Christian Living

A word from Jeremiah… “Idolatry is for idiots!”

As God’s people, we’re in a battle to put sin to death and live a holy life. Of course, growth in godliness is God’s work in us by his Spirit. But we’ve got a role to play as well. What ‘self-talk’ do you use in the thick of battle? Perhaps you say…

“I want to please God because of his grace to me in the gospel!”

“God knows the best way to live… if I sin it only leads to damage.”

Recently, I’ve come across another strategy that simultaneously motivates me and, ironically, accommodates my ego:

“Don’t be a fool!” or, if I can put it this way, “Don’t be an idiot!”

This tactic emerged as I was working through Jeremiah 10. One of the categories of sin that features heavily in Jeremiah is idolatry. Idolatry is just one of many biblical categories for sin, but it is a bit of a foundational concept. Idolatry is when we stop worshipping God as our number one love and worship something else (Rom 1:25).

Jeremiah’s countrymen were praying to wooden figurines on their mantle pieces, imagining they represented actual deities, responsible for the rain, fertility, and so forth. This practice seems ludicrous, but the people were looking to these idols for their security and happiness, to satisfy their deepest needs.

Sound familiar?

We might not have wooden idols, but where are you placing all your hopes? What’s that one thing, or area of your life, that you could not bear to lose? Whatever that object, or idea, is—if it’s not God—it’s sure to be your idol.

Now, brace yourself for impact.

Jeremiah’s rebuke to us is clear: idolatry is downright foolish.

Jeremiah contrasts the idols with the one and only God, Yahweh of Israel, in three main ways.

1. Idols are man-made, but God is the creator of everything

The idols Jeremiah refers to were just decorated pieces of wood, made by human hands:

“They cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold.” (Jer 10:3-4)

In contrast, the God of Israel made the very wood being shaped into idols:

“God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.” (Jer 10:12)

2. Idols are lifeless, but God is living and active

In chapter 10 Jeremiah also reminds us that these idols are lifeless, inanimate. They can’t do anything:

“Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried because they cannot walk. Do not fear them.” (v. 5)

On the other hand:

“The LORD is the true God; he is the living God… He sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses.” (vv. 10, 13)

God actively directs creation by his power. He is alive.

3. Idols are worthless but God is great

This third point of comparison is really a product of the other two. It’s Jeremiah’s take-home point. Jeremiah concludes that the idols “are worthless, the objects of mockery” (v. 15) but that:

“No one is like you, O LORD; you are great, and your name is mighty in power.” (v. 6)

What about us?

Perhaps you’ve sensed Jeremiah’s scathing tone throughout these verses. It’s there! His deliberate strategy is to expose the folly of serving false idols instead of the true and living God. There is just no comparison! Why would we ever serve that which is man-made, lifeless, and worthless, over the God who is the creator of all things, living and active and great? It would be idiotic!

If Jeremiah was to mock us today for our modern idols, what would he say?

“Are you telling me that every decision you make revolves around paying off that house? It’s just bricks and mortar. You can’t take it with you when you die!”

I don’t mean to belittle the financially prudent. That’s just one example. But I hope you catch my drift. When we make something other than God our number one priority—whether that’s a thing, a dream, a set of circumstances—we’re being incredibly foolish. Because only God is glorious enough to satisfy our deepest longings. Only he has the power to provide for our greatest needs.

Have you put created things before the Creator—lifeless things before the Life-giver?

If you’ve been an idiot, like me, do what I do. Keep going back to the cross. Ask for forgiveness. Again. And stop being an idiot!