The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in human form, human form in all its glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!” They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” – Isaiah 44:12-20
The blacksmith character in this passage is a metaphor for all of us who find ourselves busy doing important things at the expense of eternal things. He “takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint.”
The water that the blacksmith is reluctant to take is in fact the water of God that we all need to have our soul thirst quenched. The blacksmith is engaged in a noble profession, but he is investing his energy, heart, and soul in creating idols. He is squandering his skills on an idol, a God-substitute, and producing bad fruit. No matter how hard he works he grows faint because he is not nourishing his spirit with water from the Great Cistern.
The second character in this passage is the carpenter, another noble and respected profession during the time this was written. The carpenter is also engaged in using his talents for making idols, in this case out of wood. The source of the carpenter’s wood is described as wood that he intentionally planted: “He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow.” The key part of this description is the “rain” that made it grow, something the carpenter has no control over. The raw material that the carpenter is using to fashion his idols and obtain his livelihood and warmth comes from the father of the rain, God.
The carpenter uses some of the wood to cook and warm himself, “Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” The last part of this description is the key, “I see the fire”. Using the wood to heat and cook was a tangible thing, he could see the fire and feel its heat. God on the other hand was not tangible and real to the carpenter or the people of Israel at this time. God is more approachable today through His arrival on earth as Jesus, but we can still find ourselves yearning for a “fire” that we can see and feel.
This yearning for a God that we can see and touch has resulted in some followers of Christ seeking very specific gifts to demonstrate God is in fact with us. As I grow older I am increasingly convinced that God provides and uses gifts of the spirit, but they are not something that we should seek at the expense of seeking after God — even when the God we seek is sometimes hard to see and touch. He wants faithful followers who are willing to follow Him unconditionally by striving on even when we seem to be groping in the dark for a silent savior.
Sometimes the darkness is not because of a lack of light, but because our eyes are closed: “They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand.” The important point here is that if we find ourselves “in the dark” the first thing we should suspect is that our eyes are plastered over. Instead we often conclude that God is missing or absent. He is still with us. We are not permanently blind, but we need to allow God to wash the plaster from our eyes so we can see His face clearly. Jesus did just that for the man born blind in John 9:4-7:
“As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.” John 9:4-7
The details of these two tales are telling. Both the blacksmith and the carpenter, respected people in their communities, are using the raw materials provided by God to create something they can see and touch. They are providing for themselves rather allowing God to provide what they need. They seek to fashion for themselves a tangible God that they can see, feel, and touch because they have not grown accustomed to God’s whisper. They are investing in ephemeral things instead of their eternal souls. The Good News is that we all gaze imperfectly at our loving God, but He knows that and loves us anyway.
Prayer: God You love us even when our eyes are covered over and we find it difficult to see Your face. Help us to use our time and talents to know You better.