[A tree] becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it [the tree] an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it [the tree] he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
They know not, nor do they discern, for he [God] has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand. No one considers, nor is there knowledge or discernment to say, “Half of it I burned in the fire; I also baked bread on its coals; I roasted meat and have eaten. And shall I make the rest of it an abomination? Shall I fall down before a block of wood?” He feeds on ashes; a deluded heart has led him astray, and he cannot deliver himself or say, “Is there not a lie in my right hand?”
We live in a civilized culture. We don’t make idols out of wood anymore here in the West. You can see the sort of thing Isaiah is talking about if you travel to a place like Istanbul. There, in the shops, you can pick up little carved ‘gods’. But no one there actually believes in the power of Bes (the most ubiquitous of fertility gods, sold in most Turkish stores). In fact, Turkey is a highly secularized country, and most of the Moslem majority there are adherents of Islam in name only. We sell as mantle art or conversation starters things a previous generation feared and worshipped.
In his 1994 book, The Death of Common Sense, Philip K. Howard gives example after example of absurdities in contemporary life, culture, and law. They are nearly always things that, to use the terminology from Isaiah 44, seem reasonable and righteous when held with the left hand. But when transferred to the right, these same things seem perfectly ridiculous. I’m staying away from giving any specific examples here because I know it would look like I’m up on a political soap-box when actually Isaiah has already said all I want to say.
What is at the core of Western Culture is the notion that I will be satisfied with something – anything – other than God. I will be independent. I will be master of my own life. I will chart my own course. I have an unalienable right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I, and no one else – certainly not God, determine what the content of that happiness is. Just like the god Bes, we sell the notion of personal, individual liberty and happiness as the highest good on the shelves of all our stores.
Is there not a dead idol, carved out of wood, or made out of plastic or silicone microchips sitting on my mantle, in my entertainment center, on my desk, or in my pocket? Is there not a lie in my right hand?