Here follows a copy of the letter Jeremias sent to the prisoners whom the king of Babylon was carrying off to his own country, with the warnings God bade him give them.
In atonement for the sins by which you have offended God, you shall now be carried off to Babylon, by Nabuchodonosor that is king of it.
Babylon once reached, you shall have a long exile there, years a many, till seven generations✻ have passed; then I will grant you a safe return.
And you must know that you will see, in that country, gods of gold and silver, gods of stone and wood, that are carried about on men’s shoulders; to the heathen, things of great dread.
Look well to it that you do not fall in with these alien customs, by the same fear overmastered.
What though a great throng of worshippers attends them, before and behind? Let your hearts whisper in adoration, To thee, Lord, all worship belongs!
My angel is at your side, and your lives shall be held to account for it.✻
Puppets of gold and silver, speak they cannot, for all the craftsman has given them tongues to speak with.
Ay, gold must go to their fashioning, never was maid so bravely tricked out;
gods they are, and must wear golden crowns. And of this gold and silver the priests will steal some part for their own uses,
and spend it on their minions; what the gods wore, harlots wear, what harlots wore, the gods.✻
From rust they cannot protect themselves, nor from the moth;
alas for the purple robes that deck them! And the temple dust lies thick upon them, so that their faces must be wiped clean.
Here is an idol bearing a sceptre, human-fashion, as though it ruled the country-side, yet has it no power to kill the blasphemer;
another carries sword or axe, yet from alarm of war or of robbers cannot defend itself; be sure, then, gods they are not.
Never fear them; broken jar a man throws away as useless can be matched with such gods as these.
There they sit in their temples, with eyes full of dust from the feet of passers-by,
mewed up by their priests with bolt and bar for fear of robbery, like king’s enemy in his dungeon, dead man in his tomb;
of all the lights that burn before them, they see none; roof-beam is not more senseless.
Yet men will have it that serpents creep out of the earth and drink in the secrets of their hearts! Worms, more like, that eat the idol up, clothes and all, and it none the wiser.✻
Smoke of the temple blackens their faces;
about their bodies and heads fly owl and swallow; birds hover and cats prowl.
Be sure they are no gods; never fear them.
Fair, golden faces! Yet will they not shine on the worshipper, till he rub off the stains on them; cast once for all in a mould, without feeling.✻
Cost what they will, there is never a breath of life in them;
never a pace they walk, but must still be carried on men’s shoulders, putting their own worshippers to shame by the betrayal of their impotence.
Fall they to earth, they cannot rise from it, and though they be set up again, it is in no power of their own that they stand. As well bring gifts to dead men as to these;
the victim thou offerest yonder priest will sell, or put to his own use, nor ever a slice his wife cuts shall find its way to the sick and the needy.
Those offerings every woman may touch if she will, child-birth and monthly times notwithstanding. And are these gods? Are these to be feared?
Things of silver and gold and wood, that have women for their ministers, shall the divine name be theirs?
In their temples you shall find priests sitting by with clothes rent, shaven and shorn, heads uncovered,
raising lament over their gods as at a dead man’s dirge.
Vestments their idols wore they will carry away, to dress their wives and children;
so powerless are these gods to requite injury or reward service done. Not theirs to make kings or unmake them,
grant riches, or wreak vengeance; the unpaid vow they cannot exact,
nor deliver men from death, and the tyrant’s oppression,
give sight to the blind, succour in time of peril,
shew mercy to the widow, or cheer the orphan’s lot.
Things of wood and stone, gold and silver, no more than rock on the mountain-side can they speed their worshippers;
gods do we reckon them, gods do we call them?
And indeed the Chaldaeans themselves have but scant reverence for these idols of theirs; hear they of a dumb child that can utter no word, Bel’s image must be brought to it and petitioned for the gift of speech;
as if the senseless thing which cannot move could yet hear them! Sense neither god nor worshipper has, else god should find no worship.✻
See where their women sit in the streets, with ropes about them, each before a fire of olive-stones,✻
each waiting till some passer-by drags her away and beds her, then taunting her less coveted neighbours, that have ropes about them still!
All lies, the worship of them, and shall they claim the title of gods?
Carpenters made them and goldsmiths, only at the priests’ whim;
and shall the handicraft of mortal craftsmen be divine?
One day, their descendants will reproach them with a legacy of imposture.
Come war, come peril, the priest thinks only of hiding himself and his gods both;
gods who shall think them, that from war and peril their own selves cannot deliver?
Recognize it at last they will, kings and peoples everywhere, that gods of wood, gold and silver are false gods, creatures of man, not creators.
Man’s handiwork, with nothing in them of the divine, who can doubt it?
Not through them comes king to throne, comes rain to country folk;
redress wrong they may not, nor rid a people of tyranny; dead crow hung between heaven and earth is not more powerless.
Does a temple catch fire? You shall see priests taking refuge in flight, and the wooden gods, for all the silver and gold on them, burning among the woodwork.
Against the king’s power, against the enemy’s attack, they can make no head; who shall reckon them or name them divine?
Wood and stone, gold and silver, how to protect themselves against the superior strength of house-breaker and robber,
that will carry off sheathes of silver and gold, carry off the clothes from their backs, and leave them powerless?
Better some golden emblem of royal prowess, cup of silver meant for use, not only for display, door of wood that keeps safe the treasures of a house, than these deceiving idols!✻
How fair to look upon are sun and moon and stars! Yet theirs is loyal and useful service;
and so it is with yonder lightning, that dazzles the view. Everywhere winds blowing,
clouds drifting across the earth as God bade them, fulfil an appointed task;
an appointed task, too, has the heaven-lit fire that burns mountain-side and forest. What beauty have the idols, or what power, that they should be compared with any of these?
Gods never think them, gods never call them, that have no power to execute judgement, to do men good or ill.
And, since gods they are not, need is none to fear them;
can they pronounce a curse or a blessing on kings?
Can they startle the world with portents, shine like the sun, light up darkness like the moon?
Why, the very beasts are their betters, that know at least how to take shelter for their own safety!
Fear we never the gods that ungod themselves so plainly!
Wood and silver and gold, that watch over the world as a scare-crow over a herb-garden;
wood and silver and gold, patient of the birds that perch on them as bush of white-thorn, or corpse left to lie in a dark alley!
From the purple robes that rot on them, you may learn they are no gods; they, too, shall be eaten away when their time comes, and be a disgrace to the country-side.
Well it is for God’s loyal servants, that eschew idolatry, and live from all censure far removed.
The Holy Bible