9 All who form idols are nothing; the things in which they find enjoyment are worthless. Their witnesses cannot see; they recognize nothing, so they are put to shame. 10 Who forms a god and casts an idol that will prove worthless? 11 Watch, all his associates will be put to shame; the craftsmen are mere men. Let them all assemble and take their stand! They will panic and be put to shame. 12 A blacksmith works with his tool and forges metal over the coals. He forms it with hammers; he makes it with his strong arm. He gets hungry and loses his energy; he drinks no water and gets tired. 13 A carpenter takes measurements; he marks out an outline of its form; he scrapes it with chisels, and marks it with a compass. He patterns it after a man, like a well-built man, and puts it in a shrine. 14 He cuts down cedars and acquires a cypress or an oak. He gets trees from the forest; he plants a cedar and the rain makes it grow. 15 A man uses it to make a fire; he takes some of it and warms himself. Yes, he starts a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire– over that half he eats meat; he roasts a meal and fills himself. Yes, he warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm as I look at the fire.’ 17 With the rest of it he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships it. He prays to it, saying, ‘Rescue me, for you are my god.’ 18 They do not comprehend or understand, for their eyes are blind and cannot see; their minds do not discern. 19 No one thinks to himself, nor do they comprehend or understand and say to themselves: ‘I burned half of it in the fire– yes, I baked bread over the coals; I roasted meat and ate it. With the rest of it should I make a revolting idol? Should I bow down to dry wood?’ 20 He feeds on ashes; his deceived mind misleads him. He cannot rescue himself, nor does he say, ‘Is this not a false god I hold in my right hand?’
bowl of ashmeal
The big ideological giant of Isaiah’s day was idolatry. It was the worldview and mindset that had captured the societies all around Judah, and was also taking hold of the inhabitants of Judah. It was tied to the belief that there were spirits inhabiting all the material world, and that those spirits had power that could be harnessed and manipulated through rituals, taboos, sacrifices and spells. The idols of wood and stone were fashioned as representatives of the unseen spirits. Like a voodoo doll, it was believed that whatever happened to the likeness of the spirit would happen to the spirit. So, people lavished gifts, praise and respect on their idols, in hopes that the spirits would bless and protect them in return.
In this passage, Isaiah points out the stupidity of that kind of thinking. He likens the idolaters to people who feed on ashes, expecting to stay healthy. A bowl of ashmeal is not a healthy breakfast. There is still a considerable lot of folks around the world who are sitting down to a steaming bowl of idolatry every day. Isaiah’s ridicule still fits them.
But before we pat ourselves on the back saying we are not as stupid as they are, perhaps we should check our pantry. What ideological stuff are we feeding ourselves. In the secular, atheistic mindset, there are no gods and no spirits. There is no higher power to appeal to for help, and power is for those who are fit enough to take it. “Christians” who “just never find time to pray” are quacking like that duck. To use Isaiah’s analogy, they are feeding on ashes as well.
What happens when people who say they believe in God actually take a look at his promises, and trust his word, and seek him for help? Let’s find out.
LORD, forgive us for feeding on the ashmeal of secular atheism. We choose to seek you, to pray for you to meet our needs, and to nourish ourselves on your message.