Jeremiah 1 - chapters 1 to 10.
A (Very) Brief History Of The Time Of Jeremiah.
Jeremiah began his ministry prior to the discovery of the Law Book in the Temple in the reign of the godly king Josiah, and he continued his ministry throughout the remainder of Josiah’s life, until that life was sadly cut short when Josiah sought to prevent the Egyptian forces under Pharaoh Necho from going to the aid of a dying Assyria in 609 BC. During that period Judah had enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity with their enemies being too preoccupied elsewhere to trouble them, and with fervent religious reform taking place at the centre in Jerusalem, a reform which, however, as Jeremiah knew, had not reached the hearts of the people, for they still hankered after the old Canaanite syncretism of YHWH with Baal. Conformity was thus outward, not inward, and the old hill top sanctuaries did not remain unused, even though that use had to be in secret.
Assyria indeed, which had for a hundred years and more been the dominating force in the area, was by this time fighting a rearguard action for its very life against the combined forces of Babylonia and the Medes (Nineveh had fallen in 612 BC), and was on its last legs. Indeed Josiah’s intervention may well have been the final nail in their coffin, delaying the Egyptian forces long enough to prevent them aiding Assyria in time, thus ensuring Assyria’s final defeat. (Egypt had seen the threat that would follow that defeat). But, in spite of Josiah’s reforms, religiously speaking things had not been going well in the heartland of Judah, for idolatry and disobedience to the covenant had become too well engrained among the people to be easily removed and was still flourishing, so that Jeremiah had constantly to be engaged in seeking to bring the people back to a response to the Law and to the true worship of YHWH (chapters 1-20), warning them of invaders who would be coming from the north (either the Scythians or the Babylonians, or both) if they did not. He respected Josiah greatly and mourned his death (2 Chronicles 35:25).
The fall of Assyria left a power vacuum in which a resurgent Egypt sought to establish its control over Palestine, Syria and beyond, establishing a base at Carchemish, and becoming initially determinant of who would rule Judah, removing Jehoahaz and replacing him with his brother Jehoiakim. After the freedom enjoyed under Josiah this was a bitter blow for Judah, and, along with the fact of Josiah’s untimely death, appeared to many to indicate that what Josiah had sought to achieve had failed.
But Egypt was not to be triumphant for long. They had not reckoned with the power of Babylon and its allies, and four years after the death of Josiah they were decisively beaten by the Babylonian army at Carchemish, and then at Hamath. As a result the Pharaoh retired behind his own borders licking his wounds. Meanwhile Babylon took over the jurisdiction of Judah, and Jehoiakim had to submit to Nebuchadnezzar. The first part of Jeremiah’s work covers this whole period, initially of Josiah’s successful reign, tainted by the stubbornness of the people, and then of the reign of Jehoiakim who took Judah back to the old evil ways of syncretism and Baal worship.
Jeremiah continued to prophesy during the reign of Zedekiah, and even afterwards, and he thus ministered during the period described in 2 Kings 21-25 and 2 Chronicles 33-36. Contemporary with him were the prophets Zephaniah and Habakkuk before the Exile, and Ezekiel and Daniel subsequently.
The First Judean Exile To Babylon Including Daniel (c.605 BC).
As a result of Josiah’s intervention and death the Egyptians on their return journey took control of Judah, and Jehoahaz, who had reigned for a mere three months, was carried off to Egypt, being replaced by the weak Jehoiakim, who in spite of the heavy tribute required by Egypt, squandered money needlessly on a new palace complex, built by forced labour, for which he was castigated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 22:13-19). He was no doubt trying to prove how grand he was, as weak men will. At the same time the religious reforms, such as they were, were falling by the wayside, and even the Temple itself was being affected (Jeremiah 7:16-18; Jeremiah 11:9-13; etc., compare Ezekiel 8). Judah had become disillusioned with YHWH, partly as a result of the death of Josiah, with the result that the prophets who did speak up against the decline were harassed, or even put to death (Jeremiah 26:23).
As we have seen, for a while it appeared that Judah would continue to be tributaries of a resurgent Egypt. But in a decisive battle in 605 BC at Carchemish, followed by another at Hamath, the Egyptians were badly mauled by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, with the result that Babylon took control of Judah and Jerusalem, and on the surrender of the latter without resistance, deported the first load of exiles to Babylon, including Daniel and his three friends. Judah was now firmly in Babylonian hands.
Judah’s Folly In The Face Of Jeremiah’s Warnings.
It is perhaps understandable, however, that the leaders of Judah were not too happy about paying tribute to Babylon. They had after all hoped that the defeat of Assyria would cause their problems from the north to cease, and they had no real awareness of the might of the Babylonians. Furthermore, in spite of Judean backsliding with regard to the covenant (chapter 26), the belief had grown that the Temple of YHWH was inviolate and that YHWH would never allow it to be destroyed, a belief fostered by its earlier deliverance under Hezekiah (a belief flatly rejected by Jeremiah - Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 26:6). Had it not after all survived when the other great religious centres in Israel and Syria had collapsed and been destroyed? They felt that in worshipping YHWH alongside Baal, they had got the balance right. Thus, in spite of the sacking of Ashkelon (which shook Judah deeply - Jeremiah 47:5-7), and with the encouragement of false prophets, and the political influence of an Egypt which had by then stopped the advance of the Babylonians before they reached the borders of Egypt, inflicting heavy losses on them in a ‘drawn’ battle, and causing Nebuchadnezzar to withdraw to Babylon, Jehoiakim finally withheld tribute, very much against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter Jeremiah 25:9-11; Jeremiah 27:8; Jeremiah 27:11). Jeremiah was consequently looked on as a traitor. Humanly speaking we can understand Jehoiakim’s decision. It must have appeared to everyone as though Egypt had demonstrated their equality with, if not their superiority over, Babylon. Babylon would surely be more careful in future.
Jeremiah Puts His Prophecies On Record.
It was during this period that a rejected Jeremiah, with the assistance of Baruch his ‘secretary’ (whose name has been found on a seal as ‘belonging to Berek-yahu, son of Neri-yahu (Neriah), the scribe’), first gathered his prophecies into a book-roll (Jeremiah 36:2-4), but on these being read to the people by Baruch (Jeremiah 36:5-10) they were seized and cut up by Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 36:23), who thereby showed his contempt for them. As a result Jeremiah and Baruch had to go into hiding (Jeremiah 36:26). Nothing daunted Jeremiah then wrote down a longer version (Jeremiah 36:28 ff), and meanwhile his efforts to turn the nation to YHWH in the face of persecution were unceasing (sections of chapters 21-49, see e.g. 25-26, 35-36, 45).
The Second Judean Exile, Including The New King Jehoiachin (c. 597 BC).
Inevitably the powerful Babylonians, having recuperated, once again arrived at the gates of Jerusalem, determined to take revenge on Jehoiakim, and Jehoiakim apparently gave himself up, along with some of the Temple treasure, probably thereby hoping to preserve his son’s life. Nebuchadnezzar’s intention was to carry him off in fetters to Babylon, but although this intention is stated it is never actually said to have been fulfilled (2 Chronicles 36:6 ff.; Daniel 1:1-2). Jeremiah may in fact be seen as suggesting otherwise (Jeremiah 22:19). Meanwhile his eighteen year old son Jehoiachin had become king in a city under siege and only reigned for three months, during which time frantic negotiations would have been taking place with the Babylonians. When he did surrender to them he was carried off to Babylon, along with the influential queen mother and further exiles, and even more Temple treasure. He was replaced, at the instigation of Nebuchadnezzar, by Zedekiah, his uncle. (This had no doubt all been part of the agreement reached).
The Third And Final Judean Exile And The Destruction Of The Temple (587 BC).
The reign of Zedekiah was one of continual intrigue, and in the face of it Jeremiah made himself unpopular by constantly warning of the folly of rebelling against the Babylonians (Jeremiah 27:12-22), only to be seen once again as a traitor and to be harshly dealt with. No one would listen to him as negotiations continued with Egypt, and inevitably, when Zedekiah withheld tribute the Babylonians once again surrounded Jerusalem. After a failed attempt by Egypt to intervene Jerusalem was taken and Zedekiah, his sons having been slain before his eyes, was blinded and carried off to Babylon, along with what was left of the paraphernalia of the Temple. Jerusalem itself was sacked. All that Jeremiah had prophesied had come true (these prophecies are intermingled in chapters 21-49, see e.g. Jeremiah 21:1 to Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 23-24, 28-34, 37-39).
Nebuchadnezzar then appointed Gedaliah as governor of what remained of Judah, giving Jeremiah (whom he saw as loyal) the option of remaining in Judah or going with him to Babylon. Jeremiah chose to remain in Judah. (See chapters 40-42). But within a short period Gedaliah had been assassinated by ruthless opponents (Jeremiah 41:1-2), and the remnants of the people, fearful of repercussions from Nebuchadnezzar, and against the advice of Jeremiah (chapter 41-42), fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them (Jeremiah 43:8-13; Jeremiah 44), rejecting YHWH’s offer of the restoration of the covenant. There Jeremiah prophesied the conquest of Egypt by Nebuchadnezzar (Jeremiah 43:8 ff.). He probably died in Egypt. There are two traditions concerning what did happen to him, but neither of them can be seen as reliable. The first was that that he was stoned to death by the people at Tahpanhes in Egypt (so Tertullian, Jerome, and Epiphanius), and the second, in accordance with an alternative Jewish tradition, was that he was finally carried off with Baruch to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar at the time of the conquest of Egypt, in the 27th year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign. We have no way of knowing whether either have any truth in them.
The Message Of The Book For Our Day.
At first sight it might appear that much of Jeremiah’s prophecy has little to do with us. It appears to be directed at a rebellious Judah which was about to suffer awful consequences as a result of their sins, and we may even begin to find the emphasis as almost tedious and unnecessary. Why preserve writings which were so repetitive and emphasised a judgment long past?
The first reason is because they proved true. Jeremiah’s writings were preserved because in the end they provided an explanation of what had happened to Judah. He had proved to be right after all. Thus his promises of hope also became a basis for the future.
The second reason is because they reveal to us the nature of God. They bring out His holiness and the awe in which He should be held. It is true that God is merciful. But only to those who put their trust in Him and walk with Him. For all others He will one day be their judge.
Thus there is also a third reason why we should recognise the book as important and that is because we are in a similar position today. We may not have hanging over us the threat of Babylonian supremacy, but we do certainly have hanging over us the threat of God’s judgment in one way or another. Whether this will come (somewhat ironically) in the form of an Islamic revival or in the form of the effects of climate change or even finally in the form of the second coming of Christ, it is a certainty for the future. And we therefore also need to listen to the warnings of Jeremiah in order to be ready for what is coming on us. It is the same attitude of mind which brought judgment on Judah that is widespread in society today. Our idols may take a different form, but they have equally replaced God as the objects of our worship, and the immorality and unacceptability of many of our lives is clearly reflected in his prophecies. Every chapter should therefore come home to us as a warning to be ready for what is coming, for come it surely will.
(The idea that there will be a second chance after His second coming is based on false exegesis of Scripture and is not to be relied on. The truth is that His coming will call time on any opportunity to repent. Then men and women who have not responded to Him will face only a judgment which will be far worse than anything that came on Judah).
A General Overview Of The Book.
The prophecies of Jeremiah are not presented in strict chronological order, even though those which came in the time of Josiah do appear to come in the first part of the book. The first twenty chapters contain prophecies given partly in the time of Josiah and partly in the time of Jehoiakim, for the message to the people under both kings was very much the same (even though the kings themselves were very different), ‘turn from your idols, and begin to walk in accordance with the covenant, or disaster will come on you’. These chapters may well have made up a good part of the book of prophecies put together by Jeremiah, which was cut up by Jehoiakim, and re-written and expanded by Jeremiah through Barak his amanuensis and assistant (Jeremiah 36:4 ff). There is no good reason for doubting that all the prophecies which are in the book are genuinely his prophecies. As will be apparent he prophesied over a long period of time, and faced severe difficulties because his message was unpopular, and it is because of those difficulties, emphasised in chapters 26-45, that we know more about him than any other prophet after Moses.
Much of Jeremiah’s prophecy is in ‘Hebrew verse’ (as with the Sermon on the Mount and with most of the prophets), but we must beware of just seeing it as poetry. The purpose of Hebrew verse was in order to aid memory, and provide emphasis by means of repetition. It did not detract from the seriousness or validity of what was said. It was spoken very directly to the heart.
As will be apparent in the commentary Jeremiah was familiar both with the Law of Moses and the early historical books, which reflect that Law. As a popular presentation of the Law, Deuteronomy, with its emphatic emphasis on blessing and cursing, appears to have been especially influential. But it would be a mistake to ignore the influence of the remainder of the Law of Moses, and especially of Leviticus 26 with its parallel warnings similar to those of Deuteronomy 28. Jeremiah was familiar with the whole Law.
With the above in mind the book can be divided into three main Sections, which are found inserted between an introduction and a conclusion:
1. INTRODUCTION. Introductory opening chapter, which describes Jeremiah’s call by YHWH (Chapter 1).
2. SECTION 1. A number of general prophecies against Judah in the days of Josiah and Jehoiakim, including, in the final chapters, words spoken to Zedekiah (chapters 2-25).
3. SECTION 2. Biographical details from the life of the prophet and details of how he coped with his maltreatment, leading up to the fall of Jerusalem and its aftermath in the rejection of the offer of a new covenant (chapters 26-45).
4. SECTION 3. Prophecies against foreign nations (chapters 46-51).
5. CONCLUSION. Concluding appendix (chapter 52).
The House Of Israel Are Not To Learn The Way Of The Nations Because, While YHWH Is Great Beyond Describing, Their Idols Are Utterly Futile (Jeremiah 10:1-16).
This passage, in a sequence of verses, compares the futility of idols with the greatness of YHWH. They are introduced here so as to expand on what has been said in Jeremiah 9:24 about ‘understanding and knowing YHWH’. In order to bring out what understanding and knowing YHWH means he compares Him in a fourfold way with other so-called gods. It is clear that Jeremiah sees it as important that the people of Judah fully recognise just Who and What YHWH is. He is not just the greatest of all gods. He istheGod Who is totally and uniquely different.
It is quite possible that Jeremiah is here partly citing an earlier prophet such as Isaiah, for the concepts are very Isaianic and lack much of Jeremiah’s unique style. But if so he makes the ideas his own. There are no real grounds for denying it to him as part of his central message. The verses can be divided up as follows, and as so often in Scripture can be seen either as a sequence or as a chiasmus:
a The house of Israel are not to learn the way of the nations because the customs of the peoples are a like puff of wind (Jeremiah 10:1-3 a).
b The futility of idols is described - they are man-made (Jeremiah 10:3-5).
c The greatness of YHWH is described - He is incomparable (Jeremiah 10:6-7).
d The futility of idols is described - they are made of earthly materials (Jeremiah 10:8-9).
e The greatness of YHWH is described - He is the living everlasting King before Whom the earth and the nations tremble (Jeremiah 10:10).
d The futility of idols is described - they are perishable and foreign to Israel (Jeremiah 10:11).
c The greatness of YHWH is described - He created the earth and the heavens and controls the rain and wind (Jeremiah 10:12-13).
b The futility of idols is described - they are without life (Jeremiah 10:14-15).
a The greatness of YHWH is described - He formed all things and Israel are His inheritance (Jeremiah 10:16)
So the idols are seen to be man made, whereas YHWH Himself made everything. The idols are all similar to each other (there is little to choose between them) whilst YHWH is incomparable. The idols are made of earthly materials whilst YHWH is the everlasting King before Whom the earth trembles. The idols are devoid of life whilst YHWH is the LIVING everlasting King. And yet He has chosen Israel as His inheritance.
We can gain from this a recognition of why God so forcefully condemned representations of Him in any physical form. The utilisation of a physical form immediately degrades Him to the level of these false gods, or even to a caricature of Himself. Think how many people think of God as an old man with a white beard because of artistic representations of Him. All such representations brings Him down to the level of His creation, and they can even in some forms bestialise His worshippers (Romans 1:18-24). And it can soon result in the undiscerning worshipping the image instead of God Himself. (It was in order to prevent this that He hid the Ark of the Covenant behind a curtain). Of course if we want to control Him, or control people through Him, or minimise His effectiveness in our lives once we have left the site of the image, or want to avoid too much moral application, it is a good idea to make an image of Him. Then at least we can delude ourselves, thinking that by using an image we have got God where we want Him, there to be called on when we feel like it, and to be ignored at other times. But thereby we miss the force of what Jeremiah is saying, that God is not like that. He is the living God, Who cannot be limited to His creation, Who observes us all in the all the details of our daily lives, and before Whom we are all accountable for what we do within those daily lives.
His People Are Not To Follow The Customs of The Peoples.
‘Hear you the word which YHWH speaks to you,
O house of Israel, thus says YHWH,
“Do not learn the way of the nations,
And do not be dismayed at the signs of the heavens,
For the nations are dismayed at them,
Because the customs of the peoples are vanity.”
The importance of the message being delivered here is initially brought out by the dual reference to YHWH as speaking. It is a special dual call to the house of Israel to hear His word. The lesson being emphasised is that they are not to learn the way of the nations or the customs of the peoples, because they are nothing but a puff of wind (hebel = breath, vanity, puff of wind). And this includes being dismayed at ‘the signs of the heavens’, which ‘the nations are dismayed at’. Isaiah had spoken of ‘those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons predict what will befall you’ (Isaiah 47:13) as a warning against using astrology to predict events. These were practises which were common throughout the Ancient Near East and especially in Babylon to which a number of exiles had already gone (Isaiah 11:11; possibly 2 Chronicles 36:6-7; 2 Kings 24:12-16; Daniel 1), and such signs could cause great perturbation. But Israel were to pay no heed to them.
This warning is a necessary introduction to his contrasts of YHWH with idols. Nothing seemed more convincing to ‘heathen’ minds than the portents in the skies. Surely these were evidence of the activities of the gods? So that argument is immediately dismantled. In fact, He says, such signs and portents are false and unreliable. To take any notice of them is to grasp after a puff of wind, for they do not affect issues one way or another. And it is this very folly that leads on to idolatry. There was a right way to discern the skies, and that was by recognising that, ‘the heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament shows His handywork, day unto day issues speech, and the night unto night reveals knowledge’ (Psalms 19:1-2). It is through this that we learn of His ‘eternal power and Godhead’ (Romans 1:20) because from their overall impression we gain the concepts of beauty, design and purpose and recognise that they reveal a beautiful, intelligent and purposeful God. But once we go beyond that without special revelation we are getting involved with fantasy.
Idols Are Man-Made And Can Do Nothing.
His first emphasis is on the fact that idols are merely man-made. Today they would bear the label ‘made in China’, or some such thing. But what they are not is divine.
“For one cuts a tree out of the forest,
The work of the hands of the workman with the axe.
They deck it with silver and with gold,
They fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
They are like a pillar (palm-tree), of turned work, and speak not,
They must needs be borne, because they cannot go.
Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil,
Nor is it in them to do good.”
YHWH goes on to deal with another aspect of the customs of the nations, the worship of idols that they have made for themselves. As explained above this is being used by Jeremiah in preparation for contrasting such idols with YHWH in a series of four contrasts. Such idols, He points out, are man-made. Their existence commences when the forester cuts down a tree with his axe, part of which is then decked with silver and gold, and fastened with nails and hammers so that it will not move or fall over (compare Isaiah 41:7). In other words it cannot support itself, and if left to itself it would collapse. Nor, being of turned work like a pillar made from a palm tree, do such idols speak. Furthermore they cannot ‘go’ on their own with the result that they have to be carried wherever they do go. Thus they can work neither evil things (e.g. storms, invasions, etc.) nor good things (e.g. rain and helpful wind). Contrast Isaiah 45:7. In consequence they can be seen to be helpless and useless. Compare Isaiah’s vivid dismissal of them in Isaiah 44:12-20. The sudden change of the verbs from singular to plural brings out that in the end they are all the same.
‘Like a pillar (palm-tree), of turned work, that it move not.’ Ancient pre-Grecian statues were usually made with arms firmly pressed against their sides, devoid of any impression of movement, thus further emphasising the lifelessness of the idol. However, the word for ‘turned (or beaten) work, can also mean ‘in a garden of gourds/cucumbers’. If we take the latter meaning it is describing an image with a function similar to that of our scarecrows as watchers over the fields, although in this case with ‘divine’ connotations.
YHWH Is Great Above All Things.
In contrast with the man-made idols is the One Who is great above all things, the incomparable King of the Nations
There is none like to you,
You are great,
And your name is great in might.
“Who would not fear you,
O King of the nations?
For to you is it due,
Forasmuch as among all the wise of the nations,
And in all their royal estate,
There is none like you.”
Thus YHWH stands out alone. There is none like Him, something stressed in both the first and the last lines. For He is great, and His Name (representing His essential being and attributes) is great in might. Indeed He is king of the nations (compare Psalms 22:29; Psalms 47:8; Psalms 96:10), Lord of the world, and worthy to be looked on with awe, something which is in fact His due. In all the world there are none as wise and kingly as He.
Idols Are Simply Gilded Tree-Stumps.
In contrast to YHWH idols are but gilded tree stumps, covered in gold and silver and clothed in blue and purple. They are man’s attempt to give an impression of glory, hoping that it will at least deceive the innocent.
“But they are together brutish and foolish,
The instruction of idols!
It is but a tree stump.”
Silver beaten into plates,
Which is brought from Tarshish,
And gold from Uphaz,
The work of the craftsman,
And of the hands of the goldsmith,
Blue and purple (or purple and scarlet) for their clothing,
They are all the work of skilful men.
The series of contrasts of YHWH with idols continues with a further mocking of idols. In fact the wise of the nations are simply like brute beasts and are foolish, something brought out by the fact that they receive their instruction from a tree trunk! The further different materials from which they are made are brought from different parts of the world, silver plate from Tarshish (possibly Spain or Sardinia), gold from Uphaz (whereabouts unknown, but compare Daniel 10:5). The craftsman and goldsmith then bring the different materials together, after which they are clothed in blue and purple (the colours of royalty) in order to try to give them some kind of royal status. The whole, however, is simply the work of skilful men. It is like erecting an expensive scarecrow.
‘Uphaz.’ Some versions have Ophir instead of Uphaz, (in the original consonants the change of one similar letter), and we know that gold from Ophir was famous (1 Kings 9:28). But this appears too easy a way out, and, if the scribe was used to hearing the text read, an unlikely error to make. Alternately some have seen the ‘from uphaz’ (m’pz) as meaning ‘refined’ (compare 1 Kings 10:18, mpz), thus paralleling ‘beaten’ silver. However, it is probably best to leave Uphaz as signifying an at present unknown place famous for its gold.
YHWH Is The True And Living God, And The Everlasting King Before Who All Trembles.
In this second description of YHWH we learn that He is the true God, the living God, Who is the everlasting King at Whose wrath the whole earth trembles, the One Whom none on earth can resist. Note especially that this is the second emphasis on His kingship and His Lordship over the nations. What a contrast with their mute gods.
‘But YHWH is the true God,
He is the living God, and an everlasting King,
At his wrath the earth trembles,
And the nations are not able to abide his indignation.’
So in contrast to the expensive tree stump, which was all dressed up and nowhere to go, is YHWH, the true God, the living God, the everlasting King (compare Psalms 10:16; Psalms 29:10; Exodus 15:18), seated in splendour, before Whose wrath the earth trembles, Whose indignation the nations cannot live with. It is He Who is the One Who is truly worthy of worship.
The Gods Are Perishable And Had No Part In Creation.
The false gods are not only man-made but are also made of perishable materials (some of them are even in our museums). They are in no sense creators of Heaven and earth.
‘Thus shall you say to them,
The gods which have not made the heavens and the earth,
These will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’
Speaking in Aramaic YHWH then tells Jeremiah to remind Judah/Israel that it is not these gods who have made heaven and earth. They are indeed a part of the earth, and will thus perish like all earthly things which are under the heavens.
The question must be raised as to why this verse alone is in Aramaic. Certainly it brings out that the gods being spoke of are foreign gods, but it may, also in fact, have been a riposte to a well known phrase or claim in Aramaic which was circulating in Jerusalem concerning the gods, a phrase which made the opposite claim to Jeremiah’s, possibly one being stressed by Babylonian representatives in court. The Aramaic nature of Jeremiah’s response would then have made obvious to all who was being refuted without him actually having to say it. Perhaps then he wanted to make clear, without bringing down on them the wrath of Babylon, that while he did not recommend rebellion against Babylon, it and its gods would finally perish (all would know that their gods could not perish without it having the same result for them).
Or it may be that Jeremiah was seeking to bring out in a striking way the foreign nature of the vanities that he has been describing, indicating that ‘These gods are not native to Judah. We can only speak of them in another tongue’. This would add to the impression already given that some of the materials of which they were made came from foreign parts, namely Tarshish and Uphaz. Aramaic was an international language used in foreign affairs of state (compare 2 Kings 18:26) and would have been very familiar in Jerusalem.
Another alternative is that it was a well known saying in Aramaic well known to all educated Judeans (in the same way as we might know Latin phrases and cite them). The Targums (Aramaic paraphrases of the Hebrew text) claim that it was part of a letter which Jeremiah sent to the exiles already in Babylon. The verse is not an interpolation. It is necessary in order to prepare for the thought in Jeremiah 10:12, and as a part of the sequence described above.
YHWH Is The Unique Creator Of All Things.
There is only one God Who has made heaven and earth, and that is YHWH. He established them by His wisdom and by His understanding. And it is He also Who controls the activities of nature.
‘He has made the earth by his power,
He has established the world by his wisdom,
And by his understanding,
Has he stretched out the heavens,’
‘When he utters his voice there is a tumult of waters in the heavens,
And he causes the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth,
He makes lightnings for the rain,
And brings forth the wind out of his treasuries.’
What a contrast with the earthiness and the perishable natures of these foreign gods is the One Who has made the earth by His power, and established it by His wisdom, and has stretched out the heavens by His understanding. Indeed when He speaks the heavens are filled with tumultuous waters, constantly renewed from the earth, the rain is accompanied by His lightnings, and He produces winds from His treasuries. It is thus He Who is the true storm God, not Baal, or Hadad, or any other, and all the resources of heaven and earth are under His control.
This idea of YHWH seen in terms of a powerful storm is a constant one in Scripture. See, for example, 2 Samuel 22:8-16; Psalms 29; etc.
Idols Are Without The Breath Of Life.
The skilful workmen who make idols are (theoretically) put to the blush when it is discovered that there is no life in them. They are unable to make an idol that has life. And they are unable to make one that does not perish when its time comes. They are thus all nothing but a puff of wind and a delusion.
‘Every man is become brutish, without knowledge,
Every goldsmith is put to shame by his graven image,
For his molten image is falsehood,
And there is no breath (spirit - ruach) in them.
They are vanity, a work of delusion,
In the time of their visitation they will perish.’
The emphasis in Jeremiah’s fourth critique of idols is that they are without life, and are a delusion which will perish. Men’s response towards them is simply an indication that man has become ‘brutish’, emphasising his own connection with the animal world rather than with heaven (compare Romans 1:18-26). This brings out that such men are without the true knowledge, the knowledge of God. Furthermore such idols will only bring shame on their creators, the goldsmiths, and their worshippers, brutish men, for they represent falsehood and are without life (they have no ‘ruach’ - breath, spirit). Thus they are a vanity (a puff of wind) and a work resulting from men’s delusion, a work which will perish when such men are ‘visited’ by YHWH in judgment.
The word for ‘delusion, errors, mockery’ (ta‘tu‘im) is deliberately similar to the word tsa‘tsu‘im which in 2 Chronicles 3:10 represents the ‘image’ part of ‘image-work’. Their images are in fact a delusion and an error and a mockery.
YHWH Is The Moulder And Shaper Of All Things, Choosing Israel/Judah As His Portion And Making Them His Inheritance.
In vital contrast is the One Who moulds and shapes all things, the One Who is the portion of His people, the One Who is Israel’s God of deliverance, the One Whose Name is YHWH OF HOSTS, Lord of the hosts of heaven and the hosts of sun and stars, the Lord of all the hosts of the nations, and the Lord of the host of Israel.
‘The Portion of Jacob is not like these,
For he is the former of all things,
And Israel is the tribe of his inheritance,
YHWH of hosts is his name.’
In total contrast to these idols is YHWH, the Portion of Jacob. He is the One Who formed (moulded, fashioned, determined) all things and chose Israel as His inheritance. And His Name is YHWH of hosts (controller of the hosts of heaven, the hosts of earth, and of all things - Genesis 2:1).
‘The Portion of Jacob.’ He has given Himself to His people as their ‘portion’, that is, as the most important thing allotted to them in His scheme of things. Compare how in Deuteronomy/Joshua YHWH was Levi’s inheritance (Deuteronomy 10:9; Joshua 13:33). It was His will and service for which they were responsible and on which they had to concentrate. So the idea here is that it was the Name of YHWH and His truth and covenant for which they were given responsibility, in return for which they received the assurance of His provision and protection. This includes all who in truth call on the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, who are the true descendants of Abraham (Galatians 3:29) and Jacob, who are the true Israel (Matthew 16:18; Romans 11:17-28; Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:9; 1 Peter 1:1; James 1:1; etc.), Who are God’s elect (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:1; 1 Peter 2:9).
In response Israel were the tribe of His inheritance, given responsibility to watch over it. There is here an indication of the two-way relationship between God and His people. He is their God and their Father, they are His people and His children. He is their Provider and Protector, they are responsible to watch over His interests, obeying Him and walking in His ways.
YHWH Notifies Judah Of His Intention To Sling Them Out Of His Land And Punish Them, And They Express Their Grief As They Look Prophetically At His Having Done So. The Sound Of The Invaders Is Heard And His People Plead For What They Now See As Their Necessary Chastening And Correction Whilst Hoping That YHWH’s Anger Will Be Reserved For Those Who Have Devoured Them (Jeremiah 10:17-25).
Having in Jeremiah 10:1-16 made clear YHWH’s superiority to the gods of the nations, and especially the great privilege that He had given to His people in making them His inheritance, He now makes clear that in spite of that fact He intends to sling them out of the land of His inheritance because they have forfeited the right to be there by their sins. This will result in their great grief at what has happened to them, something largely due to the failure of their shepherds. As a consequence the noise of the invasion is heard, and God’s people plead that He will not visit them with His anger but will rather chasten them and visit His anger on their destroyers. The passage may be analysed as follows:
· The besieged nation are to gather up their possessions because they are about to be slung out of the land (Jeremiah 10:17-18).
· Prophetically the nation express their grief at what has happened to them (Jeremiah 10:19-20).
· They acknowledge that their situation is due to the fact that they have listened to false shepherds (Jeremiah 10:21).
· The noise of the approaching invaders can be heard whose aim is to devastate Judah (Jeremiah 10:22).
· His people acknowledge that they are incapable of walking rightly and call on YHWH not to finally deal with them in His anger, but rather to chasten them and correct them, and rather pour out His anger on those who have consumed them (Jeremiah 10:23-25).
The Besieged Nation Are To Gather Up Their Possessions Ready To Be Slung Out Of The Land.
‘Gather up your possessions out of the land,
O you who abide in the siege.
For thus says YHWH,
Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this time,
And will distress them, that they may find.’
The people are seen as undergoing siege and are not to hope for deliverance, but are rather to gather together such possessions as they can, because it is YHWH’s personal assurance that He is about to sling them out of His land, and will punish them severely enough for them to feel it. This time there will be no great deliverance, and the presence of the Temple will not save them (chapter 7).
‘O you who abide in the siege.’ Literally ‘O you inhabitant in the fortress’ with the word ‘inhabitant’ being feminine, representing ‘the daughter of my people’.
‘That they may find.’ We are not told what they find, and it is deliberately left open. Possibly it includes their deserts. Possibly it includes finding out the truth about themselves in their innermost hearts. Possibly it even includes the fact that in their need some might find YHWH. Possibly it is all three in the sense that some will find one thing and others another. They are going on a rather unpleasant voyage of discovery.
Prophetically The Nation Express Their Grief At What Has Happened To Them.
‘Woe is me because of my hurt!
My wound is grievous,
But I said, Truly this is my grief,
And I must bear it.’
The people as a whole thus express their grief and hurt at what is happening to them, but recognise that it is something that they must bear, an idea which expresses their acknowledgement that it is what they deserve.
‘My tent is destroyed,
And all my cords are broken,
My children are gone forth from me,
And they are not,
There is none to spread my tent any more,
And to set up my curtains.
In picturesque terms the people seen as a whole then prophetically describe their homes as like a tent that has collapsed with its tent ropes broken, and with the children who usually help with the erection of the tent having gone into exile, and being as though they were no longer in existence. The consequence is that there is no one to re-establish their homes or make life bearable again. The words are seen as on the lips of a fictitious ‘daughter of His people’ seen as a parent who has been left helpless and deserted in their homeland, even though most were there no longer. There would, however, always be a few who had taken refuge and therefore had survived and remained in the land.
The idea of the tent might look back to the period in the wilderness when they had served YHWH more truly, something that lies at the heart of Jeremiah’s thinking (Jeremiah 2:2-3). Then their tent had enjoyed protection. Now it was destroyed. Or it may be intended to indicate the transitoriness of life. All that we have are little better than a tent which can be easily dismantled. Israel in fact regularly described their houses as ‘their tents’.
They Acknowledge That Their Situation Is Due To Their Having Listened To False Shepherds.
‘For the shepherds are become brutish,
And have not enquired of YHWH,
Therefore they have not prospered (or ‘done wisely’),
And all their flocks are scattered.’
This situation in which they find themselves is described, either by Jeremiah or by YHWH, as being due to the fact that their leaders (shepherds) have become like brute beasts rather than seeking YHWH for guidance as to His will. They have been materially minded rather than spiritually minded, seeking to images of things on earth rather than to YHWH in heaven. That is why they have not prospered (or ‘done wisely’) and why the people (their flock) have been exiled and scattered among the nations.
The primary meaning of the word for ‘prospered’ is to ‘do wisely’, thus resulting in its secondary meaning of prosperity.
They Become Aware Of The Noise Of The Approaching Invasion.
As a direct consequence of their sinfulness they become aware of the sound of approaching invaders.
‘The voice of tidings, behold, it comes,
And a great commotion out of the north country,
To make the cities of Judah a desolation,
A dwelling-place of jackals.’
Sure enough what they have foreseen is about to come upon them. The news of impending invasion is brought to them by their spies, and a great commotion is heard out of the north country, an indication that the invaders are on the way. The “great commotion” is that of an avenging army on the march, accompanied by the clash of weapons and the stamping and neighing of war-horses (compare Jeremiah 6:23; Jeremiah 8:16). Their aim is to make the cities of Judah a desolation, a place only fit for habitation by jackals (which made their dens in ruins).
They Call On YHWH For Correction And Ask For His Anger To Be Turned On Other Nations.
‘O YHWH, I know that the way of man is not in himself,
It is not in man who walks to direct his steps.’
O YHWH, correct me, but in measure (judgment),
Not in your anger, lest you bring me to nothing (make me small).
Acknowledging that there is not in man the capability of properly directing his ways, or living rightly, the people call on YHWH to correct them. But their prayer is that He will not do it out of anger, but out of compassion and in a measured way, using His carefully weighed judgment, and thus by chastening rather than by destruction. They are clinging to the past hints that they yet have a future. Their aim may well be long term, recognising that their chastening may have to be severe, but later their false prophets will suggest that it will not be very long, an impression they will seize on but which Jeremiah will have to correct. Their final fear is lest they be ‘brought to nothing’ i.e. be made so small that they are fading out of existence.
There is an important reminder here of man’s own incapacity to fulfil YHWH’s will, and of our need for correction and chastening. But there must be some doubt as to how genuinely they really felt it at this stage or wanted to be changed, otherwise they could have repented and have found mercy. It is rather expressing a hope for them in the long term.
‘Pour out your wrath on the nations who do not know you,
And on the families which do not call on your name,
For they have devoured Jacob, yes, they have devoured him,
And consumed him, and have laid waste his habitation.
Meanwhile they pray that YHWH’s full anger will be reserved for the nations who do not know Him, or call on His Name, because of what they have done to YHWH’s people. This ‘doing’ is described in a threefold way as ‘devouring’ (repeated twice), ‘consuming’ and ‘laying waste’ their land, bringing out the severity of the coming judgment. The verse is later repeated (slightly watered down ) in Psalms 79:6-7 This attitude must possibly be seen as expressing something of their complacency. They are still not convinced that YHWH’s judgment will come on them with such severity, whilst very much wanting Him to do it to the nations, and still seeing themselves, in spite of their blatant disobedience, as YHWH’s people. In a similar way today many who have little time for God complacently believe that He will look after their interests in the end. They are possibly in for a rude awakening. Alternately it may be seen as indicating the latent faith of the remnant who will return. Jeremiah no doubt meant it to be seen as an indication that YHWH would finally restore His people, but only once they had learned a hard lesson.
111 Commentary on Jeremiah (2).
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Jeremiah 10". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany