“He that is so impoverished, that he hath no oblation, chooseth a tree that will not rot; he seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.”
The propensity of mankind to run into idolatry has not been confined to any period, nation or tribe since the introduction of sin into the world. The depravity of our fallen nature inclines our sinful hearts to pursue whatever is hostile to the principles of holiness and in opposition to God. Man, even in his alienation from God and holiness, is naturally a religious being, irrepressibly inclined to venerate or worship something. The carnal mind being enmity to God, it is not in subjection to his law, neither indeed can it be. Being ignorant of the true God and eternal life, they can have no fear of God before their eyes, and the wild imaginations of their deceitful hearts lead them to claim the right to worship and adore the gods of their own imagination. This principle of idolatry began to be developed in the religion of Cain, the firstborn son of Adam. Destitute of that faith by which his brother offered unto God a more perfect and acceptable offering, he, without regard to divine authority, presumed to offer that which he had obtained from the earth by the labor of his own hands, directed by the judgment of his own depraved mind. As he had neither heart nor desire to unite in the devotions or offerings of faith with his brother Abel, to the true God, as dictated by his Spirit, his offering was dictated by an opposite spirit, to the idol of his vain and wicked imagination, and was therefore a palpable act of idolatry. Such also is the nature of all manner of will-worship in every age; as Christ said to the woman of Samaria, “Ye worship ye know not what,” etc. And to the idolatrous Jews he said, “In vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines, the commandments of men.” Jude says of all false religionists, “Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain.” Not only in his way in his partiality for a strange god and an earthly offering of what the true God had not authorized, but also in his persecuting and murderous opposition to the truth as exemplified in his brother and in the offering which he made.
The carnal Israelites, notwithstanding all the temporal deliverances and wonders which the true God had wrought for them, were frequently detected in acts of flagrant idolatry. So strongly was that spirit of will-worship developed in them that not even the dreadful majesty of God displayed at Mount Sinai, with that fiery mount still in their view, could deter them from appropriating their Egyptian spoils to make for them a golden calf, to which they ascribed the glory of their deliverance from the house of bondage. Priest and people were alike involved in the abomination.
In this chapter the prophet proclaims a message of comfort to God’s people - a proclamation of pardon, deliverance and salvation from the mouth of the Lord, and calls the cities of Judah to behold their God. Behold him as contrasted with all flesh, which is grass. His glory which fills all heaven with ecstatic rapture, contrasted with the glory or goodliness of man, which fades and withers like the flowers of the field. Behold him also as contrasted with the gods of human production, and of these there is a motley diversity. The rich lavish gold out of the bag: “The workman melteth a graven image, and the goldsmith spreadeth it over with gold, and casteth silver chains.” But they are not all of them able to provide for themselves gods of gold, or even silver, and the poor must content themselves with less expensive materials. ‘lie that is so impoverished, that he hath no oblation:” no gold, no silver, nor even brass, or iron, seeks for the most imperishable wood. He “chooseth a tree that will not rot.” The poor as well as the rich betray a fixed design to go permanently into their idolatry. If they designed their idols only for a season, they would manifest less anxiety for imperishable materials. On these gods they stake their hope for prosperity in this life, and their expectation for immortality in the world to come; they have no other hope for time or eternity. The poor man, if he cannot vie with his aristocratic neighbor in a costly god, still desires to have one that will last long, for he entertains no fear that he will ever require any other. But poor, deluded wretch, where will he find a tree that will not rot? Even the gold, the silver, the costly stones, monopolized by the wealthy, must perish, decay, and final dissolution is indelibly stamped on all earthly things. Still the search for a tree that will not rot is no more vain or delusive than the hope of salvation from any other than the true and living God. But the poor, deluded idolater makes a selection, chooseth a tree, and as this prophet elsewhere describes his folly, he scores and hews the timber, and with a part of it he kindles a fire, cooks his food and warms himself and exultantly says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire;” and with the residue he maketh himself a god, prostrates himself before it, and worships the works of his own hands. He has not the wisdom or sagacity to reason with himself on the absurdity of his course, or to consider that a part of his god he has burned, but vainly relies on the residue of the same tree to be his god.
But all idolatrous worshipers show a decided preference for a splendid kind of religion. Their idol must be dressed up, and decorated, according to the means commanded by the worshipers. “He seeketh unto him a cunning workman to prepare a graven image, that shall not be moved.” He desires to make his religion as permanent as possible, and the artist is employed to engrave the block of wood with such devices as may indicate the imaginary attributes which the idolater thinks a god should possess, and to make the figure so imposing in appearance as to fascinate the beholder with reverence for it, that it may never be superseded or removed from the position assigned by its maker.
How strikingly illustrative is this description of idol-making of the modern forms of idolatry. Those who know not the true God, in setting up their idols will choose the kind of religion which suits best their own fancy, whether it be Pagan, Mohametan, Papal or Protestant, that kind which they imagine will last the longest, or will not rot, and having chosen their tree they look out next to find an artful, cunning theologian, or priest, or clergyman, who has acquired the honors of the academy or college, and studied the art of theological engraving in some worldly school of divinity, to hew and square, rim and engrave his block so as to make it look as nearly as possible like what the idolater thinks religion should be, and to set up such an imaginary god in and over his religion as he fancies a god ought to be. The more cunning and artful the hireling employed may be, the more flattering, in the eyes of the idolater, is the prospect that his god will not be moved; that it will resist the force of truth, withstand the searching glare of light and defy the omnipotence of divine revelation to remove it.
Not only have the polished graduates of theological schools been employed to make false and fashionable religion permanent, and their idol popular, but they often invoke the aid of kings and potentates of the earth, and rely upon the arm of human power to establish their god where they choose to place him. The fiery oven of the king of Babylon was but a type of the cruel persecution resorted to by all manner of false religionists and deluded will-worshipers to establish their gods and their idolatry.
One thing is very clear in the history of idolatry in all ages of the world: no system of false religion has ever set up a god that was able to rule or govern its worshipers; all idol gods must act only as they are acted upon. The Arminian’s god is supposed to work only by means and instrumentalities; he can absolutely save no one without their consent and cooperation. The modern missionary god can only go to heathen lands as he is carried there by his agents; he has not funds except they be supplied by the liberality of men; no men competent to execute his desires unless they be qualified and furnished by his devotees. He is said to desire to do much, but is overruled, restricted, kept back and retarded by the apathy and covetousness of capitalists on whom he depends. These fashionable gods cannot foreknow, predestinate or do their pleasure (if they have any) either in the armies of heaven or among the inhabitants of earth. But what a contrast! “O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold, your God!” How vast the contrast, how amazing the difference! “Behold, the Lord God will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd [not be led by his flock], he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom.” He does not depend on them to carry him, nor leave them to perish in their wanderings, nor to hold on to him, or fall from grace and perish. Yea, he “shall gently lead those that are with young.” He will not be led by them, nor by any other beings or influences. It is the God of Zion, “Who hath measured the waters in the hollow of his hand, and meted out heaven with the span, and comprehended the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance.” Well may the prophet, by the word of the Lord, demand, “Who hath directed the Spirit of the Lord, or being his counselor hath taught him?” We know who directs the gods of human production, and who are their counselors; we know who mark out the work, make the calculations, pass their resolutions, and then bid their gods follow up with blessings what they have projected; who tell their gods when to come, where to go, what to do and how to do it. But, “With whom took he [Zion’s God] counsel, and who instructed him, and taught him in the path of judgment and taught him knowledge, and shewed to him the way of understanding? Behold, the nations are as a drop of a bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance: behold, he taketh up the isles as a very little thing. And Lebanon is not sufficient to burn, nor the beasts thereof sufficient for a burnt offering. All nations before him are as nothing; and they are counted to him less than nothing, and vanity. To whom then will ye liken God? or what likeness will ye compare unto him?” ‘have ye not known? have ye not heard? hath it not been told you from the beginning? have ye not understood from the foundation of the earth? It is he that sitteth upon the circle of the earth, and the inhabitants thereof are as grasshoppers; that stretcheth out the heavens as a curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in; that bringeth the princes to nothing: he maketh the judges of the earth as vanity.” “To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? saith the Holy One. Lift up your eyes on high, and behold who hath created these things, that bringeth out their host by number: he calleth them all by names, by the greatness of his might, for that he is strong in power; not one faileth.” The decree has gone forth from the throne of God, saying, “They shall go to confusion together that are makers of idols. But Israel shall be saved in the Lord with an everlasting salvation: ye shall not be ashamed nor confounded world without end.”
Then, brethren, lift up the voice with strength, and say to the cities of Judah, Behold thy God.
“This awful God is ours,
Our Father and our love;
He shall send down his heavenly power,
And carry us above.”
March 15, 1863.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 329 – 334