29 “‘Cut off your hair and throw it away; take up a lament on the barren heights, for the Lord has rejected and abandoned this generation that is under his wrath. 30 “‘The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the Lord. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it. 31 They have built the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter my mind. 32 So beware, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room. 33 Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. 34 I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.
(Jeremiah 7:29-34 NIV)
As we wrap up our journey through chapter 7, we have seen the Lord call out His peoples’ false religious practices. Today’s passage is more of that same theme.
Verse 29 is a call to the people of Judah to mourn and lament their sins. The act of cutting off one’s hair was a show of grief and loss. Remember Job’s reaction when within a few minutes, he found out he had just lost his family plus all his material possessions? Job tore his robe, shaved his head, and worshipped the Lord (Job 1:20-22). The Lord tells Judah to mourn and lament at the same places where they had previously worshipped the false Canaanite gods (chapter 3, verse 21).
Verses 30 – 31 give the two reasons that the Lord commanded His people to mourn and lament their sins. Verse 30 tells us that the people defiled the Lord’s House (the Temple) with false gods. The people of Judah were, in their compromised faith, likely trying to appease all the gods, including the One True God. For these foreign gods to be placed in God’s Temple, the priests and ruling officials had to know about it, and allow it. From previous passages in Jeremiah, we know that the priests and rulers not only allowed it but condoned it. There was no sneaking in of the foreign gods into God’s temple – the priests and rulers threw open the front doors and welcomed them in wholeheartedly.
Verse 31 describes the wretched practice of child sacrifice to the foreign gods. The people, to the horror of the Lord, were trying to secure their own safety and well-being at their children’s expense. The Lord had expressly forbidden His people from participating in this terrible practice – the penalty for doing so was death (Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5). But since the people had abandoned the Lord and ignored His commandments, they bought into the lie that sacrificing their children was the highest form of piety they could offer. 2 Kings 23:10 indicate that child sacrifice was an acceptable practice before King Josiah began hs reforms. First-born children were to be consecrated to the Lord, but not sacrificed.
Verses 32 – 33 detail the Lord’s action against His people for child sacrifice. Faithful to his promises in Leviticus 20:2-5, the Lord was stepping in since the religious rulers were not. The valley of Ben-Hinnom would be filled with the bodies of those who practiced this hideous ritual, even to the point of running out of graves. After the graves had been all taken, the valley would become the trash heap where the dead were stacked, to be desecrated and eaten by the wild animals. The Lord was so repulsed by the child sacrifices that He fed the corpses of these people to the wild animals. In His Law, the Lord had commanded that convicted murderers be given a prompt and proper burial (Deuteronomy 21:22-23). The ones who sacrificed their young to the foreign gods were not worthy of a criminal’s burial.
In verse 34, the result was described. Where weddings and laughter and joy once echoed through the valley, now only death, silence, and desolation remained.
May we remember that God did not require child sacrifice of His people. He instead provided the ultimate and final sacrifice through the life and death of His Son Jesus, to offer eternal life to all who will accept Him.