The Old Testament pericope for the Tenth Sunday after Trinity ends too soon. Because Jeremiah 7:1-11 is the beginning of a longer passage, cutting it off there can lend itself to misunderstanding. Pericopes, of course, are not meant to be long, but the books of the Bible are books and not collections of unrelated passages. It would be better to extend the reading at least as far as verse 20, because then a larger portion of the thought of this section is presented rather than just its beginning.
The Lord commands Jeremiah to “stand in the gate of the Lord’s house” (Jeremiah 7:2). In that position, men entering the temple grounds would not be able to avoid him. Jeremiah is not preaching to irreligious men, but to those who continue to perform everything which the Lord commands outwardly. They are coming to the temple because they seek to follow a law of works rather than a law of faith (Romans 3:27). “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him” (James 2:14)?
Therefore, the call to “amend your ways and your deeds” is not a cry to those who have never known God. This is one of the dangers of shortening this reading. Rather, there is a disparity between the profession and the reality. They claim to be Abraham’s sons, but in reality are far from the Lord (Romans 2:28; Matthew 15:7-9). This is, of course, a common theme in the prophets (Hosea 6:6, for example). Carnal unbelievers want to make grace a pretext for sin (Romans 6:1). One way to translate Jeremiah 7:10 shows this clearly: “‘We are delivered’, in order to do all these abominations.” Christians also struggle with sin (Romans 7:22-23), but Jeremiah rebukes those who have ceased to follow the Lord except outwardly.
The threefold repetition of “the temple of the Lord” only emphasizes the problem. Jeremiah does repeat himself in this way in other places (Jeremiah 22:29), but the carnal men who say this are using it in a magical way. It is an incantation of sorts, because it takes the real promises of God and perverts them into something other than their actual meaning. Instead of walking in the ways of the Lord who redeemed them, they cover their lawlessness with His promises. God will not send us away, because He made a promise to us! God will not destroy us, because we are baptized! “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21; see also Matthew 3:9; Micah 2:6).
Jeremiah 7:12-15 should not be overlooked. Shiloh was the first location of the tent of meeting once Israel entered Canaan (Joshua 18:1). Even down to the birth of Samuel, this was the location where God made His name to dwell (1 Samuel 1:3). But Hophni and Phinehas, the sons of Eli, brought down judgment through their sin and their abuse of the ark (1 Samuel 4:3-11). Therefore, the Lord rejected Shiloh (Psalm 78:60-61). If He rejected the dwelling place of His tabernacle because of sin, why would the temple be any different? The Lord was not any less present at Shiloh than at Jerusalem, yet the sin of His people brought down judgment.
Jeremiah 7:16-20 brings a major thought of this section to a close. The Lord rejected Shiloh because of sin, and the Lord will reject His temple for the same reason. Jeremiah must not intercede for this people, because they persist in their guilt to their own shame. Nor is this a case of a few individuals who leaven the whole lump: “The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger” (Jeremiah 7:18). The whole mass of Israel stand guilty of idolatry, even in something as seemingly innocuous as gathering sticks. Degrees of guilt may exist among them, but all stand accused, even down to those not directly participating in false worship. Sin is never so neatly subdivided. All men are sinners, after all, because of the transgression of one man (Romans 5:12).
Therefore, Jeremiah is not moralizing here. The call to do what is right is meant to show the wickedness of being double-minded, limping between two ways. Nor is it a generic rebuke of sin. Rather, it is specifically against those who cover the blood on their hands with a false piety. Jeremiah speaks against those who turn God’s grace into license, justification of the sinner into justification for sin, whitewashing tombs. If the Lord destroyed the temple twice, do you think that He will overlook the unrepentant sins of those who claim to be in Christ?