Rebecca Van Noord
They file in and repeat in rote, comforting words, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord” (7:4). The temple symbolizes God’s presence and protection in a tumultuous world. It makes Judah, subject to Babylonian homage, feel secure. However, while the people desire God’s protection, they don’t want it at the price of giving Him their devotion.
Standing at the gate of the temple, the prophet Jeremiah undermines Judah’s sense of security: “Look, you are relying for yourselves on deceitful words without benefiting” he says, calling out their sins against the law that was supposed to be written on their hearts (Jer 7:8; 31:31). Yet they rationalize stealing, murder, adultery and swearing falsely. In Jerusalem and beyond, justice is abandoned. Sojourners, widows and orphans are oppressed. The people whore after the gods of foreign nations (Jer 7:5). Yahweh says, “Will … you then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?” (Jer 7:9–10)
From their origin as a nation, Israel had enjoyed God’s favor. God promised Abraham his descendants would be blessed among the nations, and the nations through them (Gen 12:2–3). Israel, a nation of Abraham’s descendants, was His special heritage. God promised He would overwhelm His people with blessings (Deut 32:9; 28:1–14) and make them “the head and not the tail” among the nations (Deut 28:13). The opposite was also true. If Israel forgot Him, He would punish their disobedience—sometimes at the hands of those surrounding nations (Deut 28:25; see Isa 10:5–6). Yet Yahweh didn’t want mere submission, and He didn’t want empty religious motions. Obedience meant serving Yahweh “with joyfulness and gladness of heart” because of who He was (Deut 28:47).
Yet, in Jeremiah’s day, God’s favor is interpreted as entitlement and obedience is a head nod to the temple. All the while Judah, the remnant of God’s people, treat His goodness and protection as license for all types of evil. Instead of heeding Jeremiah’s words, they “have dug a pit for [his] life” (Jer 18:20). And instead of repenting, the nation flaunts itself through futile alliances with foreign nations (Jer 2:36– 37; 25).
The judgment brought upon God’s people, resulting in their demise and exile, is tragic—especially because they brought it on themselves. Yet even in the book of Jeremiah, we see His mercy. When the people are taken into Babylonian exile and experience the full judgment of their sin, God sends them hope. Stripped of their heritage and any semblance that they are Yahweh’s people, they are still promised better days: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer 29:11). It’s in this day that things will be set right: “You shall be my people, and I will be your God” (30:22).
God goes to extreme measures to ensure this happens—to the point that He will become a suffering servant, like Jeremiah, to redeem a people in spiritual exile (Isa 53). Such mercy is utterly unfounded based on His people’s actions. Such a testament of His love is beyond anything Abraham, Israel, scattered Judah, or you or I could ever expect. How do you respond to such love?
Biblical references are from the English Standard Version (ESV).