The Pursuit of God

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Understanding Yahweh: “Child Sacrifice Never Entered My Mind” (Jeremiah 7)

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In Jeremiah 7:31, Yahweh is speaking of rebellious Jews living in and around ancient Jerusalem when He says:

“They have built the high places of Tophet in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter My mind.” (Jer. 7:31)

He’s talking about parents sacrificing their children to idol gods—a practice that was quite common in ancient times.  Multiple gods got in on the ritual, and if you were really in a desperate situation, you might try offering up your kid to a god who you didn’t normally give that type of offering to.  But some gods—such as the Ammonite god named Molek—required child sacrifice on a regular basis, which is why the ancient Jews had set aside a whole ravine near the city of Jerusalem to serve as an ongoing child barbecue.  Children were burned alive on super-heated metal idol arms, and you can just imagine how unpleasant the smells and sounds of such a practice would be.  It was the infamous Valley of Ben Hinnom which Jesus later used as a metaphor for what Hell would be like: a fire that never dies, weeping and anguish, a foul stench.  When Jesus talks about Gehenna in the Gospel books, He’s referring to Ben Hinnom.  When Yahweh speaks of Tophet in the Old Testament books, He’s referring to the actual altar in the valley where children were physically killed.  Clearly this whole practice was horrific and disturbing on every level.  But it was also going on all of the time and right next to the most famous city in Israel.  Jerusalem was a major trade center, a very popular worship center, and a key cultural landmark.  Yet if you come to Jerusalem, you end up getting a faceful of Tophet, and how are you not disturbed by such a thing?  You see, the Jews weren’t trying to hide what they were doing.  It’s more like they were intentionally doing it on a grand stage which was strategically located in a place where no one could miss it.  Yes, we Christians certainly do want to know that our good Gods are horrified by such a terrible practice, so we feel good when we read about Yahweh exclaiming His horror of this practice not just once, but three times in the book of Jeremiah.

“They have built the high places of Baal to burn their children in the fire as offerings to Baal—something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter My mind.” (Jer. 19:5)

“They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter My mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin.” (Jer. 32:35)

Yes, good.  We want a God who hates child sacrifice.  We want a God who is so detached from evil that it wouldn’t even occur to His pure, holy mind to ask His followers to sacrifice their own children to Him.  A God who is shocked and horrified by the low depths to which humans sink—that’s the kind of God we Christians want.  That’s the kind of God we feel safe with—a God who is a total ignoramus on the subject of evil.  And yet, is this really who Yahweh is?  After all, it was Yahweh who once said to Abraham:

“Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen. 22:2)

Now wait a second.  Here’s Yahweh telling Abraham to barbecue Isaac on some rocks many centuries before the prophet Jeremiah was even born.  Suddenly Yahweh’s three claims to have never commanded child sacrifice are sounding disturbingly hypocritical.  And then there was that trick He pulled on Jephthah—a guy who vowed to give Yahweh a special sacrifice in return for Yahweh giving Jephthah a miraculous military victory.

Jephthah lived on a farm and had his share of animals.  He was used to coming home and having some four-legged thing run to meet him.  So when he promised to roast the first creature to greet him when he returned from battle, he figured he was striking up a pretty safe bargain with God.  But it turned out that Yahweh didn’t appreciate having His help being treated so cheaply, so after giving Jephthah the victory he wanted, Yahweh made sure that it was Jephthah’s own daughter who outran all of the animals on the day that Jephthah returned from battle.  Shocked and horrified by the unexpected turn of events, Jephthah recognized that God was disciplining him for his bad attitude, and he dutifully sacrificed his daughter.  So now we have two incidents of Yahweh requiring child sacrifice: one was a direct command, the other was through a manipulation of circumstances.  In the case of Abraham, Yahweh called the sacrifice off before it was completed.  But in the case of Jephthah, the young woman went down without any Divine intervention.  Do these stories bother us?  Of course they do.  Jephthah’s disturbing account is sandwiched right between the stories of Gideon and Samson—two characters who get frequent mention in Sunday School classes.  Yet we consistently skip over Jephthah’s three chapters (Judges 10-12), because it’s just too upsetting to think that Yahweh would ever really want child sacrifice.

Now even if Yahweh didn’t have any history of demanding child sacrifice from His followers, it is beyond ludicrous for a sovereign God to claim that His own creatures can ever do anything which hasn’t occurred to Him.  It is our Gods who set the limits on who we humans are and define all of our capacities.  We can’t just sit around brainstorming original ideas.  Like children who are choosing a cookie from a plate that mom has set out, we can only ever choose among possibilities that our Gods have made available to us.  So no, child sacrifice really wasn’t a human original.  Not only did Yahweh conceive of the possibility long before we did, but He also designed us with the capacity to find such a loathsome activity appealing under certain circumstances.  Whose idea was it to make human beings so utterly selfish that they’d be willing trash their own family members in order to get some god to send rain down on their thirsty crops?  Who designed human parents to feel bonded to their own offspring, yet ensured that that bond could also be eroded under certain circumstances? It was our three glorious Creators who designed us to be the selfish, sadistic little creatures that we are, and it was our Creators who taught us everything we know about evil.  We humans can do nothing apart from our Gods, and we can’t comprehend anything without Them making our minds work.

In the Old Testament, Yahweh boasts of having absolute control over all things—including life and death.  It was through the mouth of Moses that He said:

“See now that I, I am He, and there is no God with me. I kill, and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.” (Deut. 32:39)

Centuries later, He said through the mouth of the prophet Isaiah:

“The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating evil: I am Yahweh who does all these.” (Isa. 45:7)

The prophet Ezekiel is living and preaching at the same time as the prophet Jeremiah, and it is through Ezekiel that Yahweh says:

“Behold, all souls are Mine—the soul of the parent as well as the soul of the child—both belong to Me.” (Eze. 18:4)

Well, if this is true, then why isn’t Yahweh intervening when He sees parents carrying their kids over to Tophet to get roasted alive?  Is Yahweh really overwhelmed by this situation?  Does the same God who wiped out Sodom and Gomorrah and who caused a global flood not know how to exterminate wicked people?  Of course He does.  The smoking corpses of children are piling up in the Valley of Ben Hinnom because Yahweh wants them to.  This ancient child sacrificing machinery was constructed under His supervision—it wasn’t a shocking scene that He stumbled upon once He got up from His nap.

It is only the phony gods who we invent for ourselves who can be fooled and bested by their own creations.  The real Gods are never shocked by us, and yet Yahweh is pretending to be shocked when He claims that the concept of child sacrifice never entered His mind.  And what really makes His language about Tophet absurd is that this particular set up has been in use in Israel for a very long time.  The prophet Jeremiah began preaching sometime after 638 BC and the long speech we’ll be looking at in this post was probably given during the reign of Josiah, which ended around 607 BC.  And yet centuries earlier, we read about that fool Solomon who everyone exalts as “wise” constructing an official worship place for the god Molek.

On a hill east of Jerusalem, Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable god of Moab, and for Molek the detestable god of the Ammonites. (1 Kings 11:7)

As a general rule, gods who are referred to as “detestable” in the Old Testament records are gods who demanded child sacrifice. But let’s not stop with idiot Solomon.  If we jump back to Moses’ day when the nation of Israel was first getting started, we find Yahweh warning the Israelites many times not to get started with Molek.

“Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. I Myself will set My face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled My sanctuary and profaned My holy Name. If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, I Myself will set My face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.” (Lev. 20:2-5)

So how is it that Yahweh is ordering public execution for anyone who sacrifices their children to Molek if the whole notion “never entered His mind”?  As is often the case when our Gods are talking, we are not supposed to take Yahweh’s language literally.  Instead, we need to recognize that He is intentionally exaggerating in order to make an important point.  But what point is that?  Well, to really appreciate the sentiment Yahweh is conveying, we need to look at His entire message, not just rip off a line or two.  If we turn to Jeremiah 7, which is one of the three places that Yahweh uses the “it never entered My mind”  language, we find Yahweh giving a very long, very angry speech towards the people living in Judah.  We can’t cover this entire speech in a single post, but we are going to cover the first chapter of it to get a good sense of Yahweh’s mood and of the soul attitudes that He is addressing.

DISCERNMENT ESSENTIALS

Now before we dive into Jeremiah 7, let’s review three basic principles of discernment that you should bear in mind whenever you’re trying to interpret the prophetic books.

PRINCIPLE #1: God always responds to our soul attitudes, not our external actions, so as you read, be trying to identify what soul attitudes He is responding to.  Let’s do a quick review of good and bad soul attitudes.

Good: REVERENCE = “I greatly respect God because I fear His awesome power.”

Bad: IRREVERENCE = “I don’t respect God at all, despite the fact that He is so much more powerful than I am.”

Good: SUBMISSION = “I bow to God as the Supreme Authority over all created things.  Pleasing Him is more important than pleasing myself.  I want Him to be pleased with me.”

Bad: DOMINATION = “I exalt myself as superior to God.  I have no use for Him unless He serves and pleases me.”

Good: DEPENDENCE = “I recognize that I am dependent on God for all things.  I can’t do anything apart from Him.”

Bad: AUTONOMY = “I refuse to accept that I need God in any way.  I am a free agent.  I can do whatever I want.”   

Good: TRUST = “I trust that God is good in Character, that He can be counted on to do what is best, and that His wisdom is superior to mine.”

Bad: DISTRUST = “I refuse to trust God or believe in His goodness. I think He’s unreliable, shady, and useless.  I can’t count on Him for anything.”

PRINCIPLE #2: Historical context is important. You need to identify when God is talking and who He is talking to.  In the case of Jeremiah 7, Yahweh is going to be addressing Jews who are putting on a pretense of following Him when really they don’t give a darn.  He is speaking during the reign of Josiah—who was a sincere Yahweh follower and the last of Israel’s few good kings.  In Jeremiah 7, Yahweh is talking less than 50 years before the fall of Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah is going to live and preach through that great disaster, and he will continue to preach for a while afterwards.

PRINCIPLE #3: I should always be siding with God.  If your understanding of a passage is correct and your personal soul attitudes are correct, then your final conclusion will be that God is more than justified in being angry with whoever He’s angry with.  If you find yourself sympathizing with the humans instead of with God, then you need to ask God to help you get into alignment with His view of things and He will.  Remember that to benefit from reading the Bible, it needs to be done as a group activity between you and your three glorious Creators. They enjoy teaching you and They will certainly help you grow in your understanding of truth if you sincerely care about pleasing Them.  So if you haven’t already done so, pause now and ask Yahweh to help you learn whatever He wants to teach you from Jeremiah 7.  Once you’ve brought Him into it, you’ll be ready to dive in.

JEREMIAH 7

When God speaks through humans, He not only tells them what to say and when to say it, but sometimes He is also quite particular about where they deliver His message.  For the long speech that Yahweh starts in Jeremiah 7, He instructs His prophet to go stand at the entrance to the Temple in Jerusalem.  This would be the grand building that King Solomon built before he became more interested in building monuments to other gods.  This Temple has stood for centuries, and it’s been through a lot of abuse.  Jewish kings have been very slack about keeping up with repairs and routine building maintenance.  In desperate times, the Temple’s gold overlay and other expensive décor features were stripped away in order to pay off various military enemies. So the Temple in Jeremiah’s day is going to be looking rather tired, but it’s still Yahweh’s holy House which was supposed to be set apart solely for the purpose of honoring Him.  Under the leadership of good King Josiah, the demonic idols have been cleared out and the Temple is back in operation.  But the folks who come into the Temple—well, they’re another story.  They might be going through the motions of paying homage to Yahweh, but how meaningful is it if they’ve just returned from roasting a child to Molek over at Tophet?  Are these people really serious about honoring Yahweh, or are they just putting on phony pretenses while they inwardly despise and mock Him?  Let’s hear Yahweh’s assessment of these peoples’ soul attitudes.

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh: “Stand at the gate of Yahweh’s House and there proclaim this message:

“‘Hear the word of Yahweh, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship Yahweh. This is what Yahweh Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place.” (Jer. 7:1-3)

Right away we know there’s a problem because Yahweh is telling these people to shape up—and that’s something He doesn’t say to souls who are sincerely desiring to please Him.  Notice the threat He makes: if these people repent and reform, then He will let them continue to live where they are.  The obvious alternative is that if they don’t clean up their act, then Yahweh is going to give them the boot.  Hm.  As we said earlier, Jeremiah is going to see Jerusalem fall in his lifetime, and before that fall happens, we’re going to find Yahweh talking about it quite a bit.

“Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the Temple of Yahweh, the Temple of Yahweh, the Temple of Yahweh!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.” (Jer. 7:4-8)

Yahweh was Israel’s national God, and even though these people are openly defying Yahweh, they still have the gall to expect Him to protect them.  It’s rather like America having the audacity to keep stamping “In God we trust” on her coins.  That phrase is a specific reference to the Christian Gods, and it is the Christian Gods who America is openly mocking.  It is the Christian Gods who she is trying to spurn with her laws that ban prayers in school, the displaying of the Nativity scene, and the use of the term “Merry Christmas.”  And yet when two huge skyscrapers in New York City were struck by planes and collapsing down on people’s heads, who did people cry out to?  God, of course.  It was God who helped us save many people from the rubble, and it was God who set limits on the loss of life and property.  The infamous 9/11 attack could have been the start of many more until all of New York was a pile of smoking rubble.  But no, despite America’s horrid attitude towards Him, God chose to have mercy.  Ten years later as Americans gathered to reflect on all that happened and appreciate how well they had recovered, what did we do?  We made some stupid rule that no one could pray during the public ceremony.  So when things are on fire and huge blocks of cement are crashing down on our heads, the president calls on the nation to plead for Divine assistance.  But when the smoke clears, we are ready to persecute anyone who dares to express gratitude to God out loud.  This same rotten attitude is what the ancient Jews were steeped in.  They liked to say to each other: “Look at this grand Temple where our national God dwells.  We’re safe.  He’s got our backs.”

The ancient Jews were a very theatrical people who were always finding reasons to shout at the top of their lungs.  In America, we raise our voices to emphasize a point, but if you’re always shouting, then loud becomes normal, and you need a new way to communicate your intense feelings about something.  So the Jews decided that when they really wanted to emphasize the importance of something, they’d just repeat themselves.  Saying the exact same words three times in a row was like underlining, bolding, and italicizing it.  God’s not just holy, He’s SUPER HOLY, so the Jews said that Yahweh was “holy, holy, holy.”  The Roman emperor named Domitian wasn’t just a jerk, he was a SUPER EVIL tyrant, so since the number 6 symbolized evil to superstitious New Testament Jews, the apostle John assigned Domitian the code name of “666” in Revelation, which was the same as saying, “Mr. Evil-Evil-Evil,” and everyone in John’s audience got the message (see Applying Revelation 13: Two More Beasts & 666).  Here in Jeremiah 7, when rebellious Jews are trying to pretend that they’re safe just because they’re living near the Temple of their national God, they say, “This is the Temple of Yahweh, the Temple of Yahweh, the Temple of Yahweh!” And yet what does Yahweh say?  He says that His patience with these people is coming to an end.

“‘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? Has this House, which bears My Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares Yahweh.” (Jer. 7:9-11)

Like many of us today, the ancient Jews told themselves that they didn’t have to bother with reverence for God.  They could spit in His face all day long and not worry about any consequences.  These people are definitely embracing wrong soul attitudes, and that is why Yahweh is so angry with them. Even though Yahweh is listing specific actions—lying, stealing, murdering, adultery, and idol worship—the actions are not the issue.  It’s not what the people are doing that God is reacting to, but rather why they are doing it.  Once you understand that all of the actions Yahweh is listing were specifically forbidden by Him in the Torah, then you understand that He is listing these actions as a way to illustrate how bad these people’s soul attitudes are.  Where is their reverence for God?  They don’t have any.  Notice how they are saying, “We’re safe to do all the stuff that God says He hates.”  Where is their submission to God?  There isn’t any, because they don’t care what He wants.  It is reverence that drives submission, so once reverence is gone, submission dies out as well.  You’ll find this pattern over and over again throughout the Old Testament.  And because it is a fear of God’s awesome power which motivates us to submit to His Authority and take His commands seriously, you’ll often see God discipline unrepentant rebels by turning His awesome power against them.  That’s what He’s going to do to these Jews: He’s going to slaughter a ton of them and destroy their homeland.  His purpose in doing these things is to restore reverence.

Reverence building activities always result in immediate fruits—this is why you’ll see people who normally mock God turning to Him in prayer once He pins them in some desperate corner of pain and fear.  When the attack of 9/11 happened in America, we saw church attendance shoot up for a brief period afterwards.  Why?  Because reverence drives submission, and as soon as people are sufficiently scared, they will run back to God.  But as soon as the crisis is over, that immediate surge of reverence will fall away, and in most cases, rebels will revert back to their old attitudes.  This is why we didn’t see any great spiritual revival happen in America because of 9/11—the devastation was too limited to have any lasting effects.  But once God starts the end times, we will see a change in this pattern.  Instead of doing just one thing that really freaks us out for only a short period of time, God is going to keep hitting us with many super scary things which will make us feel powerless, defenseless, and totally at His mercy.  By keeping our reverence spiked to abnormally high levels, God will greatly increase our motivation to submit to Him, and His methods will result in a harvest of many true converts.  During the end times, it’s not going to be charismatic preachers and some feel good Jesus movement that causes people to start thinking seriously about spiritual matters.  God’s methods will be far more effective than our flesh stroking fests ever are, and He will drive many souls to sincere submission without any help from us.

Terror is always an effective way to get people to reevaluate their priorities, and the end times will be unique in that God will keep hitting us with forms of devastation which are beyond human capabilities.  It’s easy to blame humans when planes are crashing into buildings.  It’s a whole different deal when drops of blood are raining down from the sky and people are being changed into plaster.  Spiritually speaking, there’s a lot to look forward to about the end times, and this will be a fabulous demonstration of how effective reverence building exercises can be (see Your End Times Faith Crisis: Staying Aligned with a Scary God).

“‘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. While you were doing all these things, declares Yahweh, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer. 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 ancestors. I will thrust you from My Presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.’” (Jer. 7:12-15)

When nasty old King Solomon chose to turn away from Yahweh to go worship other gods, he pressured his citizens to follow his horrible example and many did. Solomon erected temples to idol gods all throughout his kingdom, and those temples remained in use for centuries.  In fact King Josiah spends a lot of time destroying idol worshiping equipment that Solomon originally constructed, and the fact that these monuments are still standing in Josiah’s day tells us how little effort previous Jewish kings put into really honoring God.  Even those who were credited with spiritual reforms obviously didn’t put their heart into it. After all, if you’re a king with absolute power—which Jewish kings were—then how can you say you’re serious about turning your kingdom back to Yahweh while you refuse to knock down large temples to gods like Molek and Baal?

Yahweh was so angry about Solomon’s betrayal that after Solomon died, Yahweh caused civil war to break out in Israel and the nation was split into two warring kingdoms: Israel (aka Ephraim) in the north, and Judah in the south.  By Jeremiah’s time, Judah is all that’s left.  Yahweh destroyed Israel three kings ago in 722 BC.  Of course all Jews everywhere were totally horrified by a huge chunk of their “inheritance” from God getting ripped away from them.  But why on earth should God keep blessing them when all they do is spit in His face?

The Jews who lived in the north were just as rebellious as the Jews in the south who Yahweh is chewing out here in Jeremiah 7.  Shiloh was a city in the northern kingdom where Yahweh’s tent Tabernacle stood long before the Temple was ever built. The Tabernacle was first constructed during the lifetime of Moses, then it was hauled around the desert for forty years until the Jews finally began their invasion of the Promised Land.  Once the twelve tribal states had been formed and everyone was settling down, the tent Tabernacle was parked in Shiloh, thus making that city a central hub for the worship of Yahweh.  Well, as you might be guessing, the Jews who lived back then were a bunch of rebellious snarkers who were so blatant in their disrespect for Yahweh that He finally arranged for a very theatrical display of Him literally leaving Israel.  The Ark of the Covenant was a golden box which the Jews viewed as Yahweh’s actual throne. Fed up with the Jews’ bad attitude, Yahweh arranged for pagan Philistines to capture His sacred Ark and haul it out of Israel, thus leaving horrified Jews to feel as if their God had just walked out on them (see Revere Yahweh or Die: Lessons Learned When the Philistines Stole the Ark).  Eventually the Ark was returned, but not to Shiloh.  Instead, it ended up in a Jewish man’s house for twenty years until King David finally transported it to Jerusalem.  But even though the Ark never returned to Shiloh, Shiloh remained famous for being the place where the Tabernacle used to be, and that’s what Yahweh is talking about here in Jeremiah 7 when He says:

“‘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.” (Jer. 7:12)

At this point in history, the city of Shiloh has been destroyed, along with the whole northern kingdom.  Here in Jeremiah 7, Yahweh says that because these Jews are refusing to repent out of their extreme rebellion, He is going to trash His Temple in Jerusalem just like He trashed Shiloh.  He also says that He’s going to throw these rebellious Jews away from Him in disgust, just as He did the rebels in the north.

“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 ancestors. I will thrust you from My Presence, just as I did all your fellow Israelites, the people of Ephraim.” (Jer. 7:14-15)

Now remember that third principle of spiritual discernment that we mentioned earlier: we should always be siding with God, never against Him.  When God starts talking about casting people out of His Presence, it’s easy to feel scared and fear that He’ll do the same to us.  But here is where we need to go back and make sure we’re reading everything that Yahweh is saying, and not just skipping parts.  When we do, we’re going to notice that Yahweh is making a point to emphasize how patient He’s been with these people.  Watch the language here:

“While you were doing all these things, declares Yahweh, I spoke to you again and again, but you did not listen; I called you, but you did not answer.” (Jer. 7:13)

How many times has Yahweh spoken to these people and called them to repent?  Again and again. Yahweh is not a short-tempered Monster who just can’t wait to beat us into the ground the minute we make one wrong move. He has given these people many chances to repent.  He has been very communicative with them: telling them exactly what they’re doing that He doesn’t like and giving them the resources to improve.  But they have been refusing to submit to Him, and now they are out of chances.

Now today we Christians pray all wrong because we’re essentially imitating the bad prayer habits of ancient Jews who had very little respect for God.  The prophet Jeremiah keeps forgetting where his loyalties are supposed to lie, which is why he’s been begging Yahweh to keep having mercy on these rebels even though Yahweh has already been far more patient than anyone deserves.  Is it really appropriate for us to tell God Almighty when He should be gracious and when He should lower the boom?  No, it’s not.  As created specks, we humans should not be instructing God on how to behave, nor should we be trying to control how He manages His personal boundaries.  Yet in the Bible, we’ll find the ancient Jews showing no respect for God in this area.  When they were mad at someone, they felt totally justified in demanding that God trash their enemies for them (see Praying Down Your Enemies).  When they were personally in a merciful mood, they demanded that Yahweh submit to them by blessing humans who were spitting in His face.  Is this a respectful way to talk to God?  No, it’s disrespectful and obnoxious.  We are supposed to wait for God to tell us where His boundaries are, then we are supposed to be aligning with His judgments instead of telling Him to align with ours.  When God declares that He is fed up with someone, then it is not correct for us to then start begging and pleading for Him to get over Himself and be nice. This is exactly what the prophet Jeremiah is doing with God right now regarding these Jews in Judah.  Even though Jeremiah can see the smoke rising out of the Valley of Ben Hinnom, and even though he hears people bashing on Yahweh and hears Yahweh Himself saying how disgusted He is with the rebellion of these people, Jeremiah actually has the gall to sit around weeping and praying for these little jerks.  This is called being a bad spiritual role model, and we certainly don’t want to be imitating Jeremiah’s misplaced loyalties.  So we need to pay attention when Yahweh tells Jeremiah to stop with the annoying prayers and to get his loyalties back where they ought to be.

“Pray no more for these people, Jeremiah. Do not weep or pray for them, and don’t beg Me to help them, for I will not listen to you. Don’t you see what they are doing throughout the towns of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? No wonder I am so angry! Watch how the children gather wood and the fathers build sacrificial fires. See how the women knead dough and make cakes to offer to the Queen of Heaven. And they pour out liquid offerings to their other idol gods! But am I really the One they are hurting?” asks Yahweh. “No, instead they are harming themselves, to their own shame.” (Jer. 7:16-19)

The Queen of Heaven was an honorary title given to the goddess Asherah who was viewed as the female counterpart to the male god Baal.  Today we Christians refer to the human Mary by the same title because, like Jeremiah, we’re doing a rotten job of respecting Yahweh’s feelings.  Yahweh says that He hates idolatry.  So if you’re praying to saints, you need to knock it off.  The same goes for all of you angel worshipers (see Angel Q&A). Stop giving away your adoration to created beings.  Your Creators find it offensive, and if you really care about Them, why would you want to do things that offend Them?

“‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Yahweh says: My anger and My wrath will be poured out on this place—on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the crops of your land—and it will burn and not be quenched.” (Jer. 7:20)

Yahweh is done being merciful towards these spiritual rebels.  He tells Jeremiah to stop praying for them and to stop siding with them, because as Yahweh’s prophet, Jeremiah is totally out of line to be disregarding Yahweh’s feelings the way that he is.

The more we know, the harsher we are judged, and prophets who receive direct revelations from God about His Divine perspective of things are going to be judged more harshly for failing to stay loyal to God.  This is an important point to bear in mind for those of you who are feeling jealous about souls who are constantly claiming to get “words” from God.  Most of the souls who claim such things are just being blowhards, but anyone who does receive actual “words” from God is then held accountable for how they respond to them.  Take us, for example.  Here we are writing a post about how much God hates idolatry and wrong soul attitudes.  Once God educates us about His feelings on these matters—which He has—then for us to get all snarky with Him would be a totally different thing than for souls who don’t know as much as we do.  You see, having God talk to you is a very sobering thing.  The more understanding He gives you about what pleases Him, the more trouble you’re going to get in for disregarding His feelings.  Some well-meaning Catholic who has never been correctly taught about God’s hatred of idolatry can work her way through the rosary in which she prays to Mary more often than she does to God, and she won’t end up in a heap of trouble with God.  Instead, He’ll be pleased with her sincere desire to please Him, and not hold her ignorance against her.  But if we were to start praying to the “Queen of Heaven,” then God would come down very fast and hard on us with some form of painful discipline.  Why?  Because He knows that we know better.  We don’t have the Catholic’s excuse.  We would be grossly and intentionally disrespecting God if we were to start praying to created beings, and He just isn’t going to put up with that kind of attitude from us.  God will have less patience with us, not more, because He has taken the time to share His view of idolatry with us, and He considers that to be a great privilege which He then demands that we respect.  See how it works?  Don’t envy Christian leaders.  As soon as you start teaching souls about God, you get in line for some much harsher discipline if you decide to get lazy and start lipping off.  And by the way, this is why you need to not attach yourself to human teachers, because humans often choose to rebel and when they do, God might take them out permanently.  If He does, and you’ve become dependent on that person to guide you spiritually, then you’re going to be in a mess.  This is why we’re always telling you that you need to be putting your trust in God directly, not in us or in any other human teachers.  If you are depending on God alone for wisdom in life, then if your human teachers turn into rebellious idiots and God grinds them into the dirt, you’ll be able to cut ties with them and move on without getting stalled in some big faith crisis.  This business of Christians falling apart because their pastor ran off with the church secretary or absconded with the tithe money is a result of Christians depending far too much on humans to shepherd them in life.  Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are the only Shepherds you can trust.  Accept no substitutes.

“This is what Yahweh Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Go ahead, add your burnt offerings to your other sacrifices and eat the meat yourselves! For when I brought your ancestors out of Egypt and spoke to them, I did not just give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices, but I gave them this command: ‘Obey Me, and I will be your God and you will be My people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you.’ But they did not listen or pay attention; instead, they followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts. They went backward and not forward. From the time your ancestors left Egypt until now, day after day, again and again I sent you My servants the prophets. But they did not listen to Me or pay attention. They were stiff-necked and did more evil than their ancestors.” (Jer. 7:21-26)

Once again Yahweh is emphasizing how merciful He is by saying “again and again I sent you My servants the prophets.”  He’s not talking about the self-anointed fatheads who you see parading around today and using God’s Name and Authority as a means of exalting themselves.  These are real prophets who Yahweh is referring to—men and women (yes, He did use women) who accurately delivered legitimate messages from God which convicted people of their wrong soul attitudes and told them to repent. Yahweh certainly doesn’t have to bother to raise up prophets in our midst who can speak His messages in super clear ways.  But He does, because He’s nice.

Here in Jeremiah 7, Yahweh reminds these twerps in Judah that they are rebels from a long line of rebels and that from day one their ancestors have never been respecting Yahweh.  Yahweh says, “Go ahead, you little punks—bring your stupid sacrifices to My Temple.  Do you think that’s all it takes to please Me?  Do you think that’s the only command I’ve ever given you?  No, it’s never just been about the sacrifices.  From the beginning, I demanded your soul devotion.  I wanted your hearts—your sincere submission.  But you just couldn’t be bothered, so now I’m going to trash you all, just as I did your neighbors in the north.”

“When you tell them all this, Jeremiah, they will not listen to you; when you call to them, they will not answer. Therefore say to them, ‘This is the nation that has not obeyed Yahweh its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips.’ Shave your head in mourning, and weep alone on the mountains. For Yahweh has rejected and forsaken this generation that has provoked His fury.” (Jer. 7:27-29)

To be hairy was to be manly in ancient Israel, and Jewish men went around with a nice bush of hair on their heads and faces.  Being hairy was such a big deal to these people, that we find accounts of Jewish soldiers feeling mortified when they get their beards shaved off by their enemies in battle.  In 2 Samuel 10, we read about a time when King David sent a group of messengers to bring a friendly message to the king of another nation.  But the gesture was misinterpreted, and the other king thought David was acting shady.  So to send back a sort of “I hated you first” message, the other king grabbed David’s guys, shaved off half of their beards, and cut their man dresses off at their waists.  Wow, talk about mortifying.  It’s easy enough to slip into another tunic, but growing back your facial bush takes time.  The obvious solution would be to just shave off the other half so that you’d stop looking ridiculous, but no, this didn’t work for ancient Jewish men.  Without a bushy beard, you were only half a man, and David understood this, which is why he told his humiliated guys to go stay in another city until their beards could grow back.

Now if you want to bother someone, you find out what they like, and then you do just the opposite.  This is what David’s rude fellow king did, and when armies conquered each other, there was a whole lot of shaving that went on.  It was because hair shaving was so intimately associated with great personal distress that it became a useful way to tell the world when you were really upset about something.  This is why Yahweh tells Jeremiah to go shave his head and walk around weeping at the top of his lungs.  The Jews didn’t weep quietly, so you should assume volume whenever someone talks about weeping in the Bible.  The ancient Jews were extremely theatrical people who felt that emotions were meant to be publicized.  Since all Jews associated hairiness with happiness, it was a real attention getter for one of them to come out of his house one morning in a bald state.  That was a great way of saying, “Look at me!  Look at me, everyone!  Something terrible has happened and I’m super upset!”  Any bald Jew would attract a lot of attention to himself and get a lot of inquiries about what was wrong.  So even though Yahweh tells Jeremiah to shave his head and walk around weeping alone in the mountains, what He really means is for the prophet to put on a theatrical show of great distress that will cause many Jews to gather around him asking what he’s so upset about.  Jeremiah will then snap, “I’m upset because none of you little jerks are listening to Yahweh!  He’s telling you to repent and you’re refusing to!  That’s why I’m so upset—because God is going to do terrible things to our homeland and it’s because of you!”

“‘The people of Judah have done evil in My eyes, declares Yahweh. They have set up their detestable idols in the House that bears My Name and have defiled it. They have built the high places of Tophet in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire—something I did not command, nor did it enter My mind. So beware, the days are coming, declares Yahweh, when people will no longer call it Tophet or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Tophet until there is no more room. Then the carcasses of this people will become food for the birds and the wild animals, and there will be no one to frighten them away. I will bring an end to the sounds of joy and gladness and to the voices of bride and bridegroom in the towns of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem, for the land will become desolate.” (Jer. 7:30-34)

This is the end of the chapter, and here is where we come across Yahweh’s comment about child sacrifice never entering His mind.  When we examine this statement in its original context, it becomes clear that Yahweh is using exaggeratory language to emphasize how intense the rebellion of these people is and why He has decided to cut them off.  He’s saying, “You rebels are putting your all into defying Me.  Look: you’re even cranking out the child sacrifices—something I have never and would never authorize you to do.”

As we explained earlier, Yahweh specifically forbids child sacrifice in the Torah, and He commanded that anyone caught doing it should be immediately executed by the community.  If people had obeyed His commands in this area, Tophet would never have been built.  But instead, child sacrifice is booming in Judah and after tossing their kids into the flames, these rebels actually have the gall to bring sacrifices to Yahweh’s Temple and say, “He’s pleased with us.”  Now wonder Yahweh says that He’s going to level the Temple just as He did Shiloh.  And now He also says that He is going to fill the Valley of Ben Hinnom with the corpses of these very Jews.

Now when you aren’t listening to God, you’re naturally going to be all confused about how things work in the afterlife, and the ancient Jews had bought into many ridiculous theories about the relationship between the body and the soul.  They believed that the death of the body was a very traumatic thing for the soul to witness, since body and soul had become such good friends during a person’s life.  They believed that it could take up to three days for the soul to accept the death of its body and finally drift on to the underworld, which they thought was located in the bowels of the planet.  Trying to ease the soul through this traumatic separation period was considered extremely critical to the soul doing well in the afterlife.  This was why proper burials were so important to the Jews.  To just have your body left as food for the wild animals or to have it rotting in the sun would be terribly upsetting to the soul, and result in a sort of spiritual post-traumatic stress disorder.  This is all complete baloney, of course, but it was what these people believed.  Once you understand how important proper burials were to them, then you can understand how extra vicious they were being to roast their children alive for idols.  Such a ritual was the same as intentionally sticking it to another soul and trying to mess that person up in the afterlife.  To the ancient Jews, the ultimate post-partem revenge was to drag someone’s bones out of their grave or, better yet, to not let them get buried at all.  This is what Yahweh says He’s going to do.  He says He’s going to create such a bloodbath when He starts mowing down these rebels that no one will have time to bury bodies. Instead, He says that the Valley of Ben Hinnom will be turned into a mass grave, and the corpses of adults will be thrown into it until the whole valley is full.  Then He says that birds of prey and wild animals will converge on the free food and no one will be there to drive them away.  If you believe that you must have a proper burial for your soul to do well after death, then this kind of imagery would be terrifying.  Humans already fear death because it is such a mystery what comes after it, but here Yahweh is ensuring these people that they can count on some kind of epic trauma in the next life because He’s going to make sure to traumatize the heck out of their souls by the manner in which He has them die.  Such is the cost for disrespecting God: when we rebel against Him, He comes back at us with something far worse.

Now since these burial superstitions are a bunch of hooey, is Yahweh making an empty threat by promising these people a terrible time in the next life by messing with their corpses on earth?  No, He’s actually downplaying what’s really going to happen to these people.  These folks are going to end up in Hell, and their experience there is going to be far worse than anything they could imagine.  Here in Jeremiah 7, Yahweh is using cultural superstitions to make the point that messing with Him results in terrifying consequences which will reach beyond this earthly life.  The principle is true, even though the beliefs He’s playing on are not.

WHAT ABOUT THE GOOD GUYS?

So what about the few souls in Judah who really care about Yahweh?  Is He just lumping them in with everyone else?  No, He’s not.  In Jeremiah 7, Yahweh isn’t addressing the faithful few, but in other places He does.  Yahweh makes it very clear that He never loses track of the souls who care about Him, no matter how few there are.  You’ll find a fabulous demonstration of this in Ezekiel 9, in which Yahweh gives Ezekiel a vision of Him putting a special mark on the souls in Jerusalem who still care about Him before the slaughtering begins (see Know Your Bible Lesson 33: Abominations in the Temple).  Ezekiel and Jeremiah are preaching at the same time from two different locations, but they both spend a lot of time talking about the rebellion of the Jews living in Judah.  Here in Jeremiah 7, Yahweh is only condemning the spiritually rebellious, and those are the only souls He’s so angry with.  Towards the souls who sincerely care about Him, Yahweh is quite pleased, and He gives special messages of encouragement to several groups of obedient souls in the book of Jeremiah.

WHAT’S WITH THE DOUBLETALK?

We started this lesson by pointing out times when Yahweh did ask individuals to sacrifice their kids to Him—specifically Abraham and Jephthah.  Why would He ever do this if He hates the whole idea?  Well, here is where we have to remember that as the Law Giver, God can change the rules at any time.  He might lay down a general policy for a community of believers, only to then command specific individuals to violate those rules at certain times in their own lives.  There are several examples of Him doing this sort of thing in the Bible, and He continues to do so today (see Present Convictions vs. Past Commands).  The bottom line is this: if God is telling you to do something, then you need to obey Him, not try and use the Bible as an excuse to blow Him off.

Now since the death of children bothers us more than the death of adults, learning to accept their death while maintaining confidence in the goodness of God requires that we mature in our understanding of God’s sovereignty, His eternal priorities, and His unique way of handling every human soul.  We have material that delves more deeply into all of these subjects (see below).  Meanwhile, what we learn by studying Yahweh’s language in Jeremiah is that we must be cautious about taking God’s words literally.  Exaggerating for the purpose of emphasis was a very common practice among ancient Jews, and when Yahweh is talking to Jews, He talks like a Jew, which is why we find Him exaggerating all throughout the Bible.  Our Gods will also lie to us whenever They feel it benefits us for Them to do so.  Here in Jeremiah 7, this crowd of spiritual rebels didn’t need to be reflecting on the rare times when Yahweh ordered child sacrifice, nor were they ready for a discussion of God’s sovereign control over life and death.  Delving into discussions of why God does what He does is very useful once we have sufficiently submitted to Him.  But when our submission is non-existent and we’ve lost all fear of God’s wrath, then there are far more important issues that need to be addressed than why God would choose to have some innocent baby end up sacrificed to Molek.  Here in Jeremiah 7, Yahweh is addressing the more immediate crisis of wrong soul attitudes.  The same is true in the other two passages in which He again expresses His horror at the popularity of child sacrifice in ancient Judah.

FURTHER READING:
Help For Murderers: Finding Peace With A God Who Loves You
Help for Murderers: What To Do When Your Victims Are Haunting You

MORE ABOUT YAHWEH’S USE OF SYMBOLIC & DECEPTIVE LANGUAGE IN THE BIBLE:
Distinguishing Between the Real End Times & the Day of Yahweh
Zephaniah 3:17 In Context: Does God really sing over us?
Practicing Discernment: Yahweh Lies

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