[This is part of my continuing series in the book of Jeremiah. You can find all the posts here.]
This time I am going to speed up a little and cover three whole chapters of Jeremiah at once. What I see in these chapters more than anything else is a portrait of a people in deep denial. They are at the executioner’s block, the axe is hanging over their neck, and they just don’t see it at all. Instead, they are placing their trust in things on which they should not rely.
Why find the first such crutch in Jeremiah 6. The chapter begins with yet another warning of destruction. It is close at hand this time — the people are told to flee, run, go now! But they do not heed this warning, because they cannot hear it:
“To whom shall I speak and give warning, that they may hear?
Behold, their ears are uncircumcised, they cannot listen;
behold, the word of the Lord is to them an object of scorn; they take no pleasure in it.” (Jer. 6:10; ESV)
The fault lies largely on the leaders of the people, the priests and prophets, who say “‘ Peace, peace’ when there is no peace” (Jer. 6:14 and again in Jer. 8:11). This promise, this false prophecy of peace, is the first of the crutches on which the people rely. It should be a warning to us as well lest we promise people wholeness — for this is the sense of the Hebrew word shalom, a complete, whole peace, not just a cease-fire — when they do not have or deserve it. It is not very popular these days to preach fire and brimstone sermons, but there are times when people need to hear that God is wrathful as well as loving and that there are consequences to their actions.
The second false trust the people have comes in the first verses of chapter 7. Just as we heard “peace, peace, peace” three times in chapters 6 and 8, so here they proclaim three times: “‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord'” (Jer. 7:4). They think that the presence of God’s temple in their midst ensures their safety for how could the Lord destroy His own dwelling place? (In Hebrew it is the place where His name dwells.) They do not see or understand that He has bigger concerns. The prophet points to the destruction of Shiloh, the former residence of God’s tabernacle, and the northern kingdom of Israel, their big sister so to speak, as evidence that God can and will destroy His own, but once again they do not heed the warning. So too we must be careful that we do not rely on our church membership, family background, or baptism while all the time rejecting God’s Word to us.
The result of all this is that God tells Jeremiah something quite shocking. He says don’t pray for this people (Jer. 7:16). A prophet stands between God and the people; he is an intermediary who speaks for God to the people and also for the people to God. But here God draw a line and says no more. The second chances are all used up. God says if you pray for them, I won’t listen so just don’t. This is truly the end of the line.
This is a harsh picture of God. We like to think of Him as all forgiveness, but that it not the case. It is always good to notice what names of God are used. In this chapter He is “the LORD of hosts.” Hosts means armies. This is not a weak, mild God.
God’s people are no longer one nation, but as individuals or individual churches, we still need to heed to call to honor God and obey His commands. It is easy for us, like the people of Judah, to become complacent. So the practical application of these chapters is that we must ask ourselves: Are we trusting more in false promises or the outward forms of religion and not really doing what He wants us to do?