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19 Eternal One (to Jeremiah): Go again to a potter, but this time buy a clay jar from him. Then invite some community leaders and some of the head priests to walk with you. Take them out of the city through the potsherd gate into the valley of Ben-hinnom, where the city dumps its trash. Once you’re there, cry out for all to hear the words I will give you. Start out saying, “Hear the word of the Eternal, O kings of Judah and citizens of Jerusalem! This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, has to say.”

Jeremiah now performs yet another symbolic act. The prophet’s words and sermons are sometimes forgettable; but people cannot forget what they see, hear, smell, and taste. The message registers loud and clear. Standing with community and religious leaders amid the broken pottery shards (that’s what “potsherd” means), God has a strong word for these people. The time of being shaped and re-formed on the potter’s wheel has passed. Like the clay jar Jeremiah is holding, the people’s hearts are hardened. A more drastic measure will now be taken. It is no coincidence that God leads them to stand in this valley of refuse—this place sometimes called Topheth. It is where the horrors of human sacrifice occurred. It is where God’s vengeance would be remembered.

Eternal One: Tell the leaders, I am certainly bringing on this city a dreadful disaster that will echo in the ears of those who hear about it. Why is this happening? Because the people have abandoned Me and defiled this place where you now stand by making sacrifices to foreign gods. They have burned offerings to other gods—idols never before worshiped by My people, their ancestors, or all the kings of Judah. The blood of innocent people has been spilled in this valley—human sacrifices in the shadow of Jerusalem. They have built high places and altars to Baal where they have sacrificed their own children as burnt offerings to this dark and pagan god. How could this be My people? I never taught them to do such unspeakable evil. It never even crossed My mind. So beware: The days are soon coming when this place will not be known as Topheth or even the valley of Ben-hinnom. Soon it will be called the valley of Slaughter. I will spoil the plans of Judah and Jerusalem to defend this city against Babylon. I will cause their people to be killed by enemies in battle and by those who hunt them down to take their lives. No one will bury them; I will feed their dead bodies to the birds of the air and the wild beasts of the land. I will destroy this city, making their homeland a wasteland, a place of scorn. Those who pass by and see this desolation will shake their heads in horror. As the enemy lays siege to the city and closes in around them, food will run out and those inside the city walls will become desperate. Then they will turn on each other, eating one another and even their own children to stay alive.

10 At this point, Jeremiah, smash the clay jar in front of your companions, 11 and say to those leaders, “This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies, has to say: ‘Take a good look at this shattered jar! Is there any hope of these fragments being pieced together again? So, too, will you be without hope of repair when I smash this nation and this city. Topheth will be used as a burial site until there is no room. 12 Then I will make Jerusalem and all its citizens as unclean as Topheth itself. 13 As for the houses of Jerusalem and the palaces of the kings of Judah, they will be defiled like the wasteland of Topheth because people have done shameful things on their rooftops—burning sacrifices to the starry hosts and pouring drink offerings to other gods in My city!’”

14 Jeremiah returned to the city from Topheth where the Eternal sent him to deliver this disturbing message. He stood in the court of the Eternal’s temple and proclaimed the same sermon to all its citizens who came there to worship.

Jeremiah: 15 This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, has to say: “Watch as I bring every disaster I have promised onto Jerusalem and all the towns and villages of Judah, because they are a stiff-necked, stubborn people who refuse to listen to what I say.”

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