Coming as a strong contrast with the revelation of God’s character (doing and delighting in loyal love, justice and righteousness), chapter 10 opens with an extended admonition (and rebuke) of Israel for revering and following (“learning the ways”—1) of the gods of the surrounding nations.
The chapter segments into three parts: Contrast between false God and the Living God (1-16), warning and lament of the coming invasion and devastation (17-22), and Jeremiah’s prayer of confession and petition for himself and the nation (23-25).
The tie between the first and second sections would seem to be the idea that the coming destruction is the direct result of the nation’s spiritual defection. Because they followed worthless idols, God is judging them through the Babylonian invasion.
Jeremiah’s prayer is a humble, heart-felt response to the coming judgment: He confesses his (and Israel’s) dependence on God and asks for a measured correction that doesn’t result in complete annihilation as well as a retributive response to the nations that have taken part in Israel’s demise. Yet he also petitions God to “pour out . . . wrath on the nations” that had completely devoured and destroyed Israel’s homeland (25).
The largest section of the chapter (verses 1-16) contrasts the futility and foolishness of idols with the greatness and power of God. The Lord “trash talks” (actually “truth talks”) the gods of the nations: they are “worthless” (3, 8, 15), helpless (“must be carried”—5), lifeless (“they have no breath in them”—14) and impotent (“can do no harm nor can they do any good”—5). Ultimately, they will perish (11, 15), as will those who trust in them.
By contrast, the Lord is the “true God, the living God, the eternal King” (10). He is “the maker of all things” (16), the One who “made the earth by his power . . . and stretched out the heavens by his understanding” (12). But far from being a distant, deistic god, the Lord actively intervenes in creation (“He sends lightning with the rain…”—13) and in history (“the nations cannot endure his wrath”—10). On top of this, He is the “Portion of Jacob” (16); the Hebrew word is used to speak of lots of land portioned out, a share of the sacrifice given to priests or part of the war booty given to warriors. In other words, Israel is in the amazing place of having the true, living, powerful king of creation and history as “their” spiritual portion, their lot in life, their God!
This highlights the tragic and suicidal choice the people made to exchange their Portion for that paltry portion of the surrounding cultures; this kind of spiritual exchange was unheard of among the nations (2:11).
The result of this foolish defection would prove deadly: the Lord would bring invaders from the north and hurl (literally “sling” – used of slinging a stone) His people from their land (17).
Jeremiah seems to speak for the nation (personification) as he laments his devastation: “Woe to me because of my injury! My wound is incurable!” (19). In verse 20, he speaks of his tent (city) being destroyed (by the northern armies), and his sons (biological? or more likely the young men of Israel) being “gone” (killed, deported). The nation’s leaders (shepherds) are “senseless” as they do not “inquire of the Lord” (21). As a result of their failure to turn to the Lord, they “do not prosper and all their flock is scattered” (deported or displaced). Here we see the danger of leaders (spiritual and political) who do not actively rely upon the Lord: the people suffer for it.
Jeremiah has a candid, humble admission inverse 23: He knows (from experience) that “a man’s life is not his own; it is not for man to direct his steps.” A more literal translation would be “not to the man his way, not to a man the walking and the establishing his steps.” We can’t successfully get to where we need to be on our own. We turn inwards when left to ourselves (see Why We Can’t Walk a Straight Line on http://vimeo.com/17083789). We can’t find the way or arrive at the desired destination without God’s help. So the nation of Israel wandered from God, time and time again. This is why we need the gift of God’s Spirit inside (New Covenant), so we can “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:26).
One of the questions that arises in my heart as I read this chapter is this: How is God’s justice different than his anger (10, 24)? God exercises and delights in justice (9:24). Because God is perfect, His justice is perfectly fair, wise and proportionate. Yet in 10:24 Jeremiah seems to see a difference in God’s justice and anger. He pleads for God to correct him (perhaps speaking on behalf of the nation—a personification) “but only with justice—not in your anger.” Then he calls on God to pour out his “wrath on the nations” that do not acknowledge Him and have destroyed Israel. So is there a difference and distinction between God’s justice and anger and wrath?
The Hebrew word for “Correct” has the semantic range of rebuke, correct, instruct, chastise; it’s used for both God’s correction and human instruction or correction and rebuke. Jeremiah invites God’s correction but asks that it be given “with justice” and not “in anger.” Justice translates the Hebrew word misphat, a word that refers to human or divine judgment and justice (what it fair, fitting and right). Anger translates the Hebrew word for “nose or face.” It’s commonly used for human anger; more commonly for divine anger (flaring of the nostrils). Jeremiah asks for God’s “corrective judgment” rather than his “punishment judgment” (NAC), his fatherly discipline rather than his fury (vs. 25—“pour our your wrath on the nations”). The difference between justice and wrath seems to be that the latter is a more severe response of God, one that destroys rather than simply disciples, removes rather than refines. Both are just responses of God—in character, not out of control.