Jeremiah 19 – Tophet
A. The message at the Potsherd Gate.
1. (1-2) Preparation for the message.
Thus says the LORD: “Go and get a potter’s earthen flask, and take some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests. And go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the Potsherd Gate; and proclaim there the words that I will tell you,”
a. Go and get a potter’s earthen flask: In the previous chapter, God taught Jeremiah at the potter’s house. God then told Jeremiah to take a clay bottle (earthen flask) to use for a spiritual illustration before some of the elders of the people and some of the elders of the priests.
i. The earthen flask was probably a small clay bottle with a narrow neck. It was easily broken and could not be repaired if broken. “The Hebrew noun baqbuq (‘clay jar’) is onomatopoeic, sounding like the gurgling of outpouring water. Jars that have been excavated range from four to ten inches in height.” (Feinberg)
ii. Centuries later the Apostle Paul wrote, But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us (2 Corinthians 4:7). Paul’s point was that the treasure and glory of God is set inside common and ordinary receptacles – His redeemed people.
iii. Jeremiah’s point is different. Having come from the potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:1-11), God showed him how the potter could mold clay again into a new shape if it should seem resistant. Here, the clay is baked, hardened, and breakable. “If there is nothing so workable as a clay pot in the making, there is nothing so unalterable as the finished article. If it is wrong by then, that is that.” (Kidner)
b. Go out to the Valley of the Son of Hinnom: Twice previously (Jeremiah 2:23, 7:31) Jeremiah made mention of this terrible place, south of the temple mount in Jerusalem. It was used as both a garbage dump (with continually smoldering fires) and previously as a place of child sacrifice.
i. “The valley of Ben-hinnom (cf. Jeremiah 7:31), south of Jerusalem, as a contemporary locale for Molech worship. Under Josiah the shrine was destroyed and later on the valley was used for burning garbage and cremating the bodies of criminals.” (Harrison)
ii. Presently, there is no archaeological evidence for widespread human sacrifice or child sacrifice in the Valley of Hinnom. This may mean that the practice was rare, perhaps performed only in the most extreme circumstances.
iii. The Valley of Hinnom gives us the idea of Gehenna in the New Testament. Gehenna is a Greek word borrowed from the Hebrew language. In Mark 9:43-44, Jesus spoke of hell (gehenna) referring to this place outside Jerusalem’s walls desecrated by Molech worship and human sacrifice (2 Chronicles 28:1-3; Jeremiah 32:35). It was also a garbage dump where rubbish and refuse were burned. The smoldering fires and festering worms of the Valley of Hinnom made it a graphic and effective picture of the fate of the damned. This place is also called the “lake of fire” in Revelation 20:13-15, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).
iv. “The name ‘Potsherd Gate’ probably to be identified with the Dung Gate (Nehemiah 2:13, etc.), may indicate that the valley was being used as a rubbish-tip.” (Cundall)
v. “It may have acquired its name from the fact that potters whose workshops were near the gate dumped their broken vessels beyond the gate.” (Thompson)
2. (3) The beginning of the message at the Potsherd Gate.
“And say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem. Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Behold, I will bring such a catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle.”’”
a. Hear the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah: The kings of Judah needed to hear of God’s coming judgment relevant to the Valley of Hinnom, because even some of the kings of Judah sacrificed their children there.
i. “He used the plural ‘kings’ because the message was not only to the reigning king but to the whole dynasty that was responsible for the apostasy.” (Feinberg)
ii. “Ahaz, King of Israel, sacrificed his own son in the fire (2 Kings 16:3). The same thing happened in Manasseh’s day, when children were sacrificed to the gods of Canaan (2 Kings 21:6).” (Ryken)
b. I will bring such catastrophe on this place, that whoever hears of it, his ears will tingle: As before, God promised great destruction and catastrophe to come upon this place associated with idolatry and child sacrifice.
3. (4-5) The reason for the catastrophe to come.
“Because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place, because they have burned incense in it to other gods whom neither they, their fathers, nor the kings of Judah have known, and have filled this place with the blood of the innocents (they have also built the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind),”
a. Because they have forsaken Me and made this an alien place: The idea of human sacrifice – rare or common – was so offensive to God, He called the place it was practiced an alien place. Judah’s rebellion led them far, far from Yahweh.
i. “The verb nicker, ‘make alien,’ is a vivid and highly suggestive term. The place had been denationalized, so that it could not be recognized as Israelite.” (Thompson)
b. They have filled this place with the blood of innocents: Either the practice of child sacrifice was more widespread than yet confirmed by archaeologists, or God regarded even a little of this horrendous sin to be monstrous in its guilt.
c. To burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings to Baal: Child sacrifice was associated with a Canaanite deity known as Molech (Leviticus 20:2-5, Jeremiah 32:35). At least on some occasions, such offerings were also made to Baal.
i. “The destruction of the sanctuary in the valley of Ben-hinnom in the days of Josiah is referred to specifically in 2 Kings 23:10. Evidently the practice was revived under Jehoiakim, and it was to this that Jeremiah addressed himself.” (Thompson)
ii. “The offering of children to Baal, under his title of King, has sometimes been represented as a mere dedication rite, passing the child harmlessly over a flame toward the idol….our verse Jeremiah 19:5 and 7:31 leave no doubt that these were actual burnt-offerings, although not burnt alive.” (Kidner)
d. Which I did not command or speak, nor did it come into My mind: Unlike many of the Canaanite deities, Yahweh never commanded human sacrifice. God could say that it never did come into His mind to ask such a thing; it totally went against His nature.
i. The incident of Abraham’s interrupted sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22) was an emphatic way for God to say, “I do not want human sacrifice.”
4. (6-9) The description of the catastrophe to come.
“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “that this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter. And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place, and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies and by the hands of those who seek their lives; their corpses I will give as meat for the birds of the heaven and for the beasts of the earth. I will make this city desolate and a hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its plagues. And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and everyone shall eat the flesh of his friend in the siege and in the desperation with which their enemies and those who seek their lives shall drive them to despair.”’
a. It will no more be called Tophet: Tophet (or in some translations, Topheth) was another name for the Valley of Hinnom. It was a name that associated it with pagan practices and child sacrifice.
i. “Topheth probably derives from the Hebrew word for ‘fire-place’ (cf. Isaiah 30:33).” (Cundall) According to Roni Simon, an Israeli tour guide, in modern Hebrew the word still has the association with fire. If someone comes under gunfire, they might say “I’m under tophet.” Kidner also points out that the name Topheth rhymes with bosheth, the Hebrew word for “shame.”
b. This place shall no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter: God here repeated a promise first recorded in Jeremiah 7:32 – that He would answer the idolatry of Judah and the outrageous practice of human sacrifice with devastating judgment. There would be a grotesque slaughter in that valley.
i. The dead corpses in that place would also be disgraced by having no proper burial, and by being food for scavenger birds and the beasts of the earth.
ii. “For the body to remain unburied, thereby, providing food for carrion birds and rodents, was a thing of unspeakable horror for the ancient Hebrews. Ironically, their sanctuary would become their cemetery as the treasured homeland was ravaged.” (Harrison)
c. I will make void the counsel: Because this phrase in the original sounds something like the word used to describe the earthen flask, some think that Jeremiah symbolically emptied the bottle as he said this.
i. “The MT baqqot, I will make void (7) contains a play on ‘bottle’ (baqbuq). The prophet may have emptied the flask symbolically as he spoke these words.” (Harrison)
d. I will make this city desolate and a hissing; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and hiss because of all its plagues: The catastrophe would be seen both in terms of the death of the people and the destruction of the city.
e. I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters: The city would be reduced to cannibalism, even as Samaria (the former capital of Israel) under siege from the Assyrians (2 Kings 6:26-29) and promised as a curse upon disobedient Israel (Deuteronomy 28:53-57). All this would drive the people of Jerusalem to despair.
B. Sign of the broken flask.
1. (10-11) The breaking of the flask.
“Then you shall break the flask in the sight of the men who go with you, and say to them, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts: “Even so I will break this people and this city, as one breaks a potter’s vessel, which cannot be made whole again; and they shall bury them in Tophet till there is no place to bury.”
a. Even so I will break this people and this city: God told Jeremiah to break the clay bottle as an illustration of the destruction to come. The clay bottle would break quickly and completely, and that is how God would bring judgment to Judah and Jerusalem.
i. “If a man or nation in spite of all the patient grace of God, persist in courses of evil and rebellion, then He will break in pieces. To find in the redeeming purpose of Jehovah a tolerance of sin, is of all evils the most terrible.” (Morgan)
b. They shall bury them in Tophet till there is no place to bury: God wanted the demonstration done in the Valley of Hinnom (Tophet) because this is where the corpses of the slaughtered would be thrown into mass pits.
2. (12-13) The meaning of the broken flask.
Thus I will do to this place,” says the LORD, “and to its inhabitants, and make this city like Tophet. And the houses of Jerusalem and the houses of the kings of Judah shall be defiled like the place of Tophet, because of all the houses on whose roofs they have burned incense to all the host of heaven, and poured out drink offerings to other gods.”’”
a. And make the city like Tophet: The Valley of Hinnom was a disgusting garbage dump and place of burning; all Jerusalem would see that kind of destruction. They would be destroyed like the broken flask.
b. Because of all the houses on whose roofs they have burned incense to all the host of heaven: Because the idolatry was spread throughout the city, God would bring this destruction throughout the city.
3. (14-15) After the message of the broken flask.
Then Jeremiah came from Tophet, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the LORD’s house and said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Behold, I will bring on this city and on all her towns all the doom that I have pronounced against it, because they have stiffened their necks that they might not hear My words.’”
a. He stood in the court of the LORD’s house: Jeremiah called the kings and rulers to hear him and see him enact the prophecy of the broken flask. Probably few of them took the trouble. For those who did not come to hear and see him, he brought the message to them, to the LORD’s house.
b. Because they have stiffened their necks that they might not hear My words: The greatest sin of Judah and Jerusalem was not their particular sins themselves, it was their rebellion and refusal to hear God and receive His word and correction.
i. “Their hand on their ear, their ear in their neck, their neck in the heart, and their heart in obstinacy.” (Trapp)