“They decorate it with silver and with gold; They fasten it with nails and with hammers So that it will not totter. Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, For they can do no harm, Nor can they do any good” (Jer. 10:4-5).
These words are Jeremiah’s satirical commentary on idolatry. They reveal the ridiculousness of the nations surrounding Israel — they reject God for a metal-covered log. The metal is pretty, to be sure, but still it is inanimate and cold. And even worse, they take the idol — a wood idol, their god — and in order to keep it from falling over, they prop it up with boards and nails. Absurd!
Jeremiah was not the only Old Testament writer who noted the foolishness of the idolatrous worship of the pagan nations. Isaiah speaks of the craftsmen who encourages the metal smelter to make an object of worship and pronounces a God-like affirmation, “It is good” (Is. 41:7a; cf. Gen. 1:4ff). Only it must not have been “very good” since they also needed nails to keep it from toppling over (Is. 41:7b). Habakkuk mocks the idol maker “who trusts in his own handiwork” (Hab. 2:18) — a creation that cannot speak, is “asleep,” and cannot move or breathe (Hab. 2:19). Yet there is the maker, offering worship to his inanimate, incapable idol.
In modern times we have progressed far beyond such silliness. Or have we? Philip Yancey suggests that perhaps idolatry is alive and well — even among those who name Christ as their own. “What modern idols make God seem trivial? What tends to reduce the surprise, the passion, the vitality of my relationship with God? Most days, I am not so conscious of choosing between a god and God; the alternatives do not present themselves so clearly. Rather, I find God edged out by a series of small distractions. A car that needs repair, last-minute plans for an upcoming trip, a leaky gutter, a friend’s wedding — these distractions, mere trivialities, may lead us to a form of forgetfulness that resembles idolatry in its most dangerous form. The busyness of life, including all its religious busyness, can crowd out God. I confess that some days I meet people, work, make decisions, talk on the phone, all without giving God a single thought. A friend of mine was stopped dead in her tracks by a skeptic. After listening to her explain her faith, he said this: ‘But you don’t act like you believe God is alive.’ I try to turn his accusation into a question: Do I act like God is alive? It is a good question, one that lies at the heart of all idolatry, and one that I must ask myself again every day.”
Do I act like God is alive? Wasn’t that the problem in Assyria? And Babylon? And Moab? And Edom? And Israel? And is it not the question for me? It is. It is the question that firmly addresses my loyalties. That is why Jeremiah’s reminder in the following verses is also so important. Do you want to act (read: live) like God is alive? Then remember that “There is none like Thee, O Lord; Thou art great, and great is Thy name in might” (Jer. 10:6).