“worthless things.” The Hebrew is eliyl (#0457 אֱלִיל), and it means “worthless” (worthless thing, worthless one), or a “non-entity.” These carved images are not real gods, they are good for nothing. The word eliyl was used of idols, who are not gods and are worthless, but it does not technically mean “idol.” More properly, it means “non-entities,” “worthless things,” or “worthless ones.” It is valuable to translate eliyl as “worthless things” in the text when the readers can see that the phrase refers to idols, but the English phrase “worthless things” is so broad that in many verses most readers would not realize that “worthless things” was a reference to idols. Nevertheless, the meaning of the Hebrew—worthless things—is accurate. False gods cannot save and they don’t even help, in fact, they cause harm in many ways.
Christians should pay attention to what God is saying here. Even the pagans did not usually believe that the idol they carved out of wood or stone, or cast out of metal, was the “real god,” but they did often believe that the god inhabited the idol, and therefore the idol was more than just a representation or reminder of the god, it was some kind of embodiment of the god. And, in fact, often the “god” (a demon) did inhabit or hang around the idol in some way, and thus the idol did sometimes seem to respond to the people. The fact that demons can make inanimate objects move, make sounds, bleed or cry (history has many bleeding and/or crying statues and paintings), and seem alive in other ways has reinforced the idea that the idols are “real” gods.
Sadly, Christians sometimes behave like pagans and ascribe actual power to things that should only be used to serve as reminders. For example, a cross hung on a wall, worn around the neck, or hanging from the mirror in a car can remind us of the work of Christ, but we should never (never ever!) ascribe any kind of protective power to that cross. The cross is like an ancient idol in that it is carved out of wood or cast out of metal and is mute; it cannot speak. It is not God, nor do God or Jesus ever give it power. It must be a reminder only!
If a person starts to ascribe the power of protection or blessing to it, that is idolatry and false worship. The cross itself has become important and powerful, instead of reminding us of Him who is important and powerful. Worse, demons, who crave the worship and attention the cross is now getting, can then be attracted to it and hang around it, bringing harm instead of blessings. And that is not only true of crosses, but can be true of any Christian symbol such as prayer hands, angel statues or pins, statues of saints or of Joseph, Mary or Jesus, and other “Christian things.” Christians must always be careful and on guard concerning the “natural attraction” that things like nice crosses, statues, and other Christian mementos can have, and take care never to let them cross over from being mere reminders to becoming idols, which happens as soon as some kind of invisible or spiritual power is ascribed to them.