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Bible Commentaries
Jeremiah 10

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



In this chapter, we encounter a barrage of critical bias to the effect that, “This chapter presupposes a situation in which the people addressed are living among the heathen and need to be warned against idolatry.”(F1) “There is an interruption of thought… Most scholars question the authenticity of a major section of this chapter.”(F2) “Most scholars wish to date this passage during the exile and consider it post-Jeremiahic.”(F3)Jeremiah 10:1-16 here interrupt the connection between Jeremiah 9:22 and Jeremiah 10:17.”(F4) None of these allegations has any foundation whatever.

This whole chapter was written shortly before the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem the first time. At that time the Jews were a thoroughly idolatrous people. The horrible idolatries under Manasseh were still adored and secretly worshipped by the Jews; and the superficial reforms under Josiah had not really changed the hearts of the people. Idolatry was rampant in Judaea in the closing days of their apostasy and just before their deportation to Babylon. Any notion, therefore that the warning here regarding the “nothingness of idols” was not needed must be classified as ridiculous. Of course, the Jews desperately needed this warning; and, since this chapter mentions the near approach of the Babylonian invasion, it was especially appropriate that Jeremiah should have given the Jews another dramatic warning of the idolatry which they were sure to encounter in Babylon, as well as citing again their own idolatry which was a major cause of their divine punishment.

Of all the critical attacks upon the authenticity of Biblical books which we have encountered, the one here appears as the very weakest and unbelievable of all of them.

Green also agreed that this disputed passage, “could have been Jeremiah’s warning to Judah against falling under the spell of the Babylonian brand of idolatry.”(F5) How blind are the interpreters who do not see such an obvious truth.

There is no interruption of the sequence of thought; there is no break in the intimate connection evident in every line of these chapters. How natural it was that, in the same breath, where Jeremiah hailed the advance of the destroyers (Jeremiah 10:17 ff), God’s great prophet should have warned the Jews of the Babylonian idolatry.

Another fact of the utmost importance that surfaces in this chapter is the fact that Jeremiah took this description of idols and their worthlessness almost verbatim from Isaiah’s description of the same things in chapters 40-44.

“The correspondence between Jeremiah’s description and that of Isaiah, is so manifest that no one can doubt that one is modeled upon the other. If Jeremiah, then, took the thoughts and phrases from Isaiah (which he most obviously did do), it is plain that the last twenty-seven chapters of Isaiah were prior in date to the times of Jeremiah, and that they were not written at the close of the Babylonian exile. This passage is a crucial one to the pseudo-Isaiah theory.”(F6)

The critics, of course, realize that they must reply to this, or lose their case for a Deutero-Isaiah altogether; but R. Payne Smith has effectively refuted their attempted answers.

(1) There is the claim that the pseudo-Isaiah copied from Jeremiah. “This is refuted by the style,” which is Isaiah’s, not Jeremiah’s.”(F7) (2) An alternative answer would make an interpolation out of the whole passage (Jeremiah 10:1-16). “This is contradicted by the appearance of the passage in LXX.”(F8) Even some writers who half-heartedly cling to the out-dated critical allegations, such as Dummelow, are impressed with these answers. Dummelow, after mentioning the theories about this chapter, stated that, “It should, however, be said, on the other hand, that the LXX, although omitting much that is in the Hebrew, yet contains this chapter!(F9)

In our view, such facts as these, coupled with many others cited throughout this series of commentaries, effectively dispose of the whole multiple-Isaiah nonsense.

Verses 1-5


“Hear ye the word which Jehovah speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: Thus saith Jehovah, learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the nations are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are vanity; for one cutteth 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 palm-tree, of turned work, and speak not: they must be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.”

“Learn not the way of the nations… the nations are dismayed… the customs of the peoples are vanity” There is absolutely no way that Jeremiah could have made it any plainer that the admonition of this chapter was designed to aid the Jews in rejecting the idolatry of the Gentiles, such as that they would encounter in Babylon.

Furthermore, this scathing denunciation of idolatry came right out of the experience of Jeremiah who was an eye-witness of the gross conduct of the Jews in that sector throughout his lifetime. “He had known it (the idolatry) first-hand, himself being held in awe only by the monotheistic faith cherished by the best of the people.”(F10)

The special need for Jeremiah’s warning against idolatry was mentioned by Halley. “It seems that the threat of Babylonian invasion had spurred the people of Judah into great activity in manufacturing idols, as if idols could save them. This gave Jeremiah the occasion for these verses.”(F11)

“Be not dismayed at the signs of heaven” “This does not refer to the sun, moon, and stars, or signs of the zodiac, meant by God to be signs (Genesis 1:14), but to unusual phenomena like eclipses, meteorites, comets, etc. which were supposed by the ancients to portend extraordinary events. Such things struck terror into the hearts of ancient pagans. Egypt and Babylon were both addicted to this very thing.”(F12)

Thus, Jeremiah could not have made it any plainer if he had cited Babylon by name as being the very people against whom the Israelites were here warned against taking up their false gods and customs.

To declare that these verses do not fit is to betray a total lack of understanding of Jeremiah’s purpose.

“They cannot do evil… or do good” Harrison paraphrased this verse as follows: “The false gods are like a scarecrow in a patch of cucumbers!”(F13)

Verses 6-10

“There is none like unto thee, O Jehovah; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. Who should not fear thee, O King of the nations? for to thee doth it appertain; forasmuch as among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their royal estate, there is none like unto thee. But they are together brutish and foolish: in instruction of idols! it is but a stock. There is silver beaten into plates, which is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the artificer and of the hands of the goldsmith; blue and purple for their clothing; they are all the work of skillful men. But Jehovah is the true God; he is the living God, and an everlasting King; at his wrath the earth trembleth, and the nations are not able to abide his indignation.”

This is a contemptuous description of idols as contrasted with the eternal and almighty God. Tarshish is thought to have been in Spain. Uphaz is unknown; and Harrison thought that it might even be, “a metallurgical term meaning `refined gold.’ “(F14) No matter how expensive were the decorations applied to idols, they were nevertheless “essentially nothing,” unable either to harm or to benefit their worshippers.

Although he missed the truth about Jeremiah 10:11, calling it “a gloss,”(F15) Thompson nevertheless made a significant contribution to the proper understanding of this passage. He wrote:

“In view of many attempts to rearrange Jeremiah 10:1-25, we might ask if such is really the right procedure. It may be far better to try to make sense out of what lies before us in the text (“Amen,” J.B.C.). We discern a reasonable pattern in which alternating assertions are made about idols and Yahweh.”

Jeremiah 10:1, introductory statement.

Jeremiah 10:2-5, a warning against idols.

Jeremiah 10:6-7, the supremacy of Yahweh.

Jeremiah 10:8-9, the futility of idols.

Jeremiah 10:10-13, the creative power of Jehovah.

Jeremiah 10:14-15, idols and their makers judged.

Jeremiah 10:16, final acknowledgment of Yahweh’s supremacy.

Seen in this way, the whole passage has coherence and order.(F16)

This is a perfect demonstration that the passage does not need any rearrangement at all. It is perfectly logical and appropriate right where it is.

Verse 11

“Thus shall ye say unto them, The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, these shall perish from the earth, and from under the heavens.”

We have noted that Thompson mistakenly called this a gloss. It is no such thing. “It must not be regarded as a gloss, because it provides an immediate connection between Jeremiah 10:10; Jeremiah 10:12.”(F17)

“Thus shall ye say unto them” This refers to a popular saying in those times in the Chaldee tongue (to which the Jews would soon travel); and, in effect, it gives God’s people a ready-made answer in the tongue of their captors by which they would be able to resist the inducements to participate in Babylonian idolatry. This is one of the master-strokes of the whole prophecy.

“Because this verse is in Chaldee (Aramaic) some expositors reject it as a gloss; but all versions have it. It fits the context perfectly.”(F18) Furthermore, “No copyist would have interpolated a Chaldee verse into a Hebrew text!”(F19)

In the attention we have paid to the authenticity of the chapter, we should not overlook the extremely important theological teachings of these important verses: “There is none like God (Jeremiah 10:6); He is the true and living God (Jeremiah 10:10); He is the Creator of heaven and earth (Jeremiah 10:12); He is the controller of the clouds and of the rain (Jeremiah 10:13); he alone is worthy of the respect and adoration of all men (Jeremiah 10:7); He is especially the God of Israel (Jeremiah 10:16).

Before leaving Jeremiah 10:11, we shall note that many recent commentators love to parrot the old critical shibboleth that “This verse, being in Chaldee (Aramaic) is out of place.”(F20) But such a remark is nothing but an eighteenth century error. As R. Payne Smith, Dean of Canterbury, stated in 1929, “The appearance of this verse, as is, in the Septuagint (LXX) version is decisive. That this verse is in Aramaic is accounted for by the supposition that the exiles (soon to be in Babylon) were to use these very words (in the Chaldean tongue) as a retort when asked by the Chaldeans to join in their idol-worship. It was probably a proverbial saying.”(F21) What an advantage for the exiles that they were thus armed with a popular proverb in the very language of their captors, enabling them to resist appeals to join in Babylonian idolatry!

Verses 12-16

“He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and by his understanding hath he stretched out the heavens. When he uttereth his voice, there is a tumult of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings for the rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasuries. Every man is become brutish and is without knowledge; every goldsmith is put to shame by his graven image; for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them. They are vanity, a work of delusion: in the time of their visitation they shall perish. The portion of Jacob is not like these; for he is the former of all things; and Israel is the tribe of his inheritance: Jehovah of hosts is his name.”

“Who made… established… stretched out” The three things that entered into the Creator’s preparing a home for his human creation are listed here: (1) he made the earth; (2) he prepared and fitted it to be a human dwelling place; and (3) he protected it from cosmic damage by such things as excessive radiation and falling meteorites, stretching out the heavens (the atmospheric shield) as a protection.

“He maketh lightnings for the rain” “Every thunderstorm bears witness to the wise and almighty government of God.”(F22)

“Every goldsmith is put to shame by his graven image” Any person who can see the violent strength of a tropical thunderstorm and then bow down and worship a lifeless image, a production of his own hands, as god (!) has simply forsaken all intelligence.

Such images (notice the change from the singular “image” to the plural “them” in Jeremiah 10:14, as frequently in the Bible) are worthless, having “no breath” in them.

Jeremiah 10:15-16 stress the fact that graven images are entitled to no respect at all but are worthy only of contempt. The glorious God of Jacob, the true and almighty living God who created the heavens and the earth is contrasted with the idols in Jeremiah 10:16.

The parenthetical admonition concerning idols (Jeremiah 10:1-16) ends here; and Jeremiah returns to the approaching captivity.

Verses 17-18

“Gather up thy wares out of the land, O thou that abidest in the siege. For thus saith Jehovah, Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land at this time, and will distress them, that they may feel it.”

Here Judah is commanded to pick up her bundle of belongings and begin the long trek to Babylon, on which journey they will be retained by a cord of some kind passed through the ear, the lip, or the nose. One may see such lines of captives upon the old murals and monuments from that era of the world’s brutal history. The near approach of the disaster is forcefully indicated in these verses.

“That they may feel it” “In the Syriac version, this reads, `That they may find me’ (God).”(F23)

“I will sling out the inhabitants” There is a similar thought in Isaiah 22:18; and in both places the reference is to the violence of the expulsion. The metaphor comes from the habit of whirling a stone round and round in a sling and then releasing it.

Verses 19-22

“Woe is me because of my hurt! my wound is grievous: but I said, Truly this is my grief, and I must bear it. My tent is destroyed, and all my cords are broken: there is none to spread my tent any more, and to set up my curtains. For the shepherds are become brutish, and have not inquired of Jehovah: therefore they have not prospered, and all their flocks are scattered. The voice of tidings, behold, it cometh, and a great commotion out of the north country, to make the cities of Judah a desolation, a dwelling place of jackals.”

In the sad picture that emerges here, Jerusalem is compared to a tent-dwelling mother whose tent has been destroyed and her children carried away. Nobody is left to help her repair the tent. The blame belongs to the ignorant leaders who neglected to ask guidance from the Lord. Then the scene changes a bit. Destruction is already approaching from the north country, which was the usual entry into Palestine by invading nations. The Jewish Targum gives the general sense here, thus: “My land is desolate, and all my cities plundered: my people are gone into captivity, and are not.”(F24)

Jeremiah’s sorrow over the fate of his people is so great, and he is identified with them so completely, that the lament of the plundered and destroyed nation seems to be adopted as his own.

“The shepherds” These were all of the people’s leaders, including kings, priests, scribes, false prophets, and all the rest. They had wantonly and willfully forsaken God with the inevitable consequences about to be executed upon Judah.

“The voice… behold, it cometh” “These words indicate that the captivity is still, at this time, in the future.”(F25)

Verses 23-25

“O Jehovah, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps. O Jehovah, correct me, but in measure; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing. Pour out thy wrath upon the nations that know thee not, and upon the families that call not on thy name; for they have devoured Jacob, yea they have devoured him and consumed him, and laid waste his habitation.”

“It is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” This is one of the most profound statements in the Scriptures and one that needs continually to be heeded by sinful men. As long as men seek to be guided by their own counsels, and by what seems good to them, they are destined to frustration and defeat.

“O Jehovah, correct me, but in measure” Jeremiah’s payer here recognized the need of Judah for correction, but he prays for God’s mercy as the blow falls.

In the Jewish view, only the Gentiles deserved divine wrath and punishment. The Jews were God’s chosen people. Thus there found a way into Jeremiah’s prayer for a plea for God to pour out his wrath and indignation upon the Gentile instruments of Judah’s chastisement. This prayer was just, “Because the heathen were devouring Jacob, not as obedient ministers of divine chastisement, but as wild beasts, gratifying their lusts, and their hatred of true religion.”(F26) In the eventual history of the Chosen People, Jeremiah’s prayer was answered. In mercy, God concluded their captivity and made it possible for all who wished to do so to return to Judah; but Babylon was ruthlessly destroyed by the Medo-Persians.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 10". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/jeremiah-10.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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