God Versus the Idols

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” (vv. 6–7).

- Jeremiah 10

God, in His gracious revelation of Himself, often tells us both what to do and why we are to do it. Though He is always well within His rights to answer our questions with “because I say so,” He frequently goes beyond that to explain why serving Him is always in our best interests. A good example of this is the denunciations of idolatry that we find in the Old Testament prophetic books. For instance, Isaiah 44:9–20 mocks pagan idols to show us why we should not follow false gods. Isaiah tells us that a deity that we can shape with our hands from created material is no god at all.

Jeremiah 10 is another passage in which the Lord gives us some reasons why we should serve Him and not other gods. He begins with the familiar Old Testament charge not to follow “the way of the nations” (v. 2). In their original context, such charges refer to the gods and ethics of the peoples that surrounded ancient Israel (Lev. 18:24–30; Deut. 12:29–31). God’s people were not to follow the pagans in serving their deities or living according to their moral codes. Today’s passage focuses mainly on the serving of other gods, particularly gods associated with astrological signs. We see this in the charge not to “be dismayed at the signs of the heavens” (Jer. 10:2). The peoples of the ancient Near East believed that their gods would move the stars and planets in the sky above in order to indicate their future plans for nations and individuals. Consequently, certain astrological configurations could provoke great fear and terror when they were interpreted as omens of doom. The frequency with which Israel and Judah descended into idolatry indicates that they were not above such fears. But as Jeremiah told the ancient Judahites, they were not to be afraid because these gods could not do evil or good (vv. 3–5). Following idols is wrong not only because they are not the true Lord but also because idolatry binds people to fear, fear that is unfounded since other deities are non-existent.

Jeremiah’s call for Judah’s repentance reminded them that following God was in their best interests, that they were to obey Him not only because He said so but because following anyone else makes no sense at all. Yahweh—the Lord of Israel—is the only true and living God. He is no dead idol or a false deity who will perish but the everlasting King who made the heaven and earth by His power (vv. 6, 10–13). To fail to serve Him or seek instruction from Him is the height of stupidity (v. 21).

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments, “God renders his glory conspicuous everywhere, so that it ought to engage and occupy the thoughts of all men; and it would do so were they not led away by their own vanity.” Idolatry does not exist because the Lord is unclear about His existence but because of our own vain imaginations. Sin makes us prone to trust gods other than the one true Lord of all, but when we do that we become captive to fear and the destructive results of putting our final hope in any but God.

Passages for Further Study

Judges 6:1–10
1 Chronicles 16:23–27
Jonah 2:8
Galatians 4:8–10

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