To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him? An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains. He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move (Isaiah 40:18–20, esv).
Sarcasm is defined as “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny.”1 Most of us speak sarcasm fluently.
Sarcasm isn’t a modern invention. In fact, thousands of years ago, the prophet Isaiah used some funny, biting sarcasm to contrast the one, true God vs. impotent, man-made idols. Isaiah started with an honest question: “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”
“Any idol of our making fails us.”
“An idol!” Isaiah sarcastically suggested. Let’s compare God to an idol—and not just any idol. This is a handcrafted idol. “A craftsman casts it.” Shall we pause for ooooohs and ahhhhhs? But wait, not just any handcrafted idol. A fancy idol! “And a goldsmith overlays it with gold.” Wait, not just a gold idol. A gold idol with bling! “[The goldsmith] casts for it silver chains.” This idol is dressed up. This stylish, stupid idol has it going on.
The sarcasm is obvious, and it gets even thicker. Wait, Isaiah pointed out. The deluxe gold idol with silver chains is for rich people. That’s the one-percenters’ idol. But since most of us aren’t one-percenters, we have to have a regular idol. No gold for us—just wooden idols. “He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot.” This idol is for the discriminating, middle-class shopper who can’t quite afford gold but insists on high quality, solid wood. This guy tells his wife, “Hey, Martha! So we can’t have a gold idol. Understood. But we’re not just going to make any idol. We’re going to pick some good wood here. And we won’t settle for just any craftsman, not some carpenter with a table saw in his garage. We want the best, mid-level craftsman money can buy with a chisel and a hammer to make us as good a god as we can make!”
And just in case the weather gets bad, let’s anchor that idol. “He seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.” We can’t have our idols falling off the mantle. What could be worse than to come home in the middle of a storm and see your solid wood idol lying facedown in front of the fireplace?
Catch the sarcasm? It’s funny, isn’t it? Isaiah’s sarcastic description makes it so obvious how stupid and impotent idols are.
But let’s not let ourselves off the hook too quickly. While most of us don’t have a Buddha above the fireplace, we have our own idols. Our 401(k). Our career plans. Trusted advisors on whom we lean heavily. Our own skills and ambitions. Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” We might not trust in gold or wooden idols, chariots, or horses, but we have a tendency to lean upon things that cannot support us. And that too is idolatry.
Idolatry is when anything takes God’s place in your life—including you. It’s a problem when you approach life with the mantra, “I’m the one I turn to. I’m the one I trust in. I’m the one who’s going to handle this. Leave it to me.” That’s idolatry. And just as absurd as the gold idol with bling or the solid wood idol anchored to the mantle, so any idol of our making fails us. Our God, on the other hand, is incomparable. “To whom then will you liken God?” To no one. There is no one like our God.
Lord God, You are the one, true God. You reign supreme. Nothing rivals You. Please forgive me for idolatry, for substituting anyone or anything into Your rightful place. Forgive me for trying to depend on myself when I should trust You. I honor You alone as God. In Jesus’ matchless name, amen.