The Expository Files.

 

The Empty Boast Of Hypocrites

Jeremiah 7:9,10



One of the greatest prophets during the Old Testament era was Jeremiah. His mission was to testify to a sinful and stubborn people who were misled by false prophets. He saw the nation pass from the prosperous conditions during the time of Josiah to a state of iniquity and ruin under the last four kings of Judah. Israel, the northern kingdom, had already been carried away into captivity. Judah stood alone against her enemies. Babylon and Egypt were struggling for world power. It was a time of wickedness and doom and the Lord called this young man to preach repentance to the people of Judah.

Here is part of what the prophet preached, in Jeremiah 7:1-20.

"The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, "Stand in the gate of the LORD'S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the LORD!'" Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. "Do not trust in these lying words, saying, 'The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these.' "For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, "if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, "then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.

"Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit. "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, "and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered to do all these abominations'? "Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it," says the LORD. "But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I set My name at the first, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. "And now, because you have done all these works," says the LORD, "and I spoke to you, rising up early and speaking, but you did not hear, and I called you, but you did not answer, "therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to this place which I gave to you and your fathers, as I have done to Shiloh. "And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren--the whole posterity of Ephraim.

"Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you. "Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? "The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. "Do they provoke Me to anger?" says the LORD. "Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?" Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place--on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched."


Of course our first impression is, this was a very unpleasant message, yet this is "the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord." Let's begin our study with four observations:

THE DIVINE ORIGIN OF THIS MESSAGE
True prophets of God were men who acted and spoke according to what the Lord said. We can simply observe that Jeremiah did what the Lord told him to do, and said what the Lord told him to say. Verse 1 says: "The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord," and then it describes what the prophet did and said.

NOTICE WHERE HE WAS TO DO THIS
"The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, "Stand in the gate of the LORD'S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, 'Hear the word of the LORD, all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship the LORD!'"

As a matter of self-examination, I have to read this and inquire of myself, "WHAT MY REACTION MIGHT HAVE BEEN..."

"Lord, this is Berkley speaking ... I ah ... I would be glad to deliver your message, but I don't think it would be a good idea to stand 'in the gate of the Lord's house' to say these things .. There are a lot of quiet, secluded places to preach this stuff ..."

But you see the Lord wanted this preaching done WHERE THE PEOPLE WERE!! So the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord was to be shouted ... was to be proclaimed plainly right in the crowded gate of the temple.

And notice WHAT HE WAS TO SAY:

Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: "Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. "Do not trust in these lying words, saying, 'The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these.' "For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbor, "if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, "then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. "Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit."

Here's Jeremiah, in the gate area of the temple, where the crowd of people would pass by and congregate. In this very public place he was to tell the people of their sin and guilt! He had to tell them - they were trusting in lying words that cannot profit. He had to call upon these people - to repent, to amend their ways ... the message was: YOU ARE GUILTY ... REPENT OR ELSE.

And, THIS WAS ACCOMPANIED BY THE THREAT OF DIVINE PUNISHMENT.

In verses 15-17; in verse 20, also in verses 32-34 ... here's some of that:

"And I will cast you out of My sight, as I have cast out all your brethren--the whole posterity of Ephraim. "Therefore do not pray for this people, nor lift up a cry or prayer for them, nor make intercession to Me; for I will not hear you. "Do you not see what they do in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? "The children gather wood, the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods, that they may provoke Me to anger. "Do they provoke Me to anger?" says the LORD. "Do they not provoke themselves, to the shame of their own faces?" Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: "Behold, My anger and My fury will be poured out on this place--on man and on beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the ground. And it will burn and not be quenched."

What courage! What conviction and backbone, for Jeremiah to stand in the gate to the temple and preach this message of REPENTANCE, warning the people that they had provoked the Lord to anger.

That's the context; that's what Jeremiah chapter seven is about. Now there is part of this I want to get into in more detail ...

Jeremiah 7:9-10

"Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered to do all these abominations'?"

The Lord had Jeremiah bring up this question; and this was like an INTERROGATION; the "third degree" we might say. I think I can hear a tone of extreme surprise.

"Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered to do all these abominations'?"

Let's consider the specific charges: "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know..."

STEALING, of course, is forbidden; it was forbidden in the Mosaic Law; it is forbidden in the New Testament. The old law was clear, "Thou shalt not steal," in Exodus 20:15. The New Testament is just as clear. Paul said, "Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather, let him labor," (Eph. 4:28). A thief is one who acquires the property of another without his consent and knowledge. Overt acts of hold-ups or mugging would be obvious examples of theft. More sophisticated instances might be more widespread: shoplifting, employee pilfering, dubious financial practices, looting, underhanded fraud in business practices. Theft is sin -- anywhere, and when committed by anyone. These people were guilty of theft; then they would come and stand before the Lord in His house. They would say, "We are delivered to do all these abominations!"

MURDER. It is God who bestows life on human beings; God gives life, so homicide amounts to the destruction of something God has given. In the Bible life is invested with sanctity and the one who intentionally terminates life usurps presumptuously a prerogative which belongs exclusively to the Creator. So it says, "Thou Shalt Not Kill!" (Ex. 20:13). These people were guilty of homicide yet they would come and stand before the Lord in His house. They would say, "We are delivered to do all these abominations!"

ADULTERY. Breaking faith with your spouse, and giving yourself to another in defiance of God is an act of selfishness for which there is no excuse. There are few things they will crush the spirit of children like the adultery and divorce of parents!! The New Testament condemns adultery in statements too clear to be debated ...

Jesus said, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another, commits adultery against her; if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery," (Mark 10:11).

Heb. 13:4 says -- "Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge."

These people Jeremiah preached to where violating their marriage covenant, but - as we might say today - "They came on to church anyway, stood before God and claimed their purity!" "We are delivered to do all these abominations!"

SWEARING FALSELY (NIV, perjury). When they were called to testify, or asked to speak the truth, they would lie. They were willing to deceive; not bound by their conscience to speak the truth. Still -- they would come and stand before the Lord in His house with the boast, "We are delivered to do all these abominations!"

BURNING INCENSE TO BAAL, and walking after other gods. But as if these sins weren't enough -- to accentuate their guilt, there was this ARROGANT ASSUMPTION OF SAFETY; this boasting -- "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, --- "and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered to do all these abominations'?"

Here are people willing to sin against God, live unselfishly and then, CLAIM TO BE SAVED. They come on to worship, like everything is all right. I'm calling this their ARROGANT ASSUMPTION OF SAFETY. Yet God knew they were unfit. In verse 11, the Lord says, "I have seen it....Behold, I, even I, have seen it....says the Lord."

Likewise we are warned: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap..," (Gal. 6:7). So, here is Jeremiah, preaching to the people crowding into the temple: "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, "and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered to do all these abominations'?

Conclusions & Lessons
THEY WERE GETTING NO GOOD FROM THEIR WORSHIP.
Worship isn't just a matter of being at a certain place at a certain time. The essence of worship cannot be seen - in good music, or visual effects, or emotional displays and beautiful buildings. Worship begins with your attitude toward God. So if you don't want to obey God in your life; if you manifest irreverence toward Him in your behavior -- YOU ARE UTTERLY UNFIT AND UNQUALIFIED TO WORSHIP HIM.

Jesus goes even further. Jesus taught - in Matt. 5:22,23 - if you are estranged from your brother, Jesus said, "First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift..."

I don't know why people come to worship when they don't respect God the rest of the time? What is their motive? Are they using worship as a cloke to cover up their real character? Are they fulfilling the demands of fashion, or upholding some sort of reputation or image they want to have? Are they attempting, in some small way, to quiet their conscience. Are they trying to buy divine favor?? I don't know why people come to worship, when they don't respect God the rest of the time?

Worship begins with your attitude toward God; worship is the heart's way of expressing the reverence we have for God all the time. So these impenitent sinners were getting no good from their worship. And ...

THEY WERE DECEIVING THEMSELVES.
Verse 4 says they were trusting in lying words. When men are very observant of religious ordinances and public worship and yet are guilty of the grossest, wickedness ... THEY ARE DECEIVING THEMSELVES. They are pretending to be (in their public life) what they are not (in their hearts, character and daily behavior). It is self-deception, and compounds the problem of sin and misbehavior.

THEY WERE INSULTING GOD.
Listen again: "Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, burn incense to Baal, and walk after other gods whom you do not know, and then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, 'We are delivered to do all these abominations'? 'Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of thieves in your eyes? Behold, I, even I, have seen it,' says the LORD." By being guilty of all these sins, and then acting like they were fit to come to the temple and worship God ... they were insulting God. Likewise we are guilty, when we engage in sin without remorse and act like we enjoy fellowship with God.

THEY WERE PUTTING A STUMBLING BLOCK BEFORE OTHERS.
They were not only guilty of their own sin; through influence and example - they were dragging down the innocent. The sin of these hypocrites was soon to overwhelm Jerusalem in utter ruin. They became a stumbling block to their brethren, and brought about the ruin of the city.

Conclusion:
As I write this I know there is a tendency of thought here, where we are tempted to say: ".... I don't steal ... I've never even contemplated a murder ... adultery isn't in my past or present .. I have no plans to swear falsely, burn incense to Baal or walk after other gods ...." How does this relate to me??

I think this relates to us in at least three ways: ONE, the moral courage and faith of Jeremiah becomes a model for us. TWO, the wickedness these people were guilty of was not something they suddenly decided to do ... through a gradual and subtle process of decay, they reached this depth of sin. THREE, we must know that worship begins with your attitude toward God; worship is the heart's way of expressing the reverence we have for God all the time.

This was the word of the Lord that came to Jeremiah; and these things were written for our learning. The good news is - whatever you have done, you can be cleansed of sin because of Jesus' death ... that cleansing happens, when faith prompts you to obey Him. E-mail the editors of Expository Files if we can help in your journey away from sin.

By Warren E. Berkley
From Expository Files 5.2; February 1998

 

 

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