The opening verses ascribe the book to the well-known assistant to Jeremiah (Jer 32:12; 36:4, 32; 45:1). It is a collection of four very different compositions, ending with a work entitled “The Letter of Jeremiah,” which circulated separately in major manuscripts of the Greek tradition. The original language may have been Hebrew, but only the Greek and other versions have been preserved. The fictional setting is Babylon, where Baruch reads his scroll to King Jechoniah (Jehoiachin) and the exiles; they react by sending gifts and the scroll to Jerusalem (1:1–14), presumably by the hand of Baruch (1:7). No certain date can be given for the book, but it may have been edited in final form during the last two centuries B.C. The work attempts to explain the trauma of the exile in terms of a Deuteronomic cycle: sin (of Israel), punishment, repentance, and return (cf. Jgs 2; also Dt 28–33).
The prayer of the exiles (2:11–3:8) is a confession of sin and a request for mercy, and has remarkable similarities to Dn 9 and to parts of Jeremiah. The poem on personified Wisdom is concerned with three themes: the importance of Wisdom, the elusive character of Wisdom (cf. Jb 28), and the identification of Wisdom with Torah (cf. Sir 24:23). Baruch’s Poem of Consolation resembles parts of Is 40–66, and it offers encouragement to the exiles in view of their eventual return; there are two addresses by personified Zion. The Letter of Jeremiah, unlike the letter in Jer 29, is a polemic against idolatry, a well-known theme (cf. Jer 10:2–11; Ps 115:4–8; 135:15–18; Is 44:9–20; Wis 13:10–15:17). It contains ten warnings that end in a kind of refrain that the idols are not gods and are not to be feared (vv. 14, 22, 28, 39, 44, 51, 56, 64, 68).
The book can be divided thus:
1Now these are the words of the scroll which Baruch, son of Neriah, son of Mahseiah, son of Zedekiah, son of Hasadiah, son of Hilkiah, wrote in Babylon,a 2in the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month,* at the time the Chaldeans took Jerusalem and destroyed it with fire.b 3c Baruch read the words of this scroll in the hearing of Jeconiah, son of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and all the people who came to the reading:d 4the nobles, kings’ sons, elders, and all the people, small and great—all who lived in Babylon by the river Sud.*
5They wept, fasted, and prayed before the Lord, 6and collected such funds as each could afford.e 7These they sent to Jerusalem, to Jehoiakim the priest, son of Hilkiah, son of Shallum, and to the priests and the whole people who were with him in Jerusalem. 8(At the same time he* received the vessels of the house of the LORD that had been removed from the temple, to restore them to the land of Judah, on the tenth of Sivan. These silver vessels Zedekiah, son of Josiah, king of Judah, had had made 9f after Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, carried off as captives Jeconiah and the princes, the skilled workers, the nobles, and the people of the land from Jerusalem, and brought them to Babylon.)
10The message was: “We send you funds, with which you are to procure burnt offerings, sin offerings, and frankincense, and to prepare grain offerings; offer these* on the altar of the LORD our God,g 11and pray for the life of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and of Belshazzar, his son,* that their lifetimes may be as the days of the heavens above the earth.h 12Pray that the LORD may give us strength, and light to our eyes, that we may live under the protective shadow of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, and of Belshazzar, his son, to serve them many days, and find favor in their sight. 13Pray for us to the LORD, our God, for we have sinned against the LORD, our God. Even to this day the wrath of the LORD and his anger have not turned away from us. 14On the feast day and during the days of assembly, read aloud in the house of the LORD this scroll that we send you:i
15* “To the Lord our God belongs justice; to us, people of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, to be shamefaced, as on this day—j 16to us, our kings, rulers, priests, and prophets, and our ancestors. 17We have sinned in the LORD’s sight 18and disobeyed him. We have not listened to the voice of the LORD, our God, so as to follow the precepts the LORD set before us. 19From the day the LORD led our ancestors out of the land of Egypt until the present day, we have been disobedient to the LORD, our God, and neglected to listen to his voice. 20Even today evils cling to us, the curse the LORD pronounced to Moses, his servant, at the time he led our ancestors out of the land of Egypt to give us a land flowing with milk and honey.k 21For we did not listen to the voice of the LORD, our God, in all the words of the prophets he sent us, 22but each of us has followed the inclinations of our wicked hearts, served other gods, and done evil in the sight of the LORD, our God.
* [1:2] In the fifth year, on the seventh day of the month: Jerusalem fell on the seventh day of the fifth month in 587 B.C.; cf. 2 Kgs 25:8; Jer 52:12. Either the text read originally “the fifth month,” or it refers to the observance of an anniversary of the fall of Jerusalem.
* [1:4] The river Sud: probably one of the Babylonian canals, not otherwise identified; or possibly a misreading of Ahava; cf. Ezr 8:21, 31.
* [1:8–9] He: apparently Baruch; less likely Jehoiakim the priest (v. 7). The silver vessels here described are distinct from the vessels referred to in 2 Kgs 25:14 and Ezr 1:7–9. The author of this note may have thought of the fifth year (v. 1) of Zedekiah, in view of Jer 28:1; 29:1–3. A “fifth year,” again with no month mentioned, is given in Ez 1:2 for the inaugural vision of Ezekiel’s prophetic career.
* [1:10] Offer these: since 2:26 suggests that the Temple is destroyed, the mention of sacrifices here may be an anachronism. Nevertheless, Jer 41:5 indicates that some people continued to worship at the Temple site after Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of the Temple.
* [1:11] Nebuchadnezzar…Belshazzar, his son: Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, not of Nebuchadnezzar, the destroyer of Jerusalem. Belshazzar was co-regent for a few years while his father was away in Arabia. Later Jewish tradition seems to have simplified the end of the Babylonian empire (cf. Dn 5:1–2), for three kings came between Nebuchadnezzar and Nabonidus.
* [1:15–2:10] This confession of sin is similar to Dn 9:7–14, and echoes ideas from Deuteronomy and Jeremiah; cf. also Neh 9.
a. [1:1] Jer 32:12; 36:4; 45:1–5.
b. [1:2] 2 Kgs 25:8–10.
c. [1:3–4] 2 Kgs 23:1–2.
d. [1:3] 2 Kgs 24:8–17; Jer 22:24–30; 27:20; 51:59–64.
e. [1:6] Dt 16:17.
f. [1:9] Jer 24:1.
g. [1:10] Jer 17:26; 41:5.
h. [1:11] Dt 11:21; Ps 89:30; Jer 29:7; Dn 5:1–2; 1 Tm 2:1–2.
i. [1:14] Ex 23:14–17; Lv 23:35–36; Sir 50:6; Hos 9:5.
j. [1:15] Bar 2:6; 3:8; Ezr 9:6–15; Neh 9:6–37; Dn 9:4–19.
k. [1:20] Lv 26:14–39; Dt 28:15–68.
1“So the LORD carried out the warning he had uttered against us: against our judges, who governed Israel, against our kings and princes, and against the people of Israel and Judah. 2Nowhere under heaven has anything been done like what he did in Jerusalem, as was written in the law of Moses:* a 3that we would each eat* the flesh of our sons, each the flesh of our daughters. 4He has made us subject to all the kingdoms around us, an object of reproach and horror among all the peoples around us, where the LORD has scattered us.b 5We are brought low, not raised high,c because we sinned against the LORD, our God, not listening to his voice.
6“To the LORD, our God, belongs justice; to us and to our ancestors, to be shamefaced, as on this day.d 7All the evils of which the LORD had warned us have come upon us. 8We did not entreat the favor of the LORD by turning, each one, from the designs of our evil hearts. 9The LORD kept watch over the evils, and brought them home to us; for the LORD is just in all the works he commanded us to do,e 10but we did not listen to his voice, or follow the precepts of the LORD which he had set before us.
11* “And now, LORD, God of Israel, who led your people out of the land of Egypt with a strong hand, with signs and wonders and great might, and with an upraised arm, so that you have made for yourself a name to the present day:f 12we have sinned, we have committed sacrilege, we have violated all your statutes, LORD, our God.g 13Withdraw your anger from us, for we are left few in number among the nations where you have scattered us. 14Hear, LORD, our prayer of supplication, and deliver us for your own sake: grant us favor in the sight of those who brought us into exile, 15that the whole earth may know that you are the LORD, our God, and that Israel* and his descendants bear your name.h 16LORD, look down from your holy dwelling and take thought of us; LORD, incline your ear to hear us.i 17Open your eyes and see: it is not the dead in Hades,* whose breath has been taken from within them, who will declare the glory and vindication to the LORD.j 18The person who is deeply grieved, who walks bowed and feeble, with failing eyes and famished soul, will declare your glory and justice, LORD!k
19“Not on the just deeds of our ancestors and our kings do we base our plea for mercy in your sight, LORD, our God. 20You have sent your wrath and anger upon us, as you had warned us through your servants the prophets: 21Thus says the LORD: Bend your necks and serve the king of Babylon, that you may continue in the land I gave your ancestors;l 22* for if you do not listen to the LORD’s voice so as to serve the king of Babylon, 23I will silence from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the cry of joy and the cry of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; and all the land shall be deserted, without inhabitants.m 24But we did not listen to your voice, or serve the king of Babylon, and you carried out the threats you had made through your servants the prophets, that the bones of our kings and the bones of our ancestors would be brought out from their burial places.n 25And indeed, they lie exposed* to the heat of day and the frost of night. They died in great suffering, by famine and sword and plague.o 26And you reduced the house which bears your name* to what it is today, because of the wickedness of the house of Israel and the house of Judah.p
God’s Promises Recalled. 27“But with us, Lord, our God, you have dealt in all your clemency and in all your great mercy. 28* Thus you spoke through your servant Moses, the day you ordered him to write down your law in the presence of the Israelites: 29‘If you do not listen to my voice, surely this great and numerous throng will dwindle away among the nations to which I will scatter them.q 30For I know they will not listen to me, because they are a stiff-necked people. But in the land of their exile they shall have a change of heart;r 31they shall know that I, the LORD, am their God. I will give them a heart and ears that listen;s 32and they shall praise me in the land of their exile, and shall remember my name.t 33Then they shall turn back from their stiff-necked stubbornness, and from their evil deeds, because they shall remember the ways of their ancestors, who sinned against the LORD.u 34And I will bring them back to the land I promised on oath to their ancestors, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; and they shall rule it. I will make them increase; they shall not be few. 35And I will establish for them an eternal covenant: I will be their God, and they shall be my people; and I will never again remove my people Israel from the land I gave them.’v
* [2:2] Law of Moses: cf. Dt 28:53–57.
* [2:3] We would each eat: such dreadful events were the result of the prolonged siege of Jerusalem; cf. Lam 2:20.
* [2:11–35] An earnest appeal for divine mercy, along with confession of sin; cf. Dn 9:15–19.
* [2:15] Israel: the Israelites claimed descent from the patriarch Jacob, who had received the name Israel in a mysterious encounter with God (Gn 32:29). Thus the Deity was sometimes referred to as “the God of Israel” (Gn 33:20; Ex 5:1).
* [2:17] Hades: this is the Greek translation of Hebrew sheol, the nether world.
* [2:22–24] These words are very similar to Jer 7:34; 27:9, 12.
* [2:25] They lie exposed: Jeremiah’s words threatened Jehoiakim with being left unburied (Jer 22:19; 36:30).
* [2:26] The house which bears your name: the Temple of Jerusalem; cf. Dt 12:11; Jer 7:11. What it is today: during the exile it lay in ruins.
* [2:28–35] These words do not actually quote anything Moses is recorded as having said, but they present the substance of a passage such as Dt 30:1–10, which envisions exile, repentance, and restoration.
a. [2:2–3] Dt 28:52–57; 2 Kgs 6:28–29; Jer 19:9; Lam 2:20; 4:10; Ez 5:10; Dn 9:12.
b. [2:4] Jer 29:18; Dn 9:16.
c. [2:5] Dt 28:13, 43–44.
d. [2:6] Bar 1:15; Dn 9:7.
e. [2:9] Jer 1:12; 31:28; 44:27; Dn 9:14.
f. [2:11] Dt 6:21–22.
g. [2:12] Ps 106:6.
h. [2:15] Gn 33:20; Sir 36:11; Jer 14:9; 35:17.
i. [2:16] Dt 26:15.
j. [2:17] Ps 6:6; Is 38:18.
k. [2:18] Zep 2:3.
l. [2:21] Jer 27:12.
m. [2:23] Jer 7:34.
n. [2:24] Jer 8:1–2.
o. [2:25] Jer 7:34; 14:12; 31:30.
p. [2:26] Jer 7:10–15; 11:17.
q. [2:29] Lv 26:39.
r. [2:30] Dt 30:1–2; 31:27.
s. [2:31] Ps 40:7; Jer 24:7; Ez 36:26.
t. [2:32] Tb 13:6.
u. [2:33–35] Lv 26:42–45; Dt 30:1–10.
v. [2:35] Jer 31:31; Lam 4:22.
1“LORD Almighty, God of Israel, the anguished soul, the dismayed spirit cries out to you. 2Hear, LORD, and have mercy, for you are a merciful God; have mercy on us, who have sinned against you: 3for you are enthroned forever, while we are perishing forever.a 4LORD Almighty, God of Israel, hear the prayer of the dead of Israel, children who sinned against you; they did not listen to the voice of the LORD, their God, and their evils cling to us.b 5Do not remember the wicked deeds of our ancestors, but remember at this time your power and your name, 6for you are the LORD our God; and you, LORD, we will praise! 7This is why you put into our hearts the fear of you: that we may call upon your name, and praise you in our exile, when we have removed from our hearts all the wickedness of our ancestors who sinned against you.c 8See, today we are in exile, where you have scattered us, an object of reproach and cursing and punishment for all the wicked deeds of our ancestors, who withdrew from the LORD, our God.”
9Hear, Israel, the commandments of life:
listen, and know prudence!d
10How is it, Israel,
that you are in the land of your foes,
grown old in a foreign land,
11Defiled with the dead,
counted among those destined for Hades?e
12You have forsaken the fountain of wisdom!f
13Had you walked in the way of God,
you would have dwelt in enduring peace.g
14Learn where prudence is,
where strength, where understanding;
That you may know also
where are length of days, and life,
where light of the eyes, and peace.h
15Who has found the place of wisdom?i
Who has entered into her treasuries?
16Where are the rulers of the nations,
who lorded it over the wild beasts of the earth,j
17made sport of the birds in the heavens,
Who heaped up the silver,
the gold in which people trust,
whose possessions were unlimited,
18Who schemed anxiously for money,
their doings beyond discovery?
19They have vanished, gone down to Hades,
and others have risen up in their stead.
20Later generations have seen the light of day,
have dwelt on the earth,
But the way to understanding they have not known,
21they have not perceived her paths or reached her;
their children remain far from the way to her.
22She has not been heard of in Canaan,*
nor seen in Teman.k
23The descendants of Hagar who seek knowledge on earth,
the merchants of Medan and Tema,l
the storytellers and those seeking knowledge—
These have not known the way to wisdom,
nor have they kept her paths in mind.
24O Israel, how vast is the dwelling of God,*
how broad the scope of his dominion:
25Vast and endless,
high and immeasurable!
26In it were born the giants,*
renowned at the first,
huge in stature, skilled in war.m
27These God did not choose,
nor did he give them the way of understanding;n
28They perished for lack of prudence,
perished through their own folly.o
29Who has gone up to the heavens and taken her,
bringing her down from the clouds?p
30Who has crossed the sea and found her,
bearing her away rather than choice gold?
31None knows the way to her,
nor has at heart her path.
32But the one who knows all things knows her;
he has probed her by his knowledge—
The one who established the earth for all time,
and filled it with four-footed animals,
33Who sends out the lightning, and it goes,
calls it, and trembling it obeys him;
34Before whom the stars at their posts
shine and rejoice.
35When he calls them, they answer, “Here we are!”
shining with joy for their Maker.q
36Such is our God;
no other is to be compared to him:
37* He has uncovered the whole way of understanding,
and has given her to Jacob, his servant,
to Israel, his beloved.r
38Thus she has appeared on earth,
is at home with mortals.s
* [3:9–4:4] This poem in praise of personified Wisdom utilizes the theme of Jb 28 (where is wisdom to be found?) and it identifies wisdom and law, as in Sir 24:22–23.
* [3:22–23] Despite the renown for wisdom of the peoples of Canaan and Phoenicia (Ez 28:3–4), of Teman (Jer 49:7), of the descendants of Hagar or the Arabians of Medan and Tema, they did not possess true wisdom, which is found only in the law of God (Bar 4:1).
* [3:24] The dwelling of God: here, the whole universe; cf. Is 66:1.
* [3:26] The giants: Gn 6:1–4 reflects a tradition about giants who existed before the flood; this was developed in the non-canonical Book of Enoch.
* [3:37–38] As in Sir 24:8, Wisdom is given to Israel but also is said to live with all human beings (Prv 8:31).
a. [3:3] Ps 29:10; 102:12–13.
b. [3:4] Jer 31:29.
c. [3:7] Jer 31:33.
d. [3:9] Dt 6:4–5; Prv 4:20–22.
e. [3:11] Ps 88:5.
f. [3:12] Jer 2:13; Jn 4:10, 14.
g. [3:13] Is 48:18.
h. [3:14] Prv 3:2; 8:14.
i. [3:15–37] Jb 28:1–28.
j. [3:16] Jer 27:6; 1 Cor 1:20.
k. [3:22] Jb 2:11; Jer 49:7; Ez 28:4–5; Zec 9:2.
l. [3:23] Gn 25:2, 15; Jb 6:19; Jer 25:23.
m. [3:26] Gn 6:4; Wis 14:6; Sir 16:7.
n. [3:27] 1 Sm 16:7–10.
o. [3:28] Sir 10:8.
p. [3:29] Dt 30:12–13; Sir 24:4; Rom 10:6–7.
q. [3:35] Jb 38:7; Ps 147:4; Is 40:26.
r. [3:37] Ps 147:19; Sir 24:8–12.
s. [3:38] Wis 9:18; Jn 1:14.
1* She is the book of the precepts of God,
the law that endures forever;
All who cling to her will live,
but those will die who forsake her.a
2Turn, O Jacob, and receive her:
walk by her light toward splendor.b
3Do not give your glory to another,
your privileges to an alien nation.
4Blessed are we, O Israel;
for what pleases God is known to us!c
5Take courage, my people!
Remember, O Israel,
6You were sold to the nations
not for destruction;
It was because you angered God
that you were handed over to your foes.d
7For you provoked your Makere
with sacrifices to demons and not to God;
8You forgot the eternal God who nourished you,
and you grieved Jerusalem who nurtured you.
9She indeed saw coming upon you
the wrath of God; and she said:
“Hear, you neighbors of Zion!
God has brought great mourning upon me,
10For I have seen the captivity
that the Eternal One has brought
upon my sons and daughters.
11With joy I nurtured them;
but with mourning and lament I sent them away.
12Let no one gloat over me,
a widow, bereft of many;
For the sins of my children I am left desolate,
because they turned from the law of God,f
13and did not acknowledge his statutes;
In the ways of God’s commandments they did not walk,
nor did they tread the disciplined paths of his justice.
14“Let Zion’s neighbors come—
Remember the captivity of my sons and daughters,
brought upon them by the Eternal One.
15He has brought against them a nation from afar,
a nation ruthless and of alien speech,
That has neither reverence for old age
nor pity for the child;g
16They have led away this widow’s beloved sons,
have left me solitary, without daughters.
17What can I do to help you?
18The one who has brought this evil upon you
must himself deliver you from your enemies’ hands.h
19Farewell, my children, farewell;
I am left desolate.
20I have taken off the garment of peace,
have put on sackcloth for my prayer of supplication;
while I live I will cry out to the Eternal One.i
21“Take courage, my children; call upon God;
he will deliver you from oppression, from enemy hands.j
22I have put my hope for your deliverance in the Eternal One,
and joy has come to me from the Holy One
Because of the mercy that will swiftly reach you
from your eternal Savior.
23With mourning and lament I sent you away,
but God will give you back to me
with gladness and joy forever.k
24As Zion’s neighbors lately saw you taken captive,
so shall they soon see God’s salvation come to you,
with great glory and the splendor of the Eternal One.l
25“My children, bear patiently the wrathm
that has come upon you from God;
Your enemies have persecuted you,
but you will soon see their destruction
and trample upon their necks.*
26My pampered children have trodden rough roads,
carried off by their enemies like sheep in a raid.n
27Take courage, my children; call out to God!
The one who brought this upon you will remember you.o
28As your hearts have been disposed to stray from God,
so turn now ten times the more to seek him;
29For the one who has brought disaster upon you
will, in saving you, bring you eternal joy.”p
30Take courage, Jerusalem!
The one who gave you your name will console you.q
31Wretched shall be those who harmed you,
who rejoiced at your downfall;
32Wretched shall be the cities where your children were enslaved,
wretched the city that received your children.r
33As that city rejoiced at your collapse,s
and made merry at your downfall,
so shall she grieve over her own desolation.
34I will take from her the rejoicing crowds,
and her exultation shall be turned to mourning:
35For fire shall come upon hert
from the Eternal One, for many a day,
to be inhabited by demons for a long time.*
36Look to the east, Jerusalem;
see the joy that comes to you from God!u
37Here come your children whom you sent away,
gathered in from east to west
By the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing in the glory of God.
* [4:1–4] The poem ends with the identification of Wisdom and Torah, as in Sir 24:22–23; cf. also Dt 4:5–8.
* [4:5–5:9] The poet addresses the exiles (vv. 5–9a), and then Zion personified is introduced, speaking to the nations and mourning the loss of her children (vv. 9b–16). She then addresses the exiles (vv. 17–29). Finally (4:30–5:9) the poet issues three calls to Jerusalem (4:30, 36; 5:5): she will see her children returning (4:22, 36–37; 5:5).
* [4:25] Trample upon their necks: a sign of victory over the enemy (cf. Ps 44:6; Is 14:25). The Israelites considered their enemies to be God’s enemies as well.
* [4:35] Deserts and desolate places were looked upon as the habitation of demons; cf. Tb 8:3; Lk 11:24.
a. [4:1] Dt 4:6–8; Prv 8:35–36; Sir 24:22.
b. [4:2] Prv 4:13, 19.
c. [4:4] Dt 4:32–37; 33:29.
d. [4:6] Jgs 2:14; Is 50:1; 52:3.
e. [4:7–8] Dt 32:13–18; 1 Cor 10:20.
f. [4:12] Lam 1:1, 2, 7.
g. [4:15] Dt 28:49–50; Jer 5:15; 6:22–23.
h. [4:18] Jer 32:42.
i. [4:20] Jdt 9:1; Est 4:16.
j. [4:21] Jer 51:5.
k. [4:23] Jer 31:12–13.
l. [4:24] Is 60:1–7.
m. [4:25] Is 51:23.
n. [4:26] Lam 2:22.
o. [4:27] Is 40:1.
p. [4:29] Is 35:10.
q. [4:30] Ps 46:5; Is 60:14.
r. [4:32] Jer 51:43.
s. [4:33–34] Is 13:20–22; 47:1–11; Jer 50:13.
t. [4:35] Is 34:9–14.
u. [4:36] Is 60:4–5.
1Jerusalem, take off your robe of mourning and misery;
put on forever the splendor of glory from God:a
2Wrapped in the mantle of justice from God,
place on your head the diadem
of the glory of the Eternal One.b
3For God will show your splendor to all under the heavens;
4you will be named by God forever:
the peace of justice, the glory of God’s worship.c
5Rise up, Jerusalem! stand upon the heights;
look to the east and see your children
Gathered from east to west
at the word of the Holy One,
rejoicing that they are remembered by God.
6Led away on foot by their enemies they left you:
but God will bring them back to you
carried high in glory as on royal thrones.d
7For God has commanded
that every lofty mountain
and the age-old hills be made low,
That the valleys be filled to make level ground,
that Israel may advance securely in the glory of God.e
8The forests and every kind of fragrant tree
have overshadowed Israel at God’s command;f
9For God is leading Israel in joy
by the light of his glory,
with the mercy and justice that are his.
a. [5:1] Is 52:1.
b. [5:2] Ex 39:30; Wis 18:24; Is 61:10; 62:3.
c. [5:4] Is 1:26; 32:17; Jer 33:16.
d. [5:6] Is 49:22.
e. [5:7] Is 40:3–4.
f. [5:8] Is 41:19.
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.
a. [6:1] Jer 29:1.
b. [6:3] Is 46:7; Jer 10:1–16.
c. [6:5] Dt 6:13; 10:20; Mt 4:10; Lk 4:8.
d. [6:6] Ex 23:20.
e. [6:7] Ps 135:16.
f. [6:15] Jer 22:28.
g. [6:25] Wis 13:16.
h. [6:26] Sir 30:18–19.
i. [6:27] Lv 12:4; 15:19–20; Dt 14:28–29.
j. [6:30] Lv 10:6; 21:5, 10.
k. [6:33] Dn 2:21.
l. [6:35] Ps 68:6; 146:7–9.
m. [6:42–43] Jer 3:2.
n. [6:58] Wis 13:10–15; 15:7–17.
o. [6:69] Jer 10:5.