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[Isa 44:18-20 NLT] (18) Such stupidity and ignorance! Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see. Their minds are shut, and they cannot think. (19) The person who made the idol never stops to reflect, "Why, it's just a block of wood! I burned half of it for heat and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat. How can the rest of it be a god? Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?" (20) The poor, deluded fool feeds on ashes. He trusts something that can't help him at all. Yet he cannot bring himself to ask, "Is this idol that I'm holding in my hand a lie?"

In other words, did/do idolaters really worship the block of wood or did they use the statuette as a locus of focus on a deity that they believed lived in the high places or in the sky? What evidence do we have either way?

Protestants tend to regard Catholics as idolaters because they pray to Mary and the saints by addressing their carved or cast proxies. The Orthodox use icons in a similar way (I hear).

Now, I know that carved images are forbidden in Torah. However, isn't that because the image is of a man, bird, cow or what have you, that does not represent the True God who is without form?

All this seems to bump into the issue of Jesus being the image of God (presumably in a truer sense than Adam being the image of God) to some degree, though probably not very much.

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  • Did Yisraelites worship The Tabernacle / Ha-Mishkan (הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן), or was "הַמִּשְׁכָּ֔ן" to allow dwelling for Elohim? - Does a "Statue" / Pesel (פֶּ֖סֶל) get worshipped, or was the "פֶּ֖סֶל" carved to provide a dwelling for a false god? The pesel "wood" (עֵ֖ץ) in Isaiah 44:19 is the dwelling on which idolatrous worship would be offered. Nov 19 '20 at 16:56
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    Also note the Ivri term used "תוֹעֵבָ֣ה" in Isaiah 44:19. * "Abomination" is not the same as god. - The prophet Yeshayahu appears to be calling the pesel "wood" (עֵ֖ץ) an Abomination, an abhorrent action is a decision not a diety. Nov 19 '20 at 17:04
  • I just stumbled upon this, which seems relevant: [Psa 31:6 NLT] (6) I hate those who worship worthless idols. I trust in the LORD.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 21 '20 at 21:41
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Isaiah 44:19 19 The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
“Why, it’s just a block of wood!
I burned half of it for heat
and used it to bake my bread and roast my meat.
How can the rest of it be a god?
Should I bow down to worship a piece of wood?”

Formally, Isaiah's argument is this. God is a living spirit. A block of wood is neither living nor a spirit. Therefore a block of wood cannot be God. The argument is solid.

Did/do idolaters really worship the block of wood or did they use the statuette as a locus of focus on a deity that they believed lived in the high places or in the sky?

You have rightfully pointed out the key weakness of Isaiah's argument. What if these worshippers do not equate the block of wood with their deity?

Now it is an open question with no close answers.

Physical representations of God do help some people to make their faith more concrete. Without them, God is too abstract for them to follow. Even in such cases, it is most important that they understand that these iconic representations are not God himself. A wooden cross points me to Christ but it is not Christ himself and I still have not seen a satisfactory physical depiction of Jesus.

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    I think that in a survey, the results would reflect Catholics and Protestants giving opposite answers! It almost seems worth conducting such a survey.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 19 '20 at 16:48
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    If interested, you can run an informal survey on a Facebook group.
    – Tony Chan
    Nov 19 '20 at 16:59
  • I don't use FB out of security concerns, but thanks.
    – Ruminator
    Nov 19 '20 at 17:01
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There are two matters here:

1. The Precise Requirements of the Second Commandment

Ex 20:4, 5 - (a) You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in the heavens above, on the earth below, or in the waters beneath. (b) You shall not bow down to them or worship them. Note the dual definition of idolatory here - (a) making the image and (b) then worshiping it as a god

2. Israel's Sanctuary had images

A casual observation of the descriptions of all the equipment in the OT Sanctuary/Temple shows that it had many images of plant, animals, angels, etc. It was God who instructed Moses to make the bronze image of the snake. None of this is a problem unless it is subsequently worshiped as a god.

Modern Christians

Now, Catholics, Orthodox and many other Christian traditions have various kinds of icons in their places of worship. OFFICIALLY, they say that these images are NOT gods and should not be worshiped but are to be used to help focus the mind/attention on a symbol of true, invisible God who cannot be depicted by man-made images. [What actually happens in the individual worshiper's mind is another matter, and not for me to know or judge.]

Isaiah's Idolater

The passage in Isa 44 about using part of the wood for cooking a meal and the other half to create a carved image-god, is to demonstrate the ludicrous nature of having a carved image as a god. That is, the worshiper here actually believes the idol is the god.

Jeremiah calls such images, "not gods at all" in Jer 2:11, 5:7, 16:20, etc. See also Isa 2 Kings 19:18, Isa 37:19, etc. The NT also has the same idea in Acts 19:26, Gal 4:8.

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