Thus said 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.…
By the signs of heaven here are doubtless meant those heavenly bodies given for signs and seasons, days-and years (Genesis 1:14); this view still further helping to explain the reference in Jeremiah 8:2 to sun and moon and all the host of heaven. Why these should terrify it is not very easy for us to comprehend, surrounded as we are by quite different associations. Often, indeed, there is cause of terror in the heavens above us, as when the depths of the celestial spaces are hidden from us by the thunder-cloud, and when the stormy blasts go forth on their errand of destruction over land and sea. But such terrors, we know, come from things nearer the earth. Sun and moon and all the host of heaven have quite a different effect on our minds. And we know, too, from the references to them in the Scriptures, that they did not terrify those who knew God. The Book of Psalms shows nothing of dismay at the signs of heaven; rather it sets them forth as helping to produce cheerfulness, enjoyment, and elevating adoration towards him who made them. Such feelings have never been absent from the minds of those who have really comprehended whose handiwork the heavenly bodies are, and why he brought them into existence. How is it, then, that by such a strong expression they are here represented as being objects of terror? The answer is, that the maker of them being unknown, and the purpose of them being indiscernible, to those whose minds were darkened by wicked works, they had to make their own conjectures. And thus they filled the darkness of their ignorance with horrid, stupefying errors. To sun and moon and all the host of heaven they came to attribute a kind of personality. And then to the personality thus conceived there would be attached the two contrasted states of mind of complacency and wrath. Complacency appeared in the warmth, brightness, and clearness of day, and the cloudless skies of night, when moon and stars were revealed in all their milder splendor. Wrath, on the other hand, would seem to be shown by the eclipse, the waning of the moon, by rolling clouds, destructive storms, thunder and lightning, long droughts, meteors, comets, etc. And once having got into their heads that sun, moon, and stars had Divine dignity about them, it was nothing very wonderful that these heathen should be thus terrified by everything in the way of celestial commotion. In every such commotion the frowning faces of the celestial gods would be visible, and every injury thus coming would be reckoned as a blow from them. The words of the messenger to Job, telling him bow the lightning had destroyed his flocks, may be adduced as a very striking illustration of dismay at the signs of heaven. What does the messenger tell Job? That the fire of God had fallen from heaven. But the messenger did not know that; all he knew was that some extraordinary flame had destroyed the sheep. He went beyond the actual fact of his experience, and from it made such an inference as his superstitious mind naturally led him to make. Thus, then, we may take it this dismay at the signs of heaven was produced; and once it became thoroughly fixed in the mind that every eclipse, comet, storm, death by lightning, was an expression of Divine wrath, the next thing would be an instant attempt to make propitiation and avert further mischief. And it is easy to see that, as priestcraft grew m power, all would be done that could be done to make the people believe that the signs of heaven needed constant remembrance in order to keep them acting favorably towards the inhabitants of earth. Such, then, was the way of the heathen; but the way of Jehovah's people was to be quite different. These signs of heaven were no sufficient cause of terror, and indeed were to be quite differently regarded. God says to his people, "Be not dismayed;" but the command cannot directly produce obedience. There must be a showing, a clear showing, that there is no cause for terror. Terror because of the signs of heaven can only come from ignorance. The moment the mind takes in the great general drift of Genesis 1., that same moment dismay will yield to an intelligent veneration towards God. A savage, seeing the express train rush past him, with its thunder and mystery, at the rate of fifty miles an hour, is as a matter of course utterly terrified and bewildered. But there would be no terror and bewilderment if he only really knew all the wisdom, patience, and controlling power which have made that express what it is. Furthermore, who would think of denying the immense utility of railways to the world because every now and then there is some hideous disaster to a train? And, similarly, through all the mysterious destructions which from time to time come in the natural world, we must look at something beyond and above them. Jesus Christ, who came into the world to make manifest and explicit the love of God as a great reality, is higher than any of these causes of temporal pain and loss. We are not permitted to get any satisfactory view of suffering as a whole, and we do well to refrain from putting any speculation of our own in the place of such a view. Our wisdom is to get more and more of a practical knowledge of God. Only so can it become possible for us to say that "we shall not fear, though the earth be removed, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea." - Y.
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.