Following the word “turn” (שוב) through Jeremiah’s prophecy.
“Then the LORD said to me in the days of Josiah the king, ‘Have you seen what faithless
went up on every high hill and under every green tree, and she was a harlot
there. I thought, “After she has done all these things she will return [שוב]
to Me”; but she did not return [שוב],
and her treacherous sister Judah saw it. And I saw that for all the adulteries
of faithless Israel ,
I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister
Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also. Because of the
lightness of her harlotry, she polluted the land and committed adultery with
stones and trees. Yet in spite of all this her treacherous sister Judah did not
return [שוב] to Me with all
her heart, but rather in deception,’ declares the LORD. And the LORD said to
me, ‘Faithless Israel Israel has
proved herself more righteous than treacherous ’” (Jeremiah 3:6-11). Judah
To worship the creation instead of the Creation is spiritual insanity. Idolatry defies reason.
The Savior-God, God of grace, has issued this decree: “Then God spoke all these words, saying, ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the
, out of the
house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make
for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the
earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or
serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity
of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of
those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love
Me and keep My commandments’” (Exodus 20:1-6; cf. Deuteronomy 5:1-10; 1
Corinthians 10:1-33; 1 John 5:21). land
Consider this parable, given over a century before Jeremiah’s word for today: “Those who fashion a graven image are all of them futile, and their precious things are of no profit; even their own witnesses fail to see or know, so that they will be put to shame. Who has fashioned a god or cast an idol to no profit? Behold, all his companions will be put to shame, for the craftsmen themselves are mere men. Let them all assemble themselves, let them stand up, let them tremble, let them together be put to shame. The man shapes iron into a cutting tool and does his work over the coals, fashioning it with hammers and working it with his strong arm. He also gets hungry and his strength fails; he drinks no water and becomes weary. Another shapes wood, he extends a measuring line; he outlines it with red chalk. He works it with planes and outlines it with a compass, and makes it like the form of a man, like the beauty of man, so that it may sit in a house. Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, ‘Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.’ But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god.’ They do not know, nor do they understand, for He has smeared over their eyes so that they cannot see and their hearts so that they cannot comprehend. No one recalls, nor is there knowledge or understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire and also have baked bread over its coals. I roast meat and eat it. Then I make the rest of it into an abomination, I fall down before a block of wood!’ He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside. And he cannot deliver himself, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’” (Isaiah 44:9-20).
The New Testament continues this polemic against the blasphemy of idolatry: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen” (Romans 1:18-25).
“The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk; and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality nor of their thefts” (Revelation 9:20,21).
To refuse to see the reality of God’s judgment, despite historical examples (Scripture and human history is overflowing with these witnesses!), is spiritual blindness. Imagining a god who never brings judgment for idolatry is itself idolatry.
Jesus raises the definition of idolatry far above the mere crafting of materials into an object of worship. He raises the bar so high that we are all under it!
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also...no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:19-21,24).
You may think that the idolatry of greed is something of which only the wealthy are guilty. No so. Jesus goes on to tell us exactly what He means by the warning “you cannot serve God and wealth.”
“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things” (6:25-32). Idolatry extends to the basic requirements of human life, not just extravagant wealth!
The Law still defines the only priority for Jesus (and those who make a claim to be His followers): “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (6:33).
Jeremiah tells us that, despite the example of the northern ten tribes of
(destroyed in 722 B.C. by the Assyrians), missed the lesson. They, in
fact, surpassed Judah
in their idolatry. Israel
May we not miss the lesson.
“Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall. No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:11-14).