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In 1928 a farmer unearthed an ancient tomb in northwest Syria. The subsequent excavation of the tomb provided new information into the regional beliefs about their gods.
According to the Department of Ancient Near Eastern Art, “The major gods reflect local geographical concerns about the fertility of the earth and the importance of water as well as relationships to the sky and the underworld.
“The universe was believed to be ruled in tandem by the older god El and a main warrior-god, Baal, surrounded by a council of deities and a lower level of attendant gods.”
Baal and his sister-god were warriors. They fought against the sea god and humans who were allied against them.
Baal also provided fertility and needed rain to the region.
According to the article, El was believed to live “at the edge of the world at the ‘source of the two rivers,’ a place where the waters of the heavens and earth meet.” A bull was the symbol of El.
Baal was pictured with a horned helmet, his right arm raised with a weapon, and his left hand filled with a spear in the form of a vegetable.
Idols Before God
The thought of worshiping a bull or a god that seems to be just a little larger than humans may seem strange.
Let’s remember that common objects of devotion in our culture include pieces of paper with the images of dead presidents – Washington, Hamilton, Grant, and Franklin.
The adoration of politicians, sports, and entertainment stars is frequently called “idol worship.”
Possibly, the greatest object of worship in our culture is our personal opinion. The need to be right and the obsession to get what we want in life are pervasive.
Isaiah claims that God brings all idols and gods into his courtroom for judgment. God presents the idols with a series of questions that reveal how utterly worthless they are.
Set forth your case, says the Lord;
bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.
Let them bring them, and tell us
what is to happen.
Tell us the former things, what they are,
so that we may consider them,
and that we may know their outcome;
or declare to us the things to come.
Tell us what is to come hereafter,
that we may know that you are gods;
do good, or do harm,
that we may be afraid and terrified.
You, indeed, are nothing
and your work is nothing at all;
whoever chooses you is an abomination. (Isaiah 41.21-24)
To use a current example, as valuable as is money, it fails God’s test.
— It can not tell the past, nor can it predict the future.
People devote their lives to predicting economic cycles, but money by itself is completely ignorant.
— By itself, money can neither do good nor harm.
People and nations, who allow material wealth to become the dominant influence in their lives, create great harm for others. However, there has never been an instance when a dollar bill escaped a person’s wallet and accosted another person.
— Money is worshiped as surely as was El or Baal in 700 B.C, but in God’s estimation it is “nothing.”
The Letter to Timothy is an excellent correction for a world that values money too highly.
“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” (1 Timothy 6.10).
Isaiah’s evaluation of those trust money or other substitutes for God is worth serious consideration. He says, “Whoever chooses you is an abomination.”
God is not located at the ends of the earth, as was believed of El. God, the Creator, is beyond and outside of creation. God’s activity in human history reveals how the gods of humans cannot compare to him.
God acted in history to free Hebrew people from oppression. None of the gods of this world were able to predict God’s actions.
This is an important point. If Jewish people had ceased to exist like has happened to the Philistines or Hittites, God would be no more powerful than the idols of Israel’s neighbors. However, the existence of Jewish people testifies to the reality of God.
God condemned the thought of other gods with this message.
I stirred up one from the north, and he has come,
from the rising of the sun he was summoned by name.
He shall trample on rulers as on mortar,
as the potter treads clay.
Who declared it from the beginning, so that we might know,
and beforehand, so that we might say, “He is right”?
There was no one who declared it, none who proclaimed,
none who heard your words.
I first have declared it to Zion,
and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good tidings.
But when I look there is no one;
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
No, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their images are empty wind. (Isaiah 41.25-29)
Returning to the illustration of a modern god, let’s apply these words to money.
— People can predict the ups and downs of money markets with some precision, but money has never been able to predict God’s actions in the world.
— Financial counselors abound in today’s world. However, money itself is unable to direct the path of anyone.
— God’s summary of all idols, including money is that they are a “delusion,” “nothing” and an “empty wind.”
Jesus is our best counselor when it comes to the worship of anything other than the One True God.
He said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6.24).
About This Blog
Rudy Ross and I produce a daily video of these blog articles on the Bob Spradling YouTube channel. Rudy is Jewish, a Christian, and an excellent Bible student. The videos present insights from a dialogue with the two of us.
I am indebted to Dr. John Oswalt, who has written an excellent two-volume commentary on Isaiah for insights into the Book of Isaiah.
Please email your prayer requests to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or private message me on Facebook. The Maywood Baptist Church prayer team will pray for you.