For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the Lord. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. (Jeremiah 7:30-31)
Reading through the prophets you come across a long list of the sins of God’s people, a people who are called to be set apart from their neighbors, who are supposed to be a holy nation. To me, this one stands out among the rest. They have not only been guilty of evil, but they have done their evil in the house of God. They have built up Topheth for a horrifying practice, sacrificing their sons and daughters. These “sons of Judah” have sacrificed their own flesh in pagan practices by throwing their children into the flames.
How much sorrow must this cause our God? He has many times seen his people turn away from him, which causes him grief. But here the sin of the parents is to destroy their own children. Judah is taking the lives of God’s people and in so doing, upending the promises of God. They are no longer cherishing the promise of God to Abraham and his descendants. Instead they cast the promised children into this Valley of Slaughter.
God promised Abraham offspring so numerous they’d be impossible to count and Abraham longed for a child. Children were an honor and a blessing. But here in Jeremiah as descendants of Abraham receive this promise, they mock God and his promises. It is evil in God’s sight as they slaughter their own kin–something so far from God’s mind.
This is a clear reason why Jeremiah comes to preach judgment, and good reason that he is known as the weeping prophet (Jer 9).
I haven’t devoted much typing to the book of Judges this week, something I’ll be sure to remedy for the next week’s assignments for Year in the Bible. But in reading through Galatians I see a connection to Judges, and Galatians could just about be retitled and delivered to the tribes of Israel. Paul writes in chapter one:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—
He goes on to say that calling anything but the gospel of Christ ‘gospel’ doesn’t make sense, for nothing is good news compared to God’s grace. But, the point I’m making with relation to Judges is that this church in Galatia, some two thousand years ago, suffered the same problems that God’s people struggled with thousands of years before that. They so quickly turn from the God who had delivered them from Egypt and delivered them into the promised land. Sadly the story is a common one in which humanity, for no good reason, turns from God.
I don’t know whether we should grow more angry with ourselves seeing this pattern continue or if we should have greater sympathy. Maybe both. At least it should help make us humble people.
The good news is that this pattern also includes a God who forgives and welcomes us back again and again.
As I’ve been reading the beginning if Leviticus the last few days what has stood out to me is how big of a deal sin is. Contemporary culture doesn’t talk about sin much, or any sort of weakness or evil in us. Instead we all are good, everyone is right, I’m OK you’re OK.
But you can’t understand sin as no big deal and make sense of Leviticus. Sin is a very big deal and God’s people went through a lot to deal with it.
With all these regulations and sacrifices, sin was an unavoidable topic. Think about the constant reminder in the sights, sounds, and smells of the tabernacle. Seeing smoke rise up as a sacrifice for your sin, smelling the burnt fat, seeing others giving over first fruits and goats without blemish.
But as often as you’d be reminded of sin, you’d be reminded of the confidence the people had in knowing those sins were forgiven. The smoke rises up to heaven and it vanishes in the winds just as our sins when confessed are raised to God, forgiven, and then cast far from us, as far as the east is from the west.
Sin is not a fashionable subject, but it was a big deal then and it is a big deal now. It was so big that to save us from our sin God sent his Son to set us free. It makes no sense to speak at length on salvation and forgiveness and neglect what we are forgiven for and saved from. Sin is a problem that thankfully our God has overcome. Let’s not overlook our sin and in so doing diminish how great God’s forgiveness is.