Call to Repentance, Bound to Destruction

Jeremiah 7:1–15

I. God’s personal command for his messenger to Call Judah to Repentance – 7:1-4

A. Jeremiah was commanded to stand at the place that Judah thought was its greatest mark of favor and protection – “The gate of the Lord’s house.” 

Throughout this passage one must be struck with the deep incongruity between their fetish-type attachment to the place that they identified with safety.

B. Not only is the place seemingly incongruous with a notification of unrighteousness, but the people are called those “who enter these gates to worship the Lord” (2). 

C. Those that so entered he was to call to repentance. “Amend your ways and your deeds.”

Jeremiah would identify a number of specific practices that should be changed. Should they comply with this call to repentance the promise is, “I will let you dwell in this place” (3).

D. Their trust was not in the Lord but in the place that bore his name.

Their mouthing of the language of worship did not align their hearts with worship. Repetition of mere audibles apart from a heart knowledge of the significance of the words used and a conformity of affections to their importance is sham and a provocative to greater judgment. Their verbal repetition of the words, “The temple of the Lord,” emphasized the distance between heart and words. It is like singing, “I am Thine O Lord” while plotting to rob a bank. Like Simeon and Levi who used the covenant sign of circumcision as a tool to kill all the males of Shechem (Genesis 34:25-31), So they mouth signs of God’s gracious favor toward them as a cloak for injustice.

II. God set forth specific stipulations involved in the kind of repentance to which they are called – (7:5-7).

The amendment of their ways would be evident “if you truly practice justice between a man and his neighbor.”

A. God called them to execute justice in society as a matter of reverence for his character.

Look at Deuteronomy 24 :14-22 which begins: “You shall not oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether one of your brethren or one of the aliens who is in your land within your gates. Each day you shall give him his wages.” God had given general laws that were to create a compassionate and just society. They had ignored these principles and manifest their covetous sinfulness by not pursuing civic righteousness for the alien, the orphan, the widow, and innocent blood. Their callous disregard for the second table of the commandments (Exodus 20:13-17) was generated by, and exacerbated by, their unfaithfulness to the first table-“Nor walk after other gods to your own ruin” (6; compare Exodus 20:3-7).

B. Note the reference that this generation may be punished with the intensity threatened without violation of the divine promise (7).

These people felt that the promise to the fathers would protect them in their sin. The lawlessness and the pious hypocrisy of this generation would remove from them the comfort and immediate blessings of God’s unconditional promise but would not interrupt God’s determination for a forever dwelling place. The land of Israel was a temporal symbol of God’s merciful dealing with sinners in pursuit of his eternal purpose of redemption. The final fulfillment of that would be a place “wherein righteousness dwells,” (2 Peter 3:13), and the land was to reflect the beneficent influence of joyful and eager obedience to God’s law, God’s standard of true righteousness for his people. Should they turn and begin to reflect the divine purpose they would see its effects: “Then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever” (7).

III. Contrast between the disobedience to the 10 commandments and their feigned love of the accoutrements of worship (7:8-11).

A. The false prophets had been giving assurances to the people that the promises to the Fathers bound God to a policy of no violence toward them (8).

If the prophets had been true prophets, they would have issued the warnings that Jeremiah so clearly enunciated. But the people trusted in what they accepted as a word of revelation and in so doing, they trusted “in deceptive words to no avail.” These prophets fit the profile of a false prophet perfectly in that they used their position of esteem among the people to justify and give them a sense of safety in the relentless pursuit of disobedience (Deuteronomy 13:1-4; 18:20; 28:58). These prophets were condoning the people’s pursuits of other gods.

B. They were so blatant as to violate even the stated code of the 10 commandments, both tables of it.

They “steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely” engaging the grossest violations of the second great commandment, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” They “offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods” who have no existence, have given no revelation, made no overtures of mercy, presented no evidence of holiness, and directly violate the commands of the Lord God who rescued them from their slavery in Egypt. Not only are they impious, they are irrational. In addition, they flaunt their standing as exempting them from the necessity of repentance. They stand in the house of the Lord that has become like a talisman to them and say the words, “We are delivered” (10).

C.  Instead of its being the house of the Lord, (“called by my name”), they had made it a den of robbers, a place conceived to have power to protect them in their blatant iniquity. 

Their feigned piety foreshadows the equally reprehensible disregard for true worship during the time of Jesus – (7:11 cf. Matthew 21:12-17).

IV. Shiloh stands as an example of God’s disregard for places without engagement of heart in love and obedience (7:12-15).

A. Shiloh – This is the place in the allotment of Ephraim that Israel assembled after the conquest of the land – Joshua 18:1.

From there, the seven tribes that had not received an allotment were commissioned to survey the land and divide it. During the period of the judges, the “house of God” was at Shiloh (Judges 18:31).  It became a place of pilgrimage, worship and sacrifice (1 Samuel 1:3ff). The structure there was of a permanent nature for Eli sat beside the “doorpost of the tabernacle”  (1 Samuel 1:9; also 3:15) when he observed the prayer of Hannah. The destruction of Shiloh made a deep impression and it is referred to in Psalm 78:59-62 as a manifestation of divine wrath and vengeance for unfaithfulness.

B. Verse 14 shows that God has disdain for places that become idolatrous—“In which you trust”

Israel made these places, as well as the sacrifices, an end in themselves. They did not see that they foreshadowed the dwelling of God with man in the person of the Messiah through whom alone redemption could be wrought. They reified the symbols, places, and rituals into a religion that constituted their righteousness apart from repentance and faith. The idol factory of their hearts shut them out from understanding the necessity of the redemptive work of the Messiah. Compare Romans 10:1-4.

C.  God’s casting them out was consistent with what he did to Ephraim (15)—the northern Kingdom– earlier.

He is under no obligation to keep sinners in his gracious presence for one moment, particularly those that are unrepentant and idolatrous in the face of great advantages and have a history of merciful intervention and provision. The severity of God’s instruction to Jeremiah in verse 16 [“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you,”] reminds us of how at times, even in this life, a person may be shut off without remedy. 

1.  This pattern provides examples for the New Testament writers of the dangers of enjoying an external knowledge of divine redemption without  an engagement of transformed affections with the holiness of God. 

      • 1 Corinthians 10:1-14 [“These things happened to them as an example.”]
      • Hebrews 2:1-4 – The writer makes a comparison between rejection of divine revelation under the law and rejection under the gospel—“so great a salvation … God bearing witness both with signs and wonders.”
      • Hebrews 4:1, 2; 11 – Note the analogy between faithless people in Israel and the possibility of faithless people in the church.
      • Hebrews 6:1-8 – Those described in this chapter seem to be in the same condition of advantage as the Jews of Jeremiah 7, except they have the far greater and clearer message of the gospel that has fulfilled all that the Jews were taught to look for. They even had seen and partaken in the blessings of communities in which an obvious operation of the Holy Spirit had taken place—yet the sobering phrase, “and fall away.”
      • 2 Peter 2:20-22 – A high degree of head knowledge combined with experiencing the advantages of the influence of the gospel that does not issue in genuine repentance entangles a person in even deeper more intractable bondage to disbelief. 
      • We must call to mind the profundity of Paul’s statement of the goal of ministry. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Timothy 1:5). Many may be attracted by a number of things that are by-products of Christianity, or a Christian world view, or the types of issues that are important in the discussion of Christians. Involvement for any of those issues that stops short of Paul’s “aim” is a species of sophisticated idolatry and will eventually generate great problems for a church and tend to entrench that person in unbelief.
      • 1 John 5:16-21 – John speaks of a sin that halts the church in its prayers for that person; It must be similar to that about which God spoke when he told Jeremiah not to pray in verse 16. He repeats this prohibition in 11:14.  Constant perversion of the truth in order to gain a worldly advantage over others is a perverse sin indeed. This could be personified in Diotrephes (3 John 9-11)
      • These passages show the importance of a true heart change that is indicated by submission to Christ as God in the flesh and as the only atonement for sin. Trust in Him as the sole mediator between God and man with a relish for the worship of God through him, and loving fellowship with the people of God under the leadership of those that God has called to that ministry is alone true knowledge of God. See 1 Peter 4:7-11.

2. In the chapters that follow, many details of the nature of the rebellion of Judah are set forth.

      • Unabashed idolatry (7:16-20)
      • Increasing recalcitrance and irrational obliviousness to the accumulating prophetic message through the centuries – Jeremiah would experience the full impact of this (7:21-28).
      • Child sacrifice! God abominates the practice of abortion, the height of self-seeking at the expense of another. It is a violation of the first command given to man and woman (Genesis 1:28), an assault on God’s design for women, and the purposeful and unjust taking of a human life from the moment of conception (7:30-34).
      • Through Jeremiah, God revealed and reprimanded in severe terms a perpetual course of decline in the face of discipline and instruction, even endorsed by scribes and prophets and priests  (8:1-17).
      • Their idolatry is disgustingly irrational and stupid. (10:1-5, 8-9, 14-15, 21.)

3.  Further revelation of the nature of true knowledge of God are also peppered throughout.

      • His desire never was for mere conformity to the typological rituals but always for heart devotion and true love – 7:21-26
      • 9:7-9 – His testing of people justifies his judgment of the nation “Shall I not avenge myself on a nation like this?”
      • Again, he shows that he is just in bringing such devastation on this people 9: 12-16. Compare 9:13 with 7:23, 24. God requires an obedience from the heart.
      • 9:23-25 – This is a particularly important passage. God states that which constitutes a true foundation for greatness. It consists of neither worldly wisdom, worldly might, or worldly riches, but in a true knowledge of him and a deep reverence for his moral attributes. Compare with Matthew 11:11-19.  How do we respond to the knowledge of God through Christ? This continues to loom as the most potent question of life.
      • The unmatchable singularity and infinite excellence of the Lord: 10: 6-7, 10-13, 16
      • God will judge the nations that he uses to judge Judah  (10:25).

4.  The deep distress that all this causes Jeremiah.

      • 8:18-22 – This seems to include the voices of both Jeremiah and Jehovah in lament over the reprobate state of Judah. See also 9:9-11.
      • 9:1-3 – A deep lament of Jeremiah, the weeping prophet as he voices his concern for them as well as his disgust with their sin that elides into the voice of God.
      • We find the same in 10:19-25 – The concern of Jeremiah and the outrage of Jeremiah reflect the divine intersection with human sin.

Poem on Jeremiah 7:1-15

If righteousness does not bring joy but prompts resentful hearts,
If true religion seems morose and only angst imparts,
If kindness, mercy, humble work seem undue condescension,
Then truth and love and saving faith elude your apprehension.
If every truth of revelation prompts rebellious thought, 
If God’s reproof and warning make you curse what should be sought,
Expect no more of earnest pleading; look now for unsoftened wrath,
No more mercy, no reprieving, hopeless now the painful path.
Yet covenant mercy makes its way to prove designs of grace.
The creature’s sin, corruption’s work, will not God’s plan efface.
Though earthly altars fade away and merge into the sod, 
New earth, new heavens, true righteousness express the love of God.

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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