Committed to Accountability
2 Chronicles 7:11–16
Jeremiah 7; 2 Kings 23:36, 37
Jeremiah 7:1–4, 8–15; 2 Kings 23:36-37
After participating in this lesson, each student will be able to:
1. List at least five sins for which God held his people accountable.
2. List at least five modern behaviors that are parallel to the sins of the ancient Judeans.
3. Examine his or her life for signs of these sins and take measures to resist them.
How to Say It
Diogenes of Sinope. Die-AH-jin-eez of Suh-NO-peh.
Philistines. Fuh-LISS-teens or FILL-us-teens.
Zebidah. Zee-BI-duh (I as in eye).
Daily Bible Readings
Monday, July 16—Pay Greater Attention (Hebrews 2:1–4)
Tuesday, July 17—Forgiveness Is Possible (2 Chronicles 7:11–16)
Wednesday, July 18—Choices of Consequences (1 Kings 9:1–9)
Thursday, July 19—Disaster Is Coming (Jeremiah 19:1–6)
Friday, July 20—Downfall Threatened (Jeremiah 26:1–6)
Saturday, July 21—Amend Your Ways (Jeremiah 7:1–7)
Sunday, July 22—Judgment of the Wicked (Jeremiah 7:8–15)
Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.… I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers.
—Jeremiah 7:12, 15
Why Teach this Lesson?
What comes after Sunday morning worship is over and we’ve had our lunch? That warm, lazy Sunday afternoon, of course! The kitchen is clean, the newspaper is read, and there aren’t any chores to do that can’t wait until later. You feel like taking a nap, so you settle into your favorite chair or stretch out on the couch. Soon you are dozing. But the sleep is short as someone knocks on your door, the phone rings, the kids scream, or the dog jumps on you.
It’s no fun to be distracted when we are comfortable. What is true with our physical comfort is also true with our spiritual comfort. But it is a dangerous thing to get lulled into a spiritual comfort zone. This lesson will be a sudden jolt, a mighty wake-up call from spiritual slumber. Consider how your students may have become comfortable in their spiritual walk and thus have failed to honor God truly. This lesson will help activate Ephesians 5:14 in your students’ lives as it challenges them to “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
A. Trusting in Lies
“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This was the strategy of Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. Goebbels and the Nazis perfected the modern art of misinformation, the concept of the big lie. Goebbels thought that the more outrageous the lie, the better, because the populace would think it was too extreme to be false.
As strange as that theory may seem to us, the Nazi propaganda machine successfully deceived the German people for over a decade. Yet the big lie technique did not originate with the Nazis. The history of human governments is littered with examples of lying kings and conquerors. Jeremiah the prophet was incensed by the ongoing deception of God’s people by the leaders of Judah.
Jeremiah was particularly enraged by the deceptions of those who claimed to be speaking for God. He denounced this as villainy. As a true prophet of God, Jeremiah revealed God’s displeasure: they “have spoken lies, which I did not tell them to do” (Jeremiah 29:23). Jeremiah also castigated the people who trusted “in deceptive words that are worthless” (7:8).
We as believers are called to be discerning of the truth. We have confidence that the Word of God is truth (John 17:17). Scripture is given to us as a measuring stick for all matters in life. Scripture is “the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
While some leaders in government are more truthful than others, history promises that the future holds more lying leaders. Today’s Honest Abe may be replaced by tomorrow’s Deceiver. The unfailing Word of God stands above all of this. God is the God of truth (Deuteronomy 32:4). God’s Word is not a mixture of truth, opinion, and falsehood. It is all truth, and it has the power to transform and change us. The more we study God’s Word and incorporate its teachings into our lives, the less likely we are to trust in lies.
B. Lesson Background
The writings contained in the book of Jeremiah are drawn from his four-decade ministry as a prophet of God to the nation of Judah. The book opens with prophecies from the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign, approximately 627 b.c. (Jeremiah 1:2). The book closes with events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 b.c. (39:2). The book is somewhat unusual for the prophets, for it contains both oracles (the words of the prophet delivered to the people) and narrative (accounts of historical events during this period).
The book of Jeremiah bears testimony that that prophet suffered a great deal for his prophetic ministry. Although he was assured by God that he was chosen even before birth, he protested about his inadequacy (Jeremiah 1:5-6). Later he complained that his prophecies had made him an object of derision in public (Jeremiah 20:7-8).
Yet when Jeremiah tried to ignore God’s prophetic voice in his life, it was as if his bones were on fire and he could not hold the words in (Jeremiah 20:9). This prophet’s words caused him to be beaten and thrown into prison (Jeremiah 37:15). Later he was thrown into a dungeon-like cistern, where he wallowed in the smelly mire (Jeremiah 38:6).
Most of Jeremiah’s words are sharp and condemning. This has caused him to be seen as the prophet of doom and gloom. Because of this, we have adopted the English word jeremiad, meaning an angry tirade. In English literature, a Jeremiah is symbolic of a person who is a persistent and vocal pessimist.
Yet Jeremiah also has a hopeful side. One of the most stirring passages in all the Old Testament is Jeremiah’s vision of the new covenant. He foresaw this as a time when the law of God would be a matter of the heart, not just observance (Jeremiah 31:33), and a time when God would no longer remember the sin of the people (Jeremiah 31:34). Jeremiah’s vision of fresh, new beginnings was adopted by the author of Hebrews to explain the new covenant that has been given to the church as the people of God (see Hebrews 8).
This week’s lesson is drawn from one of the prophet’s warnings against evil among the people of Judah. It is a biting condemnation of hypocrisy, particularly in worship.
I. False Security (Jeremiah 7:1–4)
A. Hearing the True Word (vv. 1, 2)
1, 2. This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Stand at the gate of the Lord’s house and there proclaim this message:
“ ‘Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord.
Routines and habits provide a sense of security. We put out the trash on Wednesday, mow the grass on Friday, do laundry on Saturday, and go to church on Sunday. We work the same job and live in the same house for many years. What happens when the routine is disrupted—our trash day is changed to Monday, the washing machine breaks down, and we lose our job? Such changes can make us feel insecure.
Jeremiah wants his people to know that routine does not equal a strong, secure relationship with God. We may appear religious because we do certain things on a regular basis, yet be far from the will of God. Our relationship may be empty and false. This is as true today as it was in Jeremiah’s time.
God does not call Jeremiah to evangelize the pagan masses of the ancient world. His message is for the (supposed) people of God, the citizens of Jerusalem. His target audience is even more selective as shown by the location for preaching given to him: he is to stand at the gate of the Lord’s house, meaning the main entry point of the temple in Jerusalem. Those he is to address are not coming for business, education, or meetings. They are coming to worship in the house of the Lord. They are following their routine, just as many attend church services each Sunday without much thought.
What Do You Think?
What are some innovations in the activities or schedules of your church that would be valuable in helping people hear God’s messages?
The gate is more than a doorway into the temple. It is an impressive structure that is more like a pass-through building than a simple wall opening. Gates in the ancient world can have rooms and open areas. They serve as gathering places. In the cities of ancient Israel, gates are places where judges dispense justice to the public (see Amos 5:15). Jeremiah’s cry at the gate of the temple is to be a call for justice and righteousness and truth in worship.
B. Rejecting Soothing Lies (vv. 3, 4)
3. “ ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.
Jeremiah’s message is a warning with a promise: Quit sinning and God will let you continue to live in the land of Judah. Jeremiah is calling for a change in hearts and in practices. Empty ritual is not acceptable worship. Idolatrous practices are not tolerable for God (see Jeremiah 8:19).
Some of the hearers must wonder what is so wrong. Aren’t they being faithful to worship at the house of the Lord? Aren’t they wearing their best temple-go-to-meetin’ clothes? Don’t they bring their offerings? Don’t they sing the temple praise songs? Haven’t they repeated the proper prayers? Why is this prophet haranguing them?
4. “ ‘Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” ’ ”
Jeremiah’s prophecy of doom for Judah is not new. It has been preached since the time of Isaiah. Yet through decades of national crisis and foreign threat, the southern kingdom of Judah has survived. The temple is some 300 years old by this time. It has survived threats from enemies such as the Assyrians, the Egyptians, and the Babylonians.
What Do You Think?
What misconceptions, routines, slogans, and habits do people hold onto today that parallel the comfortable lies and behavior of the Jewish people in the text? How do today’s lies hamper the effectiveness of the church? What do we do to expose those lies?
But that is exactly the point for Jeremiah: the presence of this house of worship has given the people a false sense of security! They believe that the temple is a sign of God’s continued favor and protection. Jeremiah mocks the temple worshipers by repeating their falsely confident refrain, This is the temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord, The temple of the Lord. Tradition, history, and edifices count for nothing when hearts are false.
II. Delusional Duplicity (Jeremiah 7:8–15)
A. Double Life of Worship (vv. 8–10)
8. “ ‘But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.
Trusting in a lie does not make it the truth, for a lie will always be a lie. False security is just that: false. There is no value in accepting untruth, no matter how sincere and passionate the liar may be. Lies will always fail. They cannot protect us.
There is a story about Diogenes of Sinope, who comes along some 200 years after Jeremiah. The story pictures him as wandering around ancient Greece with a lantern in daylight, unsuccessfully searching for an honest man. Earlier in his book, Jeremiah also had searched Jerusalem for a person who was on the side of truth and justice (Jeremiah 5:1). God hoped for such a person, for this would be reason to spare Jerusalem. But Jeremiah’s quest was as futile as that of Diogenes (compare Genesis 18:23–32). How sad it is when truth is seen as optional, and we find ourselves loving lies!
Visual for Lesson 8
Use this visual to challenge your students to name actions for which they suffered immediate or delayed consequences.
9, 10. “ ‘Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”—safe to do all these detestable things?
Jeremiah’s complaint now gets very specific. He charges that the people of Judah have violated six of the Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 5:7–21). They steal (Commandment Eight), murder (Commandment Six), and commit adultery (Commandment Seven). They have given false witness (Commandment Nine). They have worshiped other gods and made idols of them (Commandments One and Two).
Jeremiah warns that God knows of these abominations. God does not overlook them just because the people are going through the motions of worship at the temple. Most offensive to God is the mix of his worship with the worship of false gods like Baal of the Canaanites. This false worship is a sure way to bring about the wrath of the Lord (see Judges 2:13-14).
What Do You Think?
If God sent a specific message to Christians today, what list of sins do you think he would give to expose how people act one way in worship and another way the rest of the week?
[Hint: Put answers into two lists: sins of commission and sins of omission.]
A theory of moral theology known as probabilism came into being in the seventeenth century ad. The main idea is that if you can find a good ethical motive behind an action, even if it is highly improbable, then the action can be defended as allowable.
For example, if a merchant cannot sell his wine at a fair profit, he can add water to it and sell it as pure in order to make the profit. If servants are not being paid a proper wage by their master, they may take property from the master that will make up the difference. If necessity forces a person to take wood from someone else’s pile, he is not obligated to restore it. If someone has committed a crime, he may swear in a loud voice, “I have not done this crime” and then in a subdued voice add, “today.” Thus the total statement is true, and he is exonerated from falsehood.
The result of probabilism is to take moral laws and turn them inside out. Jeremiah condemned this kind of thinking centuries before Christ. This condemnation still stands. —J. B. N.
B. Den of Robbers (v. 11)
11. “ ‘Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord.
Jeremiah now brings a devastating charge against Judah: the hypocritical dishonesty of the leaders has found a home within the temple precincts. This has made the house of the Lord a den of robbers.
This charge likely has to do with the commerce going on in the temple courts, the location of a financial center for the nation. Rather than conduct business with integrity and truth, dealing is done with deception and greediness. This will also be a problem during the time of Jesus several centuries later. He will cleanse the temple of his day by running out the money changers and merchants (see Mark 11:15–17).
What Do You Think?
In what ways could God refer to today’s church as a “den of robbers”? What can the church do to rectify this situation?
C. Disaster of Shiloh (vv. 12–15)
12. “ ‘Go now to the place in Shiloh where I first made a dwelling for my Name, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of my people Israel.
Shiloh was the original location in the promised land of the house of the Lord. This was the tabernacle transported by Israel through the wilderness. The tabernacle at Shiloh had become a more permanent structure than the tent of the exodus and was sometimes referred to as the temple (see 1 Samuel 1:9).
Although we do not have details, the Old Testament hints in several places that God allowed this former sanctuary to be destroyed, perhaps by the Philistines (see Psalm 78:60). The ruins of this temple are still around in Jeremiah’s day. Those ruins should serve as a warning that building a house for God does not guarantee God’s favor.
13. “ ‘While you were doing all these things, declares the Lord, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.
Jeremiah’s final accusation at this point is that the people of the temple repeatedly have turned a deaf ear to God’s pleas for change. Although they are regular worshipers, they have forgotten the one whom they worship.
What we call “worship time” can easily become a noisy series of presentations designed to please the audience. We should remember that God is present at our worship efforts, and he may be speaking to us. By this we do not mean that we should expect an audible voice coming from Heaven. Rather, the idea is to expect our hearts to be touched through Scripture and prayer and praise. When God’s Holy Spirit is prompting us to change our lives, to admit and abandon the love of sinful practices, then we should listen.
What Do You Think?
If you were asked to be a spiritual accountability partner by another Christian, what steps would you take to help your friend ensure that his or her worship does not become an empty ritual?
14, 15. “ ‘Therefore, what I did to Shiloh I will now do to the house that bears my Name, the temple you trust in, the place I gave to you and your fathers. I will thrust you from my presence, just as I did all your brothers, the people of Ephraim.’ ”
History has a habit of repeating itself, even in tragic ways. Jeremiah reminds the hearers that God had thrown out all their brothers, the people of Ephraim (signifying the northern kingdom of Israel) on account of persistent sin and rebellion.
God also has abandoned an earlier temple of Israel, the sanctuary at Shiloh. God will do it again with the southern kingdom of Judah and the Jerusalem temple. And, let us be forewarned, God can do it with any church that tolerates and grows comfortable with a hypocritical lifestyle and empty, meaningless worship practices. The warnings in Revelation 2 and 3 are important to heed!
In Hebrew, the word Shiloh means “tranquility, rest.” When the Israelites conquered the land of Canaan, they set up the tabernacle at Shiloh. This remained the seat of worship for some time. The tabernacle was still there in the early years of Samuel.
When the Philistines returned the Ark of the Covenant after its capture, it was not returned to Shiloh. Instead, it ultimately was sent to Jerusalem. The town of Shiloh began to decline; this continued into the days of Jeremiah. How interesting that a place named tranquility would come to represent desolation.
Because of its positive Old Testament connotations, many churches have been named Shiloh. One of the most interesting was a small country Methodist church in southern Tennessee near a spot on the Tennessee River called Pittsburgh Landing. A major battle of the American Civil War was fought there on April 6 and 7, 1862.
Much of the battle swirled around the church building itself. Some 100,000 soldiers fought there, suffering over 23,000 casualties. How ironic that a place whose name means “tranquility” would be the scene of such horrible violence and death.
Yet that is a message of Jeremiah. God has been patient, but ultimately he will wreak vengeance upon the faithlessness of his people. Shiloh was desolate, and Jerusalem would be destroyed. Such is eventually the case with all who abandon God’s paths to seek their own way. —J. B. N.
III. Failed Leadership (2 Kings 23:36, 37)
36, 37. Jehoiakim was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem eleven years. His mother’s name was Zebidah daughter of Pedaiah; she was from Rumah. And he did evil in the eyes of the Lord, just as his fathers had done.
The historical record of the Old Testament shows that Judah did not heed Jeremiah’s dire warnings. King Jehoiakim began to reign in 609 b.c., and he was the son of the reformer King Josiah (Jeremiah 22:18). But the son did not continue his father’s efforts to bring Israel back to an obedient relationship with the Lord. Instead, he chose the path of Manasseh and did evil. Jeremiah tells us that Jehoiakim went so far as to burn, out of contempt, a scroll of prophetic warnings (Jeremiah 36:22-23, 28).
In 2 Kings 24:1–5 (which may have been written by Jeremiah) we learn that Jehoiakim arrogantly rebelled against Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The result was disaster, for that king had been sent by God. Nebuchadnezzar looted the temple and physically humiliated Jehoiakim (2 Chronicles 36:6-7). God’s will, as proclaimed by Jeremiah, was accomplished. God’s will, shall always be accomplished!
We do not live in ancient Jerusalem. We do not worship at Solomon’s temple. We need not fear Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army. But Jeremiah’s word should still be heard in our churches today. Are our efforts to worship God motivated by a true heart, or are they the empty acts of self-serving hypocrites?
As one who has ministered in many different churches for several decades, I have observed various hypocrites in action: the church staff member who complained about the miserly giving of the congregation, yet didn’t give proportionately himself; the elder who griped about the rambunctious behavior of the youth group while having an affair with his secretary; the worship leader who focused the singing time on herself, then grumbled that the people weren’t singing; the Sunday school teacher who carried the biggest Bible I’ve ever seen, yet was so dishonest in his business dealings that no one in the church would patronize his store; the committee member who had just paid cash for a new SUV, yet moaned when a missionary asked for funds to replace his 10-year-old van, which had in excess of 300,000 miles on it.
But I know the biggest hypocrite even more intimately. He is the one who wants Sunday worship only according to his tastes, not for God’s glory. He is the one who gives far less than he could because he spends so much on his own whims. He is the one who looks down on those who don’t know the Bible as well as he, but often turns a deaf ear to Scripture that confronts his life. That hypocrite is me.
Thought to Remember
God holds us accountable to serve him without hypocrisy.
Heavenly Father, God of ancient Israel and of the church, have patience with us. Please don’t give up on reminding us of our hypocrisy and sin. Give us the spiritual strength to change and the joy that comes from serving you with clean hands and a pure heart. We pray this in the name of the one who never acted with hypocrisy, Jesus Christ your Son, amen.
Underwood, Jonathan ; Nickelson, Ronald L. ; Underwood, Jonathan: New International Version Standard Lesson Commentary : 2006-2007. Cincinnati : Standard Publishing