No one is safe – Saturday, 16th Week in ordinary time – Jeremiah 7:1-11
Chapter 7 to chapter 20 of the prophet Jeremiah takes place during the reign of King Jehoiakim (609-598) who reigned for eleven-years. Just 12 years after the death of King Jehoiakim the people of Judah will be taken into exile.
After the death of Josiah in 609 BC, his son Jehoahaz rules for three months before he is taken prisoner by Pharaoh Nico who defeated his father, Josiah in battle. Pharoah Nico now places his brother on the throne and changes his name to Jehoiakim. While his father, Josiah, brought about great reforms in the religious life of Judah, these reforms seem to have been dependent on his own personal actions and beliefs and did not seem to have penetrated the people’s spirit who continued with their idolatrous worship. The passage of today reflects the religious and moral state of Judah during the first five years of Jehoiakim’s eleven-year rule.
This message from Jeremiah can be dated to the year 609-608, immediately after Josiah’s death and during the political upheaval in Judah. Judah at this stage was a vassal of Egypt; its king is placed on the throne at the whim and fancy of the Pharaoh of Egypt and its people have gone back to idol worship. Yet there seems to be an apparent boast from the people, a false hope that has become part of their belief system; nothing could harm them as long as they had the temple (verse 4).
While they practiced little of the faith and professed no love for God, they had made the temple their ‘lucky charm,’ a talisman that they hung proudly around their necks as a nation. For Judah, if God is in his temple, then they were all safe. How wrong they were! In an ironic fashion, the promise of divine presence that was so important for Israel was turned on its head.
Where did this belief system of the temple’s permanent protection come from? Psalm 48 has the idea that God’s presence in the temple of Jerusalem is like a kind of protective shield over Jerusalem that makes her invincible (cf. also the temple liturgies in Psalms 15 and 24). Hence, Jeremiah warns against an uncritical claiming of the promise of God’s presence for one’s own sake. God is not a security blanket, nor can God be used like an amulet or magic wand to ward off danger. We can imagine how one or many of the false prophets of Jeremiah’s day might have twisted the Scriptures to “prove” that the temple could never be conquered as many false prophets and priests do today.
Standing at the temple, Jeremiah calls out to Judah proclaiming a message from God. His message is direct, “amend your ways and what you are doing and let God dwell within you and let God dwell in this place.” Already in chapter 4:6 and 5:15, Jeremiah had predicted that Babylon, the “nation from far away, an enduring nation, an ancient nation shall eat up their harvest and their food. That Babylon will eat up their sons and daughters and will eat up their flocks and herds and eat up their vines and figs and will destroy them with the sword and destroy the city and its walls that they trusted in. Jeremiah called his people ‘senseless and foolish; they have eyes but do not see and ears that do not hear’(5:21). Yet these foolish and senseless people think that if they chant, “this is the temple” (7:4) repeatedly like some sort of magic mantra, they will be safe and the temple would never be destroyed. Sadly, fools never live alone in their paradise and there are many who subscribe to a foolish world.
Perhaps today we don’t say, “the temple of God, the temple of God” as they did in Jeremiah’s day. Today some say, “I go to church, I go to church, I go to church”; or “I’m a conservative, I’m a conservative, I’m a conservative” or liberal. None of these things make one right with God apart from truth, faith and true repentance.
Jeremiah is like a voice in the wilderness. This eleventh hour prophet who can see Babylon and her intentions of destruction pleads with Judah. God asks for a course correction in their lives; he asks for a ‘true conversion’ that was mandated in Exodus 22:17-24. A conversion that stops oppressing the stranger, the orphan and the widow. A conversion that puts away the shedding of innocent blood (Exodus 20:1-7). A conversion that put aside false gods. People may perform the most sacred rites, and yet perpetuate the grossest crimes and this is what Jeremiah denounces.
We notice that of these four aspects of demonstrated repentance, only one of them deals with a man’s relationship with God; three of the four deal with man’s relationship to his fellow man. God cares about how we treat one another, and true repentance will extend into the way we treat each other.
Without this conversion there is no protection from Yahweh even if one stands in the temple; ‘no one is safe’ (verse 10). The people of Judah had turned the house of the Lord into a ‘den of thieves’ (verse 11) (crf Matthew 21:13). For Jeremiah the temple had become nothing less than a hiding place for evil doers from whom Yahweh had withdrawn his protection.
The pericope ends with the ominous warning: “God is watching you!” (verse 11) — a haunting reminder of God’s presence that predicts nothing good for the perpetrators.