Isaiah and Idolatrous Efficiency

From the beginning of time, humanity has much preferred their own seemingly efficient solutions to accomplish the tasks that God has called them to do.

God wished for Adam and Eve to learn in relationship with Him. They chose the quicker way to gain knowledge by eating from the tree. God wanted to make a great nation from Abraham and Sarah’s children. Abraham and Sarah elected to bring Hagar into the mix to speed things along. God wanted His people to take the land of Canaan in a way that didn’t compromise their allegiance to Him through inner marriage and foreign alliances. Israel instead chose to bow down to other gods and marry whomever they wanted so that they’d be safer from invaders. When Jesus arrived and announced that His kingdom rule would be inaugurated by his death on the cross, Peter called him crazy. That wasn’t an efficient way to accomplish the task.

These are but a few examples of a reality that’s found all over scripture. God’s people almost always want to bring about God’s promises by their own means and on their own timetable. They rarely follow the plan that the Lord has laid out for them.

They valued efficiency over loyalty, and idolatry over allegiance.

And so do we.

Don’t Go Down to Egypt! (Isaiah 31)

Idolatrous efficiency is also found in the book of Isaiah.

In Isaiah 31:1-8, God’s prophet warned the Southern Kingdom of Judah to not rely on Egypt to save them from Assyrian invaders. They should instead trust only in Him for protection.

That’s because king Hoshea of the Northern Kingdom of Israel allied himself with Pharaoh So of Egypt in 727 B.C. This was done in hopes to secure a better footing against Shalmaneser V and his growing Assyrian armies.

In those days, if your nation wanted to conquer the known world, Egypt was one major superpower that you needed to defeat. Egypt had a significant amount of wartime resources and were strategically located along major supply routes. But in order to get your armies to Egypt, you had to march through both Israel and Judah. And that left God’s people in a peculiar spot. Having less resources and much smaller armies that Egypt or Assyria, they were in a pretty vulnerable place. To Israel, foreign alliances with other superpowers made the most sense for the betterment of their nation’s security.

However, YHWH promised to be His people’s protector and provider.

He promised security and safety. And He forbid His people to make foreign alliances (Deuteronomy 7:2-5, 17:14-20, Joshua 23:11-13, 1 Kings 11:1-5) so that it would be very evident that He was the one who protected them.

But what is more efficient? Trusting solely in YHWH for protection, or relying on YHWH and the Egyptian gods and armies? To the Northern Kingdom, more chariots and gods on their side must mean that they’d have greater odds to stand up against the looming Assyrian threat.

The Northern Kingdom wagered wrongly.

Shortly after king Hoshea made an alliance with Pharaoh So, Shalmaneser V gathered up his armies and attacked the capital city of Samaria. And Sargon II, Shalmaneser’s successor, finished the job by completely conquering the Northern Kingdom. Samaria fell to the Assyrian warlords in 721 B.C. and 27,000 Israelites were taken as prisoners and exiles.

Hezekiah and Sennacherib (Isaiah 36-37)

But king Hezekiah of the Southern Kingdom of Judah did not make the same mistake as king Hoshea.

Hezekiah chose the less efficient means of protection from a worldly perspective.

We see this play out in Isaiah chapters 36-37.

In 701 B.C., king Sennacharib of Assyria gathers his armies together and marches against Jerusalem. The Assyrians were angry that Judah had stopped paying them tribute as they once did under king Ahaz. In retaliation, they brought troops to the Southern Kingdom’s capital and began to lay siege to the city.

And we see in Isaiah 36 that there was a strong temptation to call upon Egypt and their warriors for help in this matter. The Assyrian Rabshakeh knew of this and makes mention of it within his warning speech to Eliakim, Shebha, and Joah in 36:1-10. The Rabshakeh also taunts God’s people by telling them not to trust the Lord alone for their protection as YHWH didn’t protect the other nations that Assyria had conquered (including the Northern Kingdom of Israel) in 36:11-20.

Because of this taunting, Hezekiah consults the prophet Isaiah. And Isaiah instructs the king to rely solely on God’s promise of protection. If Judah trusts in the Lord, He would make sure that the Assyrian king would fall by his own sword (37:5-7). There wasn’t any need for foreign alliances because YHWH promised to be their security.  

And Hezekiah stays faithful in this way.[1]

Hezekiah prays to God for protection and does not go to Egypt for support. And in response, the Lord sends an angel into the Assyrian camp that kills 185,000 soldiers overnight (37:36). Humiliated and defeated, Sennacherib withdraws his troops from Jerusalem only to then be killed by his sons once he returned home (37:37-38).  

So, all in all, the least efficient way to defeat Assyria’s armies proved to be the best possible solution.

Efficiency as Our Idol

Efficiency was an idol to God’s people.

And idolatries always come from our best intentions.

Abraham and Sarah were worried that they’d never have children at their age. That’s why Hagar was brought in. It just didn’t make sense that two elderly adults would ever have kids again. And Israel intermarried with the Canaanites in order to gain border security. If their rulers were related to Canaanite rulers through marriage, there would be less temptation of war or ambush.

The Northern Kingdom of Israel made a deal with Egypt for a similar reason. They trusted the Lord. But they also thought that helping Him out with foreign alliances and extra chariots wouldn’t hurt their odds. But, again, they were attempting to accomplish God’s promise for them using inappropriate means, and they faced grave consequences because of it.

And as the Church, God’s trans-national witnesses upon the earth today, we face similar temptations to be efficient.

Jesus has promised to return. He has promised to bring about His justice and judgment at His second coming. He has promised to right all wrongs, to wipe away all tears, and to eradicate sickness and death within His new creation. In the meanwhile, the Church is supposed to be a witness of that new creation through our life together. We’re to act as a foretaste of that better reality by our love, servitude, and unity. We are to point out injustices, pray and care for the weak and marginalized, and help the needy.

But, like Israel, we are not called to make God’s promises happen on our own timetables. We are to stay within the bounds of what He’s directed us to do, and not seek out more seemingly efficient routes.

Unfortunately, and especially when it comes to politics, the Church has been taken captive by the idol of efficiency.

Many good intending Christians and church congregations have devoted too much effort to idolatrous causes. Instead of acting like king Hezekiah, who waited for the Lord’s promise of security, we have taken it upon ourselves to make His promises manifest before their time through power and collusion.

We excitedly want to see an end to abortion, religious freedom, better economic advancements for the poor, and a stronger emphasis on justice and truth within society as a whole. These are all things that God promises will happen in new creation, and these are areas that the church itself must emulate to the watching world. We’re to care for struggling mothers and young children within our midst, we’re to help the poor in our congregations, we’re to point out injustice and make sure that we ourselves are a people of justice.

But we’re not meant to create “foreign alliances” with people or nations to make these things manifest before God’s divinely appointed time for such. We are not to bring about God’s ends using inappropriate means.

This is why a Christian backing a political candidate on either side is so dangerous. Often, we do so to see a promise of God fulfilled. We do so out of the best intentions. We do so wanting to see good things happen faster and within a way that we imagine is more efficient.

We happily bow down to idol after idol, mocking God the entire time we do.

Many politicians promise the Church chariots from Egypt. And many Christians love to act just like king Hoshea instead of king Hezekiah.

Both of those kings wanted safety, security, and blessing for God’s people. Only one of them sought that out in an appropriate way.

[1] He resists the temptation for a while. But the king falters later on and makes an alliance with the nation Babylon in 39:1-8.

3 thoughts on “Isaiah and Idolatrous Efficiency

    • I’ve just read it! Excellent book. And you’re right, Camp does a good job at tackling this issue. His “neither left, nor right, nor religious” idea is spot on. Have you seen the courses he’s now offering on Udemy where he unpacks Scandalous Witness even more?


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