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A call to be just (August 9, 2015)

Uniform lesson for August 9, 2015
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Jeremiah 7:1-15 

Jeremiah was called by God to be a prophet during one of the most difficult and tumultuous periods in the history of Israel. The ten tribes of the northern kingdom had been conquered and dispersed by the Assyrians in 722 B.C. The land they had occupied was controlled by Assyria, which threatened to expand its influence southward. Egypt, the other Near East superpower, also threatened Judah, the southern kingdom. In 612 B.C. Assyria was conquered by a new power, Babylon. By 587-86 B.C. Judah was conquered by Babylon. The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and many people of Judah were carried off into exile.

Jeremiah, a priest from a long line of Levitical priests going back to Abiathar in the days of King David, prophesied from 627 B.C. until he was forced to flee to Egypt in 586 B.C. God commissioned Jeremiah to urge the leaders of Judah to accept domination by Babylon as punishment for their disobedience of God’s law.

Jeremiah’s prophetic words were edited and expanded by his scribe Baruch (see Jeremiah 36:27-32). Later other editors restructured his prophetic message to address the post-exilic challenges confronting the covenant people. Consequently, Jeremiah’s temple sermon was recorded twice in Jeremiah 7:1-15 and Jeremiah 26:1-6.

Jeremiah 7:1-2 — God calls Jeremiah
In 608 B.C., when Jehoiakim, son of Josiah, became the king of Judah, God commanded Jeremiah to stand in front of the temple in Jerusalem and preach a sermon as the worshippers entered the temple. Jeremiah makes allusions to the Law of Moses by using language quite similar to traditions now found in the book of Deuteronomy.

Jeremiah 7:3-4 — Presumptuous religion challenged
The prophets typically emphasized God’s imminent judgment before speaking about God’s redeeming grace. Here, Jeremiah confronts his hearers with a word from the Lord. “Amend your ways and your doings, and let me dwell with you in this place,” God says. The NRSV translation follows a slightly emended Hebrew text (“let me dwell with you”) to make sense out of the grammatically ambivalent Hebrew text (“I will let you dwell in this place”).

Jeremiah adds specific content to his admonition when he adds, “Do not trust in these deceptive words, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’” Worship in the temple is not a guarantee of God’s favor, Jeremiah exclaims. His negative attitude toward the Jerusalem temple may be due to the fact that, at this time, temple worship was led by Zadokite priests, a rival group opposed to the traditions and practices of Jeremiah’s Levitical priestly group. Jeremiah is speaking prophetically against those who presume to be in the right simply because they are worshipping in the temple in Jerusalem. Location is not a guarantee of authentic worship.

Jeremiah 7:5-7 — Authentic religion based on justice
The key word in this section is that little word “if.” It introduces five conditions God requires of Judah: They must truly change their ways; truly act justly toward each other; stop oppressing non-citizens, orphans and widows; stop shedding innocent blood; and stop worshipping false gods. In short, Jeremiah says that God commands the people to follow the Law of Moses. God’s gracious presence and Judah’s hope to remain in their promised homeland are contingent upon a radical change in the life style of the covenant people.

Jeremiah 7:8-11 — God sees through hypocrisy
Jeremiah asks two rhetorical questions. How can worshippers live such unrighteous lives and disobey God’s commandments and still claim to worship God? Has God’s house become a den of thieves? Jesus later cited Jeremiah’s indictment when he confronted similar hypocrisy and injustice in Jerusalem (Matthew 21:13).

Jeremiah 7:12-15 — Consider Shiloh
Jeremiah reminded his hearers that God had earlier punished false worship. In Shiloh, a shrine for the worship of Yahweh had been corrupted by the priest Eli and his sons. As a result, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who captured the ark of the covenant (cf. 1 Samuel 1-6). Shiloh had become a watchword for false religion. Jeremiah is prophesying that because of her wicked ways, Judah will suffer the same fate as Shiloh.

For discussion
Jeremiah is sometimes called a second Moses. How many references to the Law of Moses can you find in this passage? Jeremiah stood in a public place to preach his temple sermon. Have you ever stopped to listen to a street preacher? Do you think God uses street preaching as an effective way to deliver a message? How do you explain the contradiction that sometimes exists between what religious people profess and what they actually do?