44:9–20 The Idolater and His God

This section is in stark contrast with verses 6 to 8 in which Yahweh asserts His power and proclaims His involvement and activity on behalf of His people. In the case of idols, all the activity and initiative rests with men! There would not be an idol-god if the would-be worshipper had not made it! In reality there is only one God, Yahweh Elohim of Israel Who has created all things for His glory. Apart from Him there are only man-invented, man-made idols. Idolatry is not only “making gods”, but making god what you want him to be!

44:9 The Idolater and His Idol: Utter Futility

Verse 9 “They that make a graven image are all of them vanity [Heb tohu ‘without form’; cp Gen 1:2; ro ‘emptiness’; Isa 45:18 ‘in vain’]’ and their delectable things [rsv ‘things they delight in’, ie the idols] shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.”

“They that make a graven image are all of them vanity” This verse deals with the makers of idols, and not the idols themselves; and thence also the devotees, the worshippers, who speak up for the idols. The makers, those who give shape to the idol, are declared to be “vanity”; that is, to fashion an idol shows that the maker is void of intelligence, has no sense of meaning and purpose and no chance of achieving anything in the world!

“and their delectable things shall not profit” (niv ‘the things they treasure’) The prophet is in no doubt about the utter futility of idols, but he knows how infatuated idolaters are! He quashes any optimism they might entertain by pronouncing them to be without profit (niv “worthless”), and bring no advantage.

“and they are their own witnesses: they see not, nor know” (mlb ‘they themselves witness that they neither see or know anything’) These words are capable of being read in two ways: either reference is made to the idolater not “seeing” or “knowing” as in verses 18–20; or the reference to not seeing or knowing is to the idol (as in Psalm 115:5–8). The irony is that the idol cannot see or know, and hence the idol worshipper must be in the same state spiritually! Thus the Psalmist says, “They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them” (v8).

“that they may be ashamed” (cp v11) This is the inevitable consequence of trusting in idols. Their complete lifelessness and helplessness will leave the devotee in the lurch.

44:10–13 The Idol Limited and Confined by its Human Origins!

Isaiah directs attention to the mere humanity of the artificers (v10–11), their frailty (v12), and how the human form dominates their conception of religion.

Verse 10 “Who hath formed [‘shaped’] a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?”

The craftsman so engaged imagines he has made something divine and eternal, but in reality what he has accomplished is inert, lifeless and material! It is of no use whatsoever!

Verse 11 “Behold, all his fellows [roth ‘partners’] shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men [roth ‘are of the sons of the earth’]: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.”

“Behold all his fellows shall be ashamed” In the Modern Language Bible all those linked to the idol will be put to shame. “See, all its associates shall be put to shame” (mlb). Two reasons are given why this will be the case.

1) “and the workmen [artificers, craftsmen], they are of men” That is, the craftsmen themselves are human (lit “from men”), and therefore inevitably that which they make cannot transcend themselves!

2) “let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together” That is, if only they would assemble around what they have made with their hands, “stand” back and assess frankly the idol’s true worth, they would at once realize what fools they had been, and tremble or “fear”, having a deep sense of shame.

Verse 12 “The 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.”

This verse continues to emphasise the frailty and humanity of the blacksmith or metal-worker. The fabrication of the idol is dependent on the strength of his arms! Yet gullible men believe that what is the product of human strength (and diminishing strength at that and in need of regular sustenance from outside), somehow attains supernatural power and intelligence meriting adoration!

Verse 13 “The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man [roth ‘great man’], according to the beauty of a man [roth ‘son of the earth’]; that it may remain in the house.”

Every kind of idol has a craftsman behind it, be it made of materials as diverse as wood or metal—what a vast contrast to achieve the same objective! Here we are given a picture of the stages of manufacture:

1 the stretching out of a line

2 the drawing of it with a pencil

3 the making of it with a carving tool

4 the rounding of it with compasses (cp roth)  — so fashioning it after the “figure of a man”.

Careful emphasis is placed upon the design procedures to stress what the shape will finally turn out to be! With a sense of climax we are informed that the finished product is in the human form! The architect of the idol has had nothing more to draw on conceptually than what he considers to be the greatest and highest—a man in all his glory—“according to the beauty of a man!”

“that it may remain in the house”

The god is like its maker—like a person, a mere human being, dependent upon shelter from the elements, in need of protection. In one sense even more helpless, because at least the human artificer can walk beyond the confines of a house! Solomon recognised that though he had constructed a glorious house for Yahweh, it could in no way limit Him (cp 2 Chron 6:18; cp Isa 66:1–2).

44:14–17 The Idol’s Power is Limited to the Material of Which It Is Made

The prophet having dealt with the mere humanity of the craftsman, and the limitations of his skills and ideas, now addresses the material on which labour is expended to make the idol-god.

Verse 14 “He heweth him down cedars and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengthens for himself among the trees of the forest [rsv ‘and lets grow strong among the trees of the forest’]: he planteth an ash [mlb ‘pine’] and the rain doth nourish it.”

The picture is of the forester at work with different trees. He cuts down cedars for himself. He had taken the cypress and the oak, and ash or pine saplings and planted them and the rain from heaven (an oblique reference to Yahweh’s care for the just and unjust; Matt 5:45) nourishes them. They have matured and “grown strong” for his use.

Notice that the verse commences with “hewing” or felling and ends with planting. The objective has been to trace the development back to the origin. The full grown tree is towering and majestic, but in reality only a seed or sapling, which a man planted and by early nourishment and heavenly watering was brought to maturity. The forester was merely performing his tasks and “doing his job”. Human comfort (as a fuel for warmth and cooking, verse 15) was his motive. No thought of religion entered his mind when he planted the sapling! He had no perception that it would become divine and adored! (“and the residue thereof he maketh a god”, verses 17, 15).

Verse 15 “Then 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 [eloah], and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto [roth ‘adores it’].

In verse 14 we are told that the planting and nourishing by the forester was “for himself”. Here this is explained – husbanding the earth is for the purpose of providing human comforts: he takes the timber he had felled and uses it to kindle fire for warmth and baking bread – standard practice.

Suddenly Isaiah expostulates, his next expressions commencing with the Hebrew ap, translated “yea”, twice in this verse, and “behold” in 41:19 etc. Yes the very timber that he burns in a fire for warming himself and baking bread, he also uses to make an idol before which he prostrates himself in worship!! The wood used to make the idol-god are the “leftovers”, “the residue” (v17) from that used for his self-preservation!!

Verses 16–17 “He burneth part [rsv ‘half’] thereof in the fire; with part thereof [rsv ‘over the half’] he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast; is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire: And the residue thereof [rsv ‘the rest of it’; lb ‘with what’s left’] he maketh a god [eloah], even his graven image: he falleth down unto [roth ‘adoreth’] it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god [eloah].

The word for half occurs twice in verse 16, and clearly the same half is referred to in each instance, the repetition being meant to emphasize the use to which it is put. Verse 17 does not make mention of the other half but simply the residue, the remainder, what was left over! This was used to fabricate a god! By some strange transition the remnant of the wood becomes divine, possessing the ability to hear human prayer and being able to save!

44:18–20 The Only Explanation: The Heart is Deceived

These verses follow on from verses 16–17. The thoughts of verse 18 virtually recapitulate verse 9, while verse 19 repeats again the scene depicted twice in verses 15 and 16! What the idolater actually does is astounding, but that he fails to see it as such is amazing. There is a tragic inability to think and reason and it can only be explained by deception of heart.

Verse 18 “They have not known [Heb yada, to possess knowledge, roth ‘taken note’], nor understood [Heb bin, to discern the heart of a matter; roth ‘neither can they perceive’]: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.”

The reason for the idolater being incapable of making the logical deduction that the wood consumed in the fire could not possibly be divine, is attributed to God: “for he hath shut their eyes.” But if this were literally so, then God would be responsible for the bulk of humanity perishing. And yet we believe that God is “not willing that any should perish” and would “have all men be saved” (2 Pet 3:9; 1 Tim 2:4). How can it be then that God “hath shut [Heb ‘daubed’ mg] their eyes?” See also 6:9–10. The fact is that men in the first instance reject the clear witness that God exists and is all powerful, as creation testifies (Rom 1:19–20). They are therefore without excuse. In their wilful ignorance they proceed down this path in their lives and become so accustomed to denying facts that they are totally self-deceived. In this state God will “choose their delusions” (Isa 66:3–4, “Yea, they have chosen their own ways… I also will choose their delusions.” See also 2 Thess 2:10–11). So there is a sense in which God does what He permits to be done. It does not mean that God has actually intervened and done it by a direct agency, but that it has occurred (the shutting of their eyes) under the administration of His providence.

“and their hearts, that they cannot understand” (Heb sakal to act with prudence to achieve success; cp Josh 1:8.) Their minds had lost the facility to appraise a matter and sift truth from error.

Verse 19 “And none considereth [mg Heb ‘setteth to his heart’; roth ‘reflecteth’] in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding [‘discernment’] 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?”

“And none considereth in his heart” (niv ‘stops to think’, ie ‘brings it to his heart’). The “heart” is again (cp v18, 20) the organ of thought. There is a failure to give the matter thought, and the reason is given, there is no knowledge—the facts are not there to think about! How deceitful the human mind is (Jer 17:9)! Furthermore there is no discernment, so that even if the facts are known there is no ability to assess their significance! This is a devastating analysis of the mind of fallen men, covering what he knows, his thought processes and capacity to discern.

“and shall I make of the residue thereof an abomination?” A name that is often given to an idol (cp 1 Kings 6:5,7; 2 Kings 23:13); and it informs us that idols are detestable in the sight of a holy God. The lesson for us is that any man-made object should not be the subject of our adoration. In our day and generation we would have different craftsmen to those of verses 12–13 and different objects made from those in verses 14–17, but the absurdity of devotion to the man-made remains. Cars, homes, possessions of infinite variety today are the modern idols. Men are devoted to them. Let Christ’s servants consider carefully where they place value and invest their affections, time and money. To prostrate the human before the material cannot be right (Acts 17:29). Sin is deceitful, the human heart is deceitful (Heb 3:13; Jer 17:9). “And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment (mg ‘sense’; rsv ‘discernment’; Phil 1:9).

Verse 20 “He 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.”

“He feedeth on ashes” That is, the idolater is like a man who sought wholesome food to sustain him, but found it to be but ashes, totally worthless. Such is false religion in comparison with “the truth as it is in Christ Jesus.” Modern idolatry is materialism and the pursuits of the world (Matt 5:24–34). Our generation is feeding on ashes. No lasting joy will be found in what is valued and sought after. But happy is the man who trusts in Yahweh, who has the God of Jacob for his refuge (Psa 46:1,7,11).

Reference to ashes looks back to the context (verses 15,16,19) where ash is all that remains of the material used to make the idol! “One might as well pray to dead embers!” (JA Motyer).

“He cannot deliver his soul” This is a strong statement. The idolater is “hooked” on his idols, and of himself he is incapable of extricating himself from its grasp!

“nor say, is there not a lie in my right hand” He holds his idol tenaciously, the product of the strength of his own arms (v12). But ironically he is the one the idol has taken hold of and he can’t break free from the bondage of the lie, this actual false thing!

In the verses which follow there is a dramatic contrast set forth: “Jacob” can rejoice for his God, Yahweh of Israel, is alive, and He forgets not, forgives and redeems. What an inestimable privilege it is to “know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.” Indeed, as the Lord said, “It is life eternal.”