The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. (Psalm 135:15-18)
I remember my grandmother used to say, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” This proverb was usually quoted immediately after some instruction to set the table, rake the leaves or some other “godly” use of my hands. The message my grandma sent seemed to be that busyness was next to godliness—or at least it made it harder to find time for sinning! Grandma’s wisdom, I now know, was a loose translation of one of Solomon’s sayings (Proverbs 16:27) that was in turn popularized in one of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, “Engage In some occupation, so that the devil may always find you busy.” Whether it is strictly biblical or not, it seems like a pretty good strategy!
This week’s passage from Psalm 135 could be summarized into an even more Biblical idea; which is that “Idol hands are the devil’s workshop!” Let me explain.
Psalm 135 is an interesting example of scriptural reconstruction. Almost every verse in the song quotes or alludes to another Old Testament passage—including four different Psalms, two quotes from Deuteronomy, two from Jeremiah, and two from Exodus. It begins much the same way as our psalm last week, “Praise the Lord…you servants of the Lord…who minister in the house of the Lord.” (vs. 1-2 – compare to Psalm 134:1)
The writer goes on to explain why we want to worship this great God. First of all, He is good to us (vs. 3), choosing us as his treasured possession (vs. 4) and showing favor to His people generation after generation (vs. 13-14). In addition, we worship Him because He is greater than all other gods (vs. 5), ruler over all creation (vs. 6-7), and Lord over all the kings of the earth (vs. 8-12). This God is worthy of our praise, our worship, and our devotion!
In stark contrast, the psalmist goes on to compare our God to the gods of the nations: “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths.” (vs. 15-17). There is clearly no comparison! But then the songwriter goes even further, “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” (vs. 18) Ouch!
Apparently, not only is it futile to worship any other gods—it’s also dangerous! Those who work with “idol hands” have a big problem—regardless of how “busy” they manage to make themselves! Try as they might, they are unable to hear God’s compassionate voice or see God’s amazing power. Not only that, they are deafened and blinded to the cries and needs of others; and they are incapable of speaking those words that can bring life out of death.
In short, the psalmist is warning us that we become what we worship. Evangelist G. Campbell Morgan said it this way, “It is forever true that man becomes like his god, approximates in character and conduct to that which he yields his homage.” We can use our “idol hands,” even busy ones, to fashion other gods for ourselves—gods of success and wealth, gods of health and security, gods of relationships and pleasure. OR we can lift up those hands in praise to the God who actually sees and hears us; to the One who speaks life and creation into existence.
We become what we worship. “If we worship things that people produce,” writes theologian James Boice, “we will become as impotent and empty as those things. But if we worship God, by the grace of God we will become like God.” It’s true! As we continue to behold the Lord’s glory, we actually become God’s glory in the world! (2 Corinthians 3:18)
Lazy “Idle hands” can certainly lead to problems, but so can busy “Idol hands.” Whatever god we try to create for ourselves will eventually let us down and then drag us down with it. Instead of trying to lift yourself up, why not lift up your “holy hands” to the One who created you, and let Him lift you up? Give Him all the praise and glory…give Him your worship and your life…and always stay thirsty, my friends!
HYMN – O To Be Like Thee