For the Love of God, Volume 2/June 12
From Gospel Translations
Deuteronomy 17; Psalm 104; Isaiah 44; Revelation 14
WE HAVE ALREADY LEARNED THAT God told Israel, “You are my witnesses” (Isa. 43:10, 12). For the Israelites were to testify that God and God alone had predicted all these things, and had thus given evidence that he had done them, since he alone is the sovereign God. In Isaiah 44:6-23, these themes are summarized (44:6- 8). Yahweh alone is “Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty” (44:6). God says, “I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (44:6). As for his people: “Do not tremble, do not be afraid. Did I not proclaim this and foretell it long ago? You are my witnesses. Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one” (44:8). But if God alone is God, all pretenders are idols. So the summary of this theme introduces one of the most damning indictments of idolatry in the Bible.
From God’s perspective, idolatry is always repulsive. In one sense, it is the fundamental sin, for it dethrones God and replaces him with something or someone else. That is why greed is idolatrous (Col. 3:5): we pursue what we covet, and what we pursue most ardently becomes our god. The historical context of this denunciation is critical, for idolatry was practiced not only by all the little nations around Israel, but also by the regional powers and by the succession of superpowers. Inevitably, Egyptians and Assyrians and Babylonians all credited their success to the power of their own deities. Yet here is the God of little Israel— crushed, defeated, exiled, pathetic little Israel—claiming to be the only God, the sovereign Lord, the mighty Creator and providential Ruler over all the kingdoms of the earth. And he is expecting his covenant people to bear witness to this truth instead of succumbing to the idolatry around them which, sadly, they find perennially attractive.
The question of power God will handle on the long haul. Here, the focus is on making idolatry absurd and thereby destroying its plausibility (44:9-20). What initially seems attractive is shown to be ridiculous. The idolatry that is profoundly offensive to God is also profoundly stupid.
The solution is twofold. (a) Israel is called to remember what God has said, what God has done (44:21), not least the fact that God has constituted Israel and made Israel his privileged servant. (b) Israel is called to return to God, for he has redeemed them (44:22). These must be the constant priorities of God’s people: remember all that God is, all that he has said and done; and when we stray, return to him immediately and promptly (1 John 1:7-9).