Good morning! Today’s passage (Jeremiah 7-9) declares the injustice of God’s people and the insufficiency of temple worship alone to please God. The prophet (speaking with God’s voice) counters hypocritical religious practices of the day with fierce denunciation and warning of impending calamity. Biblical scholars believe that Jeremiah’s original verses (in poetic form) were later supplemented by the prose sections during exile and post-exile times. These paragraphs try to explain why the exile happened and how to avoid further bad news from God.
Chapter 7 and the first part of 8 represent a sermon that Jeremiah might have proclaimed at the temple. He contends that God won’t remain dwelling in the Jerusalem temple if the people act contrary to divine law. The prerequisite for God’s continued abiding in Jerusalem is justice among the people, freedom from oppression, and loyalty to God alone. Jeremiah calls the people back to an earlier time before the temple and sacrifices, when obedience to commandments was the only measure of devotion to God. (Half of the Ten Commandments are referenced in 7:9, lending further weight to the idea that the Law code and not temple practices are the full measure of Hebrew obedience.) In contrast to the way things should be, Jeremiah suggests that the temple is “a den of robbers”, using words that Jesus will echo centuries later. Therefore, God will make the Jerusalem temple like that which used to stand Shiloh but was destroyed. I find the exhortation to return to the moral framework of Deuteronomy refreshing, even as I turn away from the parts here that describe wholesale slaughter as God’s will and judgment. Note that Jeremiah condemns here the child-sacrifice practices that are praised in other parts of the Hebrew Scripture.
Jeremiah as the voice of God declares judgment, but he also feels deeply the pain that disobedience will/does cause. He cares deeply about coherence between words and deeds—hypocrisy is the greatest evil in Jeremiah. God still cares about the people, but cannot abide leaders who say “‘peace, peace’ when there is no peace.” We might find a contemporary echo in Black Lives Matter voices calling attention to the systematic pain and violence beneath a culture which prides itself on racial progress. If words do not match deeds, suffering and pain will result. Yet Jeremiah takes no pleasure in this. Rather, he raises an evocative lament in chapter 9 for the people whom God has condemned through him. Even if God’s anger is righteous, the natural world (mountains, pastures, cattle, birds and water) will suffer for the terrorizing military violence that comes as judgment upon the nation. We know from the later prose sections and history that some remnant of the Jews did survive the exile, but Jeremiah remains a caution against taking the commands of divine justice for granted. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Jeremiah 10-12. Thanks for reading!