Welcome to the third installment of our study of the dynamic message of the prophet Jeremiah. We have previously established the uniquely autobiographical tone of the book, concerning the one whose name means both “the Lord exalts” and “the Lord throws down”. We have confirmed that Lord’s message through his prophet in the first six chapters is indeed to “exalt” the righteous and to “throw down” the disobedient. This month we will continue on through the emotional and vivid journey of Jeremiah’s message and see the passionate reaction of a spurned God to His people’s faithlessness and rejection of His law. Let’s proceed on to this month’s invigorating portion of the prophetic word, Jeremiah 7-13.
The prophet in chapters 7-10, standing in the gate of the great Jerusalem Temple, indicts Judah for backsliding away from the Lord. In front of crowds of priests, merchants and worshipers, Jeremiah addresses the issue of true religion, i.e., religion that is acceptable to God. He demonstrates that salvation does not come through ritual or sacrifice or going through any other pious “motions,” but rather comes from knowing the true God and then acting accordingly.
Early in the ministry of Jeremiah, good King Josiah had begun to reform the religious practices of Judah and to restore and purify the worship of God. He had even initiated a building project to repair the decaying Temple. Some years later, in the wake of Josiah’s religious reformation, the Jewish people were falsely placing their trust in the sacrifice and ritual of the Temple. They believed that although the Lord may have judged the idolatry and rebellion of the northern kingdom of Israel, that there was no way He would allow His holy city of Jerusalem to suffer judgment. Certainly He would not permit the great Sanctuary of Zion to be desecrated.
Jeremiah proclaims that this is futile wishful thinking. The Lord will not spare a people who have brazenly transgressed a full half of the Ten Commandments (7:9). Pronouncing the judgment that Jesus would later echo over six hundred years later, Jeremiah cries that the house of the Lord has become a den of thieves (7:11). The Temple will provide no shelter for those who have profaned its sanctity.
Jeremiah knew that elaborate sacrifice and ritual were meaningless unless they were accompanied by individual changes of heart. Knowledge was useless without obedience and Jeremiah evoked the message of his prophetic predecessors in calling for social justice and renewed obedience to the Mosaic Covenant. Jeremiah again promises destruction on Judah if there is no repentance . He contrasts God’s infinite wisdom with their foolishness. Unless the people of Judah change their ways their sin would be severely punished. Their claim of “peace, peace” when there was no peace would suck them down in a whirlwind of terror; the terror of destruction, death and exile from their homeland (10:17ff). Disaster cannot be averted. The prophet himself identifies and personifies the hopelessness of the imminent judgment to come. The weeping prophet cries out for “the balm in Gilead;” healing medicine to close the gaping wounds of Judah (8:22-9:1).
In chapters 11-13, Jeremiah implores Judah to face the fact that they were grossly violating the Covenant and that dire consequences were about to follow. To say the least, the prophet’s message lacked popularity. In fact, he records that there was a plot to muffle his message by assassinating him. Disturbingly, even members of his own family were involved with this heinous scheme (11:18-12:6). However, the Lord revealed the plot and protected his servant and Jeremiah continued to speak the word of the Lord against his people. The message continued to be uncomplicated: those who were obedient were under God’s divine protection and those who were disobedient were under His wrath. God and his prophet were both acutely aware that the people would not listen and Jeremiah wept bitterly at the pending disaster for his people.