This chapter adds to the litany of verses where idols are mocked as they are compared to the living, Creator God. Idols we are told yet again are worthless, and we get a cute new metaphor for nothingness: “Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field, their idols cannot speak.” They are intimate objects that can do no harm, nor do good. But those who worship them harm themselves:
8 They are all senseless and foolish;
they are taught by worthless wooden idols.
And these idols are temporary:
11 “Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’”
Further we are told, these gods are a fraud because “they have no breath in them.” Meaning they have no life. They are objects of mockery. Then think about the idols of our day, which are not little pieces of of wood or stone. Modern idolatry is so much more sophisticated. People who worship other gods today don’t even think these are other gods, but they are just as worthless and powerless. They are just as much frauds, deceiving their worshipers as if they had the ability to give life and fulfillment, but just as much worthy of mockery are idols of wood and stone. Speaking of mockery, the Super Bowl is coming up this Sunday. It is, of course, a worthless distraction that people treat as if it had some cosmic significance—A perfect example of a modern idol. But we know:
16 He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these,
for he is the Maker of all things,
including Israel, the people of his inheritance—
the Lord Almighty is his name.
Then because of their idolatry, the remaining verses describe, again, the destruction to come from the north. It’s sad because the solution to averting all the pain and misery to come is simple, told to us right there in the middle of the description:
21 The shepherds are senseless
and do not inquire of the Lord;
so they do not prosper
and all their flock is scattered.
These are supposedly the leaders of God’s people, and they don’t even seek the Lord? It’s really not that hard, but the rebellious heart refuses to go to the source of its life and healing, and judgment must inevitably follow.
I can imagine people, even Christians, reading the Old Testament, and the ongoing, relentless, even tedious declarations of God’s judgment to come and thinking it’s all so . . . excessive. Can’t God just turn the other cheek, as Jesus enjoins us to do in the New Testament? Well, no he can’t.
What I remember when I start thinking this way is that justice has a certain function in human existence. Without it, we would have complete anarchy. If wrongdoing isn’t punished, evil and suffering would dominate existence. You could think of examples all day long. Imagine if there were no police to enforce traffic laws—chaos. Or if there were no judges to exact penalties police were trying to enforce. The law would be meaningless. Or let’s say you have a judge in a court, and when cases come before him he tells the defendants not to worry about it. He’s just not the type of judge that believes in giving penalties for crimes. Everyone would be outraged, screaming that this is a great injustice. Think about how the victims of the crimes would feel.
No, justice must be done. We all know it into the very marrow of our being. It’s built into the way God created reality because reality is a reflection of God’s being, his character. Yet when we read about God inflicting justice on his creatures in the Bible we instantly move to double standard mode. We think it’s unfair that God should reign down his judgment and punishment upon people. Or at the least we think he’s overdoing it a bit. But as we read over and over in the OT, the Lord cannot do wrong. His righteousness and justice are by definition perfect. We, his people, ought always defer to his definition of things, and as the writer of the proverbs says, “lean not on our own understanding.”