If our faith is not fully in the Lord, it will be in something else. Misplaced trust, Jeremiah reminds us—whether in our knowledge, abilities, riches, or religious acts—will never lead us to repentance and a relationship with God. Only humble faith in Him alone can do that.
One Nation Under Judgment
If you’ve ever wondered why your testimony as a Christian—your words, your efforts, your example—do not seem to make an impact for the Lord on those around you, well, I want to encourage you with the testimony and life of Jeremiah.
His world would not listen to him. Judah was rushing toward self-destruction and ultimately God’s judgment, and Jeremiah did everything he could to stop this national train wreck.
The truth is, God did not give Jeremiah any false sense of optimism about his nation, Judah. However, there would be individuals here and there who would listen to his message and repent. This is why we find Jeremiah appealing to individuals to repent while at the same time he is delivering a message of coming judgment on the nation.
By the way, God has not given the church today a commission to reach nations; the Great Commission from the Lord is to go and make disciples from within every nation. As I often say, God has not called us to save America; He has called us to take the gospel to Americans—and to French people and Africans and Asians and everyone else. Of course, if enough individuals believe, it might turn a nation around, like it did in Nineveh through the preaching of the prophet Jonah.
Now here in chapters 7 through 10 of Jeremiah, we have a single sermon. It is often called the “temple sermon.” Chapter 26 refers to the same sermon, and I need to mention here that the sermons or prophecies of Jeremiah are not arranged chronologically but topically and thematically.
Jeremiah’s sermon could be entitled, “One Nation under Judgment,” describing the fate of Judah and any nation that rejects God.
The first point Jeremiah makes concerns the people’s misplaced trust. Chapter 7 begins with the Lord instructing Jeremiah to stand at the gate of the temple and speak to those coming to worship the Lord. The prophet makes it clear here in verses 3-4 that there is very little real worship taking place:
“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. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’”
Apparently, the people are coming to worship and quoting this phrase, “This is the temple of the Lord.” They are repeating it over and over, using it like some sort of good-luck charm, as if the mere presence of the Lord’s temple will protect them. Well, the temple is not a good-luck charm; without repentance and true worship, it is just another building.
In fact, God offers the proof of this in verse 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.”
Shiloh was the place where the ark of the covenant resided for over 300 years. Shiloh was where Eli served and little Samuel grew up. But the ark’s presence did not save Shiloh. I have stood there at Shiloh and looked around at the hills where the tribes of Israel had once worshiped. Pieces of clay pots are still scattered about, thousands of years after the people celebrated Passover there. But today, it is a barren place; there is no magic—no mystical, spiritual presence, so to speak—in that place.
God is telling His people here, through Jeremiah, “You can go on looking toward the temple all you want, but it will not help you. Your hope cannot be in a place; it has to be in a person—and that person is the true and living God.”
Now Jeremiah says in the next few verses that the people are also trusting in the wrong deity. Verse 18 says, “The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven.”
More than likely the queen of heaven mentioned here is the Assyrian and Babylonian goddess Ishtar. We know from history that people made cakes for Ishtar, whom they called the queen of heaven.
I must tell you, if I were God, I would make sure those cakes were burned to a crisp every time an Israelite tried to bake one. In fact, I would probably set their stoves on fire. But God patiently warns them instead.
The second point in Jeremiah’s sermon concerns the rejection of God’s law. This is the focus as chapter 8 begins. The Lord says in verse 6, “Everyone turns to his own course, like a horse plunging headlong into battle.” The nation is so far removed from the Word of God that God says through Jeremiah in verse 7, “My people know not the rules [or the law] of the Lord.”
But don’t try to tell them that. The people claim they are making the right decisions; they say here in verse 8, “We are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us.” They claim they are doing the right thing! The truth is, their religious leaders have twisted the Word of God. As Jeremiah records here in verse 8, “The lying pen of the scribes has made [God’s Word] into a lie.”
Isn’t that typical? False religious leaders have this amazing ability to take God’s Word and turn it upside down and twist it inside out in order to deny what it says and even make people comfortable with their sin. Over the years I have had unmarried couples tell me God was just fine with them living together—why, what they were doing made perfect sense.
The people of Judah are claiming God’s approval, but God says in verse 9 they have “rejected the word of the Lord.” Consequently, judgment is coming. Verses 16-17 vividly describe the coming Babylonian invaders:
“At the sound of the neighing of their stallions the whole land quakes. They come and devour the land and all that fills it, the city and those who dwell in it. . . . I am sending among you serpents . . . that cannot be charmed, and they shall bite you,” declares the Lord.”
Defeat, destruction, and death are soon coming. But let me tell you, through it all there is still this invitation from the Lord:
“Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24)
In other words, knowing and following God rescues you from God’s judgment. Living for yourself—trusting in your wisdom, strength, or wealth—ultimately brings God’s judgment.
Now chapter 10 focuses on the sin of idolatry and makes it crystal clear that it is utter foolishness. God says in verse 11, “The gods who did not make the heavens and the earth shall perish from the earth and from under the heavens.” He says in verse 14, “There is no breath in them,” and in verse 15, “They are worthless, a work of delusion.”
You can make all the cakes in the world and bring them to these gods and goddesses; you can call Ishtar the queen of heaven all you want, but she is made out of wood and decorated with silver and gold. She and all other man-made gods are lifeless. There is no breath in them. They cannot walk or talk, and they certainly cannot hear your prayers.
Who are you listening to today? Are they pointing you to the true and living God? Who are you following today? Let me tell you, there is no queen of heaven, but there is a King of heaven. Jeremiah says back here in verse 10, “The Lord is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King.”