18 ‘Of what value is an idol carved by a craftsman?
Or an image that teaches lies?
For the one who makes it trusts in his own creation;
he makes idols that cannot speak.
19 Woe to him who says to wood, “Come to life!”
Or to lifeless stone, “Wake up!”
Can it give guidance?
It is covered with gold and silver;
there is no breath in it.’
20 The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.
At first glance, today’s passage is one which it might be easy to dismiss as not relevant for today’s situation. While they had idols carved from wood and stone back in Old Testament times, we are over all that now and no-one would think of worshipping or bowing down to an inanimate object these days, would they?
But let’s pause and think a bit more about this. Actually an idol is anything which any human being worships and places ahead of God. In this context, things are rather different. A mere glance at the news websites and look at our newspapers shows us that there are many, many things which people today put ahead of God. Here is a list of the ones I spotted in a minute or two just looking around:
In and of themselves, many of these things are good gifts from God. The problem lies in our attitudes towards them. As soon as we value any one or more of these things higher than God himself, then that thing has become an idol to us and we are trapped.
Habakkuk tells us that idols are man-made; they are images (i.e. not the real thing) and that they teach lies. As soon as we trust in them (the man-made things which we have created) and take our eyes off God, we are in trouble. These idols cannot speak, they have no life of their own. They cannot guide us, they have no breath. They can only bring disappointment and disillusionment.
The concluding statement helps us restore perspective, the Lord is in his holy temple, he is sovereign and reigning over all people and things. All must fall silent before him, and give praise, honour, glory and worship to him.
Recall Habakkuk’s complaints earlier in this book. He calls on the Lord for help, in the face of injustice and wrongdoing; the wicked are oppressing the righteous; what is God doing in the face of all this? The Lord’s answer is that he will bring just judgement on the unrighteous and also fill the whole of the earth with the knowledge of the Lord (Habakkuk 2:14). This will happen in God’s timing and will be inescapable. All who worship idols (for example, value the things I mentioned above more than God) will be brought up short and will see the error of their ways. In the meantime, now is the time to listen, repent and turn back to (or start?) worshipping God.
This word from Habakkuk seems to me to be particularly relevant for our age. In the hubbub of social media, instant gratification, fads and so much focus on ourselves, we need to stop and reconsider. The Lord is indeed in his holy temple and summons all to be silent before him. Will we be still and give God his due, or will we be part of the chattering which pervades our world, chasing every new idol which appears and ignoring / sidelining the creator and sustainer of all things?
Lord God Almighty,
We stand in awe of your deeds.
You alone created us and all the universe by your powerful word. You alone sustain all you have made. Forgive us when we are tempted to worship anything or anyone other than you.
Help us to rely only on you, and to keep everything else in its right and proper place.
We ask this for the honour and glory of Jesus Christ, who loves each one of us and who made himself nothing to redeem and save us.
Tomorrow’s passage: Habakkuk 3:1-2