A Scarecrow in a Cucumber Field
Jeremiah 9:25-10:16 teaches us that sane people don’t carry on conversations with inanimate objects, nor do they put their ultimate hope and trust in anything less than God, himself.
Up until the early 90’s I was taught that Jeremiah 10 “proved” Christmas trees are pagan and that we shouldn’t celebrate Christmas.
The argument went like this: Jeremiah was writing about trees that are the “work of the hands of a craftsman… [decorated] with silver and with gold… and "[fastened] with nails and with hammers.” And since this is “obviously” describing Christmas trees, Christmas trees are idols and anyone who has one in their home is committing idolatry.
The only problem with that theory is that Jeremiah is more concerned with our hearts, than he is with actual objects. I suppose if we put literal trust in a tree to save us, or treat it as if it were some superstitious good luck charm, then my anti-Christmas friends would have a point.
But very few people I know are actually counting on the tree itself, or it’s decorations, to bring them good luck or blessing. Instead, it’s just a pretty decoration like a painting on a wall or flowers on the table.
Rather than being about Christmas trees, Jeremiah’s point is about idols of the heart. In Jeremiah 9:25-26 he writes the days are coming when God, “will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised…for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart.”
So it’s not literal trees that Jeremiah is concerned with, but what’s on the inside of a person.
This is an important topic for us because Israel’s physical circumcision will not, did not, save them from God’s judgment. Rightly applied, it means the facts of our baptism, our profession of faith, or all the many good things we’ve done, will not save us either.
Only our trust in Jesus and the evidence of a changed heart will matter in the end. So learning about idols is pretty important because they are what get in the way of trusting in Jesus and the kind of heart change God’s people are supposed to have.
What are Idols?
An idol is anything that can be substituted for God. It can be a person, an activity, a hero, something we own, a position, a hope, or even an idea. Idols are the ultimate reason we do what we do. They are what give us a false confidence that everything is OK when it’s not.
Almost anything can be an idol and that’s why it’s so important to know how to identify them. To identify idols, ask yourself, or someone you trust, questions like:
What takes the place of God in my life?
Where do I find my significance? Do I only feel content when I’m around so-and-so? Am I consumed with negative thoughts about how no one notices me?
What things make me angry? Inept people? Having to wait a long time for something? Do I get really mad when someone disrespects the flag or an individual I admire? If so, perhaps our view of those things or people has become idolatrous because anger is often a result of an idol being attacked.
One of the idols we often overlook is the idol of “knowledge.” It’s natural for us to think we “know” the truth and to challenge anyone who dares to contradict us.
"Knowledge” as an idol occurs when we become overly proud of what we know. If someone challenges us do we get angry (externally or internally) because our self-worth is wrapped up in being “right” rather than in what God says about those He loves?
These are important questions to ask ourselves because, ultimately, our idols give us no hope. They are worthless even though they have a strange attraction.
The Attraction of Idols
Our society has changed enough since the days of Jeremiah that most of us aren’t tempted to bow down and worship a clay figurine sitting on a shelf, or a Christmas tree, or even a picture of Jesus hanging on the wall.
We might be impressed by the beauty of the objects but usually we recognize them for what they are, as things that don’t possess any real power.
So, for us, the problem isn’t that we are prostrating ourselves on the ground worshiping Buddha, it’s as Jesus says, that we fail to recognize the “log that is in our own eye” (Luke 6:41-42). What’s obvious to others is easily missed by ourselves. Because we fail to see the attraction, we fail to recognize our own idols which is very dangerous, spiritually.
So, what’s the attraction?
1. Idols are attractive because of peer pressure.
Jeremiah 10:1–3 describes the Israelites learning “the way of the nations…for the customs of the peoples are delusion.” Peer pressure has existed for a long time and it is one of the main reasons idols are so attractive. Idols are popular and cool. They seem harmless because “everyone else is doing it.”
During Jeremiah’s day it was popular to study “the signs of the heavens” and apparently what they saw “terrified” them (Jeremiah 10:2). In other words, they so completely believed what the stars “said” their emotions and behavior were effected.
That’s what idols do. They become the basis for decisions we make, for how think, and act. There’s an attraction to “being in the know” that society places on us. It’s not cool to be ignorant.
A 2018 survey done by Pew Research found that 29% of Americans believe in astrology which is no surprise. But what’s shocking is that almost as many Christians, 26%, also believe in astrology.
Jeremiah calls this belief a “delusion” and by that he means it’s like a completely worthless vapor or mist, except in a negative sense as an indication that we’re not trusting completely in Christ.
Peer pressure has a very strong attraction. Is it the desire to conform to some group or person’s expectations that is controlling us? Do we talk in a crude way at work or school? When we get around certain friends that are political do we join in with bashing “the other side”?
Acting in unbiblical ways in certain settings is a sure sign that people have become more important to us than God’s word. Don’t let peer pressure lead to idolatry. Don’t underestimate it’s power over us.
2. Idols are attractive for aesthetic reasons.
Let’s be honest, the reason we have shows like “American Idol” is because humans like to admire beautiful people with beautiful voices and talents. Idols are attractive because they are beautiful.
In Jeremiah’s day, crafted idols were skillfully adorned with gold and silver and other precious metals. They were genuine works of art and very desirable to look at.
So, let’s check our own hearts. Let’s think about the attractiveness of just one more tasty dessert, or the temptation to gaze just a little longer than we should at that beautiful TV personality.
Beauty isn’t bad, and aesthetics aren’t necessarily sinful, but they can lead to idolatry when they take a place in our lives that only God should occupy. God should be the most beautiful thing in our lives.
So don’t underestimate the attractiveness of idols.
How Should We Treat Idols?
How should we treat the idols of our heart? The biblical answer is “as completely worthless.”
In verse 3, the NASB says idols are a “delusion” which we’ve already said means vain or completely worthless. But why are they worthless?
1. Idols are man-made.
Idols come from the minds and hands of men (Jeremiah 10:3-4). They come from what people dream up, not from what God reveals in his word, and at best they only offer false hope.
2. They are unable to do anything.
There’s no power in idols. They don’t think. They can’t reason. They can’t do anything.
Jeremiah 10:5 describes them “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field…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.”
Idols can’t do anything so don’t “fear” them. The meaning of the word “fear” is “reverence or awe” which is the kind of awe we should have only for God. Luke 12:5, speaking of God says, “Fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”
3. Idols have no life in them.
Treat idols as worthless because “there is no breath in them” and you’re “stupid” if you don’t (Jeremiah 10:14). The harsh truth is that when we put our trust in idols we are just as stupid as the idols themselves.
Jeremiah’s tone is sarcastic and scornful which reveals a lot about how we ought to treat idols. Idols are to be ridiculed and made fun of because they are without life and completely worthless. And the implication is that we are completely stupid if we don’t acknowledge them for what they truly are: man-made, devoid of life, and completely unable to do anything good for us.
Is watching a sports game on TV the most important thing you’ll do today? That’s not very bright.
Did someone do or say something to you yesterday that you didn’t like and now you’re completely miserable? That’s not very intelligent.
Did that ministry leader you looked up to sin and now you’re giving up on Christianity? That, in Jeremiah’s words, is “stupid.”
To respond with “that’s stupid” is obviously devoid of compassion, but that’s Jeremiah’s point. When it comes to idols of the heart we don’t coddle and nurture them, we acknowledge where they come from, we confess them, and get rid of them because they are of absolutely no value.
Worship God Alone
Idols are everywhere but none of them compare to God. We should worship God alone because:
1. God is unique (Jeremiah 10:6) “There is none like You, O Lord.”
2. God is King and all-wise (Jeremiah 10:7) “Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due! For among all the wise men of the nations and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You.”
3. God is the True and Living God (Jeremiah 10:10) “But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King.”
4. God is Creator and Sustainer (Jeremiah 10:11-13) “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens…When He utters His voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and He causes the clouds to ascend from the end of the earth; He makes lightning for the rain, and brings out the wind from His storehouses.”
God is true and alive. God alone is the source of life. When he spoke the world came into existence. The Lord is the everlasting God and when he speaks the earth quakes and the nations must submit.
Idols are false and not even real. Behind all of the gold and silver they have no power. The scarecrow in the cucumber patch can’t even talk. It can’t even upright itself when it falls over.
Why would we want to worship something like that? Maybe we prefer fake gods that can’t talk back to us. Maybe, like Wilson in the movie Cast Away, we like the false sense of security they give us. But, Wilson, like all idols, can’t give us what we need as human beings made in the image of God.
So it is foolish to get our ultimate hope from the equivalent of a scarecrow in a cucumber field. What kind of relationship can you have with some old ratty clothes stuffed with straw? Not much. Sane people don’t carry on conversations with inanimate objects, nor do they put their ultimate hope and trust in anything less than God, himself.
Put your trust in Jesus Christ. Nothing else can compare.