Whoever thinks the Bible isn’t relevant is lying. Over the last few weeks the Lord has brought me back, over and over, to Jeremiah 7. I referenced this chapter in our Month in Proverbs and can’t seem to shake it. My evaluation is I must more directly, and specifically, reflect.
Like with most prophetical books God is angry with His people, the Israelites, and has sent a messenger, in this case Jeremiah, to speak for Him among the people. Already in chapter 7 we see God growing furiously weary with the Israelites’ sin and idolatry. While we have a tendency to read the prophets and imagine a place and time far off from the present, with people and sins that no longer stain this culture, we are very wrong. Let’s peek inside this 6th century (BC) world. God relates to Jeremiah like a friend. They have a unique relationship where Jeremiah gets to get in the mind of God at times. He hears God’s frustrations, plans, and warnings. He learns of His feelings towards His people. Jeremiah 7 reveals much of God’s raw emotions and when that happens it is noteworthy.
The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: Stand in the gate of the Lord’s house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah, you that enter these gates to worship the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’
For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.
Here you are, trusting in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are safe!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight? You know, I too am watching, says the Lord. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it for the wickedness of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, says the Lord, and when I spoke to you persistently, you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your ancestors, just what I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight, just as I cast out all your kinsfolk, all the offspring of Ephraim. (Jeremiah 7:1-15)
The Israelites were lying to themselves. They thought they were accepted everywhere they went, worshipping any and all gods. By sacrificing to every god they thought they were saving themselves when in reality they were only bringing destruction. There was a sort of superstition going on in their hearts. They were trying to cover all their bases.
Basically what’s happening is Jeremiah is standing at the doors of our churches saying, ‘Turn around! You don’t actually worship this God when you’re not here so He doesn’t care to pretend your relationship is real at this place any longer.’ He says until you “amend your ways”, implying separation has already taken place, God will not meet you. The Lord even says, “let me dwell with you in this place” because He is not even there! There is a false sense of safety for the Israelites and for us today. They trusted in the place, the temple, church, synagogue, parish, or Christian ministry to save them when God was absent all along.
God watched them pursue other gods throughout their weeks, gods “[they] have not known.” There is no intimacy, authentic relationship or real feelings with those gods and the God of their ancestors continues to open Himself up to them. In chapter 8 God actually says they are “perpetually backsliding” in their faith. Reading the list of sins we see they are breaking most of the 10 commandments! What’s heartbreaking is watching the Israelites’ faith deteriorate. God tells Jeremiah He has spoken to His people and they have not listened. He has called and they did not answer. God sent messengers “day after day, again and again”. You hear a sense of exhaustion. The Israelites did not listen at first. Then they heard, but did not respond. The Lord is washing His hands from the situation. He’s tried. He’s reached out only to get His hand slapped over and over again. “I will thrust you from my presence.” (Jer. 7:15) This is the final straw.
Here’s the deal, God sees how we worship things, people and places more than we do Him on Sunday. “I too am watching,” He says. The Lord is not a fool. He sees the betrayal and feels the hurt. Hypocrisy in the church is not a new thing. Jeremiah had to confront it and pastors today have to do the same. God calls out, though, and says if you amend your ways, stop idolatry and adultery, then I will dwell with you again. We’re in a marriage with God. He has committed wholeheartedly to us and we parade ourselves around like prostitutes. Our Husband wants to be with just us, not sharing us with any other and we give Him the finger.
It’s not hard to see the similarities with this passage and our present day Christian communities. We too frustrate God and break His commands. We “go after other gods to our own hurt” too, though for some reason we often blame God for our hurt rather than see His hand reaching out to us. The Lord is clear He does not ask for sacrifices from us. He doesn’t expect us to meet Him at the temple everyday or even once a week. All He’s ever asked us is simply to obey (Jer. 7:23).
I don’t ever want to hear the words of my loving, vulnerable, committed God “I will thrust you from my presence.” I don’t want to pursue other things to my own hurt. I don’t want to pretend anymore. When I go to church my hope is God is there to meet me. I want to worship Him, no other. I want to obey. I want to amend my ways. I want to listen, answer and move forward. “Let me dwell with you again,” God.