What profits the graven image that the maker thereof has graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies…
of religion: — There is some difference of opinion as to the exact time at which the prophet Habakkuk delivered his message. But there is no question that it coincided with the period in which Israel came in contact with the great empires of the East, and was allowed to be humbled and punished by them. One of the consequences of intercourse with these empires, ending in the Captivity, was to familiarise their minds with buildings and workings of art which, while they marked the absence of a knowledge and worship of the true God, presented marvellous instances of the power and skill of man! The mind of man, in his fallen state, is ever prone to forget God and to reject Him; it is ever prone to corrupt the simple idea of His majesty and power. The idolatry of power was expressed in the architecture and image. worship of this period. The words of the text refer to it, The dumb stone (of the monuments) speaks still; it speaks of abject submission to irresistible power. It speaks of rule and might and iron will; but there is no love, no tenderness, no hope in its utterances. History re-echoes the prophet's denunciation, and extends it to after generations, embracing the later and more engaging forms of art thus employed. The message of works of art addresses itself to the carnal and the sensuous that is in us. It does not bring us into contact with the unseen and the infinite. There is a woe in it. May we not, descending the stream of time, go on to point out that the prophet's woe also lights upon what is called Christian Art — on them who, in the Church of Christ, have said unto the wood, Awake, and have called upon the dumb stone to teach? The woe has taken effect in bringing down a thick pall of dark superstition and loss of spiritual life wherever the practice has prevailed. It is not to the wood or to the stone that we are directed for our instruction in Divine things, but to the Word and to the testimony. And therefore it is that in the arranging of our churches and the adjusting of their ornaments, at the time of the Reformation, it appeared right to those who were charged with this work that the wood and the stone which had been setup to speak and to teach should be excluded from this office; that no attempt should be made, by an exhibition of the passion and death of our blessed Lord, to the outward eye, to move the feelings and to strengthen the faith; but rather that such things were to be removed as a danger and a hindrance to acceptable worship. In place of ornaments and images the Reformers put the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments. It cannot be denied that in our day there is some danger lest too much importance be attached to external appearance, to architecture and decoration. While we do not look to the wood to Speak, or to the dumb stone to teach, we will not hesitate to make both minister to the comeliness of the sanctuary. In so doing we shall not impede but assist devotion. Holding fast the essential truths, and taught by the Word of the living God, we may rejoice with thanksgiving for the comeliness of the sanctuaries which now cover our land in every direction, and cheerfully do our part, that the wood and the stone may be made worthily to set forth the honour of God's service, and furnish us fitting accompaniment for the prayer and the praise we offer in His name.
(Archdeacon Cooper, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?