Jeremiah 7:1-15 – Holding People Accountable

The prophet Jeremiah, Basilica of St Vitalis, Ravenna, Italy—Photo by mountainpix

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 who 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 to your ancestors forever 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? 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. (New Revised Standard Version)

One of the dangers of the religious life is slipping into the view that possessing a certain thing protects us from all harm – sort of like a talisman or rabbit’s foot.

Today’s Old Testament lesson is a classic example of succumbing to just such a danger. The ancient Jews in Jerusalem, in the days of the prophet Jeremiah, sincerely believed that because they had God’s temple in their city that this would protect them from any kind of attack from the outside. 

What is more, since they viewed the temple as an incredibly powerful good-luck-charm, the people thought that they could do whatever they wanted; they were covered and protected. So, they had no sense of accountability to the holy God whose temple overlooked Jerusalem and saw all of their unjust ways.

An engraving of the prophet Jeremiah by Léonard Gaultier (1561-1641)

Separated by a few millennia, we might see the folly with this magical type of thinking. Yet, it is just as easy for us to slip into the same mentality. 

Whenever we Americans think that our nation is so great that no one will ever take us over; or when we sincerely believe that because we are a missionary-sending nation that God will protect us; or when we buy into the notion that we can live however we want, but God would never judge us!; after all, we aren’t as bad as other nations!; well, then, we have come under the same condemnation as the Jews of old, we need to hear God’s Word for us today.

Jeremiah’s message was uncompromising. He clearly let the people know that while they have been living their hedonistic lives, God has been trying to talk them. But the people refused to listen. The prophet insisted that having the temple in the city is not some inoculation from keeping enemies at bay.

The prophet Jeremiah asserted that the people must change their ways, start living right, and be fair and honest with each other. They need to stop taking advantage of foreigners, orphans, and widows. They cannot kill innocent people and worship other gods, then turn around and invoke the temple as God’s presence and sanction on their security.

Justice is the responsibility of everyone; there are no favorites with God. The Lord does not favor particular people, ethnicities, or nations above others. Because one is an American, or not, makes no difference. Race and gender don’t come into view.

The sovereign God will hold all people culpable for their violent speech and behavior, no matter who they are or where they are from. Oppression, injustice, and spiritual gerrymandering will be dealt with by Judge Jesus, for both Jew and Gentile, man and woman, Westerner and Easterner, young and old.

For whom God has given much, much will be required. The Lord holds all people accountable for their actions.

Holy God, you still speak today through your Holy Word. Help me to listen well and pay attention to what you are saying so that I might honor you through humility and obedience for the sake of Jesus. Amen.

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