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.