When I was studying music in college, there were a couple of freshmen that came in my junior year who acted like they looked up to me. We made idol conversation and they would ask me questions about various things in the music department. One day, for recital class, I was playing a transcription of a Bach violin partita. This was the first time they heard me play alone and they realized I wasn’t very good. Oh, I was alright. I could probably have walked into any 7th grade band room and made first chair, or at least had a lock on 2nd chair. In all seriousness, they realized that I wasn’t as good as they’d made me out to be and it was foolish to look up to me. In a similar manner, God, through the prophet Habakkuk, shows the foolishness of idolatry.
Now, of course, this portion of scripture is part of a song with 6 woes pronounced against the Babylonian empire. The Babylonians like all ancient nations and most people today, did not worship the God Who created the universe. They engaged in the worship of idols. Now, just like Mike and Matt in my story above, in order to worship an idol, you have to engage in a bit of self-delusion. Every idol, be it a gold statue, a job, a person, or anything else, is created by a human. Not only is it created by a human, but you know, or you can know, who it is that created it. Many times in scripture, the people saw the idol being made (Aaron and the golden calf, Jeroboam’s idol in I Kings 12) right before their eyes. Therefore, as God observes in Habakkuk 2:18, what sense does it make for someone to trust something they created, especially an inanimate object made of cold, unfeeling, unliving metal. Even though this creation is a “teacher of lies”, its creator trusts in it.
It stands to reason if you create something, you are greater than what you created. I mean, this object of gold, stone, or wood that the Babylonians created owed its existence to them. So, its shape, height, weight, and any other attributes it has exist because of the will of the person that carved it. So, the lie that it teaches is that “You can be in control” or “You can depend on me”. Now, it’s easy for you and I to sit here in the 21st century and shake our head at these foolish people who “say to a wooden thing, Arise, to a silent stone, Awake” as if we’re better than they are. As Habakkuk 2:19 says, “there is no breath in it” (i.e. it isn’t alive). We can comfort ourselves as if we’re superior because we don’t bow down and worship wood or gold.
But are we really that much better? If you place something as a higher priority than God, then we can call it whatever we want to, but that, my friends, is worship. That job that you put more time and energy into than you do into sharing the gospel? You’re worshipping that job. Your leisure time that you don’t want to sacrifice to go on a mission trip? That’s an idol. These things have no more breath or life in them than any stone statue. You and I are just as foolish to chase after those idols as the Babylonians and other ancient nations were to worship statues instead of turning to worship the true, living, loving God who created the heavens and the earth.
In fact, we know that God will one day triumph over evil and all those who hate Him. He will put an end to sin and punish unrepentant sinners forever in hell. The fact that God is so holy and righteous should fill us with awe. I’m not saying we should fear God as if we’re in danger, but we should fear God in the sense that we should respect Him. The last verse of this passage sums this up as well as any other scripture I can think of—But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.