“Thus says the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel: “Amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place. Do not trust in these lying words, saying, ‘The temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD are these.’ For if you thoroughly amend your ways and your doings, if you thoroughly execute judgment between a man and his neighbour, if you do not oppress the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, or walk after other gods to your hurt, then I will cause you to dwell in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever. Behold, you trust in lying words that cannot profit.” (Jeremiah 7:3-8)
What “are these”? The finger was pointing to the Temple buildings, and the threefold statement probably referred to the three parts of the Temple, the Outer Court where sacrifices were made, the Temple building, with the Holy Place, and the Most Holy Place.
Now why were people pointing to the Temple and saying this? And why did Jeremiah pronounce them as “lying words”? Was it not true that these buildings were the Temple of the Lord?
Yes, but the Lord was declaring their fault because they were relying on the Temple as though it was a bastion of defence against all, including God’s judgments, and they had nothing to worry about. They assumed that as God said He would dwell there, no enemies could ever overtake them. But God was looking for something in His people, and He was not finding it. He was looking for an amendment of their ways, whereby they would consider the needs of the widows and orphans, look after the strangers that entered their gates, and refuse all worship of foreign gods. But they trusted in lying words “which cannot profit.”
John the Baptist said, “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.” (Luke 3:8)
The Jewish Talmud said, “A single Israelite is worth more before God than all the people who have been or shall be.” Again, “The world was made for their [Israel’s] sake.” Such was the assumed elevation of Israel in the eyes of their leaders, and it was a smoke in God’s nose.
But God’s purpose would not fail. “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” (Isa.46:10) Even if 99.9% of all God’s people fail, yet His purposes are immutable. If necessary He would raise godly men and women from the dead stones they trod underfoot. All self-glorification would eventually be brought down to the ground. “They answered and said to Him, Abraham is our father. Jesus said to them, If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham.” (John 8:39)
Are you are a son of Abraham? Then remember, so also was Ishmael the outcast, and Esau the castaway, and the fool Nabal, who came of the line of faithful Caleb. Virtue is not, as lands, inheritable. Are you a wretched sinner, bemoaning your lot? Then say, with David,“Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me,” (Ps.51:10) and the Lord will be gracious to you. “O Jerusalem, wash your heart from wickedness, that you may be saved. How long shall your evil thoughts lodge within you?” (Jer.4:14)
And so we see that today’s verses all point to the necessity of true personal faith, righteousness, care for the underprivileged, humility, and the fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom. (Prov.9:10) To rely on a religious system, or on certain teachers, or the belonging to a particular theology or denomination, avail us nothing in the sight of the Lord.