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What, exactly, is an idol?

The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill.  He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god.” They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate.  Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” Isaiah 44: 12-20
Isaiah – the writer of the words in bold above – was alive and active during the period BC 740-680. He was married, lived in Jerusalem and had two sons. The ancient book which bears his name has been preserved by the Jews in their national archive and by Christians in the Bible.

Isaiah was identified – in his day – as a “prophet”. That simply means that he was recognized as a man who spoke (and wrote) on behalf of the LORD God – the God of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Isaiah stated that his words in bold above were from the LORD God and addressed to the people known under the collective title of their illustrious forebear Israel – the same people who today occupy the territory known as “Israel” and its disputed city of Jerusalem. What do you think of his description?


‘Whatever a man seeks, honours, or exalts more than God, this is the god of idolatry.’ (William  Ullathorne, writer and churchman, 1806-1899) 
For me, the interesting thing is that the blacksmith/ carpenter depicted is idolizing something which he has himself fashioned out of something else – in this case out of a tree. The tree he uses in three ways – he warms himself by burning it; he feeds himself by cooking with it; he carves out a thing which looks good to him and says to it “Save me!”

Could I be that foolish? Well, I think so. How? Over the years I’ve been earning money by working. With some of that money I’ve kept myself and my family warm – housed and protected from the weather. With some of that money I’ve fed myself and my family. And some of that money I’ve put aside to meet all my needs (and those of my family) until I (and we) pass away. So, yes, I too am a blacksmith/ carpenter like the one depicted 2700 years ago.

But it gets worse. I’ve tried hovering in a drone one mile above Jersey and looking down. Looking down at me over past decades. Eliminating all love of myself (as if that were possible) I can now see what I’ve been serving all my life, what I’ve been interested in, what I’ve spent my time on. On money? Yes. Not only money but what money can buy. It’s clear – looking only at what I’ve worked for, what I’ve enjoyed and what I’ve wanted to experience that my focus has been on warming myself, feeding myself and relying on myself. I’ve even been relying on what I’ve got to “Save me!”


Idolatry is everywhere represented in Scripture as the greatest insult the creature can offer the Creator.’ (Charles Hodge, theologian, 1797-1878)
Immediately prior to the words in bold above Isaiah summarized the message he was about to bring on behalf of the LORD God. He wrote: - (1) All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. That – of course – is the problem. If all I do is make idols then I myself – personally – am “nothing” – just like my idols, which have no real “worth”.

He wrote: - (2) Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame. Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit him nothing? He and his kind will be put to shame; craftsmen are nothing but men. Let them all come together and take their stand; They shall tremble; they shall be ashamed together. 

There are lots of people in Jersey who “speak up” for money. It’s not only the drones looking down who can’t fathom it out.

Sinner Syvret

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