people of Israel had adopted an assortment of pagan gods, from Baal and Molech to Ashtoreth and Chemosh. The Israelites seemed to be equal-opportunity idolaters. They were not picky. And, they never really replaced the worship of Yahweh, they simply added the other gods to the mix, creating a confusing syncretistic amalgamation of for virtually every occasion. But God Almighty had warned them about this very thing. All the way back when Moses was leading them to the Promised Land, God had provided them with the Ten Commandments, and the very first command on the list had been: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 ESV). And He would later expand on that command, providing them with clear and irrefutable details regarding His expectations.

“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” – Deuteronomy 5:8-10 ESV

And yet, the people of Israel had proven themselves incapable of obeying this very command. All that God had told them not to do, they had done – repeatedly and knowingly. They were operating out of obstinance, not ignorance. They knew exactly what they were doing and they knew it was wrong. So, God decides to show them the sheer lunacy behind their actions.

“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.”
– Isaiah 44:9 NLT

Notice that God uses the third person. It is as if He is asking the people of Judah to consider how idiotic it is for those other nations to worship false gods. He wants them to step back and take a long and close look at just how ridiculous idolatry really is.

“Who but a fool would make his own god—
    an idol that cannot help him one bit?”
– Isaiah 44:10 NLT

That had to have hurt. God was not pulling any punches, but wanted them to see the sheer stupidity of what they were doing. Not only were they disobeying His commands, they doing so in order to worship gods they had made with their own hands. And God goes out of His way to ridicule the “mere humans—who claim they can make a god” (Isaiah 44:11 NLT).

God paints the image of a craftsman working diligently to manufacture the tool he will use to manufacture the god he is going to worship. His efforts leave him worn out before he has even begun to make his god. The effort required to make the god he is going worship leave him hungry and faint.

God describes a wood carver going through the process of selecting just the right tree from which to make his god. Then he proceeds to cut it down, carefully delineating which part of the log will become his god and which part he can use build a fire to keep himself warm.

“He cuts down cedars;
    he selects the cypress and the oak;
he plants the pine in the forest
    to be nourished by the rain.
Then he uses part of the wood to make a fire.
    With it he warms himself and bakes his bread.
Then—yes, it’s true—he takes the rest of it
    and makes himself a god to worship!
He makes an idol
    and bows down in front of it!”
– Isaiah 44:14-15 NLT

When you step back and examine idolatry from an objective viewpoint, it is not difficult to see just how ridiculous it appears. But God says, “The people who worship idols don’t know this” (Isaiah 44:9 NLT). They are blind to the reality of their actions. They are incapable of seeing just how bizarre and nonsensical their actions appear. Which is why God goes out of His way to expose the sheer stupidity of what is going on in Judah. They enjoyed the privilege of being created by the one true God, and being chosen as His prized possession. And yet, they were busy creating their own gods out of wood and stone, and expected these man-made deities to provide for and protect them.

“He burns part of the tree to roast his meat
    and to keep himself warm.
    He says, “Ah, that fire feels good.”
Then he takes what’s left
    and makes his god: a carved idol!
He falls down in front of it,
    worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
    “You are my god!”
– Isaiah 44:16-17 NLT

And while it may be easy for us to judge the people of Judah and question their sanity, we would be wise to examine our own lives to see if we might be guilty of the very same thing. Their sin seems blatant to us. But God reveals that they were blind to it.

“Such stupidity and ignorance!
    Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
    Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.” –
Isaiah 44:18 NLT

They couldn’t see what they were doing. And, if we are wise, we will recognize that we have the same capacity to blindly and ignorantly worship gods made with human hands. While our idols may appear more sophisticated and less religious in nature, they are false gods nonetheless. Tim Keller, in his book, Counterfeit Gods, describes an idol in terms that may make you a bit uncomfortable.

What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give…

An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, “If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I ‘ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.” There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.

When put in those terms, it becomes a bit more easy to see how we can have idols, in spite of our more enlightened and sophisticated mindset. And, like the people of Judah, we can find ourselves deluded and unaware of the fact that we have created substitutes for God. We have turned to other things in the hopes that they might deliver what only God is capable of providing: Peace, hope, security, joy, contentment, satisfaction, and salvation. And God warns that we all run the same risk the people of Judah did. If we are not careful, we will find ourselves putting our hope in the wrong god, and failing to recognize the futility of our actions.

“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

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Their Works Are Nothing

21 Set forth your case, says the Lord;
    bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
22 Let them bring them, and tell us
    what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
    that we may consider them,
that we may know their outcome;
    or declare to us the things to come.
23 Tell us what is to come hereafter,
    that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
    that we may be dismayed and terrified.

24 Behold, you are nothing,
    and your work is less than nothing;
    an abomination is he who chooses you.

25 I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,
    from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name;
he shall trample on rulers as on mortar,
    as the potter treads clay.
26 Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know,
    and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”?
There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed,
    none who heard your words.
27 I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!”
    and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news.
28 But when I look, there is no one;
    among these there is no counselor
    who, when I ask, gives an answer.
29 Behold, they are all a delusion;
    their works are nothing;
    their metal images are empty wind. – Isaiah 41:21-29 ESV

This chapter opened with God calling all the nations of the earth to appear in court in order to bring their case against Him.

“Listen in silence before me, you lands beyond the sea.
    Bring your strongest arguments.
Come now and speak.
    The court is ready for your case. – Isaiah 41:1 NLT

That courtroom scene is picked up again in verses 21-29, with God standing in judgment against the false gods of the pagan nations. With a hint of sarcasm, God calls on all the idolaters to bring their so-called gods into the courtroom. Incapable of physical movement on their own, these false gods must rely upon human assistance just to appear before God Almighty. And to make matters worse, God demands that they speak up, defending themselves by providing proof for their own existence.

“Present the case for your idols,”
    says the Lord.
“Let them show what they can do,”
    says the King of Israel.
“Let them try to tell us what happened long ago
    so that we may consider the evidence.
Or let them tell us what the future holds,
    so we can know what’s going to happen.”
– Isaiah 41:21-22 NLT

God wants these non-existent gods to explain all that has happened in the world since the beginning of time. This should have been easy – except that false gods can’t actually speak. Anyone can provide a plausible explanation of the past, as long as they have the faculty of speech. But idols are speechless because they are lifeless. And if they are incapable of explaining the past, they have no hope of predicting the future. They have no idea of what is to come because they are mindless.

God demands that they predict the future as proof of their divinity. In essence, God is simply challenging them to do as He does. He demands that they measure up to His standard of divinity. But they can’t because they don’t exist. And, with ever-increasing sarcasm, God calls on them to do anything that might give evidence of their existence.

In fact, do anything—good or bad!
    Do something that will amaze and frighten us. – Isaiah 41:23 NLT

God is throwing down the gauntlet. But He expects no reply because the gods of the nations are nothing more than the figment of man’s imagination and the work of man’s hands. All of this is intended to remind the people of Judah that their God, Yahweh, is the only true God. They have nothing to fear from the gods of the Assyrians or Babylonians. And they have no reason to prostitute themselves in worship of these false gods. And God makes His point painfully clear, addressing the non-existent gods and all those who worship them.

But no! You are less than nothing and can do nothing at all.
    Those who choose you pollute themselves. – Isaiah 41:24 NLT

Later on, in this very same book, Isaiah provides an in-your-face assessment of the stupidity of idols.

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?
All who worship idols will be disgraced
    along with all these craftsmen—mere humans—
    who claim they can make a god.
They may all stand together,
    but they will stand in terror and shame. – Isaiah 44:9-11 NLT

Yet God, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, reveals that He will do what the false gods are incapable of doing. He will predict the future and then fulfill it.

“But I have stirred up a leader who will approach from the north.
    From the east he will call on my name.
I will give him victory over kings and princes.
    He will trample them as a potter treads on clay.” – Isaiah 41:25 NLT

God boldly claims that He will raise up a powerful leader from the north who will act as His divine instrument, accomplishing God’s will on earth. As will be revealed later in the book of Isaiah, this leader will prove to be King Cyrus of the Persians.

“When I say of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd,’
    he will certainly do as I say.
He will command, ‘Rebuild Jerusalem’;
    he will say, ‘Restore the Temple.’” – Isaiah 44:28 NLT

God was going to use Cyrus, an idolatrous, pagan king, to bring about the future restoration of Jerusalem and the temple. God has already decreed that Jerusalem would fall at the hands of the Babylonians and the people of Judah would end up as captives in Babylon. But He would one day restore them, and Cyrus would be His chosen instrument.

This is what the Lord says to Cyrus, his anointed one,
    whose right hand he will empower.
Before him, mighty kings will be paralyzed with fear.
    Their fortress gates will be opened,
    never to shut again.
This is what the Lord says:

“I will go before you, Cyrus,
    and level the mountains.
I will smash down gates of bronze
    and cut through bars of iron.
And I will give you treasures hidden in the darkness—
    secret riches.
I will do this so you may know that I am the Lord,
    the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” – Isaiah 45:1-3 NLT

Unlike the false gods of the nations, Yahweh could predict the future because He is the one who sovereignly controls the future. Everything happens under His watchful eye and according to His divine will. And God challenges anyone to speak up who could claim to have known about any of these things.

“Who told you from the beginning
    that this would happen?
Who predicted this,
    making you admit that he was right? – Isaiah 41:26 NLT

No one speaks up, because no one knew that any of these things were going to happen. There was not a single human being or false god who was aware of God’s future plans. And yet, all along, God had been telling His people what He was going to do.

“I was the first to tell Zion,
    ‘Look! Help is on the way!’
    I will send Jerusalem a messenger with good news.
Not one of your idols told you this.” – Isaiah 41:27-28 NLT

The idols are speechless because they are lifeless. These false gods are defenseless because they are powerless. They can’t explain the past. They can’t predict the future. They can’t provide wisdom. They can’t offer help or hope. But God can, and He does. Because He is sovereign over all.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God Has Purposed.

1 The oracle concerning Tyre.

Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
    for Tyre is laid waste, without house or harbor!
From the land of Cyprus
    it is revealed to them.
Be still, O inhabitants of the coast;
    the merchants of Sidon, who cross the sea, have filled you.
And on many waters
your revenue was the grain of Shihor,
    the harvest of the Nile;
    you were the merchant of the nations.
Be ashamed, O Sidon, for the sea has spoken,
    the stronghold of the sea, saying:
“I have neither labored nor given birth,
    I have neither reared young men
    nor brought up young women.”
When the report comes to Egypt,
    they will be in anguish over the report about Tyre.
Cross over to Tarshish;
    wail, O inhabitants of the coast!
Is this your exultant city
    whose origin is from days of old,
whose feet carried her
    to settle far away?
Who has purposed this
    against Tyre, the bestower of crowns,
whose merchants were princes,
    whose traders were the honored of the earth?
The Lord of hosts has purposed it,
    to defile the pompous pride of all glory,
    to dishonor all the honored of the earth.
10 Cross over your land like the Nile,
    O daughter of Tarshish;
    there is no restraint anymore.
11 He has stretched out his hand over the sea;
    he has shaken the kingdoms;
the Lord has given command concerning Canaan
    to destroy its strongholds.
12 And he said:
“You will no more exult,
    O oppressed virgin daughter of Sidon;
arise, cross over to Cyprus,
    even there you will have no rest.”

13 Behold the land of the Chaldeans! This is the people that was not; Assyria destined it for wild beasts. They erected their siege towers, they stripped her palaces bare, they made her a ruin.

14 Wail, O ships of Tarshish,
    for your stronghold is laid waste.

15 In that day Tyre will be forgotten for seventy years, like the days of one king. At the end of seventy years, it will happen to Tyre as in the song of the prostitute:

16 “Take a harp;
    go about the city,
    O forgotten prostitute!
Make sweet melody;
    sing many songs,
    that you may be remembered.”

17 At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. 18 Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the Lord. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. – Isaiah 23:1-18 ESV

cea1c-tyre-1800x1516x300While Babylon and Assyria represent large nations whose powerful military forces allowed them to dominate that region of the world and expand their respective kingdoms through conquest, Tyre represents the much small Phoenician state that had amassed great wealth through commerce. Located along the Mediterranean Sea, Tyre was a bustling commercial port whose ships plied the Mediterranean, carrying goods to and from foreign ports, transforming the city and region into a major economic force.

In this oracle, God pronounces a judgment against Tyre, that will impact the entire Phoenician region. Tyre is singled out and made the focal point of God’s pronouncement because it was the most renowned of all the Phoenician cities. What God predicts will happen to it will take place throughout the region.

God describes Tyre as being laid waste, its homes and harbor being completely destroyed. And the news of Tyre’s fall will spread fast, reaching the shores of the island of Cypress, where sailors on large ships hailing from as far away as Tarshish in Spain, will hear the devastating report and mourn the loss of this great seaport. Sidon, located just to the north of Tyre will also mourn the loss of its neighbor. In fact, God gives Sidon and the rest of the coast of Phoenicia two words of warning: damam and buwsh. The first warns that they will be made silent, dumbfounded at the news. The second warns that they will grow pale with astonishment and terror upon hearing what has happened to Tyre.

Even the sea gives voice to its concern over the loss of Tyre. Like a childless woman, unable to give birth, the sea will be unable to replace the loss of its child, Tyre. And while Sidon had enjoyed the same economic success as its sister city, trading with Egypt and other lands, it too would be negatively impacted by Tyre’s loss.

We know that, in 585-572 BC, Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre. Then, in 322 TC, Alexander the Great completely destroyed the city. Sidon would later fall to the Persian king Artaxerxes. Everything God predicted in this oracle eventually happened just as He said. And in verse 9, God provides the reason for Tyre’s eventual demise.

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies has done it
    to destroy your pride
    and bring low all earth’s nobility. – Isaiah 23:9 NLT

Tyre, while not a military power, was an economic power broker, wielding tremendous influence in the world of Isaiah’s day. In a sense, the sea had made Tyre what it had become. Its entire economy was based on its location on the sea. It was known for its ships and had used its vantage point along the coast to amass great wealth and influence over the world. It stands as a symbol of man’s obsession with financial success and the power that comes with it. But Tyre had become proud and puffed up by its seemingly boundless prosperity. The merchants of Tyre lived like princes, and its traders were treated like dignitaries around the world. Yet, God would bring them low.

While Tyre had been the master of the sea, plying its waters and using it as a highway to bring back great wealth to its port, God warns that it is He who rules the waves.

The Lord held out his hand over the sea
    and shook the kingdoms of the earth.
He has spoken out against Phoenicia,
    ordering that her fortresses be destroyed. – Isaiah 23:11 NLT

Once again, God is revealing that He is the one who is in control of all things. He controls that wind, the waves, the armies of the world, and the fates of the nations. And all of this was meant to remind the people of Judah that no one stood outside of God’s will and immune from His judgment. Tyre was a symbol of mankind’s love affair with material wealth and financial success. They saw themselves as invincible because their resources were seemingly immeasurable. Even with all the instability in the land caused by the actions of Assyria, the Phoenicians probably thought they were safe because they were critical to continued trade with the nations of the world.  But God would prove them wrong.

And when the destruction began, the people of Tyre could attempt to escape, sailing for Cypress or other distant ports, but they would soon discover that God’s judgment is relentless and His reach, limitless.

Yet, in the midst of all the news of doom and gloom, God reveals that Tyre will experience a rebound in their fortunes. After 70 years of suffering, God will allow Tyre to regain some of its former splendor.

At the end of seventy years, the Lord will visit Tyre, and she will return to her wages and will prostitute herself with all the kingdoms of the world on the face of the earth. – Isaiah 23:17 ESV

Notice the indictment contained in this snippet of good news. Tyre will be allowed to enjoy some of its former glory, but they will do so using the same strategy they used before. They will prostitute themselves to all the kingdoms of the world, selling their services and their wares for financial gain. But there will be one glaring difference.

Her merchandise and her wages will be holy to the Lord. It will not be stored or hoarded, but her merchandise will supply abundant food and fine clothing for those who dwell before the Lord. – Isaiah 23:18 ESV

This is speaking of a day that has not yet occurred. It is a prophecy concerning the last days when the nations of the earth will join in the worship of God. The apostle John was given a vision of this future day and recorded it in his Revelation.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. – Revelation 21:22-26 NLT

And Isaiah will go on to record a similar description of this scene, addressing the joy of Israel over its future restoration by God.

…for merchants from around the world will come to you.
    They will bring you the wealth of many lands.
Vast caravans of camels will converge on you,
    the camels of Midian and Ephah.
The people of Sheba will bring gold and frankincense
    and will come worshiping the Lord.
The flocks of Kedar will be given to you,
    and the rams of Nebaioth will be brought for my altars.
I will accept their offerings,
    and I will make my Temple glorious.

“And what do I see flying like clouds to Israel,
    like doves to their nests?
They are ships from the ends of the earth,
    from lands that trust in me,
    led by the great ships of Tarshish.
They are bringing the people of Israel home from far away,
    carrying their silver and gold.
They will honor the Lord your God,
    the Holy One of Israel,
    for he has filled you with splendor. – Isaiah 60:5-9 NLT

God’s immediate plans for Tyre will involve its destruction. But God’s future plans for Tyre and the nations of the earth will be much different. He is not done. He has plans to redeem and restore His people, Israel, and create a new era on earth when His Son will rule and reign, and the kingdoms of the world will worship God alone.

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.

The Message (MSG)
Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Every Knee Will Bow.

37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 38 See, your house is left to you desolate. 39 For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’” – Matthew 23:37-39 ESV

Jerusalem.gif

After pronouncing His seven woes on the Pharisees and religious leaders of Israel, Jesus turned His attention to the city of Jerusalem. And He spoke over it as if addressing an individual. The city of Jerusalem, the capital of the nation of Israel, was representative of all the people. It had been the the city of David, the great king, and contained the temple built by his son, Solomon. But the city and its inhabitants were guilty of unfaithfulness to God. Like their ancestors, who had rejected the prophets of God, the people of Jerusalem were going to end up rejecting the Messiah of God and the men whom He had chosen to take the good news of His kingdom to the world. Jesus had made it clear that this generation of Jews was just as guilty as those who had come before them.

Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.” – Matthew 23:31 ESV

The rejection of God’s prophets is a serious matter – one He does not take lightly. And to think that the people of Israel were guilty of murdering those whom God had sent to them is difficult to comprehend. But the people of Israel had made a habit of it. And their refusal to accept God’s messengers had eventually led to their fall and deportation to Babylon. God had brought judgment on them for their unfaithfulness and rebellion against Him. And Jesus warned His audience that they would be no different than their predecessors.

“Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town.” – Matthew 23:34 ESV

Not only would they reject Jesus as their Messiah and demand His crucifixion. They would continue to reject His apostles long after His resurrection and ascension. The Jews would continue to deny His claim to be the Messiah and reject His offer of salvation. Their track record as a nation would continue unabated. Centuries had come and gone, but little had changed. The rebellion of the people of Israel was undiminished and Jesus informed them that all the woes He had pronounced would “come upon this generation.”

But He expressed sorrow over their coming judgment. He longed for them to repent and return to God in contrition over their sin. He wanted to protect them like a mother hen protects her chicks. But they would refuse His offer. And, Jesus warned them that “your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38 ESV). That word, “desolate” is packed with meaning. The Greek word is erēmos and it can mean “uninhabited, deprived of protection” or can refer to “a flock deserted by the shepherd.” Jesus was predicting the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD at the hands of the Romans. And He will elaborate on His prediction in the very next chapter.

“Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” – Matthew 24:2 NLT

Jerusalem would fall. The temple would be destroyed. And Jesus told the people, “For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Matthew 23:39 ESV). This is an interesting statement, because it echoes back to His recent entry into the city of Jerusalem. Luke records what happened that day.

As he was drawing near—already on the way down the Mount of Olives—the whole multitude of his disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” – Luke 19:37-38 ESV

The people of Jerusalem had welcomed Jesus as the King who comes in the name of the Lord. But as we will see, they will just as quickly turn on Him, demanding His execution at the hands of the Romans. Their shouts of praise and confession of His kingship had been a sham. He had not fulfilled their Messianic expectations, so they had turned on Him. They had rejected Him.

But one day Jesus will return and, when He does, things will be different. The apostle Paul would later pen these words, quoting from the book of Isaiah:

“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” – Romans 14:11 ESV

And Paul would remind the believers in Philippi:

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

The Jews would not accept Jesus as their Messiah, but the day is coming when all the inhabitants of the earth will bow before Him, recognizing Him as the King who comes in the name of the Lord. The apostle John provides us with a preview of what that day will look like.

11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords. – Revelation 19:11-16 ESV

And when Jesus returns to the earth, He will set up His Kingdom in the city of Jerusalem, where He will reign for a thousand years.

Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years. – Revelation 20:4-6 ESV

The Jews could and would reject Jesus as their Messiah. But that would not stop the sovereign plan of God for the redemption of the world. The Romans would crucify Jesus, but that would not derail God’s predetermined outcome for His creation’s restoration. Even those who reject Jesus will one day recognize Him for who He is: The one who comes in the name of the Lord. They will bow before Him, either in veneration or subjugation. They will either revere Him or fear Him. But all will acknowledge Him.

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.

(MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Breathless and Worthless.

Thus shall you say to them: “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.”

It is he who made the earth by his power,
    who established the world by his wisdom,
    and by his understanding stretched out the heavens.
When he utters his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
    and he makes the mist rise from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
    and he brings forth the wind from his storehouses.
Every man is stupid and without knowledge;
    every goldsmith is put to shame by his idols,
for his images are false,
    and there is no breath in them.
They are worthless, a work of delusion;
    at the time of their punishment they shall perish.
Not like these is he who is the portion of Jacob,
    for he is the one who formed all things,
and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance;
    the Lord of hosts is his name.

Gather up your bundle from the ground,
    O you who dwell under siege!
For thus says the Lord:
“Behold, I am slinging out the inhabitants of the land
    at this time,
and I will bring distress on them,
    that they may feel it.”
Jeremiah 10:11-18 ESV

False gods versus the one true God. There is no comparison. There are no similarities. The only thing they share in common is that when the Babylonians invade Judah, their temples and shrines will all be plundered and destroyed. Even the gods themselves, will be taken as booty. Those made of precious metals will be melted down and re-purposed. Any wooden idols will be burned to ashes with the rest of the city when it is destroyed. And as Jeremiah so bluntly puts it, “When the time comes to punish them, they will be destroyed” (Jeremiah 10:15 NLT). But while the temple of Yahweh will end up plundered and its holy objects taken as loot, Yahweh Himself will remain alive and well. He will not cease to be simply because His house of worship is destroyed. As verse 11 states, it is “the gods who did not make the heavens and the earth” that will perish from the earth and from under the heavens. Not only will they be proven temporal and not eternal, they will be exposed as false. They have no power because they have no life. But it is Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews who “made the earth by his power, and he preserves it by his wisdom. With his own understanding he stretched out the heavens.” (Jeremiah 10:12 NLT). Yahweh is the one who made all that exists, including the trees that provided the wood that was carved into a lifeless idol. He made possible the gold that was used by sinful men to craft a figurine to which they would bow down in worship.

Yahweh alone has power. He controls the seasons. He sends the rain and lightning. He speaks and the skies thunder and shake. He gives life to all living things. He is the great and incomparable Creator-God. And yet, for generations, mankind has managed to look past God’s divine attributes and place their hopes in gods that lifeless and powerless to help them.

The whole human race is foolish and has no knowledge!
    The craftsmen are disgraced by the idols they make,
for their carefully shaped works are a fraud.
    These idols have no breath or power.
Idols are worthless; they are ridiculous lies! – Jeremiah 10:14-15 NLT

But God is no idol. He is not a figment of man’s imagination. The God of the Hebrews was not invented by them. In fact, it was the other way around.

But the God of Israel is no idol!
    He is the Creator of everything that exists,
including Israel, his own special possession.
    The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! – Jeremiah 10:16 NLT

God made the people of Judah. He crafted them with His own hands. Then He called them to be His own possession. He set them apart to be a holy nation, belonging to Him and commanded to live in obedience to Him. He had made a covenant with them and had promised to provide for and protect them, as long as they remained faithful to Him. He had commanded them not to worship other gods.

“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery. 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. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” – Exodus 20:2-6 NLT

But they had rejected their rescuer. They had turned their backs on their creator. And they had proven unfaithful to the one who had faithfully loved and cared for them over the generations. He had patiently tolerated their stubbornness and forgiven their sins. He had allowed them to sacrifice countless animals in order to experience atonement and enjoy continuing fellowship with Him, even though they had no intention of changing their ways. Like an abused spouse, God had put up with their infidelity and forgiven their indiscretions. But the time had come for Him to repay them for their sins. And He tells Jeremiah to warn the people of Judah that His patience has worn out.

Pack your bags and prepare to leave;
    the siege is about to begin.
For this is what the Lord says:
“Suddenly, I will fling out
    all you who live in this land.
I will pour great troubles upon you,
    and at last you will feel my anger.” – Jeremiah 10:17-18 NLT

God was far from breathless and worthless. He spoke and His words had power. He was and is majestic in nature and fully capable of acting like God. You could destroy His temple, steal his holy treasures, kill His priests, and reduce the city called by His name to rubble, but He would continue to exist in all His glory, might and majesty. You could come up with a host of other gods to worship and manufacture as many idols as there are stars in heaven, but in the end, He would be the last god standing. God could not be relegated to a building or placed on a bookshelf or mantel. He couldn’t be carried from one place to another. Even King Solomon, at the dedication of the great temple he had built for God, was forced to admit: “But will God really live on earth? Why, even the highest heavens cannot contain you. How much less this Temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27 NLT). And Stephen, in the sermon he gave that led to his stoning, reminded the Jews of his day that God was greater than the temple.

“…it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands, as the prophet says, ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’” – Acts 7:47-50 NLT

Idolatry is sheer stupidity. It makes no sense. But that doesn’t change the fact that man has always been drawn to worship what he can make rather than revere the One who made him. Ever since the fall, mankind has made a habit out of making gods, because man was made to worship. We were originally made by God for the worship of God. We were intended to enjoy unbroken fellowship with Him and experience the joy of His love and the pleasure of returning that love in worship, honor and praise. But sin changed all that. Sin brought self-worship. It resulted in man’s obsession with false gods that are really nothing more than mere replicas of man himself. The false gods we make are intended to provide us with a false sense of self-worth and self-satisfaction. We tend to make gods whose primary purposes are to serve us, rather than be served by us. They exist for our pleasure, not the other way around. Because at the end of the day, what we really long for is to be gods ourselves. It was the very desire Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve in the garden.

“You won’t die!” the serpent replied to the woman. “God knows that your eyes will be opened as soon as you eat it, and you will be like God, knowing both good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NLT

But Adam and Eve proved to be worthless gods. In disobeying God, they gained a knowledge of good and evil, but not the capacity to choose one over the other. Rather than becoming like god, they were forced out of His presence and learned the painful lesson of life without Him. They had become their own gods. And like the people of Judah, they would find that their gods were breathless and worthless.

 

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

This God.

“For who is God, but the Lord?
    And who is a rock, except our God?
This God is my strong refuge
    and has made my way blameless.
He made my feet like the feet of a deer
    and set me secure on the heights.
He trains my hands for war,
    so that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation,
    and your gentleness made me great.
You gave a wide place for my steps under me,
    and my feet did not slip;
I pursued my enemies and destroyed them,
    and did not turn back until they were consumed.
I consumed them; I thrust them through, so that they did not rise;
    they fell under my feet.
For you equipped me with strength for the battle;
    you made those who rise against me sink under me.
You made my enemies turn their backs to me,[g]
    those who hated me, and I destroyed them.
They looked, but there was none to save;
    they cried to the Lord, but he did not answer them.
I beat them fine as the dust of the earth;
    I crushed them and stamped them down like the mire of the streets.”  – 2 Samuel 22:32-43 ESV

 

Whether we want to admit it or not, we have other gods we worship. And it has always been that way. While some of our national currency still carries the phrase, “One Nation Under God”, it has never said, “One God Over the Nation.” Like every culture and generation before us, we Americans have, and always have had, a predisposition toward idolatry. And the people of Israel were no different. That’s why God gave them the Ten Commandments, the first four of which have to deal with man’s relationship with God. God prefaced His list of commands with the statement, “I am the Lord your God” (Exodus 20:2 NLT). He was telling Moses and the people of Israel that He was to be their God, their one and only God. And then He clarified exactly what He meant. “You must not have any other god but me” (Exodus 20:3 NLT). In other words, unlike all the other cultures around them, they were to have only one god, not many. They were to worship one deity, not a plethora of gods like the Egyptians had. They were to give their allegiance to the one true God. And it was not as if God was admitting that He had real competition and was demanding their undivided attention. God didn’t have to worry about competitors, but He did have to be concerned about man’s natural tendency to create false gods, man-made substitutes or stand-ins for Him. That is why the psalmist wrote:

Their idols are merely things of silver and gold,
    shaped by human hands.
They have mouths but cannot speak,
    and eyes but cannot see.
They have ears but cannot hear,
    and noses but cannot smell.
They have hands but cannot feel,
    and feet but cannot walk,
    and throats but cannot make a sound.
And those who make idols are just like them,
    as are all who trust in them. – Psalm 115:4-8 NLT

But the fact that these gods are false has never stopped men from placing their hope in them. And while the psalmist is obviously referring to actual 3-dimensional idols made to represent a false deity, we 21st-Century human beings have moved to a much more sophisticated, yet sinister, form of idolatry. Our gods come in a variety of forms. They don’t sit on a shelf where we offer literal sacrifices to them. But they demand our worship nonetheless. We have made gods out of everything from work to entertainment, the television in our home to the money in our bank. There are so many things in our lives that demand our undivided attention or, to put it another way, our worship. We revere these things and sacrifice our time, attention and even our money to them. We turn to them in times of trouble, hoping they will rescue us. We lean on them for a sense of contentment and happiness during the dark days of our lives. We seek satisfaction from them. We put our hope in them. But the God would remind us:

“To whom will you compare me?
    Who is my equal?
Some people pour out their silver and gold
    and hire a craftsman to make a god from it.
    Then they bow down and worship it!
They carry it around on their shoulders,
    and when they set it down, it stays there.
    It can’t even move!
And when someone prays to it, there is no answer.
    It can’t rescue anyone from trouble.” – Isaiah 46:5-7 NLT

David knew there was no reliable source for help and hope in his life, but God. Which is why he rhetorically asks, “who is God except the Lord?” The answer is obvious: No one. There is no god but God. He has no real competition. We may attempt to find help elsewhere, but those things will always come up short. They can’t deliver. That is why David said, “This God is my strong refuge” (2 Samuel 22:33 ESV). It was God to whom he turned for help, hope, safety, security, rescue, rest, strength and victory. THIS God, and no other.

In this passage, David weaves together an interesting mixture of pronouns, repeatedly referring to both himself and God. He was not putting himself on the same level with God, but was simply trying to show that his life was totally dependent upon God.

He makes me as surefooted as a deer – vs 34

He trains my hands for battle – vs 35

You have given me your shield of victory – vs 36

your help has made me great… – vs 36

You have made a wide path for my feet – vs 37

It was God who had done these things for David and, as a result, David was able to say:

I chased my enemies and destroyed them – vs 38

I did not stop until they were conquered… – vs 38

I consumed them – vs 39

I struck them down… – vs 39

I ground them as fine as the dust of the earth… – vs 43

David had done his part, but only because God had made it possible. David knew he was not a self-made man. He could take no credit for his victories. He was in no place to brag about his exploits – apart from God’s help. Anything he had done of value in his life was attributable to God. God got the glory. God deserved the credit. Which is why David was able to say to God, “your help has made me great” (2 Samuel 22:36 NLT). He had no problem acknowledging God as the source of all his victories and the explanation behind any value he had as a person. Without God, David was nothing. Apart from God, David would have done nothing. At least, nothing of lasting note or significance. It was as if David was saying, “THIS God has made THIS man who he is.”

How easy it is for us to take credit for what God has done. How tempting it is to give credit to someone or something else, for what is clearly the work of God in our lives. We are sometimes prone to give more credit to luck than we do to the Lord. We explain our good fortune as fortuitous, when we should be given God the praise He deserves. Back in Exodus 20, we read the words of God. “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods” (Exodus 20:5 NLT). God will share His glory with anyone or anything. He will not tolerate faithlessness and infidelity among His people. Which is why He repeatedly referred to the people of Israel as adulterous. They cheated on Him, on a regular basis. They shared their attention and affections with others. They refused to give Him the credit He deserved and the honor His status as God demanded. But we are so often guilty of the same thing. And David provides us with a sobering reminder that THIS God of ours is worthy of our praise, glory, honor, gratitude, worship, and undivided attention. For who is God except the Lord?

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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

God of Peace.

What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up. If any speak in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn, and let someone interpret. But if there is no one to interpret, let each of them keep silent in church and speak to himself and to God. Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. – 1 Corinthians 14:26-33a ESV

The very fact that Paul is going into this great amount of detail regarding the gifts reveals that this was a real problem for the church in Corinth. This was not a case of the gifts being in short supply. They seemed to have them in abundance. But they were confused as to their purpose and were neglecting to practice them in a spirit of love. So now, Paul gives more specific comments regarding their use in corporate worship. “When you come together,” Paul says, “each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation.” The gifts were designed primarily for use within the community and Paul makes clear their intended purpose: “Let all things be done for building up.” They were not designed to get attention or to make the one with the gift look good. And they most certainly were not to be used in a competitive or chaotic way. It seems that the Corinthians were in the habit of practicing their gifts almost like it was a competition. There was no order to their services. Everyone was prophesying, singing, teaching, and speaking in tongues at the same time. Which is what let Paul to say, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace.”

The gift of tongues was not to dominate the corporate gathering. As Paul made clear earlier, tongues were intended for the lost, not believers. But if someone was going to practice the gift of tongues within the worship service, there must be someone there to interpret what was said. Otherwise, they were to remain silent. And Paul restricted the use of tongues to no more than three individuals per worship service. He did the same thing with the gift of prophecy. “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said” (1 Corinthians 14:29 ESV). The worship service was not to be a circus or free-for-all, with everyone speaking at the same time or saying whatever they felt led to say. Even those with a prophetic word were to be evaluated by others with the same gift. There had to be a confirmation of what was being said. Just because someone prophesied did not mean that what they said was true. There was a need for the congregation and others with the gift of prophecy to ascertain whether what was being said was of God. This is an important distinction. Not all tongues is of God. Not all prophecy is of God. Not all revelation is of God. The gifts can be easily replicated and done apart from the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many who claim to prophesy in the name of God, but their words are not from God. There are those who claim to have the gift of tongues, but they do not practice them according to Scripture. There is no interpretation. There is no message. And no one, except the one speaking in tongues, is built up. To Paul, this was all unacceptable. It was more evident of the former pagan background of the Corinthians than than it was of God’s intended form of worship for the church.  

The theological point is crucial: the character of one’s deity is reflected in the character of one’s worship. The Corinthians must therefore cease worship that reflects the pagan deities more than the God whom they have come to know through the Lord Jesus Christ. God is neither characterized by disorder nor the cause of it in the assembly. – Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians

Order. Edification. Peace. Godliness. Love. All of these things were to characterize the corporate worship of the body of Christ. God had given the gifts to assist in the building up of the saints. When the Spirit of God was at work within the congregation, it would be evident. There would be a spirit of love present. Orderliness, not confusion, would characterize the assembly. The gifts would be complimentary, not competitive. The use of the gifts would be dictated by the Spirit of God, not the selfish desires of men. And the result would be the edification of all, not the elevation of one.

 

Immaturity and Spirituality.

Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature. In the Law it is written, “By people of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord.” Thus tongues are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers, while prophecy is a sign not for unbelievers but for believers. If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you. – 1 Corinthians 14:20-25 ESV

The Corinthians had revealed their spiritual immaturity to Paul by elevating the gift of tongues to a primary position. They saw speaking in tongues as a sign of spirituality and were pursuing and practicing that gift to the detriment of the body of Christ. So Paul calls them out and encourages them to “grow up” in their thinking. It is one thing to be innocent when it comes to evil, but they were acting like children when it came to the gifts God had given to the church. They were enamored by the more showy, flamboyant gifts and were allowing jealousy, pride and envy to characterize their use of the gifts, rather than the mutual edification of one another.

One of the most important distinctions Paul makes about the gift of tongues is regarding its purpose or objective. He quotes a passage from Isaiah 28 to show that tongues “are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers” (1 Corinthians 14:22 ESV). The context of the Isaiah passage is that God had sent Isaiah to warn the people of Israel of the coming invasion of the Assyrians. He has been calling them to repent and return to Him as their God, but they have stubbornly refused the calls of the prophet, Isaiah. Isaiah had been speaking to them in their own language, but they had refused to listen. So Isaiah warns them that God was going to send the Assyrians, and “by people of strange lips and with a foreign tongue the Lord will speak to this people” (Isaiah 28:11 ESV). Their unbelief and stubbornness was going to force God to punish them by sending them into captivity, but even then they would not repent.

Paul is trying to get them to think logically and maturely about their view of tongues. He even uses a real-life scenario to make his point. “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds?” (1 Corinthians 14:23 ESV). In other words, if tongues is the superior gift they seem to think it is and everyone in the church practiced it at the same time, what would unbelievers think when they walked in the door and experienced the chaos and confusion firsthand? They would most likely conclude that Christians were crazy. Rather than see Christians living and worshiping together in unity, they would experience a spirit of competition. Instead of hearing a clearly articulated and understandable delivery of the gospel, they would walk away confused and convinced that Christianity was no different than the pagan religions with which they were already familiar. It is important to note that Paul is describing a time of corporate worship. This is supposed to be a time when the body of Christ gathers for worship and mutual edification.

If we look back at Acts 2 and see the first evidence of the gift of tongues being used, we see that it was not during a time of corporate worship. They had been waiting together in a room, just as Jesus had instructed them to do. And then something happened.

When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. – Acts 2:1-4 ESV

And there was a purpose behind this one-of-a-kind event. Luke goes on to record:

Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? – Acts 2:5-8 ESV

In this case, they all spoke in tongues at the same time. A scenario much like Paul described in his example. But the reason was simple. There were thousands of people present who were from other countries and who spoke other languages. And each was able to hear what was being said in their own language. And the result of this amazing event was that 3,000 people came to faith in Christ. The gift of tongues had a purpose. It was God-ordained and Holy Spirit-directed. But this was not intended to be the norm. It was not a prescribed method or form of worship for the early church. And yet the Corinthians had childishly elevated tongues to a superior position, misunderstanding its purpose and missing the point behind what God was trying to do in their midst.

Ultimately, Paul was interested in heart change. He compares tongues with the gift of  prophecy, describing another scenario in which a lost person visits the corporate worship service. This time, rather than confusion and chaos, they hear the truth being proclaimed through the gift of prophecy. Paul says, “they will be convicted of sin and judged by what you say. As they listen, their secret thoughts will be exposed, and they will fall to their knees and worship God, declaring, ‘God is truly here among you’” (1 Corinthians 14:24;25 NLT). Understandable truth results in undeniable heart change. Revelation brings about redemption. Edification and evangelism were the primary purpose behind the gifts when the church gathered. There would be a proper place and time for the gift of tongues, but it had to be Spirit-determined and directed. Choosing to use gifts because of their seeming spirituality revealed an immature perspective. It was childish and short-sighted. A more mature outlook would view the gifts as given by God and up to Him to use as He sees fit, with the ultimate purpose being the building up the body of Christ.