It doesn’t matter how you feel one way or the other, we are after truthare we not? Then we need to get to the truth of the matter. If the truth is that Jeremiah 10 speaks of Christmas trees, then that is the truth, and you'd better distance yourself from that tree post haste!! But if it does not speak of Christmas trees, then you'd better distance yourself post haste from claiming that it does. Only a person who has no interest in truth would persist in propagating a known falsehood.
I used to propagate this idea heavily, especially around Christmas. To be bluntly honest, I was taught that Christmas was wrong, so I very much wanted to dislike Christmas, and so I allowed myself to be convinced by a simple argument because that’s what I wanted to believe. Whether or not the claim really was true, it agreed with what I wanted to be true, and that was good enough for me. And many others!
Well, it’s getting to be about that time of year, so I thought it might be a good idea to put this claim through the As Bereans Did patented gauntlet to see if it can survive. I’m going to put this claim to the test as I should have long, long ago but never did. Is it true or false? Is it a valid warning or a convenient excuse. Let’s test and prove this condemnation of Christmas trees, shall we?
HONESTY AND EVIDENCE
(JER. 10: 3-4) 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; For one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. 4 They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple.
This was so convincing to me that I went around for years of my life telling people that these two verses spoke about Christmas trees. But let's think about this critically.
If I took a person who was familiar with Christmas trees but had never read Jeremiah 10 before, handed them these verses and asked them what they think, would they look at me in astonishment and remark, "That's speaking about nothing other than Christmas trees!"? I have to tell you, I doubt that would happen (believe me, I've tried this quite a few times and I've never seen it happen).
Billions of people have lived and died, reading Jeremiah 10 several times - not just casual readings but scholarly readings as well - and have not come to this conclusion. They have to be "helped" into it.
Have you ever heard the brain teaser when you are asked to spell a few words that rhyme with "toast" and then you are asked, "What do you put in a toaster?" Most people don't think, and just respond "toast." Well, that's a possibility, sure, but highly improbable. The correct answer is "bread." You put bread in a toaster. The brain-teaser is a trick. It purposefully leads you into answering "toast."
In the exact same way, people are purposefully lead into a loaded discussion on Christmas trees, and then are introduced to Jeremiah 10. It's a trick; akin to slight of hand. You are meant to see verses 3 and 4 after your mind is already conditioned to be thinking of Christmas trees. This way you are far more likely to see what they want you to see. Of course they accompany the trick with a generous amount of commentary.
So what is really going on here? It's the power of suggestion. We call this "proof-texting."
We burst into chapter 10 of Jeremiah’s book, abscond a very few verses from their proper context, set them aside as if they are an island unto themselves, conjure up a whole new meaning for them, then go about telling the whole of Christendom how God is angry with them for such and such a thing. OK. And nobody has a problem with this?
“I’m just reading God’s word straight from the Bible,” we would plead. Oh really? Just innocently reading straight from God’s word? No commentary whatsoever to nudge people towards the desired conclusion? I see.
Then what is this, “There is a condemnation of Christmas trees in the Old Testament”?
I don’t see those words in Jeremiah.
If the "plain truth" is so plain and so true, why do the verses always come packaged with the suggestive commentary? Because this is not just reading the Bible!
Are we so certain that Jeremiah is unambiguously speaking of Christmas trees, and there is no other possible explanation because it’s so very clear and so very well spelled out that all you’re doing is reading “God’s word” and not proof-texting whatsoever? So very confident, in fact, that you would go around judging others to be pagan and condemning others over it? Well, let’s just challenge that and see if it holds up.
One oft-repeated argument is to say “The word ‘Trinity’ never appears in the Bible, therefore it isn’t a Biblical concept.” But Trinitarians counter that they believe the additional Biblical evidence points to a God in three Persons. Even though Trinitarians cite multiple verses across the Bible, anti-Trinitarians reject all of it outright. I'm not arguing for or against the Trinity doctrine here. I'm speaking to standards of evidence. If this is the standard, then let’s be even-handed about it. By this standard, the phrase “Christmas tree” never appears in the Bible, ergo Jeremiah is not talking about Christmas trees. To be fair, we should dismiss any additional evidence outright (good thing there is none). Sophomoric and childish, but fair play. My point in this is - if you’re going to have a standard of proof, then have a standard of proof. A standard is a standard only if you stick to it. Otherwise you are a leaf in the wind.
I think that's the real root of this issue. It's about standards of evidence and being honest with ourselves.
The foundation of the Christmas trees in Jeremiah claim is constantly changing standards. One standard in one verse, a different standard in another. One standard here, another there. The claim absolutely relies on it. But is that Godly?
Usually, standards are low when people don't want to find out what really is actually, honestly true. Some just want to find what upholds their predetermined view. They've compromised truth in favor of the ideology. We all do it in one way or the other. The challenge is to stop that once we learn the truth. If standards of evidence were higher, and truth the priority, then in my opinion this wouldn't happen. And blogs like this one wouldn't be necessary.
ALL TREES PAGAN?
Someone might point out that trees were used in ancient pagan worship practices, but so what? Correlation does not imply causation. That "cum hoc ergo propter hoc" fallacy has absolutely no bearing on whether or not Jeremiah 10 speaks about Christmas trees.
When I mention the very many other things people do in church that were also practiced by pagans (singing, praying, sermons, etc), usually the response is "But God lists those things in the Bible."
OK, let's go with that idea. The reasoning is - if it's something God approved in the Bible, then it's approved.
Did God approve using trees in His worship?
If Herbert Armstrong had taught the keeping of the whole law, then Armstrongists would know that God commands the use of trees in His worship.
(LEV. 23: 40) And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.
(NEH. 8: 13-15) 13 Now on the second day the heads of the fathers’ houses of all the people, with the priests and Levites, were gathered to Ezra the scribe, in order to understand the words of the Law. 14 And they found written in the Law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths during the feast of the seventh month, 15 and that they should announce and proclaim in all their cities and in Jerusalem, saying, “Go out to the mountain, and bring olive branches, branches of oil trees, myrtle branches, palm branches, and branches of leafy trees, to make booths, as it is written.”
So, according to the reasoning, use of trees and greenery in the worship of God is OK because God approves of it in the Bible.
God specifically points out that He wants trees in His temple; evergreen trees to beautify His sanctuary:
(ISA. 60:13) The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the pine, and the box treetogether, to beautify the place of My sanctuary; and I will make the place of My feet glorious.
God also lists the use of statues in His worship (EXO. 25: 17-19), garland, bells, and fruit (EXO. 28: 33; II COR. 3: 16), and other things I could list but won't. It is impossible, then, for these things to be pagan.
All of these things are used at Christmas, yet all are condemned by people as pagan. Is this a double-standard? Once again we're right back to talking about having a standard and sticking to it.
Did pagans use trees in their celebrations? Yes. And so should you (ifyou trulybelieve that you must observe the Old Testament law)! So why don't you?
The Bible prescribes the use of trees at the Feast of Tabernacles, yet that is ignored. It says nothing directly about Christmas trees, yet they are condemned.
JUDGMENT AND CONDEMNATION
You want to read something that’s clear and unambiguous? Here:
(ROM. 2: 1-4) 1 Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. 2 But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things. 3 And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?
To make a personal decision to not have a Christmas tree is one thing. Nothing ties salvation to Christmas trees. To judge someone based on a highly questionable reading of Jeremiah is something else entirely.
We had better be beyond certain that Jeremiah 10 is speaking of Christmas trees, my friends, because regardless of what God may think about idolatry, He is certainly not happy with judgment and condemnation – most especially that based on false accusation.
Truly one had better be exceedingly certain that Jeremiah 10 is talking only about Christmas trees. Because if it isn’t, then what happening in reality is people are going around proof-texting Jeremiah 10, propagating falsehoods, and violating the 10 Commandments to boot…
(EXO. 20: 16) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
…that is not something I would take lightly. No, not at all.
Let's skirting the edges and move on to the substance of the issue. Let’s ask if Jeremiah 10 condemns Christmas trees. But let’s start at the start.
CONTEXT, CONTEXT, CONTEXT
In order to avoid proof testing, we need to clamp on to the context. What do nearby verses, the entire chapter, and the neighboring chapters say? And if Jeremiah isn't speaking of Christmas trees, as I clearly suggest, then what is he speaking about?
Is it not clear from the beginning that God is making a case against Jerusalem and Judah regarding their idolatry?
Go up and read the many times in Jeremiah 3 and 5 where God describes “treacherous Judah.”
So we know to whom God is speaking – Judah.
From the start, from Jeremiah 1: 16, the case is laid out against Judah for worshipping what their own hands have made. Not just decorating the home. Worshipping! Kneeling down, praying to, expecting help from. Before, during, and after chapter 10, God is clearly angry about bowing down and worshipping idol gods.
So we know what God is angry at Judah about- worshipping gods who are no gods.
And by what standard is God measuring Judah? Go down and read Jeremiah 11 and see that this is specifically about the violation of the now abrogated Old Covenant.
We've gone to prior and post chapters. The context of this portion of Jeremiah is that God is angry at Judah for violating the Old Covenant by worshipping idol gods.
That is the greater context.
Now that we have some of the context framed in, let’s focus again specifically on chapter 10 so we can see the surrounding verses.
NOT SIMPLY A TREE
Have you ever noticed how the argument usually stops at verse 4 or sometimes 5? Why is that? Because the context undoes the argument! These verses must be proof-texted because if we look closely at them the argument will fail. Let's do that now. Let's look closely at these verses.
(JER. 10: 5) They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.”
Cannot speak??? No one believes a Christmas tree can speak. But since Jeremiah is talking about false gods carved of wood and covered in precious metals, we would expect such an idol to have a mouth. Now it makes sense.
Must be carried because they cannot go by themselves??? No one carries around their Christmas tree. (Note this is after it was fastened.) But since Jeremiah is talking about false gods carved of wood and covered in precious metals, we would expect such an idol to have feet. Now it makes sense.
Cannot do evil or good??? No one expects a Christmas tree to do either evil or good. But since Jeremiah is talking about an idol god, to which people would pray for blessings or mercy from cursing, we would expect good or evil. Now it makes sense.
(JER. 10: 6-7) 6 Inasmuch as there is none like You, O LORD (You are great, and Your name is great in might), 7 who would not fear You, O King of the nations? For this is Your rightful due. For among all the wise men of the nations, and in all their kingdoms, there is none like You.
Why this inset? Because we are contrasting the idol god, that was built and fastened, that cannot speak nor move nor dress itself, that cannot bless or curse, with the actual and Living God, who is King of nations! Try to grasp how excellent this praise is, that Jews would recognize God as the King of Gentiles. We are not contrasting God with a holiday decoration.
(JER. 10: 8-9) But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine.
"A wooden idol." Says everything we needed right there. The Gentiles have a God but will not recognize Him, instead recognizing a useless god of wood. A Christmas tree is not a god of wood. It is notan idol. That can't be stressed enough. It's a decoration, plain and simple.
(JER. 10: 11) Thus you shall say to them: “The godsthat have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens."
A Christmas tree is not a false god. No person at any time believed Christmas Trees had created heaven and earth. Yet Jeremiah is talking about false gods!
I have met some who insist that Christmas trees are idols. Not so. Just look at the definition of the word. The first definition of "idol" from Merriam-Webster, paying attention to the definition that fits a religious context, is this:
" a representation or symbol of an object of worship; broadly: a false god"I have seen Armstrongist websites and literature replete with mentions of Herbert Armstrong or the current leadership, pictures and references to HWA or the current leadership everywhere, yet virtually absent any mention of Christ (I go into detail on this in the post "On Following Men" and Martha goes over it from another angle in "Herbert W Armstrong and Today's Churches of God"). So Christmas trees are idolatry, but this is not?
“But don’t people sing songs to their Christmas tree?” one might ask. The answer is no. No Christiansings songs tothe tree.
Christians might sing songs aboutthe tree. But so what? Don’t people sing songs about Zion? Or about the law? Are those things idols now, too, because you sing about them?
"But don't people kneel before the tree. for example to get the presents?" one might ask. There is a universe of difference in kneeling to reach an item and kneeling in worship. Do we not also kneel to reach items out of our kitchen cabinets? They are wood and metal, too. So do you worship your cupboards? Preposterous.
(JER. 10: 9) Silver is beaten into plates; it is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the metalsmith; blue and purple are their clothing; they are all the work of skillful men.
Metal beaten into plates??? Christmas trees are not coated with metal beaten into plates. There are various things hung on the tree for decoration, but that isn’t beaten plates of metal from Tarshish coating the tree. But an idol god is covered in precious metals. Now it makes sense.
Clothing??? Not on a Christmas tree! There are tree-skirts, but that isn’t clothing by any stretch of the imagination. But an idol statue would be clothed to cover its nakedness. Now it makes sense.
Look back at verse 3. Read it again, slowly, and pay attention to what it is saying.
(JER. 10: 3) 3 For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.
Look closely at the words there, "the work of the hands of the workman." The indication of the phrase "work of the hands" is that there is a final product here; an artwork or something complex. The next several verses go on to describe this craftsmanship in greater detail. Verse 3 is not merely describing the mindless chopping of a tree. And "workman" indicates a craftsman, a carpenter or other skilled and professional artists.
This didn't escape the notice of the commentary writers. Look at Matthew Henry's commentary on this verse:
"It was a tree cut out of the forest originally. It was fitted up by the hands of the workman, squared, and sawed, and worked into shape."Read what John Gill's Exposition has to say on this verse:
"the matter and substance of it the body and trunk of a tree cut down with an axe, and then hewed with the same, and planed with a plane, and formed into the image of a man, or of some creature; and now, to fall down and worship this must be vanity and madness to the last degree"This is no mean tree. This is an idol god, fashioned by artists and worshiped.
Some insist that this workman in verse 3 is simply a lumberjack and nothing more, because they very much want this idol to remain a tree. These very same people insist that silver beaten into plates refers to decorations hung on a tree because they very much do not want this to remain silver beaten into plates. Here the thing must be what it is, there it must not. If in one verse the tree must be nothing but a simple tree, why in another verse can't silver plates be nothing but silver plates? Why the double standard?
Understand that the Gentiles were given over to idol gods as a punishment (DEU. 32 and the Tower of Babel episode in Genesis 11 describe this). The Gentiles didn't directly choose this. Not so with Israel. Israel is God's own peculiar people. They were not to go to idol gods; they alone were reserved for Yahweh. The Messiah, who would heal this punishment of the Gentiles and collect them back to God, would come through Israel. Yet, here Judah is, choosing the idolatry of the Gentiles of their own volition. Jeremiah is not talking about Judah using pagan traditions in their worship of YHWH. No. This is Judah worshiping other gods altogether. This is a replacementfor God. The Gentiles were pushed down that path; the Jews were choosing it. God does not say, "Do not learn the way of the Gentiles," and then proceeds to describe festivities and ornamentation. No, He says, "Do not learn the way of the Gentiles," and then proceeds to describe the false gods of the Gentiles.
Context is key!
This isn't about trees. This is about Israel staying true to God so the Messiah may come. This is about the salvation of mankind.
Having specifically looked at Jeremiah 10, in the context of the book of Jeremiah, we do not see a tree decoration but a carved idol god. Let us now turn and look elsewhere in the Bible and see if we can't get some other examples that support this conclusion.
Look! Isaiah is very similar to Jeremiah. But obviously Isaiah isn't speaking about Christmas trees either.
IGNORED PARALLEL IN ISAIAH
(ISA. 40: 18-20) 18 To whom then will you liken God? Or what likeness will you compare to Him? 19 The workman molds an image, the goldsmith overspreads it with gold, and the silversmith casts silver chains. 20 Whoever is too impoverished for such a contribution chooses a tree that will not rot; he seeks for himself a skillful workman to prepare a carved image that will not totter.
It's speaking about idols; carved images, false gods. Not decorations. Not Christmas trees. But does anyone quote Isaiah? No. Because Isaiah is much more difficult to twist.
(ISA. 41: 7) 7 So the craftsman encouraged the goldsmith; he who smooths with the hammer inspired him who strikes the anvil, saying, “It is ready for the soldering”; then he fastened it with pegs, that it might not totter.
24 Indeed you are nothing, and your work is nothing; he who chooses you is an abomination.
The idol god cannot tell the future. It cannot speak. It cannot be compared to God. This is the exact same thing God is trying to get across in Jeremiah. It is not that Isaiah is talking about idol gods and Jeremiah decorations. Both are talking about idols. Neither are talking about Christmas trees. God is upset about the vain worship of bits of wood and gold. God is not concerned with decorating the home.
Look yet again!
(ISA. 44: 9-17) 9 Those who make an image, all of them are useless, and their precious things shall not profit; they are their own witnesses; they neither see nor know, that they may be ashamed. 10 Who would form a god or mold an image that profits him nothing? 11 Surely all his companions would be ashamed; and the workmen, they are mere men. Let them all be gathered together, let them stand up; yet they shall fear, they shall be ashamed together.
12 The blacksmith with the tongs works one in the coals, fashions it with hammers, and works it with the strength of his arms. Even so, he is hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. 13 The craftsman stretches out his rule, he marks one out with chalk; he fashions it with a plane, he marks it out with the compass, and makes it like the figure of a man, according to the beauty of a man, that it may remain in the house.
14 He cuts down cedars for himself, and takes the cypress and the oak; he secures it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a pine, and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it shall be for a man to burn, for he will take some of it and warm himself; yes, he kindles it and bakes bread; indeed he makes a god and worships it; he makes it a carved image, and falls down to it.
16 He burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast, and is satisfied. He even warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm, I have seen the fire.” 17 And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”
A Christmas tree is not a god; it is not an idol. No Christian bows down to and worships a Christmas tree. No Christian prays to the tree and hopes for a response. When we put away the proof-texting and allow the Bible to interpret the Bible, this whole bit about Christmas trees crumbles to dust.
I have given you an explanation of Jeremiah 10 that is in context, has clear support from other parts of the Bible, is subject to one evenly-applied standard, and is supportable from history.
What do the "Jeremiah 10 speaks of Christmas trees" proponents give you? After building up to the desired conclusion with ample commentary, they give you an explanation proof-texted completely out of context with absolutely zero additional Biblical support; one that relies on holding one verse to one standard and another verse to another standard entirely. Not only that, but there is no support from history for their explanation either. No one has ever demonstrated that Christmas trees existed in ancient Israel nor the surrounding regions. If they weren't there, then Jeremiah simply could not be reprimanding Judah about them.
(For more on the origin of the Christmas Tree, please read our series on the history of Christmas Trees: "Falsely Accused?".)
Of course you see how silly it was to answer "toast" after you realize you've been tricked. I hope this post has helped you to understand how the trick is done.
This is not some distanced, objective, unbiased pursuit of truth we're getting from people who say Jeremiah condemns Christmas trees. I would hope that people who claim to be so very in favor of God and truth would put an exceedingly high value and priority on truth, and pursue it regardless of where it takes them. Yet, these claims of Christmas trees in Jeremiah are not truth. They're barely even opinion. And they're just wrong.
So in the end, what do we have? Another lesson on how proof-texting works.
They take only a few verses that appear to say what they want, they take them completely out of context, then they conjure up a new and improper context, and they accompany it with commentary in order to 'help' us reach the new and desired conclusion. Voila! Christmas trees!
The trick depends on us not doing our job of following through and proving it out. It depends on us having low standards of evidence.
How do we combat proof-texting? We PROVE! Read the surrounding chapters and verses. Look for parallel accounts to help explain the topic. And once we've proved, we abandon the lie and expose it for what it is.
"Now you know the rest of the story."
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11
What does the Bible say about Christmas trees?
Some people have felt that Jeremiah 10:1-5 is referring to what we, today, know as Christmas trees. Let’s take a look to see if Christmas trees are in the Bible.
Jeremiah 10:1-5 says the following, "Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the LORD: Do not learn the way of the Gentiles; do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the Gentiles are dismayed at them. For the customs of the peoples are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the ax. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple. They are upright, like a palm tree, and they cannot speak; they must be carried, because they cannot go by themselves. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good.”
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At first glance, it might seem that verses 3 and 4 are referring to Christmas trees, cut from the forest and decorated with gold and silver trimmings. But a more careful look at the entire section makes it clear that God is talking about making a carved image—or idol—from the trunk of a tree.
He speaks of a craftsman shaping the wood, "the work of the hands of the workman" (verse 3). This is made clear in the context of the following verses, specifically verse 8: "But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish; a wooden idol is a worthless doctrine."
Later in the chapter the contrast is drawn between the false gods that have not made the earth and the true God, the Creator (see verses 9-11). Verses 14 and 15 speak of worthless idols and images that are only objects of mockery.
The practice of making an idol from the trunk of a tree is also referred to in Isaiah 40:19, 20 and 44:14-17. Both Isaiah and Jeremiah declare the futility and absurdity of making and worshiping idols.
When looking at the verses of Jeremiah, we must remember that Christmas, of course, came into being long after Christ’s death and resurrection—years after the Bible was written—as a day to honor His birth. And the practice of decorating Christmas trees originated even later. Therefore, these Bible verses are not referring to Christmas trees, but idolatry.
Keep in mind, however, that although Jeremiah 10:1-5 is not referencing Christmas trees, it would be valuable to look into the origin of the Christmas tree and the celebration of Christmas on December 25 since neither are mentioned in the Bible.
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Difficult Bible Passages: Jeremiah 10:3-4
This is often one of the most abused and misused texts around:
It seems that mangling, misappropriating, misusing and manhandling Scripture is a regular pastime for far too many believers. Twisting and distorting what the Bible says is certainly a hallmark of the cults and heretics, but sadly way too many ordinary believers who should know better are also guilty of doing this.
There are many factors that can contribute to this sad state of affairs:
-A lack of basic Bible knowledge.
-A lack of understanding of basic principles of biblical interpretation.
-An inability or unwillingness to use the brains that God has given them.
-The cultic and arrogant belief that we need no ‘human teachers’ and can just know everything perfectly all by ourselves.
-A reliance on nutty videos on the internet instead of actually doing some serious study and careful research.
As a result, we have so many just plain idiotic and ridiculous things being said by Christians as they distort Scripture. The passage under question here is a classic case in point. The text invariably comes up around Christmas time when some ornery Scrooges come out of the woodwork insisting that celebrating the birth of Jesus is somehow of the devil and we should have nothing to do with it.
The text talks about cutting down trees and fashioning idols out of them. As we will see in a moment, this has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas trees – but that does not stop these folks from running with it, judging and condemning all other believers who dare to wish you a Merry Christmas.
I just had another example of this in the form of a comment to my site – and it is still three months from Christmas! This gal said:
Yes, persecution will likely come, as you say, with biblical truth. One such personal example is Jeremiah 10. God clearly tells us what he thinks about the cutting down of trees, decorating them, and idols. Yet, people don’t want to hear or know. We’re ‘plowing close to the corn there’ but, nevertheless, our pagan rituals – God rejects! Gently mentioning this fact to brothers and sisters will usually earn a swift rebuke.
Suffice it to say that I did not print her comment. Had I done so I most certainly would have given her a swift rebuke – because she fully deserves one. So we better look at this verse, and as always, we will be no better off than the cultists if we do not consider the full context. So here it is, Jeremiah 10:1-16, which speaks about God and idols:
Hear what the Lord says to you, people of Israel. This is what the Lord says:
“Do not learn the ways of the nations
or be terrified by signs in the heavens,
though the nations are terrified by them.
For the practices of the peoples are worthless;
they cut a tree out of the forest,
and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel.
They adorn it with silver and gold;
they fasten it with hammer and nails
so it will not totter.
Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field,
their idols cannot speak;
they must be carried
because they cannot walk.
Do not fear them;
they can do no harm
nor can they do any good.”
No one is like you, Lord;
you are great,
and your name is mighty in power.
Who should not fear you,
King of the nations?
This is your due.
Among all the wise leaders of the nations
and in all their kingdoms,
there is no one like you.
They are all senseless and foolish;
they are taught by worthless wooden idols.
Hammered silver is brought from Tarshish
and gold from Uphaz.
What the craftsman and goldsmith have made
is then dressed in blue and purple—
all made by skilled workers.
But the Lord is the true God;
he is the living God, the eternal King.
When he is angry, the earth trembles;
the nations cannot endure his wrath.
“Tell them this: ‘These gods, who did not make the heavens and the earth, will perish from the earth and from under the heavens.’”
But God made the earth by his power;
he founded the world by his wisdom
and stretched out the heavens by his understanding.
When he thunders, the waters in the heavens roar;
he makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth.
He sends lightning with the rain
and brings out the wind from his storehouses.
Everyone is senseless and without knowledge;
every goldsmith is shamed by his idols.
The images he makes are a fraud;
they have no breath in them.
They are worthless, the objects of mockery;
when their judgment comes, they will perish.
He who is the Portion of Jacob is not like these,
for he is the Maker of all things,
including Israel, the people of his inheritance—
the Lord Almighty is his name.
So what is going on here? It should be pretty clear: Jeremiah is declaring God’s displeasure with the building and worship of idols – of false gods. This is a common theme found throughout Scripture. So what does Jeremiah 10 have to do with Christmas trees? Let me repeat: absolutely nothing.
This should be so patently obvious that there really should be no need for an article like this. But clueless Christians and fightin’ fundie Pharisees are always with us unfortunately. So I need to spend time – perhaps a waste of time – in stating the obvious.
Creating an idol and bowing down before it to worship it as a god is wrong – always. That is certainly obvious. But this has nothing whatsoever to do with Christmas trees. First of all, I am not aware of one single Christian on the planet who has ever bowed down and worshipped a Christmas tree, proclaiming: ‘You are my god – I worship you!’
Moreover, the idolatrous Israelites sought instruction from these lifeless gods, as verse 8 indicates. Again, I am not aware of anyone ever putting up a Christmas tree in order to gain wisdom or guidance! If however such a person does exist, he or she is as much of a nutter as those who try to claim that this verse is dealing with Christmas.
Also, we are dealing with a blatant case of anachronism here. If you don’t know what that means, it may be time you did! Simply put, it involves reading something of the present into the past where it does not belong. As one online definition puts it: “the action of attributing something to a period to which it does not belong.”
Um, earth calling Scrooges: there were no Christmas trees back then. And it may surprise some of you to learn that there were no Christmases back in his day either! Jeremiah lived around six centuries before Christ. The first Christmas may not have occurred until some three centuries after that. So no, Jeremiah was NOT writing about, nor concerned with, something that started to take place a millennium later.
He was of course dealing with the situation that he and Yahweh’s people were involved in during his own time. And that had to do with his commission to warn the people of impending judgment for their sins and their idolatry. His ministry took place during the decades just before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. He sadly lived to see his warnings come to pass.
Like Isaiah and numerous other prophets, he was denouncing their pagan idol worship. And of course the main way to create an idol to worship back then was to carve it out of wood or stone, or fashion it out of things like gold or silver. So what Jeremiah 10 is warning about is the fully normal means of creating false gods to bow down to.
J. Daniel Hays offers us this by way of historical and cultural background of Jeremiah 10:
Idols played a central role in the polytheistic religions of Israel’s neighbors throughout the ancient Near East. Within these religions it was commonly believed that the gods themselves initiated the construction of the idol. After the construction of the idol was completed, special rituals were carried out to transfer the god from the spiritual world to the physical world. The idol then functioned as the mediator of the divine presence. The idol mediated presence and revelation from the god to the people and then likewise mediated worship from the people to the god.
Um, neither I nor billions of other people who have enjoyed celebrating our Lord’s birth have ever had anything even remotely close to that concept in our minds when we had a tree with gifts for others underneath it. Sorry, but anyone who claims that Christmas celebrations are anything at all like what Jeremiah was condemning two and a half millennia ago are clearly out to lunch.
And of course while the idol maker is a craftsman who carefully carves or chisels images of a false god into the piece of wood, a Christmas tree is nothing of the sort. Aside from being chopped down, there is no attempt to shape and fashion it into the likeness of some pagan deity. It just sits there, unworshipped, simply as part of some decorative festivities for a special day.
Likewise, the giving of gifts has zippo to do with idolatry or pagan practices, and everything to do with celebrating our gift-giving God. As I wrote elsewhere, “The early church saw this as a perfectly fitting way to demonstrate and illustrate the greatest gift of all: the giving of God’s son on our behalf. So our gift giving is to serve as a reminder of this great truth.”
Indeed, as Craigie, Kelley and Drinkard note in their commentary, idolatry “involves both a turning away from God and a turning toward something that becomes a substitute for God. It involves rejecting God as Creator and ascribing to created things an authority that belongs to him alone.”
Once more, what does that have to do with God’s people rejoicing in God’s great gift of a Messiah? Sure, most non-Christians and some carnal Christians may treat Christmas as simply a time of partying and commercialism, but the real believer sees it for what it is: a wondrous reminder and celebration of the Incarnation.
To conclude, here are two things that the Scrooges can do. If they are willing to think a bit and let go of their rather sloppy misconceptions, I have written an entire piece on why we should ignore this silly claim that Christians must have nothing to do with Christmas: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/11/12/christmas-of-pagan-origins/
Barring that – and I realise that many here will refuse to consider any other points of view, preferring instead to keep their minds shut – here is a second option: If you hate Christmas so much, and those Christians who do not mind celebrating the birth of Jesus, then just don’t celebrate it.
But please stop these ugly, pharisaical and fleshly attacks and condemnation of brothers and sisters in Christ who know that we are NOT to be judged on the basis of certain days, as Paul makes clear in Colossians 2:16-23. If you can’t bring yourself to do that, then all I can say to you is ‘Bah, humbug!’
Jeremiah 10 – Yahweh and the Idols of the Nations
A. The greatness of Yahweh over all the idols.
1. (1-5) The custom of the decorated tree made an idol.
Hear the word which the LORD speaks to you, O house of Israel.
Thus says the LORD:
“Do not learn the way of the Gentiles;
Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven,
For the Gentiles are dismayed at them.
For the customs of the peoples are futile;
For one cuts a tree from the forest,
The work of the hands of the workman, with the ax.
They decorate it with silver and gold;
They fasten it with nails and hammers
So that it will not topple.
They are upright, like a palm tree,
And they cannot speak;
They must be carried,
Because they cannot go by themselves.
Do not be afraid of them,
For they cannot do evil,
Nor can they do any good.”
a. Do not learn the way of the Gentiles: At the end of Jeremiah 9, God pointed out that His people were like the uncircumcised nations in their lack of knowing God and their wicked conduct. Here is a plea to separate themselves from the foolish customs of the nations that do not know God.
i. Do not learn the way of the Gentiles: “The verb learn (Hebrew tilmadu) may have overtones of ‘becoming a disciple.’ Hence one translation is, ‘Do not be disciples of the religion of the nations.’” (Thompson)
ii. “Why did so easy a target as idolatry need so many attacks in the Old Testament? Jeremiah 10:9 suggests one reason: the appeal of the visually impressive; but perhaps verse 2 goes deeper, in pointing to the temptation to fall into step with the majority.” (Kidner)
b. Do not be dismayed at the signs of heaven: Through the use of astrology, ancient people often discerned signs and warnings from the sky, seeing fearful things in the signs of heaven.
i. “The signs of the heavens referred to are not the sun, moon, and stars, or signs of the zodiac, meant by God to be signs (Genesis 1:14), but unusual phenomenon like eclipses, comets, and meteors, which were supposed to portend extraordinary events.” (Feinberg)
c. For the customs of the people are futile; for one cuts a tree from the forest… they decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with nails and hammers so that it will not topple: Jeremiah described the pagan custom of cutting a tree, setting it in a special place, decorating it, and worshipping it. The worship of the tree is indicated by the warning, Do not be afraid of them, in the sense that one would give reverence to a pagan idol.
i. Jeremiah mocked the idolatry of Judah, especially as it imitated the idolatry of the surrounding nations. Similar passages mocking the idolatry of the heathen are found in Isaiah 40:18-20 and 44:9-20. Yet, it’s difficult to read this description and condemnation of an ancient pagan custom and not immediately think of the custom of the Christmas tree as practiced in the modern Christian world.
ii. If, based on a passage like this, a Christian would be convinced that they should not have a Christmas tree or even celebrate Christmas, then they should stand in that conviction. It is good to remember what Paul wrote: whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).
iii. Nevertheless, there are many reasons to believe that despite some similarities, the differences are even greater and do not prohibit the modern custom of the Christmas tree.
· Jeremiah spoke regarding the customs of the Gentiles, and in the modern world the appropriate celebration of Christmas is an expression of belief in God and His Son, not a custom of unbelievers.
· Jeremiah spoke of believers borrowing customs of unbelievers; in the modern world, when an unbeliever has a Christmas tree, it is a case of unbelievers borrowing the customs of believers.
· Jeremiah spoke of a tree regarded as an idol, and (properly understood) the modern Christmas tree is not an idol. If for a family it is or becomes an idol, it should be discarded with.
· Jeremiah spoke to a time in history when trees were often directly connected with idolatry, either literal trees or their representations (Jeremiah 2:27).
d. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, nor can they do any good: Jeremiah gently mocked the idolatrous worship of inanimate objects such as decorated trees. No particular reverence should be given to them; they are powerless to do anything, either good or evil.
i. The line in Jeremiah 10:5, They are upright, like a palm tree is also translated like a scarecrow in a cucumber field (NASB, ESV). The idol is worthless; “It is like an immobile and speechless scarecrow in a patch of cucumbers.” (Thompson)
2. (6-10) The greatness of God over all idols.
Inasmuch as there is none like You, O LORD
(You are great, and Your name is great in might),
Who would not fear You, O King of the nations?
For this is Your rightful due.
For among all the wise men of the nations,
And in all their kingdoms,
There is none like You.
But they are altogether dull-hearted and foolish;
A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine.
Silver is beaten into plates;
It is brought from Tarshish,
And gold from Uphaz,
The work of the craftsman
And of the hands of the metalsmith;
Blue and purple are their clothing;
They are all the work of skillful men.
But the LORD is the true God;
He is the living God and the everlasting King.
At His wrath the earth will tremble,
And the nations will not be able to endure His indignation.
a. Inasmuch as there is none like You, O LORD: Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, is different than the inanimate idols men worship. The pagan gods are altogether dull-hearted and foolish.
i. A wooden idol is a worthless doctrine: “Rendered literally as an instruction of vanities is the tree itself. The meaning is that the instruction received from idols is of no more value than the idol itself.” (Harrison)
ii. “Tarshish was the westward limit of the ancient world, perhaps Tartessus in Spain….Uphaz is unknown as a location, and may instead be a metallurgical term for ‘refined gold.’” (Harrison)
b. They are all the work of skillful men. But the LORD is the true God: The inescapable contrast between Yahweh and the idols of the nations is that they are the work of men’s hands; He is the Creator of those very hands.
i. “Men make idols. Jehovah makes men.” (Morgan)
ii. As for the idols, they spared no expense in decorating them; blue and purple are their clothing: “These were the most precious dyes; very rare, and of high price.” (Clarke)
c. At His wrath the earth will tremble, and the nations will not be able to endure His indignation: The gods of the nations were nothing; the projections of the corrupt imaginations of men. Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel, is the God who exists, intervenes, and brings judgment.
3. (11-16) The glory of the Creator God.
Thus you shall say to them: “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under these heavens.”
He has made the earth by His power,
He has established the world by His wisdom,
And has stretched out the heavens at His discretion.
When He utters His voice,
There is a multitude of waters in the heavens:
“And He causes the vapors to ascend from the ends of the earth.
He makes lightning for the rain,
He brings the wind out of His treasuries.”
Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge;
Every metalsmith is put to shame by an image;
For his molded image is falsehood,
And there is no breath in them.
They are futile, a work of errors;
In the time of their punishment they shall perish.
The Portion of Jacob is not like them,
For He is the Maker of all things,
And Israel is the tribe of His inheritance;
The LORD of hosts is His name.
a. The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth: In the contrast between Yahweh and the idols, Yahweh pronounced the doom of the pagan gods.
i. Jeremiah 10:11 may have been a popular anti-idolatry proverb or saying of that time, quoted in Aramaic. It is the only verse in Jeremiah in Aramaic, a language quite similar to Hebrew. “Because this verse is in Aramaic, a number of expositors reject it as a gloss. But all the versions have it. Furthermore, it fits the context splendidly. No one has ever explained why an interpolator would introduce it here. It was a proverbial saying; so it was given in the language of the people.” (Feinberg)
b. He has made the earth by His power: In contrast to the pagan gods, Yahweh is a living, active God who made the earth and established the world, and who stretched out the heavens.
i. “The test between idols and Jehovah he declared to be the test of creation.” (Morgan)
ii. “The prophet’s final word on idols is that they are not only worthless, but also a work of mockery, worthy only of being ridiculed.” (Feinberg)
c. Everyone is dull-hearted, without knowledge: Jeremiah spoke to the foolish conduct of those who make and worship idols. Many of the idols recovered by archaeology are not even beautiful; surely they are futile, a work of errors.
d. The Portion of Jacob is not like them: Yahweh is different than the idols worshipped among the Gentiles. He is the Maker, He has chosen Israel as the tribe of His inheritance, and He is the God of heavenly armies (The LORD of hosts is His name).
i. The Portion of Jacob: The idea is that in some sense, Yahweh belonged to the people of Israel. “A man’s ‘portion’ referred to some possession that belonged to him.” (Thompson)
4. (17-18) A warning to hurriedly flee from the invaders.
Gather up your wares from the land,
O inhabitant of the fortress!
For thus says the LORD:
“Behold, I will throw out at this time
The inhabitants of the land,
And will distress them,
That they may find it so.”
a. Gather up your wares from the land: Jeremiah prophetically saw the invading army of the Babylonians, coming as an instrument of God’s judgment. He warned the people of the land to quickly prepare.
b. I will throw out at this time the inhabitants of the land: Despite whatever hurried preparations they might make, none would be able to stand before the judgment of God against Judah. They would be cast out of the land.
i. I will throw out is a vivid phrase; it literally means to slingshot out. God will cast Judah out of the land that fast, that hard, and that far. “I will easily and speedily sling them, and sling them into Babylon; so God will one day hurl into hell all the wicked of the earth.” (Trapp)
ii. “There is a vividness in the first verb in this verse, which is used of hurling with a sling. It is Yahweh himself who is pictured as casting out the inhabitants of Judah.” (Thompson)
iii. “As it turned out, following Nebuchadnezzar’s second invasion in 587 BC destruction was widespread. Modern archaeological investigation has shown a uniform picture. Many towns were destroyed at the beginning of the sixth century BC and never again occupied…There is no known case of a town in Judah proper which was continuously occupied through the exilic period.” (Thompson)
B. Jeremiah’s prayer.
1. (19-20) A prayer in the voice of those under the Babylonian invasion.
Woe is me for my hurt!
My wound is severe.
But I say, “Truly this is an infirmity,
And I must bear it.”
My tent is plundered,
And all my cords are broken;
My children have gone from me,
And they are no more.
There is no one to pitch my tent anymore,
Or set up my curtains.
a. Woe is me for my hurt! My wound is severe: Jeremiah prayed in the voice of someone enduring the Babylonian invasion to come. The prayer is filled with pain and distress.
b. My tent is plundered…my cords are broken…My children have gone from me, and they are no more: Jeremiah captures the despair, shock, and loneliness of those who would endure the severe season of judgment.
i. “Jerusalem is personified as a tent-dwelling mother, bereft of her children.” (Cundall)
2. (21-22) The trouble that comes from dull-hearted shepherds.
For the shepherds have become dull-hearted,
And have not sought the LORD;
Therefore they shall not prosper,
And all their flocks shall be scattered.
Behold, the noise of the report has come,
And a great commotion out of the north country,
To make the cities of Judah desolate, a den of jackals.
a. For the shepherds have become dull-hearted, and have not sought the LORD: In thinking of the despair of Judah under the Babylonian invasion, Jeremiah also considered a significant part of the cause. The leaders of Judah – both spiritual and political – did not seek the LORD.
i. “The corrupt prophets and priests, who seduced the people from the truth, were persons that made no conscience of prayer; hence all went to wrack and ruin.” (Trapp)
b. Therefore they shall not prosper, and their flocks shall be scattered: The unfaithfulness of the shepherds meant trouble for them, and for the people they were supposed to faithfully lead. No one would benefit from their dull-hearted, detachment from the LORD’s leadership.
i. “We must avoid generalizing too widely, but on the whole, it is incontestable that a dwindling flock and waning cause point to prayerlessness perhaps on the part of the members, but almost certainly on the part of the shepherd himself.” (Meyer)
3. (23-25) A humble plea to God for recompense to the invading army.
O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself;
It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps.
O LORD, correct me, but with justice;
Not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing.
Pour out Your fury on the Gentiles, who do not know You,
And on the families who do not call on Your name;
For they have eaten up Jacob,
Devoured him and consumed him,
And made his dwelling place desolate.
a. O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps: As Jeremiah considered the great judgment to come upon Judah through the Babylonian army, he also considered that God sent them. The Babylonians did not think of this apart from God; He would direct their steps.
i. Morgan also connects this with the prior discussion of idolatry. “The idols which men make are always man’s attempts to project, from their own inner consciousness, gods to whom they can yield obedience; or in other words, the making of idols is an attempt on the part of man to direct his own steps.” (Morgan)
ii. “Man seems to control his own progress, but the fact is that man, vitiated by sin, is incapable of achieving his own true destiny. He desperately needs God, as the wise man realized.” (Cundall)
iii. “This was Jeremiah’s consolation, ‘I do not know what Nebuchadnezzar may do; but I do know that “the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps.” I know that, in God’s eternal purposes, every step of Judah’s way is mapped out, and he will make it all work for his own glory and the good of his chosen people in the end.’” (Spurgeon)
b. O LORD, correct me, but with justice; not in Your anger, lest You bring me to nothing: Know that the great judgment to come was directed by God, Jeremiah appealed to God for mercy. He knew that Judah must be corrected, but asked for God to show mercy and to not destroy His people.
c. Pour out Your fury on the Gentiles, who do not know You: When Jeremiah considered that God would use the Babylonians as the instrument of His correction against Judah, he asked God to also judge them.
i. “So he asks God, instead of smiting his own children, to smite his enemies, and knowing what we do about the Babylonians, we do not wonder that Jeremiah put up such a prayer as that.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “This was fulfilled in the Chaldeans. Nebuchadnezzar was punished with madness, his son was slain in his revels, and the city was taken and sacked by Cyrus; and the Babylonish empire was finally destroyed!” (Clarke)
(c) 2021 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org
4 meaning 10 3 jeremiah
Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary
Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary on the Bible
|Solemn Charge to Israel; The Folly of Idolatry.||B. C. 606.|
1 Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel: 2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them. 3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. 4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not. 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. 6 Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O LORD; thou art great, and thy name is great in might. 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. 8 But they are altogether brutish and foolish: the stock is a doctrine of vanities. 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: blue and purple is their clothing: they are all the work of cunning men. 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. 11 Thus shall ye 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. 12 He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion. 13 When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures. 14 Every man is brutish in his knowledge: every founder is confounded by the graven image: for his molten image is falsehood, and there is no breath in them. 15 They are vanity, and the work of errors: in the time of their visitation they shall perish. 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 prophet Isaiah, when he prophesied of the captivity in Babylon, added warnings against idolatry and largely exposed the sottishness of idolaters, not only because the temptations in Babylon would be in danger of drawing the Jews there to idolatry, but because the afflictions in Babylon were designed to cure them of their idolatry. Thus the prophet Jeremiah here arms people against the idolatrous usages and customs of the heathen, not only for the use of those that had gone to Babylon, but of those also that staid behind, that being convinced and reclaimed, by the word of God, the rod might be prevented; and it is written for our learning. Observe here,
I. A solemn charge given to the people of God not to conform themselves to the ways and customs of the heathen. Let the house of Israel hear and receive this word from the God of Israel: "Learn not the way of the heathen, do not approve of it, no, nor think indifferently concerning it, much less imitate it or accustom yourselves to it. Let not any of their customs steal in among you (as they are apt to do insensibly) nor mingle themselves with your religion." Note, It ill becomes those that are taught of God to learn the way of the heathen, and to think of worshipping the true God with such rites and ceremonies as they used in the worship of their false gods. See Deuteronomy 12:29-31. It was the way of the heathen to worship the host of heaven, the sun, moon, and stars; to them they gave divine honours, and from them they expected divine favours, and therefore, according as the signs of heaven were, whether they were auspicious or ominous, they thought themselves countenanced or discountenanced by their deities, which made them observe those signs, the eclipses of the sun and moon, the conjunctions and oppositions of the planets, and all the unusual phenomena of the celestial globe, with a great deal of anxiety and trembling. Business was stopped if any thing occurred that was thought to bode ill; if it did but thunder on their left hand, they were almost as if they had been thunderstruck. Now God would not have his people to be dismayed at the signs of heaven, to reverence the stars as deities, nor to frighten themselves with any prognostications grounded upon them. Let them fear the God of heaven, and keep up a reverence of his providence, and then they need not be dismayed at the signs of heaven, for the stars in their courses fight not against any that are at peace with God. The heathen are dismayed at these signs, for they know no better; but let not the house of Israel, that are taught of God, be so.
II. Divers good reasons given to enforce this charge.
1. The way of the heathen is very ridiculous and absurd, and is condemned even by the dictates of right reason, Jeremiah 10:3; Jeremiah 10:3. The statutes and ordinances of the heathen are vanity itself; they cannot stand the test of a rational disquisition. This is again and again insisted upon here, as it was by Isaiah. The Chaldeans valued themselves upon their wisdom, in which they thought that they excelled all their neighbours; but the prophet here shows that they, and all others that worshipped idols and expected help and relief from them, were brutish and sottish, and had not common sense. (1.) Consider what the idol is that is worshipped. It was a tree cut out of the forest originally. It was fitted up by the hands of the workman, squared, and sawed, and worked into shape; see Isaiah 44:12, c. But, after all, it was but the stock of a tree, fitter to make a gate-post of than any thing else. But, to hide the wood, they deck it with silver and gold, they gild or lacquer it, or they deck it with gold and silver lace, or cloth of tissue. They fasten it to its place, which they themselves have assigned it, with nails and hammers, that it fall not, nor be thrown down, nor stolen away, Jeremiah 10:4; Jeremiah 10:4. The image is made straight enough, and it cannot be denied but that the workman did his part, for it is upright as the palm-tree (Jeremiah 10:5; Jeremiah 10:5); it looks stately, and stands up as if it were going to speak to you, but it cannot speak; it is a poor dumb creature; nor can it take one step towards your relief. If there be any occasion for it to shift its place, it must be carried in procession, for it cannot go. Very fitly does the admonition come in here, "Be not afraid of them, any more than of the signs of heaven; be not afraid of incurring their displeasure, for they can do no evil; be not afraid of forfeiting their favour, for neither is it in them to do good. If you think to mend the matter by mending the materials of which the idol is made, you deceive yourselves. Idols of gold and silver are an unworthy to be worshipped as wooden gods. The stock is a doctrine of vanities,Jeremiah 10:8; Jeremiah 10:8. It teaches lies, teaches lies concerning God. It is an instruction of vanities; it is wood." It is probable that the idols of gold and silver had wood underneath for the substratum, and then silver spread into plates is brought from Tarshish, imported from beyond sea, and gold from Uphaz, or Phaz, which is sometimes rendered the fine or pure gold,Psalms 21:3. A great deal of art is used, and pains taken, about it. They are not such ordinary mechanics that are employed about these as about the wooden gods, Jeremiah 10:3; Jeremiah 10:3. These are cunning men; it is the work of the workman; the graver must do his part when it has passed through the hands of the founder. Those were but decked here and there with silver and gold; these are silver and gold all over. And, that these gods might be reverenced as kings, blue and purple are their clothing, the colour of royal robes (Jeremiah 10:9; Jeremiah 10:9), which amuses ignorant worshippers, but makes the matter no better. For what is the idol when it is made and when they have made the best they can of it? He tells us (Jeremiah 10:14; Jeremiah 10:14): They are falsehood; they are not what they pretend to be, but a great cheat put upon the world. They are worshipped as the gods that give us breath and life and sense, whereas they are lifeless senseless things themselves, and there is no breath in them; there is no spirit in them (so the word is); they are not animated, or inhabited, as they are supposed to be, by any divine spirit or numen--divinity. They are so far from being gods that they have not so much as the spirit of a beast that goes downward. They are vanity, and the work of errors,Jeremiah 10:15; Jeremiah 10:15. Enquire into the use of them and you will find they are vanity; they are good for nothing; no help is to be expected from them nor any confidence put in them. They are a deceitful work, works of illusions, or mere mockeries; so some read the following clause. They delude those that put their trust in them, make fools of them, or, rather, they make fools of themselves. Enquire into the use of them and you will find they are the work of errors, grounded upon the grossest mistakes that ever men who pretended to reason were guilty of. They are the creatures of a deluded fancy; and the errors by which they were produced they propagate among their worshippers. (2.) Infer hence what the idolaters are that worship these idols. (Jeremiah 10:8; Jeremiah 10:8): They are altogether brutish and foolish. Those that make them are like unto them, senseless and stupid, and there is no spirit in them--no use of reason, else they would never stoop to them, Jeremiah 10:14; Jeremiah 10:14. Every man that makes or worships idols has become brutish in his knowledge, that is, brutish for want of knowledge, or brutish in that very thing which one would think they should be fully acquainted with; compare Jude 1:10, What they know naturally, what they cannot but know by the light of nature, in those things as brute beasts they corrupt themselves. Though in the works of creation they cannot but see the eternal power and godhead of the Creator, yet they have become vain in their imaginations, not liking to retain God in their knowledge. See Romans 1:21; Romans 1:28. Nay, whereas they thought it a piece of wisdom thus to multiply gods, it really was the greatest folly they could be guilty of. The world by wisdom knew not God,1 Corinthians 1:21; Romans 1:22. Every founder is himself confounded by the graven image; when he has made it by a mistake he is more and more confirmed in his mistake by it; he is bewildered, bewitched, and cannot disentangle himself from the snare; or it is what he will one time or other be ashamed of.
2. The God of Israel is the one only living and true God, and those that have him for their God need not make their application to any other; nay, to set up any other in competition with him is the greatest affront and injury that can be done him. Let the house of Israel cleave to the God of Israel and serve and worship him only, for,
(1.) He is a non-such. Whatever men may set in competition with him, there is none to be compared with him. The prophet turns from speaking with the utmost disdain of the idols of the heathen (as well he might) to speak with the most profound and awful reverence of the God of Israel (Jeremiah 10:6; Jeremiah 10:7): "Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord! none of all the heroes which the heathen have deified and make such ado about," the dead men of whom they made dead images, and whom they worshipped. "Some were deified and adored for their wisdom; but, among all the wise men of the nations, the greatest philosophers or statesmen, as Apollo or Hermes, there is none like thee. Others were deified and adored for their dominion; but, in all their royalty" (so it may be read), "among all their kings, as Saturn and Jupiter, there is none like unto thee." What is the glory of a man that invented a useful art or founded a flourishing kingdom (and these were grounds sufficient among the heathen to entitle a man to an apotheosis) compared with the glory of him that is the Creator of the world and that forms the spirit of man within him? What is the glory of the greatest prince or potentate, compared with the glory of him whose kingdom rules over all? He acknowledges (Jeremiah 10:6; Jeremiah 10:6), O Lord! thou art great, infinite and immense, and thy name is great in might; thou hast all power, and art known to have it. Men's name is often beyond their might; they are thought to be greater than they are; but God's name is great, and no greater than he really is. And therefore who would not fear thee, O King of nations? Who would not choose to worship such a God as this, that can do every thing, rather than such dead idols as the heathen worship, that can do nothing? Who would not be afraid of offending or forsaking a God whose name is so great in might? Which of all the nations, if they understood their interests aright, would not fear him who is the King of nations? Note, There is an admirable decency and congruity in the worshipping of God only. It is fit that he who is God alone should alone be served, that he who is Lord of all should be served by all, that he who is great should be greatly feared and greatly praised.
(2.) His verity is as evident as the idol's vanity, Jeremiah 10:10; Jeremiah 10:10. They are the work of men's hands, and therefore nothing is more plain than that it is a jest to worship them, if that may be called a jest which is so great an indignity to him that made us: But the Lord is the true God, the God of truth; he is God in truth. God Jehovah is truth; he is not a counterfeit and pretender, as they are, but is really what he has revealed himself to be; he is one we may depend upon, in whom and by whom we cannot be deceived. [1.] Look upon him as he is in himself, and he is the living God. He is life itself, has life in himself, and is the fountain of life to all the creatures. The gods of the heathen are dead things, worthless and useless, but ours is a living God, and hath immortality. [2.] Look upon him with relation to his creatures, he is a King, and absolute monarch, over them all, is their owner and ruler, has an incontestable right both to command them and dispose of them. As a king, he protects the creatures, provides for their welfare, and preserves peace among them. He is an everlasting king. The counsels of his kingdom were from everlasting and the continuance of it will be to everlasting. He is a King of eternity. The idols whom they call their kings are but of yesterday, and will soon be abolished; and the kings of the earth, that set them up to be worshipped, will themselves be in the dust shortly; but the Lord shall reign for ever, thy God, O Zion! unto all generations.
(3.) None knows the power of his anger. Let us stand in awe, and not dare to provoke him by giving that glory to another which is due to him alone; for at his wrath the earth shall tremble, even the strongest and stoutest of the kings of the earth; nay, the earth, firmly as it is fixed, when he pleases is made to quake and the rocks to tremble, Psalms 104:32; Habakkuk 3:6; Habakkuk 3:10. Though the nations should join together to contend with him, and unite their force, yet they would be found utterly unable not only to resist, but even to abide his indignation. Not only can they not make head against it, for it would overcome them, but they cannot bear up under it, for it would overload them, Psalms 76:7; Psalms 76:8; Nahum 1:6.
(4.) He is the God of nature, the fountain of all being; and all the powers of nature are at his command and disposal, Jeremiah 10:12; Jeremiah 10:13. The God we worship is he that made the heavens and the earth, and has a sovereign dominion over both; so that his invisible things are manifested and proved in the things that are seen. [1.] If we look back, we find that the whole world owed its origin to him as its first cause. It was a common saying even among the Greeks--He that sets up to be another god ought first to make another world. While the heathen worship gods that they made, we worship the God that made us and all things. First, The earth is a body of vast bulk, has valuable treasures in its bowels and more valuable fruit on its surface. It and them he has made by his power; and it is by no less than an infinite power that it hangs upon nothing, as it does (Job 26:7)-- ponderibus librata suis--poised by its own weight. Secondly, The world, the habitable part of the earth, is admirably fitted for the use and service of man, and he hath established it so by his wisdom, so that it continues serviceable in constant changes and yet a continual stability from one generation to another. Therefore both the earth and the world are his, Psalms 24:1. Thirdly, The heavens are wonderfully stretched out to an incredible extent, and it is by his discretion that they are so, and that the motions of the heavenly bodies are directed for the benefit of this lower world. These declare his glory (Psalms 19:1), and oblige us to declare it, and not give that glory to the heavens which is due to him that made them. [2.] If we look up, we see his providence to be a continued creation (Jeremiah 10:13; Jeremiah 10:13): When he uttereth his voice (gives the word of command) there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, which are poured out on the earth, whether for judgment or mercy, as he intends them. When he utters his voice in the thunder, immediately there follow thunder-showers, in which there are a multitude of waters; and those come with a noise, as the margin reads it; and we read of the noise of abundance of rain,1 Kings 18:41. Nay, there are wonders done daily in the kingdom of nature without noise: He causes the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth, from all parts of the earth, even the most remote, and chiefly those that lie next the sea. All the earth pays the tribute of vapours, because all the earth receives the blessing of rain. And thus the moisture in the universe, like the money in a kingdom and the blood in the body, is continually circulating for the good of the whole. Those vapours produce wonders, for of them are formed lightnings for the rain, and the winds which God from time to time brings forth out of his treasures, as there is occasion for them, directing them all in such measure and for such use as he thinks fit, as payments are made out of the treasury. All the meteors are so ready to serve God's purposes that he seems to have treasures of them, that cannot be exhausted and may at any time be drawn from, Psalms 135:7. God glories in the treasures he has of these, Job 38:22; Job 38:23. This God can do; but which of the idols of the heathen can do the like? Note, There is no sort of weather but what furnishes us with a proof and instance of the wisdom and power of the great Creator.
(5.) This God is Israel's God in covenant, and the felicity of every Israelite indeed. Therefore let the house of Israel cleave to him, and not forsake him to embrace idols; for, if they do, they certainly change for the worse, for (Jeremiah 10:16; Jeremiah 10:16) the portion of Jacob is not like them; their rock is not as our rock (Deuteronomy 32:31), nor ours like their mole-hills. Note, [1.] Those that have the Lord for their God have a full and complete happiness in him. The God of Jacob is the portion of Jacob; he is his all, and in him he has enough and needs no more in this world nor the other. In him we have a worthy portion, Psalms 16:5. [2.] If we have entire satisfaction and complacency in God as our portion, he will have a gracious delight in us as his people, whom he owns as the rod of his inheritance, his possession and treasure, with whom he dwells and by whom he is served and honoured. [3.] It is the unspeakable comfort of all the Lord's people that he who is their God is the former of all things, and therefore is able to do all that for them, and give all that to them, which they stand in need of. Their help stands in his name who made heaven and earth. And he is the Lord of hosts, of all the hosts in heaven and earth, has them all at his command, and will command them into the service of his people when there is occasion. This is the name by which they know him, which they first give him the glory of and then take to themselves the comfort of. [4.] Herein God's people are happy above all other people, happy indeed, bona si sua norint--did they but know their blessedness. The gods which the heathen pride, and please, and so portion themselves in, are vanity and a lie; but the portion of Jacob is not like them.
3. The prophet, having thus compared the gods of the heathen with the God of Israel (between whom there is no comparison), reads the doom, the certain doom, of all those pretenders, and directs the Jews, in God's name, to read it to the worshippers of idols, though they were their lords and masters (Jeremiah 10:11; Jeremiah 10:11): Thus shall you say unto them (and the God you serve will bear you out in saying it), The gods which have not made the heavens and the earth (and therefore are no gods, but usurpers of the honour due to him only who did make heaven and earth) shall perish, perish of course, because they are vanity--perish by his righteous sentence, because they are rivals with him. As gods they shall perish from off the earth (even all those things on earth beneath which they make gods of) and from under these heavens, even all those things in the firmament of heaven, under the highest heavens, which are deified, according to the distribution in the second commandment. These words in the original are not in the Hebrew, like all the rest, but in the Chaldee dialect, that the Jews in captivity might have this ready to say to the Chaldeans in their own language when they tempted them to idolatry: "Do you press us to worship your gods? We will never do that; for," (1.) "They are counterfeit deities; they are no gods, for they have not made the heavens and the earth, and therefore are not entitled to our homage, nor are we indebted to them either for the products of the earth or the influences of heaven, as we are to the God of Israel." The primitive Christians would say, when they were urged to worship such a god, Let him make a world and he shall be my god. While we have him to worship who made heaven and earth, it is very absurd to worship any other. (2.) "They are condemned deities. They shall perish; the time shall come when they shall be no more respected as they are now, but shall be buried in oblivion, and they and their worshippers shall sink together. The earth shall no longer bear them; the heavens shall no longer cover them; but both shall abandon them." It is repeated (Jeremiah 10:15; Jeremiah 10:15), In the time of their visitation they shall perish. When God comes to reckon with idolaters he will make them weary of their idols, and glad to be rid of them. They shall cast them to the moles and to the bats,Isaiah 2:20. Whatever runs against God and religion will be run down at last.
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website.
Henry, Matthew. "Complete Commentary on Jeremiah 10:3". "Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhm/jeremiah-10.html. 1706.
For the customs of the people are vain
Or, "their decrees", or "statutes" F15, their determinations and conclusions, founded upon the observation of the stars; or, their "rites and ceremonies" F16 in religion, in the worship of the sun and moon, and the hosts of heaven. The Syriac version is, "the idols of the people are nothing"; and which appears by what follows: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest (the work of the hands of the
workman) with the axe;
not for building, or for burning, but to make a god of; the vanity, stupidity, and folly of which are manifest, when it is considered that the original of it is a tree that grew in the forest; the matter and substance of it the body and trunk of a tree cut down with an axe, and then hewed with the same, and planed with a plane, and formed into the image of a man, or of some creature; and now, to fall down and worship this must be vanity and madness to the last degree; see ( Isaiah 44:13-17 ) ( 45:20 ) .
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“Learn not the way of the nations, nor be dismayed at the signs of the heavens because the nations are dismayed at them, for the customs of the peoples are vanity. A tree from the forest is cut down and worked with an axe by the hands of a craftsman. They decorate it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it cannot move” (Jeremiah 10:2-4, ESV).
Many have used this passage to argue that the Bible condemns the use of Christmas trees. Even if one ignores that these words were written some 2,000 years before the invention of the Christmas tree, the context of the chapter makes it abundantly clear that Jeremiah was condemning the practice of carving idols to worship, not festively decorating trees. The very next verse reads:
“Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, For they can do no harm, Nor can they do any good” (Jeremiah 10:5).
Jeremiah is pointing out that idols are lifeless carvings and are not truly gods at all. He goes on to further explain:
“But they are altogether stupid and foolish in their discipline of delusion—their idol is wood! Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, And gold from Uphaz, The work of a craftsman and of the hands of a goldsmith; Violet and purple are their clothing; They are all the work of skilled men. But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earthquakes, And the nations cannot endure His indignation” (Jeremiah 10:8-10)
The wood, gold, and silver are all plainly discussed here in the context of making lifeless idols in contrast to the True and Living God. The point is not that it is inherently evil to decorate trees. The point is that it is foolish for men to fashion their own gods. Other Old Testament prophets make the same argument. Isaiah, for example, writes:
“Surely he cuts cedars for himself, and takes a cypress or an oak and raises it for himself among the trees of the forest. He plants a fir, and the rain makes it grow. Then it becomes something for a man to burn, so he takes one of them and warms himself; he also makes a fire to bake bread. He also makes a god and worships it; he makes it a graven image and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he eats meat as he roasts a roast and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, ‘Aha! I am warm, I have seen the fire.’ But the rest of it he makes into a god, his graven image. He falls down before it and worships; he also prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god (Isaiah 44:14-17).
The Apostle Paul likewise says to the idol worshipers in Athens:
“We ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man” (Acts 17:29).
And even the earliest Christians after the New Testament era utilized these arguments in reasoning with their pagan Roman neighbors:
“Come and contemplate, not only with your eyes but with your understanding, the substance and the form of those whom you declare and deem to be gods. Is not one of them a stone similar to that on which we tread? Is not a second brass, in no way superior to those vessels which are made for our ordinary use? Is not a third wood, and that already rotten? Is not a fourth silver, which needs a man to watch it, lest it be stolen? Is not a fifth iron, consumed by rust? Is not a sixth earthenware, in no degree more valuable than that which is formed for the humblest purposes? Are not all these of corruptible matter? Are they not fabricated by means of iron and fire? Did not the sculptor fashion one of them, the brazier a second, the silversmith a third, and the potter a fourth? Was not every one of them, before they were formed by the arts of these [men] into the shape of these [gods], each in its own way subject to change? Would not those things which are now vessels, formed of the same materials, become like to such, if they met with the same artificers? Might not these, which are now worshiped by you, again be made by men vessels similar to others? Are they not all deaf? Are they not blind? Are they not without life? Are they not destitute of feeling? Are they not incapable of motion? Are they not all liable to rot? Are they not all corruptible? These things you call gods; these you serve; these you worship; and you become altogether like to them. For this reason, you hate the Christians, because they do not deem these to be gods” (Epistle to Diognetus, Chapter 2).
If people were praying to their Christmas trees or worshiping them as deities, these passages would certainly apply. But that is not, nor has it ever been, how Christmas trees are used. Christmas trees were never appealed to for blessings nor incorporated into religious rituals or acts of worship. While the exact origin of Christmas trees is unknown and highly disputed, the tradition seems to have come into existence as late as the 16th century during the Protestant Reformation in Germany. There is no evidence that Christians ever used them as anything other than home decorations for the holidays. There is nothing in this tradition that is innately idolatrous or in any way contrary to the biblical prohibitions against carving trees into false gods.