Jeremiah 7: Appeal to Judah to Repent
We are again with Jeremiah, the Lord's prophet in Jerusalem, who warned the people from the Lord that because of their evil ways Jerusalem would soon be destroyed and they would be taken captives to Babylon. We find Jeremiah today standing in the gate of the temple, talking to the people as they came to offer sacrifices at the altar and to worship. Sacrifices were not all that the Lord wanted. He wanted them to do right, to speak the truth, and to be just and kind to one another. If they would live so, they should live long and happily in their land; but because they were not being truthful and kind and because they were worshiping Baal and other idols instead of the Lord, they would be taken away and their temple would be destroyed. It could be destroyed, as the Lordís place had been destroyed in Shiloh. Who remembers the tabernacle of the Lord which had been in Shiloh, when Samuel was there as a little boy, helping the old priest Eli, and the Lord called Samuel at night and spoke to him? (1 Sam. 3) The tabernacle in Shiloh had been destroyed because the people did not obey the Lord and were not good. It would be the same with the temple. So Jeremiah is preaching to the people in the temple gate. But they will not listen and do right and live in their good land. Read Jer. 7:1-20.
Jeremiah is standing in the gate of the temple in Jerusalem, as the people of Jerusalem and from the towns of Judah are coming in to worship. (Jer. 7:1-20) Listen to the prophet. Is he rebuking the people for their care for the temple and their worship? No, but he is saying that all this is worthless if they neglect the greater duty of doing right and of treating each other honestly and kindly. Had they forgotten Micah's charge? "What doth the Lord require of thee?" (Micah 6:6-8) Pride in the temple (verse 4) will not excuse them for evil doing. The phrase "den of robbers" (verse 11) reminds us of the Lord's words in Matthew 21:13.
The people were also not faithful to the Lord, but were worshiping Baal (verse 9). Do you remember this idol, and Elijah's brave fight against the worship? Another idol worship is mentioned in verses 17-18, the worship of "the queen of heaven," Ashtoreth, connected with the planet Venus, and often associated with the worship of Baal.
What can you tell about Shiloh, mentioned in verses 12 and 14, and about the Lord's place which was in Shiloh?? Remember the setting up of the tabernacle in Shiloh when the people of Israel came into possession of the land (Josh. 18:1) and the importance of this sanctuary in the time of Samuel. (I Sam. 3) Find Shiloh on the map, in the tribe of Ephraim. It had long since been laid waste. Such would be the fate of the temple if the people of Judah continued in their evil ways. Read a little beyond our assignment the words in verses 21-23, which we can well put with Micah's appeal. Note the striking words in verse 25 about the Lord's sending His servants the prophets, "rising up early and sending them."
Just about twenty-five hundred years have passed since Jeremiah lived. It seems a long time ago, so far away indeed that it appears difficult to find anything today in common with the situation then. Hence the difficulty to many of arousing an interest in the prophets. Yet the interest in this study is immediately awakened when we strike the right chord. The Jewish people were men and women like ourselves. They had feelings and thoughts, hopes and fears, likes and dislikes, and, in general, all the good and bad characteristics of humanity as it now is. We can therefore put ourselves in their position during these last days of the kingdom of Judah. There is the city of Jerusalem with its temple, its walls and its gates. The people come up to the temple to offer sacrifices. There stands Jeremiah at the gate-way. (Jer. 7:2) He appeals to the worshipers. "Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place." It is a last entreaty. If they will not hear, the temple will be destroyed like the tabernacle at Shiloh. When the ark left Shiloh, the glory of Israel departed from its midst. (1 Sam. 4; Ps. 78:60-61) The prophet's words are plain. No one who heard him could fail to understand. They are equally intelligible today to the simplest. Did the Jews hear? They heard, but they did not heed. They prepared to "do everyone after the stubbornness of his evil heart." (Jer. 18:12) Are we unmoved by their perversity? Alive to self-interest, but dead to the love of God! The heart is surely touched as we think of the people practically preparing their own grave. How soon were they to enter it!
Jeremiah appeared in 627 B.C. in the thirteenth year of King Josiah's reign. In 622 B.C., the great revival took place. (2 Kings 22:3) The lamp of faith was trimmed for the last time. Soon it began to flicker again before it went out. Josiah was killed by Pharaoh-nechoh at Megiddo. His son Jehoahaz or Shallum followed him upon the throne, but only reigned three months. Nechoh took him as prisoner to Egypt where he died. (Jer. 22:10-12) Eliakim or Jehoiakim then ascended the throne. He was a great enemy of Jeremiah. (Jer. 36) He reigned in Judah from 609 to 597 B.C. In 607, the Babylonians destroyed Nineveh, which gave them supreme power in the east. (See lesson on Nahum.) Jeremiah does not refer specially to this great event. But he draws attention to the victory of Babylon over Egypt at Carchemish on the Euphrates in 605 B.C. (Jer. 46) This was one of the most important battles of these times. It gave Babylon control over the east and westward as far as the Egyptian frontier. Thus, Jehoiakim became the vassal of Nebuchadnezzar. Jehoiakim rebelled after paying tribute for three years. Nebuchadnezzar then besieged Jerusalem for the first time and reasserted his authority. This was in 397, the year Jehoiakim died. Probably he perished in the siege. Jeremiah describes Jehoiakim's character in chapter 22:13-19. Jehoiachin was his successor. He reigned three months, and then surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar. He was taken a prisoner to Babylon. He never saw his native land again (Jer. 22:24-30), but in his latter days enjoyed certain privileges in Chaldea. (2 Kings 23:27-30) Nebuchadnezzar then placed Zedekiah on the throne of Judah. He plotted with Egypt to help him throw off the yoke of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar then appeared a second time before the walls of Jerusalem. The Egyptian army came to the assistance of Zedekiah (Jer. 37) but helped him in no way. After a prolonged siege, the city was taken in 586. Zedekiah endeavored to escape, was captured, had his eyes put out, and was carried in chains to Babylon. (Ezek. 12:13) The temple, palace, and city were burnt, and a large portion of its inhabitants taken into exile. A few were left to till the ground. They revolted and fled to Egypt, taking Jeremiah with them. (Jer. 40-44) Five years later, a third deportation completely desolated the land. (Jer. 52:30) Picture the people steeped in evil, their anxiety during the siege, and their grief in exile! And behold the prophet standing almost alone, dejected because the people refused to listen to his message! The picture becomes most realistic when we try to put ourselves right into the situation.
Nothing could teach more plainly than the seventh chapter of Jeremiah the worthlessness of mere ceremonies of worship or of mere knowledge of the Lord and heaven if they do not find expression in amending of our ways and in acting with truth and kindness. Contrary thoughts and teachings are called "lying words." The sins which Jeremiah points out are common sins today, and with the Lord's interpretation of the commandments and of love to our neighbor, the call to repentance means even more to us. Real religion is not in acts of worship nor in much religious learning, but in refusing to do evil and in doing good for the Lordís sake and with His help. Worship and learning are helps to good life, not substitutes for it. (Life l)
The priests were called by Jeremiah a den of robbers, and the Lord called by the same name the priests of a later time. (Matt. 21:13) Spiritual robbers are those who claim what belongs to the Lord, who are proud in their religion and claim merit and holiness as belonging to them, which is not theirs but the Lordís. See the explanation of the command "Thou shalt not steal," in T. 319.
Shiloh and its sanctuary had been destroyed because of the wickedness of its people; so would the temple be destroyed. A Psalm after reviewing the unfaithfulness of the ancestors says, "So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men: and delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy's hand." (Ps. 78:60-61) On this we have the comment, "By the habitation of Shiloh is signified the church which is in the good of love, and by the tent the church which is in the truths of doctrine; hence by God's forsaking the habitation of Shiloh, the tent in which He dwelt among men, is meant that the goods of love and the truths of doctrine were destroyed." (E. 811) It is easy to apply this thought to the passage of Jeremiah about the destruction of Shiloh and the coming destruction of the temple. The same evil conditions destroy the church and make impossible the presence of the Lord anywhere and always.
Chapter seven is addressed to those who enter in at the gates of the Lord's house - who signify "those who are in the lowest heaven with whom is the church in respect to good." (P. P.) They are the simple good. They can remain in the church only through applying the truth to their lives. (Verse 3) They must not trust in the false belief that external worship by itself is all that is required of them. (Verse 4) Heaven consists in doing the will of the Lord, in repentance, in doing justice, and shunning every tendency to worship self and the world. (Verses 3-7) When the life is in opposition to the commandments, worship is profaned. (Verses 8-10) A sense of self-merit in acts of worship robs them of the Lord's presence and profanes them. (Verse 11) This destroys the church in a person. Rejection of the Lord's truth brings strife and contention, instead of peace. (Verses 12-13) The word Shiloh means tranquillity, rest. The Lord Himself is called "Shiloh" (Gen. 49:10) and also the Prince of Peace. When the Lord's truth is despised, intercession is useless. (Verse 16) Confusion and disorder prevail within when the worship is profane. Passion is let loose, and consumes all the good and truth in a person. (Verses 17-20) External worship, external goodness alone, the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, is not what the Lord demands of us but rather obedience to His will, the fulfillment of both tables of the Law. (Verses 21-23) The Lord pled with the children of Israel from the day they came out of Egypt to obey His voice. But in vain. (Verses 24-26) So He pleads with everyone to shun evil as sin against Him. The voice of His angels sounds in peopleís hearts daily, prompting them to obey Him. Some obstinately refuse to listen even to the very last. They will not brook correction or accept instruction from anyone, not even the Lord. Therefore, truth perishes. The voice of truth is silenced within and they give themselves over to profane everything that is holy. (Verses 27-31) They are then cast into hell, or rather they cast themselves into it, and the church perishes in them. (Verses 32-34) "From him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." (Matt. 25:29) People remain in evil which becomes chronic and ineradicable if they do not repent. The Lord does not require much. A person comes into the fixed purpose of abstaining from all evil in him or herself "if once or twice in a year he examines himself and repents of the evils which he discovers in himself." (M. 529) Could less be expected of anyone?