God’s Power Versus Counterfeit Gods
God now turned back to the nations to tell them to bring in their idols and line them up
Set forth your case, says the Lord;Isaiah 41:21-23 (NRSV)
bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
Let them bring them and tell us
what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they were,
so that we may consider them
and that we may know their outcome
or declare to us the things to come.
In God’s courtroom, the idols are given one final opportunity to present their appeal: Here is your chance! Have your idols do something, or say something.
- Can these idols explain the past with any wisdom?
- Can they predict the future with any accuracy?
- Can they do anything to show their power?
Since to be God is to be all-knowing, the gods, if they are real, should be able to know the future, and display their glory.
Imagine the silence in the court.
Everybody is staring at these statues of gold, silver, and wood. Maybe the wind lifts up one of the gauzy scarves for a moment. Otherwise, all you can hear are the insects buzzing, wood creaking, and perhaps a bird or two trilling in the background.
Obviously, the idols have nothing to offer.
A Timeless Relevancy
If idols were only these statues and figurines and fertility charms and so on, then this scene would not be much more than a curiosity for you and me today. But the prophets of old were far cannier than that. The Bible’s wisdom speaks of people taking idols into their hearts.
… the word of the Lord came to me: “Mortal, these men have taken their idols into their hearts and placed their iniquity as a stumbling block before them.”
“… I the Lord will answer those who come with the multitude of their idols, in order that I may take hold of the hearts of the house of Israel, all of whom are estranged from me through their idols.”Ezekiel 14:1-11 (NRSV, emphasis mine)
Idolatry is far more than an ancient polytheistic problem. It is a modern problem. In fact, it can even be a Christian problem.
People gravitate towards whatever it is we think is reliable, that will take care of us, that will give us some sense of confidence and meaning, that will make us feel happy. Idols feel real because we can see them. But, much more importantly, we think we can make them do what we need.
God is invisible to us, that can make God seem less real.
But only God has the real power. All other power is derivative of God Who is the source.
I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,Isaiah 41:25 (NRSV)
from the rising of the sun he was summoned by name.
He shall trample on rulers as on mortar,
as the potter treads clay.
God is so powerful even emperors come at God’s command, are victorious only because of God’s power, and do what God has in mind for them.
Authentic Prophecy Versus Soothsaying
Also, as further proof of God as the only authentic God, notice the interesting detail that God ws now saying the conqueror will come from the north (rather than the east). Typically, travelers from the east would follow the Euphrates River northwest through the Fertile Crescent in order to come southward. So even in this detail, Isaiah’s God-given prophecy would prove accurate.
Who declared it from the beginning, so that we might know,Isaiah 41:26-27 (NRSV)
and beforehand, so that we might say, “He is right”?
There was no one who declared it, none who proclaimed,
none who heard your words.
I first have declared it to Zion,
and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good tidings.
When Cyrus the Great rose to power it was a surprise to everyone but the Jewish people. Isaiah’s detailed predictions were the word of God, delivered fully a century and a half before Cyrus rose to power. God had placed Judah’s judgment and restoration as dates on the calendar.
There were plenty of fortune tellers in Isaiah’s day, just as there are today.
People want to know what lies ahead because then they can prepare for it. It is easier to control what you know. But only God actually knows the future and makes it happen. Tarot cards, crystal balls, visions, dreams, palm reading, astrology, tea leaves, or the more scientific methods of using statistics, reading trends, thinking of history as cyclical and so on, all may seem reliable.
We can put our trust in the economy, political influence, international allies, our wealth of natural resources, but you and I notice how none of those things are completely reliable. Any of those factors can change in a day, the Dow Jones crashes, there is a political scandal or even coup, an ally suddenly turns, there is a natural disaster, a supply chain disruption, a pandemic …
We can put our trust in our own money, or intelligence, our education, good job, our investments, house, family. But you and I know that so much can change with just one phone call, one catastrophic event.
What false gods are we propping up right now, even within our churches, as a way of dealing with new threats? Buildings? Wealth? Intellectualism and scholarship? Banks and stock markets? Military strength? Diplomatic ties? Balance of trade imports and exports? Politics? Science and technology? Legalism? Americanism?
The Truth About These Fakers
But when I look there is no one;Isaiah 40:28-29 (NRSV)
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
No, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their images are empty wind.
God explained to God’s people, now that they have been living as exiles in a nation of idols, they can see up close the truth about false gods. Since idols cannot predict the future, and cannot control outcomes, it is foolish to worship them or to trust them for deliverance.
There may be some paranormal power to soothsaying, crystals, magic, and other modern-day attempts to tap into spiritual potential. But only God, unlike all other gods, knows the future as clearly as the past and present. Only God is completely dependable and unchanging.
In the spiritual realm God is supreme, in the physical realm God reigns supreme.
God is the beginning and end of all things. There is nothing beyond God’s orchestration and power. Try as we might, humans simply cannot do that. People have only two choices:
- We can try trusting in our own risky resources,
- Or we can put our trust in the reliability of the Lord.
What is the better part of wisdom: depend on our limitation or on the Lord Who has no limitations?