The nations surrounding Israel all worshipped their own gods. Egypt had many gods all of which were humiliated by the one true God during the Exodus. But did Egypt as a whole repent and change gods? No, they continued on their course of idolatry. The same was true for 27 soulsthe peoples of the land where God led Israel. God demonstrated His mighty power but the nations as a whole remained peoples of idolatry. How astounding is that? One might think that with the grand demonstrations of God’s presence and power all peoples would be like Rahab the harlot in Jericho and abandon their idols and turn to the one true God. But that didn’t happen. But there is something even more remarkable. Israel turned from the one true God to join the nations in their idolatry. That’s what Jeremiah 2:10-11 tells us. It says, “For cross to the coasts of Cyprus and see, or send to Kedar and examine with care; see if there has been such a thing. Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit.”

It’s a difficult question. Has a nation ever changed gods? I want to think yes, but the form of the question demands a negative answer. When asking if a nation had ever changed gods, Ryken answers, “Of course not! Travel the world from east to west, no nation has ever changed its gods; Shoes, maybe, or hairstyles, but not gods. Even the pagans are loyal to their gods. They cart them around wherever they go. Did the Canaanites ever abandon Baal or Asherah? Never! Did the Babylonians ever forsake Bel or Merodach? Ridiculous!”[1] And Davidson explains it this way, “Go west to the islands of the Mediterranean, for example Cyprus; east to the desert communities, for example Kedar; search the whole wide world and see if any other nation has exchanged its gods. How ironic that Israel, to whom had been given the privilege of knowing the majesty and splendor of the one true God, should outpagan the pagans, replacing this God with gods who are no gods! We are sometimes told that the ways of God are strange; the ways of people can be even more strange.”[2]

Willis says, “What makes this all the more tragic is Israel is the only nation whose God is real; yet they are the only nation to ‘trade in’ their God for another. Their God possesses Glory, yet they have put their faith in things that cannot profit, things that are worthless. So what Israel has done is not typical, even for nations who would have more reason to do it.”[3] Paul expresses the same truth to the Church in his letter to the Romans. He was utterly amazed at those who traded God for idols (Romans 1:22f). They exchanged natural desires for unnatural ones. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie. Jesus talked about what good it would do for someone to gain the entire world but forfeit their own soul in return. It is a bad bargain. We often go after things in life and compromise everything that truly matters for things that will not last. I like what Moore says, “Realizing your dream at the cost of your soul is always a bad bargain.”[4] It was for Israel and it is for us as well.

[1] Philip Graham Ryken, Jeremiah and Lamentations: From Sorrow to Hope, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 41.

[2] Robert Davidson, Jeremiah, vol. 1, The Daily Study Bible Series (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1983), 28.

[3] Timothy M. Willis, Jeremiah/Lamentations, College Press NIV Commentary (Joplin, MO: College Press Pub. Co., 2002), 44–45.

[4] Steve Moore, The Dream Cycle: Identify and Achieve God’s Purpose for Your Life (Indianapolis, IN: WPH, 2004), 110.