30 July 2010

Jeremiah 26:1-9

"It may be that they will listen, all of them, and will turn from their evil way, that I may change my mind about the disaster I intend to bring on them because of their evil doings." (v.3)


Chapter 26 of Jeremiah finds the prophet preaching God's word outside the Temple in Jerusalem, inevitably incurring the wrath of the priests and putting his life at considerable risk.

Jeremiah himself came from a priestly family but made enemies by denouncing sacrificial worship and superstitious trust in the Temple. Indeed, there is a marked emphasis in his pronouncements on what John Wesley - one of the founders of Methodism - would have recognised as 'personal holiness'. Perhaps it was inevitable that Jeremiah's frustrations with organised religion would come to a head (just as they would for Jesus - see Matthew 21:12-13) in a final showdown at the Temple itself.

This is the second time that the book describes Jeremiah's 'Temple sermon'. It occurs first in chapter 7, where Jeremiah roundly mocks the "den of robbers" (Jeremiah 7:11) and warns the people that they are being betrayed by "deceptive words" (Jeremiah 7:4). The Jerusalem Temple, he says, will suffer the same fate as the one in Shiloh, which was destroyed by the Philistines.

In this re-telling, there are some noticeable differences. This time we hear far less of what the prophet has to say and a good deal more of the response he gets from the priests: "You shall die!" It's a stark reminder that to live and speak God's word can be a dangerous occupation.

But whereas in chapter 7 God warns of the futility of Jeremiah's preaching, saying that "they will not listen to you" (Jeremiah 7:27), this time God holds out more hope... If you listen to my warnings, there will be no punishment. There is a choice.

The worst can be averted and there is still value in preaching God's word, even at the eleventh hour. That said, as the people surround Jeremiah at the end of this passage, things are looking bad for God's messenger.

To Ponder

Has there been a situation in which you have felt vulnerable, or even endangered, by sharing your faith? What can you learn from that experience?

In the face of economic pressures, global warning and extreme poverty, where can we point to hopeful signs? Is it too late to declare them?

Think of one way in which you can offer a sign of hope within your family or community without being dismissive of the reality of other's concerns or suffering.

Bible notes author

Laurence Wareing

Laurence Wareing is a Methodist local preacher and works as a freelance writer and media producer. He was editor of the Methodist publication Momentum from 2005 until 2010 and currently edits the website Singing the Faith Plus.