Worship or Idolatry?

09 May

Isaiah 2:12-22

12 For the LORD of hosts will have a day of reckoning
Against everyone who is proud and lofty
And against everyone who is lifted up,
That he may be abased.
13 And it will be against all the cedars of Lebanon that are lofty and lifted up,
Against all the oaks of Bashan,
14 Against all the lofty mountains,
Against all the hills that are lifted up,
15 Against every high tower,
Against every fortified wall,
16 Against all the ships of Tarshish
And against all the beautiful craft.
17 The pride of man will be humbled
And the loftiness of men will be abased;
And the LORD alone will be exalted in that day,
18 But the idols will completely vanish.
19 Men will go into caves of the rocks
And into holes of the ground
Before the terror of the LORD
And the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.
20 In that day men will cast away to the moles and the bats
Their idols of silver and their idols of gold,
Which they made for themselves to worship,
21 In order to go into the caverns of the rocks and the clefts of the cliffs
Before the terror of the LORD and the splendor of His majesty,
When He arises to make the earth tremble.
22 Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils;
For why should he be esteemed?

New American Standard Bible : 1995 Update (LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995). Is 2:12–22.
One can’t help but come to the second chapter of Isaiah 2 and be in awe at the power of God portrayed.  In the context of Isaiah 1-2, Israel is being warned of God to abandon idolatry and unrighteousness in favor of a return to worshipping and serving Him again, as the One, True God over all.  Here we come to chapter 2 where verses 1-4 are a description of what Israel would be should they return to serving Yahweh; while verses 5-8 contrast what the nation currently is in the sight of a holy God.  The most powerful and frightening language in Isaiah 2 doesn’t come until verses 10-22, which in Hebrew poetry happen to be some of the strongest wording throughout.  Surely a holy, righteous, and just God will not let unrighteousness go unpunished.  An interesting thought came to view as I studied through this passage this morning.  Not only is the language used intense, but it is also ironic in nature as well.  Specifically 2:19-20 caught my attention, and a useful background commentary brought forth an interesting thought as follows:

A Sumerian Hymn of Enheduanna to the goddess Inanna from the third millennium depicts the gods fluttering away like bats to their caves from the goddess’s terrible presence. This suggests the possibility that in these verses it is the idols being carried to caves and crags by the rodents (the flight of men has already been reported in v. 19). Just as men have fled from before the glory of the Lord, so do the idols, but, incapable of moving on their own, they are transported by the lowliest creatures.

Isn’t this interesting?  The possibility that these idols will be transported away by lowly creatures such as rodents to hide from the terror of Jehovah God?  Another alternate possibility exists as well; these idols which the people worshipped and clung to (2:5-8) are now cast away as utterly worthless and helpless, even to the extent that they are surrounded by “moles and bats.”  This suggests that these “valuable golden and silver idols” which the people worshipped were now in company of the most worthless and lowly creatures.  Determining which interpretation to use would be difficult, for in the context it would be highly likely for the people to be acquainted with and worshipping Sumerian idols, lending itself to the first interpretation.  However, in light of Hebrew poetry and structure the second would be more likely.  Either way, the result is the same.  In other words, the people esteemed their idols they worshipped as powerful, able to save them while engaging in wicked deeds and rejecting God.  To this God replies with a warning of impending judgment; should the people fail to repent and turn away from this wickedness they will surely be judged, and severely.  Throughout the Old Testament the Israelites are constantly taught to fear the Lord, to love Him, and to faithfully obey Him.  However the irony in this passage is striking, for in failing to do these things the people will ultimately face the terror of God poured out against them, and their idols will be utterly helpless in that day of judgment.  The final verse of chapter 2 is especially striking by saying to “be done with man” or “stop regarding man.”  Ultimately the finality of this passage comes to a point to stop exalting and worshipping man but instead worship the One who is worthy of all, who is holy, just, and righteous and worthy of our praise.  The ultimate root cause of the idolatry and all the problems Israel faced was not idolatry itself but rather pride, the exaltation of man.  God calls the people to repent of this wickedness and return unto Him, or be judged.  The true worship God deserves will be received, whether in judgment or in times of blessing.  Later in Isaiah the prophet declares that  God will not give His glory to another, a theme built upon throughout the whole of Scripture.

For us as Christians today, the question would be, what are we worshipping?  Are we devoting our time, money, and interest to some form of “idol” today?  The idols Israel worshipped were made of gold and silver and would have been very valuable.  Not only were they valuable, the people spent a great deal of time devoted to these idols and as a result forsook the commands of God.  The question to ask ourselves is if we in any way do this exact same thing?  The “American Dream” pursued by many is just as idolatrous as worship of a literal idol in Israel’s day was.  Instead of worshipping the “idol” as Israel did, many today worship the American Dream.  By the American Dream I mean this: living a good life filled with the comforts we can afford, saving up for a nice car so we fit in with everyone else, having at least a 2,200 sq. ft house we live in, the latest technology and cell phones, and everything else we can use our money for.  Yet the Bible tells us to invest our money in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 6) and to take care of the poor and widows (James 2).  Our money is spent on everything EXCEPT for investing in the Kingdom of God and the lives of others.  We may put our 10% in the offering plate and feel good about it, but God calls us to “give out of the abundance of our heart” out of a love for Him, not grudgingly putting in a certain amount.  Even more, the Old Testament principle of tithing would amount to nearly 24%, not the 10% that is endorsed today.  Furthermore, the NT conveys not the idea of giving out of the law but giving out of the heart, to give joyfully unto the Lord as He has blessed us.  Giving isn’t just Sunday in the offering plate, it is a lifestyle a person lives where they are continually using the resources God has blessed them with to invest in the Kingdom of God instead of the “American Dream.”  Certainly a pursuit of what everyone else is seeking will fall short on that day of judgment, when many will cower in fear before the terror of Almighty God.  In every area of our life we should be trying to further the Kingdom of God as commanded, and so as I read the warnings of judgment in Isaiah 2 written to the Nation of Israel, I’m reminded too that this applies in our culture today as well.  To live in worship to materialism rather than God is just as offensive, and prideful, to the God who rightfully deserves our sole affection and priority in our lives.

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Posted by on May 9, 2012 in Edification


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