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Jeremiah 10:2-16

Context

10:2 The Lord says,

“Do not start following pagan religious practices. 1 

Do not be in awe of signs that occur 2  in the sky

even though the nations hold them in awe.

10:3 For the religion 3  of these people is worthless.

They cut down a tree in the forest,

and a craftsman makes it into an idol with his tools. 4 

10:4 He decorates it with overlays of silver and gold.

He uses hammer and nails to fasten it 5  together

so that it will not fall over.

10:5 Such idols are like scarecrows in a cucumber field.

They cannot talk.

They must be carried

because they cannot walk.

Do not be afraid of them

because they cannot hurt you.

And they do not have any power to help you.” 6 

10:6 I said, 7 

“There is no one like you, Lord. 8 

You are great.

And you are renowned for your power. 9 

10:7 Everyone should revere you, O King of all nations, 10 

because you deserve to be revered. 11 

For there is no one like you

among any of the wise people of the nations nor among any of their kings. 12 

10:8 The people of those nations 13  are both stupid and foolish.

Instruction from a wooden idol is worthless! 14 

10:9 Hammered-out silver is brought from Tarshish 15 

and gold is brought from Uphaz 16  to cover those idols. 17 

They are the handiwork of carpenters and goldsmiths. 18 

They are clothed in blue and purple clothes. 19 

They are all made by skillful workers. 20 

10:10 The Lord is the only true God.

He is the living God and the everlasting King.

When he shows his anger the earth shakes.

None of the nations can stand up to his fury.

10:11 You people of Israel should tell those nations this:

‘These gods did not make heaven and earth.

They will disappear 21  from the earth and from under the heavens.’ 22 

10:12 The Lord is the one who 23  by his power made the earth.

He is the one who by his wisdom established the world.

And by his understanding he spread out the skies.

10:13 When his voice thunders, 24  the heavenly ocean roars.

He makes the clouds rise from the far-off horizons. 25 

He makes the lightning flash out in the midst of the rain.

He unleashes the wind from the places where he stores it. 26 

10:14 All these idolaters 27  will prove to be stupid and ignorant.

Every goldsmith will be disgraced by the idol he made.

For the image he forges is merely a sham. 28 

There is no breath in any of those idols. 29 

10:15 They are worthless, mere objects to be mocked. 30 

When the time comes to punish them, they will be destroyed.

10:16 The Lord, who is the inheritance 31  of Jacob’s descendants, 32  is not like them.

He is the one who created everything.

And the people of Israel are those he claims as his own. 33 

He is known as the Lord who rules over all.” 34 

1 tn Heb “Do not learn the way of the nations.” For this use of the word “ways” (דֶּרֶךְ, derekh) compare for example Jer 12:16 and Isa 2:6.

2 tn Heb “signs.” The words “that occur” are supplied in the translation for clarity.

sn The Hebrew word translated here “things that go on in the sky” (אֹתוֹת, ’otot) refers both to unusual disturbances such as eclipses, comets, meteors, etc., but also to such things as the changes in the position of the sun, moon, and stars in conjunction with the changes in seasons (cf. Gen 1:14). The people of Assyria and Babylonia worshiped the sun, moon, and stars, thinking that these heavenly bodies had some hold over them.

3 tn Heb “statutes.” According to BDB 350 s.v. חֻקָּה 2.b it refers to the firmly established customs or practices of the pagan nations. Compare the usage in Lev 20:23; 2 Kgs 17:8. Here it is essentially equivalent to דֶּרֶךְ (derekh) in v. 1, which has already been translated “religious practices.”

4 sn This passage is dripping with sarcasm. It begins by talking about the “statutes” of the pagan peoples as a “vapor” using a singular copula and singular predicate. Then it suppresses the subject, the idol, as though it were too horrible to mention, using only the predications about it. The last two lines read literally: “[it is] a tree which one cuts down from the forest; the work of the hands of a craftsman with his chisel.”

5 tn The pronoun is plural in Hebrew, referring to the parts.

6 tn Heb “And it is not in them to do good either.”

7 tn The words “I said” are not in the Hebrew text, but there appears to be a shift in speaker. Someone is now addressing the Lord. The likely speaker is Jeremiah, so the words “I said” are supplied in the translation for clarity.

8 tn The form that introduces this line has raised debate. The form מֵאֵין (meen) normally means “without” and introduces a qualification of a term expressing desolation or “so that not” and introduces a negative result (cf. BDB 35 s.v. II אַיִן 6.b). Neither of these nuances fit either this verse or the occurrence in v. 7. BDB 35 s.v. II אַיִן 6.b.γ notes that some have explained this as a strengthened form of אַיִן (’ayin) which occurs in a similar phrase five other times (cf., e.g., 1 Kgs 8:23). Though many including BDB question the validity of this solution it is probably better than the suggestion that BDB gives of repointing to מֵאַיִן (meayin, “whence”), which scarcely fits the context of v. 7, or the solution of HALOT 41 s.v. I אַיִן, which suggests that the מ (mem) is a double writing (dittograph) of the final consonant from the preceding word. That would assume that the scribe made the same error twice or was influenced the second time by the first erroneous writing.

9 tn Heb “Great is your name in power.”

10 tn Heb “Who should not revere you…?” The question is rhetorical and expects a negative answer.

11 tn Heb “For it is fitting to you.”

12 tn Heb “their royalty/dominion.” This is a case of substitution of the abstract for the concrete “royalty, royal power” for “kings” who exercise it.

13 tn Or “Those wise people and kings are…” It is unclear whether the subject is the “they” of the nations in the preceding verse, or the wise people and kings referred to. The text merely has “they.”

14 tn Heb “The instruction of vanities [worthless idols] is wood.” The meaning of this line is a little uncertain. Various proposals have been made to make sense, most of which involve radical emendation of the text. For some examples see J. A. Thompson, Jeremiah (NICOT), 323-24, fn 6. However, this is probably a case of the bold predication that discussed in GKC 452 §141.d, some examples of which may be seen in Ps 109:4 “I am prayer,” and Ps 120:7 “I am peace.”

15 tc Two Qumran scrolls of Jeremiah (4QJera and 4QJerb) reflect a Hebrew text that is very different than the traditional MT from which modern Bibles have been translated. The Hebrew text in these two manuscripts is similar to that from which LXX was translated. This is true both in small details and in major aspects where the LXX differs from MT. Most notably, 4QJera, 4QJerb and LXX present a version of Jeremiah about 13% shorter than the longer version found in MT. One example of this shorter text is Jer 10:3-11 in which MT and 4QJera both have all nine verses, while LXX and 4QJerb both lack vv. 6-8 and 10, which extol the greatness of God. In addition, the latter part of v. 9 is arranged differently in LXX and 4QJerb. The translation here follows MT which is supported by 4QJera.

16 tn This is a place of unknown location. It is mentioned again in Dan 10:5. Many emend the word to “Ophir” following the Syriac version and the Aramaic Targum. Ophir was famous for its gold (cf. 1 Kgs 9:28; Job 28:16).

17 tn The words “to cover those idols” are not in the text but are implicit from the context. They are supplied in the translation for clarity.

18 tn The words “They are” are not in the text. The text reads merely, “the work of the carpenter and of the hands of the goldsmith.” The words are supplied in the translation for clarity.

19 tn Heb “Blue and purple their clothing.”

20 sn There is an ironic pun in this last line. The Hebrew word translated “skillful workers” is the same word that is translated “wise people” in v. 7. The artisans do their work skillfully but they are not “wise.”

21 tn Aram “The gods who did not make…earth will disappear…” The sentence is broken up in the translation to avoid a long, complex English sentence in conformity with contemporary English style.

22 tn This verse is in Aramaic. It is the only Aramaic sentence in Jeremiah. Scholars debate the appropriateness of this verse to this context. Many see it as a gloss added by a postexilic scribe which was later incorporated into the text. Both R. E. Clendenen (“Discourse Strategies in Jeremiah 10,” JBL 106 [1987]: 401-8) and W. L. Holladay (Jeremiah [Hermeneia], 1:324-25, 334-35) have given detailed arguments that the passage is not only original but the climax and center of the contrast between the Lord and idols in vv. 2-16. Holladay shows that the passage is a very carefully constructed chiasm (see accompanying study note) which argues that “these” at the end is the subject of the verb “will disappear” not the attributive adjective modifying heaven. He also makes a very good case that the verse is poetry and not prose as it is rendered in the majority of modern English versions.

sn This passage is carefully structured and placed to contrast the Lord who is living and eternal (v. 10) and made the heavens and earth (v. 12) with the idols who did not and will disappear. It also has a very careful concentric structure in the original text where “the gods” is balanced by “these,” “heavens” is balance by “from under the heavens,” “the earth” is balanced by “from the earth,” and “did not make” is balanced and contrasted in the very center by “will disappear.” The structure is further reinforced by the sound play/wordplay between “did not make” (Aram לָא עֲבַדוּ [la’ ’avadu]) and “will disappear” (Aram יֵאבַדוּ [yevadu]). This is the rhetorical climax of Jeremiah’s sarcastic attack on the folly of idolatry.

23 tn The words “The Lord is” are not in the text. They are implicit from the context. They are supplied in the translation here because of the possible confusion of who the subject is due to the parenthetical address to the people of Israel in v. 11. The first two verbs are participles and should not merely be translated as the narrative past. They are predicate nominatives of an implied copula intending to contrast the Lord as the one who made the earth with the idols which did not.

24 tn Heb “At the voice of his giving.” The idiom “to give the voice” is often used for thunder (cf. BDB 679 s.v. נָתַן Qal.1.x).

25 tn Heb “from the ends of the earth.”

26 tn Heb “he brings out the winds from his storehouses.”

27 tn Heb “Every man.” But in the context this is not a reference to all people without exception but to all idolaters. The referent is made explicit for the sake of clarity.

28 tn Or “nothing but a phony god”; Heb “a lie/falsehood.”

29 tn Heb “There is no breath in them.” The referent is made explicit so that no one will mistakenly take it to refer to the idolaters or goldsmiths.

30 tn Or “objects of mockery.”

31 tn The words “The Lord who is” are not in the text. They are supplied in the translation for clarity. For the significance of the words that follow them see the study note that follows.

sn The phrase the portion of Jacob’s descendants, which is applied to God here, has its background in the division of the land where each tribe received a portion of the land of Palestine except the tribe of Levi whose “portion” was the Lord. As the other tribes lived off what their portion of the land provided, the tribe of Levi lived off what the Lord provided, i.e., the tithes and offerings dedicated to him. Hence to have the Lord as one’s portion is to have him provide for all one’s needs (see Ps 16:5 in the context of vv. 2, 6 and Lam 3:24 in the context of vv. 22-23).

32 tn Heb “The Portion of Jacob.” “Descendants” is implied, and is supplied in the translation for clarity.

33 tn Heb “And Israel is the tribe of his possession.”

34 tn Heb “Yahweh of armies is his name.”

sn For this rendering of the name for God and its significance see 2:19 and the study note there.



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