Isaiah 44 – God’s Blessing Upon the Nation & Idols and Idol Making

It makes me laugh, someone would have to be on drugs to think they a living being or have the ability to create a living god.  That’s almost as funny as when some people used to think that Barack Obama was the savior or even a good president.  

I wonder if Obama thinks he’s the savior too?  I wouldn’t think so, he isn’t that bright, but I don’t think he’s dumb enough to  think he’s You, but than again, he’s dumb enough to think that Allah is god so who knows what foolish thoughts dwell in his mind.

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.  They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good” (Ps 14:1).

“O LORD, how great are thy works!  And thy thoughts are very deep.

A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this” (Ps 92:5-6).

“They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches;

None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him:

For he seeth that wise men die, likewish the fool and the brutish person perish, and leave their wealth to others” (Ps 49:6-7, 10).

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Tomb of Joshua
The Tomb of Joshua is the traditional burial site of Joshua in the West Bank in Palestine or Takht-e Foulad, Isfahan, Iran.

According to the biblical book bearing his name, Joshua died at the age of 110. His burial site was in a location of his own inheritance at Timnath-serah, which is in the hill country of Ephraim, north of the mountain of Gaash.

1 Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen:

2 Thus saith the LORD that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen.

“From the womb” – the tenderness of the Creator is shown (see Jer 1:5).

“Jeshurun” – Israel.  Means “the upright one”; the name is found elsewhere only in Deut 32:15, 33:5, 26.

3 For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring:

“Pour my spirit” – associated with the Messianic age in 32:15.

4 And they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the water courses.

“Grass” a symbol of luxuriant growth also in 35:7.

5 One shall say, I am the LORD’S; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the LORD, and surname himself by the name of Israel.

“Call himself…Jacob” – a willingness to identify with Jacob, the Lord’s people.

“Subscribe…unto the LORD” – or “write on his hand, ‘To the LORD,’” perhaps a mark of ownership or a reminder of one’s allegiance.

6 Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.

Joshua’s Altar on Mount Ebal: Israel’s Holy Site Before Shiloh
In the eighties, archaeologist Adam Zertal excavated the site of El-Burnat on Mt. Ebal, and uncovered an enormous ancient altar from the early twelfth-century B.C.E.

This archaeological find sheds light on the account of Joshua’s altar at Mt. Ebal as well as the famous story of Jacob crossing his arms to bless Ephraim over Manasseh with the birthright.

7 And who, as I, shall call, and shall declare it, and set it in order for me, since I appointed the ancient people?  And the things that are coming, and shall come, let them shew unto them.

8 Fear ye not, neither be afraid: have not I told thee from that time, and have declared it?  Ye are even my witnesses.  Is there a God beside me?  Yea, there is no God; I know not any.

“God” – Lit. “Rock.”  See 17:10.  Isaiah may be drawing on the song of Moses, which describes God as “the Rock” (Deut 32:4, 15, 30-31), but the metaphor is also common in the Psalms.

9 They that make a graven image are all of them vanity; and their delectable things shall not profit; and they are their own witnesses; they see not, nor know; that they may be ashamed.

“Vanity…shall not profit” – like the nations and their idols.

10 Who hath formed a god, or molten a graven image that is profitable for nothing?

11 Behold, all his fellows shall be ashamed: and the workmen, they are of men: let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, and they shall be ashamed together.

12 The smith with the tongs both worketh in the coals, and fashioneth it with hammers, and worketh it with the strength of his arms: yea, he is hungry, and his strength faileth: he drinketh no water, and is faint.

A View of Mt. Ebal from Mt. Kabir.
     Archaeology: Excavation and the Survey
The best-known technique in archaeology is the excavation, in which a given site is dug carefully to understand it in detail. In Israel, these sites are commonly tels, areas that were settled over generations, with one settlement built on top of the other, sometimes for millennia.

Another technique in archaeology, which has increasingly become a staple of archaeological research over the past decades, is the survey. This involves walking systematically over a given area and recording every surface find. Other than remains of architecture, the most significant—and certainly the most prevalent—find is pottery.

Quantities of pottery in a concentrated area indicate ancient habitation, and suggests a date range for the site, as pottery styles changed frequently, and can be dated to within decades of its manufacture.

Surveys offer us a landscape, indicating important sites that may have been overlooked, and what the overall settlement periods may have been in any given area.

44:12-20 – two idols are described: a metal one in v. 12 and a wooden one in vv. 13-20.  The latter was more common.

13 The carpenter stretcheth out his rule; he marketh it out with a line; he fitteth it with planes, and he marketh it out with the compass, and maketh it after the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man; that it may remain in the house.

“After the figure of a man” – man was made in the image of God (see Gen 1:26-27), but an idol is made in the image of man (Deut 4:16; Rom 1:23).

14 He heweth him down cedars, and taketh the cypress and the oak, which he strengtheneth for himself among the trees of the forest: he planteth an ash, and the rain doth nourish it.

15 Then shall it be for a man to burn: for he will take thereof, and warm himself; yea, he kindleth it, and baketh bread; yea, he maketh a god, and worshippeth it; he maketh it a graven image, and falleth down thereto.

16 He burneth part thereof in the fire; with part thereof he eateth flesh; he roasteth roast, and is satisfied: yea, he warmeth himself, and saith, Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire:

“Roasteth roast…warmeth himself” – although wood serves common purposes, it is also made into an idol.

17 And the residue thereof he maketh a god, even his graven image: he falleth down unto it, and worshippeth it, and prayeth unto it, and saith, Deliver me; for thou art my god.

“Deliver me” – King Amaziah was condemned for worshiping the gods of Seir, a nation he had defeated in battle (2 Chr 25:14-15).  Isaiah denounces such idolatry as totally irrational.  Whereas those who worshipped idols associated the god with the idol, for Isaiah there was no god for the idol to represent, so he depicts idolatry as worship of mere “stock of a tree.”

18 They have not known nor understood: for he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.

“He hath shut their eyes…and their hearts” – Israel’s condition in 6:9-10.  The description ironically characterizes both the idols and those who worship them.

19 And none considereth in his heart, neither is there knowledge nor understanding to say, I have burned part of it in the fire; yea, also I have baked bread upon the coals thereof; I have roasted flesh, and eaten it: and shall I make the residue thereof an abomination?  Shall I fall down to the stock of a tree?

“An abomination’ – the Lord detests idols (see Deut 27:15).  In 1 Kgs 11:5, 7; 2 Kgs 23:13 Moloch and Chemosh are called detestable gods and an abomination.  Those who worship idols are also called an abomination.

20 He feedeth on ashes: a deceived heart hath turned him aside, that he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?

“Feedeth on ashes” – even devoted worship does not benefit the idolater.

Moloch
Moloch was also known as Chemosh and was the ancient pagan God of child sacrifice.
Moloch was one of the false gods that Israel would worship during its periods of apostasy.  This false deity is associated with Ammon in 1 Kgs 11:7, “Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon.”

One of the practices of the cult that worshipped Moloch was to sacrifice their children.  Of course, this was forbidden by God’s word: Lev 18:21 says, “Neither shall you give any of your offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I am the Lord.”  (See also Lev 18:21, 20:2-5; 2 Kgs. 23:10; Jer 32:35).

In some passages the reference is clearly to a deity to whom human sacrifice was made, particularly in the Valley of Hinnom on the southwest of the Jerusalem hill (2 Ki. 23:10; Je. 32:35) at a site known as Topheth (‘fire pit’ in Syriac).

The ancients would heat this idol up with fire until it was glowing, then they would take their newborn babies, place them on the arms of the idol, and watch them burn to death.  

You can’t help but compare today’s abortion massacre to the sacrifice of children by these ancient pagans.  In both, innocent life is destroyed for the gain of the parent.

21 Remember these, O Jacob and Israel; for thou art my servant: I have formed thee; thou art my servant: O Israel, thou shalt not be forgotten of me.

22 I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.

“Blotted out…thy transgressions” – as in 40:2, the suffering of Israel has paved the way for forgiveness and the restoration of the nations.

23 Sing, O ye heavens; for the LORD hath done it: shout, ye lower parts of the earth: break forth into singing, ye mountains, O forest, and every tree therein: for the LORD hath redeemed Jacob, and glorified himself in Israel.

“Sing…shout” – nature is called on to join in praise.

24 Thus saith the LORD, thy redeemer, and he that formed thee from the womb, I am the LORD that maketh all things; that stretcheth forth the heavens alone; that spreadeth abroad the earth by myself;

25 That frustrateth the tokens of the liars, and maketh diviners mad; that turneth wise men backward, and maketh their knowledge foolish;

“Frustrateth…liars” – God frustrates those who use “tokens’ (omens) to predict the future (see Deut 13:1-3).

“Diviners” – the Hebrew for his word is used in Balaam (Josh 13:22), the medium at Endor (1 Sam 28:8) and false prophets (Jer 27:9).  It is linked with soothsaying and sorcery (see Deut 18:10-11).

26 That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof:

“Servant…messengers” – the true prophets.

27 That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers:

“Be dry” – a reference to the crossing of the Red sea.

28 That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

“Shepherd” – often applied to rulers (see 2 Sam 5:2; Jer 23:2).

“Jerusalem…temple” – the decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1:2-4, 6:3-5) authorized the rebuilding of the temple, which would lead to a restored Jerusalem.

Idols and Idol Making

The technical details of Isaiah’s diatribe in 44:9-21 suggest that he was well acquainted with the idol-making practices of his day, including an important ritual known from Mesopotamian sources as the “mouth-washing” or “mouth-opening” ceremony (a similar rite is known from Egypt).

Through a series of ritual acts and incantations, Mesopotamian craftsmen and priests believed that their deities were created and “brought to life” by means of animation of the statute’ sensory organs.

An inert statue of wood or stone was thus in their view transformed into a living manifestation of the deity it represented.

Anubis
This was the god of embalming and the dead. He helped to embalm Osiris after he was killed by his brother Seth. Anubis watches over the process of mummification.

– Anubis is an iconic god in Egyptian mythology 
– He is the god of the underworld and the process   of  mummification
– He was the patron of lost souls
– Priests wore masks of Anubis when in the process of mummification
– Depicted as a jackal or a wild dog
– He guarded the entrance to the underworld

However, some scholars argue that Isaiah’s attack was based upon a superficial understanding of the mouth-washing/mouth-opening ritual.  Isaiah claimed that the image remained a lifeless, artificial product.

But at the close of Mesopotamian rite was a disavowal of any human participation in the creation of the deity, suggesting that the pagans rejected the idea that human beings could manufacture a god.

Furthermore, the mouth-washing texts include an acknowledgement that the transformation of the idol from man-made to divine was a work of the gods alone.

Was Isaiah aware of this important aspect of the mouth-washing ceremony?  It is hard to imagine that he wasn’t, considering how widely practiced it was in the ancient Near East.

It seems, rather that the prophet made a brilliant play on the idea by claiming that the transformation of the sensory organs occurred not in the wooden or stone image but in the heart and mind of the worshiper, who became dumb and blind (Isa 44:18-20) by being transformed into the inert image of the idol he or she worshiped.

This same principle of “You are what you worship” is echoed in Psalms 115:1-8, 135:15-18 and in Jeremiah 10:14.  However, for those who worshiped Yahweh, Isaiah promised a restoration of their sensory organs (Isa 32:3-4, 35:5-6).

Including eyes that would no longer be glazed over and minds that would experience understanding (Isa 44:18).  Isaiah concluded his attack on idol-making with a fitting reminder to God’s people that they had not created Yahweh.  Rather, God reminded them, “I have made you (Isa 44:21).