“Keep on, then, with your magic spells and with your many sorceries . . . Let your astrologers come forward, those stargazers who make predictions month by month, let them save you from what is coming upon you.
“Surely they are like stubble; the fire will burn them up. They cannot even save themselves from the power of the flame. These are not coals for warmth; this is not a fire to sit by.” (Isaiah 47:12-14)
“. . . I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.
“If you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your well-being like the waves of the sea.” (Isaiah 48:17-18)
It was a huge danger in the ancient world, and the people God had called to follow Him were not exempt. The need to depend on something or someone greater than themselves, the urge to know the future, the fear of making hard choices – all of these human traits fed into the drive to make idols, seek fortunetellers, and invoke spells in an effort to make life turn out the way they thought it should.
Somehow, it became easy to ignore the fact that God had consistently communicated with them through His prophets, and demonstrated His power in spectacular ways. Astrologers consulted the stars instead of the God who made them. Over and over, down through the centuries, God foretold events that would impact the Israelites, as well as their neighbors, yet by Isaiah’s time, they were even more ready to consult the astrologers, the mediums, the idols their own hands had made.
“I foretold the former things long ago . . . For I knew how stubborn you were . . .” God said. “You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them?” (Isa 48:3-6)
Strange, isn’t it, how the more things change, the more they stay the same? We live in a very different world than Isaiah’s in both a physical and cultural sense. Human nature is the thing that hasn’t altered. We still want power on our side, to know what’s going to happen, to have our hard questions answered. Most of all, we want these things on our terms. We like to think we’re in control.
That illusion of control – and it is an illusion – is one of the hardest things for people to relinquish. From infancy on, we struggle to become masters of our own destiny. The idea of submitting to God’s control in every part of our lives is something we resist, in ways big and small. So we set up our idols, but we call them by other names. It may be a passion for fashion, a need for speed, attention to pretension or the dash for cash. Whatever it is, we find it occupies more than its share of our thoughts and resources.
Knowing our stubborn hearts, God calls us to take a hard and honest look at who He is and who we are; what He has done and what we have done.
You have heard these things; look at them all. Will you not admit them? (Isa. 48:16a)
Often, it’s hard to admit our idols, especially to ourselves. We have an enormous capacity to deceive ourselves about the things we don’t want to know. We prefer to walk in darkness on that score, instead of in the light that God stands ready to give us. We may convince ourselves that our burning desires give us great light, but that, as Isaiah so pointed warns us, is not a fire to sit by. It’s a fire that can consume us and leave our lives in ashes.
Our Father and our God, the light of the world, please show us what we have put ahead of you in our lives. Help us to cut through our self-deception, our rationalizations, our focus on ourselves, and see ourselves – and You – clearly. Help us to burn out what is not of You, and ignite us again with the fire of Your own Holy Spirit. In Jesus’ Name we ask it. Amen.