1A copy of the letter which Jeremiah sent to those led captive to Babylon by the king of the Babylonians, to tell them what God had commanded him:a
For the sins you committed before God, you are being led captive to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonians. 2When you reach Babylon you will be there many years, a long time—seven generations;* after that I will bring you back from there in peace. 3And now in Babylon you will see gods of silver and gold and wood, carried shoulder high, to cast fear upon the nations.b 4* Take care that you yourselves do not become like these foreigners and let not such fear possess you. 5When you see the crowd before them and behind worshiping them, say in your hearts, “You, Lord, are the one to be worshiped!”c 6For my angel* is with you, and he will keep watch on you.d
7Their tongues are smoothed by woodworkers; they are covered with gold and silver—but they are frauds, and cannot speak.e 8People bring gold, as though for a girl fond of dressing up, 9and prepare crowns for the heads of their gods. Then sometimes the priests filch the gold and silver from their gods and spend it on themselves, 10or give part of it to harlots* in the brothel. They dress them up in clothes like human beings, these gods of silver and gold and wood. 11Though they are wrapped in purple clothing, they are not safe from rust and corrosion. 12Their faces are wiped clean of the cloud of dust which is thick upon them. 13Each has a scepter, like the human ruler of a district, but none can do away with those that offend against it. 14Each has in its right hand an ax or dagger, but it cannot save itself from war or pillage. Thus it is known they are not gods; do not fear them.
15As useless as a broken potf 16are their gods, set up in their temples, their eyes full of dust from the feet of those who enter. 17Their courtyards are walled in like those of someone brought to execution for a crime against the king; the priests reinforce their temples with gates and bars and bolts, so they will not be carried off by robbers. 18They light more lamps for them than for themselves, yet not one of these can they see. 19They are like any timber in the temple; their hearts, it is said, are eaten away. Though crawling creatures from the ground consume them and their garments, they do not feel it. 20Their faces become sooty from the smoke in the temple. 21Bats and swallows alight on their bodies and heads—any bird, and cats as well. 22Know, therefore, that they are not gods; do not fear them.
23Gold adorns them, but unless someone wipes away the corrosion, they do not shine; they felt nothing when they were molded. 24They are bought at whatever price, but there is no spirit in them. 25Since they have no feet, they are carried shoulder high, displaying to all how worthless they are; even those who worship them are put to shameg 26because, if they fall to the ground, the worshipers must pick them up. They neither move of themselves if one sets them upright, nor come upright if they are tipped over; offerings are set out for them as for the dead.h 27* Their priests sell their sacrifices for their own advantage. Likewise their wives cure some of the meat, but they do not share it with the poor and the weak;i 28women ritually unclean or at childbirth handle their sacrifices. From such things, know that they are not gods; do not fear them.
29How can they be called gods? Women set out the offerings for these gods of silver and gold and wood, 30and in their temples the priests squat with torn tunic and with shaven hair and beard, and with their heads uncovered.j 31They shout and wail before their gods as others do at a funeral banquet. 32The priests take some of the clothing from their gods and put it on their wives and children. 33* Whether these gods are treated well or badly by anyone, they cannot repay it. They can neither set up nor remove a king.k 34They cannot give anyone riches or pennies; if one fails to fulfill a vow to them, they will not exact it. 35They neither save anyone from death, nor deliver the weak from the strong,l 36nor do they restore sight to the blind, or rescue anyone in distress. 37The widow they do not pity, the orphan they do not help. 38These gilded and silvered wooden statues are no better than stones from the mountains; their worshipers will be put to shame. 39How then can it be thought or claimed that they are gods?
40Even the Chaldeans themselves have no respect for them; for when they see a deaf mute, unable to speak, they bring forward Bel* and expect him to make a sound, as though he could hear. 41They themselves are unable to reflect and abandon these gods, for they have no sense. 42* And the women, with cords around them, sit by the roads, burning chaff for incense;m 43and whenever one of them is taken aside by some passerby who lies with her, she mocks her neighbor who has not been thought thus worthy, and has not had her cord broken. 44All that is done for these gods is a fraud; how then can it be thought or claimed that they are gods?
45They are produced by woodworkers and goldsmiths; they are nothing other than what these artisans wish them to be. 46Even those who produce them are not long-lived; 47how then can the things they have produced be gods? They have left frauds and disgrace to their successors. 48For when war or disaster comes upon them, the priests deliberate among themselves where they can hide with them. 49How then can one not understand that these are not gods, who save themselves neither from war nor from disaster? 50Beings that are wooden, gilded and silvered, they will later be known for frauds. To all nations and kings it will be clear that they are not gods, but human handiwork; and that God’s work is not in them. 51Is it not obvious that they are not gods?
52* They set no king over the land, nor do they give rain. 53They neither vindicate their own rights, nor do they rescue anyone wronged, for they are powerless. 54They are like crows in midair. For when fire breaks out in the temple of these wooden or gilded or silvered gods, though the priests flee and are safe, they themselves are burned up in the fire like timbers. 55They cannot resist a king or enemy forces. 56How then can it be admitted or thought that they are gods?
They are safe from neither thieves nor bandits, these wooden and silvered and gilded gods. 57Anyone who can will strip off the gold and the silver, and go away with the clothing that was on them; they cannot help themselves. 58How much better to be a king displaying his valor, or a handy tool in a house, the joy of its owner, than these false gods; better the door of a house, protecting whatever is within, than these false gods; better a wooden post in a palace, than these false gods!n 59* The sun and moon and stars are bright, obedient in the task for which they are sent. 60Likewise the lightning, when it flashes, is a great sight; and the one wind blows over every land. 61The clouds, too, when commanded by God to proceed across the whole world, fulfill the command; 62and fire, sent from on high to burn up the mountains and the forests, carries out its command. But these false gods are not their equal, whether in appearance or in power. 63So it is unthinkable, and cannot be claimed that they are gods. They can neither execute judgment, nor benefit anyone. 64Know, therefore, that they are not gods; do not fear them.
65Kings they can neither curse nor bless. 66They show the nations no signs in the heavens, nor do they shine like the sun, nor give light like the moon. 67The beasts are better than they—beasts can help themselves by fleeing to shelter. 68Thus is it in no way apparent to us that they are gods; so do not fear them.
69For like a scarecrow in a cucumber patch,o providing no protection, are their wooden, gilded, silvered gods. 70Just like a thornbush in a garden on which perches every kind of bird, or like a corpse hurled into darkness, are their wooden, gilded, silvered gods. 71From the rotting of the purple and the linen upon them, you can know that they are not gods; they themselves will in the end be consumed, and be a disgrace in the land. 72Better the just who has no idols; such shall be far from disgrace!
* [6:2] Seven generations: this number may be symbolic. If it is not, it may indicate the date of this composition by an author writing for his contemporaries for whom the conditions of the exile were still realities. He has multiplied the seventy years of Jer 29:10 by three or four.
* [6:4–72] This whole chapter is a sustained argument against the temptation to worship Babylonian gods. A pattern is repeated throughout the chapter: various reasons are set forth to prove that the idols in the Babylonian temples are not gods (e.g., they are weak, helpless, attended by unworthy ministers); each section is followed by an exhortation not to be deceived, not to worship them. Note the refrain at vv. 14, 22, 28, 39, 44, 51, 56, 64. Israelite religion was aniconic, i.e., it prohibited images; as elsewhere in the Old Testament (e.g., Is 42:17; 44:9–20), the polemic against idols here oversimplifies by identifying the god worshiped with the image that represents it.
* [6:6] My angel: the prophet assures the people that God’s watchful care is with them, just as he was with their ancestors during their journey to the promised land (Ex 23:20).
* [6:10] Harlots: cult prostitutes, common in some religions of the ancient Near East.
* [6:27–31] From the viewpoint of Jewish ritual law, the practices named here were grotesque and depraved; cf. Lv 12:2–8; 15:19–23.
* [6:33–39] All that the Babylonian gods cannot do, the true God does; they have neither power nor inclination to save those in need, unlike the God of Israel, who champions the cause of the weak over the strong, and who defends the widow and the orphan. Cf. 1 Sm 2:7; Ps 68:6; 146:7–9; Is 35:4–5.
* [6:40] Bel: cf. note on Jer 50:2.
* [6:42–43] Perhaps a reference to the Babylonian practice of cultic prostitution mentioned by Herodotus, the fifth-century Greek historian. The unbroken cord was a sign that this service had not yet been rendered.
* [6:52–53] Unlike the God of Israel, the Babylonian gods are unable to set up and depose kings, or to provide life-giving rain.
* [6:59–62] The elements of nature, obedient to God’s orders and accomplishing the divine purpose, are better than the Babylonian gods.
b. [6:3] Is 46:7; Jer 10:1–16.
c. [6:5] Dt 6:13; 10:20; Mt 4:10; Lk 4:8.
i. [6:27] Lv 12:4; 15:19–20; Dt 14:28–29.
n. [6:58] Wis 13:10–15; 15:7–17.