Letter of Jeremiah

Superscription1

A copy2 of the letter3 that Jeremiah4 sent to those who were about to be5 led away to Babylon as captives by the king of the Babylonians.6 The purpose of this letter is7 to convey8 to them exactly what God had instructed him.9

Historical Background

1:1 Because of the sins which you have committed before God you will be led away to Babylon as captives by Nebuchadnezzar king of the Babylonians.10 1:2 When you enter Babylon you will be there for many years and for a long time—as long as seven generations.11 But afterwards I will lead you out from there peaceably. 1:3 Now in Babylon you will see being carried around on the shoulders of men12 gods made of silver, gold, and wood. They cause the heathen13 to be fearful. 1:4 Therefore be cautious so that you not become altogether like14 these foreign peoples. Don’t let fear overtake you because of them, 1:5 when you see crowds before and behind them that are worshipping them. Instead, say in your heart,15 “It is you alone, O Lord,16 that we ought to worship.” 1:6 For my angel is with you, and he is searching out17 your hearts.18

The Helplessness of Idols

1:7 For their tongue has been smoothed out19 by the craftsman, and they are given a gold or silver covering,20 but they are counterfeit21 gods22 and are unable to speak. 1:8 Just as they might do for a young woman who enjoys being nicely adorned, so they take gold 1:9 and prepare crowns for the heads of their gods. On occasion the priests pilfer gold and silver from their gods and lavish it upon themselves. 1:10 They even give some23 of these things to the prostitutes in the brothel.24 They adorn them with garments as though they were people—these gods of silver, gold, and wood 1:11 that are unable to deliver themselves from rust and corrosion.25 Even though26 they have been clothed with purple attire, 1:12 their faces require wiping on account of the dust of the temple27 which thickly settles on them. 1:13 One of them28 has a scepter, as though he were a human judge of a country. But he is unable to destroy the one who violates his space.29 He has a dagger in his right hand and an battle-axe,30 but he is unable to extricate himself from war or robbers. 1:14 From these things it is evident that they are not really gods, so don’t be afraid of31 them.32

The Uselessness of Idols

1:15 Just as a person’s utensil33 is rendered useless once it is broken, 1:16 so are the gods of these people34 when they are set up in the temples.35 Their eyes are full of dust kicked up by the feet of those who enter. 1:17 Just as the courts36 are fortified against the man who has wronged a king, as though he were being led away to death, so the priests fortify their temples with doors, bars, and bolts so that they may not be vandalized by robbers. 1:18 They burn lamps, even more for them than they do for themselves, although none of these gods37 is able to see. 1:19 They are like a beam out of the temple, but it is said that38 their hearts have been eaten away.39 They don’t feel a thing when creeping things40 from the ground consume both them and their garments. 1:20 Their face has become blackened by the smoke41 of the temple. 1:21 Bats, swallows, and other42 birds perch43 on their body and head, just as cats44 also do. 1:22 From these things it is evident that they are not really gods, so don’t be afraid of them.45

The Lifelessness of Idols

1:23 And what about the gold with which they are covered to enhance their beauty?46 Unless someone wipes away the tarnish,47 by no means can they shine. For they were without feeling, even when they were first being cast. 1:24 They have been purchased at any cost, yet they have no breath.48 1:25 Since they have no feet, they are carried about on human49 shoulders, signifying to people that they have no real value. Those who worship them are embarrassed,50 1:26 due to the fact that it is by them that the idols51 are made to stand, lest they fall to the ground. If anyone stands them52 up they53 won’t move of their54 own accord. If they are55 moved, by no means can they56 right themselves.57 Yet gifts are set before them just like they are before the dead. 1:27 Their priests sell the sacrifices provided for these gods58 and use the money on themselves. In a similar manner their wives preserve some of the meat59 with salt, but they don’t share it with those who are poor or helpless. 1:28 Sacrifices offered to these gods are handled by women who are menstruous60 or who have just given birth. Since you know from these things that they are not really gods, don’t be afraid of them.

The Inability of Idols to Respond

1:29 Why then should they be called gods? Women prepare meals61 for gods of silver, gold, and wood. 1:30 And the priests sit62 in their temples in torn clothing with their heads and beards shaven and with their heads uncovered.63 1:31 They howl and raise their voices before their gods like some people do at a funeral meal for one who has died.64 1:32 The priests take some of65 the garments of the gods66 and clothe their wives and children. 1:33 Whether they sustain ill treatment or good, they won’t be able to repay it. They can neither appoint a king, now are they able to remove one. 1:34 In a similar way they are unable to give either wealth or money.67 If someone vows68 to them but does not fulfill the vow, they can’t demand that he do so.69 1:35 By no means can they rescue a person from death, or deliver the weak from the strong. 1:36 By no means can they restore sight to one who is blind, or deliver a person who is in distress. 1:37 By no means can they show mercy to a widow, or do good for an orphan.70 1:38 These idols71 made of wood and covered with gold and silver are like stones taken from the mountains. Those who worship them will be brought to shame. 1:39 How then can anyone regard them as gods, or designate them as such?

The Inappropriateness of Idol Worship

1:40 Furthermore, the Chaldeans72 themselves dishonor them. When they see a dumb person who is incapable of speaking, they bring him73 to Bel74 and pray that the person may speak, as though Bel75 were able to comprehend! 1:41 But they themselves are not able to grasp the significance of this and forsake these gods,76 for they lack perception. 1:42 The women, with cords around them, sit in the pathways burning bran77 as incense.78 1:43 When anyone of them is led away by one of those passing by and engages in sexual activity, she ridicules the woman who sat next to her. For that woman79 was not as desirable as she herself was, and her cord remained unbroken.80 1:44 All these things that are done for these gods81 are false. How then can anyone suppose that they are really gods, or call them such?82

The Origin of Idols

1:45 They have been built by carpenters and goldsmiths. They become nothing other than what the craftsmen desire them to be. 1:46 Nor can those who built them expect to live very long themselves. 1:47 How then can the things built by them really be gods? They have left behind nothing but lies and reproaches for succeeding generations. 1:48 For when war or disaster befalls them, the priests take counsel among themselves as to where they might find refuge along with their gods.83 1:49 How then is it possible not to perceive that that they are not really gods, since they can deliver themselves neither from war nor from disaster? 1:50 In light of the fact that they consist of wood, with a covering of gold and silver, henceforth it will be known that they are false. It will be clear to all nations and kings that they are not really gods, but merely the products of human hands. There is no work of God84 in them. 1:51 To whom is it not obvious that they are not really gods?

The Powerless of Idols

1:52 By no means can they appoint a king over a country, or provide rain for humanity. 1:53 By no means can they arbitrate their own legal cases, or rescue one who is treated unfairly, since they are powerless. 1:54 They are like crows85 between heaven and earth. When a fire occurs in a temple of wooden gods or those covered with gold or silver, their priests flee and save themselves. But the gods86 are burned up like beams. 1:55 Nor can they successfully oppose a king or combatants. 1:56 How then can one concede or suppose that they are really gods?

The Indifference of Idols

By no means are gods made of wood or covered with silver and gold able to deliver themselves from thieves or robbers. 1:57 Those who are strong make off with the gold and the silver, escaping with the garments that these gods87 used to wear, and by no means are these gods88 able to protect their own interests. 1:58 So it is better to be a king who demonstrates his own courage, or to be a household vessel that serves a useful purpose for the owner who has need of it, than these false gods. Better is the door in a house that protects the things that are in it than these false gods. Better is a wooden pillar in a royal estate than these false gods.89 1:59 For the sun, moon, and stars, by shining as they are sent out for meeting needs, are obedient. 1:60 In a similar way, the lightening when it flashes is seen far and wide. The same is true of the wind that blows in every country.90 1:61 When the clouds are instructed by God to travel across the entire inhabited world, they fulfill those instructions.91 1:62 And lightning,92 when it is sent out from above to consume mountains and forests, does what it is told. But these gods93 are very different, both in their appearance and in their power. 1:63 Therefore one should neither suppose nor designate them as gods, for they are neither able to arbitrate legal cases nor to benefit humanity. 1:64 Therefore since you know that they are not really gods, don’t fear them.

The Inferiority of Idols

1:65 For by no means can they curse or bless kings. 1:66 By no means can they show signs in the sky to the nations. Nor can they shine like the sun or illumine like the moon. 1:67 The beasts of the field are better than they are; at least they can escape to cover and take care of themselves. 1:68 In no way does it appear to us that they are really gods. Therefore don’t fear them.

The Destiny of Idols

1:69 Just like a scarecrow94 in a cucumber bed,95 so their gods are wooden and covered with gold and silver.96 1:70 In a similar way, like a garden thorn bush97 on which all kinds of birds sit, or like a corpse thrown aside in the darkness, so are their gods made of wood and covered with gold and silver. 1:71 You can tell from the purple and linen98 that rot to pieces on them that they are not gods. And in the end they themselves will be consumed and become a reproach in the land.99 1:72 Therefore it is better to be a righteous person without idols, for such a person100 will be far removed from reproach.101