Idols Do Not Growl (Psalm 115:5-7)

“Mouths are theirs, yet they do not speak;

eyes are theirs, yet they do not see;

ears are theirs, yet they do not hear;

noses are theirs, yet they do not smell.

There are hands, but they do not feel;

there are feet, but they do not walk;

there is no utterance in their throats.”

(Psalm 115:5-7)


            The psalmist continues to point out the foolishness of idolatry.  Though you carve a mouth onto a piece of gold or silver, such does not impart the ability for such an item to speak.  Though you give it eyes, it will never see.  It may have ears, a nose, hands and feet, but it is still a cold, inanimate, lifeless hunk of metal created by the hands of men and of no more value than it has in artistic merit.  In contrast, we worship a God who does hear our prayers; he speaks from heaven as recorded in his word and he sees even what is done in dark places where no man may see.  Our God is a God who moves in this earth and is bound by nothing, and the value of our God is not based on the limited skills of men’s craftmanship, but is infinite and based in His eternal glory and character.  What a contrast there is between the gods of men and the One True and Living God!

            The last clause in this passage must also be understood in terms of the Hebrew words that the psalmist employs, for it is not meant as a repetition of the first line of this passage, but intensifies it.  The passage begins with the idea that these idols have carved mouths, yet cannot speak, but in the case of the last clause, the psalmist uses the term hg”h’ (hagah), which literally means, “to growl.”  This is also the term that is often used to describe the faithful man deep in meditation over God’s word (see Psalm 1:2 or 63:6).  In the ancient Jewish culture, when one was deep in meditation over the scriptures, one would often quietly mumble the words that one was reading.  To an observer, that slow, almost rhythmic, mumbling would sound akin to the low, guarded growl of an animal—much like that of a large dog warning you that it does not wish to be disturbed.  There is no such growl in the throat of these created idols because there is no intelligence in them with which to understand the wisdom of God’s word.

            This begs the question about intelligence and where the source of intelligence is.  The presupposition of the secularist in our culture is that intelligence is nothing more than exchanged electrical and chemical impulses in the grey matter that we call our brain.  Yet, if this is so, it is genuinely impossible for us to have rational/creative thought and understanding.  In their mindset, ideas, for example, are nothing more than cause and effect and “rationality” is nothing more than a complex set of predictable signals from one part of the brain to another.  Yet, when you take this mindset to its rational end, our brains are really no more than complicated computers which are unable to create genuine, rational ideas or to understand—all we do is process.  It takes a soul that is able to act independently of cause and effect to be able to rationally interpret data and to understand.

            Why is this significant?  It is significant because we live in a culture that is working hard to create what they term as “Artificial Intelligence.”  Given that they believe human thought is just a mass of chemical-electrical signals, they believe that they can duplicate such within a sufficiently sophisticated computer chip.  What are the ramifications of this?  If their world-view is right, then when computers reach the point of being able to “think rationally” for themselves, they will be eligible for the same rights as we would give to a human.  In addition, they are trying to place themselves in the position of God, having “created” for themselves a new race—a race of intelligent computers.

            Certainly, much of this is still kept in the realms of science fiction, but often what is science fiction in one generation becomes science-fact in subsequent ones.  In the beginning of the 20th century, the idea of rockets flying into outer space was something dreamed of only by the writers, by the end of the 20th century, rockets in space had become commonplace.  When my parents were in college, they used computers that filled an entire room; when I went to college, laptops were becoming commonplace.  Today, even young children are computer literate.

            Why are we dwelling on this?  It gets back to what the psalmist speaks of in the last clause of this passage—there is no meditation or utterance in their throats.  A computer cannot “growl” over any information, let alone the scriptures because a computer does not nor can have any understanding.  You may program it with sufficiently complex algorithms to mimic some aspects of human thought, but there will never be any genuine understanding or creative thought—it will never be anything more than input and output.

            There is a wonderful little analogy given by a man named John Searle in the 20th century that describes why a computer cannot truly have independent thought.  The analogy basically says, take a man who knows no Chinese and has never even seen Chinese, and put him in a room with a slot and two books.  Through the slot, put in a list of instructions in Chinese.  The man’s job is to take that list, look up each instruction in the first book, which will tell him what response to write from the second book.  Instructions and responses are always in Chinese, there is never any translation given for him within the books and he never sees what takes place outside of the box when he gives said response. 

            Certainly, there will be many errors made at first, but over time, the man will get pretty proficient with it.  In fact, over time, the man may even begin to recognize the subtle differences between characters and even be able to remember the proper responses to common commands.  Yet, when you take the man outside of the box, he will not be able to read or comprehend Chinese.  He will not be able to understand it or be able to interact with someone else using Chinese.  Why?  When there is no translation, there is nothing more than input and output—exactly the way a computer chip works.  A computer chip cannot think, reason, or understand because it has no God-given soul—it does not have genuine life.  The works of our hands, no mater how complex or lifelike they may seem are unable to understand.  This is something that the psalmist understood nearly 3000 years ago—it is a shame that many today still have not learned that lesson.

            Beloved, not only ought we not bow down to the works of the hands of men, we ought not be intimidated by them either.  Sometimes, when we see this person or that person with their strings of academic degrees, we set our God-given common sense and wisdom to the side and allow them to spout foolishness because we feel inadequate to stand up to them.  Beloved, don’t be.  The wonderful thing is that the facts and reality of this world—given that God created it—support the Biblical truth.  Much of what the secularists espouse is propaganda designed to intimidate.  It is like the old preacher who wrote on the side of his sermon notes: “weak point, preach loudly!”  Much of their “scientific” theory is anything but scientific and all they are doing is preaching loudly and passionately to try and get you to go along with them.  Don’t fall into that trap.  God has given you minds with which to think and to reason—it is part of the Imago Dei (the image of God) within you.  Don’t let them intimidate you for they are acting on their instincts, like unreasoning animals, but, we are getting ahead of ourselves.  Beloved, we worship a living and active God who is infinite in his glory and in his worth—why would you want to settle for anything less?

About preacherwin

A pastor, teacher, and a theologian concerned about the confused state of the church in America and elsewhere...Writing because the Christian should think Biblically.

Posted on August 08, 2008, in Expositions and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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