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.” (Jeremiah 10:2)
Jeremiah was God’s messenger during the last decades of the kingdom of Judah. He spoke on God’s behalf to the king, the priests, and the people themselves in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem by invaders from Babylon and Judah’s subsequent exile. The book that bears his name contains an array of prophecies and laments, as well as historical accounts from that time.
Here, Jeremiah speaks out against one of the primary sins of the people of Judah that brought about God’s judgment: pagan religious practices and superstitions, including idol worship. He begins his public condemnation by pleading with the people to turn away from what neighboring nations were doing, which meant forsaking worship of the one true God. This lesson and warning apply to each of us today.
#1 Idol Worship Is Forbidden by God
Jeremiah’s rebuke had its roots deep in Hebrew (and Christian) law. When God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai, the pinnacle and foundation of the Law was the passage we know as the Ten Commandments.
The first two commandments demand that our worship be exclusive to God alone: “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” (Exodus 20:3-4)
Despite this clear commandment and covenant, which carried blessings for keeping it and curses for breaking it (Deuteronomy 28), much of Israel’s history was a sad, repetitive cycle of turning away from God and worshipping the gods of the nations around them (Judges 2:12). This led to captivity and subjugation by foreign powers, which caused the people great hardship.
God would often send prophets to chastise Israel for breaking their covenant, and to give them an opportunity to repent and follow God once again. However, once they were delivered from their troubles, they returned to heathen practices again.
#2 Do Not Follow the World’s Practices
The term “heathen” used in Jeremiah 10:2 can also be translated as “Gentiles” or “nations,” which refers to any people or culture outside of Judaism. While idol worship was the primary sin condemned by God, they had adopted numerous other practices that distracted them from maintaining the allegiance of their heart, mind, and will to God.
As Christians, we are also commanded throughout Scripture not to fall away from our trust in God by imitating the world around us. In Jesus’ popular and powerful Sermon on the Mount, He teaches that we should not be worried about how we will provide for ourselves. He says in Matthew 6:31-32, “Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.”
Paul continues this teaching in his letter to the Romans when he instructs us, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Romans 12:2)
#3 Signs and Superstitions Cannot Save or Destroy
While Jeremiah will speak out against idol worship in the rest of the chapter, this verse calls out the practice of being “dismayed at the signs of heaven.” It was a common practice to view weather patterns, the positions of stars, and other natural phenomena as signs of divine influence in the world. While God would occasionally use the wonders of nature to proclaim His glory, pagan influence had given the act of reading those signs an unnecessary significance.
Jesus Himself called out the Pharisees for this same practice (Matthew 16:1-4) – they had demanded a sign that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and Jesus stated that they could interpret the weather but could not interpret their own sacred texts properly. Rather than devoting their efforts to learning and understanding the things of God, they put far too much emphasis on otherwise meaningless things.
#4 God Can Soothe Our Fears and Worries
Jeremiah also observes that other nations feared the signs that they saw in the heavens. Not only did the people take their eyes off of God, but they also let their own fears get the better of them, then placed their trust in idols that were powerless to save them.
Being consumed by fear and anxiety is never the mark of true Christian faith. God has not given us a spirit of fear (2 Timothy 1:7), and He reassures us that He is strong enough to save us from our worries and that we should not be afraid or dismayed (Isaiah 41:10).
Remember, when Jesus is enthroned as Lord and Savior of your life, you can draw strength from Him and never fear any danger that could threaten your soul (Psalm 27:1).
While you may not have a shrine for the worship of a carved figure, other nations around the world still worship idols today. And remember, idol worship can come in many forms: anything that takes the place of God as the most important thing in your life can be an idol, whether it’s your possessions, your career, or even your family and friends.
Jeremiah’s prophecies should come as a sobering reminder that we should worship God alone, and not give in to the fear that comes from interpreting signs or worshipping worthless things. Instead, we can always turn to God and worship Him as Jeremiah did: “Forasmuch as there is none like unto thee, O Lord; thou art great, and thy name is great in might.” (Jeremiah 10:6)
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Masters Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years. If you would like to reach out to contact Natalie, then go here to send her a message.