Jeremiah was given a difficult task. Jeremiah was sent to the people of Judah to declare God’s judgment was coming because of their sins. Jeremiah was not the first prophet to offer this critique of Judah, or even of Israel. Many had come and spoken of God’s impending destruction because of the sins of the people. Israel had already been carried off into exile because they failed to obey God and still Judah did not learn. Jeremiah’s task was difficult. Few were left who trusted in God. Almost everyone in power ignored Jeremiah’s message. Jeremiah was ridiculed, imprisoned, and often feared for his life. He tried many times to quit, but to no avail. He had been called by God. His message must be heard.
In one particular episode, contained in chapter 7, Jeremiah confronts the false hope of the people. The people of Judah have convinced themselves that they are safe from any impending destruction or exile because worship is still taking place at the Temple. Sure, there is sin in the camp, and they haven’t always followed the Law like they should. However, they believe that as long as worship takes place at the Temple and sacrifices are being made, there is nothing to fear. They believe this false hope to such an extreme that they will even go around and say, but “this is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.” Jeremiah confronts them and says, do not trust in these deceptive words. “Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, follow other gods, and then come and offer sacrifices in this place and say ‘we are safe?'” Do you really think that will save you? Jeremiah then challenges them to go and look at Shiloh. God had chosen Shiloh as the place for worship, and now it was in ruins because of sin. If God destroyed Shiloh, God will destroy Jerusalem.
Jeremiah is reminding the people that worship at the Temple is not enough. Yes, God desires sacrifices and offerings, but even more so God desires for our lives to live out faith on a daily basis. Yes, God desires sacrifices, but even more so God desires for our lives to be filled with mercy and peace for others. Faith has to be more than just words on a page, or songs sung on Sunday. Faith is more than just attending church services, or even reading your Bible during the week. Faith must be lived out in love of neighbor, in taking care of the poor, in visiting the sick, in honesty and integrity. Otherwise, punishment will come.
Destruction may be the harshest statement Jeremiah makes. Jeremiah is unpopular because he tells the people their actions are leading to destruction. God is sending judgement on the city and on the people because they have nothing more than a “Sunday Morning Faith.”
Yet even in an oracle of destruction, Jeremiah offers hope from God.
(But) if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless, or the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own harm, then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7)
God says that even now there is hope for a blessed future. If you amend your ways, if you execute justice, if you take care of those who can’t take care of themselves, and if you quit chasing after foreign gods, then Jehovah God will still come and live with you and you will have safety in the land. Even though destruction is coming, God is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and will gladly save those who come with broken and contrite hearts.
As we journey through this season of Lent, may our practices be more than just outward signs of fasting and empty words of confession. Instead, may our faith be lived out in ways that change the world around us. May we love God and our neighbors with reckless abandon. May we execute justice, taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves. And may we combine mercy and sacrifice in a way that brings honor and glory to God.