Their idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor is it in them to do good. – Jeremiah 10:5 (NRSV)
“The job of a poet,” says poet (and friend) Anita Skeen, “is to put two unrelated words together to create a new reality.” An example is her poem “Rorschach Cows,” inspired by driving past a pasture filled with Holsteins and realizing they looked like a herd of ink blot tests. I can’t remember the point of the poem, but I’ve never looked at cows or psychology tests the same way since.
Hebrew Bible scholar Walter Bruggeman makes a similar point in his book, Finally Comes the Poet. For Bruggeman, poets and prophets share the same call: linking unlikely words to get our attention. Sometimes those pairings open us to new possibilities. Think Isaiah’s pairing of lions and lambs or swords and plowshares. Other times poets and prophets jolt us to the truth.
Jeremiah compared the gold statues of his people’s idols to scarecrows. They couldn’t speak, walk, or get anywhere by themselves. Moreover, the idols weren’t like just any old scarecrows, but ones in a cucumber field. The leaves of cucumber vines are so big that crows can’t get to the cucumbers, so they generally leave such fields alone. Thus, not only are the scarecrows (aka idols) lifeless and immobile, they’re also worthless and not to be feared.
I’m not a gardener, much less a farmer, so I probably need to find a phrase other than “scarecrows in a cucumber field” to describe my idols. It may take a while.
In the meantime, how would you describe yours?
Thank you, God, for your poetic prophets whose words can wake us up. Amen.