Isaiah 44:6-20 - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Isaiah 44:6-20


Men Need A God

He has been made that way – man needs the divine, he needs a God – he can't help himself that's just how things are. The only option left open to him is to decide which God he will worship. Were he to carefully consider his options he would find that even this choice is very limited – it comes down to this: he can either worship the One True Living God or he can worship an idol.

The choice is a stark one and Isaiah is very keen that we should be in no doubt whatsoever that the choice is not made between equals. Isaiah is adamant: the contrast between God and idols is enormous. And yet it is perhaps even more staggering that so many don't see it like that at all.

So Isaiah sets out in this passage to try to force us to face up to what we're doing with our lives. He wants us to think, he wants us to see the extraordinary contradictions that we are all too happy it seems to live with. But so often men don't want to think carefully about what they do in their lives. and as a consequence they remain trapped in their own wilful ignorance. It is just as the NT declares the situation to be, it is not that men don't know the truth, it is that they don't want to know it – men love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.

It is not easy to own the existence of the One True Living God because to do so immediately begins to call us into question; the exposure of our short-comings is a painful business. On the other hand, it is so much easier to live with gods of our own fabrication – they are much more on our scale. Men naturally find it easier and more comfortable to live with a god that they have made in their own image rather than to serve the God who has made us in his!

But how foolish to deliberately live a lie just because it is somehow more cosy!

So Isaiah invites us to think he wants us to see clearly. He wants us to turn from idols to serve the Living and True God. And having done, that he would have us keep ourselves from idols.

Beside me there is no god
Isaiah begins by focusing attention on the LORD and he quickly presents us with a grand picture of the God he serves:

  • He is the LORD – the self-determining One who has life within himself and who is dependent on none for his existence or well-being.

  • He is the King of Israel – his non-dependence does not mean however that he is indifferent to men. He has entered into relationship with his chosen people and rules over them as a King over his subjects.

This title is given to Jesus in the NT – his enemies mocked him with it but his followers were glad!

Question 26 of The Westminster Catechism asks just how Jesus fills this Kingly office and the answer is encouraging:

"Christ fills the office of a king in making us his willing subjects, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies."

  • He is the Redeemer – this explains just how a sinful people is transformed into the people of God so that God might indeed rule over them. The words redeemer and redemption bring to mind the notion of a price being paid in order to secure the release of the captive.

While the NT doesn't actually give the title redeemer to Jesus it makes it abundantly clear that he carried out the work of a redeemer:

Eg. Gal.3:13 "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us"

Again the Westminster Catechism summarises the teaching of the NT when it declares that:

"The only Redeemer of God's elect is the Lord Jesus Christ…"

  • He is the LORD of Hosts – this is a title which emphasises God's attributes of sovereignty, omniscience and omnipotence especially in contexts where man is at the end of his tether and in desperate need. The LORD demonstrated his power in saving Israel several times during their history – this power was most gloriously demonstrated when Jesus came to rescue us when we were dead in our trespasses and sins. Thus the Living God knows what is going on, is powerful to direct what is going on and sovereign to rule what is to take place – this God is a most active God!

  • He is the first and the last – none was before him and so none could claim to have brought him into being and none is needed to replace him for none shall come after him. The NT has no problem with identifying this One: Jesus is the first and the last, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Because of that his followers have no need to worry or be afraid!

When Isaiah speaks about this Living God we find that this God is active all the time. He it is who takes the initiative to chose his people, he it is who goes to rescue them. In this he is unique or as the LORD himself puts it:

v.6 "Besides me there is no god…"
v.8b "Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any."
Isaiah has already told us of the LORD's uniqueness in similar terms back in the previous chapter:
Is.43:11 "I, I am the LORD and besides me there is no saviour."
In the following chapter will underline this uniqueness again and again:
Is.45:5 "I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God;"
Is.45:6 "there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other."
Is.45:21 "And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Saviour; there is none besides me."

This is Isaiah's understanding of just who the LORD God is. Next he turns to consider the idols that men worship and his appreciation is totally different. He mocks the idols and pours scorn on the very idea of idolatry.

The Absurdity of Idol Worship
The contrast is striking. God is mighty and active but what of idols?

Isaiah has been laying out who God is and what he does but now in turning to consider idols Isaiah is forced to talk about those who made them! God is full of activity and men are dependent upon him and benefit from what he does for them but how different it is when it comes to idols. The idols are dependent upon men and cannot themselves do anything at all!

The shift is total – on the one hand all is of divine initiative and now on the other all is merely human.

Isaiah is asking some serious questions of us: do we really want to worship the creation of mere human hands?

v.9 "all who fashion idols are nothing…"
v.11 "the craftsmen are only human"

Idols are produced by a bunch of nobodies and these nobodies have no better model to follow in making their idols than themselves! In other words idols are fabricated by those who have no significance and in the image of similarly insignificant beings. The idol maker might do his best but he can't impart any life to his idols and his idols remain lifeless at best. Small wonder then that Isaiah declares that the work of the idol maker is profitable for nothing.

Isaiah then proceeded to develop his mockery of idolatry by considering just how idols are made.

He begins with the blacksmith. The smith forges his idol by beating it with hammers and by heating it over coals. The more he works at his idols the more his strength diminishes and he becomes tired, hungry and thirsty. How can an idol produced in such a way by such weak men be of any value to anyone? Isaiah is at a loss to understand.

But he has only just started getting going. Next in his sights is the carpenter.

If you were going to worship a god would you begin by drawing lines on a block of wood with a ruler, compass and pencil? But that is what this carpenter does! But before he can get started he needs to find a suitable piece of wood – maybe he'll use a tree that he himself planted as a sapling or maybe he'll use a tree that sprung up without his help at all – it was just nourished and watered by the rains that fell! Can you imagine worshipping something that has come into being like that?

But worse is to come!

The carpenter cuts his tree down but the first thing he does is to use some of that tree to make a fire to warm himself and over which to cook his tea! Then once he's done that with the left-overs he decides to craft an idol – from the left-overs! How sensible is it really to worship as a god a piece of wood that could so easily had been used instead to bake bread?

And still that is what this carpenter does! He knows that some of the wood served to heat his soup but that doesn't stop him from falling down and worshipping the other end of the stick and addressing his pleas for help to it!

Surely a bit a careful thought is called for. What possible benefit could be obtained from worshipping an idol that had only served to bring weariness to the one who made it? What is the intrinsic difference between the one end of the branch that burned in the fire and the other end which was made into an idol? This is utter madness and Isaiah wants you to think so too!

But the idol maker and the idol worshipper were happy in the ignorance in Isaiah's day. Failing to think they didn't realise that their eyes had been closed so that they couldn't see clearly or that their heart had been shut so that they couldn't understand. Turning their backs upon the Living God they had replaced him with the constructs of their own hands and he made them just like their foolish idols – blind and ignorant and dead. All the while they think they are doing just fine thank you very much. In reality they have been led woefully – they are eating yes, but only ashes, and the freedom they rejoice in turns our to be a bondage from which they are incapable of extricating themselves.

And that is where so many are in the world today – bound in ignorance as they follow earnestly the goals set by their chosen idols.

The idols of our day are unlikely to take the shape of a fashioned piece of wood but they are there nonetheless. Let me name a few of the gods who are proving hard-task-masters in our world:

My career – that is assuming, of course, that I can get a job in the current economic climate. But what security will it afford me should another banking crisis explode? And how can enjoy life when my boss requires ever more productivity and ever longer hours? How can I even enjoy my holidays when I've to keep my mobile switched on in order that I can be contacted?

Power – how politicians aspire to it and how they cling to it when they've got it! But lose an election and they'll be change of leader and then where will your power be? Must my reason for living really depend upon a fickle electorate? And of course it's not only politicians who crave power is it?

Status – we live in the age of the celebrity culture when many just want to be famous – not because they've done anything of note but just because they crave celebrity status. Back in 1968 Andy Warhol famously wrote that "in the future everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes". He was highlighting the temporary nature of human fame. Others since have pointed out that in an information age fame is even more ephemeral. Putting a new slant on Warhol's words others have suggested that in a world of social networking everyone will be famous to 15 people! But what do I do when the spotlight moves on from me to someone else? What am I to do when I've had my 15 minutes in the sun? Is that all I have to live for?

Money – we still like to think that money will solve our problems. Maybe you read during the week of another person who failed dismally after winning the lottery. He won £9.7m on the lottery, but blew it drugs, cars, parties and bling. He has now lost job in a biscuit factory and been given a room in a homeless hostel in. He told the paper: "It’s like a horror film - it’s full of junkies." And even if we manage our finances better than he did we're still exposed to the dangers of inflation, to recessions and to the rising cost of living.  

Family – is the reason for living for others but what do you do when there are fallings-out or when the kids move away?

Beauty – well I guess we all like to think that we're worth it but the wrinkles keep on coming and the hairline recedes as the waist expands. Cosmetic and cosmetic surgery can mask things for a time but external beauty goes on fading doesn't it?

We could go on and on – sex, popularity, holidays, leisure pursuits etc.etc.

Each of these idols is equally the product of the human mind. Good things twisted and perverted and none of them worthy of the worship of a man/woman made in the image of the Living God. None of these can ultimately satisfy and fill that God-shaped gap within each of us. How much better to realise that sooner rather than later when we may find it impossible to change.

Don't turn your back on the One True Living God suppressing the truth about him and preferring to run after the false gods of your own imaginings or he may find he gives you up to them.

"Little children keep yourself from idols!" and "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself."


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