What is Worse than Idolatry (Jeremiah 16:10-12)?

Jeremiah 16:10-12

10 “And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ 11 then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, 12 and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.
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When we think back to the days of Israel and Judah, we often are tempted to ridicule them for their foolishness. These people who saw the deliverance of God, who experienced the presence of God, who were the special chosen nation of God, willingly turned away from the living God and to man-made idols. Instead of worshipping the God who had rescued their nation from Egypt and showed his power time and time again, the people bowed down to statues.

So, as we begin thinking about Israel, we immediately begin feeling superior. We do not bow down to false idols. But, looking at verse 12, there is something even worse than worshipping statues [this should get our attention]. How could there be something worse, more dishonoring to God than for his people to turn and offer their allegiance to blocks of stone or metal or wood? How could something outrank idolatry on God’s sin list when not making or worshipping idols is number two on his top ten list (cf. Exodus 20)?

In verse 12, God says, “. . . you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me.” There it is. What is worse than bowing to a statue? What is worse is when you follow your own stubborn will and refuse to listen to God. God has given us his commands. God has made his will quite clear to his people. Yet, we often simply refuse to obey him, and instead trust in ourselves, our abilities, and our own supposed wisdom.

Christians, this is a powerful text for us, and it should bring us to our knees. We often look back at Israel’s sin, and adopt an air of superiority. We often think that we are at least smarter than that stiff-necked and rebellious people who turned from the worship of the true God and who bowed down to statues. Yet we are guilty of the sin that God says is even worse in verse 12. We disobey God, choosing instead to listen to our own counsel. We neglect his word, God’s revelation of himself and the source of his communication to us. We look at what God commands us to do in his word, and we think that we are somehow excused from following him. We allow ourselves to follow our own will instead of following the will of God.

What shall we do? This text calls us to repent. God’s word reveals his will. It is time that we follow it. If God says that we must not fail to worship him regularly, we must joyfully obey. If God’s word says that we do not participate in gossip, we must obey. If God’s word says that we must faithfully give to support the ministry, we must obey even in times of financial crisis. If God’s word says that we must be faithful to our individual spouses, we must be faithful. If God’s word calls us to pray, to fast, to seek God’s face, then we must. If God’s word calls us to raise our children in the fear and instruction of God, then we must. If God’s word calls us to avoid even a hint of sexual immorality, then we must. If God’s word speaks of gluttony as a sin, then we must treat it as such. It is time for us to look to God’s word, and with the joy that only a servant of God has, bow to our Lord and yield to his holy and perfect will.

Lord, I read this text, and I see the significance of living apart from your will. I so easily fail you, following my will instead of yours. This is despicable. Help me, I pray, to turn from the things that my sinful heart would desire. Help me to surrender to you, as such surrender is the pathway to perfect joy. And help me to rely on you, for this obedience only comes through faith in Christ and through the help of your Holy Spirit.

3 thoughts on “What is Worse than Idolatry (Jeremiah 16:10-12)?”

  1. So you are saying that when it says at the end of verse 11 “your fathers…have forsaken me and have not kept my law” and then later “every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusting to listen…” that there is a significant difference between the two? I understand that it is saying that “you have done worse than your fathers” so there definitely is a difference between “you” and “your fathers” doings, but I see the two as entirely similar. Right? Isn't it just the degree of disobedience that is being scorned as “worse”?

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  2. It is certainly true that extent is the issue. At the same time, it seems to me that it could be that God is making a point that the heart of disobedience is the root of the sin that is itself even darker than the actual act of idolatry. What caught my attention is more the fact that God would use a word like “worse” with a people who might not have been doing all the same outward things as the generation that he allowed to be taken captive. The hearts of that next generation were so bad that they could be called worse, with or without statues.

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  3. Okay…ESV study bible notes that in 10-12 “God's condemnation comes because of constant covenant breaking that exceeds that of previous generations” I'm still a little hung up on what exactly is the “worse” part. Maybe I'm just confused, but when I read that footnote I think that by “worse” it is pertaining to the frequency and density of their disobedience. (density as in the percentage of people being completely disobedient.) Am I making sense? And then I come to the question: Is their sin being ranked? I'm overthinking this, I know. Just thought I'd share my questions.

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