For the week of March 28, 2009 / 3 Nisan 5769
Torah: Vayikra / Leviticus 1:1 - 5:26
Haftarah: Isaiah 43:21 - 44:23
Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!" And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!" (Isaiah 44:16,17; ESV)
In this passage, God through the prophet is mocking the practice of idolatry. The picture is of a person taking a piece of wood, using some of it to meet his personal needs (cooking and heating) and constructing a god from what's left over. It is possible that people in Isaiah's day wouldn't really use the exact same piece of wood for idols, cooking and heating, but rather this may be a humorous way to challenge people to realize that wood is just wood. How could anyone consider worshipping something made with their own hands? That the same material out of which idols are made is also used to meet basic human needs just makes the whole idea appear that much more ridiculous.
I would assume that even people who would consider themselves atheist or agnostic would agree with Bible believers on this one. Bowing before a statue and asking it for help is truly ridiculous. For sophisticated thinkers, we look at such religious practices from an enlightened perspective. Unlike people of old who believed that they had to perform all sorts of rituals to appease the gods in order to prevent disaster and ensure prosperity, we think that we possess the correct understanding of the forces of nature and have learned to effectively manipulate them to our advantage.
The scientifically minded person, especially of the agnostic or atheistic sort, looks at the natural universe and says, "That's all there is!" For these people living life is about interacting with the natural forces and that's all.
Bible believers disagree, since the Bible clearly teaches that there is more to the universe than what can be perceived by our senses. Besides God himself, the Bible speaks of such creatures as angels and demons. Supernatural spiritual forces affect life on earth. The Bible also teaches us how to properly relate to these spiritual forces, not in the manner common in many counterfeit religions, but through the humble service of the God of Israel in the name of the Messiah.
If we accept the Bible's view of life, then the natural universe is not "all there is". In fact, the natural universe is just one part - although a highly significant part - of something of great purpose and meaning. For the atheistic or agnostic naturalist on the other hand, meaning is completely arbitrary based on personal preferences, which is the same as saying there is no meaning at all. Instead of meaning and purpose, material things are all there is.
Since the Bible teaches that material things are only one part of God's plans and purposes in the universe, stuff should be kept in balance with other areas of life and should be regarded as tools in the service of God. Material things should never be our focus.
While we don't literally bow down to material things, once we grasp the reality of God and the true meaning of life, then our obsession with things begins to look as ridiculous as the idol worshipper Isaiah describes. The idol worshipper uses some of his stuff for his basic needs of cooking and heat and then he pleads to the stuff left over for help. Is that so very different from us? Even if we don't actually plead with our stuff to deliver us, in what do we find our security and well being? Are they based on our relationship to God or on material things?
What would Isaiah say to us today? Perhaps something like this: "With some of his income he buys food for himself and his family and pays the heating bill. With the rest he fills his home with all sorts of things to which he gives his heart and soul, saying, 'Thank you for delivering me.'"
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