7 This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: 2 “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:
“‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. 3 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. 8 But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
9 “‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things? 11 Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.
12 “‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel. 13 While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. 14 Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your ancestors. 15 I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’
(Jeremiah 7:1-15 NIV)
As we noted yesterday, Chapters 2 – 6 established God’s standard for His people, revealed their guilt for not following the Lord’s commands, and foretold the discipline His people would endure for deliberately turning their back on their Creator and Sovereign.
Chapters 7 – 10 speak to the next topic that the Lord addressed to His people – their false religion. This section starts with today’s text – Jeremiah’s famous (or infamous, to the people of his day) temple sermon.
Jeremiah had been traveling around Judah, warning God’s people of the impending discipline that would come on them if they did not turn away from their wickedness and turn back to the Lord. In today’s passage, the Lord tells Jeremiah to go specifically to the temple in Jerusalem and preach the words He would give Jeremiah.
The first thing God tells His people is to reform their ways – to repent and turn back to the Lord (v. 3a). The second thing God reminds His people is that He owns the temple and the land of Judah, not them (v. 3b). The people can only live and worship there because God allows it.
To understand this statement, we need to go back a bit in history. First, the residents of Judah felt they were immune to God’s punishment. Yes, the northern kingdom of Israel was overtaken because of their sin against the Lord. Since Judah was spared, including Jerusalem, the residents thought they had a free pass – nothing could touch them.
Secondly, the people thought that God’s temple in Jerusalem was a “safe house” for their protection. Again, their thought was that nothing and no one could touch them there, including the Lord. God would not destroy His own house, would He? That idea was beyond comprehension.
But the temple was more of a bragging right than a place of worship. To say “our God lives among us” was a powerful statement – no other culture or religion could make that claim. But the Lord says those are deceptive words (v. 4). God cannot be kept in a single place or building – he is everywhere, all the time. That idea of God only residing in a building was more like pagan belief and practice, where gods were represented in wood or stone.
God tells His people that to stay in the land and keep the temple, they need to turn back to Him, and treat each other as He commanded them in the Ten Commandments. These commands included taking care of the foreigners (refugees) among them, as well as their own orphans and widows (vv. 5 – 8).
Again, the Lord calls out the peoples’ behavior in the temple and the land. He has been watching and sees the disparity between the way they treat each other and the way they act when they are in the temple. Neither are pleasing to Him, as their actions are in direct contradiction and violation of His commands and instructions.
In verses 12 – 15, the Lord takes the people of Judah on a field trip in history, back to a place called Shiloh. Shiloh is where the Ark of the Covenant was kept when it resided in the northern kingdom of Israel. The people of Israel thought the same thing about their place of worship – it was a “safe haven”, and no one could touch the Ark or the city. When Israel disobeyed the Lord, He allowed the Ark to be carried off, the city destroyed, and all the people scattered (represented by the tribe of Ephriam, v. 15). Now Shiloh was completely leveled and uninhabitable. God says the same thing could happen to Jerusalem and the Temple if they do not turn back to Him and treat one another according to His commands.
May we heed God’s warning in Jeremiah’s day and live out our lives for the Lord as He still desires and commands – to love God and to love our neighbor (Matthew 22:34-40).