Putting First Things First
Enjoy the humor in this passage today. Although most of us today don’t fashion idols from iron or wood, we struggle with idolatry of a different sort: worshiping our work, the people we love, celebrities, and even our passions.
Isaiah 44:9-20 (ESV)
The Folly of Idolatry
9 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?”
Digging into God’s Word
Isaiah spoke these words of God to the people of Judah who would be taken captive by the Babylonians. The Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook tells us, “The last part of Isaiah (40-66) . . . speaks to every later generation of God’s people who long for God’s kingdom to be revealed to all in its holiness and righteousness.” We are going to take that to heart and let this passage speak to us today!
I don’t know about you, but I haven’t carved an idol and bowed down to it lately. However, we, too, worship the work of our hands over the God who formed us.
I’m one of those people who can’t sit still through a movie or a baseball game. Whether I am doing dishes, puttering in the garden, or planning an event, I get immense satisfaction from being productive.
None of that is wrong. But sometimes the work of my hands can become an idol. I give more attention to all of my to-dos than on spending time with God and listening to His voice. I end my day thinking, “Wow, that was a great day! I got so much done!”
What if my day ended with the thought, “What a wonderful day of being with the Lord and watching Him work in my life!”
See the shift? The Lord formed us. We are the work of His hands. Let us worship Him and not our own works.
Reflect on these questions. If you have time, journal your answers.
1. It’s hard for us to relate to making a statue out of wood and worshiping it, but we can bring Isaiah’s point home in our lives by considering what takes a higher place than God in our heart. I have listed some possibilities. If any strike a nerve, confess them to God and ask Him to help you place Him above all else. I could circle several of these!
- Your health or a physical ability
- A hobby that brings you great pleasure
- Your family or other people you love
- Your work or other accomplishments
- An upcoming vacation or event
- A passion for a ministry or a fight against an injustice
2. Receive God’s grace and forgiveness. Spoiler alert: Come back for the next devotion to see how God follows today’s verses with promises of redemption. For now, perhaps pray and receive the promises of Psalm 51:7.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
3. Worship God above all other things by reading Psalm 138 out loud. Verses 1 to 3 and 8 are printed here for you, but it’s worth turning to the Psalm and proclaiming the whole thing:
1 I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
2 I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.
3 On the day I called, you answered me;
my strength of soul you increased.
8 The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of your hands.
If you missed the first devotions in this series, I encourage you to go back and work through them, especially the first one, which sets up the context of Isaiah 44 and 45. It is very meaningful, offering an important message of hope! You can find it here. Then come back and join us for the rest of the series “I am the LORD.”
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