This chapter is dated “early in the reign of Jehoiakim” (1) which makes it one of five chapters specifically tied to events from this time period (four chapters are from the “fourth year of Jehoiakim”—25:1; 36:1; 45:1; 46:2). Chapter 26 likely occurs before the fourth year as by the fourth year (perhaps as a direct result of what is recorded here), Jeremiah is banned from open proclamation in the Temple courts (36:5).
Jeremiah is commanded to fearlessly and completely (“do not omit a word”) proclaim a message of impending judgment on Jerusalem. The Lord’s purpose in having Jeremiah repeat this message is redemptive: “Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way. Then I will relent . . .” (3). However, if they continue in their indifference and disobedience, the Lord promises to “make this house like Shiloh and this city an object of cursing among all the nations of the earth” (6; 7:12).
Shiloh, a city in Ephraim, ten miles north of Bethel, had been the place Joshua set up the Tabernacle during the conquest, 500 years before Jeremiah’s ministry (see Joshua 18). During the time of Eli, the ark was taken from Shiloh (and captured by the Philistines) making the Tabernacle diminished in importance. During Saul’s reign (1 Samuel 21), David visits the priests at Nob who give him consecrated bread from a sacred tent (not specifically called the Tabernacle). Shiloh was no longer the place of meeting. In fact, Shiloh became a wilderness and remains that way until today. The message Jeremiah proclaimed about Shiloh was a reminder that God had allowed a holy place to be completely decimated before; He would do it again unless they repent.
A glorious past does not insure a glorious future. The churches receiving letters from the Risen Christ in Revelation 2-3 are warned about having their “lampstand” removed if they do not repent (Revelation 2:5). Today, those cities in Turkey are also spiritual ruins, devoid of a vibrant church. This sober warning is one churches (and schools!) need to hear today. Past fruitfulness must be matched by present faithfulness to insure future usefulness.
Jeremiah’s dire pronouncement about the Temple, Jerusalem and Judea caused quite a stir. The prophets and priests who heard him were incensed, as were “all the people” (8). He is surrounded (like Paul would later be—Acts 21:32) and almost lynched. He is brought to trial before the officials at the New Gate. The priests and prophets call for the death penalty for having “prophesied against this city” (11).
Jeremiah’s defense is that “the Lord sent me” with the goal of warning the people of impending judgment so they might repent and obey the Lord. Jeremiah’s good news was that if people repent, God would “relent and not bring the disaster He has pronounced against you” (13). Jeremiah submits to their judgment on him, but warns that killing him would bring “the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it” (15).
Jeremiah voices the biblical idea of collective guilt: the actions of a few can implicate the many. This truth was the basis for the punishment given to Achan’s entire family for his sinful actions (Joshua 7:24-26). It is applied in a universal way in Adam’s sinful choice as well as the righteous life and suffering of the Second Adam (Romans 5:12-21). Our lives have wider ripples than we often realize.
Jeremiah again shows great courage and faithfulness to his calling. When called to bring God’s message to the people at the Temple, Jeremiah obeys. He has been ignored and insulted repeatedly by a people who “have not listened” (5), but still he goes. As seen from the response of the priests, prophets and people, Jeremiah was putting himself in mortal danger. But, like Paul, he is “ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem” (Acts 21:11).
I’m intrigued by the Lord’s statement in verses 3-5: “Perhaps they will listen and each will turn from his evil way . . . . though you have not listened.” God sees the heart and knows the judgment is coming (1:13-16). Yet He speaks in a way that confers causality upon people; their choice will determine His course (if they repent, He will relent). Somehow God’s sovereign plans work out in conjunction with human choice (compatibilism: see http://da.rryl.me/2009/don-carson-on-compatibilism/). God’s desire that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9) move him to give second, third, even thirtieth chances to stubborn sinners. But there is a limit and a line that, once crossed, brings judgment.
The priests, prophets and people of Judah respond to Jeremiah’s pronouncement not with personal reflection and genuine repentance but with indignation and attack. They accuse Jeremiah of sedition and anti-patriotic speech; they seek the death penalty. The officials from the palace convene to hear the case and decide for Jeremiah. They see precedent for dire warnings in the prophecies of Micah (see Micah 3:12). They reference Hezekiah’s positive response of Micah as an example of what should be done. Ahikam (father of Gedeliah—who was later appointed ruler by the Babylonians) “supported Jeremiah and so he was not handed over to the people to be put to death” (24).
Inserted into the deliberations about Jeremiah’s fate is the sad tale of the prophet Uriah son of Shemaiah (20-23). He gave a similar message as Jeremiah but was hunted down and killed by Jehoiakim (with the help of Elnathan). This story is included here to show that Jeremiah was in a dangerous place. It also shows God’s faithfulness to His promise to protect Jeremiah (1:19).