The prophet Isaiah frequently contrasted the true God with the false gods of the nations. As Israel experienced punishment for their sin, God time and again reminded them that he is the true God while the idols that they worshipped, and the idols of the foreign nations that seemed so strong, were nothing. Isaiah 46 is a case in point.
The chapter begins with a sharp contrast between Yahweh and the Babylonian gods. The Babylonian gods, says Isaiah, needed to be carried. Rather than relieving the burdens that the people face, they became burdens for those who must bear them (vv. 1–2).
In stark contrast, Yahweh reminds his people that he had carried them from their youth and that he would continue to do so until old age. “I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (vv. 3–4). Far from burdening his people, the Lord himself unburdened them by carrying them.
This is a core difference between idolatry and biblical faith. Our idols—those things we prize above our relationship with Christ—ultimately burden us. We think they will bring us joy, freedom, and satisfaction, but ultimately they end up burdening us more than anything else. Our idols do not free us from the pressures of the world; they compound them. Our gods must be cared for, protected, and fed, yet they can never be satisfied. We quickly learn that the things we value more highly than Christ always ask more of us and are never enough. They add stress to our lives.
Christ, on the other hand, offers us freedom. His burden is light, and he promises rest to all who will come to him. If you feel weighed down under the burden of your faith, it is likely because you are carrying an idol.
Our idols are burdens because they need us. They cannot survive without us. The Babylonian gods could not carry themselves about. They needed to be borne on beasts and livestock. They were powerless to relieve the very burdens they created.
The true God does not burden us because he does not need us. This is made clear from the very outset of the biblical account. In ancient creation myths, humans were created to serve the gods. Humans were meant to build temples and provide food through sacrifice. In pagan thought, humans were created as slaves to the gods.
The Genesis creation account is very different. Rather than being created as slaves to the gods, the first humans were created as representatives of the gods. They were image-bearers. In many ancient cultures, kings were thought to be image-bearers of the gods and citizens were expected to serve the kings. In the Genesis account, every human being is an image-bearer. Every human being is given dominion over God’s creation and expected to rule it. In biblical thought, humans were created as rulers, not servants.
The reason for this distinction is simple: God does not need us. Pagan gods could not do things for themselves. They needed servants. The God of the Bible is different. He does not need humans to bring him food because everything in creation is his (Psalm 50:12). He does not live in a temple built by human hands but indwells heaven itself, with earth as his footstool (Acts 17:24–25). Since he has everything he needs, he does not burden us by demanding from us things that he cannot acquire for himself. While he receives freely offered service, offerings, and generosity, he does not need these things.
Next week, we will consider some of the idols to which we so frequently bow. As you reflect on the reality of idolatry in your life, evaluating those things that you consider of greater value than your relationship with God, consider that your idols are incapable of relieving your burdens in this life. They will demand without giving anything back. Rather than carrying your idols, why not cast yourself wholly on the mercy of God and allow him to unburden as he carries you from youth to old age?