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 lying words in my name, which I have not commanded them” (Jeremiah29:23). Jeremiah also castigated the people who trusted “in lying words, that cannot profit” Jeremiah 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 uses a measuring stick for all ‘natters 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 (2 Corinthians 6:7).The more we study God’s Word and incorporate its teachings into our lives, the less likely we are to trust in lies.
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 BC (Jeremiah 1:2). The book closes with events surrounding the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC (39:2). The book is some-what 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 (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 (37:15).
Later he was thrown into a dungeon-like cistern, where he wallowed in the smelly mire (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 that the sin of the people would no longer be remembered by God(Jeremiah 31:34). Jeremiah’s vision of fresh, new beginnings was adopted by the author of He-brews to explain the new covenant that has been given to the church as the people of God (see He-brews 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.
False Security (Jeremiah 7:1-4)
the True Word (vv. 1, 2)
1, 2. The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lotto, saying, Stand in the gate of the LORD’S house, and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lam all ye of Judah, that enter in at 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.
The gale 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 placeswhere judges dispense justice to the public (seeAmos 5:15). Jeremiah’s cry at the gate of the tem-ple is to be a call for justice and righteousnessand truth in worship.
Rejecting Soothing Lies (vv. 3, 4)
3. Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God ofIsrael, Amend your ways and your doings, and Iwill cause you to dwell in this place.
Jeremiah’s message is a warning with apromise: Quit sinning and God will let you con-tinue to live in the land of tome). Jeremiah is call-ing for a change in hearts and in practices.Empty ritual is not acceptable worship. Idola-trous practices are not tolerable for God (see Jere-miah 8:19).
Some of the hearers must wonder what is sowrong. Aren’t they being faithful to worship at the house of the Lord? Aren’t they wearing their best temple-go-to-meeting clothes? Don’t they bring their offerings? Don’t they sing the temple praise songs? Haven’t they repealed the proper prayers? Why is this prophet haranguing them?4. Trust ye not in lying words, saying, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.
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 Chaldeans (Babylonians).
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.
Delusional Duplicity (Jeremiah 7:8-15)
Double Life of Worship (vv. 8-10)
Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit.
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 un-truth, 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 per-son, for this would be reason to spare Jerusalem. But Jeremiah’s quest was as futile as that of Diogenes. How sad it is when truth is seen as optional, and we find ourselves loving lies!
9, 10. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations? 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 are thieves (Commandment Eight). They have committed murder (Commandment Six). They are adulterers (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).
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 de-fended 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 snake 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. .
Den of Robbers (v. 11)
11.Is this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes? Behold, even I have seen it, saith the Logo.
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 clone 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).
Disaster of Shiloh (vv. 12-15)
12.But go ye now unto my place which was in Shiloh, where I set my name at the first, and see what I did to it for 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. And now, because ye have done all these works. saith the Lou), and I spake unto you, rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but ye answered not.
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.
14, 15. Therefore will I do unto this house, which is called by my name, wherein ye trust, and unto the place which I gave to you and to 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, even the whole seed of Ephraim. History has a habit of repeating itself, even in tragic ways. Jeremiah reminds the hearers that God had cast out all their brethren, even the whole seed 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 hero 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.
Failed Leadership(2 Kings 23:36, 37)
36, 37. Jehoiakim was twenty and five years old when he began to reign; and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem. And his mother’s name was Zebudah, the daughter of Pedaiah of Rumah. And he did that which was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to all that 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 609BC, 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 (36:22, 23, 28).
In 2 Kings 24:1-5 (which may have been writ-ten by Jeremiah) we learn that Jehoiakim arrogantly rebelled against Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. The result was disaster, for that king hart been sent by God.
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
Hypocrites I Have Known
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 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.
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 on 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.
Thought to Remember
God holds us accountable to serve Him without hypocrisy.