4 FORMS OF IMPROPER WORSHIP EXPOSED AND CONDEMNED –
RELIGIOUS PRACTICES WITHOUT INWARD RIGHTEOUSNESS (REFLECTED IN OUTWARD ACTIONS) CANNOT SAVE
There have been some great Reformation preachers down thru the ages – men of God who had their pulse on the signs of the times and understood the precarious state of false security stemming from empty worship. Jeremiah was the John the Baptist of his day – preaching repentance from sin and a heartfelt return to covenant loyalty.
Jeremiah 7 begins the third message from the weeping prophet, which continues through chapter 10 with a similar theme = a call to repentance. This is the first of 2 Temple Sermons for the prophet.
Mackay: The religious establishment of the day pointed to the Temple, its worship and sacrifices, and the divine commitment to Jerusalem as guaranteeing the security of the city [in the midst of political turmoil] and the perpetuation of the Davidic dynasty. They argued that the Lord’s favour had been bestowed absolutely and unconditionally, and they did not consider that there was any connection between it and the morality of the conduct of the people. Jeremiah was called upon to oppose this delusion that covenant blessing could be divorced from covenant obedience. True security can only be found in a right, living relationship with God.
4 FORMS OF IMPROPER WORSHIP EXPOSED AND CONDEMNED –
RELIGIOUS PRACTICES WITHOUT INWARD RIGHTEOUSNESS (REFLECTED IN OUTWARD ACTIONS) CANNOT SAVE
(:1-2) PROLOGUE – INDICTMENT AGAINST IMPROPER WORSHIP
“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, ‘Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the LORD!’”
This chapter is all about worship; even the setting is at the gates of the temple in Jerusalem where God’s Word comes to Jeremiah to proclaim it
Matthew Henry: It would affront the priests, and expose the prophet to their rage, to have such a message as this delivered within their precincts; but the prophet must not fear the face of man.
William Higgins: God tells him to stand in a place where everyone can hear him, as the crowds gather to worship in the temple. The phrase, “all you men of Judah,” may indicate that this took place during an annual festival, when all Judah was expected to come. It would have been a huge crowd.
I. (:3-15) RELIGIOUS FORMALISM – Superficial trust in religious places and practices
A. (:3-7) Reformation Required –
Righteous Behavior, Not Empty Formalism, Provides True Security
1. (:3) Repentance Required = Off Track
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place.”
2. (:4) What it Means to Trust in Deceptive Words = Self-Deception
“Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’”
Cf. “I go to church … I go to church”
James Barker: They were trusting in the temple, but they were not trusting in God [hypocrisy and religious formalism]. Today people often talk about their church, but they know nothing about God, and nothing about the Bible.
Calvin: We hence see that external rites are here repudiated, when men seek in a false way to gain favor before God, and seek to redeem their sins by false compensations, while yet their hearts continue perverse. This truth might be enlarged upon, but as it often occurs in the prophets, I only notice it shortly. It is enough to regard the main point, — that while the Jews were satisfied with the Temple, the ceremonies and the sacrifices, they were self — deceivers, for their boasting was fallacious: “the words of falsehood” are to be taken as meaning that false and vain glorying in which the Jews indulged, while they sought to ward off God’s vengeance by external rites, and at the same time made no effort to return into favor by ameliorating their life.
Constable: 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.
3. (:5-6) What it Means to Practice Social Justice = Despicable Deeds
“For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds,
if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor,
if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, or the widow,
and do not shed innocent blood in this place,
nor walk after other gods to your own ruin,”
Mackay: Do justice – This refers to the whole process of legal and civil administration in the land. Indeed it goes beyond that to cover all transactions and relationships “between a man and his neighbor.” They have all to be conducted in terms of the norms set out in the covenant.
4. (:7) Inheritance Inhabited
“then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.”
B. (:8-12) Ruin Lies Ahead for Wicked Hypocrisy
1. (:8-10) Wicked Hypocrisy
“Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal, and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’– that you may do all these abominations?”
Calvin: He again teaches . . . that the glorying of the Jews was foolish, while they boasted of the Temple and of their sacrifices to God. He calls their boastings the words of falsehood . . . because they wholly turned to a contrary end what God had instituted. It was his will that sacrifices should be offered to him in the Temple — to what purpose? To preserve unity of faith among the whole people. And sacrifices, what was their design? To shew the people that they deserved eternal death, and also that they were to flee to God for mercy, there being no other expiation but the blood of Christ.
But there was no repentance, they were not sorry for their sins; nay, as we shall presently see, they took liberty to indulge more in them on account of their ceremonies, which yet ought to have been the means of leading them to repentance. They were then the words of falsehood when they separated the signs from their ends. The reality and the sign ought indeed to be distinguished the one from the other; but it is an intolerable divorce, when men lay hold on naked signs and overlook the reality. There was in the sacrifices the reality which I have now mentioned: they were reminded by the spectacle that they were worthy of eternal death; and then, they were to exercise penitence, and thus to flee to God’s mercy. As there was no account made of Christ, no care for repentance, no sorrow for sins, no fear of God, no humility, it was an impious separation of what ought to have been united.
Mackay: “One gets the distinct impression that the message these men were conveying was simply this: Yahweh is our God and come what may he will never allow us, who come here and worship in his temple, to be completely overcome” (Overholt 1970:17-18). Such confidence allied to rank rebellion is detestable in the sight of God.
2. (:11) Shocking Sacrilege
“’Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,’ declares the LORD.”
Quoted by Jesus when He chased the moneychangers out of the temple
(cf. Matthew 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).
William Higgins: A den of robbers is a place where criminals hide out to avoid being caught, and then go forth to do more crimes. And this is what the temple has become. They sin in all kinds of ways and then come to the temple and say, ‘we’re safe!’ And then they go out and continue to sin.
Thompson: Yahweh’s people too are law-breakers, i.e., covenant-breakers. Their misdeeds merit divine judgment. 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. There was no security there from the searching eyes of Yahweh.
3. (:12) Certain Ruin
“But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel.”
Adam Clarke: See what I did to my tabernacle and ark formerly: after a long residence at Shiloh, for the iniquity of the priests and the people, I suffered it to fall into the hands of the Philistines, and to be carried captive into their land, and to be set up in the house of their idols. And because of your iniquities, I will deal with you and this temple in the same way; for as I spared not Shiloh, though my ark was there, but made it a victim of my wrath, so will I do to Jerusalem and her temple.
Ryken: The archaeological evidence shows that Shiloh was destroyed twice over – once by the Philistines and once when the Assyrians carried the northern tribes into captivity. When Jeremiah told the people to go to Shiloh he was telling them to go to the place where God is not.
C. (:13-15) Rejection for Persistent Rebellion
1. (:13) Ignoring Correction
“’And now, because you have done all these things,’ declares the LORD, ‘and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you but you did not answer,’”
2. (:14) Inviting Disaster
“therefore, I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, as I did to Shiloh.”
3. (:15) Inheriting Rejection
“And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brothers, all the offspring of Ephraim.”
MacArthur: Ephraim represents the northern kingdom of Israel, since it was the leading tribe (cf. 2 Ki 17:23). As God exiled them to Assyria (ca. 722 B.C.), though they were more in number and power, so He will do to the southern kingdom.
II. (:16-20) SHAMEFUL IDOLATRY
A. (:16) Ongoing Intercession Forbidden
“As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with Me; for I do not hear you.”
B. (:17-19) Offerings to Other Gods Prove Shameful
“Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out libations to other gods in order to spite Me. ‘Do they spite Me?’ declares the LORD. ‘Is it not themselves they spite, to their own shame?’”
MacArthur: queen of heaven – (cf. 44:17-19; 25). The Jews were worshiping Ishtar, an Assyrian and Babylonian goddess also called Ashtoreth and Astarte, the wife of Baal or Molech. Because these deities symbolized generative power, their worship involved prostitution.
C. (:20) Outpouring of Consuming Wrath Unleashed
“Therefore thus says the Lord God, ‘Behold, My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place, on man and on beast and on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground; and it will burn and not be quenched.’”
III. (:21-28) MAN-MADE WORSHIP
A. (:21-22) You Are Approaching God the Wrong Way
“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices and eat flesh. For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.’”
Matthew Henry: God, having shown the people that the temple would not protect them while they polluted it with their wickedness, here shows them that their sacrifices would not atone for them, nor be accepted, while they went on in disobedience.
B. (:23-24) You Are Not Approaching God the Right Way
1. (:23) Divine Command
“But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’”
2. (:24) Human Counsel
“Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward.”
C. (:25-26) You Have Failed to Respond to Correction
1. (:25) Repeated Warnings
“Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them.”
2. (:26) Stubborn Rebellion
“Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck; they did evil more than their fathers.”
D. (:27-28) You Will Be Cut Off From Truth
1. (:27) Deaf and Dumb Towards God’s Word of Truth
“And you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you; and you shall call to them, but they will not answer you.”
2. (:28) Cut Off From God’s Truth
“And you shall say to them, ‘This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God or accept correction; truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth.’”
IV. (:29-34) DETESTABLE CHILD SACRIFICE
A. (:29-31) Shameful Sacrifices
1. (:29) Unrelenting Judgment = Time for Lamenting
“Cut off your hair and cast it away, And take up a lamentation on the bare heights; For the LORD has rejected and forsaken The generation of His wrath.”
Thompson: In Jeremiah’s view, Israel, now represented only by Judah and Jerusalem, had abandoned her consecration to Yahweh and was not worthy to wear the crown of her long hair. That the lamentation was to be made on the bare heights where so many of Israel’s evils had been committed (2:20; 3:2, 21; etc.) was appropriate.
2. (:30-31) Unimaginable Abominations = Detestable Worship Practices
“’For the sons of Judah have done that which is evil in My sight,’ declares the LORD, ‘they have set their detestable things in the house which is called by My name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind.’”
Constable: 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. 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.
B. (:32-34) Slaughter House
1. (:32) The Valley of the Slaughter
“’Therefore, behold, days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when it will no more be called Topheth, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of the Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth because there is no other place.’”
2. (:33) Human Road Kill
“And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the sky, and for the beasts of the earth; and no one will frighten them away.”
Constable: 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).
Feinberg: So complete will the desolation of the land be that no one will be there to drive the birds of prey from the carcasses (v. 33). The ancients dreaded being left unburied after death (Deut 28:26; Isa 18:6). The highest indignity for the dead was to leave the body unburied.
3. (:34) No More Joy and Gladness
“Then I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become a ruin.”
(:1-3) EPILOGUE: DESTINY OF HUMILIATING DEATH
A. (:1) Dead Bones Exposed
“’At that time,’ declares the LORD,
‘they will bring out the bones of the kings of Judah,
and the bones of its princes,
and the bones of the priests,
and the bones of the prophets,
and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem from their graves.’”
Mackay: The Assyrians certainly, and the Babylonians probably, behaved in the way described here against vassals whom they considered had broken their covenant engagements with them. The exposure of the bones of the dead was considered to be extreme humiliation (2 Sam. 21:12-14; Ps. 53:5; Isa. 14:18-19; Ezek. 6:5; for violating the dead, cf. Amos 2:1). It was the ultimate insult, an act of supreme contempt against a people who were so weak that they could not even protect the remains of their ancestors.
B. (:2) Dead Bones as Excrement
“And they will spread them out to the sun, the moon, and to all the host of heaven, which they have loved, and which they have served, and which they have gone after, and which they have sought, and which they have worshiped. They will not be gathered or buried; they will be as dung on the face of the ground.”
Mackay: Evidence of astral worship is found throughout this period (2 Kgs. 21:3, 5; 23:4; Zeph. 1:5; Ezek. 8:16). But these gods are impotent and unable to provide assistance when the bones of their former devotees are spread out before them in a macabre reconstruction of the worship they once engaged in.
C. (:3) Death Chosen Instead of Life
“’And death will be chosen rather than life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family, that remains in all the places to which I have driven them,’ declares the LORD of hosts.”
Feinberg: In spite of the violation heaped on their dead compatriots, the survivors will prefer death to life (v.3) because of the many trials they are yet to suffer at the hands of their captors.