This Week's Focus Passage

‘They that regard lying vanities forsake their own mercy.’

Focus Passage: Jonah 2:8

‘They that regard lying vanities forsake their own mercy.’

First of all, it must be discovered just what constitutes ‘lying vanities,’ and comes to be a forsaking of ‘their own mercy.’ So what exactly, or even remotely, constitutes ‘lying vanities’? We may imagine that we have some concept of lying since it is everywhere all around us. It is in every society; in every country; in every household; there is simply no escape from lying. We truly never know when we are being told the truth. We seldom know if what we are viewing with our eyes is the true representation that we may think that it is; do our eyes deceive us; is someone attempting to deceive our eyes? Someone once said—with a fair amount of sincerity—‘I only believe what I can see with my eyes, and not even all of that.’ Surely, there is a great amount of reality in that statement. Can we believe every billboard? Can we believe every politician’s statement? Can we believe every prognosis of every doctor? What can we believe? “What is truth” was famously asked by Pontus Pilate. Whatever else lying is considered to be, we may be able to affirm that it is the opposite of truth; may we not? Or at the very least, it is something other than the truth. So then, lying is something other than truth.

What then, we inquire, are vanities? We read in Ecclesiastes more than once, ‘vanity of vanities.’ The expositors, writers, theologians, and preachers upon this expression are very much divided as to its exact purport. It is probably not very helpful to go to that particular book of the Bible to seek the meaning of vanity. The writers who have attempted to determine what that means have arrived at emptiness; pun intended. Among the many suggestions are the following: futile, meaningless, a wisp of smoke, a vapor that vanishes, a chasing the wind, emptiness, falsity, vainglory, a bubble, useless, passing mist. We may as well add the possibility of passing wind, or as is sometimes said of an enigma, ‘it’s all done with mirrors.’ But Kohelet may be employing the word in an entirely different context than that found in our focus verse from Jonah. Surely, there are other places in the Old Testament where this word ‘vanities’ has been employed. This is indeed the case. We discover that, aside from our focus verse and Ecclesiastes, there are instances in the Psalms, in Deuteronomy, twice each in 1 Kings and Jeremiah. It is likely that Psalm 31:6 is where Jonah appropriated the expression ‘lying vanities’ for the psalmist has said virtually the same thing; ‘I hate them that regard lying vanities,’ although he has added an important counterpoise it seems, ‘But I trust in Jehovah.’ God has said through Moses, in Deuteronomy 32:21, ‘They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; They have provoked me to anger with their vanities.’ That which has moved God to jealousy and that which has provoked Him to anger each speak of the same thing; that same thing is vanities. Whatever else these vanities may be, they are most certainly ‘that which is not God.’ Remember the wonderfully helpful quote from A. W. Tozer about idolatry. Tozer said that ‘the essence of idolatry is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.’ Surely, then, ‘that which is not God’ would constitute ‘thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.’ So that the ‘vanities’ here spoken of in Deuteronomy amount to idolatry.

In 1 Kings 16; in verses 16 and 23, the same language is made use of as in the Deuteronomic passage above. The peoples referred to in the history of the descendants of Jeroboam, have provoked God to anger with their vanities. These ‘vanities’ are comprehended under the frequent expression, ‘walked in all the way of Jeroboam the son of Nebat.’ It was this Jeroboam who led the ten tribes away from Judah and Benjamin when Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, was king in Israel. Jeroboam feared that his kingdom, later called Samaria, would be greatly reduced through his people resorting to Jerusalem for the three annual occasions of special worship. He therefore determined to provide a worship for them in Samaria. He set up altars in Dan and Bethel, and he provided priests for them, albeit unlawfully. He made also for them golden calves in both Dan and Bethel; these became snares for the people; they were ‘lying vanities.’ Those that regarded these ‘lying vanities’ in Dan and Bethel were forsaking their own mercy; the true worship of God provided by Himself at His temple in Jerusalem.

The remaining set of twin verses employing the word ‘vanities’ is found in the prophecy of Jeremiah. The first of these that we will cite is Jeremiah 14:22. We believe that it speaks for itself, or in other words, it is patent what is being spoken of when reference to ‘vanities’ is made:

Are there any among the vanities of the nations that can cause rain? or can the heavens give showers? art thou not he, O Jehovah our God? therefore we will wait for thee; for thou hast made all these things.

Is it not conspicuous that these ‘vanities of the nations’ are the gods of those nations that their worshippers imagine can cause rain; can cause the heavens to give showers, but it is only Jehovah, who has created all things, who can bring rain from heaven. What is spoken of here is, to put it simply, false worship; this is a ‘lying vanity,’ and any who would regard such, Jonah has said, ‘forsakes his own mercy.’ The second of Jeremiah’s ‘twin verses’ is in the passage, Jeremiah 8:18-20:

Oh that I could comfort myself against sorrow! my heart is faint within me. Behold, the voice of the cry of the daughter of my people from a land that is very far off: Is not Jehovah in Zion? Is not her king in her? Why have they provoked me to anger with their graven images, and with foreign vanities?

Again in this passage, the equation of ‘graven images’ with ‘foreign vanities’ and that is very far off, obviously betoken the worship false gods which are no gods at all, but are all ‘foreign vanities,’ or ‘lying vanities.’ Those who regard them forsake their own mercy. Jeremiah raises the question, ‘Is not Jehovah in Zion?’ well might we add, ‘why then are you not worshipping Him?’ Jeremiah completes this passage with a poignant note for any who may be in danger of forsaking this mercy:

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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