Feeding on Ashes

“He feedeth on ashes; a deceived heart hath turned him aside; and he cannot deliver his soul, nor say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” Isaiah 44:20


The prophet’s language is quite picturesque. We can imagine someone sitting in front of a bucket of ashes, but that those ashes should be his food? Quite impossible, we say. The gritty cinders would irritate the lips and tongue, dry up the moisture of the mouth, interfere with the breathing, and hardly would there be an ounce of nourishment in the whole bucketful. Why would the prophet suggest that someone was feeding on ashes?

These words were a warning to the people of Israel not to become like the heathen people around them. In their sinful ignorance they would go into a forest and cut a tree, use part of it as fuel for fire to cook their food, another part to warm themselves, and yet out of another part of it they would carve an idol and call it their god. What foolishness, says Isaiah. And with a tone that changes from bitter irony to astonished pity, he accuses them of feeding on ashes. One may as well eat a bucket of ashes as fall down and worship the stock of a tree.

There are none of us, I trust, who have a handforged idol standing in our living room, before which we bow in worship. But that does not mean that the temptation to commit idolatry is not real for us, nor that we are totally free from the possibility of feeding on ashes. We must ask our heavenly Father to open our eyes to see the idols that sometimes get in the way, and to lead us always in the direction of feeding on nourishing food.

This is a good season of the year to ask ourselves about our level of interest in the Word of God. For that Word is the ouly real food for our souls. Not that it is more important at one time of the year than another to enrich ourselves with the spiritual nourishment of God’s Word. But with the beginning of another society season in our churches, the opportunities for study and growth are greater. How important that we make sure our food is real food and not ashes.

The devil would be delighted to have you and me chew on ashes and believe it was food. If he can convince us that we don’t need· to study God’s Word because we already know all we need to know, he is thrilled. He will slyly make the suggestion that there is generally too much arguing and disagreement in most societies for Bible study anyway, so the value of attending is minimal. And it doesn’t take too much prodding to convince us that we are really too busy with other things, or that the T.V. provides much more excitement than an hour of Christian fellowship around the Word of God. Has he ever put such things in your mind? Has he ever convinced you that these falsehoods are true?

The reason we need to be so careful to avoid this snare is that the life which ignores God in this way is usually and tragically unaware of its own emptiness. Says Isaiah: “A deceived heart hath turned him aside.” That’s why people prefer ashes for food. The heart is deceitful, and thus a man’s vision is distorted and his power of judgment is marred. And the result is that many a person tries to quench his thirst by dipping a leaky bucket into an empty well; but there is no real satisfaction. The hunger and thirst go on, but because the food is ashes, there is no nourishment.

The Lord Jesus once asked an unanswerable question: “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which satisfieth not?” That question has no good answer, other than to say that a deceived heart has turned us aside. Any other response would be an excuse, and not an answer.

To feed on ashes is to be on a starvation diet. How sorely we need to be close to Him who said: “I am the bread of life; He that cometh to me shall never hunger.” He is the One who has the words of eternal life. And if we, by the grace of God, are among those who are hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and we are seeking it in HiWord, then we may boldly expect that we shall be filled as He has promised.

Let us do some careful soulsearching as we consider our involvement in the life of the church. By nature our hearts are capable of some very deep treachery, and we must take care lest what we sometims pass off as simple carelessness or neglect is in fact idolatry. May our feeding not be on ashes, but on the everliving Word of the living God, for our spiritual enrichment and His glory.