There are over 1300 verses written in Hebrew in the book of Jeremiah but there is only one verse that is written in the Chaldean language. This verse reads: “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens” ( Jeremiah 10:11). It is worth reflecting upon why this is so.
It was in the fourth year of Jehoiakim which was also the first year of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon that Jeremiah reminded the people that for 23 years he had been pleading with them to listen: “I have spoken unto you, rising early and speaking; but ye have not hearkened” ( Jer 25:1–3). To Jeremiah it seemed like 23 years of wasted effort. But now had come a turning point in the destiny of Judah and Jerusalem for Jeremiah went on to say, “Because ye have not heard my words, Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them against this land … And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” ( Jer 25:8–11).
Because the chapters in Jeremiah are not in chronological order we may not have noticed that this is the rst time Jeremiah actually mentions Nebuchadnezzar by name and the captivity in Babylon. It is also the rst time he states that the captivity will be 70 years.
Later that same year Nebuchadnezzar came against Jerusalem and took “certain of the children of Israel, and of the king’s seed, and of the princes; Children in whom was no blemish … such as had ability in them to stand in the king’s palace, and whom they might teach the learning and the tongue of the Chaldeans” (Dan 1:3–4). Among those youths taken to Babylon were Daniel and his three friends. This was in fulfilment of the words Isaiah had spoken to Hezekiah (Isa 39:7).
The Babylonian captivity had been foretold by Isaiah, who also foretold the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus and the Medes, thus allowing the Jews to return and rebuild Jerusalem (see Isa 13; 44:26–45:3). Yet Isaiah mentioned a more worrying aspect of the captivity: the gods of Babylon. Isaiah mentions them by name: Bel and Nebo (46:1). As the name of Yahweh (Yah) was incorporated into the names of many Jews, e.g. Jeremiah (Yah exalts), so in Babylon the names of their gods were incorporated in their names, e.g. Daniel was renamed Belteshazzar. In Isaiah 45, Yahweh repeatedly asserts, “I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me” (v5); “I have made the earth, and created man upon it: I, even my hands, have stretched out the heavens, and all their host have I commanded” (v12). And again, “For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else” (v18).
Why repeat this fact so often?
In our lectures we often quote from this section of Isaiah’s prophecy to impress friends with the certainty of God’s existence, using the example that Yahweh gave Israel: “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isa 46:9–10). Fulfilled prophecy is inescapable proof that God exists and is in control of world events.
Isaiah 47 goes on to tell of the situation that would be met in Babylon. Yahweh assesses Babylon as verse 10 sets out: “Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee [led you astray, ESV ]; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me”. This worldly intellectual wisdom and knowledge led them to believe in enchantments, sorceries, astrologers, the stargazers, the monthly prognosticators (v12–13). This was the Babylon to which Daniel and his friends were taken to be educated in the “learning and tongue of the Chaldeans” (Dan 1:4).
Chaldean mathematicians studied the heavens and were able to predict events that would happen with heavenly bodies. This was possible because of physical laws that Yahweh established when He “stretched out the heavens by his discretion” ( Jer 10:12). We are further told that Yahweh “determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names. Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure” (Psa 147:4–5 ESV). The expression “beyond measure” means “infinite” or “beyond numerical calculation”. How foolish for finite man to claim to understand the modus operandi of this ‘infinite’ being; but some men are foolish.
While Daniel and his friends kept within the bounds of the actual facts of science they could marvel at the wonder of the ordered precision of Yahweh’s work. But there was another aspect of the Chaldean university course that these young men needed to be warned against. When men began to philosophise about the reason for and meaning of the movement of heavenly bodies and their supposed bearing on life on earth, then they moved from the science of astronomy to the philosophy of astrology. They became the enchanters, sorcerers, astrologers, stargazers and monthly prognosticators that Yahweh had spoken against through Isaiah’s words.
Here is an example where the words of Paul to the Corinthians applied. These men became lovers of their own “wisdom”. Paul wrote: “For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” (1 Cor 1:21). Paul, knowing that “the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God” (1 Cor 3:19), selected the words of Jeremiah to make his point. “For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: at no flesh should glory in his presence” (1 Cor 1:26–29). Flesh so often does glory in human wisdom.
Paul, in using these words from Jeremiah 9:23–24, is quoting from that same section of Jeremiah in which those words in Chaldean are found.
Jeremiah’s inspired warning against Chaldean wisdom
These words in Chaldean are brief, easily understood and, like a ditty, are easily committed to memory: “The gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall perish from the earth, and from under these heavens” ( Jer 10:11). Yahweh knew that those taken captive to Babylon would be subjected to strong pressure to accept the gods of Babylon. Jeremiah commences the chapter with these words: “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” ( Jer 10:2–3 ESV ).
He continues with these words: “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” (v10). He then gives the verse in Chaldean: “ us shall ye say unto them, the gods that have not made the heavens and the earth, even they shall per- ish from the earth, and from under these heavens” (v11). As we mentioned this is a simple statement and easy to be understood and memorised. And it is in the language of their Chaldean tutors. It is a statement that they could easily give to explain why they would not accept the gods of Babylon. Possibly Daniel and his friends stated this as the reason why they would not eat the king’s provisions. Jeremiah continues in Hebrew: “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” (v12).
These Chaldean words were a foundation pillar of the faith of Daniel and his friends and held them in good stead under trial. It was but a year later and Daniel was able to demonstrate the truth of these words to Nebuchadnezzar and his wise men. The magicians, astrologers, sorcerers, and Chaldeans were gathered to tell and interpret the dream of Nebuchadnezzar but they could not. The words of Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar are precise: “No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” (Dan 2:27–28 ESV ).
Jeremiah’s example for older brethren and sisters
Those of us who are older have lived through many issues in the history of the world since WWII. The Word of God has been our pillar and guide through those years. We know from the prophetic word that the situation in the world will get progressively worse. Our younger brethren and sisters need sound guidance as they embark on life, and Jeremiah is an example for all to follow. He was the mentor to a number of young people in Jerusalem, Daniel being one of these. We know the esteem in which Daniel held Jeremiah’s words (Dan 9:1–3). Let us be very clear in our guidance to young people, instilling in their minds that in God “are hid all the treasures of wisdom (Gr sophia) and knowledge” (Col 2:3) revealed to us in His word. Let us follow Paul’s guidance to the Colossians: “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy (from Gk phileo, love, and sophia, wisdom) and vain deceit, after the tradi- tion of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (2:8). e wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. ere are many “strange gods” and “new gods” (Deut 32:16–17) that have arisen which have a semblance of scienti c or philosophi- cal support. As the astrologers of Daniel’s day had invented their gods, so today one of the “new” and “strange” gods being presented is evolution. Let us urge the daily reading of the Word of God, the only text book for life, so that a sound unshakable faith will sustain them through life, as it has sustained us.
We need to show by example that a pillar of our faith is that “the God of heaven shall set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Dan 2:44). Babylon’s wisdom is gone and so will the foolishness of this world’s wisdom be swept away when the everlasting gospel is proclaimed in these words: “Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters” (Rev 14:7). May that day soon dawn!