Jeremiah 10
Pulpit Commentary
Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:
Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.
Verse 2. - The way of the heathen. "Way" equivalent to "religion" (comp. ὁδὸς, Acts 9:2, etc.). Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; alluding to the astrological calculations based upon extraordinary appearances in the sky. Diodorus Siculus remarks 2:30) - and his statement is fully confirmed by the Babylonian cuneiform tablets - that "the appearance of comets, eclipses of the sun and moon, earthquakes, and in fact every kind of change occasioned by the atmosphere, whether good or bad, both to nations and to kings and private individuals [were omens of future events]." A catalogue of the seventy standard astrological tablets is to be found in the third volume of the British Museum collection of inscriptions. Among the items we read, "A collection of twenty-five tablets of the signs of heaven and earth, according to their good presage and their bad;" and again, "Tablets [regarding] the signs of the heaven, along with the star (comet) which has a corona in front and a tail behind; the appearance of the sky," etc. There can hardly be a doubt that the prophetic writer had such pseudo-science as this in his eye (see Professor Sayce, 'The Astronomy and Astrology of the Baby. Ionians, with translations of the tablets,' ere, in the Transactions of the Society of Biblical Archaeology, 3:145-339).
For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
Verse 3. - The customs of the people. "People" should, as usual, be corrected into peoples - the heathen nations are referred to. The Hebrew has "the statutes;" but the Authorized Version is substantially right, customs having a force as of iron in Eastern countries. It seems to be implied that the "customs" are of religious origin (setup. 2 Kings 17:8, where "the statutes of the heathen" are obviously the rites and customs of polytheism. For one cutteth a tree, etc. This is intended to prove the foregoing statement of the "vanity," or groundlessness, of idolatry. The order of the Hebrew, however, is more forcible, for as wood out of the forest one cutteth it, viz. the idol.
They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.
Verse 4. - They deck it... that it move not. The close resemblance of this verse to Isaiah 40:19, 20; Isaiah 41:7, will strike every reader. "Move" should rather be totter.
They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.
Verse 5. - They are upright as the palm tree; rather, they are like a pillar (i.e. a scarecrow) in a field of cucumbers. This is the interpretation given to our passage in Ver. 70 of the apocryphal Epistle o! Jeremiah (written in the Maccabean period, evidently with reference to our prophecy), and is much more striking than the rival translation, "like a palm tree of turned work," i.e. stiff, immovable (comp. Virgil, 'Georg.,' 4:110, 111; Horace, 'Sat.,' 1. 8, 1-4). They must needs be borne... they cannot do evil; a reminiscence, apparently, of Isaiah 46:7; Isaiah 41:23.
Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.
Verse 6. - Forasmuch as there is none; rather, so that, etc. But practically it is merely a strengthened negative. There is none like unto thee; none, that is, among those who claim to have Divine power (comp. the phrase, "God of gods," Deuteronomy 10:17; Psalm 136:2). It would appear from some passages, however, as if the heathen did not worship mere nonentities (though idols are sometimes called "things of naught," e.g., ten times by Isaiah) by comparison with Jehovah, but that there was a dark background of awful personal or quasi-personal reality (e.g., Deuteronomy 4:7; 2 Chronicles 28:23).
Who would not fear thee, O King of nations? for to thee doth it appertain: forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like unto thee.
Verse 7. - O King of nations. As time went on, the sacred writers became more and more distinct in their assertions of the truth that Jehovah, the Self-revealing God, is not Israel's King only, but also of the world (comp. Psalm 22:28; Psalm 47:7, 8; Psalm 96:10). To thee doth it appertain; viz. that men should fear thee. Forasmuch as, etc. (see above, on Ver. 6). Among all the wise men. "Men" is supplied, but doubtless rightly. It is a contest - how unequal a one! - between Jehovah and the sages of the heathen (comp. "Yet he also is wise," Isaiah 31:2).
But they are altogether brutish and foolish: the stock is a doctrine of vanities.
Verse 8. - Brutish and foolish. In fact, the original meaning of the idolatrous religions had begun, probably, to fade, and the worship of Bel and Nebo had become (as the worship of the Egyptian gods became at a later period) increasingly formal and ritualistic. The stock is a doctrine of vanities; rather, an instruction of vanities; i.e. all that the idols can teach is vanities. Against this is the plural ("vanities," not vanity); it is more natural (and also more in accordance with usage; comp. Genesis 41:26, Hebrew) to render, the instruction of the vanities is wooden ("vanities" has the constant technical sense of "idols;" see Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 14:22; Deuteronomy 32:21; Psalm 31:6). The clause then furnishes a reason for the folly of the heathen; how should they attain to more than a "wooden" knowledge, when the idols themselves are but wood? A bitter truth in an ironical form.
Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men.
Verse 9. - This verse apparently once followed Ver. 5. Like Vers. 7 and 8, it is omitted in the Septuagint. Silver spread into plates, etc. The silver and gold were meant for the coating of the wooden image (comp. Isaiah 30:22; Isaiah 40:19). Tarshish; i.e. Tartessus, in south-west Spain, between the two mouths of the Baetis, or Guadal-quivir. Gold from Uphaz. A place bearing this name, or anything like it, is not known from other sources than the Old Testament writings; and hence a corruption of the text has naturally been suspected (Ophir into Uphaz). As, however, r and z are not easily confounded, either in the earlier or the later Hebrew characters, this view must be abandoned, though it has the authority of several ancient versions of this passage (including the Peshite and the Targum). The name occurs again in Daniel 10:5. The Peshite, moreover, curiously enough, translates zahab mufaz in 1 Kings 10:18 (Authorized Version, "the best gold") by "gold from Ophir." Blue and purple. The Hebrew has no word, strictly speaking, for either "blue" or "purple." Both these words here used probably express coloring matter rather than colors (this is certain of the latter word, which properly designates a kind of mussel, the shell of which yielded dye). The first produced a violet purple, the second a reddish purple.
But the LORD is the true God, he is the living God, and an everlasting king: at his wrath the earth shall tremble, and the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation.
Verse 10. - The true God; literally, a God in truth, the accusative of apposition being chosen instead of the usual genitive construction, to emphasize the idea of "truth."
Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens.
Verse 11. - Thus shall ye say, etc. This verse is, unlike the rest of the chapter, written in Chaldee, and greatly interrupts the connection. Whether it is a fragment of a Targum (or Chaldee paraphrase) representing a Hebrew verse really written by Jeremiah, or whether it is a marginal note by some scribe or reader which has found its way by accident into the text, cannot be positively determined. What is certain is that it is not in its right place, though it already stood here when the Septuagint Version of Jeremiah was made. To argue, with the 'Speaker's Commentary,' that the latter circumstance is decisive of the correctness of the passage in its present position, implies a view of the unchangeableness of the text in the early centuries which few leading scholars will admit.
He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion.
Verses 12-16. - Repeated with a slight variation in Jeremiah 51:15-19. Verse 12. - He hath made the earth, etc. (comp. the frequent references to the Divine creatorship in the latter part of Isaiah (Isaiah 40:22; Isaiah 42:5; Isaiah 44:24; Isaiah 45:12, 18; Isaiah 51:13). By his discretion; rather, by his understanding.
When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures.
Verse 13. - When he uttereth his voice, etc. The phrase is difficult, but the Authorized Version probably gives the right sense. God's "voice" is the thunder (Psalm 29:3), which is accompanied by the gathering of heavy clouds ("His pavilion round about him," Psalm 18:11). He causeth the vapors to ascend, etc.; the storm-clouds coming up more and more thickly from the horizon. From this point the verse agrees with Psalm 135:7 (the psalm is full of such reminiscences, and is obviously very late). Lightning's with rain; rather, for the rain. The lightning's are, as it were, the heralds or attendants of the rain. The wind out of his treasures; a noble figure, used elsewhere of the snow and hail (Job 38:22), and of the waters of the sea (Psalm 33:7).
Every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them.
Verse 14. - Before these natural miracles, all men, except those who have been enlightened by revelation, are without knowledge (so, and not in his knowledge, we ought to render); i.e. without insight into their origin and meaning (compare the overwhelming series of questions in the sublime theophany in Job, ch. Job 38, 39.). Every founder is confounded by, etc.; rather, every goldsmith is brought to shame by the graven image; for how can the work which has needed all the resources of his skill deliver him?
They are vanity, and the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish.
Verse 15. - The very essence of idols is vanity; they are unreal as "a breath;" they are, not so much the work of errors as a work of mockery, i.e. not opus rise dignum, but a work which rewards the efforts bestowed upon its production by disappointment.
The portion of Jacob is not like them: for he is the former of all things; and Israel is the rod of his inheritance: The LORD of hosts is his name.
Verse 16. - The portion of Jacob; i.e. Jehovah. The phrase appears to have been coined at a lower level of religion, when every nation was supposed to have its own patron deity; just as the prophet says, ironically, to the fetish-worshippers of Israel, "Among the smooth stones of the stream is thy portion" (Isaiah 57:5), and Moses, in Deuteronomy (Deuteronomy 4:19), speaks of the host of heaven as having been "divided [i.e. assigned] unto all nations under the whole heaven." But, of course, the phrase is susceptible of a high, spiritual application (comp. Psalm 16:5; Psalm 142:5). God's people are, by their very conception, an ἐκλογὴ, chosen out by God, and choosing him, and not the world, for their portion. "Making the best of both worlds" is an object implicitly condemned by this consecrated phrase. The former of all things. How much more forcible is the original phrase: "... of the whole," i.e. the universe! "To form" is a phrase constantly used of God in the second part of Isaiah. The rod of his inheritance. "Rod" should rather be tribe. The twelve tribes had an inner unity, as contrasted with other peoples; comp. Psalm 74:2 and Isaiah 63:17 ("tribes").
Gather up thy wares out of the land, O inhabitant of the fortress.
Verses 17-22. - This passage connects itself immediately with Jeremiah 9, where the invasion of Judah and the dispersion of its inhabitants have been foretold. Here, after describing dramatically the departure of the latter into exile, the prophet reports a distinct revelation of the same fact, so that this can no longer be assumed to be mere imaginative rhetoric. The Jewish people is then introduced, lamenting her sad fate, but expressing resignation. Verse 17. - Gather up thy wares. "Wares" should rather be bundle. There is no allusion to trafficking. O inhabitant of the fortress; rather, thou that dwellest besieged.
For thus saith the LORD, Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this once, and will distress them, that they may find it so.
Verse 18. - I will sling out; a forcible image, to express the violence of the expulsion; comp. Isaiah 22:17, 18 (Ver. 17 needs correcting). At this once; rather, at this time (comp. Jeremiah 16:21). Invasion was no novelty to the Jews, but had hitherto merely produced loss of goods rather than of personal liberty. That they may find it so; better, that they may feel it. Others supply as. the subject "Jehovah," comparing Psalm 32:6, "In a time of finding (Authorized Version, "When thou mayest be found"). Jeremiah himself says, "Ye shall seek me, and shall find, when ye shall search for me with all your heart" (Jeremiah 29:13 - Deuteronomy 4:29). Still, these passages are hardly quite parallel, as the object of the verb can be easily supplied from the connection. The Vulgate apparently reads the text with different vowels, for it renders ut inveniantur; the Septuagint has "that thy stroke may be found."
Woe is me for my hurt! my wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it.
Verse 19. - It is rather doubtful (as in the parallel passage, Jeremiah 4:19-21) whether the speaker here is the prophet, or "the daughter of my people," who, in Jeremiah 6:26, is called upon to "make most bitter lamentation." Of course, the prophet cannot dissociate himself from his people; and we rosy therefore, perhaps, consider both references united. Hurt; literally, breach; a term so used for political calamities. A grief; rather, my grief; but "grief" is meant to include both physical and mental sufferings (literally, my sickness).
My tabernacle is spoiled, and all my cords are broken: my children are gone forth of me, and they are not: there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtains.
Verse 20. - My tabernacle; rather, my tent. It is very striking how present to the minds of the Israelites was the consciousness of their pastoral origin. Hence the cry, "To your tents, O Israel" (1 Kings 12:16); comp. also, "And the children of Israel dwelt in their tents, as aforetime" (2 Kings 13:5). My cords ... my curtains. The "cords ' are those which, by being fastened to poles and stakes, keep the tent steady; the "curtains," of course, are the covering of the tent (comp. Isaiah 54:2).
For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the LORD: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.
Verse 21. - The pastors; i.e. the civil authorities (see on Jeremiah 2:8). They shall not prosper; rather, they have not prospered; or, better still, they have not acted wisely, the notion of prospering being rather suggested than expressed (the same word is used in Isaiah lit. 13).
Behold, the noise of the bruit is come, and a great commotion out of the north country, to make the cities of Judah desolate, and a den of dragons.
Verse 22. - Behold... is come; rather; Hark! Tidings! Behold, it cometh! The tidings are that the foe is at hand, advancing with a great commotion, with clashing spears, prancing horses, and all the hubbub of a great army. A den of dragons; rather, of jackals (as Jeremiah 9:11).
O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.
Verses 23-25. - These verses confirm the view taken above, of the speaker of this whole section. Jeremiah and the people, each is, in a sense, the speaker; but here the prophetic faith seems to run rather in advance of that of his fellow-countrymen. They form, however, a fitting sequel to the charges brought against the people in Jeremiah 9. The speaker admits that he (either the People of Judah personified, or Jeremiah as a representative of its best portion) fully deserves chastisement for having attempted to go his own way (comp. Isaiah 57:17). He has now attained an insight into the truth that man's duty is simply to walk in the path which God has marked out for him. He only asks that Jehovah would chastise him with judgment, or,, more clearly, according to what is just. The contrast is between punishment inflicted in anger, the object of which is to cause pain to the criminal, and that inflicted as a duty of justice, and of which the object is the criminal's reformation" (Payne Smith). The fear expressed, however, is not exactly lest thou bring me to nothing, which is too strong for the Hebrew, but lest thou make me small. Israel was secured against annihilation by the promise of Jehovah, but feared he might possibly survive only as the shadow of his former self.
O LORD, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.
Pour out thy fury upon the heathen that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name: for they have eaten up Jacob, and devoured him, and consumed him, and have made his habitation desolate.
Verse 25. - This verse is repeated, with slight differences, in Psalm 79:6, 7. The fault of the heathen is that they exceeded their commission (Isaiah 10:6, 7; Isaiah 47:6; Zechariah 1:15), and aimed at destroying, instead of merely punishing, Jehovah's erring people. His habitation; rather, his pasture (comp. Jeremiah 12:10)

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