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)
Here is a great temptation. We do not mimic or covet that which will, in our estimation, fail us. And this is precisely why there is, at times, a real temptation to mimic and adopt the methods, practices, and even beliefs of those who have enjoyed great success, a high standard of living, and favorable life outcomes—even when they accomplished much if not all of it outside of fellowship with Christ. Contemporary idolatry is very much a pull toward “learning...the way of the nations” and, as such, it is a real threat not to be easily dismissed as something from another time and era. The “customs of the people”—that is their fears, dismay over the “signs of the heavens”, and the idols they construct to protect themselves and ensure physical safety and success in every endeavor are attractive to us precisely because they—or at least seem to. Working 80 hours a week, having a spouse and someone else “on the side”, petty theft, and grand larceny—all of it seems attractive precisely because it seems to work. Yet as Philip Ryken asserts this is a grave mistake. Custom/culture is not a neutral thing. Truth is not relative or “right for me” and “right for you” simultaneously. Culture and the “way of [a] nation” can and should be judged and here’s the litmus test Jeremiah provides us. After all is said and done am I more inclined to fear God or fear the “signs” of the times, nature, etc.
Take the thing in question and lay it on the table here before Jeremiah’s prophetic scalpel. Did you make it? Did someone else make it, dream it, think it, design it, fashion it, write it? Does it have, ultimately, human origins? Do you have to feed it, “carry it”, care for it in anyway? Is it entirely self-sufficient? Everlasting? Does it have a beginning at all? Do you depend on it? Fear it? Bow down to it? Depend on it for good to happen in your life? Fear that if you neglect it terrible things will happen to you? Answer carefully. If the answer is yes, it is an idol. If you must sustain it and maintain, if it has a beginning, and yet you bow to it and fear it, it is an idol.
Yet here is hope even for the most hopeless idolator. A return to sanity consists in this and is simple: acknowledge that there is no one, absolutely no one, like the Lord. He alone is God and is the “King of the nations” and all of their cultures and machinations. He is the one we should fear. All else that we worship consists of things that are “foolish and stupid” and are but “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.”
So then let us pray together that the Lord would give us strength today to forsake our idols and return to Him, for there is no one like the Lord. Amen.