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The word of the Eternal came to Jeremiah.

Eternal One: Go now and take a stand for Me at the entrance to My temple. Proclaim there My message. Tell all the people of Judah who enter these gates to worship the Eternal to stop and listen to the word of the Eternal. Tell them this is what I, the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, have to say:

“Change your ways and stop what you are doing, and I will let you live in this land. Do not rely on the misguided words, ‘The temple of the Eternal, the temple of the Eternal, the temple of the Eternal,’ as if the temple’s presence alone will protect you. But if you genuinely change your ways and stop what you are doing; if you deal with each other fairly; if you don’t oppress foreigners, orphans, and widows; if you don’t shed the blood of the innocent in this land; and if you don’t practice the self-destructive worship of other gods; then I will let you live forever in this land I promised your ancestors long ago.

One of the most important and difficult messages Jeremiah ever delivers is given at the entrance to the temple. In the seventh century, the problem isn’t that people are refusing to worship, for the crowds continue to form at the temple in Jerusalem, but that they are embracing a superficial form of worship. They are acting as if their motives do not matter; their immoral behavior seems to be of little or no concern. As long as they have the temple—with its rituals and rich history—they believe they are immune to anything. As long as they have the building in their midst, they seem to think they have God—as if He could be contained in this beautiful and storied structure.

Imagine the scene as this bold prophet speaks to the crowds streaming into the temple area. Imagine how startling these words sound to people who think religious activity and merely showing up at the temple will protect them. Listen now as Jeremiah preaches strong words about the dangers of worship gone bad.

But instead, you are clinging to lies and illusions that are worthless. Do you think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and chase after other gods and still expect Me to protect you? 10 Do you think all it takes is for you to run back to Me in this house, which is called by My name, and say, ‘We’re safe now’? Does this somehow make it all right to do these vile things in front of Me? 11 Do you think this house, which is called by My name, is a den of thieves?[a] I see what you’re doing.

12 “Go and take notice of what happened in Shiloh, the place where I first met your ancestors in the tabernacle that bore My name. See what I did in response to the wickedness of My people, Israel. 13 Now, because of all the evil you have done, and because when I spoke to you time and again you never listened, and because when I called your name you never answered, 14 watch what I will do to this house which bears My name, this sacred place I gave to you and your fathers. I will do to this temple, where you have put your trust, what I did to Shiloh all those years ago. 15 I will throw you from My presence, just as I did to all your kinsmen in the Northern Kingdom, the descendants of Ephraim.”

(to Jeremiah) 16 Don’t pray or plead for these people. No matter how badly you want to come to Me on their behalf, don’t bother. For I won’t hear such cries from you. 17 Can’t you see what’s happening in the villages throughout Judah and even in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather the firewood, the fathers tend the fire, and the mothers bake the bread for the so-called queen of heaven! The people pour out drink offerings in honor of other gods as if to spite Me. 19 What they are doing doesn’t hurt me; it only hurts them, to their own disgrace. 20 Now hear what I, the Eternal Lord, declare: “The heat of My anger will pour out on this land, on man and beast, on the trees of the field and the fruit of the soil. My wrath will burn through this place and not be quenched.

Generally, prophets are called to speak to people on behalf of God (prophecy) and to speak to God on behalf of the people (intercession). But in this stinging message, God tells Jeremiah not to waste his breath by praying for the people because He will not hear the prophet’s pleas. God is determined to right His people’s wrongs with punishing fury. God’s honor is at stake, and so is His people’s future. The powerful and beautiful rituals God gave the Hebrews in order to shape them as individuals and as a community have become nothing more than empty rites that God cannot tolerate.

21 This is what the Eternal, Commander of heavenly armies and God of Israel, has to say:

Eternal One: Treat your burnt offerings the way you treat other sacrifices. Go ahead and eat the meat yourselves. I won’t have any part of it. 22 When I freed your ancestors from slavery in Egypt, burnt offerings and sacrifices were not something I required of them. 23 I wanted them to trust Me and obey My voice. In those early days, I told them, “I will be your God, and you will be My people. Follow Me every step of the way into a life that is good.” 24 But they didn’t trust Me. They didn’t obey My voice. They refused to listen to Me. Instead they followed the plans of their own stubborn hearts. Each step was a step backward, not forward. 25 From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, I have shown them the way to a better life. Day after day, I sent all of My servants, the prophets, to speak the truth. 26 But did any of them listen or pay attention? Did they change their ways? No, they only hardened their resolve to go their own way. Each generation has done more evil than the generation before.

(to Jeremiah) 27 This is how I want you to speak to the people—say it all, don’t hold anything back—but they won’t hear you. Your voice will call throughout the land, but no one will answer you. 28 And so you will say to them, “This is the nation that dared not obey the voice of the Eternal, their one True God. This is the people who would not be taught.” Truth has died and disappeared from their very lips.

29     Shave your head and throw your hair away, for it is time to mourn.
        Climb the hills and grieve for the darkness has gone too far.
    The Eternal has rejected His faithless people;
        He has forsaken this generation that has stirred up His wrath.

30 For the people of Judah have done what is plainly evil right in front of Me. They have brought their revolting idols into My temple! They have desecrated this place that stands in honor of My name. 31 They have built shrines to other gods at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-hinnom, where they sacrifice their own sons and daughters and burn them in the fire to dark and pagan gods. I never taught them to do such unspeakable evil; it never even crossed My mind. 32 But I tell you this: the days are coming when that place will no longer be known as Topheth, or the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-hinnom. But it will be called the valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the bodies of those who sacrifice children there until there is no more room. 33 The remains of these wicked people will feed the vultures of the sky and wild animals of the earth because no one will be there to scare them away. 34 I will silence the sounds of laughter and joy from the villages of Judah to the streets of Jerusalem. Even the joy of a wedding will not be heard in this land of ruin.

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