By the time we find Jeremiah preaching at the temple, the situation in Judah has taken a significant turn. Under king Josiah the nation started to turn back to God as he reformed the temple worship and sought to end idolatry. During this time Egypt and Assyria were both vying for power in the region, though Assyria’s power had greatly diminished after Sennecherib’s defeat at the hands of the LORD at Jerusalem. The Egyptian pharaoh Neco took his troops up the western part of Judah with the intent of attacking Assyria to the north. Josiah saw this as an opportunity to rid himself of this aggressive neighbor and met Neco in battle at Megiddo. This decision cost Josiah both the battle and his life. The people made Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah king. Jehoahaz did not have his father's love for the Lord, and failed to continue his father's efforts to bring the people back to God. Jehoahaz also failed to recognize Neco's conquest of Judah, so the pharaoh removed him from power and placed Eliakim, another son of Josiah (renamed by the pharaoh to Jehoiakim), on the throne. Jehoiakim paid tribute to the pharaoh from the temple treasury and from the taxation of the land. It would be instructive to review 1 Kings 23 in order to understand the setting within which Jeremiah is now ministering.
It was this transfer of power from Josiah to the pharaoh of Egypt that was the penultimate turning point for the nation. A godly king would never again return to the throne of Judah. The foreign-appointed kings would bring the nation down to spiritual depravity in the same manner that the kings of Israel did in the northern kingdom.
One would think that the people of Jerusalem would be in panic and despair at this turn of events. However, the population of the city of Jerusalem felt that they were protected against any significant attack because of the presence of the temple. They were convinced that no foreign influence would ever overtake Jerusalem simply because the temple was the tabernacle of God. They believed that this is where God lived, denying his omnipresence, exchanging the true God for something that they themselves possessed. They felt that God's presence in the temple would protect them much like the arc of the covenant, representing the presence of God, was seen as a talisman of protection in battle. The Judeans believed that, as long as God lived in the temple, He would not allow anything to happen to Jerusalem. Consequently, they went on with their lives in ignorance of the imminent danger. Their current king was a puppet of the Egyptians, and as long as Neco was placated, there was relative peace in the land.
Jeremiah 7:1-2. The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 2Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all ye of Judah, that enter in at these gates to worship the LORD.
One can envision the "business as usual" attitude in the temple. Its activities were returning to secular paganism as there was no godly leadership to be found. God called Jeremiah to go to the temple entrance and preach there. Situating himself at one of the three gates between the inner and outer courts, Jeremiah would command the largest audience. No one could enter the temple without encountering Jeremiah. Furthermore, the reference to "all ye of Judah" leads many to believe that this address which ranges from chapter seven through ten, took place during one of the several festivals when many people came into the city.
We might recall from the circumstances of Jeremiah's call that he was not exactly what the nation was looking for in a prophet. He was young, inexperienced, and came from the line of Abaiathar, a priest banished by Solomon to the region of Anathoth. Consequently, Jeremiah did not command the respect that one would expect. We find later that, because of Jeremiah's proclamations against the nation, he was later banished from the temple (36.5).
Jeremiah 7:3. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.
Jeremiah's message to the people was a call for change. "Amend your ways and your doings" refers to changing both their attitude and their actions. God's promise to Abraham is repeated in this imperative: if the people obey God, He will give them the land. This promise of the land is predicated upon the people's obedience. However, this "clause" of the covenant was not part of the Judean world view. They believed that they were the "chosen people," and based their confidence upon their Abrahamic ancestry rather than upon their relationship with God. Faith in and obedience to God were not characteristics of Jewish religion. The faith of Abraham, as well as many others in Abraham's line, was not the focus of their view, but rather simply the fact that they were of Abraham, and God promised them the land. They also placed their confidence in the keeping of the Law of Moses. However, any number of rationalizations and accepted oral traditions could be used to justify their secular interpretations of it. It would seem amazing that they could be immersed in idolatry and the immoral acts of pagan "worship" and still consider themselves secure under the law. Though they had "witnessed" the fall of the northern kingdom, an event that took place several generations prior to this time, the people could not imagine the possibility that they could lose the land because God resided in the temple. They could blame the northern kingdom for their demise because they chose to worship in Samaria, ignoring that the true cause was an apostasy that was similar to their own. Judah was making all of the same mistakes that were so aptly illustrated in the northern kingdom.
Jeremiah 7:4. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.
This statement must have caused considerable controversy. "The temple of the LORD" is repeated as an incantation, and had an idiomatic meaning that was understood by the Jews. Micah pointed out the false teaching that is found in this incantation when he quoted their belief that "the LORD is in our midst, upon us no evil can come." They believed that Jerusalem would not be destroyed by its enemies, because God had consecrated the place as his abode. They also believed God would defend the city against attack, so those who lived within its walls fell under God's protection. They were so immersed in their own traditionally accepted world-view that they could not see what was really happening around them.
Jeremiah 7:5-7. For if ye thoroughly amend your ways and your doings; if ye thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour; 6If ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt: 7Then will I cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers, for ever and ever.
Jeremiah returns to the amendments to the Jewish lifestyle that God requires of those who live in obedience to Him. We can infer from this list that these are specific areas where the people are living in disobedience.
1. Execute judgment between a man and his neighbor. Part of the responsibility of the priests was to execute godly judgment. The priests comprised the courts system that was charged with the responsibility of handling the myriad of legal actions from dispensing judgment upon those who committed criminal acts to simple squabbles between neighbors. Their judgment was to be based upon God's word. All Christians have the power to dispense godly judgment when they submit themselves to the Holy Spirit's leadership. However, the Jewish priests were not ones who had their trust in God, and their judgments were entirely secular. Freed from the guidance of godly influence, their judgments were capricious and self-serving. The courts were characterized by their persecution of the prophets and godly men while it both served and aggrandized the rich and landed.
2. Oppress not the stranger. Bigotry in the nation was the norm. Jews considered all non-Jews to be unclean. By so doing, they devalued anyone who was not in the ancestral line of Abraham, their source of their security. They considered any contact with Gentiles to be defiling. This tradition was so ingrained in their culture that they fully rejected their call from God to be a "priest to the nations". They believed that they were so close to God that those who were not Hebrews were to be fully shunned, and by so doing failed to serve as God's priests, bringing Him to the rest of the world. We may find much of the same prejudices in our church today as we tend to surround ourselves with other like-minded, like-appearing Christians and shun those who are different. God's love and His purpose of redemption is for all people. If the church is to be a "priest to the nations" there is no room for any kind of bigotry in its membership. The sin of bigotry is based upon pride and ignorance, not upon God's love. Jeremiah is calling upon the people to set aside their bigotry, a lesson that needs to be heard in the church today. If any Christian feels any pang of prejudice or bigotry in his/her heart towards any others, immediate repentance is in order. Otherwise, we are making the same mistake that we see made by the Jews, we come under God's judgment for our lack of love, and Satan wins the battle.
3. Oppress not the widows and orphans. The culture of the Jews was so centered around the land that they respected only those people who "owned" it. Consequently, slavery was rampant, and the value of human life was tenuous. Widows and orphans were particularly vulnerable in this type of a social order. These had no opportunity to be landed, so they had no opportunity for gaining respect. They were considered the lowest people in the social order. They were usually unable to take part in commerce, and had to beg for alms in order to survive. This gave the religious people great pride when they could "sacrifice" a small amount in alms for these poor.
4. Shed not innocent blood. The religious leaders were particularly violent towards godly men. The acts of Manasseh in his attempts to purge the Davidic line of kings is a good example of this violence. Any study of the book of Kings reveals a repeated pattern of violence by ungodly kings against those who either stood for godly living or represented the Davidic line. The injustice of the courts was not limited to political and theological intrigue, as it also was characterized by unfair and capricious judgments in favor of the "religious" rich and landed against all others. One's life had no value when one was rejected by these courts, "in this place".
5. Walk after other gods. The sin of idolatry was rampant in their culture. The attraction of the sensual pagan culture, comparable to the commercial secular world today, was an overwhelming attraction to the people. People chose to live the lifestyle of secular paganism, giving only the minimum acknowledgment of the temple, and little or not acknowledgement of God. This was their greatest sin, and formed the foundation for all others. When one does not fully commit themselves to God, they are open to that which is ungodly, and that which is ungodly is always sin. Once sin is accepted, it is repeated, it grows, and then separates the individual from God. Judah had separated itself entirely from God as it took after the secular, pagan world. They looked religious, talked religious, and met in a tabernacle, but there was no true faith, no true fruit. When we look at the church today, we can see some of the same characteristics as its people play the church game, looking pious and religious as they gather together, but then return to their secular life when outside of the fellowship.
It is probably worth pointing out one glaring difference between the modern church and that of the ancient Jews: though the modern church is not perfect, and makes many of the same mistakes that have pervaded the ages, there are also millions of Christians who sincerely love the Lord, who sincerely love people, and who do a great amount of good work for the kingdom of God, all led of the Holy Spirit. God did preserve His remnant in ancient Israel, but that remnant had little or no influence in their government or culture. Today, the influence of faithful Christians has great power to lead the church as they, like the prophets, demonstrate the truth of God's Word and the faithfulness of His promises.
Jeremiah then repeats God's promise that if the people will repent and turn to Him: they will have an eternal inheritance. This promise can be interpreted to refer both the physical land of Israel and to the promise of eternal salvation to all who place their trust in God.
Jeremiah 7:8. Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.
We might be starting to see Jeremiah's "preaching" style. He returns to point out their trust in "lying words." One axiom is that people will always do what it is that they truly want to do, and will create a system of beliefs and rationalizations to defend the sanctity of their world view that justifies their behaviors. For example, the Jews shunned relationship with Gentiles because they were "unclean." This lie is a parallel for the more modern version that justifies our lack of diversity in our congregations: "they want to worship with their own kind." Any time we employ the word "they" in this context, we are demonstrating the same bigotry that was evident in ancient Israel. Many modern churches are "run" by individuals or small groups instead of being guided through the Holy Spirit's call upon each of its members. Many times in these environments those who have taken control have created an entire network of rationalizations to justify their respected lordship within the congregation. Trusting in these "lying words," the power of their congregations to flourish is hampered.
Jeremiah 7:9. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not;
Jeremiah returns to the list of transgressions, direct denials of God's commandments, that the nation justifies using their "lying words." Quite simply stated: one cannot really tell the difference between the actions and attitudes of the "children of God" and their pagan neighbors. When one looks at the godless culture, one sees murder, adultery, dishonesty and idolatry. When one honestly examines the statistics that describe the events in the lives of the Christian community, we also find murder, adultery, dishonesty, and to an extent: idolatry. The divorce rate among church members is comparable with that outside of the church. Adultery in the pastorate is rampant. Our jails are filled with people who will, without thought, profess membership in the church. The church has become so secular that one can barely tell the difference between one who is a Christian and one who is not. Church polity has even embraced the secular as entire denominations approve immorality and ungodly lifestyles under the euphemism of tolerance. Only recently the guiding counsel of the Church of England who oversees the doctrine and practices of the Anglican and Episcopal churches met to specifically formulate a concise position that fully rejects the ordination of those who practice homosexuality. Why did such a meeting have to take place? Pressure from the secular world, a society that rejects godly guidance, has motivated the church to follow its agenda. This pressure is not unlike the pressure that was placed upon the ancient Jews, a pressure to which they totally succumbed. Today's church has not yet totally succumbed, but a truthful assessment may reveal that some repentance is in order. God has called upon us to place our faith and trust in Him, and not upon the agenda of the secular world. As the church becomes more secular, it is edging closer and closer to the state of the lost nation of Israel.
Jeremiah 7:10-11. And come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? 11Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the LORD.
Jeremiah emphasizes the hypocrisy of a people who live secular and godless lives, yet come to the temple in all of their pomp and empty words, declaring their own piety and righteousness. How does one so easily live two such separate lives? How does one so easily come into the tabernacle of the Lord and think that their righteousness enters with them. When God looks upon those in the temple He sees, not a fellowship of the faithful, but a social club comprised of a secular abomination that defiles "this house, which is called by my name." It is not surprising that it would not be long before the people are taken from the land, the pillar of fire that consumed the sacrifices would ascend to heaven, and the temple would be destroyed. The people had reduced God to a talisman. Though the people do not see this, God clearly does and is using Jeremiah to expose His word of truth to them.
Jeremiah 7:12. But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel.
Unlike the ancient Jews, we have no need for a new Jeremiah to rise and tell us of our transgressions against God. We have an abundance of scripture that gives evidence to the power of secular humanism to overwhelm false piety, and we have the Holy Spirit that still speaks through the hearts of His remnant, a remnant that still speaks to the church.
However, even the ancient Jews had history to learn from. Upon entering the promised land, Joshua established the tabernacle at Shiloh. As the Israelites continued their cycles of apostasy and restoration, they came to lose the Arc of the Covenant to the Philistines in battle. By the time of Saul's anointing, Shiloh was only a ruins, and the tabernacle had been taken to Nob. Clearly, the trust that the people are placing in the physical presence of the temple is tenuous. All it took was a single event and their ancestors lost both their temple and the Arc which like Josiah's nation, came to trust in both as protective talismans.
Jeremiah 7:13-15. And now, because ye have done all these works, saith the LORD, and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not; 14Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. 15And I will cast you out of my sight, as I have cast out all your brethren, even the whole seed of Ephraim.
What are the consequences of placing one's trust in anything other than God, alone? The Jews think that they are untouchable because they have the temple to protect them. Their ancestors thought they were untouchable because they had the Arc to protect them. People tend to easily place their trust in things that they can touch, taste, smell, hear, and see. We can easily do the same as we place our confidence in things in this world, rather than in God. Many of us build for ourselves careers and investments, placing our confidence in them rather than in God. Hence, Jesus taught that it is easier for a camel to "pass through the eye of a needle" than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, but with God all things are possible. The ancient Jews succumbed to the attraction of the glitz and sensual pleasures of the secular, godless culture. That same attraction exists today. Christians are fully immersed in this godless world, and its promises of immediate pleasure are endlessly displayed in our media, entertainment industry, and advertising. Sex sells. Sex sells to the pagan. Sex sells to the Christian too.
The ancient Jews trusted in the temple. The modern temptation is to trust in the church to serve as the agent of our salvation. It is easy for one to substitute church membership for true and committed faith in God, and by so doing copying the error of ancient Judah.
The ancient Jews trusted in false doctrine. The modern temptation is to trust in euphemisms and logical rationalizations to justify our unrighteousness.
The ancient Jews trusted in their ancestry. The modern temptation is to trust in our position in a "Christian family"
The ancient Jews trusted in their law. The modern temptation is to think that God will accept us because we are "good." However, the experience under the law agrees with Jesus' assessment that no man is good, and Paul's point that all people sin and fall short of God's glory.
The ancient Jews placed their confidence in the secular philosophies of their day. The modern temptation is to succumb to the secular humanistic and relativistic lies that define this world's pagan culture. What used to be called murder is now called "choice," or “ethnic cleansing” and to criticize those who choose murder is to be considered "intolerant". What has this world come to?
Actually, those who place their faith and trust in God have always been immersed in a world of sin, a world that causes us to come to faith in God by our own choice. It is this choice that brings eternal salvation. The choice for salvation has to be done by placing one's confidence in God, and in Him alone. With our confidence in Him, we can then turn to the need in our own life to repent of the myriad of sins and transgressions that we so tenaciously hold to. Then, we can together repent as a church body and repent of the myriad of sins and transgressions that we together have so tenaciously grasped. Imagine what it would be like for an entire congregation of believers to turn from their confidence in the world and in the flesh and turn entirely to God, and to Him alone. That, I would really like to experience. I know we all would.