By Sam E. Stone
Jeremiah is one of the best-known Old Testament prophets. He tried valiantly to save the people of Judah from falling to Babylon, but was unsuccessful. After King Josiah’s positive changes, the nation had again slipped back into sin. As Jeremiah warned, the Hebrew people were facing God’s certain judgment. Before the end of the book, events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC are described (39:2). Today’s text includes a scathing indictment of the nation’s wickedness. God would hold them accountable!
Jeremiah 7:1, 2
This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord. This was the usual way to introduce a message from God by the Old Testament prophets (see Ezekiel 1:3; Jonah 1:1; Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1). These messengers claimed and demonstrated that they were not presenting a human message, but a divine one. The New Testament affirms this as well (2 Peter 1:21).
Appropriately the temple in Jerusalem served as the location for Jeremiah’s warning about the city’s coming downfall. He may have stood by the New Gate (Jeremiah 26:10). At another time Jeremiah gave part of his message in the court of the temple (v. 2). His call was to the people of Judah who come through these gates to worship. This included both local residents and those who made a pilgrimage to the holy city for one of the special yearly feasts.
His message to them was: Reform your ways and your actions. “Ways” refers to habits, “actions” to the individual separate acts which form them. Even at this point, despite their years of disregard for his warnings, the Lord was still willing to forgive the people, if only they would demonstrate a heartfelt change of life.
Jeremiah warned of deceptive words which led them to declare, This is the temple of the Lord. The false prophets had been telling the people what they wanted to hear. “Nothing can harm you here. After all, this is the Lord’s own temple! You will be safe! Nothing bad can happen!” For 300 years the temple had been safe. The people had been miraculously delivered in Hezekiah’s time (2 Kings 19:32-36); they assumed God’s protection would always be there for them. This was false security, however. Their vain repetition was precisely the kind condemned by Jesus (Matthew 6:7).
With his warning, however, Jeremiah held out one final hope for the nation. If you really change, he told them, things could be different. That is what God requires. Jeremiah gave detailed examples of what such a life turnaround involved. The people would have to deal justly with each other, stop oppressing the weak, and follow only God. If they were to do that, then God would let them live in the promised land. Instead of changing, though, the people continued to listen to the false prophets.
To illustrate the problem, the Lord specified five of the Ten Commandments that the people were continually breaking (Exodus 20; Deuteronomy 5). Seemingly oblivious to the implications of their abominable lifestyle, the nation continued to insist that they were safe, protected by God with nothing to worry about. Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord. Jesus quoted these words when he cleansed the temple (Matthew 21:13).
After Canaan was conquered, the Lord had the tabernacle set up first in Shiloh (Joshua 18:1). It remained there through the time of the judges (1 Samuel 1:9). Later, however, it was destroyed. The Old Testament does not tell us exactly how or when this happened, only that God forsook it (Psalm 78:60). Simply having God’s temple nearby does not give people permission to live evil lives. I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen. God’s patience will not last forever.
God had sent the northern kingdom into captivity years before. The same fate awaited the southern kingdom. James E. Smith observed, “Judah had done similar wickedness and had spurned every effort of God to call them to repentance. God therefore would do to the Temple and to Jerusalem what he had done to Shiloh.”
God’s warning must be taken seriously. As Peter wrote, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise . . . . he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.