Decorating Christmas trees is a time-honored tradition in the celebration of the holiday season and a special occasion for many families. It is sometimes suggested that this custom is prohibited by scripture:
“For the customs of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so it will not totter” (Jeremiah 10:1-4).
Except for the plastic ones bought at the mall, Christmas trees are cut from the forest. They are decorated with silver and gold and fastened down, so they don’t fall over. Does the Hebrew prophet condemn the Christmas tree as a vain custom to be avoided?
No, he is condemning the making and worship of idols. He goes on to say:
“Like a scarecrow in a melon patch, their idols cannot speak; they must be carried about because they cannot walk” (v. 5).
The prophet is describing the process of idol making. A tree was cut from the forest. From the tree an image was carved out with a chisel. It was then adorned with precious metals and fastened in place with nails.
This procedure is described by other Old Testament prophets in language that is strikingly similar:
As for an idol, a craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and fashions silver chains for it. A man too poor to present such an offering selects wood that will not rot. He looks for a skilled craftsman to set up an idol that will not topple (Isaiah 40:19-20).
The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. The carpenter measures with a line and makes an outline with a marker; he roughs it out with chisels and marks it with compasses. He shapes it in the form of man, of man in all his glory, that it may dwell in a shrine. He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man’s fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal; he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me; you are my god” (Isaiah 44:12-17).
These passages expose the absurdity of idolatry by demonstrating the impotence and worthlessness of idols. They are mere images fashioned by men. They have no voice to comfort the hurting. They have no ears to hear prayer. Unable to move, they cannot come to the aid of the distressed. Utterly helpless, they must be secured with nails lest they fall over. They are but a burdened to be carried.
Jeremiah then contrasts the uselessness of idols to the majesty of God (vv. 6-16). The most telling contrast is in v. 10:
But the Lord created the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King.
This verse contains a threefold contrast with idols:
- They are false; He is true.
- They are dead; He is living.
- They are temporary; He is eternal.
Our God is not made – He is the MAKER of all things. The miracle of Christmas is that the MAKER was MADE FLESH to dwell among men!