A. The sermon at the temple gate.
1. (1-4) Superficial trust in the temple and external religion.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, “Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah who enter in at 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 cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these.’
a. Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house: God told Jeremiah to publicly preach this word from the LORD, and to do it right at the gate of the temple. Jeremiah needed plenty of courage and boldness to do his work.
i. It’s easy to imagine Jeremiah speaking to the busy crowds of people and priests coming in and out of the temple area. Perhaps many stopped to listen, but apparently none truly heard his word from the LORD.
ii. “Since his message was delivered to all the people, it was most likely preached during one of the great religious festivals, such as Passover or the Feast of Tabernacles, when the whole nation came to Jerusalem to worship.” (Ryken)
iii. Jeremiah 26 also has Jeremiah preaching at the temple gate in the first year of the reign of Jehoiakim, in a sermon with many of the same themes. Some think this is the same sermon as in Jeremiah 26; others think it is an earlier delivery of a similar sermon, delivered in the same place. Jeremiah 26:8-11 indicates that after that sermon, Jeremiah was attacked and threatened with death.
b. Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place: God offered to hold back on promised judgment if Judah would truly repent – not only in words, but in their ways and doings.
c. Do not trust in these lying words, saying, “The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD”: The crowds at the temple obviously had some trust in the temple and its service. Jeremiah boldly warned them that their trust was unfounded and dangerous. External religion and rituals would not help them if they failed to amend their ways and doings.
i. “For them, therefore, Temple worship was little better than a charm for averting evil, and they had beguiled the people into trusting in material buildings.” (Harrison)
ii. We can imagine how one of the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day might twist the Scriptures to “prove” that the temple could never be conquered.
· God promised an everlasting dynasty to David (2 Samuel 7:12-15).
· God chose Zion as His early abode (Psalm 132:13-18).
· Jerusalem and the temple were miraculously saved from destruction from the Assyrian army more than 100 years before (2 Kings 18:13-19:37). Surely this proved God would never allow Jerusalem or the temple to be conquered.
All of this reasoning was faulty, even if scriptures could be twisted to support it. The reasoning forgot that:
· God always holds the inner spiritual reality to be greater than the outward form.
· Any Scriptural reasoning that gives cover for and license to sin and idolatry is wrong and faulty.
iii. We today don’t say, “The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD” as they did in Jeremiah’s day. Today some say, “I go to church, I go to church, I go to church”; or “I’m a conservative, I’m a conservative, I’m a conservative”; or “I’m Calvary Chapel, I’m Calvary Chapel, I’m Calvary Chapel.” None of these things make one right with God apart from true faith and true repentance.
iv. “Men may perform the most sacred rites, and yet perpetuate the grossest crimes.” (Meyer)
2. (5-7) Real repentance and its reward.
“For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.
a. If you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings: Through Jeremiah, God explained to the people what real repentance looked like.
· If you thoroughly executed judgment between a man and his neighbor: The courts of ancient Judah had become corrupt and honest judgment could not be found there.
· If you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow: God cared about how His people treated the weak and defenseless in society, and noticed when these weak ones were oppressed instead of helped.
· Do not shed innocent blood: People were murdered, apparently in the name of religion (in this place). “Nor could Yahweh tolerate the judicial murders which broke out from time to time in Israel and were evidently perpetrated also during the reign of Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 26:23).” (Thompson)
· Or walk after other gods to your hurt: Idolatry was always a danger, even for those who came to do business at the temple. This shared loyalty (to both the LORD and the idols) was always to their hurt.
i. We notice that of these four aspects of demonstrated repentance, only one of them deals with a man’s relationship with God; three of the four deal with man’s relationship to his fellow man. God cares about how we treat one another, and true repentance will extend into the way we treat each other.
b. Then I will cause you to dwell in this place: The previous promises of an army of judgment and exile from the land would be set aside if Judah did truly, deeply repent – not only with words, but with action.
c. In the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever: Apparently, God considered the promises of the land given to Abraham and his covenant descendants to be an enduring gift all through the history of Israel.
i. There are some who mistakenly say that the words of Joshua 21:43, 45 say that God completely fulfilled the land promise to Israel, and therefore after that point they had no more claim to the land. Yet a passage like this – written more than 600 years after God’s word to Joshua – shows that the land promise to Israel continued forever and ever.
3. (8-11) Trusting in lying words regarding a temple that is a den of thieves.
“Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered to do all these abominations’? Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,” says the LORD.
a. You trust in lying words that cannot profit: This was a bold thing to say to the crowds at the temple gates. Yet they needed to know that they could not steal, murder, commit adultery and walk after other gods thinking the customs and rituals of temple observance could cover it.
b. And then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name and say, “We are delivered to do all these abominations”: Jeremiah had in mind those who believed that their temple rituals and obligations gave them permission and cover to sin in these ways.
i. This was not the practice of later Roman Catholic granting of indulgences, but it was the same spirit of that unbiblical practice.
c. Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Instead of being a place where God was truly sought, where sacrifices were sincerely offered, and where repentance was true, the temple had become a den (a gathering and hiding place) of thieves.
i. “The temple is the House of Jehovah in which men may dwell in fellowship with Him, and so in strength and rest, if their ways are in harmony with His will. But the temple is not a refuge for men who are living in rebellion against Him. It gives security and rest to obedient souls. It offers no security to men if they are living in sin.” (Morgan)
ii. “Robbers and bandits who sally forth for robbery and plunder secure for themselves a hideout in some secluded area, to which they retire for protection and safety.” (Thompson)
iii. Jesus quoted this “den of thieves” line from Jeremiah 7 in Matthew 21:13 (also recorded in Mark 11:17 and Luke 19:46) to speak of the corruption of the temple service in His own day. When the temple should have been a house of prayer for all nations, it had become a den of thieves.
d. Behold, I, even I, have seen it: Normally a den of thieves operates in secret. Through Jeremiah, God wanted His people to know that He did see their hidden, secret sins.
4. (12-15) The example of Shiloh.
“But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. And now, because you have done all these works,” says the LORD, “and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren—the whole posterity of Ephraim.
a. But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel: Jeremiah spoke to the crowds at the temple gate and asked them to compare Jerusalem and the temple grounds to Shiloh.
i. Shiloh was the central city of Israel – the religious center – for almost 400 years. It was the place where the tabernacle of meeting and the altar of God stayed for this long period.
ii. Shiloh enjoyed all this glory for hundreds of years, but it came to an end abruptly. First, when the Philistines overran Shiloh (1 Samuel 4); finally when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Israel many years after that (Psalm 78:58-60).
iii. By Jeremiah’s day Shiloh had been in ruins for a long time, and it showed that hosting the house of God or the ark of the covenant did not mean that judgment was impossible. As it came to Shiloh, it could come to an unrepentant Jerusalem.
iv. “The archaeological evidence shows that Shiloh was destroyed twice over – once by the Philistines and once when the Assyrians carried the northern tribes into captivity. When Jeremiah told the people to go to Shiloh he was telling them to go to the place where God is not.” (Ryken)
b. I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer: Judah’s greatest sin was ignoring the word of God so plainly and persistently brought to them. This made them without excuse.
c. Therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust…as I have done to Shiloh: God promised to bring the same judgment to Jerusalem that came upon Shiloh.
i. God used Shiloh as a lesson. “Go to Shiloh,” He says. “Look what happened to a place of spiritual privilege and glory when they forgot about Me. The same will happen to you if you do not turn again to Me.” Many cities are filled with empty and decrepit old churches; these are like Shiloh – places where God was once worshipped and honored, but no more.
ii. The lesson should be sealed in our hearts: no matter how much spiritual progress, or privilege, or glory one might have, it can all be turned to nothing if we stop listening to God and cultivating our relationship with Him.
B. The price of provoking the LORD God.
1. (16-19) Don’t pray for those who provoke the anger of the LORD.
“Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you. Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. Do they provoke Me to anger?” says the LORD. “Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?”
a. Therefore do not pray for this people: It would seem that the sermon at the temple gates was finished, and now God spoke to Jeremiah about the hardened people. They were past prayer; God simply told Jeremiah, for I will not hear you.
i. It is significant that God had to tell Jeremiah not to pray; the assumption is that he would pray, and that God had to tell him not to. Yet, “Their day of grace is past, their sins are full, the decree is now gone forth, and it is irreversible, therefore pray not for this deplored people.” (Trapp)
ii. There is something along these lines in the New Testament, at 1 John 5:14-16, where John explained that there are some people – at least in theory – who are beyond prayer, and therefore prayer should not be made for them.
iii. “They have filled up the measure of their iniquity, and they must become examples of my justice. How terrible must the state of that place be, where God refuses to pour out the spirit of supplication on his ministers and people in its behalf!” (Clarke)
b. The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven: The idolatry of Judah and Jerusalem was a family affair. Each member of the family had their own role to play in honoring pagan gods such as the queen of heaven.
i. “The ‘queen of heaven’ was the Babylonian Ishtar, identified with the planet Venus, whose worship, similar to the cults of the Canaanite goddesses, Asherah, Ashtaroth and Anath, was probably introduced into Judah by the apostate king, Manasseh (2 Kings 21:3ff).” (Cundall)
ii. “The word cakes (kawwanim) is of foreign origin, occurring again only in Jeremiah 44:19, where the same cult is described.” (Harrison) “A female deity is foreign to Old Testament theology; so the implication is that this cult was of non-Hebraic origin.” (Feinberg)
iii. “There is goddess worship in the Roman Catholic religion, where Mary is sometimes given the title ‘The Queen of Heaven.’ This title sets off alarm bells for anyone who knows the book of Jeremiah.” (Ryken)
iv. “Family worship is a most amiable and becoming thing when performed according to truth. What a pity that so few families show such zeal for the worship of God as those apostate Israelites did for that of their idols!” (Clarke)
c. Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces? It was true that the sins of Judah provoked the LORD to anger, but it was also true that their sins provoked themselves to open shame.
2. (20) God’s answer to the provoking of His anger.
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place—on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched.”
a. Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place: Judah provoked the LORD to anger, so it was appropriate that the anger eventually be poured out, and poured out upon the land as well as upon the people.
b. It will burn and not be quenched: The anger of the LORD would not relent until its full purpose was accomplished.
3. (21-26) Disobedience and sacrifice.
Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat meat. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be My people. And walk in all the ways that I have commanded you, that it may be well with you.’ Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have even sent to you all My servants the prophets, daily rising up early and sending them. Yet they did not obey Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers.
a. Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat meat: The burnt offerings were to be completely burnt before God. Here God said, “You aren’t giving these burnt offerings to Me anyway, so you might as well just eat them as you do your other sacrifices.”
i. “The essential feature of the whole burnt offering was that it was entirely consumed by fire (Leviticus 1:9, 13), unlike the other offerings, where at least a portion was shared by the priests or the worshippers. God here is virtually saying, ‘What does it matter to Me; eat the lot!’” (Cundall)
b. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings or sacrifices: When God gave Israel the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai, there was nothing about sacrifice or priesthood. That only came later, once Israel had accepted the covenant (Exodus 24:1-8). The point is clear: God’s first priority for Israel was obedience – sacrifice and the priesthood were secondary.
i. “Jeremiah was really indicating that the order of revelation was indicative of the relative value of obedience and cultic observances.” (Thompson)
ii. “The Hebrew idiom permits denial of one thing in order to emphasize another (cf. for a parallel Luke 14:26). The idiom does not intend to deny the statement but only to set it in a secondary place.” (Feinberg)
iii. “It was not wrong for them to sacrifice, but their sacrifices were in vain because they were not pursuing holiness.” (Ryken)
c. This is what I commanded them, saying, “Obey My voice”: What God had to say about sacrifice in the Old Covenant was rather small compared to what He had to say about simple obedience. It was clear at the temple gates that Judah still loved to bring sacrifices to the altar, but what God really wanted was their obedience, that they would walk in all the ways I have commanded you.
i. This is much the same thought as 1 Samuel 15:22: Then Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, As in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, And to heed than the fat of rams.
d. Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward: Sacrifice continued, but obedience stopped. Instead of following the LORD, they followed the counsels and the dictates of their evil hearts. The heart of man or woman isn’t necessarily a good guide to God-pleasing behavior.
i. This “follow your heart” mentality made the people of Judah feel good, but it did not bring them true blessing and progress. They went backward and not forward. It made them worse than their fathers. Morally and spiritually they were in a state of regress, not progress.
4. (27) The frustrating work of Jeremiah the prophet.
“Therefore you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not obey you. You shall also call to them, but they will not answer you.
a. You shall speak all these words to them: God gave Jeremiah a solemn commission to speak to the people of Jerusalem and Judah. It wasn’t Jeremiah’s ambition or even his natural desire.
b. They will not obey you. You shall also call to them, but they will not answer you: This word to Jeremiah repeats the thought from earlier in the chapter. Jeremiah 7:13 says, I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer. God’s word through the prophet was God’s word, and it was proper to regard it as such.
5. (28-31) The evil of idolatry.
“So you shall say to them, ‘This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the LORD their God nor receive correction. Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth. Cut off your hair and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on the desolate heights; for the LORD has rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath.’ For the children of Judah have done evil in My sight,” says the LORD. “They have set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of Tophet, 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 heart.
a. So you shall say to them: In light of their hardened rejection of Yahweh and His words, Jeremiah was to bring the following message to them.
b. The LORD has rejected and forsaken the generation of His wrath: There are several reasons listed why God so radically punished Judah.
· This is a nation that does not obey the voice of the LORD: They continued with their superficial rituals such as animal sacrifice, but had long abandoned simple obedience.
· Nor receive correction: Worse than their disobedience was their inability to be corrected. There was no helping a people who would not receive correction.
· Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth: In rejecting the truth of God, they gave themselves over to lies and falsehood.
c. Cut off your hair and cast it away, and take up a lamentation on the desolate heights: The command for Judah to cut off your hair was either as an expression of mourning (as in Job 1:20 and Micah 1:16) or of a Nazirite vow ended by defilement.
i. “The cutting off of the hair was a symbol of grief (Job 1:20; Micah 1:16). The Hebrew text reads literally ‘Cut off your crown (nezer).’ The hair was looked on as, in a sense, a diadem. To cut off the hair was to bring down Israel’s pride.” (Thompson)
ii. “The charge stems from the fact that the Nazirite’s hair was the mark of his separation to God (Numbers 6:5). When he was ceremonially defiled, he had to shave his head. So Jerusalem because of her corruption must do likewise.” (Feinberg)
d. They have set their abominations in the house which is called by My name, to pollute it: The people and priests of Judah were so insensitive to the honor of Yahweh that they set up idols in the very house of the LORD, the temple.
i. Surely they did not put an idol into the holy place or the most holy place, but in some side room of the temple complex. Nevertheless, the idols were abominations. “It would be like setting up a Shinto shrine or opening up an adult book shop in your church fellowship hall. Even if everything else in the church remained the same – pews, Bibles, songbooks – the place of worship would still be defiled.” (Ryken)
e. They have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and daughters in the fire: Worse than the idolatry in the temple was the actual human sacrifice carried out right in the region of Jerusalem.
i. The high places: “The ‘high places’ of Biblical times were not always very high. These particular high places, for example, were down in a valley. It was an inaccessible rocky ravine south and west of the City of Jerusalem. But a ‘high place’ is a shrine, a raised platform built out of stones for the purpose of worship.” (Ryken)
ii. “Topheth probably derives from the Hebrew word for ‘fire-place’ (cf. Isaiah 30:33).” (Cundall) Kidner also points out that the name Topheth rhymes with bosheth, the Hebrew word for “shame.”
iii. The Valley of the Son of Hinnom lies south of the temple mount in Jerusalem. It was used as both a garbage dump (with continually smoldering fires) and a place of child sacrifice.
iv. Some think that child sacrifice in ancient Canaan and Israel was rare, and resorted to only in times of great distress. It’s hard to say how common it was, but it was practiced even by kings. “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)
v. 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).
f. Which I did not command, nor did it come into My heart: Unlike many of the Canaanite deities, Yahweh never commanded human sacrifice. God could say that it never did come into His heart to ask such a thing; it totally went against His nature.
i. “Some scholars point out that the priests of Topheth may have used the Torah to justify child sacrifice: ‘You must give me the firstborn of your sons…on the eighth day’ (Exodus 22:29-30). They were taking that verse out of context; it had nothing to do with child sacrifice.” (Ryken)
ii. 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.”
6. (32-34) The dead in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom.
“Therefore behold, the days are coming,” says the LORD, “when it will no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Tophet until there is no room. The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the heaven and for the beasts of the earth. And no one will frighten them away. Then I will cause to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride. For the land shall be desolate.
a. It will no more be called Tophet, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter: God 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 with no one to frighten them away.
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)
b. For the land shall be desolate: When judgment came upon Judah, it would seem that all happiness and hope had departed from the land. No more would there be the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness.