The Burden of Idolatry

Ron Hansen, Unsplash

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 stoop and bow down together; unable to rescue the burden, they themselves go off into captivity. (Isaiah 46:1-2)

I love this image. Isaiah prophesies the Persian conquest of Babylon under Cyrus the Great. As the Babylonians flee the coming onslaught, they pack their idols along with the rest of their belongings. (As they’re tucked in saddlebags, they lie prostrate, as Isaiah mentions in verse 1. In essence, they’re bowing before the true God!) Keep in mind, these are idols of stone and precious metals. In other words, they’re heavy. They are burdensome, Isaiah says, weighing down the weary.

What a stunning picture of the burden of idolatry. At precisely the moment when we most need our idols to carry us—when facing trials and tribulations—instead we must carry them. They are a burden we carry, rather than an ever-present help in times of trouble. If you’ve made a god of wealth, enjoying comfort and security, what happens when you lose your job or a recession hits? Does that false god Mammon support you? Certainly not. Right when you need him most, he’s nowhere to be found (because, y’know, he’s not real). If you’ve made a god of achievement, what happens when you fail? Right when you need that idol most, instead you must carry it, find some new way to succeed in order to rebuild your shattered identity. If you’ve made a god of family, what happens when a child wanders from the faith or rejects you? Once again, your false god provides no help. Idols are a burden, a standard to which we must constantly raise ourselves, a weight we must carry always—and one that feels heaviest at the hardest moments.

Contrast that with the God who is there. Isaiah continues God’s message to his people: ““Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob, all the remnant of the people of Israel, you whom I have upheld since your birth, and have carried since you were born. Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (verses 3-4). Who is this God we worship? The One who upholds us, carries us, sustains us, rescues us—even from the folly of our idolatry.

For which will you live today? The burdensome idol you’ll need to carry in your weakest moments? Or the God who holds all things—even you—in his hands, who has loved you with an everlasting love, who has shown you unfailing kindness? The choice seems clear!

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