By Jay T. Robertson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Mobile
Many scholars believe this sermon is the same as the sermon in Jeremiah 26. If it is, then it can be dated to the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim (26:1), perhaps 608 B.C.
This was a time of crisis. The Assyrian Empire had fallen. Babylon was maneuvering its military for a showdown with Egypt. Judah was still in shock over the death of King Josiah in battle against the Egyptians (2 Kings 23:29–30). The Egyptians were in control of the land and appointed Josiah’s successor and son, Jehoiakim. In these uncertain times, the people turned for reassurance to the temple as a visible symbol of God’s presence and protection. Jeremiah took his life in his hands by speaking against the temple. It was considered blasphemous to announce that God’s presence in the temple would not protect his people.
Standing at one of the temple gates, Jeremiah commanded the people of Judah to listen carefully and obey the Word he had received from God.
Jeremiah preached as the people of Judah came to worship the Lord. The word “worship” means to bow down before someone to acknowledge his or her high position and demonstrate your allegiance. In this context, it could be used sarcastically due to the people’s hypocritical acts of worship, or it could be a reminder to the people of the proper attitude as they come before the Lord to worship Him.
Jeremiah engaged in the language of the courtroom. He said that false prophets were deceiving the people to trust in the temple rather than in God. They believed that God’s covenant with Abraham guaranteed that they would dwell in the land forever (Gen. 15:18; 17:7–8). At Mount Sinai, God had made them His chosen people (Ex. 19:5–6).
He had made a covenant with David that his kingdom would be established forever (2 Sam. 7:16).
Had not God spared them from the Assyrians in 722 B.C.? Had he not spared them again from destruction in 701 B.C.? The temple had become a good luck charm, like the Ark of the Covenant at an earlier time (1 Sam. 4:3). They had forgotten that God requires obedience as a condition for enjoying His blessings.
God commanded the people to change their ways. They must practice justice with one another, not oppress others, shed innocent blood or worship other gods.
If they would correct their ways and actions, He would allow them to live in the land. Unfortunately, Judah trusted in worthless words and claimed the privileges of a covenant relationship without assuming its responsibilities.
Jeremiah indicted the people for breaking God’s laws, specifically mentioning six of the Ten Commandments. They felt no shame about breaking the laws of God and then coming to the temple and declaring they were rescued. Like a band of robbers seeking refuge in a cave, the people came to the temple seeking God’s refuge while planning to continue their detestable acts.
Jeremiah reminded the people to remember the fate of Shiloh, which had been the location of the tabernacle. If God had allowed the Philistines to destroy Shiloh and capture the Ark, then why would they think Jerusalem and the temple would be spared? God repeatedly warned the people, but they would not listen.