With this somewhat clear presentation of idolatry as the reason for judgment to fall upon Israel, one can then go on to make sense of reading about children that “are always thinking about their altars and their sacred poles dedicated to the goddess Asherah, set up beside green tress on the high hills and on the mountains and in the fields” (Jeremiah 17:2-3a). Following that, the God of Israel says, “I will give your wealth and all your treasures away as plunder” (17:3b). So here an explicit connection is made between idolatry and the material wealth of the people. Before that point is reached here in chapter seventeen however, the reader will have stumbled across some words that should help to properly shape the conception of the true problem of idolatry that was being presented here by the people of Judah.
In the sixteenth chapter, when the Creator God gives Jeremiah an answer to give to the people that might find themselves questioning the reason for the judgment and disaster that was going to befall them, He says to tell them, “It is because your ancestors rejected Me and paid allegiance to other gods. They have served them and worshiped them. But they have rejected Me and not obeyed My law” (16:11). That sounds pretty bad, but it does not end there. The covenant God continues His answer with “And you have acted even more wickedly than your ancestors! Each one of you have followed the stubborn inclinations of your own wicked heart and not obeyed Me” (16:12).
What is to be found in that statement? Effectively, it is self-idolatry---the same old sin from the time of the garden---which always seems to get a far harsher reaction and treatment from the Creator God than the simple worshiping of wood and stone. It is with this conception of self-idolatry that one can then move back to the Creator God’s statements about the human mind and its deceit and incurable “badness.” Following that statement then, one finds “I, the Lord, probe into people’s minds. I examine people’s hearts. I deal with each person according to how he has behaved. I give them what they deserve based on what they have done” (17:10).
What does this have to do with idolatry or self-idolatry? Well, connecting the thoughts concerning idolatry and wealth and treasures found just a few verses before, the reader goes on to learn in the next verse about “The person who gathers wealth by unjust means” (17:11a). This is what follows talk of the human mind being more deceitful than anything else and incurably bad. It could be said that the person who gathers wealth by unjust means is guilty of self-idolatry, especially in light of the statement in Deuteronomy that the Lord “is the One Who gives ability to get wealth” (8:18b).
Surely, it can be said that a Creator God-granted ability to get wealth will see wealth accumulated by just means, and will therefore result in proper worship of the God that gave the ability, and Who therefore gave the wealth. Wealth gained by unjust means will result in worship of what provided for the accumulation of wealth, which is the marred and falling-short-of-the-divine-image heart and mind that is said to have come about because of the desire on the part of the first humans to be like their God. Because of this, it can be surmised that not only was idolatry, along with its companion of self-idolatry, the reason for the judgment that came upon the people of the covenant God, but one can also now understand that the gathering of wealth by unjust means, which will generally be connected with idolatry and with the extension of suffering and oppression, was a reason for that God’s judgment as well.