Worship No Other! – Isaiah 44:16-22; 46:1-5, 8-9
By Pastor Lee Hemen
March 16, 2014 AM
George leaned over to his wife and grumbled, “Will this sermon ever be over? We’ll never make it home in time to see the game!” Jena sat at her desk watching the clock. “Of all days to work late,” she thought to herself. “I usually spend time in prayer before working out, and I’m stuck here. I really need to go by the fitness center because I have not worked out all week. Looks like I’ll skip prayer tonight.” “I’m going go on vacation,” thought Matt. “I deserve a break. I won’t be able to give my tithe to church, but I think the church will survive without it.” Our worship of God is often reflected in how we invest our lives. Perhaps our worship is not where it needs to be and we are suffering the consequences of our lack of worship.
The trials the Israelites were going through, was due to their inconsistent worship. However, God promised to restore His people. Only He possessed the power and ability to do so. Depending on idols created by human hands would lead to disappointment and ultimate destruction. King Cyrus of Persia would be part of His plan to return the exiles from Judah to their homeland. The Babylonian gods (idols) would not be able to protect their people nor to prevent God from carrying out His will, since the false gods did not exist. God would use Babylonia to punish His people for their disobedient worship. How does this affect us in our day and age? Let’s discover how…
There is a…
I. Worship That Blinds! (Isaiah 44:16-20)
1. Here as he often did, Isaiah used the past tense of future events, so certain was he of their fulfillment. He lived almost 200 years before the events he described would happen. After Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylonia, he issued a decree that allowed Jews to return to Judah. Isaiah describes the Babylonians’ idolatry; the exiles’ involvement in worshipping false gods; the Babylonian gods’ failure to defend their nation; and God’s uniqueness, dependability, and grace. Isaiah had begun his discussion of the powerlessness of idols by describing how metalworkers created idols (v. 44:12). He then focused on the actions of woodworkers who carved idols. They first cut down a tree for a block of wood for carving. Then, with half the log, the worker built a fire to cook his meal and warm himself from the evening’s chill! After having acted in a rational manner in making a fire, the worker then acted irrationally by carving an idol from the second half, bowing down to it in worship, and asking it for deliverance! Such actions made no sense. How could one section of a log produce a sacred image used in worship while the other produced mere firewood? In clear terms, Isaiah indicated the foolishness of idol worship. Idols were mere creations crafted from everyday materials according to the imaginations of a human worker. Only those totally unable to think rationally would not realize the obvious silliness of worshiping an idol carved from half a log when the other half was firewood! Having abandoned God and the desire to understand His will, God allowed them to close their minds to all truth. God allows people to pursue their misguided paths, straying farther and farther from Him. Like a grief-stricken parent, He called to His unresponsive child, Israel. They saw their actions as normal and saw no harm or consequences in what they did. However, they would face the consequences. Through their idolatry, the people created something detestable, disgraceful, and unworthy of God. The worship of idols was an insult to God and indicates people’s spiritual blindness, “He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, ‘Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?’” All they had left was ashes. Idolaters pray to an idol; but they may as well pray to a chair, stool, or a heap of ashes! It was worship that blinds!
EXAMPLE: Prophesying to the exiles in Babylon, Isaiah saw they would be so caught up in idolatry, that they would not comprehend their sin or free themselves. Rather than accept God’s greatness, they would bow to idols made in their image and seek to control God for their purposes. What are some of the idols that have blinded your worship? The more we worship false gods in our lives, the more hardened our hearts become to the voice of God and the more closed our minds become to God’s reality and truth. Worshiping false gods blinds us to God and the blessings of life in Him.
There is also a…
II. Worship That Blesses! (Isaiah 44:21-22)
1. Judah’s idolatry would separate the people from God and continue to lead them farther away from Him, but He would refuse to stop loving them. God would encourage His people to remember what He had done for them. God had called a man named Abraham to become the father of a great people. God had led His people out of slavery in Egypt through Moses and into Canaan under Joshua. He had provided David as their king. He also had provided guidelines and prophets to help people maintain their focus on Him. God’s actions throughout history reveal His character. He loves His people even when they do not return His love. He shows grace to His people when they deserved none. He would never forget or abandon His people. “I will not forget you.” He reminds us. God had called Judah not just to receive His blessings but also to serve Him. As a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, God’s people were to witness to His grace, forgiveness, and love. Unfortunately, their idolatry resulted in their being punished, defeated, and exiled. The Jewish exiles in Babylonia probably believed returning to the land of Judah constituted their greatest need. In reality, like today with many believers, sin comprised their greatest problem and forgiveness was and is their greatest need. To return to Judah without having turned from their sin and to God left them in the same state that led to the exile. God reminds them and us, “I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” This is true for us as well! God assured His people He would stand ready to give them a fresh start. He would forgive their sin and redeem them. They needed only to repent in order to experience worship that blesses!
EXAMPLE: Living here where ocean moisture often meets the dry air of eastern Washington and Oregon, we often drive to work through thick, early morning fog; but by mid-morning the fog has completely dissipated and the sun brightly shines. As the sun dissolves the morning fog and the wind drives away the clouds, so God removes sin. No matter how terrible our sin, God can forgive it. No matter how long we have closed ourselves to God, He can break through with His love and life. No matter how insignificant we may think our service to be, God can use us to bless those around us and help transform their lives. We need to repent in order to experience worship that blesses!
However, we must remember to never be a part of a…
III. Worship That Burdens! (Isaiah 46:1-2)
1. We often allow things in our lives to become idols that weigh us down with the pressures of life; such as relationships, family, jobs, school, Facebook, texting, or other pursuits. The Babylonians worshiped Bel, also known as Marduk, as their chief god and Nebo, Bel’s son. Bel served as god of the city of Babylon and Nebo as god of the city of Borsippa, about 10 miles south. Nebo took on great significance as the number of important Babylonian kings’ named after him, for example, Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus. Each year during the Babylonian New Year’s Festival, worshipers carried the images of Bel, Nebo, and other gods on their shoulders or on animals in a procession into the city. This is why Isaiah mentions, “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low; their idols are borne by beasts of burden. The images that are carried about are burdensome, a burden for the weary.” They supposedly revealed what would happen to the nation in the next year. However, the Babylonians’ worship of Bel and Nebo proved useless. The Persians conquered Babylon; and after loading their carts and donkeys; they carried away these images that previously had been paraded through the city with reverence. The gods could not save their own images, much less save the empire. The Babylonians had believed their gods wielded great power; but these idols could not ease their burdens nor rescue them! Instead, the idols were loaded onto the backs of and carried away by beasts of burden. “They stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity.” Isaiah’s words were to serve as a warning to the Jewish exiles in Babylonia. The idols they had begun to worship in Babylon had no power because they did not exist. Babylon’s trust in their gods proved fruitless. The exiles needed to recognize that worshiping and depending on false gods did not provide salvation but only the burden of false hopes. Trusting in false gods can only lead to disappointment. When difficult times come, false gods can neither sustain us nor provide hope. They burden us with the demands of their worship!
EXAMPLE: One day I found my grandson straining to lift a pair of ten-pound weights over his head—an ambitious feat for a three-year-old. He had raised them only a few inches off the ground, but his eyes were determined and his face was pink with effort. I offered to help, and together we heaved the weight up toward the ceiling. The heavy lifting that was so hard for him was easy for me. Are you worn out from ongoing problems? Are you weighed down with stress and worry? Are your choices in life bringing unnecessary burdens? Jesus is the only real solution. Approaching the Lord in prayer allows us to cast our burdens on Him so that He can sustain us. What sin is burdening your heart today? The false idols of life burden us with the demands of their worship, God never does.
We, however, enjoy a…
IV. Worship That Bears Up! (Isaiah 46:3-5, 8-9)
1. Sometimes, it can be tough to get those you love to listen to your concerns for their lives. God tells them, “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.” As Isaiah prophesied, the great Babylonian Empire that believed it was invincible fell to Persia. The Babylonian idols and those who worshiped them were carried off by the Persians as spoils of war. It underscored the foolishness of trusting in false gods and the necessity of trusting in the one true God. The remnant of Israel that witnessed Babylonia’s fall later saw God restore them to return home. God had been with Israel from the beginning, caring for His people when they were few in number and helping them grow into a great nation. The Babylonian gods had not and could not carry their people, which testified to their non-existence. Only God had carried and saved His people, and only God would continue to do so. God loved His people as a good parent loves a child. God invited Israel to compare Him to other gods. Had any other god nurtured or shown compassion to Israel? Had any other god demonstrated the power to save and been committed to Israel? The answer was no. No other god compared to God either in commitment to Israel or in power to accomplish His will. What about how God has dealt in your life? God tells them to, “Remember this, fix it in mind, take it to heart, you rebels. Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.” They needed to remember God had created, had led, and was committed to His people. Remember refers not just to recalling an event or fact but also to acting on that basis. God called His people to remember two things. First, He urged them to remember His nurturing, guiding activity in their history. Second, He encouraged them to remember that no other god could compare to Him. God alone existed and had the ability to save His people. Only God could bear up Israel through difficult times and bring His people to a restored faith and wonderful future. Our worship of God is the only worship that bears up!
EXAMPLE: In times of hardship, people can feel abandoned. Friends and family may desert us. Perhaps they believe the victim deserves the difficulty as punishment for sin or perhaps they do not know what to say or do to help. Sometimes the future can seem bleak. In such times, only God can bear us up. From the beginning of our lives, God has been present; and He will continue to offer His presence, strength, and guidance. We can depend on Him if we trust Him with our lives instead of the things we foolishly cling to. Worship of Him who bore us is the worship that bears up!
Worshiping false gods blinds us to the true identity of the only living God.
Worshiping only God brings us the blessings of forgiveness and service.
Worshiping false gods will not help but will only burden us.
Only God can carry us through life’s devastating experiences.
This article is copyrighted © 2014 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.