For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

10:1.  "Hear ye the word which the Lord speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:"


It isn't just Judah, but the whole house of Israel that is addressed here, reminding us that even though the ten tribes (Israel) were captives in Assyria, because of sin, they weren't forgotten by God.  They were still His people, and dear to His heart, and so is it with every believer.  As Paul assures us in Ro 8:31-39, nothing can separate the believer from the love of God - not even our sins.  They will separate us from communion with God, but not from His love, for while He must chastise us when we sin, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth," He 12:6.


10:2.  "Thus saith the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed (terrified) at the signs (portents, omens) of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them."


Whether in the age of law or that of grace, the principle is the same: faith separates believer from unbeliever.  Israel was not to learn the ways of the unbelieving surrounding nations, nor of the Assyrians whose captives they were.  It was, in fact, for having practiced heathen ways (idolatry) that they had been carried into captivity.


Some believe that though the nations (the heathen) worshiped the heavenly bodies, the reference here isn't to idolatry, but to the superstitious fear exhibited by the nations in response to unusual astral phenomena.  The idea of worship, however, can't be dismissed, for certainly verse five, for example, indicates that God was indeed warning His people against idolatry, and the need of that warning is apparent when it is remembered that much idolatry centers on the worship of the heavenly bodies.  This is especially significant in view of the fact that before there was written language, God had presented the Gospel, not only in His arrangement of the stars, but in His also having named them (see comments on 9:11)..  It isn't strange that Satan, who is tireless in his efforts to corrupt every Divine original, should have applied his evil genius to the corruption of this also.


10:3.  "For the customs of the people are vain (foolish, false, empty, futile): for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe."


The foolishness of idolatry ought to be apparent, for even the most ignorant must realize that it is the height of folly to believe that the carving of the most skilled craftsman could ever transform an inanimate thing into a god.


10:4.  "They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not."


Paul declares the madness of abandoning the knowledge of God, for of those who have done so he has written, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things," Ro 1:22-23.  How can anyone but an utter fool believe that a god can be created by  carving a wooden image, and adorning it with silver and gold, when the so-called god has to be nailed in place to keep it from falling over!


10:5.  "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."


Their being likened to palm trees has reference only to their upright position, but literally they are likened to scarecrows in a garden, and there is peculiar propriety in the analogy, for as the birds are afraid of a scarecrow which lacks any power to hurt them, so do idolaters fear "gods" which are equally powerless, the idol as much as the scarecrow requiring to be carried and set in place by men, neither having the power to speak or move, much less to do either evil or good.  What folly, then, to fear or reverence such a thing!  Yet such is the foolishness of men estranged from God, that millions do!  His earthly people, who of all men ought to have known better, were guilty of just such madness.  Nor is modern man one whit better, for the money, education, fame, pleasure, religion, etc., with which he has replaced the heathen's idols of wood, are as powerless as they to do anything to save him from hell and fit him for heaven.


10:6.  "Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might."


From here through verse ten is recorded the response of the prophet to the Divine declaration of the worthlessness of idols.


Their very impotence is the backdrop against which God's omnipotence is displayed.  It is He Who by a word, has called the universe into existence, and Who by that same word upholds it.  It is He to Whom all things owe their existence.  It is He Who has created the material from which vain man fashions his idols, none of which can so much as speak, yet of Him we read relative to creation that, "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth .... For he spake, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast," Ps 33:6-9.


10:7.  "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."


“... to thee doth it appertain” means “it (reverence) is Thy due or right.”


Such is the madness of man in his unregenerate state that he will fear an idol which his own hands have fashioned, yet live in contempt of the God Who has made him, and Who gives him breath!


Relative to God's sovereignty over the nations, it is placed beyond question by prophecy, for only One Who is omnipotent and omniscient could, for example, have detailed so accurately the succession of empires recorded in the book of Daniel.


10:8.  "But they are altogether brutish and foolish: the stock is a doctrine of vanities."


One translation of this verse reads, "They are fools and blockheads one and all, learning their nonsense from a log of wood."  The denunciation is of the doctrines taught by those who claim to be the spokesmen of the idols.  Only those void of reason will believe that a carved block of wood could promulgate any doctrine.  Even the brute creation, which functions mainly by instinct rather than reason, displays no such aberration as does the man, who though he functions on a higher plane, abandons reason in favor of such lunacy.


10:9.  "Silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the workman, and of the hands of the founder (goldsmith): blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning (skillful) men."


The wooden stock, shaped by the wood-carver, is then passed to the founder(goldsmith) to be adorned with beaten silver and gold, and then to the skilled tailors to be dressed in gorgeous robes, but in spite of magnificent adornment, it still remains an inanimate thing, infinitely lower than the lowest of its votaries. 


Who can begin to fathom the depths to which fallen man may sink when he rejects the knowledge of the true God!


Nothing is known of Uphaz which means desire of fine gold, though some believe that it may be another name for Ophir on the south west coast of Arabia.  Tarshish is believed to have been in southern Spain.


The references to silver, gold, and raiment, however, remind us that idolatry, for all its foolishness, is the evidence that inherent to man is consciousness of God, and the awareness, no matter how vague, of the need of what these things represent, for silver is the biblical symbol of redemption; gold, of glory; and raiment, of righteousness (the filthy rags of self-righteousness, or the spotless righteousness of Christ, which clothes the believer).  It is that inherent consciousness of God that impels all men, from the most primitive to the most sophisticated, to worship something.


10:10.  "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."


In contrast with the lifeless idols, God is not only the One Who lives, without having had a beginning, and Who will continue to live for ever, but He is the One Who gives life to all things, and without Whom nothing could exist, and to Whom all men must eventually give account.


His sovereignty likewise is inherent and eternal, nor does anything have the power to resist it, for whether the rebellion be that of Satan or men, it is Divinely permitted, and will eventually be punished.  The imagined sovereignty of the idol exists only to the degree conferred by man himself.  And the natural phenomena which men fear, and attribute to the anger of their idol, are, though they know it not, the manifestation of the power of the One they have chosen to ignore, He alone having the power to make the earth tremble.


That awful day is fast approaching when the permission to rebel will be withdrawn, and God will call the rebels to account.  On that day, "the nations shall not be able to abide his indignation."


10:11.  “Thus shall you 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.”


The prophet is here commanded to declare to idolatrous Judah that their so-called gods, which were incapable of making anything, would be destroyed by the true God Whom they had rejected, the Creator of the heavens and the earth, and of all that is in them.

Men too, who refuse to repent of their sins, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, will also perish from the earth, their failure to repent condemning them to an eternal existence in the dreadful torment of the unquenchable flame of the lake of fire.


10:12.  “He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and stretched out the heavens by his discretion (intelligence, skilfulness, understanding).”


In contrast with the so-called gods which were formed by men’s hands, from material which God Jehovah and brought into existence out of nothing, the earth was the product of His power, its every movement being directed by his wisdom, its sidereal heavens declaring His intelligence in the arrangement of the stars He has placed there, that very arrangement being His presentation of the Gospel long before there was any written language, see comments on 9:11.


10:13.  “When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude (tumult, crowd) of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapors (mist) to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures.”


The utterance of His voice is the literal thunder, but only a small fraction of earth’s multitudes recognize it as anything but a natural phenomenon, yet a careful reading of Scripture reveals that virtually every mention of thunder is connected with the expression of God’s displeasure.


Waters in a good sense speak of blessing, but in a bad sense as here, of judgment, and it is instructive to consider that the rain which follows thunder is almost invariably a destructive  downpour rather than the gentle rain that promotes plant growth.


Vapor (mist) when used in a bad sense, as here, usually has a bad connotation, being connected with judgment rather than blessing, see for example Ps 135:7; Ac 2:19; 13:11 and 2 Pe 2:17.


Wind is one of the biblical symbols of the Holy Spirit, see e.g., Jn 3:8, a gentle wind representing His beneficent influence; a furious storm wind, His destructive judgmental power in operation.  It is in this latter sense that the word is to be understood in the present context.


An unsuspecting wicked world is about to become the object of God’s judgment in the now imminent Tribulation.


10:14.  “Every man is brutish (like a brute, incapable of coherent thought) in his knowledge; every founder (goldsmith) is confounded (put to shame) by the graven image: for the molten image is falsehood (lifeless counterfeit, a delusion), and there is no breath in them.”


As already noted every man has within him the inherent instinct to worship something, just as every animal has within it the instinct to live according to the nature God has given it, nor does any creature, except man, ever evince any desire to live contrary to its nature.  When man therefore worships an idol he reduces himself to the level of the beast, for idolatry requires him to abandon his God-given ability to think and reason rationally, so that he foolishly endows his idol with attributes superior to his own, when everything connected with it declares the contrary.  Every goldsmith who bows before the thing his own hands have formed makes a fool of himself, for he is declaring that the inanimate object is somehow endowed with powers superior to his own, though everything about it declares the opposite.  It cannot even do what he does naturally: breathe.  Much less can it speak, see, hear, smell, move, or react to any stimuli.


If the natural man, who has lost the knowledge of God, thus makes a fool of himself by bowing to an idol, how much greater was the folly of Israel and Judah who had that knowledge, and who carried on the pretense of worshiping Jehovah while also bowing to idols!


10:15.  “They are vanity (worthless, nothing), and the work of errors (erring ones): in the time of their visitation (revelation of their worthlessness) they shall perish.”


The time was fast approaching when the inability of the idols to deliver their deluded votaries out of the hand of the Babylonians, would reveal their utter worthlessness, and the madness of the men who had put their trust in them rather than in the omnipotent Lord of hosts.


The destruction of idolatrous Judah in the day of testing is but a figure of the eternal destruction that will overtake the men of this generation who have also rejected the knowledge of God, and put their trust instead in today’s worthless idols: money, education, sports, pleasure, to name but a few.  The utter worthlessness of these things, and the madness of having occupied oneself with them while despising the precious blood of Christ, which alone can cleanse sin and fit men for heaven, will be fully revealed only when the doomed soul takes its flight into hell to await consignment to the eternal torment of the lake of fire.


10:16.  “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.”


The One Who is Jacob’s God is not like the worthless lifeless idols which Jacob’s descendants had made for themselves, and which they worshiped instead of that same omnipotent God of  their forefathers. 


Jacob’s God is the One Who by a mere word has called the universe into existence, whereas the idols Israel and Judah worshiped were the figments of their own deluded minds, and the work of their own hands.  And incredible though it seems that same idolatrous nation was the one He had chosen from among all the nations on earth to be His own special people!


10:17.  “Gather up thy wares out of the land, O inhabitant of the fortress.”


This was God’s command to Judah to gather up their belongings and flee from the cities into which they had fled for refuge in anticipation of the coming siege, for no city was strong enough to save them from the fury of the Babylonians whom God had chosen to be His instrument for the chastisement of His rebellious people.


That impending siege was itself a foreshadowing of the one which overtook them in AD 70 when the Romans were God’s agents of destruction against the rebellious nation, and which was itself also the adumbration of the still future and even more terrible destruction to come upon them in the now imminent Tribulation.


We miss an important part of the lesson, however, if we fail to discern in God’s command given by Jeremiah, His command to men today to flee from the wrath to come, not here on earth, but first in hell, and then eternally in the lake of fire.  There was no hiding place for that rebellious generation addressed by prophet, for they had exhausted God’s patience, their refusal to repent in God’s time carrying them over that fatal line that separates His mercy from His wrath.  The unconverted reader of this material is urged to heed the warning given here symbolically, and explicitly stated in Ge 6:3, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” and again in Pr 29:1, “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.”


10:18.  “For thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will sling out the inhabitants of the land this once and will distress them, that they may find it so.”


This continues to emphasize the dreadful finality of the sentence, and the speed with which it would be executed.  They had passed for ever beyond hope of mercy.  God in His wrath was about to cast them out of His sight as one would cast a stone out of a sling, the distance such a stone would travel being a faint indication of the impassable distance God was about to put between Himself and them.  His pleadings had wearied them, but now they were to experience the unutterable horror of having wearied Him by their continued rejection of His pleas.  It is impossible to imagine the horror that will grip those who on earth despised God, and who will find themselves at last in hell, banished eternally from His presence beyond hope of mercy.


“... that they may find it so,” has been translated “and harry them until they pay the penalty,” Moffat; “... to see if they will find me then,” Jerusalem Bible; “... at last you shall feel my wrath,” Taylor; “... I will press them hard, and squeeze them dry,” New English Bible.


10:19.  “Woe is me for my hurt! my wound is grievous (incurable): but I said, Truly this is a grief, and I must bear it.”


This is the hopeless confession and lament of Judah brought at last to realize that she has sinned away her day of grace, so that deliverance is impossible.  She must perish.  It is, however, also the echo of the hopeless moan that will come from the lips of all who having spurned God’s offer of pardon and mercy while it was available, find themselves at last in hell awaiting their final consignment to the eternal torment of the lake of fire.


10:20.  “My tabernacle (tent, home) is spoiled (destroyed), and all my (tent) cords are broken: my children are gone forth of me (as captives), and they are not: there is none to stretch forth my tent any more, and to set up my curtains.”


The hopeless dirge is continued here in the bitter sorrow that would accompany Judah’s expulsion from the land, with her cities and villages laid waste, her children carried off into captivity, with parents and children separated, never to see each other again.


Poignant as it is, however, this lament falls very far short of conveying the hopeless horror that will accompany the descent of the unconverted sinner into hell.  No words can express what it will be like to sink into the eternal misery of that awful place, leaving behind for ever everything that was held dear on earth. 


The very reading of this ought to strike terror into every unconverted heart, and impel the penitent cry uttered by the Philippian jailor in Acts 16:30, “What must I do to be saved?” God’s response to that cry being, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” Acts 16:31.


10:21.  “For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord: therefore they shall not prosper, and all their flocks shall be scattered.”


The pastors here were the rulers or leaders of the people, and their having become “brutish” means that they had become callously indifferent to the welfare of those entrusted to their care, and had long since ceased to seek guidance from the Lord.

Few will fail to see in this the adumbration of conditions in today’s Christendom.  With a few very rare exceptions the political and spiritual leaders of the people are also indifferent to the needs of those over whom God has set them.  Particularly is this true in the spiritual realm, hireling clerics for the most part being concerned only with their own advancement rather than the welfare of the souls of their charges.  Note for example the almost universal failure to preach the biblical Gospel of the need to repent and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved from hell and fitted for heaven.  What passes in Christendom today for the Gospel has been expunged of everything that might offend, so that it fails to strike into any heart that fear of God which is essential for a genuine conversion.


Those “pastors” of Judah didn’t prosper, nor did their “flocks:” both were carried captive into Babylon; and the type has been fulfilled also today, for the majority of the clerics masquerading as “shepherds” of God’s people, and the majority of the people themselves have also been carried captive into what Babylon represents: the false religious system which presently lords it over Christendom.  The majority of the clerics, together with the majority of their congregations, are as ignorant of God’s character as was the Judah addressed by the prophet.  The judgment of the Babylonian captivity is a type of the Tribulation judgments that will engulf today’s apostate Christendom after the true Church has been raptured home to heaven, and everything points to the immanence of that judgment.


10:22.  “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 (jackals).”


“Bruit” means literally news, report, rumor, tidings, of such a dire nature as to stun, devastate, stupefy the hearer; while “commotion” means tumult, mighty uproar, a great shaking.  These combine to indicate the terrible nature of the coming judgment, the “north country” of that day being Babylon.  As already noted, however, that judgment was itself but the foreshadowing of the catastrophe that came in AD 70, both of them pointing forward to the still more terrible cataclysm now impending: that of the Great Tribulation which will leave the whole world a desolation.


“Dragons” is also translated jackals, nightdogs, wolves, the truth being declared in this being that the desolated land would become the haunt of wild animals.  It would in fact be the very opposite of the land into which Israel had first been brought following their deliverance from Egypt’s bondage: a land “flowing with milk and honey.”


The terrible picture of judgment, however, goes far beyond that of a desolated Palestine, and a world lying in ruins at the end of the Great Tribulation: it is God’s warning of the eternal ruin and misery awaiting every unbeliever, first in hell, and ultimately in the unquenchable flame of the awful lake of fire.


10:23.  “O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.”


Jeremiah is the speaker, and Taylor’s translation of this verse reads, “... it is not within the power of man to map his life and plan his course.”  This may not be taken to mean that man has no power of choice, and that every circumstance of his life is predestinated.  Scripture makes it very clear that he does have freedom to choose, see e.g., 2 Pe 3:9, “The Lord ... is longsuffering ... not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” and John 5:40, “Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life,” but beyond that circle of freedom lies the overall controlling power of God to work all things (the good and the bad) together for His own glory, and the eternal blessing of those who are content to leave the ordering of their lives in His omnipotent hand.  It must be recognized, however, that relative to salvation God has imposed a time limit within which man can decide to save his soul by trusting in Christ as his Savior, or doom himself to eternal torment by refusing to exercise that faith.  Once a man has crossed over that invisible line which separates God’s mercy from His wrath, he is no longer given the power of choice, and is as surely doomed as if he were already in hell, hence the warning, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” Ge 6:3, and “He, that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1.


The greatest folly of which man can be guilty is to remain in the state of condemnation and death chosen for him by Adam, when by his own free-willed choice to trust Christ as his Savior he can pass out of that state into one of justification and everlasting life.  Make no mistake: whether a man will be in heaven or hell is determined by his own free-willed choice, God’s response to that choice being to predestinate the believer to eternal life in heaven; and the unbeliever, to eternal torment in the lake of fire.


10:24.  “O Lord, correct me, but with judgment, not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing.”


This is the earnest prayer of the submissive believer who has learnt that God’s will is always best.  He desires to have God correct, discipline, chasten him, for he remembers what is written, “For whom the Lord loves he chastens ... Now no chastening for the present seems to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto those who are exercised thereby,” Heb 12:6-11.


But the instructed believer portrayed here realizes the terrible nature of even the smallest disobedience: it deserves death, hence his plea, “correct me, but with judgment, not in thine anger,” i.e., with moderation, gentleness, for were God to punish the sin as it deserves, the offender must die: he would be brought to nothing, as other translations render it: “lest Thou crush me to atoms,” “grind me to dust,” “reduce us to nothing,” “I would die.”


If we would learn the deadly character of sin we must view Calvary against the background of Eden.  Adam brought death upon the human race, not by committing murder, but by disobeying God’s command relative to a piece of fruit!  It was that one act that resulted in the transformation of Adam’s nature into the ruined thing which now impels men to commit the terrible sins that have blighted the world for the past six thousand years.  It was that one act of disobedience by Adam that required the last Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ to suffer and die on the cross when He in love beyond human comprehension voluntarily took Adam’s guilty place before the One of Whom it is written, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity,” Hab 1:13.  It was His voluntary exposure of Himself, as our Substitute and Sin-bearer, to the terrible anger of that same holy God, that impelled His desolate cry of utter despair, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” Mt 27:46.


Because God dealt with Him there, not as His beloved sinless Son,

but as the last Adam, the guilty transgressor, pouring upon the Lord Jesus Christ all the fury of His righteous wrath against sin, atonement has been made.  The life forfeited by the first Adam was yielded up by the last Adam, thus satisfying all the claims of God’s violated throne, and establishing a basis of perfect justice upon which a holy God can come out to repentant sinners, and pardon every sin (Christ has died for them), bestowing at the same time His priceless gift of eternal life, so that the penitent believer stands before Him as a new creation, possessed of Christ’s life and nature, clothed in His spotless righteousness, forever beyond the reach of judgment and therefore also of death. 


The sins committed thereafter by the believer are dealt with on a very different basis from those committed when he was an unbeliever.  His sins: past, present, and future, are all atoned for judicially by the precious blood of Christ, God imputing Christ’s death to the penitent believer whom He now treats as a beloved son whom He must correct (discipline, chasten) so that his life may become more closely conformed to that of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who having died in the believer’s stead, has Himself been raised again from among the dead, His resurrection being the guarantee that God has accepted Christ’s life in place of that of the once guilty transgressor. 


10:25.  “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.”


This appears to be the plea of Jeremiah; and “the heathen,” the Babylonians, and it seems to have been impelled, not by what had yet happened, but by what he knew would occur when the enemy actually invaded the land.


“... devoured” means to eat, burn up; and “consumed,” to end, finish, cause to cease or perish, destroy; the destruction continuing to foreshadow that of AD 70, and of the now imminent Tribulation.


The use of the name Jacob rather than Israel emphasizes that the nation was characterized by what was of the flesh rather than the spirit, the symbolic portrait being also a very accurate one of today’s sinful world, occupied also with all that is of the flesh rather than the spirit.

[Jeremiah 11]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough