Isaiah 44:9-20 – The Folly of Idolatry
SummaryIdols are made by human hands, so they cannot save. To worship them is foolishness.
All the nations surrounding Israel had temples with idols--symbols or representatives of the gods. Though not themselves divine, idols were worshiped and served as though gods themselves, for through them the gods were thought to be accessible. Service of the idols secured the favor of the gods.
Isaiah, however, insists that such worship is "nothing" for at least two reasons. The first reason is spelled out in detail in the fierce satire of this passage: Idols are made by human hands! How then can they possibly be gods? How can they save (v. 17)? The prophet's concern here is God's own: the point is not to condemn the idols simply as silly, though they are, but to get to the heart of the matter: they cannot save. God cares first and foremost for the well-being of Israel and of all the world, so God fervently wills that people do not squander their religious energies by "praying to a god that cannot save" (45:20).
How absurd, says the prophet, to worship human work. The work is real, the artistry is fine, the effort itself, perhaps commendable--but to worship this is nonsense. The prophet continually identifies God as the one "who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth" (44:24, etc.), so why would anyone worship a creature rather than the Creator?
The second reason idol worship is nothing (41:29) is that, contrary to human belief, there is "no one home" behind the idols: "I am the LORD, and there is no other" (45:5, 6, 18; see also 45:14, 22; 46:9). Gods and spirits populate the religious world throughout human history, but Second Isaiah makes the strongest biblical case for their non-being. Not merely are they false gods, they are no gods at all. There is none besides God.
Because of Israel's sin, their eyes are closed and minds shut (44:18; compare 6:9-10), which might make them susceptible to the idolatry of the nations. The prophet calls them back from this by this satirical denunciation of idols.