JEREMIAH 7, 8 and 9
“This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord…!”. And they would go on and on and on like this. The religious people of Jerusalem were superstitious and totally reliant on repetition and ritual. They had convinced themselves that, however badly they actually lived, God would never dare to destroy his Jerusalem and his temple, particularly when he was ‘blessed’ with a large crowd of regular so-called worshippers. (See Jeremiah 7.)
God, through his prophet, completely disagrees! “Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place… Do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow… do not follow other gods… then I will let you live in this place.” The real proof of our faith is the way that we live. Syncretism (the blending of religions) almost always produces nothing of value – and these Jews were picking and choosing which aspects of each local religion to adhere to. They were then ‘hiding’ in the temple – thinking that they were safe from God’s wrath – rather in the same way that mediaeval criminals sought sanctuary from punishment in a church building. ‘Forget it’, says God, because I will destroy my own temple along with you, in order to send you justice! ‘Look at what I did to my first tabernacle in Shiloh – I totally destroyed it’.
Then the Lord turns on Jeremiah and says: “Stop praying for this people, because I will not listen to you” (7:16). Sometimes prayer does not work – particularly when it is contrary to the will of God. You would be better off hitting your head against a brick wall!
“The children gather wood, the fathers light the fire, and the women knead the dough and makes cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven”. This false female deity has risen in various forms and in many different cultures over the millennia – Asherah, Ishtar (a Babylonian goddess), Diana (Roman), Artemis (Greek) and probably even Mary (post-Christian). The same principle is involved and perhaps the same demonic influence has been behind it throughout history: the deflection of worship from the True God to a female idol, and a demographic of worshippers that are predominantly women. Gaia, the Greek personification of ‘Mother Earth’ is a current-day favourite among some committed environmentalists and the ‘Queen of Heaven’ cult has never really died out in all its forms.
“The days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth, or the Valley of Ben Himmon, but the Valley of Slaughter…”. The Hebrew name for the municipal rubbish dump outside the walls of Jerusalem – ‘ge himmon’ – was translated Gehenna in the Greek New Testament. It came to symbolise ‘Hell’ as the place of ultimate punishment and destruction. It was also the place where, in Jeremiah’s time, the people sacrificed their children in the fire to the god Molech or to Baal. The Lord tells them that he will do the same to these His children, in the very same place!
“Even the stork in the sky knows her appointed seasons…but my people do not know the requirements of the Lord” (8:7). Animals instinctively know their boundaries and the ways they should live; why is it that God’s people, with all the revelation that he has provided, appear not to know or to understand? Yet they then complain: “We hoped for peace but no good has come, for a time of healing but there is only terror…The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved”. (There is a connection, you know!)
In chapter 9, Jeremiah is torn between two attitudes: “Oh that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people. Oh, that I had in the desert a lodging place for travellers, so that I might leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people” (9:1-2). Does Jeremiah identify with his backslidden people, or does he totally avoid them? The apostle Paul had the same issues in Romans 10.
“’Let not the wise boast of their wisdom or the strong boast of their strength or the rich boast of their riches but let the one who boasts boast about this: that they have the understanding to know me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight’, declares the Lord.” (9:23-24). Ultimately, the only good thing we have is the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. All other blessings we enjoy only come from that source, in any case. Why do we boast about them, as though we had earned them in some other way? 1 Corinthians 1:31 quotes these verses too.