Spiritual Thoughts - Sept. 15, 2020

The idol factory: counterfeiting God’s nature (Part I)

In the Old Testament Prophets For Today, Carolyn Sharp claims God’s prophets had to oppose many Israeli kings who had a well-established industry behind idolatry. As earlier as the 11th century B.C.E.,“Many kings of Israel and Judea engaged in economic exploitation, ruthlessly suppressed political dissent, and permitted idolatry as part of their pragmatic polity of alliance-making with foreign nations.” (23)

In A History of Prophecy in Israel, Joseph Blenkinsopp argues how in the 9th century B.C.E, King Ahab, and his wife, Jezebel, imposed their own product of idol-making and idolatry on Judah. “Using her position to advantage, she actively promoted the Baal cult during the reign of her husband and their two children, Ahaziah and Jehoram, who succeeded him. Her influence even spread to Judah, where her daughter Athaliah engineered a palace coup and spent five years of her reign attempting to impose a new political and religious direction on Judah...” (57)

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In addition, Blenkinsopp shows how this industry had tragic consequences for God’s people during the commission of the prophet Ezekiel (593 B.C.E.). “Idolatry is directly connected with violence, murder, adultery, and other crimes or disorders. One of the most specific indictments in Ezekiel (22:6-12) lists incest and coition during the woman’s menses alongside murder, adultery, perjury, and the like.” (174) However, God would not accept this strange new religious direction, or the idolatrous industry planned by the rulers of Israel and Judea so He called his prophets to condemn them. One such prophet is Isaiah (550-539 BCE). 

The prophet Isaiah’s call to condemn idol making, in chapter 44: 9-20, according to Holter, is the most detailed and by far the most satirical of any of the prophet’s attack. For, in Second Isaiah’s Idol-Fabrication Passages, Holter states, “Isiah 44:9-20 is by far the most important of … Isaiah’s idol-fabrication passages. Not only is it the most detailed and the longest one – with twice as many verses as the three others [40:19-20, 41:6-7, and 46:6-7] together, but it is also the only one which explicitly criticizes the idol-fabricators.” (127)

By examining Isaiah’s “most important” passage, I argue that the prophet offers a revelatory, yet satirical, attack on the industry of idol-fabrication. Moreover, once we examine Isaiah 44: 9-20 in light of the relationship between technology and this industry, the prophet’s “most detailed” description reveals how these fabricators became successful when they used technology to counterfeit God’s power, strength, and God’s image in us; thus engineering a “fraud” of the True God into their material objects. The primary purpose of my study on Isaiah 44: 9-20 is to help the reader understand the tragic implications of idol making, as our consumer society relies so heavily on technology to provide a happier lifestyle. 

Isaiah’s description of the daily activities of the fabricator’s workshop reveals how central the technological process was in the creation of idols, yet it also reveals how these fabricators counterfeited God’s power and strength. In verses 12 and 13, the prophet declares, “The ironsmith fashions it and works it over the coals, shaping it with hammers, and forging it with his strong arm…” Accordingly, another Bible scholar, Nancy Cardose argues, “Smiths and carpenters were by the nature of their work, which was the high technology of the day, close to the power centres in Middle Eastern antiquity. That gave rise to [Isaiah’s] prophetic condemnation of the separation of their specific activities from the whole range of other activities by which human life is maintained (cooking, heating, building, etc.).” (74) 

In addition, these fabricators exploited this “high technology” to counterfeit God’s power and strength. Likewise, Holter explains, “The paralleling between the idol-fabricator and his arm [v. 12b] contrasts with the paralleling elsewhere in Is. 40-55 of Yahweh and ‘his arm.’ It is well know how ‘the arm of Yahweh’ is used throughout the Old Testament as an image of the power and strength of Yahweh, and it should be noted that a … paralleling between Yahweh and his arm tends almost towards an identification.” (154) The conclusion Holter make from this parallel “identification” is that “The salvation of both Israel and the nations depends upon the arm of Yahweh, and not upon the arm of any idol-fabricator.” (155)  

According to Isaiah’s insight, these idol-fabricators counterfeited God’s image when they designed our humanity into them. For in v.13, the prophet informs us the idol-fabricator “makes it in human form, with human beauty” (NRSV). In the NKJV, this same passage reads, “And makes it like the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man.” Why does the prophet resort to descriptions such as “human form,” “figure of a man,” or the “beauty of a man?”  

In Part II of our examination of the “Idol Factory,” I will examined the Hebrew prophet Isaiah’s “most important” passage, Is. 44:9-20, which entails Isaiah’s attack on the making and worshipping of idols, and I will examine how the prophet offers an insightful, yet satirical, attack on the industry of idol-fabrication. I will also examine three ways these idol-makers counterfeit God’s character in us to profit their careers. 

Bibliography

Cardoso, Nancy, “My People Shall Be As A Tree,” The Ecumenical Review, 59, no. 1 (2007):  68-76

Gilbert McInnis is completing his master’s degree in Divinity through Queen’s College, Memorial University, and currently is an assistant professor and the co-ordinator of the writing centre for the University College of the North, Thompson. His recent book “Kurt Vonnegut: Myth and Science in a Postmodern World” is published by Peter Lang Inc. See his Amazon Author’s website for more works by him. 

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