Jeremiah 10:1-25

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The “word” or message of YHWH is directed to the “house [or people] of Israel.” (10:1) At the start, this message is introduced with the words, “Thus says YHWH.” The people are exhorted not to learn the “way of the nations,” which included their veneration of nonexistent deities and their fears of celestial phenomena. The people of the nations who had no relationship with YHWH were terrified by the “signs of the heavens,” probably including solar and lunar eclipses, meteor showers, and the appearance and disappearance of comets. Such “signs” caused dismay because the people regarded them as portending calamity. The people of Israel were not to be terrified, for all developments were under the control of the only true God, YHWH. (10:2; see the Notes section.)

The customs or practices that had been decreed long previously for the peoples of the nations to observe were vain or comparable to an exhaled breath. A tree in a forest would be cut down, and a carver would skillfully use a tool in his hands to fashion an image. (10:3) This wooden representation would be beautified with silver and with gold. To keep the image from tottering or falling, craftsmen would use hammers to fasten it with nails. (10:4)

The images are compared to a “scarecrow in a cucumber field,” which object often failed to keep birds away. Like a scarecrow, the carved representations could not speak nor walk. To move to another location, idols had to be carried. The people of Israel were not to be afraid of these lifeless images and, therefore, the deities that the images represented, for they were unable to do anything evil or anything good. (10:5; see the Notes section.)

There is no one like YHWH. He is “great,” with humans and the deities that have been and are worshiped amounting to nothing when compared to him. His “name is great in might.” Powerful works are associated with his name or reputation. In the case of the Israelites, his works included their liberation from Egyptian enslavement and the deliverance from their enemies that he made possible during the course of their history as a people. Therefore, his name is truly linked to “great might.” (10:6)

The answer to the rhetorical question should be that all people everywhere should “fear” (or have reverential regard for) YHWH. As “King of the nations,” the Supreme Sovereign, he fittingly or rightly should be shown a wholesome fear that is demonstrated by obedient response to his will. Among all those who are regarded as wise among the people of the nations and among all the existing “kingships” or rulerships, there is no one like YHWH. (10:7)

Persons who fail to fear YHWH, looking for help and guidance to nonexistent deities, are “brutish” or stupid and “foolish.” They are senseless for choosing to take instruction from “vanities” or worthless idols — mere pieces of “wood.” (10:8; see the Notes section.)

For the overlays of the wooden images, “beaten silver” came from Tarshish. The location of Tarshish is uncertain, but it is commonly linked to a region on the Iberian Peninsula. Gold used for the beautification of the image arrived from Uphaz (a place that has not been identified with any known site). Everything required to produce the image was the “work of a craftsman and of the hands of a smelter,” and the image would be clothed with blue and purple fabrics. All the idols and the items used to beautify them were the “work of skilled persons.” (10:9)

The deities that the lifeless images represented were nonexistent gods and goddess. YHWH alone is in truth or in actuality God and the King or Supreme Sovereign for all time to come. At the expression of his wrath, the “earth” or land “will rock” or quake, and the people of the nations will not be able to endure his indignation. Everything will be set in commotion, and those against whom his anger is directed will then perish. (10:10; see the Notes section.)

Apparently the words to be declared to idolaters were, “Gods that did not make the heavens and the earth will perish from the earth and from under these heavens.” The time would come when these deities would have no worshipers and when no skilled craftsmen would be engaged in making images of them. (10:11; see the Notes section.)

Not the deities represented by lifeless images, but YHWH is the true God who made the earth “by his power,” established the cultivatable land “by his wisdom,” stretched out the heavens “by his understanding” or stretched out the celestial dome like a tent over the land. (10:12)

YHWH’s “voice” probably denotes the sound of thunder, with the roar or rumbling of “waters in the heavens” referring to peals of thunder coming from the clouds. The Septuagint links God’s stretching out of heaven to the phrase “and an abundance of water in heaven.” At the distant horizon, clouds may begin to appear. Seemingly for this reason, YHWH is represented as causing “vapors” or “clouds” (LXX) to rise “from the end of the earth” or the extremity of the land. According to the Septuagint, he “led the clouds from the end of the earth.” The making of “lightnings for the rain” is also attributed to YHWH. This could mean that he causes lightning to appear while it is raining. YHWH is also represented as bringing forth “wind from his storehouses.” In the Septuagint, the reference is to his bringing forth “light,” possibly meaning “sheet lightning.” (10:13; see the Notes section.)

The deities that people worshiped were unrealities and could do nothing. Therefore, those who revered them were foolish. This is the reason for referring to “every man” or all earthlings who worshiped nonexistent deities as stupid or unreasoning, not having knowledge. Every goldsmith or metal worker involved in the fashioning of images would be put to shame. This would be when the deities which the images represented would be exposed as worthless. The image was a “falsehood” or a delusion, for it represented a deity that did not exist, and the image itself was lifeless, having no breath in it. According to the Septuagint, “every goldsmith was put to shame on account of his carved things [or idols], for they [the goldsmiths] have cast lies, and there is no breath in them [the images].” (10:14)

Both the idols and the deities which they represented were “vanity,” emptiness, or worthlessness, for they could do absolutely nothing. The images were a work [works (LXX) of delusion or mockery, for they were representations of gods and goddesses that did not exist. At the time of YHWH’s visitation to execute his judgment, the images and the deities they supposedly represented would perish. There would then cease to be any idolaters to revere them. (10:15)

The “Portion” or “Share of Jacob” was not like the images that idolaters worshiped. Jacob here designates the people who descended from him, the Israelites. On the basis of the covenant that YHWH concluded with their ancestors at Mount Sinai, they were his people and had a relationship with him as their God. Therefore, he was their Portion or Share. In the case of the deities that idolaters revered, the lifeless images were the work of craftsmen. The God of the Israelites, however, was not fashioned by them. He himself was the one who had formed them into a nation and, in fact, had formed all things. Israel was the “tribe [or rod] of his inheritance,” or the people who belonged to him. He identified himself to them as bearing the name “YHWH of hosts,” their God with hosts of angels in his service to carry out his purpose. (10:16)

The imperative to “gather up” (a verb with a singular suffix in the feminine gender) the “bundle from the ground” is directed either to Jerusalem personified as representing the nation or to the people collectively. This imperative suggests that the people should quickly collect a few possessions to make a hasty departure, for they were then living “under siege” and in imminent danger. (10:17; see the Notes section.)

YHWH declared that, at “this time,” he would be “slinging out” or ejecting the “inhabitants of the land” (apparently the residents in the territory of the kingdom of Judah) and “bring distress on them in order that they may find.” The objective of what the people would find or find out is not specified. It could refer to their experiencing the consequences of their unfaithfulness to YHWH. According to the Septuagint rendering, “ your plague [or punishment] may be found.” Based on an emendation of the Hebrew text, the meaning could be that the people would “have to leave” their land. Another emendation represents the people as being found or captured by the invaders. If the ultimate objective of the punishment is in view, it is possible that it was for the people to “find” YHWH, repenting and wanting to have his forgiveness and favor. (10:18; see Jeremiah 29:12, 13; 50:4-6; Hosea 5:15.)

The nation appears to be represented as speaking. “Woe to me for my fracture” (the crash or the humiliating defeat). “My wound is severe [or incurable as if stricken by a chronic disease). And I said, Truly this is my affliction, and I must bear it.” For the nation, there would be no escape from the consequences for having been unfaithful to YHWH. (10:19; see the Notes section.)

The words of the nation personified represent the place of residence as a tent that has been destroyed. “My tent is ruined, “and all my cords” have been ripped apart. There is no one to restore the place to a livable condition. “My sons (or all the inhabitants) have gone from me,” either having perished or been taken into exile, and they are there no longer. No one can stretch out “my tent” again and raise or hang “my curtains” or tent cloths. (10:20) The calamity befell the nation because the “shepherds,” the kings and leaders of the nation, were stupid. They disregarded YHWH’s commands and pursued a course contrary to his will. These “shepherds” did not search for YHWH, desiring to have his guidance and aid. Therefore, they did not have success (as would have been the case if they had shown themselves to be in possession of insight), and all the members of their flock (or their subjects) were scattered or taken as captives into exile. This could have referred to the result from the campaign of King Nebuchadnezzar against the kingdom of Judah ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem. (10:21; see 2 Kings 24:8-16.)

“A sound, a report; look, it has come,” and a “great shaking” or uproar “from the land of the north.” The “north” is not the actual location of the land, but it is the direction from which the invading military forces under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar came against the kingdom of Judah. Possibly the “sound” is that of the approaching invaders, with the report being about their coming. The “shaking” or uproar could refer to the ruin that the invaders caused, with the noise from the destructive acts being carried over a considerable distance. Also the many warriors, with their horses and equipment, would be the source of great commotion as they continued in their aggressive advance. The invaders from the north would “make the cities of Judah a desolation.” The devastated land and cities would become the haunt of jackals. Being scavengers, jackals would find ample food in the desolated territory. According to the Septuagint, the devastated cities would become a breeding place for “sparrows [or ostriches].” (10:22)

Jeremiah knew or recognized that it was “not in a man,” a mere earthling, to control “his way.” It was “not in man” as one walking to “guide his steps.” Humans do not have control over the course they might choose to pursue and its outcome. Whatever YHWH purposes, wills, or permits will take place. (Compare Proverbs 20:24; James 4:13-15.) The military forces that would sweep through the realm of the kingdom of Judah had conquest as their objective, but they would be serving as YHWH’s instrument to punish his unfaithful people. It was only by his permission and in keeping with his purpose that they would succeed in their campaign. (10:23)

Recognizing that everything was in the ultimate control of YHWH, Jeremiah petitioned him as one representing his people, “Correct me, YHWH, but in judgment [in measure or moderation, with equity or justice], not in your anger.” This was an appeal for YHWH’s punitive judgment to be mitigated, or for him not to direct the full force of his wrath against his wayward people. The result from a correction in wrath would have been annihilation. As Jeremiah expressed it when speaking for the nation in his own person, You (YHWH) would “bring me to nothing.” According to the Septuagint, Jeremiah pleaded, “Discipline [or correct] us, Lord, only in justice and not in anger in order that you may not make us few.” (10:24)

Jeremiah petitioned YHWH to express his wrath on the nations that would not accept his punitive judgment as his discipline and who would not be turning to him as their God. The prophet prayed, “Pour out your wrath upon the nations that do not know you and upon the peoples who do not call upon your name.” Members of these nations did not recognize YHWH as the only true and living God whom they should willingly serve. They did not “call upon his name,” looking to him for his aid and guidance. Instead, the military forces of these nations had “devoured Jacob [the Israelites or the descendants of Jacob],” and they had “consumed him,” greatly reducing their numbers during the course of military conquest. They laid waste “his habitation” or desolated the land that his descendants occupied. Without any regard for the God who had chosen Jacob’s descendants as his people, the warriors did not restrain themselves in unleashing their fury against them. (10:25; also see Psalm 79:6, 7; Zechariah 1:15.)

Notes

In verse 2, the Septuagint says that the “nations” (or the people of the nations) are afraid of the signs of heaven “to their faces.” This could mean that fear is reflected in their countenances or that they become afraid when they see these signs.

In the Septuagint, wording that is like verse 5 precedes the text of verse 11. Other phrases that follow verse 4 include words in an order that differs from the extant Hebrew text, but there is no corresponding rendering of the Hebrew text found in verses 6 through 8. “It is silver worked in relief; they [the images] will not walk. Overlaid silver [silver overlays] will come from Tharsis, gold [from] Mophaz and the handiwork [literally, hand] of goldsmiths — all [are] works of craftsmen . They will clothe them in hyacinth and purple. Being lifted up, they [the images] will be carried, for they will not ambulate. Do not fear them, for by no means can they do evil [or harm], and nothing good is in them.” (The emphatic expression “by no means” is the rendering of two Greek words for “not.”)

The Hebrew text of verse 8 is somewhat elliptical. Therefore, modern translations convey a variety of meanings. “One and all they are stupid and foolish, learning their nonsense from a piece of wood.” (REB) “One and all they are dumb and senseless, these idols they teach about are wooden.” (NAB) “They are all senseless and foolish; they are taught by worthless wooden idols.” (NIV) “All of them are brutish and stupid: The Futile Ones’ teaching is but wood.” (NJB) “But they are both dull and foolish; [their] doctrine is but delusion; it is a piece of wood.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition])

For the Hebrew text of verse 10, there is no corresponding wording in the Septuagint.

The words of verse 11 are written in Aramaic.

In Hebrew, the letters resh (R) and daleth (D) are easily confused. Therefore, one conjecture is that, in verse 13, the Hebrew word beraqím (“lightnings”) should be read as bedaqím (“breaches,” “fissures,” or “rifts”). This is the basis for the rendering, “he opens rifts for the rain.” (REB) The Septuagint, however, does not support departing from the rendering “lightnings.”

The wording of verse 17 in the Septuagint conveys a meaning that differs significantly from that of the extant Hebrew text. “From outside, he gathered your support residing [or contained] in choice things [places or vessels].” Based on the previous verse, God is the one who did the gathering. This could mean that he used military forces from outside the land of his people to seize the precious items that they had stored in choice vessels.

Verse 19 in the Septuagint does not initially use the first person, but refers to “your bruise” (or “your fracture”) and “your plague” and then introduces the apparent expression of the nation personified. “Truly this is my wound, and it took hold of me.”