“What use is a carved idol after its craftsman carves it? It is only a cast image, a teacher of lies. For the one who crafts its shape trusts in it and makes worthless idols that cannot speak. Woe to him who says to wood: Wake up! or to mute stone: Come alive! Can it teach? Look! It may be plated with gold and silver, yet there is no breath in it at all.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Have you ever tried to get more out of something than it was designed to do? Sometimes we hear about a driver pushing a car, or a pilot a plane to its limits and beyond, but while those occasions can make for impressive stories, a car was designed to drive and a plane to fly. If that’s what they are doing, then they’re right in their zone. I’m talking about trying to get something to do what it was never designed to do. Those stories usually leave us shaking our heads at the foolishness of the person making the effort. In this last woe, Habakkuk cautions those who would do something similar.
I heard a story one time about a guy who called into a computer tech support line. He wanted to know if they could replace his computer’s cup holder. A little confused as to exactly which model this was, the tech support rep asked a few questions about the make and model to see if she could look up which one came equipped with said feature. Coming up empty, she asked him about how it worked before it broke. He said, “It’s the neatest little feature I’ve seen. There’s this button on the front of the tower, and when you push it, out pops a cup holder. I’ll never buy a computer without a retractable cup holder again.”
We laugh at that, but those are the kinds of folks for whom silly-seeming product warning labels get made.
This is a little like what Habakkuk is unpacking here as the final note of judgment against Babylon. They had skilled craftsmen who were making statues of varying sizes with the image of the various Babylonian gods and goddesses. Then, these would be sold in the marketplace or placed in one of their temples and people would worship them. They would leave offerings and make sacrifices to them. They believed these inanimate objects could communicate with them. It was silly to the point of insanity. Rocks, wood, and metal were not designed to speak. Someone who looks to them to do so is to be pitied…and mocked.
Ancient idolatry seems silly to us today, especially in the West. Our heritage has been profoundly shaped by the Judeo-Christian worldview this way whether we buy into it or not. Rest assured, while this feeling is correct according to pretty much every author who contributed to the Scriptures, it is merely a cultural phenomenon.
Idolatry of a kind very much like what existed in Bible times both Old and New Testament is still around today. If anything, it is growing. There are still millions of people who go to a temple to worship before a statue of some kind. There are hundreds of millions who have a statue in their home before whom they make offerings of various kinds. Now, we don’t usually see some of the more detestable ancient idolatry practices like child sacrifice, but idolatry itself is still going very strong.
Okay, but what about we who are thoroughly westernized and don’t have anything in our lives like ancient idolatry? Do we get to look at passages like this in order to laugh at people who do and otherwise ignore it? Not so fast.
Just because we don’t bow down before a statue doesn’t mean idolatry isn’t an issue in our lives. Idolatry isn’t primarily about a statue. It’s not about a temple. It’s about just what that clueless tech support caller was doing. It’s about trying to get out of something what it was never designed to give. If we expect wisdom out of a rock or a piece of wood or metal, we are trying to get from them what they were not designed to give. If we expect wisdom or help and support from anything inanimate, we are trying to get from them what they were not designed to give.
Okay, sure, but I don’t do that. Do you not? Have you ever looked to money for security in hard or uncertain times? Money is not a source of security. It is a tool for economic interactions. Nothing more. It can give the illusion of security because of the kinds of economic interactions it can allow to happen, but those can be gone in a heartbeat. Something that can be gone in a heartbeat isn’t a real source of security. And yet for many, money is an idol.
Have you ever looked to your health to be a source of hope? You exercise and eat right and take vitamins and are never sick. You have hope for tomorrow. You smugly look down on the folks around you who don’t do as much as you do to take care of their bodies. Shame on them. And yet, health was not designed to give hope. The season we are in should have broken that illusion. Health can be gone in a flash. And yet for many, health is an idol.
An idol is anything to which you give a place of primacy in your life. Anything you elevate in importance over God is an idol. You may not physically bow before it, but that doesn’t mean you haven’t still subjected yourself to its authority.
Listen: God is the only source of hope, life, security, authority, and everything else there is. Nothing else was designed to fill the role He occupies. If we seek anything that He is from anything that isn’t Him, we are practicing idolatry. We are different from Babylon only in our particulars. Let us make sure, especially in these scary and uncertain times, that we are turning to the only real source of hope and help there is. He’s ready to be all that we need Him to be—He’s ready to be Himself. We need only turn to Him and let Him.