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2. Warnings about apostasy and its consequences chs. 7-10
This is another collection of Jeremiah’s prophecies that have in common the theme of Judah’s departure from God and the consequences of that apostasy.
Jeremiah received another message from the Lord. He was to go to the gate of the temple in Jerusalem and deliver a prophecy in Yahweh’s name to the Judahites who entered to worship. This was probably the New or Eastern temple gate (cf. Jeremiah 26:10; Jeremiah 36:10).
". . . during the pilgrimage festivals in the temple, the pilgrims were greeted at the temple gates by a servant of the institution, who asked them to examine their moral lives prior to passing through the gates and participating in the worship (see Psalms 15, 24 . . .). If Jeremiah assumed his role of ’preacher at the gate’ in an unofficial capacity, then it is possible that the custom had lapsed at that time (as seems entirely probable from the substance of the sermon) and was consciously resumed by the prophet to his own moral and spiritual ends." [Note: Craigie, p. 120.]
Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon 7:1-15
This message demonstrates a structure that is quite typical of many others in the Book of Jeremiah (cf. Jeremiah 11:1-17; Jeremiah 17:19-27; Jeremiah 34:8-22). First there is an explanation of Yahweh’s will (word, law; Jeremiah 7:1-7), then a description of Israel’s departure from it (Jeremiah 7:8-12), and then an announcement of divine judgment (Jeremiah 7:13-15). A similar message, or the same message in abbreviated form, appears later in the book (Jeremiah 26:1-6). [Note: Scholars differ about what they call Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon. Some refer to all of 7:1-8:3 as the temple sermon, and a few consider 7:1-10:25 the temple sermon.]
Aspects of false religion 7:1-8:3
All the messages in this section deal with departure from the Lord in religious practices, either in pagan rites or in the perversion of the proper worship of Yahweh that the Mosaic Law specified. All the material in this section fits conditions in Judah after 609 B.C., when Jehoiakim began allowing a return to pagan practices after the end of Josiah’s reforms. Another feature of this section is the large amount of prose material it contains, much more than the preceding section (chs. 2-6). The common theme is worship, and the key word is "place," though this word refers to different things in different verses (Jeremiah 7:3; Jeremiah 7:7; Jeremiah 7:12; Jeremiah 7:14; Jeremiah 7:20; Jeremiah 7:32; Jeremiah 8:3). The places in view are the temple, Jerusalem, and Judah, but which one is in view is sometimes difficult to determine. From their contents we may surmise that these messages were responsible for much of the antagonism that Jeremiah received from the Judahites (cf. Jeremiah 26:7-24).
The prophet was to announce that sovereign Yahweh, the God of Israel, promised that if His people would repent (change their thinking, actions, and way of life), He would allow them to continue to dwell in their land.
The people were not to assume that just because they had the temple, the Lord would keep them safe. Many of the Judahites believed that the existence of the temple guaranteed Jerusalem’s inviolability. God’s supernatural deliverance of Jerusalem in Hezekiah’s reign probably accounts for some of this feeling (2 Kings 18:13 to 2 Kings 19:37). Furthermore, Josiah had glorified the temple during his reforms.
"They [these Judeans] would argue that God had chosen Zion as his earthly dwelling place (cf. Psalms 132:13-14) and had promised to David and his descendants a kingdom for ever (2 Samuel 7:12-13). In the light of such promises it seemed to be a natural conclusion that God would not allow either his dwelling place (the temple) or his chosen ruler to come to any harm." [Note: Thompson, p. 277.]
"The temple building itself had become the people’s object of worship, replacing the Person of the building." [Note: Jensen, p. 37.]
Jeremiah proceeded to explain God’s promise (Jeremiah 7:3). He listed three examples to illustrate what God wanted: two related to actions toward fellow Israelites, and one related to actions toward God. True repentance meant dealing justly with one another, namely, refraining from oppressing the vulnerable such as strangers, orphans, and widows. It also meant not putting people to death without proper justification. The Mosaic Law demonstrates a profound concern for human welfare (cf. Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; et al.). God-ward, repenting meant not worshipping other gods, which the people were doing to their own ruin.
If the people did these things, then Yahweh would allow them to remain in the land that He had given their forefathers as a permanent possession (cf. Jeremiah 7:3; Genesis 12:7).
The prophet also explained what the Lord meant by trusting in deceptive words (Jeremiah 7:4), which they had been trusting in but without benefit.
The people were committing robbery, murder, adultery, perjury, offering sacrifices to Baal, and following other foreign idols. These were all violations of Israel’s law (Exodus 20:3-5; Exodus 20:13-16).
The Judahites would commit these sins and then come to the temple, stand before Yahweh, and conclude that He had forgiven them. They would go through this ritual only so they could go out and sin again. They apparently felt that they had an indulgence that permitted them to go on sinning (cf. Ecclesiastes 8:11). [Note: Feinberg, p. 428; Keil, 1:156.]
"They flee to the temple for protection, thinking to be safe there, believing that participation in the formal rituals of the cult would somehow deliver them from the Judge. But the temple was no sheltering place for covenant-breakers." [Note: Thompson, p. 281.]
The "house" that was "called by My (Yahweh’s) name" is a description of the temple that stresses that it was the building with which He uniquely associated His personal presence.
By treating the temple in this way, the people had turned it into "a den of robbers," a gathering place for those who stole from others and God, and violated God’s Word with impunity (cf. Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).
"They have profaned God’s house by making it a place of retreat between acts of crime . . ." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 86.]
The Lord assured the people that He had seen what they were doing; they had not deceived Him.
Yahweh told the people to go to Shiloh to see what He had done to another town where He had met with the Israelites in former years (cf. Joshua 18:1; Judges 18:31; 1 Samuel 1-4). In Jeremiah’s day it lay in ruins. The site was about 20 miles north of Jerusalem. The Philistines evidently destroyed the town in Eli’s day, though the text does not say so explicitly (1 Samuel 4). [Note: See H. Kjaer, "The Excavation of Shiloh 1929," Journal of the Palestine Oriental Society 10:2-3 (1930):87-174; and W. F. Albright, "The Danish Excavations at Shiloh," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 9, pp. 10-11.] The tabernacle that had stood at Shiloh then was still in existence in David’s day, having been moved to Gibeon (1 Chronicles 21:29), and when Solomon began to reign (2 Chronicles 1:3), so it did not suffer destruction with the city. Later references indicate that the town was rebuilt (1 Kings 14:2; 1 Kings 14:4). The Assyrian invasion of the territory of Ephraim, where Shiloh stood, may have destroyed it again. Yahweh had allowed Shiloh to be destroyed because of the wickedness of the Israelites. Therefore Jeremiah’s hearers should not think that He would preserve the temple from destruction in spite of their sins. The temple was not a talisman (lucky charm) that guaranteed their safety. The Israelites had formerly taken this view of the ark as well (cf. 1 Samuel 4:3).
The people had been sinning in the ways just enumerated for a long time. The Lord had sent them prophets and leaders who had warned them from the earliest days of their departure from Him, but they had refused to respond. The phrase "rising up early and speaking" was a favorite of Jeremiah’s (cf. Jeremiah 7:25; Jeremiah 11:7; Jeremiah 25:3-4; Jeremiah 26:5; Jeremiah 29:19; Jeremiah 32:33; Jeremiah 35:14-15; Jeremiah 44:4). It occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament.
Consequently, the Lord promised to destroy the temple and Jerusalem as He had destroyed Shiloh. He would do this even though the temple bore His name, His people trusted in it, and He had given Jerusalem to them and their fathers.
Furthermore, the Lord would drive the Judahites from His sight in the land as He had driven their brethren in the Northern Kingdom from His sight: by sending them into captivity.
The Lord told His prophet not to waste his time praying for Him to be merciful to the people, even with earnest prayers, because they would not cause Him to relent (cf. Jeremiah 11:14; Jeremiah 14:11). The only thing that would prevent invasion, destruction, and captivity would be His people’s repentance (cf. Jeremiah 7:3; Jeremiah 7:5-7).
The Queen of Heaven cult 7:16-20
This pericope continues Yahweh’s instructions to Jeremiah preparing him to deliver the Temple Sermon (cf. Jeremiah 7:1-2). Jeremiah may have received this message from the Lord at the same time or at some other time.
Yahweh reminded Jeremiah how far His people had departed from His ways.
Whole families were involved in making offering cakes for the Queen of Heaven, a deity mentioned only by Jeremiah. They also poured out drink offerings to other gods to hurt, humiliate, and annoy the Lord.
The "Queen of Heaven" was most likely a title of the Assyrian-Babylonian goddess Astarte (or Ishtar; cf. Jeremiah 44:17), though some scholars believe the name applied to several pagan goddesses. [Note: Craigie, pp. 123, mentioned the Canaanite goddesses Anat, Ashtaroth, and Shapash, all of whom the Canaanites associated with heaven. See also Keil, 1:160.] Worship of the Queen of Heaven had been popular in Judah during the reign of Manasseh (2 Kings 21; 2 Kings 23:4-14), though it began earlier in Israel’s history (Amos 5:26). This "queen" was an astral deity that appealed particularly to women (cf. Jeremiah 19:13; Jeremiah 32:29; Zephaniah 1:5). Her worship involved offering cakes made in the shape of the deity or the moon, or stamped with her image, and drink offerings (cf. Jeremiah 44:19). Other symbols of this goddess were the planet Venus, a moon, and a star. This cult had evidently survived Josiah’s reforms, probably because people could worship Astarte in their homes. [Note: See also The New Bible Dictionary, 1962 ed., s.v. "Queen of Heaven," by D. J. Wiseman.] Worship of the Queen of Heaven and all other idols constituted a rejection of Yahweh’s sole sovereignty as Lord of Israel’s covenant.
By provoking the Lord, the people were really hurting and humiliating themselves. Their flagrant disobedience would come back on them, and they would suffer for their sins.
The Lord promised to pour out His anger and wrath on the whole land of Judah because the people were doing these things. His judgment would affect people, animals, trees, and crops; in other words, it would affect everything in the land. Nothing would put out the fires of His anger, except genuine repentance (cf. Jeremiah 7:3; Jeremiah 7:5-7).
Yahweh, the sovereign God of Israel, commanded His people to eat their whole burnt offerings (Heb. ’oloth), which should have been burned up completely on the altar, as well as the sacrifices (Heb. zebah) that they only ate part of (cf. Leviticus 3; Leviticus 7:11-18; Leviticus 22:18-23; Leviticus 22:27-30). It mattered little to Him how carefully they observed His instructions about offering animal sacrifices to Him if their hearts were not right.
". . . to affirm that the prophets rejected the whole sacrificial system is to go beyond the evidence. It was not the system as such that was rejected but the operation of the system, which divorced sacrifices from obedience and took them out of the covenantal setting in which they found their whole rationale." [Note: Thompson, p. 291.]
Obedience as opposed to mere sacrifice 7:21-28
This seems to be a new message from the Lord. It is a good example of prophetic indictments of Israel’s sacrificial institutions (cf. Jeremiah 6:20; 1 Samuel 15:22; Psalms 51:16-17; Isaiah 1:4-15; Hosea 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Micah 6:6-8).
God could say this because burnt offerings and sacrifices were not His primary concern. This should have been clear to the people as they remembered what He had commanded them when He redeemed them as a nation. He had given them the Decalog, which called for righteous conduct, before He gave them the cultic legislation, which specified the ritual of worship (cf. Exodus 20:1-17; Exodus 24:1-8). He had not given them the laws concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices until after they broke the Decalog.
Obedience to His words is what He commanded them first. It was more important that they obey Him than that they follow the procedures involved in presenting sacrifices that only symbolized their obedience and rectified their disobedience. His ancient command to obey also contained promises of blessing if they would obey. Yahweh had promised to adopt Israel into a uniquely intimate relationship with Himself that would be beneficial for the Israelites (Exodus 19:5-6).
In spite of these promised blessings, the Israelites had not obeyed or even listened to the Lord’s voice. They had followed their own advice, and their evil hearts had stubbornly refused to yield to His will. Instead of progressing toward blessing, they regressed into cursing.
Ever since the Exodus, God had graciously arisen early to send His servants the prophets to urge the Israelites to follow Him (cf. Jeremiah 7:13). The anthropomorphic image of God getting up early in the morning stresses the priority He gave to instructing His people.
In spite of these instructions, each succeeding generation of Israelites did not listen or pay attention. Instead they became obstinate in their disobedience and did even more evil than their fathers had done.
The Lord told Jeremiah that he was to pass along all these words to his contemporaries, but they would not listen to him any more than they had listened to the former prophets. He should call to them to respond to his message from the Lord, but they would not even answer him.
Jeremiah was to tell the people that they were a disobedient nation. They refused to accept correction from their Lord. They were not faithful (Heb. ’emuna, cf. Jeremiah 5:1; Jeremiah 5:3; Habakkuk 2:4) to Him and His covenant.
The people were to cut off their hair as a sign of grief.
"The command to cut off the ’hair’ (lit., ’crown’ . . .) is in the feminine in Hebrew, showing that the city (cf. Jeremiah 6:23 -’O Daughter of Zion’) is meant. 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. Her mourning is because the Lord has cast her off. Because of her sin, the chief mark of her beauty must be cast away as polluted and no longer consecrated to the Lord." [Note: Feinberg, p. 433.]
They were to go up to a bare hilltop and lament their fate, because the Lord had rejected and forsaken the generation of the Judahites on whom He would pour out His wrath (cf. Jeremiah 7:20).
Sin in the Valley of Hinnom 7:29-34
Jeremiah proceeded to picture the horrible judgment he had predicted in Jeremiah 7:20.
The reason for this strange behavior was that the Judeans had done evil in the Lord’s sight. Specifically, they had brought things into the temple that were detestable to the Lord and that defiled it. These were idols and other objects associated with idolatry (cf. 2 Kings 21:5; 2 Kings 23:4-7; Ezekiel 8).
The people had also built a shrine at a site called "Topheth," in the Valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem. The name "Topheth" may come from the Aramaic tephath, meaning "fireplace," "oven," or "hearth." The Hebrews made a play on its name by adding the vowels of bosheth, "shame," a name for Baal, to this word. Hinnom may have been a former owner of the valley. The idol worshipped there was Molech, a fire god. [Note: See also Dyer, in The Old . . ., p. 598.] The Israelites had offered their children as human sacrifices at this shrine during the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Kings 16:3; 2 Kings 21:6), something that Yahweh neither commanded nor even entertained in His thinking (cf. Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5; 2 Kings 23:10; Micah 6:7). King Josiah had attempted to wipe out this horrible practice (2 Kings 23:10), but the people revived it after he died in 609 B.C. (Ezekiel 20:25-26). [Note: Yahweh’s test of Abraham’s faith involved obeying a command that apparently involved child sacrifice, but it did not (Genesis 22). For more information about child-sacrifice, see A. R. W. Green, The Role of Human Sacrifice in the Ancient Near East, pp. 173-87.] What the Judahites were doing in the Valley of Hinnom was not fundamentally different from some of the forms of abortion that characterize modern life.
Because of this gross sin, the Lord promised that in the future the site would have a new name: the Valley of Slaughter. Jesus used this valley as a figure for hell, "Gehenna" being a transliterated form of the Greek name of this site (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:29-30; Matthew 10:28; Matthew 18:9; Matthew 23:15; Matthew 23:33; et al.). This name, the Valley of Slaughter, would be appropriate because so many of the idolatrous Israelites would die there in the coming siege. The enemy would fill this valley with Israelite bodies because it would be an easy way to dispose of their corpses. In ancient Near Eastern culture, to die and remain unburied was an insult as well as a tragedy (Jeremiah 14:16; Deuteronomy 28:26; Psalms 79:3; Isaiah 18:6). The Law prescribed that even criminals should be buried (Deuteronomy 21:23).
"All too appropriately, the place where parents tried to buy their own safety at their children’s terrible expense, would become an open grave for their own remains (32-33)." [Note: Kidner, p. 51.]
This future mass grave would become a feeding ground for birds and beasts. No one would frighten the animals away because the Israelites who remained alive would be taken away as captives (cf. Deuteronomy 28:26). Being left unburied was a terrible curse. [Note: See R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions, 1:56-59.]
At that future time, the Lord would remove all the joy and gladness from Jerusalem and the other cities of Judah. The land would become a ruin due to the invader from the north.
"The joy of a wedding carries the happy anticipation of the birth of children, but a nation that sacrificed its children forfeited all right for such cheerful occasions." [Note: Craigie, p. 126.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 7". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20