The Futility of Idolatry (Wisdom)

Many of us are perhaps familiar with Isaiah’s taunt and mockery of idolatry in 44:9-20. To be sure, there are other places in the Bible that mock the futility of idolatry. Idols are things that a person makes and serves but cannot hear, speak, or help. From one perspective it’s a sad and dark evil to construct an idol and worship it. From another perspective it’s silly and almost humorous. There are examples of mocking idols in extra-biblical literature as well. For example, the apocryphal book “The Wisdom of Solomon” has a section that shows the futility of idolatry:

7 A potter kneads the soft earth 
and laboriously molds each vessel for our service, 
fashioning out of the same clay 
both the vessels that serve clean uses 
and those for contrary uses, making all alike; 
but which shall be the use of each of them 
the worker in clay decides. 
8 With misspent toil, these workers form a futile god from the same clay— these mortals who were made of earth a short time before 
and after a little while go to the earth from which all mortals are taken, 
when the time comes to return the souls that were borrowed. 


9 But the workers are not concerned that mortals are destined to die 
or that their life is brief, 
but they compete with workers in gold and silver,
and imitate workers in copper; 
and they count it a glorious thing to mold counterfeit gods. 
10 Their heart is ashes, their hope is cheaper than dirt, 
and their lives are of less worth than clay, 
11 because they failed to know the One who formed them 
and inspired them with active souls 
and breathed a living spirit into them. 


12 But they considered our [human] existence an idle game, 
and life a festival held for profit, 
for they say one must get money however one can, even by base means. 
13 For these persons, more than all others, know that they sin 
when they make from earthy matter fragile vessels and carved images.

(Wisdom of Solomon 15:7-13)

I realize the Wisdom of Solomon is not inspired Scripture. At the same time, it is a helpful historical writing that “we can take instruction from” as far as it agrees with the canonical books, as the Belgic Confession says (article VI). The above words give some helpful insight into idolatry’s foolishness. (And, as an interesting side, it’s worth thinking about Wisdom 15:7 above and Paul’s “clay vessel” discussion in Romans 9:21 with Isaiah 64:8 and Jeremiah 18:6 in the background.)

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

4 thoughts on “The Futility of Idolatry (Wisdom)”

  1. Dear Brother Shane, from time to time i read your page. What you have to say is so often a great gift to me. In receiving the books given in the bible as inspired we are both accepting, I think, (but as Julian of Norwich said, “I am an unlettered woman”) the Council of Carthage and the decree of Pope Damasus I and the Council of Rome in 382, Whilst not including Wisdom in the main canon, neither deny that it is inspired. You are inspired by the Holy Spirit to share God’s wisdom with others – one of the most beutiful gifts of the Holy Spirit is an instinct for truth!
    Sister Juliana
    Poor Clare Colettines
    St Edward’s, Aylestone, Leicester UK
    newlifecoletteswell@gmail.com

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I appreciate it. I suppose we might be using the word “inspired” differently. In the Reformed and Protestant tradition, we use the term “inspired’ to speak about Scripture like Paul did in 2 Tim. 3:16-17. As Protestants, we don’t count the Apocrypha in the list of inspired Scripture. However, we do appreciate the Apocrypha as helpful and worthwhile reading. Hope this makes sense.
      Blessings, Shane

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