The Woe of Idolatry: What Profit?

What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; The molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols? Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it. But the LORD is in his holy temple: Let all the earth keep silence before him.

— Habakkuk 2:18-20

Idolatry existed before the rise of the Babylonian empire. Every ancient culture had their own false gods they worshipped. But Babylon seems to have been the center for idolatry. The account in Genesis 11:1–9 tells us of a time when the people of the earth gathered together to build a tower in the land of Shinar, the land surrounding the future Babylon: “And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth.” They wanted to make a name for themselves. In other words, they were idolizing themselves. A little over 100 years after the Tower of Babel, an unknown scribe wrote a story called The Epic of Gilgamesh around the year 2,100 BC. The tablets which tell the story were found in Nineveh, north of Babylon. The story tells about a king named Gilgamesh, his dealings with the gods, and his search for eternal life. The story mentions 13 different gods and demonstrates how much the people of the Mesopotamian region worshipped the heavens.

Idolatry continued throughout Babylon’s history, and it appears to have reached a peak when the Babylonian empire under Nebuchadnezzar came to power. Jeremiah 50:38 has this to say about Babylon:

“A drought is upon her waters; and they shall be dried up: for it is the land of graven images, and they are mad upon their idols.”

Babylon’s idolatry continued to impact the world and influenced the subsequent Persian religion, Roman religion, and Catholicism. Babylon was the “land of graven images.” The Babylonians were literally “mad” or “crazy” because of their idols.

Here in Habakkuk 2:18, the Lord begins the dispute with the Babylonians’ idolatry by an insult: “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it.” The idols were made from God’s creation. God made the wood, stone, silver, and gold. It was an insult to God the Creator for His creation to be used to form idols. But at the same time, it is as if the Lord is saying that it is an insult to the wood, stone, silver, and gold themselves to be formed into idols. It doesn’t profit them a bit. The wood would be better put to use in the construction of His temple. The stone would be better magnified as a tablet to write His Word on. And the gold and silver would be better magnified in providing for His laborers.

Not only does it not profit the graven image for the idolaters to make it, the false teacher doesn’t profit either. Here, the false teacher is called a “teacher of lies.” The teachers of lies are leading a whole nation to hell, but the teachers of lies are leading themselves to hell as well.

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