DEATH HAS CLIMBED IN Jeremiah 7–10
“I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: Obey Me” (Jer. 7:22–23).In a powerful image, Jeremiah warned his nation that death had “climbed in through our windows.” We need to take Jeremiah’s words seriously today, for some of the same attitudes which characterized ancient Judah are prevalent in “Christian” America.
Jeremiah’s stunning “temple sermon” condemned Judah’s superficial religion (7:1–19) and warned of coming slaughter (v. 20–8:4). Judgment must strike the tainted land; divine punishment was fixed and certain (v. 5–9:26). Yet after scorning Judah’s idolatry (10:1–22), Jeremiah prayed that the suffering which was ahead would correct, not destroy (vv. 23–25).
Understanding the Text
“At the gate of the Lord’s house” Jer. 7:1–2.
Jeremiah 26 gives us another report of this sermon, and sets its date. Jeremiah spoke in the fall or winter of 609B.C Josiah, the godly reformer, had just been killed in battle. Jehoiakim had been set up as king by Egypt. The dream of independence that flourished under Josiah was dead. Yet Judah had one last source of confidence and hope: the temple of the Lord. Surely God would never desert the nation where the temple stood that He had designated “My resting place forever and ever” (Ps. 132:14). Jeremiah’s sermon challenged this deeply held belief so forcefully that many shouted for his death! What does Jeremiah’s sermon say to us today? Simply that just because a nation has a superficial form of religion, its people have no guarantee of peace or prosperity. America can take no comfort in being a “churchgoing” nation. What Judah and our own country must be is a holy nation, not just a religious one. “Do not trust in deceptive words” Jer. 7:3–11. Jeremiah’s sermon condemned a distorted “temple theology.” The people of Judah believed that because the temple of the Lord was enclosed in the walls of their Holy City, they were safe. Surely God would not act against His own house! Jeremiah cut the ground out from under this popular belief. “Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal . . . and then come and stand before Me in this house, which bears My Name, and say, ’We are safe’?” Today too some are confident that God will not permit disaster to strike America. Don’t most of the missionaries in the world come from the U.S., and aren’t they supported by Christians here? Doesn’t every survey show that a large portion of our population believes in God? Modern popular theology often equates our nation or democracy with a temple of the Lord. How could God permit us to fall? Yet when we look at the news we see constant reports of the very sins which destined Judah for destruction. Child abuse is a constant headline. Murder is commonplace. Just last week a young woman who had fought drug abuse on her block in St. Petersburg was shot in her own home. And officials of HUD, an agency supposedly dedicated to helping the poor, were shown to instead have fraudulently funneled millions of dollars to wealthy friends. We need to face the fact today that religiosity without holiness is completely worthless. The only thing such religion guarantees a people is divine judgment! Tragically, the fallacy is also found within the church. The Jim Bakkers of TV and radio somehow assume that because they present the Gospel verbally, they will not be held responsible for moral and financial depravities. They are just as wrong as were the leaders in Jeremiah’s time. We are to present the truth, yes. But truth without holiness is a mockery and an insult to God. And God will not be insulted. “So do not pray for this people” Jer. 7:12–29. There comes a time when it is too late for a people to avoid judgment. God told Jeremiah that that was the case with Judah. We will see this theme—“Don’t pray for this people”—repeated in future chapters. How can we tell when a people have come to this sorry state? God told Jeremiah to look back—and then look around. Looking back Jeremiah was reminded that for generations the people of Judah had followed the “stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts.” They “did not listen or pay attention” to the prophets. Now, as Jeremiah looked around, he realized that when he himself spoke, “They will not listen to you; when you call them, they will not answer.” It is persistent refusal to hear and respond to the Word of God that puts a people beyond the reach of prayer. Yet note that it took centuries, even generations of rejection, before God told Jeremiah to pray for Judah no longer. Neither our country, nor our friends, nor our families, have persisted in unbelief so long. We can, and must, keep on praying that the nation and people we love will respond to the Lord before it is too late. “People will no longer call it Topheth” Jer. 7:30–8:3. The valley referred to here lay outside Jerusalem and was a sacred area where the Jews offered child sacrifice: “Something I did not command nor did it enter My mind” (7:31). God warned through Jeremiah that these “sacred” precincts will be desecrated by the bones of the people who worshiped pagan deities there. In that day at last the valley will be called by its right name: “the valley of slaughter.” One of Satan’s favorite strategies is to give abominations deceptive names. In Jeremiah’s time the place where innocents were slaughtered was called a “topheth”—a “sacred precinct.” Today they are called “family planning clinics,” and defense of the decision to kill the unborn is presented as a woman’s “right to choose.” Homosexuality is called an “alternative lifestyle,” and TV and movies glamorize immorality as “adult.” When God acts in judgment, all our abominable practices will be stripped of their deceptive names, and identified for what they are. Until then, you and I must stand for the truth, and speak the truth, even as Jeremiah did in his day. “Get up” Jer. 8:4–17. Jeremiah introduced a lengthy passage on judgment with a peculiar question. Don’t folks who fall down get up? Don’t folks who turn aside (get lost) try to find their way back? (v. 4) The people of Judah had gone against nature itself, for having fallen into idolatry, they simply lay there. And having turned away from God, rather than looking for a way back they actually refused to return! Jeremiah offered two explanations. The people themselves refused to repent; each “pursues his own course” (vv. 6–7). The scribes who were responsible to interpret the Word of God had “handled it falsely.” The text suggested they twisted the Law to make it mean what they wanted. Many passages in Jeremiah suggest that their main deception was to make it seem that Judah could sin with impunity, rather than to affirm the necessity of holiness. The flaw in these spiritual leaders is their motivation: “All are greedy for gain; prophets and priests alike, all practice deceit” (vv. 8–17). As a result, people and priests will perish. “Since My people are crushed, I am crushed” Jer. 8:18–9:2. Jeremiah’s own deep compassion for the sinning people of Judah reminds us that even the harshest words of judgment are to be uttered in love. But God’s response reminds us that we are to avoid another danger. We are not to be so compassionate that we find ourselves on the side of those who deserve judgment! Jeremiah was torn by these two opposing forces, and wished that he could simply “leave my people and go away from them; for they are all adulterers, a crowd of unfaithful people.” But neither Jeremiah nor you and I can avoid this tension as we try to live godly, caring lives in our society. The most difficult challenge we face may well be to speak the truth in love, without compromising truth for love, or love for truth. “Should I not punish them for this?” Jer. 9:4–16 Jeremiah was reminded that he lived “in the midst of deception.” Even those whom he thought of as friends were secretly enemies. There were people who “speak cordially” to a neighbor, but in their hearts “set a trap for him.” Today’s newspaper tells of a young woman who set up a “charity” to help victims of spina bifida. She collected over $250,000 . . . and kept all but about 6 percent to support her waterfront home and Mercedes! She is typical of those who use deceit to present themselves as “friends,” while in fact attempting simply to use others for their own profit. God reminded Jeremiah, “Should I not punish them for this?” The question is rhetorical. And the answer is, “Yes.” God should, and will punish. He says, “I will lay waste to the towns of Judah, so that no one can live there.” No one can sin and expect to prosper. “Gather up your belongings to leave the land” Jer. 10:17–22. Jeremiah delivered God’s relentless message. He would judge Judah. An enemy would appear from the north (Babylon) that would make Judah desolate and carry her people away captive. One can talk and debate and argue about the meaning of various passages of Scripture. But some are unequivocably clear. This is one of those clear and final statements, which God uttered through Jeremiah to Judah. Enough talk! Pack your clothes! Judgment is coming, and will soon be here. “It is not for man to direct his steps” Jer. 10:23–25. Jeremiah now submitted to the inevitable. God is sovereign. A man’s life is not his own: he must live in the time and place and circumstances that God has decreed. Yet while Jeremiah recognized the inevitability of the coming judgment, he had one request. He asked God to use Judah’s defeat for her correction, rather than total destruction (v. 24). Let destruction be the fate of those nations that refuse to acknowledge Him and have devastated the Holy Land (v. 25).
Death Climbs through Our Windows(Jer. 9:17–10:16)
Bringing up children is really tough today. I’m finding it much harder with our 9-year-old girl than with my “first” family of boys, now 31 and 27. Right now Sarah is enamoured with the “New Kids on the Block.” She loves their songs, wants to buy teen magazines that tell about them, and thinks the group’s scrawny 16-year-old is a “hunk.” She’s also very fashion conscious. It’s no use to bring home a schoolbag until she’s seen what her classmates have. And not to have anything the others have is a total social disaster. And it bothers me. Somehow I keep thinking of verses in these chapters of Jeremiah, and wondering how to apply them in our own home. God warned Judah that “the customs of the peoples are worthless” (10:3). Yes, I know the passage is talking about idolatry. But it says to me that the whole system of values adopted in any basically pagan society is worthless. And that God’s people are not to fall prey to such “senseless” notions. On the one hand, I have no doubts about our decision to block out several TV channels with a “parental control” code. But I’m troubled by an uncertainty about just how far to go in restricting our daughter in other ways. What troubles me most is Jeremiah’s observation that “death has climbed in through our windows and has entered our fortresses” (9:21). We can bar the smiling death’s head that knocks at our door. It is the death that climbs in through our windows, when we’re unaware, that spoils us—and our children. I do know this. I can’t rely on my wisdom today. All I can do is struggle to follow God’s advice in Jeremiah 9:24, and strive daily to understand and know “Me, that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight.”
We have a special need these days for divine wisdom to see through our society’s deceit.