Why do the nations say, “Where is their God?” Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. But their idols are silver and gold, made by human hands. They have mouths, but cannot speak, eyes, but cannot see. They have ears, but cannot hear, noses, but cannot smell. They have hands, but cannot feel, feet, but cannot walk, nor can they utter a sound with their throats. Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them. (Psalm 115:2-8)
Knock-Offs and Counterfeits
There will always be a market for knock-offs. No need to worry if you can’t afford the real thing, just settle for less! Some knock-offs are harmless deceptions—like those cubic zirconia earrings that you try to pass for diamonds. Some end up sacrificing quality for cost—like my cheap chainsaw that never worked quite right. Some are innocent substitutes for the real thing—like the pretend cell phone my grandkids play with. But some knock-offs are much more insidious—like artistic forgeries, or even dangerous—like counterfeit prescription drugs.
Innocent or insidious, harmless or hurtful—every knock-off or counterfeit shares one characteristic: a desire to possess the real thing.
In Psalm 115, the writer compares the God of Israel to the gods of “the nations.” The psalmist makes the case that all the other gods aren’t really gods at all…they are knock-offs and counterfeits. They appear to have mouths, eyes, ears and noses, but they can’t speak, see, hear or smell (vs. 5-6). They appear to have hands and feet but they can’t do anything or go anywhere (vs. 7). These idols are substitutes for the real thing—a God in heaven who does whatever pleases him (vs. 3), who blesses his people and causes them to flourish (vs. 12-14). Those knock-offs might seem harmless and innocent on the surface, but they are actually insidious and hurtful. Because anyone who peddles them or trusts in them will eventually become exactly like them—insignificant and ineffective, lifeless and forgotten (vs. 8, 17).
This song sounds like it was composed for another time, long ago. And it was! It is one of the famous “Hallel” psalms written to memorialize Israel’s exodus from Egypt. It was those Egyptian captors that didn’t believe in a God they could not see. It was Egypt and all those other nations around them that fashioned idols from silver and gold and worshiped them. And it was Israel who continually and faithfully trusted in the Lord and praised his name forevermore, right?
Sadly, that narrative is also a knock-off…of the real story of the exodus. In reality, Israel struggled to believe God in Egypt and to trust Him in the wilderness. At one point, they even fashioned a golden calf, bowed down to it and said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you out of Egypt.” (Exodus 32). How could God’s people possibly have let that happen? How could they have settled for a fake, when they had been given the real thing?
Most of us today don’t worship statues made of silver and gold. Does that mean we’re off the hook?
Counterfeits and knock-offs come in all shapes and sizes. That’s as true of our relationship with God now as it was for the people of Israel way back then. Maybe our knock-offs seem harmless, like caring more about HOW or WHERE we worship than WHO or WHY we worship. Maybe they are a little more insidious, like placing our trust in politics or medicine or money instead of God. Eventually, all of these “idols” will disappoint us. Why? Because they are all just substitutes for the real thing—a loving and personal God that cares and protects and provides for His people.
Jesus tells his disciples that he himself is the only real source of life and joy. He promises that HIS JOY can be in us, and that OUR JOY can be complete (John 15:11). That’s what our hearts are longing for. And we will never find it in knock-offs or counterfeits. As long as we continue to settle for less, we’ll never be able to experience or appreciate the “complete joy” of our life in Christ.
The great writer C.S. Lewis put it this way: “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory)
Psalm 115 reminds us that we don’t have to settle for knock-offs and counterfeits, we have the real thing! God has offered us REAL LIFE, and REAL JOY in Jesus Christ. He is the one thing that will satisfy your desire, the one thing that will quench your spiritual thirst. Lift up your thanks and praise to him alone. He is Living Water…stay thirsty, my friends!