Hear the word that the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:
“Learn not the way of the nations,
nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens
because the nations are dismayed at them,
for the customs of the peoples are vanity.
A tree from the forest is cut down
and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so that it cannot move.
Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field,
and they cannot speak;
they have to be carried,
for they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them,
for they cannot do evil,
neither is it in them to do good.”
There is none like you, O Lord;
you are great, and your name is great in might.
Who would not fear you, O King of the nations?
For this is your due;
for among all the wise ones of the nations
and in all their kingdoms
there is none like you.
They are both stupid and foolish;
the instruction of idols is but wood!
Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish,
and gold from Uphaz.
They are the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the goldsmith;
their clothing is violet and purple;
they are all the work of skilled men.
But the Lord is the true God;
he is the living God and the everlasting King.
At his wrath the earth quakes,
and the nations cannot endure his indignation. – Jeremiah 10:1-10 ESV
This passage provides us with a contrast, and one that is such stark differences, it borders on the absurd or ridiculous. And that is the point. In these verses we have the one true God compared with the false gods or idols of the pagan nations. In reality, there is no comparison, but these verses are intended to provide the people of Judah with an embarrassing and convicting illustration of what they have done. They have turned their back on God Almighty, the creator of the universe, and chosen to worship gods they have made with their own hands. From their earliest days in the land of Canaan, God had warned them against following the religions practiced by the nations occupying the land.
“When the Lord your God goes ahead of you and destroys the nations and you drive them out and live in their land, do not fall into the trap of following their customs and worshiping their gods. Do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations worship their gods? I want to follow their example.’ You must not worship the Lord your God the way the other nations worship their gods, for they perform for their gods every detestable act that the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters as sacrifices to their gods.” – Deuteronomy 12:29-31 NLT
It wasn’t just a ban on worshiping false gods. It was a commandment not to worship the one true God falsely. But the people of Judah were guilty of violating both. They did worship the gods of the surrounding nations and they also worshiped Yahwah in ways He never prescribed. They attempted to “improve” their God-ordained form of worship by adding aspects of idolatry, syncretizing Judaism with paganism. But God never asked them to do so. In fact, His assessment of these pagan religions is painfully blunt: “…the religion of these people is worthless” (Jeremiah 10:3 NLT). Then He explains why.
“They cut down a tree in the forest,
and a craftsman makes it into an idol with his tools.
He decorates it with overlays of silver and gold.
He uses hammer and nails to fasten it together
so that it will not fall over.
Such idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field.
They cannot talk.
They must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not be afraid of them
because they cannot hurt you.
And they do not have any power to help you.” – Jeremiah 10:3-5 NLT
They’re not real. They have no life within them. Their very existence is attributable to man. They are a figment of the imagination and the fabrication of someone’s hands. And they have no power to help anyone. Yet, the people of Judah had placed their trust and hope in them. A tree created by God was used to create a false god. This isn’t a legitimate comparison. It is a comedy of errors and a sin of epic proportions. And Jeremiah can’t help but agree and adds His own thoughts regarding the undeniable superiority of Yahweh.
“There is no one like you, Lord.
You are great.
And you are renowned for your power.
Everyone should revere you, O King of all nations,
because you deserve to be revered.
For there is no one like you
among any of the wise people of the nations nor among any of their kings.” – Jeremiah 10:6-7 NLT
There are no other gods. They don’t exist. And anyone in his right mind should recognize that there is only one true God and that He is worthy of praise and honor. Jeremiah pulls no punches when he states: “The Lord is the only true God. He is the living God and the everlasting King” (Jeremiah 10:10 NLT). All the other gods are man-made and, while beautiful to look at, they are worthless to depend upon. They can’t speak, walk, or think for themselves. They can’t answer prayers because they can’t hear prayers. They can’t come to anyone’s rescue because they are incapable of movement. They have to be carried everywhere they go. And Jeremiah doesn’t pull any punches when he states: “The people of those nations are both stupid and foolish. Instruction from a wooden idol is worthless!” (Jeremiah 10:8 NLT).
But who are the real fools here? The people of Judah. They are the ones who have turned their backs on Yahweh, the God who called their patriarch Abraham out of Ur and promised to him the land of Canaan as his inheritance. They are the ones who knew the stories of God’s deliverance of their ancestors out of slavery in Egypt and of His miraculous provision for them during their 40 years in the wilderness. They were very familiar with the story of how God had given their predecessors the law in order to guide their daily conduct, and how He had provided the sacrificial system as a means of receiving forgiveness when the inevitably failed to keep His law. They also knew how He had provided victory over the nations that occupied land of Canaan – in spite of their superior strength and numbers. They were fully aware of God’s power and provision over the centuries. And they were anything but ignorant of the sins of their grandparents and great-grandparents, and how God had dealt severely with their idolatry.
But here they were repeating the same mistakes. Their knowledge of God and His ways was incomplete and unconvincing. They did not revere or fear Him. They showed Him no respect and saw no reason to repent of their ways. They should have known better. They knew the truth. They knew the one true God. But they refused to serve Him alone.
Their guilt was far greater than that of the pagans. They knew the truth, but refused to acknowledge it. They were well aware of God’s commands, but had chosen to disobey them. To know the truth and to ignore it is a dangerous game to play.
But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness. – Romans 2:8 NLT
If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. – 1 John 2:4 NLT
So whoever knows what is good to do and does not do it is guilty of sin. – James 4:17 NLT
The people of Judah knew the truth about God. There was no comparison between Him and their false gods. This wasn’t a case of good versus better. It wasn’t a matter of one god versus another. The pagans, in their ignorance, had taken what little knowledge they had of God as revealed in creation and made their own versions of Him.
But God shows his anger from heaven against all sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:18-23 NLT
Paul goes on to say, “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise!” (Romans 1:25 NLT). But the people of Judah had met the one true God. They had no excuse. They had witnessed His power. They had experienced His ongoing provision. He had revealed Himself to them. And yet, they had turned their back on Him. To know the truth and to ignore it is a deadly game to play. To have a knowledge of the one true God, but to act as if He doesn’t exist is to be doubly guilty. The people of Judah knew better because they knew God. But their knowledge of Him had become academic and impersonal. They claimed to know Him, but didn’t keep His commandments. And as the apostle John states so plainly, “that person is a liar and is not living in the truth.”
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.