The heading for this chapter in the NIV Bible read, “False Religion Worthless.” That’s an apt description for the focus of this section of the book. The Lord instructs Jeremiah to deliver a sermon at the “gate of the Lord’s house” (7:1). Standing at the entrance of the Temple in Jerusalem, Jeremiah issues a scathing and severe indictment of the “false religion” of the people and the false hope it brings them.
The people have not stopped being religious. They still come to the Temple to offer “burnt offerings” and “other sacrifices” to the Lord (21, 22). But, at the same time, they also are sacrificing to a host of other gods. They offered “incense to Baal and follow other gods” right before coming to the Temple (9). In “the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem” (17), entire families work together to make cakes of bread for the “Queen of Heaven” and to “pour out drink offering to other gods” (18). Stunningly, they “set up their detestable idols in the house that bears my Name and have defiled it” (30). They have even resorted to child sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom (31). God reminds the people, through Jeremiah, “I have been watching” (11). He sees the duplicity and hypocrisy and syncretism.
Coupled with their idolatry is their disobedience to the commands and laws He gave them. They deny justice to the “alien, the fatherless and widow” and shed innocent blood (6). They “steal, and murder, commit adultery and perjury” (9). Instead of obeying the Lord, they have “followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts,” going “backwards and not forward” (24). They are breaking the vertical and horizontal commands of the Covenant.
Despite their infidelity and disobedience, the people of Judah and Jerusalem have a false sense of security. They believe that God will protect them because of His Temple. “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (4). They continue to come into the “house that bears my [God’s] Name and say, ‘We are safe’” (10). The people have essentially turned the Temple of the Lord into a “den of robbers” (11). The imagery seems to be of a “safe house”, a hideaway where thieves can find safety and security. But this is an illusion and a “deception” (4). Therefore God sends Jeremiah to “stand at the gate of the Lord’s house” and deliver this message of catastrophic judgment (1).
As proof of the fact that the Temple is not a safe place, God has Jeremiah remind the people of Shiloh (12). Shiloh was once the site of the Tabernacle, when Joshua set up camp to distribute the parcels of land to the tribes of Israel (Joshua 18:1). It served as the seat of government during the period of the judges, until the ark was carried into battle and capture by the Philistines. God reminds that that although this place was once “a dwelling for my Name” (12), He did not automatically protect it. For centuries, Shiloh had been in ruins.
God corrects the false notion that He has an overly sentimental attachment to places or even buildings that bear His name. Even the people who bear His name (Israel) are about to be severely judged for continuing to do “detestable things” (10).
Those of us in the “Christian West” should take notice and tremble. While we have historically enjoyed God’s favour and been widely seen as “Christian nation,” this is no protection against God’s outpoured wrath on idolatry, injustice and immorality. The past does not protect the present. God is willing to pour out his wrath on the place that once bore His name and received His blessing (20).
Jesus later used the language of Jeremiah 7:11 when referring to the people of His day. In Matthew 21:12-13 we read how Jesus drives out the people making the Temple courts a commercial marketplace. He quotes from Isaiah 56:7, saying God’s intention was that His house be a “house of prayer”; He indicts the people for turning it into a “den of robbers.” Here the analogy may include the idea of a place where loot is stored by people who are thieves.
Even as the judgment of God draws near, the Lord gives His people another chance to avert the destruction they are bringing on themselves (“Are they not rather harming themselves, to their own shame? – 19). As He has done in the past, God speaks to His people through a prophet (“I spoke to you again and again” – 13; “From the time your forefathers left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again, I sent you my servants the prophets” – 25). Jeremiah is dispatched with words of warning and a call to repent: “If you really change your ways and your actions . . . then I will let you live in this place” (5, 7).
God is looking for true change. Jeremiah uses the word “good” in both verses 3 and 4. Reform your ways = “make good your ways.” “If you really change your ways” = “Making good to make good your ways.” The emphasis is on the genuineness of the change or reformation. There needs to be goodness where there has been hypocrisy and evil. No more posing or pretending to “come through these gates to worship” (2). God is looking for change that is truly for the good.
Repentance and reformation alter the interior landscape of our lives. God’s goodness and beauty must characterize our character and control our conduct (our ways = our way of living). As King David had written centuries earlier, God desires truth (faithfulness, firmness, relaiability) in the inward parts (Psalm 51:6). And this is why the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31) is so essential. God gives people a new heart and puts a new spirit inside. Goodness goes down deep and changes our character and, ultimately, our conduct.