The Absurdity of Idolatry
A look at the foolishness of trying to replace God
Sam Coonrod made news last summer when he refused to kneel. The then-27-year-old relief pitcher for the San Francisco Giants was the only baseball player who remained standing on the field during a demonstration honoring Black Lives Matter before the season opener between the Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
“I’m a Christian,” he explained after the game. “I believe I can’t kneel before anything but God—Jesus Christ.”
In most cultures, kneeling connotes reverence and worship. Though the ballplayers probably viewed kneeling differently, Coonrod put the traditional spin on it and felt he could not take a knee unless it was to worship the Lord.
His heart attitude reflects what God was seeking in the Israelites, who had no problem kneeling before idols of wood and stone. Although most people in the West today do not worship graven images, many consider other things more important than God: power, possessions, pleasure, and prestige—to name a few.
God, however, hates idolatry, no matter what form it takes. False deities are abominations to Him (Dt. 7:25–26). In the ancient world, people manufactured idols, then knelt before them. God cursed those people (27:15), and the Mosaic Law required that convicted idolaters be stoned to death (17:2–5).
Why does God loathe idolatry so much? Because after sin entered the world through Adam, mankind “changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things” (Rom. 1:23). People fashioned “idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk” (Rev. 9:20), and they “worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Rom. 1:25).
In essence, idolatry involves replacing God with something else. It misrepresents the one true, holy, omnipotent, beneficent, relational, living God and replaces Him with something false, corrupted, impotent, dead, and impersonal.
Today many people look to technology, medicine, and science to solve their problems and either fail or refuse to call on God. They “worship” the work of human hands. In 2010, famed British scientist Stephen Hawking (1942–2018) told ABC News, “Science makes God unnecessary.”
Idolatry has always spiritually impeded both Gentile nations (Acts 14:11–15; 17:16–34; 19:23–28) and Israel (Ex. 32:1–4; Jud. 2:11–13). Israel’s apostasy eventually led to its downfall. Around 700 BC, God used the prophet Isaiah to warn Israel of its folly.
God commands Israel, “Yet hear now” (Isa. 44:1). In other words, “Despite what I just told you about your sins (in chapter 43), I want you to listen carefully and receive what I’m about to tell you.”
God reassures Israel of His steadfast relationship with the nation, calling it “My servant . . . whom I have chosen” (v. 1). He also calls Israel by the poetic, affectionate nickname Jeshurun (v. 2; Dt. 32:15; 33:5, 26).
He comforts the Israelites by affirming He brought them into existence (Isa. 44:2) and will continue to help them by pouring out His Holy Spirit on their descendants (v. 3), who will confidently identify themselves with Yahweh, the God of Israel.
Then God contrasts Himself with idols. Using His personal, covenant-keeping name, Yahweh, He distinguishes Himself from false deities, declaring His position as the following (v. 6):
Israel’s King. Despite the Israelites’ refusal to acknowledge Yahweh’s sovereignty, He nevertheless is their true King. With that position comes the supreme authority and power needed to accomplish His timeless purposes. No earthly king or idol can make that claim.
Israel’s Redeemer. He identifies Himself this way 17 times in Isaiah. Yahweh “brought [Israel] out [of Egypt] with a mighty hand, and redeemed [it] from the house of bondage” (Dt. 7:8). The Exodus became the quintessential event in the nation’s history. Israel has only one Redeemer, and He is no idol.
Yahweh (LORD) of Hosts. The word hosts can refer to military troops (1 Sam. 17:45), God’s entourage in heaven (1 Ki. 22:19), or even the host of Israelites who fled Egypt (Ex. 12:41). But many scholars see the phrase Yahweh of hosts to mean “Yahweh the Almighty” or “Omnipotent One.” This understanding fits the contrast God is making between Himself and useless idols. When your “god” can’t even perform the basic functions of life and must be carried from place to place like a potted plant, what kind of a god is that? But Yahweh, the “LORD of Hosts,” can do anything!
The First and the Last. God is not referencing time or order. Rather, He is first and last in kind. This is why He proclaims, “Besides Me there is no God” (Isa. 44:6). Humanity may form its gods, but they have beginnings and ends and limitations. Yahweh is unique. As He Himself affirms, “There is none like Me in all the earth” (Ex. 9:14). There is no other God. There is no other Rock (a term highlighting God’s insurmountable power to protect His people and provide refuge). An idol can do nothing.
God then exposes fallen man’s foolishness and self-degradation. People fashion gods that are powerless to help them (cf. Hab. 2:18). The first example is of a blacksmith working busily to forge a metal god (Isa. 44:12). Not only is the concept ludicrous, but the creator himself gets fatigued while doing it!
The second example is of a skilled woodworker (vv. 13–16). First, he makes sure he picks the right wood. Then he chooses a tree, cuts it down, chops it up, and drags the wood back to his house where he throws half into the fire to cook his dinner and meticulously crafts the other half into his god. Then he falls down before it, worships it, prays to it, and says to the unblinking piece of lumber, “Deliver me, for you are my god!” (v. 17).
The picture would almost be humorous if not for its serious, eternal consequences. The idolater is so spiritually blind, so utterly vacuous, that the thought never enters his mind that he knelt before a block of wood taken from the same log he used to cook his dinner. His heart is deceived (cf. Dt. 11:16).
A spiritually deceived individual is incapable of discerning the truth from a lie. God commands Israel to remember these examples and realize He alone can provide salvation (Isa. 44:21).
God also wants the Jewish people to remember the special relationship He has with them. Israel is His servant. God “formed” the nation for Himself (43:21). Israel may forget God (Jer. 2:32; 18:15), but God will never forget Israel.
The Lord says He has wiped out Israel’s sins, so nothing will prevent the nation from returning to Him (Isa. 44:22). He has redeemed it (v. 23).
This is cause for rejoicing! Isaiah commanded the heavens above, Sheol beneath, the mountains, and every tree in the forest to sing and shout for joy because Yahweh has “redeemed Jacob [Israel]” and will glorify Himself through Israel (the Hebrew indicates future, not past, action; v. 23).
Like the woodcrafter, many people today worship “idols” without realizing it. The Lord asked Israel, “Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing?” (v. 10). Jesus the Messiah asked a similar question: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mt. 16:26).
Perhaps it’s time to evaluate what we kneel before in our hearts and make sure we never kneel before anyone—or anything—but God.