“Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Jer 4:4).

“Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?” (Jer 7:9,10, ESV).[1] The Prophet Jeremiah claimed in his sermon in chapter 26 that the people had broken the terms of the covenant by not following God’s Torah (Jer. 26:4); moreover, by disobeying a number of the commandments of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) (Jer 7:9), and by thinking that they were immune from the repercussions of their actions (Jer 7:10). Jeremiah declared that the Lord would destroy the Temple of Jerusalem in the same way He had allowed the sanctuary at Shiloh to be destroyed because of their persistent rejection of God’s commandments and their notion that the Temple would provide their safety.[2]

“Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah that come to worship in the house of the Lord all the words that I command you to speak to them; do not hold back a word. It may be they will listen, and every one turn from his evil way, that I may relent of the disaster that I intend to do to them because of their evil deeds. You shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord: If you will not listen to me, to walk in my law that I have set before you, and to listen to the words of my servants the prophets whom I send to you urgently, though you have not listened, 6 then I will make this house like Shiloh, and I will make this city a curse for all the nations of the earth’’” (Jer 26:2-6).

Though the episode here in Jeremiah took place over two millennia ago, in a different part of the world, within a different culture, and even under a different covenant, the immunity of which the people inferred upon themselves is not all that different from what we see happening in the modern Western church. The true safety of Jerusalem in Jeremiah’s day hinges thoroughly on turning from sin and living righteously, but instead, Scripture indicates that the people thought they could get away with their sins as long as they came to the temple time and time again and said, “We are delivered” without ever truly turning to God, which is made evident by repentance.[3] No wonder, centuries later, Jesus calls the temple “a den of thieves,” when He cleansed His Father’s house (cf. Matt 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46). Jeremiah foretells that because Judah has polluted and desecrated the temple, it will be destroyed just as the sanctuary in Shiloh had been. And after jockeying between Egypt and Babylon since Nebuchadnezzar’s prior siege in 598, Babylon finally executes God’s righteous judgment against the people of Jerusalem in 586.[4] Fortunately, Jeremiah is not exclusively a text of present judgement, but it is also an oracle of future hope then and now.

The metaphors of the uncircumcised heart (Jer 4:4; 9:25; compare Deut 10:16; 30:6) and the expected return from exile under a new covenant (Jer 30-33) are related. The problem, much like in Deuteronomy, is syncretism—worshiping and serving Yahweh in addition to Baal. But Yahweh is the only God; as such, He is a jealous God who cannot tolerate His people’s idolatry, yet He is also kind and caring to His people.[5] “Circumcise yourselves to the Lord; remove the foreskin of your hearts, O men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem” (Jer 4:4). Not unlike when Jesus, the king, places the sheep on His right and then the goats on His left; the Lord turns to the sheep and invites them to enter His kingdom, then turns to the goats and tells them to depart to eternal punishment.

Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25 makes salvation a personal matter, not one of happenstance but of intention. Jesus explains that an inheritance has been prepared for His sheep “since the creation of the world” (Matt 25:34), so in other words, Matthew emphasizes both forethought and provision on the part of God. In light of God’s providence, D. A. Carson expresses his gratitude to God in this way: “I have been known to meander and drift and goof up in both trivial and profound ways, but in the end I always come back to the right place, to the right person—the only person.”[6] Therefore, chapter 25 builds on the main theme of the Parable of the Lost Sheep, in chapter 18, where Jesus leaves the ninety-nine sheep and goes looking for the one that wandered away. After addressing His sheep in the parable, Jesus then turns to the goats; wherein, unlike the sheep, they did none of the things asked, thus demonstrating their distinction from the sheep, much like we see happening in Jeremiah.

My question is how many like Jeremiah has God sent the modern church, and in turn, what has been our predominate reaction? Are we, today, standing somewhere between 598 and 586, jockeying between Egypt and Babylon? Have we, myself included, inferred upon ourselves a false security, with uncircumcised hearts, like the people of Jeremiah’s time? What is God calling us to do? Fortunately, there is great hope; all is not lost, neither today nor in ancient Israel; chapters 30 and 31 of Jeremiah are a compilation of prophecies that foretell of restoration (cf. Deut 30:1-10), though mingled with periods of judgment (Jer 30:5-7, 12-15, 23–24) in order to remind of the circumstances that brought about the exile in the first place.[7] I pray that we recognize this reoccurring pattern and how it relates to Christian living and church life today. There is still time!

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the English Standard Version.

[2] Claude F. Mariottini, “The Trial of Jeremiah and the Killing of Uriah the Prophet,” Jewish Bible Quarterly 42, no. 1 (Jan-Mar, 2014): 27.

[3] Ibid., 27-8.

[4] 598-586 BCE.

[5] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible Book by Book (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002, 188.

[6] D. A. Carson, “I’m so Grateful That I’m among the Elect,” Themelios, 45 no 3 (December 2020), 485.

[7] Fee and Stuart, 192-93.