Jeremiah 7 Commentary


Jeremiah at the temple (7:1-15)

This message seems to belong to the period of religious decline that followed the death of Josiah. Though Josiah had done well to restore the temple, the people developed a wrong, even superstitious, attitude towards it. They felt that it was sacred, that it belonged to God, and that therefore he would not allow any enemy to destroy it. They thought that the presence of the temple in Jerusalem guaranteed the city against capture by the enemy. God now tells Jeremiah to stand outside the temple and announce to the people that in thinking this way they are deceiving themselves. Only by changing their ways and replacing injustice with godliness will they save their temple, their city and their nation from certain destruction (7:1-7).

Jeremiah points out the stupidity of the people in thinking they can do as they wish and still expect God to save them. They are immoral, dishonest, violent and idolatrous, yet they think they are safe because they offer sacrifices in his temple (8-11). Shiloh was once the religious centre of the nation, the place where the tabernacle was set up; but God allowed Shiloh and the tabernacle to be invaded and smashed because of the people’s wickedness. For the same reason he will now allow Jerusalem and its temple to be destroyed (12-15; cf. Josh 18:1; 1 Sam 1:3; Ps 78:60).

No hope for an idolatrous people (7:16-8:3)

God now tells Jeremiah that it is useless for him to persist in praying for the safety of the Judeans. They have so given themselves to idolatrous practices that nothing can save them from God’s judgment. Throughout the cities and towns of Judah people worship foreign gods, but in the process they harm themselves (16-19). The harm will be much greater when God’s judgment falls on them (20).

While openly worshipping heathen gods, the people also offer sacrifices to Yahweh. The offering of sacrifices was part of the religious system God gave to Israel through Moses, but the first thing God demanded of his people was always obedience (21-23). Israel’s history shows that sacrifices will never save a stubborn and disobedient people from punishment (24-26).

Most of the people will ignore the prophet’s warnings, but he must persist in announcing God’s message (27-28). Jeremiah tells the people to shave off their hair as a sign of mourning for the death that is soon to overtake their nation (29). They have brought idolatrous practices into God’s temple, and just outside Jerusalem they have established a site for the heathen practice of sacrificing children to the god Molech (30-31). But the place where they have slaughtered their children will become a dump for their own corpses. There they will rot in the sun and be eaten by foul birds (32-34; cf. 2 Kings 21:6; 23:10).

Not satisfied with butchering the helpless people, the invaders will do all they can to heap disgrace upon Judah. They will even drag out the bones of the nation’s honoured dead from their tombs and scatter them like garbage on the ground. But such disgrace is preferable to the horror that will be experienced by people who live through those days (8:1-3).

Tophet and the Valley of Hinnom

The place where the Judeans offered their children as burnt sacrifices was the Valley of Ben Hinnom, on the southern side of the city. The valley got its name from the son of Hinnom (the Hebrew ben meaning ‘son’) who at one time probably owned the land that stretched along the valley. The name Tophet seems to have meant ‘place of burning’ and was used originally in relation to the place in the Valley of Hinnom where people burnt their children as sacrifices. This was also the place where people from Jerusalem dumped broken pottery (see 19:1-2). In time it became a public garbage dump and fires burnt there continually.

When transliterated from Hebrew to Greek, ‘Valley of Hinnom’ (Hebrew: ge-hinnom) becomes gehenna. This was the word that Jesus used for the place of final punishment of the wicked, and is commonly translated ‘hell’ (Matt 10:28; 18:9; 23:33). The Valley of Hinnom was associated with judgment and burning (see 7:31-32; 19:4-7), and therefore gehenna became a fitting word to denote the place or state of eternal punishment (Mark 9:43-48; cf Matt 18:8-9; Rev 20:10,15).

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