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All who make idols are nothing, and the things they delight in do not profit; their witnesses neither see nor know. And so they will be put to shame. Who would fashion a god or cast an image that can do no good? Look, all its devotees shall be put to shame; the artisans too are merely human. Let them all assemble, let them stand up; they shall be terrified, they shall all be put to shame.
The ironsmith fashions it and works it over the coals, shaping it with hammers, and forging it with his strong arm; he becomes hungry and his strength fails, he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line, marks it out with a stylus, fashions it with planes, and marks it with a compass; he makes it in human form, with human beauty, to be set up in a shrine. He cuts down cedars or chooses a holm tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!” The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it and worships it; he prays to it and says, “Save me, for you are my god!”
They do not know, nor do they comprehend; for their eyes are shut, so that they cannot see, and their minds as well, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals, I roasted meat and have eaten. Now shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot save himself or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a fraud?”
The Emptiness of Idols
I think all human beings are idol-makers, but I’m not proposing that we curve statues to represent our gods. Nor am I saying that we run around worshiping things that look like birds and animals. I’m not even suggesting that we bow before inanimate objects, you know like money, or philosophical concepts, like greed. Still, we really do worship idols, because we exalt the creature over the creator. As a matter of fact, we impose our own creaturely values on the one who created us. In other words, we assume our opinions are God’s opinions. Our definition of morality is God’s definition of morality. And of course, our plans are God’s plans for us. This is something that we do, and it’s just as much idolatry as that which was done in ancient Egypt or Greece.
And the fact that we do it, well, that’s a real shame, because it separates us from the one who stands as both of our judge and redeemer. And when that happens, when we feel isolated from God, all we have are ourselves, constrained by all our limitations and devoid of the very power and compassion we may need when life becomes really difficult.