The Folly of Idolatry
Dr. Joe Temple

Introduction

Open your Bibles, please, to the book of Isaiah, chapter 44, and notice the paragraph which begins with verse 9:

Isaiah 44

9They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.
10Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?
11Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.
12The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.
13The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.
14He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.
15Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.
16He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:
17And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.
18They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.
19And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?
20He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?
21Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.
22I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.
23Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.
24Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;
25That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;
26That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof:
27That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:
28That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

Keep in mind that we are studying the second half of the book of Isaiah, which is a book of comfort and consolation. In our last lesson, we studied together the sovereignty of God as it was revealed in His relationship to the nation of Israel. The session closed with verse 8 of chapter 44, where we read:

Isaiah 44

8Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it? ye are even my witnesses. Is there a God beside me? yea, there is no God; I know not any.

From that declaration concerning His own sovereignty, He went into the portion of the Word that we read a moment ago. The first part declares the folly of idolatry. I would like for us to go back over this particular paragraph and emphasize some of the things that we read.

The Futility of Idol Worship

In verses 9-11, the idol makers, if they really gave some consideration to what they were doing, ought to be able to testify more than any other people to the worthlessness of idols, to the futility of idol worship. Look at verse 9:

Isaiah 44

9They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit…

Individuals who make graven images and who enjoy those graven images are really making something that cannot profit them at all. They should be able to give testimony to the fact that these things they make see not nor know. If they did give testimony to it, recognizing facts as fact, they would be ashamed in the worship of their idols.

In verse 10, God says:

Isaiah 44

10Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?

That is saying, “Who has ever made an idol that really worked? Who has ever made a graven image that was really effective?” In the next verse He invites everybody who has anything to do with idol worship or with the manufacture of idols to stand together as one man and give testimony to the effectiveness of idol worship. Then He adds that when they do stand together in that fashion, one of them will be ashamed.

The Manufacture of Idols

Since these individuals were not willing to admit the futility of the manufacture of idols and of the worship of idols, God Himself describes how it is brought about and He asks us to look at the information and come to our own conclusion.

Verses 12-17 describe the manufacture of idols and the foolishness thereof. Verse 12 describes the manufacture of idols which are made out of metal.

Isaiah 44

12The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.

He beats it out with a hammer, using the strength of his arms to do it. He exerts so much strength in the manufacture of this idol that he works up an appetite, and he needs water to drink. He wears himself out making an idol that we are going to see before we are through cannot see nor hear nor talk. The very fact that the man himself expends the energy in the creation of the idol ought to convince him of how foolish he is.

In verse 13, the idol that is made out of wood is brought to our attention. A carpenter stretches out his rule and makes a line with it. He smooths the piece of wood, or sandpapers it as we might say today. Then he takes a compass and he makes out on the piece of wood the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man. This particular idol is for house worship. It is going to stay in the house. It can't stay outside where the weather is, because it would deteriorate if it did, and the worthlessness of the idol would be made evident.

Before the man can make the idol out of the piece of wood, he has to do something. The very preparation for the manufacture of the idol is a testimony to the futility of it.

Trees Provided for Man's Benefit

You will notice in verse 14, several trees are mentioned: cedar, spruce, and oak. The statement in the middle of that verse, “which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest,” literally says, “which he selects among the trees of the forest.” He goes out in the forest and he selects a cedar or an oak. He hews it down. Of course, he forgets that he really has no right to do this. We read in the last part of verse 14:

Isaiah 44

14…he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.
15Then shall it be for a man to burn…

The King James translation of the Bible is not as accurate as it could be, so this literally reads: “God planteth the ash and the other trees. God sends the rain to nourish the trees that man might have something to burn to warm himself and to bake his bread.” God provided the trees for the help of man, but what does man do? Well, he prostitutes the trees, as he does everything that God has given. We read in the middle part of verse 15:

Isaiah 44

15…yea he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.

God never intended that the trees of the forest be used as material out of which idols could be made. He intended that the trees should be used for the benefit of men. Man takes the trees and he uses the wood to keep himself warm. He uses the wood to bake his food, but he also uses the wood to make a graven image and he falls down to that graven image for the purpose of worship.

I hope that you have not been led astray as many people have by thinking that people really don't worship idols. “Oh, we don't really worship these images. They are a guide to worship.” Well, you don't find anything like that in the Bible. They worshiped the images, and we might add that if individuals say these images are only a guide and an inspiration and that they don't worship them, then people are not worshiping the God of whom the Bible speaks, because the God of whom the Bible speaks declares, “He cannot be made like unto any graven image.” If someone has an image of God in Heaven, and says, “I don't worship the image. I only use it as an inspiration,” they are not worshiping the God of the Bible.

Look at verse 16, and notice the inconsistency of the action recorded in verses 16-17:

Isaiah 44

16He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:

He uses the wood to meet every one of his physical needs. Now, in the meeting of those needs, the wood is under his control. He does with it what he will. He burns it up; he destroys it until there is nothing left.

The Foolishness of Idolatry

He takes part of the wood that he doesn't use to burn and, in verse 17:

Isaiah 44

17And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.

There is no question in Isaiah's mind about idol worship. Notice verse 18:

Isaiah 44

18They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.
19And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination? shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?

Verse 19, in all probability, is what has been running through your mind as we have been reading this passage. Certainly it is what would occur to any thinking person. Is it reasonable? Is it sensible to take a piece of wood, put it in the fire to keep warm, put it in the fire to bake bread and roast flesh, yet out of that same wood, make a god, bow down before it, and say unto that piece of wood, “Thou art my god. Deliver me.” A thinking person would say, “Shall I fall down to a tree? Shall I make part of the tree that has warmed me an abomination? Shall I make an idol out of it? Shall I have in one hand wood with which I bake my bread and warm my body and in the other hand wood that is used as a lie, as something that deceives as an idol does? An ordinary thinking person would realize that, but these folk did not. Isaiah tells us why they didn't. Look at verse 18 again:

Isaiah 44

18They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.

Why don't they understand it? Why don't they see the futility of what they are doing? Because God shut their eyes. Because God blinded their eyes.

The Reason for Their Blindness

Why would God do a thing like that? That doesn't sound like God. The words shut their eyes literally mean, “God put something over their eyes so they could not see through it.” Why would God do something like that? Turn to the book of Romans, chapter 1, and notice the paragraph which begins with verse 18:

Romans 1

18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;
19Because [notice] that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:
21Because [notice] that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.
22Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.
24Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
25Who changed the truth of God into a lie, [notice] and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.

What is this passage of Scripture saying? It is saying that folk to whom we refer as heathen today are lost and on their way to Hell. Somebody immediately responds, “I don't like that. It doesn't seem that it is right for God to send people to Hell who have never heard the Gospel.”

Wait just a minute. You are jumping to conclusions. God said in this passage of Scripture that we have just read, “These individuals are without excuse.” God doesn't permit innocent people to go to Hell. If people go to Hell, they are not innocent people. These individuals are without excuse. God said that, and that should be sufficient. Somebody might say, “But, I don't understand how God could say a thing like that.” There is one thing that we must settle at the outset and that is that we accept what God says whether we understand it or not. In some cases there is enough Scripture where we are able to see the reasonableness of any statement that God makes. Whether we can see the reason or not, we accept it because God has said it.

Those Who Hold Down the Truth

Why are these individuals without excuse? Look at verse 18:

Romans 1

18For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

Notice that last phrase particularly. Literally it is, “Who hold down the truth.” That would suggest that they have the truth, but they don't want to walk in it. Subsequent verses indicate that that interpretation is correct, because we read in verse 19:

Romans 1

19Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.

The knowledge of God is available to every person who is born into the world. Somebody says, “I don't see how somebody in Africa can know about God.” Well, you wouldn't have to be saying that if you did what God told you to do. He told you to go into all the world and preach the Gospel. Instead of fretting about how they know and why they are lost, why don't you do something about it? Aside from the fact that you and I should obey the so-called Great Commission , God says that these individuals have the opportunity of knowing there is a God in Heaven, whether you ever tell them or not. In verse 20, He tells you how:

Romans 1

20For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:

Every individual can know God if he wants to. If he doesn't, it is because he is holding down the truth, because, as is indicated in the next verse, the individual concerned is not willing to walk in all the light that he has. Notice verse 21:

Romans 1

21Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

They did not center their thoughts on God. If they had walked in the light that they had, God would have seen to it that they would have gotten more light. Beloved, I am not concerned about the justice of God in relation to the heathen, so called, for if any individual in any part of the world walks in all the light that he has, God will see to it that he gets enough light to be saved, if he has to change the minds of men, if He has to tear up homes, and even revamp countries. The Bible declares that He has done it, and history verifies it.

Walking In Their Own Wisdom

Why were these individuals about whom Isaiah speaks not able to see the foolishness of what they were doing? Look at verse 21 again:

Romans 1

21…but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.

They professed themselves to be wise, so God darkened their heart. “If you want to walk according to your wisdom instead of Mine, then go ahead and do it.” God never forces Himself on anybody. You and I might remember that. I think sometimes in our personal witnessing we make a very grave mistake of forcing Jesus Christ on people. It can't be done. He does not force Himself on anybody. He said, “If that is the way you want it, you may have it.”

They went from bad to worse. Notice verse 23:

Romans 1

23And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.

They changed the glory of the uncorruptible God, the glory of God that you can't begin to paint or you can't begin to pattern in metal or in wood or in stone. They took that glory of God and they brought God down to their own level. They made Him like man. You will notice they made Him not only like man, but to birds and to fourfooted beasts, and to creeping things. It got worse as it went along.

The Sad Condition of the Idolator

Because they desired this kind of life, God said, “You may have it.” In order to give it to them, God smeared something over their eyes, so that they couldn't even see the light that was available to them. What an unhappy life was the result. Notice, back in Isaiah 44, verse 20:

Isaiah 44

20He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul…

That's the sad condition of the man who chooses an idol instead of God. When he could be feeding upon manna from Heaven, he is feeding on dry and dusty ashes.

We are talking about literal images, and we would not say anything to detract from what we just said, but we would like to emphasize that in this day of enlightenment, there are many people who would not dream of making an idol out of wood or of metal, but they have set up an idol in their own hearts. Their life is just as full of ashes as the lives of these people here, and it is pathetic.

We are going to pass over the paragraph which begins with verse 21 and concludes with verse 23, with just a remark. This paragraph has been repeated in chapter 43. It is a reference that God, in His grace and His mercy, has forgiven the sins of the nation of Israel and has put a new song in their mouth and made it possible for them to rejoice in the salvation which He has provided.

God Contrasted to Idols

We want to look, in the little time that we have left, at the paragraph which begins with verse 24. In this paragraph we see, in contrast to idols made of wood and metal, God, the living God, whom I would like to suggest to you is the God of creation and the God of providence and the God of performance. Look at verse 24:

Isaiah 44

24Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;

He is saying that He and He alone is responsible for all of creation. These idol gods had to depend upon the men who worshiped them for their very existence. But not our God. God alone, without the aid of any creature, created this vast expanse of the heavens and all the earth. That is the reason that in Romans, chapter 1, the individuals were reminded that they were without excuse. All they needed to do was look at creation with a sensible eye, and say, “Who is back of this creation? I would like to know Him.” That is all God wants to hear. He would set in motion the wheels that would bring about the knowledge that would bring them to Himself. Not without the Lord Jesus Christ, but they would hear, for He would see to it that they would.

The God of Providence

In verse 25, you have presented to you the God of providence. I don't know a better word to use. I use it because providence , to me, means God's activity in our behalf, God's activity for our welfare. What could that idol of wood or that idol of metal do for the man who made it? Not a thing. The idol is absolutely helpless.

The God of whom I speak is the One who, in verse 25:

Isaiah 44

25…frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;

All of these individuals named in verse 25 we might lump together as opposition, opposition to the cause of God and the work of God and the people of God. Oh, the plans that they had to bring about your downfall. The devil, as a roaring lion we are told, goes about seeking whom he may devour. You may have no defense against him, and there may be no help for you in relation to him, but God sees him. What does He do? He frustrates the enemy.

I wonder if many testimonies could not be given of experiences in your own life, when you were conscious of the fact that God frustrates liars and the opposition. God is the God of providence. He is working in our behalf. Thank God.

The God of Performance

Notice verse 26. God is the God of performance, for we read:

Isaiah 44

26That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers…

What does this mean? It simply means that when the servants of God, such as Isaiah, spoke the things that people could not understand, God said, “Don't you worry. I am going to confirm the word of My servant by performing the counsel of My messengers.”

There is a very interesting illustration given of how the messenger makes a statement, and God is going to see to it that it is performed. Look at the last part of verse 26:

Isaiah 44

26…that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof:

This sounds normal to us, but recall that the people to whom these words were addressed were living in the city of Jerusalem in the land of Judah in comparative luxury, but Isaiah had been telling them that because of their sin, God was going to send Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon against them and they were going to be taken into Babylonian captivity, and the city of Jerusalem was going to be destroyed and the cities of Judah laid waste. But that was not to come for a great many years.

Just imagine, if I stood here and told you that in the next 15 years the city of Dallas would be in ashes. You would say that I was crazy, wouldn't you? Of course you would. Well now, though we recognize Isaiah as a prophet of God, those folk didn't. They thought he was crazy. Isaiah said, “Not only will the city be destroyed, but I'm going to tell you right now, it will be built again along with all the other cities of Judah.” Then in verse 27, he began to be more specific. He said, “The God about whom I am speaking will say to the deep:

Isaiah 44

27…Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:

What in the world is this talking about? When we get into the next chapter, we will find out, but suffice it to say it is talking about the Euphrates River, which God dried up in order, mind you, to deliver the children of Israel from Babylonian captivity into which they had not yet gone when Isaiah made this statement.

A Certain Fulfillment of Prophecy

You see, you have to depend upon God to perform His work. We say when we read some of the promises of the Word of God, “How do I know that promise is true?” You don't. How did these folk know that what Isaiah said was true? They didn't. Then wherein does my faith lie? The answer is in the performing power of God. It is His Word, and He will perform it. It becomes very specific in verse 28:

Isaiah 44

28That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

I wish you could catch the sense of this passage of Scripture. Let me help you by suggesting that when Isaiah uttered these words, he was talking about events that had not yet occurred and people who had not yet been born. Cyrus did not come across the stage of the world's history until 200 years after Isaiah mentioned what is right here. Yet God not only said that there would be some individual who would be His servant and whom He would use to deliver them from Babylonian captivity and rebuild the city of Jerusalem, He even called his name.

You may say, “I don't believe that.” It really doesn't matter; it is what God said and history has verified it. As a matter of fact, Cyrus was going to completely obliterate everything related to the land of Palestine. Some of the Scribes took the book of Isaiah and asked for an audience and showed him this passage of Scripture right here. They said, “This is what God said you were going to do. You are not going to destroy our land.” True, the people were in Babylonian captivity, but he wasn't going to be satisfied with that. He was going to burn the land. He was going to pursue a scorched earth policy, but they said, “This is what God said you are going to do.” He was so impressed that his name had been written down in the sacred Scriptures 200 years before he was born that he couldn't do enough to fulfill the promise of God. That is how God watches over His Word to perform it.

The details of this performance will be presented in chapter 45. It is an interesting story, and our hearts should be encouraged as we realize that God's Word does not fail. He watches over His Word to perform it, and we can rest upon it whether we are able to fathom it or not.


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