Today: [Jeremiah 19] Hell Comes to Jerusalem. In this chapter, Jeremiah takes the elders of the city out to the valley of Hinnom which is representative in Christian scripture as eternal hell. It was where the kings of Jerusalem often sacrificed their children to Baal. At this place of shame Jeremiah describes to those gathered the destruction of the city. Does this chapter and its message have any relevance to us as individuals or as a people? Most would not even take the time to consider the question.
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[Jer 19:1-15 KJV] 1 Thus saith the LORD, Go and get a potter’s earthen bottle, and [take] of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests; 2 And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which [is] by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee, 3 And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle. 4 Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; 5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire [for] burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake [it], neither came [it] into my mind: 6 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter. 7 And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hands of them that seek their lives: and their carcases will I give to be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth.
In this chapter, God continues using Jeremiah to speak to the people of God through the metaphors of pottery and pot making. In this case he is instructed to gather notable and respected leaders and families and lead them out to the valley of Hinnom. In Greek the valley of Hinnom is known as Gehenna. It is a valley within the environs of Jerusalem that is analogous to hell in the scriptures. Historically it was the location where several of the kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire to pagan dieties. In the New Testament, Gehenna, or Hinnom is referred to 11 times all by Jesus and once in the book of James. In the teachings of Jesus, Hinnom or Gehenna speaks of an eternal hell where the unrighteous will be punished time without end, having no reprieve. In a post-Christian era, it is one of the most controversial teachings of Christ and the bible. The subject is one of the top 3 subjects that are rarely spoken of in our pulpits (being that of heaven, or the afterlife, the rapture of the saints, and the doctrine of hell or eternal punishment).
In bringing the elders to Hinnom, the prophet Jeremiah is saying to them that the inhabitants of the city of Jerusalem and of the southern kingdom were facing a living hell. Bringing them to the place where their kings sacrificed their children was equivalent to the allies after WWII bringing the holocaust denying public of post-war Germany to the concentration camps to bury the dead. It was a scandalous and shameful thing for these wise men and elite of Jerusalem society to face. When Jeremiah speaks of the people forsaking the Lord, against this backdrop, they could not deny.
What about today? Where is the hidden holocaust in our society that is largely ignored by the unbelieving and believing public alike? I would suggest a modern day Jeremiah seeking to confront the elders of our day would bring them to the abortion clinics, and to the so called convalescent homes where we warehouse our elderly behind locked doors as life conveniently and blindly goes on living without facing these inconvenient realities that are so everywhere present in our society. If God considered the existence of such things as evidence that the ancient people of Judah had forsaken Him, how must He look upon our world today?
Remember that Jeremiah’s prophecies time and time again do not name political leaders, or social icons of the day – but rather maintain that God holds pastors and prophets responsible for the decadence, depravity and sins of the people. Can you imagine the objections of the holy men of Jeremiah’s day against such a charge? Surely, they saw themselves as the bastions of defense against the sin of the people. They no doubt protested that they were doing all that they could to uphold righteousness all the while from the altars of Baal the smoke of the bones of their children was wafting into the temple.
Verse 4 speaks of the blood of the innocents. Where does the blood of the innocent lie? In Hitler’s day were the Nazi’s only responsible and culpable for the rivers of innocent blood spilled in the industrial complex of death that rained the ash of humanity upon quaint, pastoral nearby communities? Does God excuse our pastors or for that matter ourselves for the sins of our nation or society? We remember Lot whom the bible says vexed his righteous soul with the wickedness around him, yet nonetheless was absolutely opposed to living anywhere other than the cities of the plain of Sodom, even when the angels physically dragged them beyond their walls. How accurate would the comparative be between these examples and our own pastors, or we ourselves?
8 And I will make this city desolate, and an hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof. 9 And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and straitness, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall straiten them. 10 Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee, 11 And shalt say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as [one] breaketh a potter’s vessel, that cannot be made whole again: and they shall bury [them] in Tophet, till [there be] no place to bury. 12 Thus will I do unto this place, saith the LORD, and to the inhabitants thereof, and [even] make this city as Tophet: 13 And the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah, shall be defiled as the place of Tophet, because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink offerings unto other gods. 14 Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, whither the LORD had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the LORD’S house; and said to all the people, 15 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words.
Because of the sin of the city and the nation the prophet Jeremiah declares that the valley of Hinnom will be renamed the valley of slaughter. The devastation that had been so neatly contained in this secluded place will breakout and pollute every street in the city of Jerusalem. Those things the people of Judah sought to preserve by their hidden inquities will be completely lost to them by the most violent of means. Then Jeremiah is instructed to break the bottle standing in the smoke of Hinnom, announcing that even so the Father would break the people and break the city in such a way that it could not be recovered.
I remember a message by Barabara Yoder at a church in Springfield Missouri a few years ago that is reminiscent of this chapter. She was speaking of the situations in our lives where loss takes place that cannot be assuaged or recovered. When a loved one passes, when the flower of youth passes to old age. Regardless of how we seek to marginalize these losses, they still register on our emotions in ways that underscore there is no going back to the things of the past. Barbara used this analogy to speak of our nation, and looking back to a time when this country was much different than it is today and then she remarked that “something has died, and it is never going to be recovered again…”
If Barbara’s observation speaks truth to us, how do we go from here? If innocence is lost, how do we move forward in holiness? In Jeremiah’s day when the time came that it was obvious the people would not repent and destruction was coming that couldn’t be avoided, what was the counsel of God? At this point Jeremiah is emphasizing that there is no point in trying to escape to Egypt or Ethiopia to flee from the Babylonians. He instructs those that will listen to surrender to captivity in Babylon, and there He would prosper them. I wonder if there is counsel here for us in our society. We see various Christian groups valiantly trying to see laws passed and righteousness restored in our courts and the public square and if you are paying attention the end result over time has thus far only served to diminish the church even further and to give tools to our enemies to suppress the Christian faith even further. Perhaps a moment of clarity and humility is called for where we stop blaming others and really look at the responsibility that lies squarely in our pulpits and in the pews for what is taking place around us.
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