Jeremiah Chapter Seven
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place.
Do not trust in these deceptive words:
‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
5 For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, 6if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.
Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are safe!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord.
16 As for you, do not pray for this people, do not raise a cry or prayer on their behalf, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. Do you not see what they are doing in the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem?
21 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Add your burnt-offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. For on the day that I brought your ancestors out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to them or command them concerning burnt-offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people; and walk only in the way that I command you, so that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but, in the stubbornness of their evil will, they walked in their own counsels, and looked backwards rather than forwards. From the day that your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day; yet they did not listen to me, or pay attention, but they stiffened their necks. They did worse than their ancestors did.
So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. You shall say to them: This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.
raise a lamentation on the bare heights,
for the Lord has rejected and forsaken
the generation that provoked his wrath.
30 For the people of Judah have done evil in my sight, says the Lord; they have set their abominations in the house that is called by my name, defiling it. And they go on building the high place of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire—which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.
The tragedy of Judah, as it unfolds in the pages of the Book of Jeremiah, is the tragedy of nations today. This Book of Jeremiah, though written thousands of years ago, is still as relevant, up-to-date and pertinent to our day as it was when first written. The tragedy is that when people forsake God they lose the sense of their own worth. Without exception, when someone turns from God he also loses himself. When the people of Judah turned from the living fountain of God they became like animals, Jeremiah said. They began to act brutishly, and thus to hate themselves. This is always the consequence of a heart which rejects or turns from the living God. When you lose God, you no longer can love yourself. And if you cannot love yourself, you cannot love your neighbor. That reflects the wisdom of the great commandment Jesus gave us: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you have no sense of who you are as a person, then you will not look at anyone else as a person, either. So the tragedy of this nation was that it had begun to lose its sense of God, and thus had begun to lose its sense of self. The Book of Jeremiah is set in a time of crisis and moral decline of the nation. It reveals what is behind the death of a nation. In many ways, we are facing the parallel of Judah's experience in our day. In 1976 our nation celebrates its two-hundredth birthday. Many feel that as we celebrate our Bicentennial we also may be witnesses to the beginning of the end of the United States of America. I hope it is not true. But the forces which are destroying our nation are the same forces which destroyed the nation to which Jeremiah witnessed. We can learn a great deal about what is going on in our nation by studying this great prophecy of Jeremiah. We can learn here how to behave in a time of national and personal crisis. What should a believer do when things are falling apart around him in his home, his community, his nation, and the world in which he lives? The answers are here. And from this prophecy we will also learn what is the word of hope in an hour of despair and darkness, and how God plants the seeds of new life in the midst of death and destruction.
Jeremiah's second message in his ministry to Judah was delivered about five years after the first, in the eighteenth year of king Josiah. The message has a different content than the first, as we will see in a moment, but the really startling thing about this passage is the effect it has upon the prophet himself.
I have discovered that the most baffling times in my experience as a Christian have been when God begins to act completely contrary to the way I expect. When God seems difficult to handle, then things really toughen up in the Christian experience! There are times when God apparently ignores his promises, even changes his character, and does not act the way I assume he should.
We all like to put God in a box, to program him. And we do it quite honestly. We have studied the Scriptures his own revelation. We have picked out certain promises he has given. We say that he is bound to act by these, and so we expect him to act on those terms. But to our utter dismay and chagrin he ignores our program and acts entirely differently.
Of course the problem is that we have picked just a part of what he has to say. None of us is big enough to see God in balance. And this was Jeremiah's problem in this message, for God told this young man to do two astonishing things. The first is given to us in verse 16 of chapter 7. God says to the prophet, "As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I do not hear you." Imagine that! God commanded the prophet to cease praying for the people of Judah, and not to ask God for their deliverance any longer. He was not to cry out to God for them, to fast, pray, nor in any other way to intercede on behalf of these people. God says, "Don't pray." Most of us think of prayer as something to do when everything else fails. And surely the last thing God would ever command is that we stop praying!
If you are given to picking out favorite texts from Scripture, as so many are, and saying, "This is the way God is going to act," you are going to have trouble with verses like this. There is a passage in 1 Samuel in which Samuel is sent by God to tell the nation Israel that they have turned from him and rejected him as king. Israel has demanded a king like all the other nations around, and Samuel says that God will accede to their request and give them a king, but that they will not like it. Then Samuel says these words: "Moreover as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you. . ." (l Sam. 12:23). Many times we quote that as the teaching of the Bible about prayer. But then what do you do with a verse like this, where God says to Jeremiah, "As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I do not hear you"?
As if that were not bad enough, in verse 27 God says to the prophet, "So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you. You shall call to them, but they will not answer you."
In other words, "Stop praying, Jeremiah, but keep on preaching." Now, that is hard to do! Perhaps you don't think of yourselves as preachers, but anyone who speaks the Word of God to another person is, in a sense, preaching to them. What God is saying to Jeremiah is, "Don't pray, but I want you to keep preaching. And I tell you this: they will not listen to you at all. They won't pay any attention to you. They are just going to go right on their way. But I want you still to stand up and say what you have to say to them." That is one of the roughest assignments ever given to anybody by God. I find there are times when people will not listen to my preaching, and it is a great comfort to me to go home and pray for them when that happens! But Jeremiah could not even do that. There are times when if God said to me, "Stop praying," I would utterly fall apart. Prayer has been a refuge and a strength to me.
I do not think we understand what this is all about unless we look at the historical setting, so let's go back to the beginning of chapter 7:
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: "Stand in the gate of the Lord's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will let you dwell in this place.
Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.'
"For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien [the stranger], the fatherless or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers for ever" (Jeremiah 7:1-7).
In order to understand what had happened at this time, turn to 2 Chronicles, chapters 34 and 35, to get the historical background of this moment in Judah. Young king Josiah, in his attempt to turn this nation back to God, had just given orders to clean up the temple. The temple had been turned into a warehouse, a storage place, and had begun to accumulate a lot of junk. as do our attics and garages today.
It was during this clean-up operation that the high priest Hilkiah unearthed the old scroll of the Law, probably of Moses' Book of Deuteronomy. In it they read about the Passover, and discovered that no one in that nation had celebrated the Passover since the days of Hezekiah, a hundred years earlier. So orders were given for a great celebration of the Passover. Scripture tells us that never before had there been a Passover in Israel like this one. This king went all out! He ordered sacrifices according to the Levitical commandments, and had the priests prepare themselves to conduct the ceremony.
Den of Robbers
The great day arrived when the sacrifices were to be offered in the temple. The companies of singers and chanters were prepared, and the great procession, headed by the king himself, was on its way to the temple to worship there and to obey the command of God to perform the Passover supper. The priests were swinging their incense pots, chanting as they went, and the choir was singing a hymn which included these words: "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord." People were heaving a sigh of relief and thinking, "Now God is satisfied. Now he will save us. Now the nations around will not take us over, because at last we are settling our religious accounts with God." And on the way, as they were chanting this chorus, suddenly to everyone's astonishment a young man climbed up to a prominent place on the steps of the temple and yelled out, "HOLD IT!" And everybody stopped. He began to speak:
"Hear the word of the Lord, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Amend your ways and your doings, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'" (Jeremiah 7:2-4).
The gist of his message was, "Whom do you think you're kidding? Do you really think God is like this, that all he is interested in is religious games and rituals? Do you really think that if you merely get all this religion going, God will be fooled and will spare this land? Don't you know that God knows what is going on?" And he went on to describe their actions:
History of Jerusalem: a city that had been fought over sixteen times in its history. During its long history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times, and captured and recaptured 44 times.
"Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely [commit perjury], burn incense to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!'--only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?" (Jeremiah 7:8-11).
A.J. Gossip: 1873-1954Arthur John Gossip was Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the University of Glasgow from 1939 until 1945. Born in Glasgow, Gossip graduated MA from the University of Edinburgh and was licensed as a Free Church of Scotland minister in 1898.
He was minister of a number of churches before coming to St Matthew's United Free Church in Glasgow in 1910; he served as a chaplain in Belgium and France during the First World War, and he returned to Scotland as minister of Beechgrove Church in Aberdeen. In 1928, Gossip was appointed Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Training in the United Free Church's Divinity school in Glasgow (known as Trinity College after the reunion of the United Free and Church of Scotland in 1929, and the amalgamation of the Divinity schools at the College and the University). The University's Chair of Ethics and Practical Theology was suppressed after Gossip's retirement in 1945.