This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Jeremiah 19:1-15
Sermon prepared by Rev. Walt Vanderwerf, St. Catharines , Ontario
Followers of Jesus:
As far as popular messages go, Jeremiah’s wasn’t one. In the next chapter after the one we read together, Jeremiah 20, we’re told of the fallout. Pashhur son of Immer was an officer in the temple (20:1), and he shows in no time what he thinks of it. It was into the stocks, twisted in an uncomfortable position, that he sent Jeremiah for the night. And that was after he gave Jeremiah the whip, lashing pain into his body in significant and sickening ways. This hurt Jeremiah a great deal, of course, yet he would not change the message. He told Pashhur that God had a name change for him. His name was now Magor-Missabib (20:3).
What was Magor-Missabib so upset about? Jeremiah’s message was a word from “the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel ” (vss 3, 15). It was something he could not keep in. He tells, “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (20:9). Try to stop an out of control fire! Such was the word that Jeremiah just had to speak.
The place of the message is the message. The LORD Almighty, the God of Israel tells him, “go out to the Valley of Ben Hinnom , near the entrance of the Potsherd Gate” (vs 2). What is this place? The gate is called Potsherd because that’s where the potters dumped their broken pieces of pottery. Nehemiah calls the gate by another name which literally means, “Gate of the Ash-heaps” (Neh. 3:14 ). Pottery wasn’t the only thing dumped there. Other pieces of garbage were dumped there too, and burned with fire. Jeremiah is told by God to tell the message at the city dump.
This wasn’t the only thing burned there, though. Just before the time of Jeremiah’s birth King Manasseh promoted it like an effective advertisement. This was the thing to do. This was the way to make sure that life would continue prosperous. What was the “this”? It was to burn your son in the fire (earlier we’re told daughters were also included in the ceremony, 7:31 ). Yes, that’s what it said; they didn’t just burn garbage. They also burned their sons and daughters to Baal. The Valley is last mentioned in Jeremiah 32. There God calls this a detestable thing (vs 35). When we think about this valley, think about fire burning the flesh of the innocent.
It is because of this terrible practice the LORD Almighty, the God Israel said that He would remove all traces of joy and gladness, the sounds of the bride and bridegroom (7:34). What future is there for marriage at a time like this?
Jeremiah went to the dump to tell the message. Can you smell it? I know, and maybe you do too, that going to the dump on a hot day is very, very stinky. Sometimes the smell is so strong that it sets off the gag reflex; we almost throw up! That is just from overheated garbage; can you imagine the smell of the burned up bodies of children? Is it any wonder that God calls this “detestable”?
The message is more than this, though. It is going to be such a dark disaster that “the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle” (vs 3). Here is an expression commonly used in the Old Testament to describe the reaction of people to “a catastrophe of unheard-of severity” (J.A. Thompson). This place would represent disaster, it would call to mind catastrophe!
The place is the message, and so is what Jeremiah brings there. To emphasize the message, Jeremiah brings a clay jar. This clay jar was meant to bring the message in exactly the same way as the words Jeremiah would speak. It was the same message. The Hebrew word for this type of clay jar sounds like what it is. It is a decanter used to carry water, varying in size, with a narrow neck. You know the sound of water leaving a jar with a narrow neck? The sound is like “baqbuq,” which is the Hebrew word for this jar. Say the word fast: Baqbuq, baqbuq, baqbuq! Did Jeremiah pour water out of the jar before he said it? He said in verse 7, “In this place I will ruin the plans of Judah and Jerusalem .” The word “ruin” sounds just like the word for the clay jar. This place would come to be remembered as a place of ruin; where plans were ruined; where the future was ruined; where there literally was no future.
There’s nothing to look forward to in this valley.
A potter would only break a jar if it had become useless. When you break a jar like that it’s impossible to put it back together again. It cannot be repaired. There are too many pieces. So the destruction would be final, with no fixing up, no mending. And what does Jeremiah do? He breaks the jar. Ruin and desolation and uselessness are the message. The LORD spoke years before this through Isaiah. “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols” (Isa 42:9). God spoke through Isaiah and said the sons and daughters of the LORD are “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made” (Isa 43:7). When we will give glory to another, and when we won’t live for His glory it is a waste, we become useless, we’re not being what God created us to be. This is senseless! This is what we’re to recall when we think of this valley.
It will become the Valley of Slaughter (vs 6) because people will fall by the sword, their carcasses will be given to the animals for food. In the siege God will make them eat their sons and daughters, and then turn to eat each other. “They will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room” (vs 11). The only thing left in the valley will be bones, skulls and skeletons.
The message is formed using the language of a curse, graphically described in “gruesome” and “nauseating” ways (Thompson). The sum of the message is in the name given to Pashhur, Magor-Missabib, which means “terror all around.” The first time that phrase is used, it’s about Babylon ’s might. “They are cruel and show no mercy” ( 6:23 ), therefore, “there is terror on every side” ( 6:25 ). The valley is to be remembered as a place with no mercy. Here’s the thing. This terror on every side happened to real people, relatives, friends, neighbors we know. Jeremiah lamented it to God in a prayer:
As you summon to a feast day,
so you summoned against me terrors on every side.
In the day of the LORD's anger
no one escaped or survived;
those I cared for and reared,
my enemy has destroyed (Lam 2:22 ).
You have covered yourself with anger and pursued us;
you have slain without pity.
You have covered yourself with a cloud
so that no prayer can get through.
You have made us scum and refuse
among the nations.
All our enemies have opened their mouths
wide against us.
We have suffered terror and pitfalls,
ruin and destruction (Lam 3:43 -47).
Worst of all is what the LORD Almighty the God of Israel says in the chapter before the one we read. “I will show them my back and not my face in the day of their disaster” ( 18:17 ). Do we see the significance of that horror? It is the opposite of blessing, the turn around of “the LORD turning his face toward you and giving you peace” (Numbers 6:26 ). This is what we are to remember when we think of the Valley of Ben-Hinnom .
What do we do with a message like that?
Jesus calls Baal by another name. Do you know it? It is “Beelzebub” (Matt 12:27 ). He is, “the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient” (Eph 2:2). Jesus asks a very simply profound question about him. “How can anyone enter a strong man's house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house” (Matt 12:29 ). Jesus himself recognizes how strong Beelzebub is. He is a strong man that must be tied up if anyone hopes to escape him. Let me ask a simply profound question myself. Can you escape from him? Can you get away from the grip and influence of this strong man by yourself? Can you?
When Jeremiah brought his message to the dump, he was bringing it to the visible representation of what the Hebrew called “ge-Hinnom” ( Valley of Hinnom ) and what the Greek language mispronounced “ge-Henna.” Ge-hanna is the New Testament word for hell. What is hell? It is a place of burning. It is a place where there is no joy or gladness. It is where there is complete disaster, where catastrophe of the most nauseating and gruesome event takes places. Hell is where there is no hope, nothing to look forward to in anticipation and expectation. It is a terrible place, where terror surrounds you all the time.
Gary Larson is known to make people laugh. Like most comedians he also has significant insight into the human condition. One of his major themes is hell. In one comic there’s a picture of two demons speaking together. There are flames all around, and three men in the foreground at work. Two large men have pick axes, and there’s sweat pouring off their faces. Between them is this skinny runt of a man pushing a wheelbarrow filled with coal or rocks. This last man is whistling a tune; he’s happily at work in hell. One demon says to another, “You know, we’re just not reaching that guy.”
Jeremiah’s message isn’t too popular today, but I’m here to tell you that people you know, your friends, your relatives are going there. One day the God of the angel armies will send his angels out “ and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil . 42They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 13). There are people in this building right now who may find themselves there. Am I reaching you yet?
After he was condemned to die Jesus carried his cross to “the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha ) .” John tells us that Jesus went out there (Jn 19:17 ). “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make people holy through his own blood” (Heb 13:12 ), at the Skull place where there were skulls and skeletons. The greatest message Jesus preached was outside of the city gate. On a hill called Golgotha Jesus was nailed, at a place associated with what everyone knew was hell.
The greatest message is that we can we be rescued from someone stronger than we are. We can be saved from going to a place where there is no hope, a place devastating beyond the worst we can think of, a place where there is no joy, in fact only weeping and gnashing of teeth. It stinks with the stench of fire burning garbage, burning flesh. It’s where there is terror on every side. It is where the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel will forever turn His back on people, not His face toward them. It is a place of complete devastation and ruin, where there is such catastrophe that it’ll blow you away. It is a place we will find no mercy.
Will we turn to Jesus? At the cross God the Father turned his back on Jesus. Jesus went to hell, that’s what He meant when He cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachtani,” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” a quote from Psalm 22:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent (Ps 22:1,2).
Jesus cried out, and God disappeared. At the cross Jesus went to hell so that anyone who would believe Him would not. Augustine points out that God will never laugh at us when we ask Him for mercy.
It all starts with listening, with really hearing God speak and doing what He desires. But how do we get to the place of wanting what God wants, of doing what He wills? Being saved from hell is a gift from God. Wanting it is the same. In a later chapter the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, expands on the bad news from this chapter.
“They will be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear me for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good to them, and I will inspire them to fear me, so that they will never turn away from me. I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all my heart and soul” (Jer 32:38-41).
Do we hear the good news here? When God saves us from hell, he saves us completely, so that all the things hell takes away, he returns. He does not only give us the joy of his salvation (Ps 51:12); that would be great in itself! Over time God becomes for us our joy and our delight (Ps 43:4)! We move away from trying to control our lives so as things will go well, to giving control over to God. We learn that we may have appeared to be in control; but God was all along, and he opens up his hand to give us everything we need.
“Delight yourself in the LORD
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the LORD;
trust in him and he will do this:
He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn,
the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Ps 37:4-6).
And that’s all that matters.
There may be times when things don’t go well for us; we must not think, then, that God has turned from us and is now against us. In those times we will learn:
“But I will sing of your strength,
in the morning I will sing of your love;
for you are my fortress,
my refuge in times of trouble’ (Ps 59:16).
God becomes to us the God of hope who gives us joy and peace as we trust Him (Rom 15:13 )! We might find ourselves surrounded by terror and be afraid, anxious and worried about many things; but when we pray we will also experience the peace that passes all understanding. This peace will guard our hearts in Christ Jesus (Php 4:6,7). We may cry because of the grief we come into; but God will see to it that though tears last a night time, joy comes in the morning (Ps 30:5).
Order of Worship
Gathering song: PsH #237
Call to Worship
Silent prayer concluded with #625
Call to Confession
Assurance of Pardon
Song of Thanks: #462
Law of God
Song of Dedication: #410
Prayer for Illumination
Scripture Reading : Jeremiah 19
Sermon: Jeremiah Goes to the Dump
Song of Response: #461
The message here given must be surrounded with many songs of grace and mercy. Here are some additional or alternate suggestions:
You are my All in All by Dennis Jernigan
Lion of Judah by Ted Sandquist