Think about a time when you woke up tired. Maybe you also woke up with a headache, or not feeling well in some other way. As you slowly sit up, you realize this is going to be a tough morning. Just thinking about starting the day is an effort.

In some way, that may have been the prophet Isaiah’s view as he made his way through the first oracle God had given him. It was going to be a rough slog, giving this word to the people, especially after envisioning such a beautiful future. It must have felt something like waking up tired, aching, with the heavy weight of reality to carry.


You Worship the Work of Your Hands

Imagine Isaiah’s vision filling him with joy and excitement, as he looked up at the temple mount.

But now imagine his gaze coming back down to look at his audience. Perhaps he had begun this saying with his arms upraised, his face radiant with the glory of what would come. Perhaps now his arms fell to his sides, and his glowing smile faded.

The people were not walking in the light at all.

Instead,

For you have forsaken the ways of your people,
    O house of Jacob.
Indeed they are full of diviners from the east
    and of soothsayers like the Philistines,
    and they clasp hands with foreigners.

Their land is filled with silver and gold,
    and there is no end to their treasures;
their land is filled with horses,
    and there is no end to their chariots.
Their land is filled with idols;
    they bow down to the work of their hands,
    to what their own fingers have made.

Isaiah 2:6-8 (NRSV)
The bronze bull statuette discovered at the 12th century BCE “Bull Site” in Samaria, West Bank | By Nathaniel Ritmeyer – Own work, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=77951855

They were involved in fortune-telling and eastern religions, putting their trust in foreign alliances, in wealth, in the latest war technology, horses and chariots.

And finally, though they may have been scrupulous about their temple worship, they were also involved in the worship of idols, the work of their own hands.

Isaiah linked the sin of pride and idolatry closely together. The people exalted themselves and the work of their hands above God, symbolized by the gods they made with their own hands and then worshiped.

Consider that the material used, gold, silver and wood, came from the earth which God created. The images were inspired by things people saw around them in real life or from their own creative imagination, a gift from God. The skill and technology needed to smelt and carve the idols came from God Who created them. How could they imagine that these idols would have any power apart from God?

Jeroboam’s Sacrifice at Bethel | Gerbrand van den Eeckhout, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Idolatry

An idol is something within creation that is inflated to function as a substitute for God.

An idol may be a perfectly good thing in its own right.

It can be an object, a person, an activity, a sport, a role you or I play, an institution or an organization, an idea, a pleasure, a hero, our family, our work, even our work for the Lord.

Pretty much anything can become a substitute for God.

Idolatry is not necessarily a denial of God or God’s existence.

Consider that these people were otherwise scrupulous about their temple worship. An idol might not completely replace God; it may be only a part of our lives.

People look to idols to find meaning in life and to control life.

For a believer, an idol is something that you and I discover has become central to our lives in the way that only God should be central. Truly, an idol is anything that holds such a controlling position in our lives, we find ourselves believing God alone would not be sufficient to make us happy. We become convinced we must have God and also our idol.

Very often an idol is something intangible

  • A vow we made without being aware we made it, such as always needing to be right, or needing to have security, to make money, to have a spouse, to have children, to live in a certain place or with a certain lifestyle.
  • An identity we need, such as being seen in a certain light—perhaps as successful, or popular, or influential, well-known, or attractive. Perhaps you or I want to be seen as a sage, the go-to person, or as the leader, or perhaps as the helpful one.
  • A response from others, maybe being the center of attention wherever we are is our idol, or to be liked by all, or to be desired by a certain person, or someones. Perhaps it is to be respected and admired, or to be feared and revered.
  • An inner experience we must have, such as rapture in a worship experience, or transcendence during prayer, perhaps intellectual delight, or a sense of satisfaction and joy in work, and without those experiences whatever it is no longer suits.

Certainly the list could go on, but these serve as starting thoughts to inspire deeper reflection.

Fundamental Problem of Sin

The fundamental problem behind sin is idolatry, and Self as the idol is at the top of the list.

  • Self-centeredness.
  • Self-service.
  • Self-promotion.
  • Selfishness.

When the idol of Self is in play, you and I are revealing that our focus has shifted away from God, and now it is more important, more satisfying, more rewarding, more trustworthy—we think—to look to the Self than to look to God.

Even as I type these words, I can hear within me a whole cluster of questions.

Fundamental Need to Know the Self

What about those who have experienced trauma? Does this whole discussion of sin and selfishness take that into account?

What about those who do not realize they are working with coping mechanisms they may very well have needed at the time to survive, but now may shed for a better way of living?

How far is this discussion going to go with the Self in focus? The pendulum can swing in the other direction, towards a legalistic subduing of the Self, self-denigration, self-effacing, self-immolation.

And how can we recognize idolatry as opposed to simply loving something, or enjoying it a lot, or thinking about something a lot? What about passion for our art or calling? What about all the good qualities connected with drive and ambition?

So let me make some disclaimers.

For those who feel pummeled by the idols-and-sin sermons (and I have certainly been there, to the point where I eschewed the entire topic for the longest while), it may be time to do some deep personal exploration with the help of a Christian counselor or spiritual director (I know good people in both professions, just send me a note) to sort it all out. The Bible speaks quite a lot on idols, so it is a topic we must tackle, but there are many factors to take into consideration.

Knowing the Self is probably, collectively, one of the deepest needs in the Body of Christ. Many of us bumble through life very unselfaware, and that is when we are the most vulnerable to the spiritual and emotional pitfalls the Bible speaks of. This discussion of idolatry, and particularly the worship of the Self, is not a call to efface the Self but rather to know the Self profoundly well.

Three surprising, and very famous Christian leaders speak of this.[1]

Augustine of Hippo: “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know thee.”

The earliest portrait of Saint Augustine in a 6th century fresco, Lateran, Rome. | By Unknown author – http://www.30giorni.it/us/articolo.asp?id=3553, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6029808

Thomas à Kempis: “a humble self-knowledge is a surer way to God than a search after deep learning.”

By zeitgenössischer Maler – Gedenkseite Thomas von Kempen, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9929002

John Calvin: “Nearly the whole of sacred doctrine consists in these two parts: knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

By zeitgenössischer Maler – Gedenkseite Thomas von Kempen, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9929002

The more and better you and I know ourselves, the more and better we will understand idolatry, and the difference between Self-care and selfishness, between Self-aggrandizement and a healthy sense of Self, between Self-effacement and healthy humility.

I could go on!

But I hope the point is clear. To know the Self is to open the way to spiritual maturity.


[1] This all comes from a truly marvelous book called The Gift of Being Yourself, by David G. Benner. I highly recommend it.


5 thoughts on “Isaiah 2: Me, Myself, and I

  1. Sister/Professor Joanne this is so very important for all of us to take to heart when considering our own faith as to whether we are truly loving and worshiping God Almighty through Jesus Christ as the King of Kings and our Lord and Savior! Is it possible are we watering-down or whitewashing an impartial faith, some halfhearted imitation of what actual belief and practice of what worshiping God is supposed to be because we are tricking ourselves or somehow have become deluded and corrupted into thinking and believing that some concocted pagan self-aggrandizing principles or ideology to fit right into these tangents away from faith you point out:
    “Self-centeredness.
    Self-service.
    Self-promotion.
    Selfishness.”
    Because isn’t this primarily what had happened in modern culture where so much fascination with celebrity, popularity, fame, adulation, materialistic wealth and ultimately power to say and do as you please is now the gluttony that so many people seek or even worship as their goal in life; to be on top!

    I never had any Facebook because I sensed something very odd about everyone instantly becoming a mini-celebrity and exposing so much otherwise private and confidential personal information about oneself as being absolutely weird! That along with the fact that I saw something about Mark Zuckerberg as being not trustworthy which eventually over the last several years how that perception has come to light and how he is a very shady character associated directly with some of the most nefarious people on earth!
    Contrary to that I know that anything I own as personal property I have worked hard for and I don’t want anything I don’t deserve or haven’t put in a lot of effort to earn; whereas these glorified celebrities like Zuckerberg who is where he is, only because he is an instrument of a corruption that has its tentacles throughout the planet for ultimately nefarious purposes! Data-mining is just the tip of the iceberg as it where, with much bigger ulterior designs in play now to enslave the human race! And Zuckerberg has been and is instrumental in that agenda, so he is owned while writing his own ticket straight to hell with all the rest of them in this modern dark movement to destroy humanity! I look around and it’s in plain sight how so many people are being hoodwinked, mesmerized and hypnotized into believing this is all normal and moving in a good direction; it’s great to do your own thing mentality! I see for example a young woman who professes to love Jesus Christ and builds a website using the Scriptures to promote Christianity but interlacing that with many images of self, some of which only appear to be those of some female temptress or a person inflated with self and looks, which is absolutely heathen as well a mockery of God to use Scriptures in such a way, and multitudes of so called Christians see nothing wrong there!

    I could go on for an hour writing here but I’ll close with this! I can see how this is truly the Lost Generation and people had better wake up fast and get off this modern digital age techno self-glorification ride; because they won’t like where the ride ends up taking them! I’ll admit even my own folly perhaps not in this newer arena of techno debauchery or even blasphemy but over the years I see how I was brainwashed and corrupted to see some activities for self, that I did participate in as being truly wrong or sinful, that I thought wrongly were OK; because modern culture and society condoned or advocated them!

    The late Reverend Billy Graham said it beautifully as I see it quite clearly now and better because of him, as well as priests and nuns who have spoken clearly, some directly to me about what the truth is that so many of us are missing the boat on; and how chastising self is good, if we mean by that; remaining literally humble to God’s will!

    But as I said Billy Graham made many important points and one in particular rings with Truth very clearly in regard to this explanation I make as best I can.
    “Humanity has always been dexterous at confusing evil with good. That was Adam and Eve’s problem, and it is our problem today. If evil were not made to appear good, there would be no such thing as temptation. It is in their close similarity that the danger lies.
    Modern social righteousness often differs from the righteousness of the Bible. Someone has said: “A wrong deed is right if the majority of people declare it not to be wrong.” By this principle we can see our standards shifting from year to year according to the popular vote! Divorce was once frowned upon by society, and laws against fornication and adultery were strictly enforced. But now divorce is accepted by society, and fornication is glorified in our literature and films.”

    “Many of our news magazines carry stories of immorality. Theologians and pastors are quoted as condoning sexual immorality under certain circumstances. The Bible says through Isaiah the prophet: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).

    The Bible says: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.” God has not changed. His standards have not been lowered. God still calls immorality a sin, and the Bible says God is going to judge it.
    Honesty was once the hallmark of character. But it has been set aside with an “It’s all right if you don’t get caught” philosophy. Only when we are in court are we required to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”
    https://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/june-2012/confusing-evil-with-good/

    Like the old Chinese saying, “death by a thousand cuts,” an ancient torture method called “Lingchi,” I do see how this is what is happening to America and throughout modern civilization, a time now where all of humanity is being attacked on multiple fronts and over time slowly but surely mankind has and is accepting what otherwise should be called sin, destruction or debauchery as being fine; so that insult upon insult or dagger upon dagger is cutting the collective throat of mankind, bleeding it out drop by drop to eventually have nothing but a withered and dried out carcass of what once was a human race created in the image of God!

    God bless all and may the lost be awakened to God’s truth, love and light in order that they not continue to run to the precipice but rather be saved through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
    Brother in Christ Jesus,
    Lawrence Morra III

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Brother in Christ Lawrence, this is such a murky subject for us all! The quote you have from Billy Graham, and the Chinese saying, and of course the quote from Isaiah which we will get to in due time, all point to how murky this is for us, even those of us who follow hard after Christ.

      What makes it murky, at least in part, is our limited ability to see into our own hearts. It takes work to know ourselves, and courage and perseverance. When I was growing up, three sayings were often repeated, and those who said them truly believed them. I think our whole culture believed them—maybe still does.

      “Question Authority.”
      “If it feels good, do it.”
      “It’s not wrong if nobody gets hurt.”

      Now as to the first saying, I think it is important for those in authority to welcome scrutiny, and to welcome questions. Righteousness has integrity, and will survive close examination.

      But as to the second two, those are Self-serving principles we should be very cautious about. Many people have been harmed by doing what felt good but was not good at all (abuse of controlled substances comes immediately to mind.) and whether a person, or others, are hurt is really a subjective measure. Sometimes we are hurt in ways we don’t realize or comprehend, or are willing to admit to, until the harm can no longer be sustained.

      But God knows these things about us, and has given us much bette principles to live by. The very first teaching is to know and reverence God. The next one is to know our own Self.

      Grace and peace to you, in our Lord and Savior, Joanne

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for this dedicated and heartfelt response to yet another of my dissertations! I hope this won’t be a hindrance but allow me to point out a few things off the top then follow through with another apologetic dissertation!
        “Someone has said: “A wrong deed is right if the majority of people declare it not to be wrong.” By this principle we can see our standards shifting from year to year according to the popular vote!
        “Many of our news magazines carry stories of immorality. Theologians and pastors are quoted as condoning sexual immorality under certain circumstances.
        The Bible says: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil.” God has not changed. His standards have not been lowered. God still calls immorality a sin, and the Bible says God is going to judge it.”
        https://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/june-2012/confusing-evil-with-good/
        Now these following points I believe point out the systemic false ideology that has prevailed for many decades spawning yet new and even more dangerous mantras that people now live by!
        “Question Authority.”
        “If it feels good, do it.”
        “It’s not wrong if nobody gets hurt.”
        As to “know God giving Him reverence” I can say that growing up and even into adulthood this was not of paramount importance in my daily life nor the lives of all immediate people around me as they were totally engrossed in their worldly activities and goals be they short or long term! Culture and imperfect Ways of The World system of programs coupled with Pop Culture or Entertainment which was and is fused with Main Stream Mews were basically leading the people by their noses as to what is cool or good to do and think! Only through maturity and hard knocks came my increased wisdom or insight to differentiate the nonsense from the reality of God’s Truth which is the paramount reason and purpose for my existence! So now I can say yes I’m better off by far than I was years ago but also a lifetime of poor habits or indoctrination isn’t so easy to brush away and not trip me up because we all are creatures of habit too and all have fallen short of the Glory of God!
        “9What then? Are we any better? Not at all. For we have already made the charge that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin. 10As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one. 11There is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.” Romans 3:9-11
        Of course God knows all and sees all of this beyond anything we can fathom and in the end he Judges it as Billy Graham said, so that finality and perfection of God doing what, He will; is the only perfection that exists! As I see it all I can do as long as I have the time here to do it; is “try harder to learn and correct my own thinking and behavior moving forward to better align with God’s Will and Purposes!” But with that I gain more clarity as to what is happening around me and one does begin to see the obvious corruption running rampant from what seem like little and inconsequential things people are doing to some horrendous diabolical sins being perpetrated and fostered in plain sight! But even those little things that are morally wrong or do not meet with God’s acceptable standards for even a broken soul and tainted heart will get out of hand if allowed to continue just like it only takes a match or spark to start a forest fire that is raging totally out of control! We now on a different level with the same principle see what has just occurred in the Ukraine and I see how it could slowly burn itself out or it may lead to nuclear fire raining down on a region all because someone lit that match and tossed it into a barrel of gasoline. And to this most critical point I bring to the fore; I place this divine great scripture to all who will pray and contemplate its true meaning, and then seek to correct their minds along with their hearts!
        “1Therefore I urge you, brothers, on account of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. 3For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according to the measure of faith God has given you.” Romans 12:1,2,3
        On the immediate home front and religious level which is what I was most concerned about as a Christian citizen, is how we have a president that calls his self a duly elected one and to boot a practicing Christian Catholic; and I can say with confidence he is neither! I’m also sure you and many others see what I mean here and how so much of our modern Ways of The World System has become so infested and infected with corruption or on that spiritual level of import Sin! Let’s face reality when a Christian Catholic pope is promoting global politics and Marxism along with blatant lies or as a Presbyterian Church is actually advocating and fostering abortion and saying it is good; we have reached a hideous place as far as humanity goes and certainly in the eyes of God the human race is becoming a total atrocity on steroids, as fast as greased lightning!
        “Standing in the Kentucky Capitol on Thursday, Presbyterian pastor Rev. Wayne A. Gnatuk proudly declared his support for abortion.
        Gnatuk, a retired minister from the Presbyterian Church USA, joined Planned Parenthood abortion activists for a rally to criticize two pro-life bills that could help protect unborn babies in Kentucky, according to WLKY.
        “As an ordained minister, I am proudly pro-choice. I am also very proud that my denomination as a whole is pro-choice,” Gnatuk said. Along with his ministry work, he also is the chair of the pro-abortion Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.”
        https://www.lifenews.com/2020/01/09/presbyterian-church-pastor-i-proudly-support-killing-babies-in-abortion/
        Here back on August 27, 2021 is what I wrote about this matter!
        These are not Christians abiding in the Word of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! They have turned away from God and accept Satan who is fully for Death, especially the most vulnerable and innocent life in the mother’s womb and the evil one desires that more human babies be murdered as a sacrifice to him and his evil hatred of God and all that is good! Abortion is an Abomination to God and the Massacre of the Innocent!
        I don’t know where these so called Christians took a wrong turn or perhaps never really were followers of Jesus Christ; but I don’t want to know and shouldn’t care because it is now a foregone conclusion that they have delivered their souls into the clutches of Satan for eternity! These are the literal “Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing” and are damned to hell.
        https://lawrencemorra.com/2021/08/27/presbyterian-baptist-churches-join-new-coalition-of-churches-to-promote-killing-babies-in-abortions/
        OK, so my main point is with no fanfare, or as I like to say, no sugar-coating, this is over the top atrocity and blasphemy which it is running rampant throughout civilization a term to me which is loosely used in the here and now modern age, because I see the human race absolutely becoming far less civilized and human than ever before; which points out vividly how powerful a grip Satan has on God’s children and Armageddon can’t be far behind now with all of the smoke and mirrors and vast deceptions!
        What the planet went through for the last two years and let’s call it out for what is; a total evil lie to manipulate and control the global population and usher in the New World Order all of it directed from hell itself! Now why is it that so many people I see are doing just the same things they did before this event or throughout most of their lives? Are they that brainwashed and perhaps stupid; what’s called willfully ignorant or sadly, is it because they really don’t care and love worshiping self and seeking pleasure, money and power above all? For now I say it’s all the above depending on which subsets or individuals we speak of!
        Dear Sister in Christ Jesus; I say this with due respect and a sense of great urgency! Amen.
        God please help us!
        Brother in Christ Jesus,
        Lawrence Morra III
        Shalom

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Well done, Joanne. This is well-balanced and deeply challenging. I, for one, felt the need to face some of my own idols and bring them to the Lord in prayer. Found myself meditating on Ps 51: 10. God bless you for your ministry.

    Liked by 1 person

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