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Judah’s Improper Reliance On the Temple - Jeremiah 7:1 - 8:3

Replacing faith in God for faith in religious stuff

Jeremiah 7:1-8:3;

Sep 30, 2012 12:00 PM

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The history of Old Testament Israel is a sordid one at best.  When we read Jeremiah, we realize we’ve pretty much hit the bottom of the barrel.  Reading about the spiritual condition of the chosen people in Jeremiah is like drinking the dregs of a bad bottle of wine.  

Their main failure was a failure to remember who they were.  They were negligent in their duty to teach their children of the Lord.  They were spiritual slackers who allowed neglect to morph into forgetfulness, and forgetfulness led to open rebellion and retaliation against God and His prophets.  But they never lost sight of their religion.  They still go to the Temple.  They still “worship” and go through the rituals.  They didn’t lose sight of their religion.  They just lost sight of the God of their religion.

Forgetting God is awful sin.  But it would be far worse to remember one’s spiritual heritage, actually know who the true God is, actually have the Scriptures, actually have true prophets in your midst, and intentionally deny it all.  Intentional rejection of the truth and of God and of the Scriptures and of His messengers is far worse than forgetting God, even though the eventual results are similar.  

That is what Judah did.  They lost, through neglect and through willful denial, the God of their fathers.  They rejected the God who created them as a nation and set them apart to Himself.  It was not only a case of spiritual amnesia.  It was now a case of spiritual denial.  As a nation, they intentionally scorned who they were and whose they were.

Judah was bereft of any genuinely godly people.  You recall in chapter 5 the Lord sent Jeremiah through the streets of Jerusalem to find one righteous man so that God might pardon the entire city, but there was none.  Their perpetual refusal to heed the repeated warnings from the prophets finally resulted in God’s rejection and destruction of them.  

Before we turn to Jeremiah, I want you to look with me at 1 Samuel 4:3-12.

1 And the word of Samuel came to all Israel.  Now Israel went out to battle against the Philistines.  They encamped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines encamped at Aphek. 2 The Philistines drew up in line against Israel, and when the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand men on the field of battle. 3 And when the troops came to the camp, the elders of Israel said, "Why has the LORD defeated us today before the Philistines?  Let us bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD here from Shiloh, that it may come among us and save us from the power of our enemies." 4 So the people sent to Shiloh and brought from there the ark of the covenant of the LORD of hosts, who is enthroned on the cherubim.  And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God. 5 As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. 6 And when the Philistines heard the noise of the shouting, they said, "What does this great shouting in the camp of the Hebrews mean?"  And when they learned that the ark of the LORD had come to the camp, 7 the Philistines were afraid, for they said, "A god has come into the camp."  And they said, "Woe to us!  For nothing like this has happened before. 8 Woe to us!  Who can deliver us from the power of these mighty gods?  These are the gods who struck the Egyptians with every sort of plague in the wilderness. 9 Take courage, and be men, O Philistines, lest you become slaves to the Hebrews as they have been to you; be men and fight." 10 So the Philistines fought, and Israel was defeated, and they fled, every man to his home.  And there was a very great slaughter, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 And the ark of God was captured, and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.


According to what I read here, it appears the Philistines captured Israel’s god.  That sounds absurd to our ears.  But it seems the Jews and the Philistines BOTH thought the ark was a god.  Israel’s faith was not in the God of the ark, but in the ark of God.  They made an idol of a gold box (v3).  A very important gold box, but a box nevertheless.  Consequently, the LORD defeated them and handed them over to their enemies.  

Their faith was in their objects of worship, not in THE object of our worship who is God.  Their faith was in their religion and religious things.  They had great faith!  As soon as the ark of the covenant of the LORD came into the camp, all Israel gave a mighty shout, so that the earth resounded. But that was, as Jim Elliff puts it, “wasted faith”.  A gold box could not deliver them from their enemies.  The ark couldn’t deliver itself from their enemies.  And what did the people of Israel think when Gentiles walked away with the object of their faith, the ark of the covenant?  Now what?  What do you do when someone steals your god?

When faith is misplaced and God is rejected, the enemies of God’s people become the victors.  In Jeremiah’s day, the people of Jerusalem were doing precisely the same thing with the Temple that they had done with the ark.  Their faith was in the stuff of their worship rituals rather than in God Himself.  And that is a real danger.  The same thing that had happened with the Philistines is about to happen again.

Those of you who have been a part of Grace Fellowship for several years, when we worshiped at our previous location, you all noticed the religious hardware throughout the building and especially in the sanctuary.  Such things are inherently dangerous.  They are stumbling blocks to true worship.  A cross can be transformed in the minds of some from a religious symbol into an object of adoration.  How many times have we seen people kiss the crucifixes hanging around their necks as an act of piety and adoration?

This is one of the reasons why some denominations shun all such things.  If you have ever been to a worship service at the Reformed Presbyterian church here in State College, you may have noticed the complete absence of any religious symbols.  This is in order to avoid the very thing the Jews were guilty of: worshiping things instead of the God behind those objects.

The Philistines robbed the Jews of their beloved ark which they held in very high esteem, even to the point of trusting that inanimate object to deliver them from their foes.  Later, it became even worse.  King Jereboam robbed the ten tribes by making two golden calves which he referred to as the gods that delivered them from Egypt.  He robbed them of the true worship of the true God and replaced it with idols.

It was this idolatry which Jeremiah is referring to as the primary cause for the destruction of the northern kingdom by the Assyrians.  The people of Judah know all of this.  But they are suffering from a serious case of denial.  They simply refused to listen to their God.  They rejected their status as God’s holy people.

1 The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2 "Stand in the gate of the LORD's house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the LORD, all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD. 3 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. 4 Do not trust in these deceptive words: 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.' 5 "For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly execute justice one with another, 6 if you do not oppress the sojourner, 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, 7 then I will let you dwell in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your fathers forever. 8 "Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!'--only to go on doing all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?  Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD. 12 Go now to my place that was in Shiloh, where I made my name dwell at first, and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. 15 And I will cast you out of my sight, as I cast out all your kinsmen, all the offspring of Ephraim.

16 "As for you
[Jeremiah], 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. 17 Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. [I.e. family worship of false gods]  And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger. 19 Is it I whom they provoke?  declares the LORD.  Is it not themselves, to their own shame?

20 Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: behold, my anger and my wrath will be poured out on this place, upon man and beast, upon the trees of the field and the fruit of the ground; it will burn and not be quenched." 21 Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "Add your burnt offerings to your sacrifices, and eat the flesh. 22 For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 But this command I gave them: 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people.  And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.' 24 But they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and the stubbornness of their evil hearts, and went backward and not forward. 25 From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. 26 Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck.  They did worse than their fathers. 27 "So you shall speak all these words to them, but they will not listen to you.  You shall call to them, but they will not answer you. 28 And you shall say to them, 'This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips. 29 "'Cut off your hair and cast it away; raise a lamentation on the bare heights, for the LORD has rejected and forsaken the generation of his wrath.'

30 "For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD.  They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. 31 And they have built the high places of Topheth
[lit. “Place of Fire”], which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. 32 Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. 33 And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. 34 And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste.

1 "At that time, declares the LORD, the bones of the kings of Judah, the bones of its officials, the bones of the priests, the bones of the
[false] prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be brought out of their tombs. 2 And they shall be spread before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and served, which they have gone after, and which they have sought and worshiped.  And they shall not be gathered or buried.  They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. 3 Death shall be preferred to life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family in all the places where I have driven them, declares the LORD of hosts. (Jeremiah 7:1-8:3 ESV)

On one hand, the people were worshiping at the high places of Topheth in the Valley of Hinnom located outside the eastern gate of Jerusalem.  It was considered to be a holy place because it was there that they brought their sacrifices to Molech.  The word “Topheth” literally means “place of fire” or “place of burning”.  The sacrifices they would burn there, as you know, were their own children.  Some commentators say the word “Topheth” is a musical reference that may be related to drums that were beaten during the sacrifices to drown out the screams of their victims.

It is these same people who come to the Temple to worship, who listen to those false prophets and godless priests who are constantly contradicting Jeremiah’s message of impending doom by saying, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.' (v4).  It is not unlike faith in the ark to save them from the Philistines.  They have great faith!  They are extremely religious, even sacrificially so!  They are so religious, so fervent, so devoted, so sincere in their faith that they even burn their own children in sacrifice to Molech.  

Do not trust in these deceptive words, 'This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.'

God told Jeremiah in verse 1 to go to the Temple and speak all of this to all you men of Judah who enter these gates to worship the LORD.  They actually attempt to worship both Jehovah and Molech.  

9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, 10 and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, 'We are delivered!'--only to go on doing all these abominations?

These people have lost all knowledge, they have absolutely no understanding of who they are and who the true God is.  As we read this, it seems inconceivable that anyone could simultaneously be so pious and so evil, MUCH LESS the chosen people of the one true God!  

Is it impossible that this could happen to the 21st century church in America?  Is it impossible that Christians could be duped by religious deceivers today?  That has already happened.  There are entire denominations that find nothing wrong with abortion or homosexual marriage.  Some of those same denominations have conducted conferences where they attempt to “re-imagine” God.  

Then we have supposed Evangelicals denying the existence of Hell and teaching eastern meditation techniques disguised as “contemplative prayer”.  Here are a few quotes from a now infamous sermon by Rob Bell which he preached concerning “spiritual breathing”.  This is just a sample of the paganism floating around amongst Evangelicals today:

“Central to the Christian tradition for thousands of years have been disciplines of meditation.  Reflection...silence.  And breathing.  It was understood that to be a healthy person... and to be fully connected with God and to be fully centered, you would spend significant parts of your day in silence breathing, meditating, praying, allowing the Spirit of God to transform you and touch you.”

“Now from way back when our ancestors understood that there's something divine about our breath.  There's something sacred and holy about the very act of breathing.”

“Take a moment, as you breathe deeply, to invite the God who made the universe into your breath.”

“One of the things the Spirit does, one of the things the breath does is remind you that you belong to God.  And that you can't earn it, and you can't get enough points, to get 'in' with the Big Guy.  You can't do enough good deeds and then God will like you.  One of the things the Spirit does is remind us that we belong.  Period. Just exactly as we are.”

“In Yoga, one of the central tenets of Yoga is your breath needs to remain the same regardless of the pose.  . . . it's not how flexible you are, it's not whether you can do the poses, it's not how much you can bend yourself, it's can you keep your breath (breathes in and out) consistent (breathes out) through whatever you are doing.  And the Yoga Masters say this is how it is when you follow Jesus and surrender to God.  Is it's your breath being consistent.  It's your connection with God regardless of the pose you find yourself in.  That's integrating the divine into the daily.”

“Central to the Christian tradition for thousands of years has been reflection, meditation, breathing, has been this awareness that if I don't stop on a regular basis and ask questions about the crap that I'm carrying around, and I don't get rid of it...my life will just end up a mess.  When was the last time you took time to breathe?  That you turned off your cell phone and put your computer on sleep and said ‘I am going to exhale.. there are some things that I need to breathe out.’"

[PRAYER]  “God, we are fragile frail clods of dirt. (blows) and we need you to breathe into us hope, and truth, and love, and courage.  Perhaps for many of us the world has become an ugly place and we need you to breathe in some beauty.  We ask you to be with us in our breathing.  To help us breathe out so that we can breathe in.”

“If . . . uh . . . breathing has dragged up some stuff that needs to be exhaled there are people around the stage that would love to talk with you after the service, to join you, if you just need a good ... I was gonna say a good cry, but a good breathe, we're around, and we would love to help in any way that we could.”

“And now my brothers and sisters may you breathe, and may you breathe deeply,  and may it change your life.  Peace be with you, see you next week.” 1

This isn’t the equivalent of sacrificing humans at Topheth.  But it is far afield from biblical truth.  And eventually, if you travel far enough in the wrong direction, you invariably arrive at nearly incomprehensible evil.  We are not yet done with inventing new ways to do evil.  

The total failure of the people of Judah was due to misplaced faith.  At first, they wandered from the word of God.  Then they were forgetful of the Word of God.  They neglected God, they followed after their own imaginations, they had faith in their physical objects of worship and replaced faith in the true God with faith in imaginary gods.  Eventually they became so steeped in such serious error that they willfully rejected God while going through the motions of worshiping Him in His Temple and trusting in deceitful words!

==========================

How many people’s faith is actually in something less than God while calling it Christianity?  I have no idea.  But I know it happens regularly.  People have faith in rituals.  They have faith in altars and priests and buildings.  They have faith in themselves.  They have faith in their sacrificial and pious living.  They have faith in preachers and teachers and politicians and their spouses and their parents and their heritage.  And they have faith that their sincerity and self-righteousness will win God over when the time comes to stand before Him.  And all such misplaced, wasted faith is a dreadful evil.  

That is why we say that salvation is, according to the Scriptures alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.  Our faith is in God alone.  Let’s not forget who He is and who we are.  Let’s never neglect what He has said.  The sole object of our faith is God Himself.

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1. http://www.lighthousetrailsresearch.com/robbell.htm  Entire transcript downloaded and quoted.


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