This is what the Lord says — Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.
Critics of the Bible sometimes complain that God is constantly bragging about himself. But this is not empty boasting. It is simply declaring reality. It is an attempt on God’s part to save his creatures from the folly and danger of following false gods. Today’s passage goes on to describe the stupidity of the idol worship that the Israelites were falling into. The prophet describes a metal smith who melts metal, pours it into a mold to make an idol of it, and in the process he becomes tired. Isaiah points out what a ridiculous thing it is that a man makes a god who has no power to help him even while he is making it. Then he describes a carpenter who carves the figure of a man out of a block of wood, then uses the chips that he has carved off the block to build a fire to warm himself. He then bows down and worships the idol, seeking deliverance from something his own hands have made. What a ridiculous concept!
When we read a passage like this we are tempted to say, Surely this does not apply to us. We are not idol worshipers. But we are really not that far removed from this kind of practice. As I drive to church on Sunday mornings I often notice people out in their yards worshiping a shiny, bright, metal idol. They pour expensive fluids into it, polish and shine it, and bow down before it. Have you ever noticed the change that comes over them when they get into it and take off down the street? Mild, inoffensive people, who never utter a word in anger, blast out of their driveways, leaving a trail of rubber as they depart, transformed with an illusion of power. One item we worship is the automobile, which to many has become the symbol of luxury, beauty and power.
Silicon Valley is one of the great idol-manufacturing areas of the world, shipping out computers, these strange machines with their flashing lights and weird symbols, to the worshipers of knowledge in the far corners of the earth. Many today worship the god of sex, thinking that sex will satisfy them and fulfill their needs. But the god of sex will not deliver them. It is true we do not have idols of wood and stone any longer, but the ideas behind them remain the central idols of the American people.
The prophet declares of the idolater, Verse 20: He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand? (Isaiah 44:20 RSV). The folly of worshiping any god other than the true God is that people deceive themselves. They are left dissatisfied, feeling they have been feeding on ashes. The soul, as well as the body, needs food. It looks for that which satisfies. But those who look for satisfaction in drugs or sex discover that they have been feeding on ashes. They have been deceived, failing to recognize that there is a lie in their right hand. The right hand is the symbol of what you grasp, who you look to for help. But those who follow idols are unable to see that they will not satisfy, but will leave a taste of ashes in the mouth. Many businessmen worship the god of power. They are climbing the corporate ladder to the top, seeking honor and recognition. When they have all they want, however, they will find it has turned to ashes. Many students worship knowledge. They feel confident that the wonderful things they are learning will help them control life. But it all turns to ashes. They do not recognize the lie that is in the right hand. The only hope, as this passage makes clear, is found in the God who formed us.
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Gracious Father, you are the only true God. Forgive me for worshiping the creation rather than the Creator, and teach me to bow down before you and you alone.
The first commandment says we are to have no other gods but God himself. Are we trying to fill the God-shaped vacuum inside us with everything and everyone but God?