Hear you the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel:
I. WHAT MEN FEAR. They fear mere images of theft own manufacture. Note the connection between Vers. 2 and 3. In Ver. 2 the heathen are spoken of as being dismayed at the signs of heaven. Probably these signs, considered in their more particular and direct connection with the dismay, were really images on earth, representing the supposed Divine dignity. of the bodies in the heavens. The heavenly bodies were signs to the believer in Jehovah - signs of the power and wisdom of Jehovah. But what signs could they be to the heathen? In their eyes they were themselves Divine realities, and the signs were on earth in the shape of images. If this view be correct, it makes dismay at the signs of heaven look more than ever absurd; for these signs were of man's own making. He goes out to the wood and cuts down one tree, and it supplies material for common use, beams and flooring and furniture for his dwelling-place. He takes another tree, neighbor and of the very same kind, and of this he makes an image, to be an object of dread, to be approached with trembling solicitude and doubt. The very chips and shavings that come off as it is being shaped may be burnt, but it itself is sacred, decked with silver and gold, perfected by the most cunning art of the time, surrounded probably with the choicest treasures of the land where it is worshipped. And yet in itself it is nothing. When it grew in the wood it bore leaves and fruit, and had vital movement in it. By its life it spoke to those who had ears to understand. Other trees cut down, even when they become dead wood, are useful; but here is dead wood not only useless but so treated that it becomes full of the worst peril to all associated with it, a center of abominations, delusions, and cruelties. And it must be felt as a very extraordinary thing that what men thus make with their own hands should be regarded with such perpetual dread and circumspection. Partly it may be accounted for by the force of education. Those who had been brought up having their minds sedulously filled with certain associations in respect to these images, would either fail to see any absurdity in fearing them or, in spite of the absurdity, would be unable to get over the fear. It is very absurd to be afraid of walking through some secluded churchyard at midnight, but many people could only do so with the utmost trepidation - even those who show plenty of good sense in their ordinary affairs. The mystery lies not so much in the continuance of image-worship as in the origin of it; and this is a mystery we have no power to penetrate. A more practical thing is to take heed to the counsel here given. These works of your own hands cannot hurt you. Neglect them, they cannot resent the negligence. Pile up before them all you can in the way of gift and honor, and yet you get not the least good in return. You may be hurt by other works of your hands, but assuredly not by them; and if you are hurt - as it seems by the instrumentality of these images - yet be sure of this, that the hurt comes from Jehovah's anger because you are honoring and worshipping- the creature in opposition to the Creator. And if it be said, "How does all this dissuasion against image-worship concern us? The answer is plain that, although we do not make images of wood, we may have conceptions in our own minds which are as truly the cause of empty terror as any visible image that man ever made. The ultimate meaning of the counsel here is that it is vain to fear anything or any one save the omnipotent God.
II. WHAT MEN OUGHT TO FEAR. Images are presented in this passage, first, in themselves, in all their emptiness, as pure fabrications of human superstitions; and then they are brought into the presence of the exceeding glory of Jehovah, and thus the exhibition of their nothingness is completed. Moreover, the glory of Jehovah shines more brightly still by contrast with the darkness and shame that are over against it. He is the great and strong One, the living One, and the everlasting King. The ever-living God over against dead and deeded matter! - can there be a greater contrast? And to bring out God's strength, his strength to make his wrath felt as real suffering in the lives of those who displease him, the contrast is made, not between the living God and dead idols, but between the omnipotent Ruler and the kings of the nations. Take the kings of the nations; take him who rules the widest territory, controls the largest resources, shows in himself the greatest resolution and force of character, achieves the most splendid reign that history can record - take such a one, and yet what is he over against Jehovah? Jehovah is the King of the nations. It is his power that moulds them and gives them their destiny, their place in his economy of the ages. And as Jeremiah contemplates all this, he says, "Who would not fear thee?" Certainly there are none but what would fear, and with a properly befitting fear, if only they could properly regard the object presented to them. But while men are fearing that which need not be feared, they depart further and further from a sense of him who holds in his self-sufficing being complete power over all their best interests. When they suffer, being deceived by lying lips, they attribute their suffering to the wrath of a God whom they themselves imagine; and so, fixing their minds by a kind of fascination on the wrong cause, they fail to have even the least suspicion of the right one. If, when a blow falls upon us, we could trace that blow back, and see how much of it comes from God, and with what purpose it comes, then how much useless suffering would be spared! But blows come on men in the dark, and they prefer to remain in the dark with their evil deeds rather than be freed from their misconceptions by coming to the light. - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: