Certain aspects of culture develop over time and find their way into the collective consciousness of a given people. For instance, it seems that in the last several decades, clowns have become more of a symbol of terror than of tee-heeing. Clowns once were universally depicted and accepted as those harmless and funny characters that delighted everyone but especially children. Thanks in large part to Stephen King, “coulrophobia” (the unofficial term for those with an irrational fear of clowns), has become a part of our nomenclature.
One aspect of culture that has worked its way into Americana is the concept of the “scarecrow”. A scarecrow is a decoy or mannequin, often in the shape of a human. Humanoid scarecrows are usually dressed in old clothes and placed in open fields to discourage birds from disturbing and feeding on recently cast seed and growing crops. Scarecrows are used across the world by farmers, and are a notable symbol of farms and the countryside in popular culture.
Who among us is not familiar with the kindly, absent minded (literally) scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz? Generations have now grown up watching that film and their view of scarecrows was totally unthreatening. But again, thanks in large part to Stephen King, scarecrows have taken on a more sinister side. Now, scarecrows who come to life don’t happily sing “If I only had a brain” … they come to life and say, “I want to eat your brain.” This is so true that an official term for fear of scarecrows has been adopted: “Formidophobia”. But is there any rationality in being fearful of scarecrows? Only when they are the scarecrows in Jeremiah 10:5, “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.”
In this passage, Jeremiah is decrying the rabid idolatry of Israel. In the context of this idolatry, he instructs them to “learn not the way of the nations” who cut down a tree from the forest, decorate it with silver and gold, and fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not fall down. He then likens their idols to “scarecrows in a cucumber field”. Unlike the fictional Oz scarecrow or the Stephen King scarecrow, these scarecrows are totally inanimate. And this is the point Jeremiah is making:
- They cannot speak
- They cannot walk, having to be carried
- They cannot do good or evil
In other words, they are totally inanimate. There is nothing to fear in them. Their “essence” has to be supplied by the idolater. He is their creator. He is their sustainer. He is the one that shapes them in whatever way he likes. But at the end of the day, they are just empty, inanimate straw shaped in such a way as to resemble a human. But they are not human, much less a god.
It is at just this point that Jeremiah makes a transition by saying, “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” (Jer. 10:6, 7). There is a song we often sing that goes, “There is none like you, no one else can touch my heart like you do, I could search for all eternity long, and find…there is none like you.” That is a good song with good words, and I like to sing it. But in context, the affirmation of God’s singularity in Jeremiah 10 is in contrast to the “scarecrows” … the lifeless, feckless mannequins that idolaters shape in their own image. In other words, there is no God but Jehovah.
Today, in Western thinking, we are too erudite to make literal, lifeless idols made out of wood, straw, and molded metals. We feel, how ignorant the Israelites were to favor these scarecrows over the living God. No, today we are fare more sophisticated in our idolatry and far more dangerously so. We have come closer to deifying our idols because we have taken the ethereal, nonphysical nature of God, and made idols, many times, out of these nonphysical things. What idols?
- The idol of “self”. Have you ever heard someone say, “I just want to be happy?” That is the idol of self talking.
- The idol of success… mostly measured by money and possessions
- The idol of security… the sovereignty of God not being sufficient security
- The idol of acceptance… the need to be “in” with the right people
- The idol of health and wealth
- The idol of (fill in the blank)
You see, these idols are far more dangerous because they come so much nearer to the characteristic of God as a purely spiritual being. But they are still scarecrows, and as such are “both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood” (meaning, no legitimate instruction at all) (v. 8) To be instructed by these “scarecrows” is to render one stupid and foolish.
So, we have nothing to fear from scarecrows of straw or wood. But we should fear the scarecrows we have ensconced in the field of our hearts, because they are a very real threat. If these idols are present, be afraid…be very afraid, because they work to supplant, in your heart, the true God.