This week a few friends and I looked through Jeremiah 7:1-15. It's a text that doesn't get looked at a whole lot. Most Sunday lectionaries don't included it (I believe the Anglicans are the only ones), and few people spend a lot of time reflecting on the beauty and power of the Prophets in their personal study.
I think one of the reasons for this is that people often think that prophets are too difficult to understand.
This is a shame.
The prophets offer us a glimpse into the heart of ancient Israel in a powerful way that goes beyond history and dogma.
The prophets offer a living liturgy in which true worship is defined. They not only teach God's people about the outward forms of worship, but the inner heart.
The prophets take the forms of liturgy and religion, turn them upside down, shake them around, strip off the outward appearances and display the heart beneath it all. The prophets remind us that the Liturgy is a dance that must by performed to the beating of the heart of God. There are few places that do this more powerfully then the passage in Jeremiah 7:1-15.
This is a summons to repentance. The prophet issues a call to repentance to a people who are trusting in The Temple to save them while they are under siege from their enemies. They seem to think that God will not allow his house to be destroyed. Jeremiah's words cut against this. He proclaims a pending judgement. His mood is seems relatively hopeless. The picture is bleak, the light is faint, the scenario is dire. The mood that is set seems contrary to the genre. The genre calls people to repentance, but the context all but guarantees that the people will ignore the summons. One is left wondering why the prophet bothered in the first place.
God’s problem with Israel is primarily that the people seek protection in their cult of worship but disgrace that very worship with their wickedness. The lives of God’s people do not reflect the character and love of the God whom they claim to worship. All of the other condemnations seem to flow from this central concern. God declares that they are creating a name of injustice for him by daring to enter his house while practicing injustice. They have the gall to enter the temple after they steal, commit adultery, bear false witness, worship other gods and murder. God’s house has become a den of thieves because they do these things rather than turning to God’s ways. These ways are to care for the widow, the orphan, the innocent, and the alien.
God’s house is called by His name, but his people live in a way that offends God. Therefore they will be cast out. It is not wise to trust in the House of God, if you offend the God who dwells there in your life, hope and worship. Do not hope in the Temple, for you have condemned it by turning away from the one who it claims to seek and reflect.
Therefore the people are called to look to a former dwelling place of God. The land of Shiloh was a place where worship of God used to happen but at the time of the prophecy this land has become utterly destroyed. God tells those who hope in The Temple that their fate will be the same.
This Passage Teaches Us Four Things
- The Temple does NOT guarantee salvation
- Verses 4 “Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’”
- Alluded to in 8; the “deceptive words” referenced to point to The Temple itself as a place of hope
- God is not bound to a particular place
- Verse 12 - “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel.”
- Your place in worship actually condemns you rather than saves you
- The people are doing the things listed in verse 9. Therefore they have degraded the house into a “den of thieves” 11.
- Verse 10 points out how foolish it is to come as unrepentant wicked people to a Holy God and expect him to deliver you.
- God desires a place that is worthy of God’s own self
- Verses 3 states that God desires his people to amend their ways
- Do the things in verse 5, do not do the things in verse 9.
- As Shiloh was cast out for wickedness in verse 12, so too will he cast out the people in Jerusalem. God is actually more than willing to destroy a place where the worship of God reflects hypocrisy.
The pericope is framed by statements that seem to guarantee that the people will be judged and there is nothing they can do about it. However the form of this segment we are looking at is a call to repentance. Why would the prophet bother calling a people to repentance if he knows that they will not listen?
It seems as if it is issued as a call to be heeded by those who look back and wonder what went wrong. The text is something of a time capsule sent into the future. It proclaims a promise that will not be grasped and a paradigm that will not be believed.
At the same time the message is still delivered primarily to the people who are living at the time and hearing the message. God is instructing his people at all times and places in what right worship looks like, but he is doing so in a context that is particular. Jeremiah embodies a theology of worship in his own time, and calls his people to do the same. Although he does not expect them to listen, he can preach no other message.
The Church today can often be a place very similar to the temple cult at the time of Jeremiah. Many people do not see how faith relates to their spiritual life. Many people think it is acceptable to be united to systems that oppress extort those around them, but still think that because they are a part of a Church that they are “alright” with God. This passage cuts across this tendency. It points out that a heart filled with malice and greed cannot come into the house of the Lord unrepentant and expect safety, rather they can expect the wrath to be that much greater. To him (or her) who has been given much, much can be expected. Theology and praxis are two themes that cannot be separated. You can’t have one while ignoring the other.
The passage also cuts to the heart of one of the sins that ministers can fall into. It can be easy to speak words that comfort the church. Jobs are more secure when you support the status quo. Being a minister of the Gospel is not about pleasing those who come to worship. Being a minister of the Gospel is about pleasing the One who is being worshiped. In fact there is a very real way in which whom we seek to please points out whom we seek to worship.
The Christian life is not about becoming a better you, or having your best life now. Rather it is joining into a new economy of humility. We do not exalt ourselves, our churches, or our leaders. We offer them in love for the life of the world. In this way we imitate Christ himself who gave up his flesh for the life of the world. For in the person of Jesus we see what The Temple was intended to be. Jesus points to God in all he does, but in doing so he practices justice. He sets people free, reaches out to the alien, and has mercy on the broken. In the flesh of Christ we have a true temple and in the Holy Spirit we can become true worshipers in that sacred place.
Listed below are two outlines of the form of the text. The first one describers what is going on in broader sections (the flesh). The second outline seeks to examine the parts and their relationship with one another in a more detailed manor, but with less commentary (the bones).
Here is a basic look at the flesh of the structure:1-2a
The pericope is contextualized here. We see where the prophet stands when he delivers the oracle. This is a significant narrative. The prophet Jeremiah stands in the Gate of The Temple. This is significant because the oracle is directed against those who hope their hope in The Temple saying “הֵיכַ֤ל יְהוָה֙ הֵיכַ֣ל יְהוָ֔ה הֵיכַ֥ל יְהוָ֖ה הֵֽמָּה” in verse 4 below.
This section begins the oracle with the word “שִׁמְע֣וּ” (hear). In this passage we have the command for the people to amend their ways this functions as an initial call to repentance (A1) and a result of God dwelling in The Temple (B2). This sets up some parallelism that this is expanded in the next section. This section ends with the admonition about trusting in The Temple.
These verses seem to expand the initial summons to repentance laid out in verse three. It functions as a restatement. It begins with a condition of related to amending the ways (A2) and ends with the promised result of being able to live in the place (B2).
The word הִנֵּ֤ה (Behold) indicates a transition in the text. In verses 9-10 a case is made against the people through asking two sets of questions. The first set of questions focuses on specific things that the people are guilty of. The second “set” is really just one question that brings the focus back to The Temple. These questions point to a guilty people that are now reflecting their wickedness back on God because they are bringing their injustice into his house without shame.
This final section uses history to condemn the people. God reminds the people that he used to be worship in Shiloh. This fact did not keep God from allowing that place to become desolate. In the same way he tells the people that he will cast them out.
Here is a basic look at the bones of the structure:Admonition
- Messenger Formula (1-3a)
- Command Promise 1 with Prohibition
- Command (3b) (commend your ways)
- Promise (3c) (God will dwell in The Temple)
- Prohibition (4) (trusting in The Temple alone)
- Reason is missing here
- Command/promise 2 (restatement of 1) with Accusation
- Command (5-6) (amend ways and care for)
- Innocent Blood
- Promise (7)
- Restatement of prohibition as Accusation (8) ( You trust in deceptive words)
- Accusation through Question 1 (9-10)
- False witness
- Accusation through Question 2 (11a)
- re-contextualization of Accusation - bring it back into The Temple (The fact that they do these things and still can show their face proves that they are transforming The Temple itself into a “den of thieves.”)
- Reason (12-15) in the form of a threat (by example of Shiloh - the first place of worship)
- Poetic Parallelism of guilt (13)
- When I spoke you(A) did not listen(B)
- You did not answer (B1) when I called (A1)
- Poetic Parallelism of Consequence (14-15)
- I will make the new place of worship like the old (Temple vs tabernacle in Shiloh)
- Verse 14 lays out the consequence (I will do to you like Shiloh)
- Verse 15 lays out the method (cast you out of my sight)