Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak… They cannot make a sound with their throat. (Psalm 115:4,5)
In the context of this Psalm, we have a radical turn, which changes the focus from the eternal, unchanging, transcendent, and living LORD God, to that of idols. This perhaps is the greatest of contrasts one can make. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man’s hands.
When the Psalmist speaks of “Their”, he is speaking about the nations. And these nations had tangible, visible idols. These so-called gods were obviously important to them, because they were made of gold and silver; precious metals for precious gods. But as is often the case with mankind who has not been exposed to the principles and teachings of the Most High God, we get it wrong. Or in this case we get a completely backwards. Note that it says, The work of man’s hands. God is not the work of our hands; we are the work of His hands.
They have mouths, but they cannot speak. The Hebrew word for mouth not only refers to the physical mouth, but also the things that come out of the mouth including commands. The Hebrew word for speak is most translated as speak. But it also can be translated as promise or command; and yet this mouth can do none of those things—it cannot speak. No promises, no commands—nothing.
… they cannot make a sound with their throat. The Hebrew word for make a sound primarily means to meditate, ponder, and devise. It also means to make an utterance or a moan or growl.
So, these idols have mouths, but they cannot speak, command or promise. They have a throat, but they cannot make a sound, or meditate, ponder or devise. Why is that? Well, the answer is obvious. Idols do not have life. In fact we see the truth in that statement from the very first verse that enumerates the idols characteristics: The work of man’s hands.
Now the work of man’s hands can do many things: it can inspire, enrage, cause joy and sorrow, lift up and tear down, instruct and belittle. The work of man’s hands can do many things to enhance or detract from life, but it cannot give life. Nor is it something to worship.
Do the Nations miss the irony here? They devote all this time, taking up much of their lives and creativity for building something that is dead. Then don’t forget all the acts of worship; the pedagogy of that particular god; the accompanying temples, rules and observances; the personnel, such as priests and priestesses, prostitutes and whatnot; the maintenance team and the artists. And let’s not forget the spiritual enforcement team—a.k.a. the military. They have to encourage veneration, worship, giving, and sacrifice. The care and feeding of a false god, takes a lot of time, not to mention the construction, coercion, and deception. And it takes a lot of energy to maintain the lie.
Idols are pretty much no longer silver and gold, but they still are that which are either made by man’s hands or by his imagination. Idols are things which you pursue, instead of One True God. But, we are told: Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men. (Colossians 3:23) To do otherwise is a dangerous pursuit. More about that next week.