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Becoming Like our Idols in Isaiah 44:18

Isaiah 44 18 3 smallWe’ve been considering the identity of the grand “HE” in Isaiah 44:18. Speaking of those who make and worship idols, Isaiah says, “They do not know; they do not understand because he plastered over their eyes so they cannot see, their hearts so they cannot understand.”

While Calvinists wish to identify the “HE” as YHWH/God, and Arminianists prefer, “HE” interpreted as the deceived heart of the worshiper, and Spiritual Warfare aficionados prefer, “HE” to be  is the idol or god,” each is grammatically possible and each is theologically possible.

The real question concerns the evidence gleaned from within the immediate text, from Isaiah as a whole, and from texts outside Isaiah that might help us make a choice.

The first theme that needs to be examined may be represented within Isaiah 44:18 itself, though many will not recognize this as a theme. It is an often missed element of biblical depictions and subtle accusation in the pages of Scripture.

Idol worshipers are describe in the terms of their idols. While this is a recurring theme in Isaiah, one which is well powerfully unpacked in Greg Beale’s book, We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry, its clearest expression is found in Psalm 115:4-8:

“Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands; They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see. They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell. They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat. Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.”

It is not surprising then, that Isaiah depicts the idol worshipers both in and out of Israel in terms of sensory failure. They worship idols that have eyes and ears that don’t work and, thus, they become people whose eyes and ears don’t work. Isaiah 42:18-20 says, “Hear, you deaf, and look, you blind, that you may see! Who is blind but my servant, or deaf as my messenger whom I send? Who is blind as my dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the LORD? He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear.” Isaiah 43:8 echoes, “Bring out the people who are blind, yet have eyes, who are deaf, yet have ears!” Isaiah 56:10 accuses even some prophets in these terms, “His watchmen are blind; they are all without knowledge; they are all silent dogs; they cannot bark, dreaming, lying down, loving to slumber.” The people in Isaiah 59:10 say, “We grope for the wall like the blind; we grope like those who have no eyes; we stumble at noon as in the twilight….”

The prophet also describes the restoration of Israel in terms of sensory restoration.  Isaiah 29:18 reads, “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.” Isaiah 32:3 says, “Then the eyes of those who see will not be closed, and the ears of those who hear will give attention.” Isaiah 35:5 reiterates, “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.”

This sensory restoration is a particular function of the coming Servant of the Lord, saying in Isaiah 42:6-7 “I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness,” promising in Isaiah 42:16 “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light…”

So, is this reflected within Isaiah 44:9-20 itself? Yes, I believe it is.

First we find the critique of pagan gods in Isaiah 44:9 saying, “Their witnesses neither see nor know.” These are the terms used in Isaiah 44:18 where the worshipers neither know nor understand nor see.

Second, we have an interesting choice of terms in regard to what the grand “HE” does to the worshiper. While we rarely find specific descriptions of actual idol making, we do have two clear terms used to represent the process. רקעspread out is used to describe the banging out of metal over an idol frame in & צפהoverlay.

In Isaiah 40:19  the prophet declares, “An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays (רקעspread out) it with gold and casts for it silver chains.” It speaks of the silver beaten into sheets to adorn idols in Jeremiah 10:9  “Beaten (רקעspread out) silver is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz. They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith; their clothing is violet and purple; they are all the work of skilled men.” While not used of an idol, per se, we find the process described in 2 Chronicles 3:10, “In the Most Holy Place he made two cherubim of wood and overlaid (צפהoverlay) them with gold.”

Given the rarity of Hebrew texts that discuss the actual process of “overlaying” an idol, and the recognition of what would seem obvious in Isaiah 40:20 that poor man versions of idols differed from those רקעspread over or צפהoverlaid with precious metals, might the actual use of the verb is טוחalternately spelled טחח smeared over/plastered over,[1] suggest that the worshiper is overlaid like his god? …by dint of his worship of the god? …that the god itself, and perchance, the spirit that it represents and invites blinds the mind of the worshipper to the truth of his or her folly?


[1] טוחalternately spelled טחח are believed to have come from the noun מטחplaster. As the noun gold in English becomes the verb gild to cover with gold, so the noun מטחplaster in Hebrew becomes the verbs טוח/טחחcover with plaster.

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