The tenth chapter of Jeremiah begins with an oracle comparing and contrasting YHWH and idols (vv.1-16). This is YHWH's book. Jeremiah is YHWH's guy. Need I say that the idols don't come off well?
Seriously, I think that monotheism is the genius of Judaism. The idea that God could not, should not, and would not be portrayed in an image expressed God's transcendence and, in some ways, made God portable. A God who cannot be contained in an image can be worshiped anywhere. There is no need to carry God with you because, wherever you go, God is there.
Having said that, I have no doubt that the Hebrew scriptures mischaracterize the nature of idol worship. I doubt that those who used an image of a god believed that the image was the god.
Verse 11 is in Aramaic. It is the only Aramaic verse in Jeremiah which leads scholars to think that it was originally a marginal note that was copied into the text.
In Jeremiah 10:17-18 YHWH tells daughter Zion that she is about to be sent packing. Following these verses it is difficult to tell who is speaking. For example, the NIV labels verses 23-26 "Jeremiah's Prayer" but the New Interpreters Study Bible notes suggest that this lament is spoken by a daughter Zion. Nevertheless, the message is clear: YHWH is sending conquerors from the north.
In Jeremiah 11:1-17 YHWH reminds the people of Judah of his covenant with them. Having brought their ancestors our of Egypt, all YHWH asked in return was a little obedience. Because they did not obey, curses have fallen on the people (vv. 6-8). Disaster is coming. Idols won't help (vv. 9-13). YHWH is angry, angry enough to command Jeremiah not to pray for the people.
Verses 18-23 use terms similar to those found in the preceding verses. There, the Judahites conspired and YHWH would destroy the nation which was described as an olive tree. Here, it is Jeremiah who is the target of a conspiracy. He is the tree that will be destroyed along with its fruit. The punchline comes when we learn that it is Jeremiah's own people, the people of Anathoth (v. 21) who are potting against him. YHWH will deal with them (v. 22-23).
Theodicy is the topic of Jeremiah 12:1-4 as the prophet asks, "Why do the wicked prosper?" The NIV's text heading suggests that verses 5-17 are "God's Answer" to Jeremiah, though there is no clear indication of this in the text itself. Verses 5-6 say that you shouldn't trust your own kin. In light of the conspiracy against Jeremiah mentioned above, that seems good advice. Verses 7-13 repeat that Judah is going to be destroyed.
Jeremiah 12:9 refers to Judah as a "speckled bird" set upon by other birds. It's a strange verse and the source of a strange Gospel song written by Rev. Guy Smith and originally recorded by Roy Acuff in 1936. It depicts the Church, however Rev. Smith defined "Church," as the speckled bird, pecked at by foes but finally triumphant.
Verses 14-17 declare that Judah's wicked neighbors, who led YHWH's people into the worship of Baal, can now worship YHWH. Or else.
In chapter 13:1-11 Jeremiah engages in a prophetic act. He buys and buries a linen loincloth. The NIV calls it a "belt," but it's actually the underwear of the day. After wearing it, Jeremiah buries it in the ground and, sometime later, digs it up again. It is ruined. The point of this act-parable? Judah did not cling like a loincloth to YHWH, therefore they will be ruined.
Verses 12-14 describe the people of Judah as wine jars. Again the NIV translates differently calling the "wineskins." YHWH will fill the people with "drunkenness"and smash them against one another, shattering them like earthen jars we must suppose.
In verses 15-19 Jeremiah calls on Judah to glorify God. If they don't Jeremiah will cry as they are taken into exile.
Verses 20-27 use a disturbing image of sexual violence to describe the pending invasion of Jerusalem.
And if you ask yourself,
"Why has this happened to me?" —
it is because of your many sins
that your skirts have been torn off
and your body mistreated.
Verse 23 insists that the Judahites are incapable of changing their sinful ways.
Can an Ethiopian change his skin
or a leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil.
In our cultural context the mention of skin color may seem racist. I don't think this was the case for Jeremiah's context. The disturbing part of this passage is the rape imagery. It becomes more disturbing when we learn the identity of the rapist as YHWH says:
I will pull up your skirts over your face
that your shame may be seen —
your adulteries and lustful neighings,
your shameless prostitution!
Biblical quotes are from the New International Version. Next: Jeremiah 14-17