What use is a carved idol after its craftsman carves it? It is only a cast image, a teacher of lies. For the one who crafts its shape trusts in it and makes idols that cannot speak.
Woe to him who says to wood: Wake up! or to mute stone: Come alive! Can it teach? Look! It may be plated with gold and silver, yet there is no breath in it at all.
I talk to myself from time to time. I’m sure we all do it. Sometimes I talk to Dallas, my yellow lab. She never talks back. Why? Because we’re not characters in a Disney movie. When I talk to her I’m just voicing my opinion, maybe venting a complaint, but I’m definitely not looking for conversation.
The prophet Habakkuk says this is what idolatry is. It isn’t a conversation, it’s a monologue, where we are the most important (and only) voice. He describes the folly of the idol-maker, who crafts an idol then expects it to speak to him.
Not dumb as in “unintelligent,” but dumb as in “incapable of speech.” Note Habakkuk’s observations in 2:18-19—an idol is a “teacher of lies,” and it “cannot speak.” How can it teach if it can’t speak? The idol simply reflects the heart desires of the idol-maker. Whatever it’s “telling” you is a lie.
Habakkuk describes an idol as “mute stone.” Crucially, the idol maker must command his wooden idol to “Wake up!” He asks, “Can it teach?” Nope. Because idols are dumb.
The image is ridiculous: a man crafts a wooden image in the shape of a person, he overlays it with silver and gold, and then says, “Come to life! Give me meaning! Solve my problems!” It’s akin to us walking out of the Apple store and thinking what’s in our bag will resolve all of our issues. It’s like believing that once our checking account hits a certain number that then we won’t be anxious anymore.
If idols cannot speak, they cannot impart instruction, provide wisdom, or give meaning. Think about that for a moment. When we worship false gods (like money, popularity, pleasure, power, etc.), we are worshipping something than cannot speak to us. It cannot guide us, or explain answers to our deepest questions.
Idols don’t speak to us, we speak to them. We tell them to come to life, to give us what we want. We provide the meaning. In the end, we end up being the chief god. Habakkuk observes that the idol maker gives significance and meaning to the idol, and then turns around and worships it. Idols end up being parrots- they just repeat whatever we’ve said to them.
Note the implication of this truth: when we worship false gods, we are the god. We speak the message that we want to hear. If the idol maker wants Baal, he makes Baal. At the end of the day, we know that we don’t have the answers to life’s biggest questions. In fact, we usually don’t have answers for life’s smallest questions. We need a God who speaks.
Idols are dumb, but the God who exists isn’t. Habakkuk highlights this dramatic contrast in Habakkuk 2:20,
But the LORD is in his holy temple; let the whole earth be silent in his presence.
Habakkuk isn’t merely saying we should be silent in respectful awe of God, although that is definitely appropriate. He is comparing the living God to dead idols, and he is saying that we should stop talking to our dumb idols and start listening to the God who actually speaks.
Don’t miss it: genuine worship of the true God requires listening to him. When was the last time you purposefully put yourself on “silent mode” to hear God speak through his Word? How can you create time and space to stop the noise in your world so that you can just revere God in his majesty? Idols are dumb, but our God isn’t.