Understanding the Old Testament – especially the “prophet books” like Jeremiah – can be challenging. This exegesis of Jeremiah 10 will help you understand not only what’s happening in prophetical literature, but also how to write a paper for seminary or Bible college.
I’m currently a Master of Divinity student at Regent College in Vancouver, BC, Canada. One of the first courses I enrolled in was an Old Testament study of Jeremiah and Lamentations. I love the Hebrew Bible — especially the prophets! Ecclesiastes was once my favorite book of the Bible…until I took this class and learned more about prophets such as Jeremiah.
When I went to my first Jeremiah class, I didn’t know what “exegesis” meant – much less how to “exegete Jeremiah.” Turns out I love exegesis (and not just because it sounds like Jesus!). I got a good grade on my first exegesis paper, which I’m sharing with you here. This is not for you to copy or submit to as your own paper for an Old Testament class. It’s just for you to learn how you could exegete Jeremiah 10 for your own purposes.
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I shared my first Old Testament paper here on She Blossoms: Jeremiah and Judah’s Kings: An Example of a Historical Review Paper. That was interesting, but exegeting Jeremiah 10 was fascinating.
Your questions and comments on this sample Old Testament paper are welcome below!
Sample Exegesis Paper – Jeremiah 10
Examined as a whole, Jeremiah 10 offers a fascinating perspective of God, Jeremiah, and the Israelites. The two major drawbacks of exegeting the entire chapter are: 1) whether to use the MT or G versions (Carroll, p. 255); and 2) whether Jeremiah himself wrote it all (ibid.). These difficulties symbolize the inexplicable wisdom and holy mystery of God Himself—including His perennial choice to work and speak through His children. Thus I chose to explore (albeit briefly) the poetry, theology, and history of Jeremiah 10.
Many Old Testament scholars divide Jeremiah 10 into two sections: 1-16 and 17-25. While I understand the rationale, my exegesis revealed three sections: False Idols and the Lord (1-16), The Destruction of Jerusalem (17-22), and Jeremiah’s Prayer (23-25).
The Hebrew poetry, style and narrative of Jeremiah 10 uses vivid images, symbols, and exhortations to describe the Israelites’ plight and God’s messages. The content “…suggests that this is a word especially appropriate for exilic readers, surrounded as they were by idolatrous worship…” Thus, the audience is likely the exiles in Babylon after the destruction of Jerusalem.
A major theme of Jeremiah 10 is the destructive consequences of following lifeless, powerless idols instead of the living, powerful Lord. Another theme is God’s repeated, passionate call to repent and return to Him—even after Jerusalem was destroyed. Jeremiah’s prophetic message is that the exiles will go home one day with renewed hope and restored lives.
False Idols and the Lord (1-16)
God speaks through Jeremiah: Do not worship false gods or “be terrified by the signs in the heavens, even though the nations are terrified by them” (v. 2). Idolatrous nations saw the stars, planets, sun and moon as fortune tellers. These astrological signs were forbidden by God as a form of pagan idolatry (Deut. 17:2-5). False idols, Jeremiah proclaims, are manmade. They are cut and shaped (v. 3), adorned and fastened (v. 4), speechless and immobile (v. 5). The wooden idols should not be feared because they can do no harm or good. Jeremiah uses synonymous parallelism (prevalent in Hebrew poetry) in verses 1 and 5 to underscore the danger of idolatry.
In direct contrast—another poetic technique—is God. “No one is like You, Lord; You are great and Your name is mighty in power” (v. 6). God is active, powerful, and present in His people’s lives. The justified fear of the Lord—as opposed to the foolish terror of worthless idols—inspires reverence, worship and praise. Jeremiah begins and ends verse 6 with “there is no one like You” (synonymous parallelism). He continues to use metaphors to describe Babylonian idols: Manmade, worthless, wooden, inactive, even “hammered” or “beaten” (v. 9). Jeremiah uses vivid imagery and symbolism (“dressed in blue and purple”) and anthropomorphism (“the earth trembles”) to highlight God’s truth, life, eternity, and power over all the nations (v. 10).
Verse 11 marks a turning point. “That this verse is written in Aramaic (unique in Jeremiah) may serve to highlight the point of the text. It is likely that the verse is a directive to the exiles to speak these words to the idolaters among them or, possibly, to the idols themselves.” Holladay (1990) says Aramaic was a common language of the Babylonians; Allen (2008) adds that this verse was a response the exiles were to give to the Babylonians. The Israelites were not only to stop chasing idols, but also to speak out against them.
Verse 11 also contains a poetic technique called a chiasm. A chiastic structure contains two or more clauses that are related to each other; an internal reversal makes a larger point. In this case the structure is ABCDD’C’B’A’. Specifically, Jeremiah reverses the order of “heavens and earth”, emphasizing the fact that God created the heavens first and the earth second. The worthless idols—who created nothing—will perish from the earth first and the heavens second. Carroll further postulates that the chaism may be a curse against idolatrous gods or a protective formula for the Israelites.
Jeremiah uses vivid, active, nature-oriented imagery in verses 12 and 13 to describe how God created the earth and stretched out the heavens. God thunders, causes the clouds to rise, sends lightning and “brings out the wind from the storehouses.” God has a surplus of power stored up!
A natural transition occurs in verse 14: Jeremiah speaks of the foolishness of ignoring God’s power. “…every goldsmith is shamed by his idols…the images he makes are a fraud; they have no breath in them.” The contrast is obvious: False gods have no breath but God has a storehouse. Men make dead idols out of God’s living creation. Man’s objects are worthless, will be judged, and will perish. The Lord, however, controls heaven and earth.
Jeremiah then personifies and personalizes God by calling Him the “Portion of Jacob” (v. 16). “God has made a commitment in relationship to Israel in a way that no idol could make to other nations.” God belongs to Israel, and Israel belongs to God. This intimate relationship was emphasized in previous chapters (e.g., Jeremiah 2, 3, 5, and 9).
The Destruction of Jerusalem (17-22)
Verses 17-22 contain a shift in tone and mood, and possibly describe Jerusalem’s actual destruction and exile. Verse 17 personifies Israel and warns her of impending doom. Verse 18 describes the Lord “hurling out” and “bringing distress” on the Israelites “so that they may be captured.” The exact time period is unknown so exegesis is imprecise, but scholars believe it was likely after Jerusalem’s destruction in 587. Jeremiah’s intense verbs highlight the anger and grief God feels when His people repeatedly turn away and refuse to repent. The Hebrews’ exile involved long-term suffering, loss of home and family, and fear of the future.
The synthetic parallelism in verse 19 contains life-threatening and illness-related words (injury, wound, incurable, sickness). Injuries are most often inflicted by others; this symbolizes Israel’s powerlessness and helplessness when facing external threat. Jeremiah expands this analogy by describing the loneliness and pain of losing family, security, comfort, and practical help (v. 20). He denounces Israel’s priests and prophets, calling them shepherds who did not seek God’s counsel. This metaphor underscores the religious and political leaders’ failure to serve the Lord and their flock. Their carelessness and disobedience caused God’s people to scatter and be lost.
Jeremiah concludes this section with a dramatic exclamation (v. 22). The word “Listen!”—the only solo word in this chapter—creates intensity and urgency. Readers can almost feel the earth tremble under the marauders’ feet and hear the cries of battle, anguish, and defeat. Judah will become a wilderness haunted by jackals.
Jeremiah’s Prayer (23-25)
In the last three verses “The speaker is anonymous but must be understood as the community or city lamenting its fate.” Despite uncertainty, some scholars believe Jeremiah was speaking to God as a representative of the people. Jeremiah acknowledges the Israelites’ weakness and vulnerability by saying their “lives are not their own” and they cannot control their destiny (v. 23).
In verse 24, Jeremiah petitions the Lord for the discipline he and Israel deserve—but with a just (not angry) measure. The prophet asks for God’s wrath to be spilled on the “nations that don’t recognize You” because they did worse than refuse to call on the Lord: They made false gods. Jeremiah concludes by comparing the idolatrous nations with a hungry beast, twice repeating the word “devour” to describe how they devastated Judah’s homes, land, and people (v. 25).
Jeremiah 10 is an intense—often confusing—description of the consequences of following worthless idols instead of worshipping the living God. This theme is vividly described in three sections—False Idols and the Lord (1-16), The Destruction of Jerusalem (17-22) and Jeremiah’s Prayer (23-25)— and reveals how idolatry spirals downward into destruction, exile, and grief.
This prophet used a variety of poetic techniques (e.g., imagery, symbolism, repetition, chiasm, parallelism, rhythm, tone and mood) to describe the results of Israel’s stubborn, consistent refusal to follow God. Jeremiah ended the chapter on a sorrowful note…but do we perceive a glimmer of hope? Babylon demolished Jerusalem, but she has something they don’t: the gaze of the Lord. He has not poured out His wrath yet. Perhaps Jeremiah 10 isn’t the end of the story, after all. Perhaps in death lie the seeds of regeneration and rebirth.
Allen, Leslie. Jeremiah. Old Testament Library. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.
Carroll, Robert P. Jeremiah: A Commentary. Philadelphia, PA: SCM Press/The Westminster Press, 1986.
Fretheim, Terence E. Jeremiah. Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishers, 2002.
Heschel, Abraham. The Prophets. New York: HarperPerennial, 2001.
Holladay, William L. Jeremiah: A Fresh Reading. New York: Pilgrim Press, 1990.
Smith, James E. An Exegetical Commentary on Jeremiah. Joplin: College Press: 1972.
Feel free to share your questions and thoughts – big or little – in the comments section below. I’m not an Old Testament scholar, but I’ve written lots of papers, essays, articles and blog posts. I’ve also written one thesis and one traditionally published book. Your writing questions are welcome.
Also, I’m working on a She Blossoms Through the Bible project. I’m writing an article for every chapter in every book of Scripture. I started with Genesis — beginning with The Reason You Were Created – Genesis 1 and ended that series with How to Live Like You Really Are Forgiven and Free – Genesis 50. Enter Exodus!
This “She Blossoms Through the Bible” project isn’t part of my Master of Divinity coursework at Regent College (yet). It’s just a personal thing between me and God. Reading and praying through Scripture is a great way to learn about God, but writing articles that dive deep into Scripture (such as writing an exegesis paper on Jeremiah 10!) is a priceless tool for strengthening your relationship with Jesus.
If you’re a Bible blogger or Christian writer, you might be interested in How to Start and Sustain a Popular Christian Blog.
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