Jeremiah is speaking at the temple about false religion. This, just like the idols is worthless and does not give life like worshiping the Lord does. The pagans believed that a symbol was identical with what it represented, so in organized pagan worship in Jeremiah’s day, the Temple was literally considered to be God’s heavenly house. It would be ridiculous to think anyone could destroy it, but whatever security the Israelites received from the temple came from the Lord Himself, and then only on His terms. Idol worship had harmed the people: spiritually because idols were delusions, socially because their behavior destroyed fellowship, and politically because they didn’t think foreign armies could conquer them. But in reality, unless the people changed, they had no future in the promised land. The people’s behavior was offensive to the Lord. They had violated all of the Ten Commandments, yet they persisted in coming to the temple to burn incense…to Baal. Then they chanted that they were safe because they were in the Lord’s temple. The thing is Israel’s relationship with God didn’t depend on any magical, ritual connection with Him. It depended on their keeping the terms of His covenant. But what they were doing violated the terms of that relationship and denied the Lord’s holy character. Judah became like robbers hiding in a cave for safety, trying to hide in the temple for protection from the divine hand of judgement. How ironic that the people were hiding from the Lord, in the house of the Lord!
In the days of the judges, Shiloh was the site of worship and the place where the ark of the covenant was kept. God had allowed the Philistines to capture the ark of the covenant and destroy the tabernacle there because the people had tried to use the ark like a lucky charm or rabbit’s foot, taking it into battle to protect them and give them the victory. God doesn’t work like that either. In the same way, God would allow Babylon to destroy the temple. Shiloh was located halfway between Shechem and Jerusalem and the tabernacle was set up there after Joshua had conquered Canaan. It remained the center of worship until the Philistines destroyed it in 1045 B.C. The people of the northern kingdom had previously done what Judah was now doing. God had sent many prophets to His people in an effort to get them to repent and return to Him…all to no avail. The people would not listen and refused to answer. In 722 B.C. when the Assyrians destroyed the northern kingdom, the Lord had protected the temple and Jerusalem but now the temple would be destroyed. God was so frustrated with the people’s behavior He instructed Jeremiah not to come to Him with prayers for the people. God would not listen. Jeremiah tells us that pagan worship had become a family affair with each member providing some part of the worship, from gathering the wood for the idols to burning the sacrificial fires, to baking caked for the Queen of Heaven. The object of their worship was Ashtoreth, the Queen of Heaven. She was the mother goddess of the Canaanites with her family of deities. We are reminded that God’s law was made for human benefit and those who refused to follow His instructions would only hurt themselves. Their offerings and sacrifices meant nothing to the Lord because the people didn’t mean them. Using them to try to manipulate God wouldn’t work either. In fact, it only infuriated Him. It seems that throughout their history, the Israelites rejected the prophets the Lord sent. Even though the people refused to listen to Jeremiah, the Lord instructed Jeremiah to keep prophesying. And the appropriate action for Jeremiah was to shave his head, mourn, and weep alone in the mountains.
The valley of Ben-Hinnom forms a deep ravine immediately south of Old Testament Jerusalem. The place became notorious because of the idolatry and child sacrifice that were carried out there in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh. King Josiah brought this detestable practice to an end. Jeremiah referred to the valley in picturing God’s judgement upon His people. Subsequently, the valley was used to burn the city’s garbage and the dead bodies of criminals. All of this gave rise to use its name as the final punishment for the wicked and many called it Gehenna. The valley was also known as Topheth. Jesus compared hell to the fire that burned continuously in the Ben-Hinnom valley. Jeremiah warned that before long it would be called the valley of slaughter because the siege and destruction of Jerusalem would fill the valley to overflowing with the bodies of the slain.
Scattering the bones of the dead was the ultimate act of contempt for a defeated nation. Jerusalem’s favorite deities: the sun, moon, and stars, would not be able to prevent this from happening. Verses 4-17 of chapter eight form three short poems, probably delivered during the reign of Jehoiakim. The first three verses itemize the evidence of Judah’s sins. The people had fallen into idolatrous ritual sex, and they followed the ways of idol worship. They kept these delusions because they were trapped by lies. The Lord listens in on their conversations, discovering they have no remorse for their idolatrous behavior, and there is no truth being told. This is a recurring theme in the Book of Jeremiah. The creator gave certain birds the ability to navigate the sky from summer nesting places to winter feeding grounds and they always follow those Instincts precisely. By contrast, the Israelites ignored God’s revelations and the covenant laws He had established. The people protested God’s judgement because they possessed the Word of the Lord, but God condemned them because they didn’t put His Word into practice. The teachers mentioned were highly valued in both the government and the temple. They were learned and could explain God’s covenant. But now they were promoting the pagan viewpoint of King Jehoiakim. The Lord called these new doctrines, lies. Calling these men wise teachers was pure sarcasm. The Lord called their teachings foolishness and their motivation greed. Sin ruled the lives of the prophets and priests, making all of them frauds.
First God presented the evidence against the people and then He decreed the punishment. They would be consumed along with the land’s produce. The people had heard Jeremiah publicly deliver the Lord’s decree and now they realized they deserved His punishment. They had sinned against the Lord and though their doom was sealed, they did not seek forgiveness for their sins. Instead of confessing their sins the people surrendered to despair. Jeremiah emphasized with the suffering of the people, and the Lord hurt with the hurts of His people as well. The balm of Gilead was a sticky sap that oozed from cuts made in the trunks or branches of small evergreen trees in the highlands east of the Jordan River. Merchants who sold the stuff claimed it had healing powers. Jeremiah saw the need for healing, but it was their deep spiritual sickness that needed healing, not something sap could cure. The spiritual, “There is a balm in Gilead”, points to Jesus as the ultimate balm for our souls. Jeremiah knew despair too, so much so he wanted to run away, build a shack in the middle of nowhere and block everything out of his mind. He did not want to be in Jerusalem when the Lord doled out His punishment. These were Jeremiah’s people. Chapter 9:3-16 finds us in the heavenly courtroom. God recited the charges against His guilty people, with idolatry at the root of the problems. God would place the people in a crucible of affliction, and He asked Jeremiah and anyone else to suggest a possible alternative to His actions. There were no alternatives. The speaker in verse 10 is unclear. If it is the Lord this indicates He pronounced judgement from a broken heart. In this, Jeremiah this shows the depth of pain in his heart as he delivered the Lord’s decree. Jeremiah had to figure out how to separate his duty to the Lord and his feelings for his people. Three questions are asked in verse 12. The first two express frustration that the Lord’s words seemed too harsh and too extreme. The third question reveals anger that the land had been desolated. The Lord answered, telling them it was their fault because they had been disobedient. And then He issued another decree, this one telling the people God would provide bitterness and poison in the form of exile and widespread death in unknown countries. Verses 17-26 form four short poems, probably delivered by Jeremiah to the people. Three describe the effects of the Lord’s judgement on the people and the fourth is an exhortation.
Things would be so bad the people were called to organize the professional mourners. They could begin work immediately. They were to join the people of Jerusalem who had no homes and were forced to flee as refugees. There were so many deaths that there weren’t enough professional mourners and women were urged to quickly teach their daughters. Verse 23 cuts right to the chase. The intellectuals could boast about their knowledge, the king could flaunt his power, wealthy merchants could display their riches in splendid clothing, but all of this would be destroyed at the time of God’s judgement. Everyone would be judged, regardless of their place in society…young and old, rich and poor. The only good boasting Jeremiah revealed is boasting in the Lord. These are people who know and truly understand that the Lord is the one true God. Paul said the same thing (1 Corinthians 1:31). The Lord demonstrates unfailing love, meaning passionate loyalty, even though it is not deserved. He is righteous, meaning He deals with people on an ethical and moral level. He does not find joy in bringing sinners to judgement and punishing them. God would much rather redeem them. Arrogant sin ruled the nation and there would come a time when the Lord would issue a sentence of doom. Being circumcised in the body was a sign of the covenant but the people also needed to be circumcised in spirit, separating themselves from idolatry. Not only did God’s people need surgery in their hearts but so did all of their neighbors.
Chapter 10 is a three-part poetic passage. Idol worship is severely criticized, but it also affirms the unity and majesty of the one true God. Jeremiah urges the people to really hear the message and the Lord commanded Judah to act differently than all the other nations. Stars cannot predict the future, only the Lord can do that. Wooden idols were carved from trees and even if they were adorned with all manner of things, they were still just wood that needed to be nailed to a foundation to keep it upright. Idols are no different than scarecrows guarding a garden. God is referred to as the King of nations and as such He is not limited to being the Lord of one small nation. He deserves profound reverence and submission to His discipline. Jeremiah pointed out that no one could ever claim the titles given to the Lord. The people making the idols put their best efforts and materials into making an otherwise worthless piece of wood attractive. These idols were not present at the creation of the heavens and earth nor are they everlasting. Verses 12-16 give us several strong affirmations of God’s nature, and these struck at the essence of Baal, the Canaanite god of storm and fertility. The people believed Baal was actually the thunder and the rain, but the Lord said they were His creations. In verse 16 Jeremiah mentions the God of Israel, translated literally, Jacob’s portion. God was all His people ever needed and as the creator, He chose the people of Israel, rescued them from slavery in Egypt, and brought them into the promised land. He redeemed them from slavery to make them His chosen people.
Judgement was announced followed by a lament of what that would mean. There is a short decree about the coming exile that terrifies people but does not cause them to change their behavior. We see that Jeremiah suffered personal loss along with his people. He spoke for the nation as well as for himself. His beloved home community of Anathoth was destroyed with even the children taken into exile. The same was true for all of the nation. The shepherds or leaders had turned their backs on wisdom from the Lord and the divine decree predicated utter failure for these leaders. The people would be scattered, the invading armies would reduce every town to rubble and wild dogs would make their homes in the ruins. Jeremiah asked that God extend His wrath on the neighboring nations who had gone so far in their brutality that the entire countryside was a desolate wilderness. This last verse is actually a prayer to God to bring judgement upon those who destroyed Judah. Even though the Gentile nations were not heirs to God’s covenant, they would be judged according to God’s ethical standards.
In His Grip,
Pastor Matt W.