I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating: Humor tends not to cross cultural lines very well. I learned this the hard way when I did some short-term missions work in Brazil. I told a joke to my translator, who thought it was hysterical, and then shared that same joke with the congregation in front of whom I preached, and heard nothing but crickets. That’s why I think God didn’t put a lot of humor in his word, because he intends it to be a universal message to all people. However, having said that, there is humor to be spotted here and there in the Scriptures.
I think that today’s passage is one of those times, but it’s easy to miss. And it’s actually sort of a “running joke” in the Old Testament, since the authors use it multiple times.
The issue is idolatry, admittedly a serious subject. God took it very seriously, judging by the fact that he made it a capital crime in the Mosaic Law. But sometimes God uses humor to make a serious point in order to get our attention.
Imagine a rich guy who wants an idol. He takes a block of wood or stone and overlays it with gold and lays chains of silver on it. Have you ever heard the phrase “putting lipstick on a pig”? This is a prime example. No matter how he dresses it up, this is a piece of metal or wood or stone that he’s bowing down to. It can’t hear him or speak to him or help him in any way. It’s an inanimate object.
Or take the less affluent gent who wants to worship an idol. He can’t afford all that gold and silver, so he goes out to the woods and picks out a tree. Be careful here! You need to pick a tree that won’t rot. Oh, and you can’t just take it home and set it up and start praying to it. You have to take it to a “skilled craftsman,” a wood carver or other expert who can fashion it correctly so that it won’t topple off its stand.
Do you see the humor here? In case you missed it, let me summarize Isaiah’s point: Friend, if you have to dress up your god in gold and silver in order to make it look pretty, you have the wrong god. If your god is in danger of toppling off its altar, you need to trade up.
Again, the main idea here is not to point and laugh at that fool. It’s meant to make you think: “What about my life? Am I worshipping something that’s really deserving of worship?”
That brings us to the second half. In stark contrast, the God of the Bible is NOT contained in a block of wood or stone or metal. Number one, he created all that we see and don’t see. He created the stone and wood and metal. That’s really the #1 point of the first couple of chapters of Genesis: He created everything, so worship the Creator, not anything in creation. Second, he sits enthroned above the earth. He’s the transcendent God who’s in control (that’s what we mean by sovereign) over everything. The stars above us, the ones we see and the ones we haven’t yet? They were created by him, and they dance for his pleasure. He sustains them and keeps them in their proper orbits.
And the interesting thing here is that the prophet brings us back to the subject of idolatry. What? Yep, because he contrasts the Lord Almighty with the most popular idol of all time: powerful men. It doesn’t matter how evil or contemptible a man is; give him enough power, and people will bow before him and tell him how wonderful and marvelous he is. Hitler, Stalin, Mao Tse-Dong, Castro, Chavez: All of them had or have their admirers and followers.
But our Lord stands above them, and demonstrates his power and authority over them by. . . breathing on them. Not by stomping on them or sending fire from heaven down upon them. But by simply breathing on them, like you breathe on a dandelion and watch it scatter to the four winds.
Do you see now why Isaiah calls upon anyone tempted to idolatry to trade up the object of their worship? Why put your trust in something that’s not going to help you? Why worship an idol that you have to keep from toppling? Like money, or fame, or youth, or sex? Anything you put your ultimate trust in besides the Lord himself will finally fall and fail.
Lord Jesus, do I have anything that’s a rival for you? Something I take as more important than my relationship with you? If so, let’s get rid of it together.