A Temple Sermon
Jeremiah stood at the temple gates and preached. It was not a sermon that any worshiper welcomed. He condemned their meaningless sacrifices, despite the fact they continued to bring them. They could have sold all that they had and brought that, but it would have been just as fruitless. They did not have what God wanted: a sincere devotion to him and him alone. Jeremiah’s sermons at the temple would eventually get him ousted. He later was forbidden to enter the temple precincts (Jeremiah 36:5). He was expelled from worship and banned from offering sacrifices. His standing for the truth excluded him from corporate worship.
The temple was more than a symbol of God’s presence. It housed a distinct and special manifestation of God. His active presence made it holy and this made it the most beautiful and terrifying place on earth. Holiness not only exhibited the uniqueness and otherness of God, but for those unprepared for it, it killed (see Exodus 19:20-24; Leviticus 10:1-3; Numbers 4:15, 17-20). God is holy and his people’s lives, not just worship and sacrifices, failed to reflect the presence of the Holy One. Their unclean state invited death, not life, in the presence of God’s Holiness. There was no place for them in the temple anymore until they changed their way of living and became a clean people.
Jeremiah called for worship renewal, a renewal that called for a change in how Judah thought, acted and spoke. He demanded that one’s social, political, economic, and religious worlds be changed because of the God he worshiped. His religious reform centered on changing the nature of the person entering and leaving the temple. That was the heart of reform for the prophet. Judah brought all the right sacrifices. They followed the prescribed methods of the offerings. They had the form down. No one argued about form. Their error was in how worship and sacrifices failed to inspire them to live differently in everyday life.
Worship interacts with and defines life. It demonstrates to the world that we live by a different standard, evidenced by the nature of the God we worship. It teaches us who we are and what we are to be in a lost and sinful world. We are worshipers of and devoted to God. It unites us with the Spirit of God, creating a oneness that testifies to the world the nature of God’s power, love and mercy.
Worship is an act that transcends form. It is an experience that manifests its power in the heart of the weak and broken. This experience with the Divine demands a dedication from the heart and a genuine desire to be forgiven. This dedication allows the worshiper to experience the beauty of God and be changed constantly in the light of his presence. This radical change makes a difference in who we are and how we live. It demands then that we do not cheat on our taxes, we do not deceive our neighbor just to make a sale, we refrain from sexual immorality, we do not get drunk, we do not use God’s name in vain, etc. We live differently because of the God we worship. This was the essence of Jeremiah’s call for worship reform.
Questions for Study and Discussion
1. Where did Jeremiah go to preach this sermon (7:2)? Why is this disturbing?
The prophet stood at the “gates” of the temple. This gate seems to have been one that divided the inner and outer courts and where people bringing in their sacrifices would have entered. It is likely due to the apparent heavy traffic and number of sacrifices mentioned, this occurred during one of the annual festivals (see Deuteronomy 16:16). Sadly, the temple should have been a place where the people honored and worshiped God. The word “worship” means here to prostrate oneself or bow down before another of a higher status. It has a secular meaning that indicates an inferior nation or person giving allegiance to one of superior power, a vassal to his sovereign. It took on religious meaning for Jeremiah (and much of the Old Testament). This is translated into Greek as proskuneo, which carries the same meaning in the New Testament. It means to honor another’s sovereignty and authority. This was what the temple should have symbolized for the people of Judah, the presence of their sovereign and king. Instead, the temple became an idol. What stood as a reminder of the divine and holy presence of God became a barrier to his dominion. The temple became the object of adoration instead of God. Sadly, in this holy place, Jeremiah had to tell the people how unholy they were. The temple as a building does not carry parallels in today’s religious culture, no building would ever match the beauty and symbolism of the temple. But it would certainly be like someone coming into BHCC during worship and condemning us all of our shallow worship. We as a people are after all the temple of God. What an insult that would be.
It is more than likely this sermon was delivered about 609-608 BCE. Josiah’s death in 609 BCE was followed by the rise of his son Jehoahaz for about 3 months and the end of his attempt to reform Judah. Pharaoh Neco of Egypt, on his return from a battle with Babylon, stopped at Jerusalem and ousted Jehoahaz and placed his own puppet king, Jehoiakim, Jehoahaz’s brother, on the throne. Jehoiakim’s reign was corrupt and Canaanite cultic practices were quickly reintroduced into the temple worship. Plus, if chapter 26 is summary of this sermon, and most scholars believe it is, that chapter is dated during Jehoiakim’s reign. Jeremiah would eventually be ousted from the temple according to Jeremiah 36:5. This was the price he paid for confronting corruption.
2. Compare 7:4 and 3:16. What did the Temple and the Ark of the Covenant represent to Israel (see Exodus 25:22; Leviticus 16:2; 1 Kings 8:10-13; 2 Chronicles 5:11-6:11)? How did these symbols become barrier’s to Judah’s faith?
The temple and the ark became shields for corruption. God had promised he would establish the throne of David forever (2 Samuel 7:11-14), that his house would be his dwelling place forever (1 Kings 8:12-13), and that Jerusalem would be his dwelling place (Psalms 132:13-16). The temple was his house. How could anyone be allowed to destroy it? And of the Judeans who were under its protection, they too would not be destroyed. But Ezekiel revealed that God would leave the temple, allowing the Babylonians the oppurtunity to destroy his temple (see in succession Ezekiel 10:4. 18-19; 11:22-23 where God slowly leaves the temple, seemingly waiting for Judah to respond). Judah lived in God’s chosen city. They were invincible in their own eyes because of that fact. They failed to realize that God’s presence in the temple was not a matter of necessity but a matter of grace. The temple symbolized and actually housed a special presence of God because of his desire to show his people he was near and living among them. It reminded the people of whose they were and that they were expected to reflect the holiness of the One living among them. It should have inspired them to live for the One dwelling among them rather than finding security and comfort in the thing standing before them. Judah’s mantra of “temple of the Lord” illustrated this. Three times typically emphasized something (see Isaiah 6:3). Here it could mean “We surely have the temple with us!”, an statement about the certainty of their safety. But note the focus: not the Lord, but the temple of the Lord.
We too can erroneously find security and safety in the wrong things, such as church attendance, being a leader or teacher in the church, the kind of worship service we have, our works, what we do and do not do in worship, etc. This false sense of hope can lead us into a deluded sense of well-being. Israel could not live however they pleased and then claim their security rested in the presence of God’s temple. Even in the Old Testament there was no such thing as cheap grace!
3. Why is the Temple called “My Name” (7:11,14, 30)? What does this say about God’s intention for the Temple? How did the Temple become of “den of robbers” (7:8-11)? How can we avoid committing this same error?
“My name” was the person, character , and reputation of God which has strong ties back to the exodus (Exodus 3:13-15; see also Psalms 8:1; 83:16-18; Isaiah 42:8; Matthew 6:9). He, his Name, dwelt there (2 Kings 8:16, 29, 33, etc). What happened in the temple and with his people was a reflection on his person and reputation among both his people and the world. The world saw the glory of the temple and knew who the God of Judah was and to whom Judah offered praise and sacrifice. The temple in a symbolic way manifested to the world the glory of God. The way the people Israel had conducted themselves reflected more on God’s reputation than their own. The world would define God by their actions as well as how God protected or punished them.
Jeremiah called it a “den of robbers”. Limestone caves were often used a haven for robbers. They would hide in these secluded shelters to avoid the authorities. They felt safe in these out-of-the-way places. Like these immoral people, the Judeans would enter the temple and feel safe. They were in the presence of God, who could do anything to them?
We can not rest our safety and security on how often we attend worship services, how many mission trips we participate in, etc. Our safety rests in our conviction to the Sovereignty of God and the Lordship of Christ. This belief must be accompanied by a life that reflects his values and holiness.
4. What were the central problems Judah had with their offerings of sacrifices and worship? What kinds of sins were the people committing? What does this say about worship and life? In verse 19, what is the consequence of their sin? How is that true for our sins today?
The people of Judah believed sacrifices and offerings secured their relationship with God. They divorced their meaning from everyday life. They forgot that covenant blessings came with covenant obligations. The failure of Judah was not in their bringing the offerings, but in understanding its intention. Judah became guilty of assuming God wanted the offerings and not the heart of the offerer. They had adulterated themselves by leaving the temple of God and entering pagan shrines, committing immoral and unethical acts, perverting justice, abusing the helpless of society, and judicial murders (see Jeremiah 26:23; see also Matthew 5:21-22). They failed to recognize that the God who accepts their sacrifices demanded the sacrifice of the worshiper’s entire life (Romans 12:1-2). Fundamental to all these horrific acts was idolatry. They shared their allegiance with other gods who demanded a different set of values, morals, and ethics. They turned to the worship of the Queen of Heaven, a Assyro-Babylonian deity, also called Ishtar, which involved the entire family (v. 18). This religion is also mentioned in 44:17 and played a significant role in the reign of Manasseh and his distorted religious practices (2 Kings 21; 23:4-14). The cakes seem to have been in the shape of the moon, representing Ishtar. The entire family, children and wives, were involved. The very base of Judean society, the family, had been corrupted.
The consequence of their sin was shame. It would not be God who would be put to shame, but those involved in the perverse acts. Shame drives us to recognize our own depravity and the foolishness of our sinful actions. It also helps us in stirving to overcome weakness by driving us to our knees before the one who supplies strength and forgiveness.
5. In 7:12, what happened in Shiloh and what lesson did God expect Judah to learn (1 Samuel 4:1-11)? What significance was there in his reference to the events which occurred at Topheth in the valley of Ben Hinnom and what connection did these events have with Judah’s future (7:27-34)? What can we learn from these events?
Shiloh lay on the main road between Jerusalem and Shechem. The tabernacle had been set up there in the past (Joshua 18:1; 22:12; Judges 21:19; 1 Samuel 1:9, 24). The ark was housed also in this region. During the ministry of Samuel, the people of Israel had taken the ark of the covenant into battle against the Philistines because they believed it would assure their victory. They were wrong. God allowed the Philistines to win the battle at Ebenezer and take the ark. The presence of the ark meant nothing without covenant commitment and they lacked that. The ark had been taken by these unholy, unclean people. Archaeological evidence also shows that Shiloh was destroyed by the Philistines in 1050 BCE, around the same time of this event. Perhaps these two coincided and were a result of God’s discipline. It was a lesson Israel needed to learn: God would not be manipulated by the presence of ark. God could dispense of the temple and ark whenever he needed.
Topheth, an Aramaic word meaning “fireplace”, was a place located in the Valley of Hinnom, or Ben Hinnom (probably named after its owner). It was used as a garbage dump and these trash heaps would be burned. It was also where King Manasseh (2 Kings 23:10) established the worship of Molech which included passing children through fire. This place became the paradigm of judgment. The Greek equivalent is ge henna or Gehenna (Matthew 5:22 where it is translated as “hell”). The text may imply that the people of Judah believed God wanted human sacrifices, but he explicitly states in this text that he did not command it nor it did not even come to his mind to suggest it. God loathed this practice (Leviticus 18:21; 20: 1-5). This place of corruption would become the “Valley of Slaughter”. It would become their graveyard. Their corpses would be left there unburied, a horrifying and dishonorable prospect for the Jewish people and a great insult.
Worship must be directed to God. It must not find its meaning in the actual rituals or holy items for they point beyond themselves to Gof. It cannot gain its worth based on worship programs. The kind of worship God desires is one that is directed to God and God alone. His sovereignty must be upheld.
6. In 7:21-26, God rejected Judah’s sacrifices and offerings despite the fact they continued to bring them to God. If Judah was so unfaithful, why would they keep bringing sacrifices to God? What were they hoping to accomplish? Judah’s forefathers who were brought out of Egypt were not commanded to bring burnt offerings and sacrifices to God. What was God telling Judah in reminding them of this fact?
Josiah’s reforms did result in an increase in offerings and sacrifices, but did very little to change the hearts of the worshiper. The fact that Jeremiah told the worshipers to eat the whole burnt offerings is striking. Neither the worshiper nor the priest had a right to this offering (Leviticus 1). God was so repulsed by the profane and empty worship of Judah, he told them to treat their offerings them like they would any other meat or food product because that was all they were worth. God did not want them, they could keep them. Profane worship should not be performed. It should not be encouraged and people who reflect lives and attitudes disrespectful of God’s Sovereignty and Jesus’ Lordship do not belong in a worship setting.
Sacrifices were not going to help. Judah could believe all day and night that they would be able to appease God by bringing him the required sacrifices, but he would accept none of them. They were meaningless without a heart that was dedicated to him. He wanted obedience to the covenant not just the sacrificial system. He wanted worshippers that loved and honored him in their day to day living.
Before the sacrificial system was established with his new people Israel, God called for obedience and worship (Exodus 19:36). His relationship with his people was embedded in the covenant before he developed a system of offerings. The relationship of Israel with God was based on their obedience to him and covenant commitment, not the sacrificial system. They were God’s people before they were offering him burnt, sin, guilt and fellowship offerings. They were called to worship him before the sacrificial system had been established. Judah should have understood this truth.
7. How did God define true worship in this context? Compare this to John 4: 21-24? What was the nature of Jeremiah’s understanding of worship renewal? How does it differ from the way we speak of worship renewal? How is it similar?
True worship is worship that honors the reality of God. It acknowledges truth, the embodiment of all God in Christ had accomplished, is accomplishing, and will accomplish. It honors God in Spirit (spirit), praising God for his work and presence among us, honoring his otherness or holiness. It transcend locality, such as being centered at one place, Jerusalem, and it transcend form. It is more than just an act or program. It is an experience that invigorates and transforms. How we worship is merely a vehicle to its true intent. Unfortunately, we tend to focus on worship renewal as change in methodology or form. Jeremiah, and most every, if not every prophet, focused on how it affected lives. We tend to argue about cultural expressions in worship, the prophet on eternal principles. We talk about clapping and praise teams, the prophets focused on social justice, sincere conviction, morality, and ethics. The prophet's view of worship was that it was an event that changed the way we think and live. It should make us think differently about who we are and how we interact with the world around us.
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