Do not learn the way of the nations… For the customs of the peoples are delusion.
The words of Jeremiah may have felt like a hammer when they were originally delivered. This is why riots formed after his prophecies (Jer. 26:8-11). Ten years later his free speech rights were violated again when his prophecies landed him in jail (37:15-16). Another decade passed and his words were so angering that he was thrown in an old well and left to rot in the mud (38:6). It would not be surprising if his words produced the same response today because they have not lost their edge.
God would have His people stay away from this culture (10:2). It is dangerous because it does not have truth. It is deceptive because it has support from a large group of people. It is despairing because it offers no hope either spiritually or for this present world. The command to stay away from pagan cultures is itself a judgment about their goodness, truth, and beauty.
Not only does God imply a divine condemnation of the world’s cultures by commanding His people to learn their way or customs, but the text tells us explicitly what God thinks of these cultures. They are worthless (10:3 “vanity” ESV; “delusions” NASB). This is God’s judgment on every culture outside of the one that would be produced by a consistent application of the Bible.
Cultures must be judged by the degree of influence that Christianity has had on them. The determining factor in judging a culture is the presence of Jesus Christ and His Light in that people group. Though He comes to lighten every man (John 1:9), yet they are still ignorant of Him (John 1:10) and the nearer he gets to them, the more strongly they reject Him (John 1:11). Instead they give themselves to religions inspired by demons.
The rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons…
For all the gods of the peoples are idols…
They sacrificed to demons who were not God…
How could a religion produce anything good, true, or beautiful if it were inspired by demons?
Though it may perturb postmodern professors and strike the sensibility of celebrity snowflakes, Jehovah says that the religions of the world produce cultures which actually downgrade the society to stupidity, foolishness, and ignorance (10:8, 14). Twice Jeremiah condemns the entire group and all their thinking. Their minds do not work correctly because of their religion.
10:8 “Their idol is wood.” NASB
10:8 “The instruction of idols is but wood!” ESV
Lit. “The teaching of worthless things [idols] is wood.”
Idolatry has a kind of catechism and yet it rises no higher than something as basic as wood. Do you want to trust your life and society to that?
Knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers,
1 Pet. 1:18
God has often destroyed whole societies because of their wicked cultures.
Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.
1 Sam. 15:3
That command is given to Israel on other occasions (Deut. 23:3-6; Jos. 10:40; et. al.). Christians should assume that a false religion will produce wicked and foolish judgments among the members of society.
One of themselves, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. For this reason reprove them severely so that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not paying attention to Jewish myths and commandments of men who turn away from the truth.
A Christian’s basic posture toward a culture produced by a false religion should be negative rather than positive or neutral.
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land where you are entering to possess it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites and the Girgashites and the Amorites and the Canaanites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and stronger than you, 2 and when the Lord your God delivers them before you and you defeat them, then you shall utterly destroy them. You shall make no covenant with them and show no favor to them. 3 Furthermore, you shall not intermarry with them; you shall not give your daughters to their sons, nor shall you take their daughters for your sons. 4 For they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you and He will quickly destroy you. 5 But thus you shall do to them: you shall tear down their altars, and smash their sacred pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire.”
As members of the New Covenant, this passage teaches the essential worth of false religions and the cultures they produce. They are not to be pitied. We may not let our children marry into them. Christianity stands in absolute opposition to them. We ask for no help from them. There is no spiritual unity between light and darkness. Of course, this refers to religion only since the Canaanite Rahab was in the lineage of our Lord and Moses also married a woman who looked different physically yet had left her false religion.
Surprisingly, the word “way” is in the singular while the word “nations” is in the plural in Jer. 10:2. All the cultures of the Gentiles are bottled together in this command. The general principle is all nations have similar culture except for that one culture produced by God and given by revelation to His people. This is confirmed by Paul in Ephesians 4:17-19 where he describes all Gentile cultures before Christ:
So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.
Furthermore, the NT uses the word “gentile” as if they are people to be pitied and reached with the new religion (Acts 11:1; Rom. 2:14; 1 Cor. 5:1). Because the culture of the Gentiles is worthless, it actually harms those who follow it.