Same old, same old! The people are still being disobedient and so we find Jeremiah still proclaiming God’s judgement on the nation. There really is a bit of a theme going on through the early chapters of this book, isn’t there?
And, perhaps it’s just me, but it feels a bit uncomfortable hearing the same message and the same accusations over and over again. I wonder if the command to ‘Amend your ways!’ just gets a little too close to the bone – hence my discomfort as I read this chapter?
Jeremiah is delivering these words from the spot where the Lord has told him to stand and speak: ‘in the gate of the Lord’s house’ – indeed at least one commentator (Brueggemann) calls this chapter ‘Jeremiah’s Temple Sermon’. Picturing him standing there, calling out this challenge to God’s people as they bustle past on their way into the Lord’s house doing their level best not to see or hear what’s going on, I feel his pain as prophet and feel myself accused. It certainly adds a new and a more personal dimension to the well-known words that follow:
“Has this house , which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your sight?”
The Lord refers them back to what happened to their ancestors in Shiloh (the northern shrine where Samuel served that was destroyed: 1 Sam 3-4). The people are warned that the same fate now awaits the temple and themselves. Yet it would have been unthinkable to them that what happened at Shiloh could happen to them. But it’s all here, loud and clear (except they’re not listening) – they will be cast out of God’s sight and his anger and his wrath will be poured out and will burn and not be quenched (verse 20). The corpses of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the animals of the earth (verse 33), God will bring an end to the sound of mirth and gladness, and the land shall become waste (verse 34). Gulp! This really is not good news, but, then, they aren’t listening anyway.
God assures Jeremiah once again that he’ll speak all these words but that no one will listen to him – no wonder he is our ‘weeping prophet’ – what a miserable ministry he has!
What are we to draw from a horror story like this one? Although it begins with a positive invitation from the Lord to enter the temple, to worship and to repent, so much of it speaks of God’s wrath and judgement – poured out in unspeakably appalling actions – death and destruction all around. How do we find God’s love in such words and deeds? And, as we approach the coming Advent season – where do we glimpse any light in the darkness, or hope for the future? It all sounds so desolate, bringing us only – presumably like Jeremiah – to weep and to despair.