The Book of JEREMIAH
James J. Barker
THE BROKEN EARTHEN BOTTLE
- In Jeremiah 7:31, 32; and 19:2, 6; and 32:35 we read about "the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate (of Jerusalem)."
- It was located just south of the city of Jerusalem and was a well-known place to people in Bible times.
- The first reference to the valley of Hinnom is in Joshua 15:8.
- The valley of Hinnom became the place where backslidden Israelites performed the most abominable rites of Baal-worship, including sacrificing their little children to Baal.
- In II Chronicles 28:3 we read that King Ahaz "burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel."
- In II Chronicles 33:6 we read that King Manasseh "caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger."
- The name, valley of "the children of Hinnom " or "the son of Hinnom" indicates that perhaps it was originally named after a certain family who lived there but the Bible does not say.
- In the New Testament, the Hebrew word Hinnom is called by the Greek name Gehenna, and is translated in our English Bible as "hell."
- The word is used twelve times in the New Testament, and it always refers to eternal punishment in the fires of hell.
- Eleven out of the twelve references to Gehenna come from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ. The other reference is James 3:6, which refers to the "fire of hell."
- Our Lord said in Matthew 10:28, "And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell" (cf. Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5).
- When our Lord referred to Gehenna as a picture of a fiery hell, his listeners knew exactly what He meant.
- That our Lord was referring to literal torment in a literal hell is obvious if we take the Bible literally (cf. Mark 9:44, 46, 48). The worms (maggots) in the valley of Hinnom died and the fires eventually were quenched. In fact, no one is even sure today of the precise location of the valley of Hinnom.
- But everybody (even skeptics) knows where hell is.
- The "worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched" in hell.
- Our Lord used the valley of Hinnom as a vivid picture of hell, and it was there that Jeremiah the prophet was told to go (19:1, 2).
THE SYMBOLISM OF THE EARTHEN BOTTLE
- In Jeremiah 18, the prophet Jeremiah was told to "go down to the potter's house." The LORD told him, "there I will cause thee to hear my words" (18:2).
- So Jeremiah obeyed the LORD, and went down to the potter's house, "and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels" (18:3).
- The potter represents God and the clay represents man. I mentioned last time that J. Vernon McGee said the wheel represents the "fortuitous concurrence of circumstances."
- It is comforting to know that God controls the wheel.
- Now we are in chapter 19, and we see that the LORD told Jeremiah "Go and get a potter's earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests" (19:1).
- These "ancients" (elders) were to be witnesses.
- The earthen bottle represents the rebellious people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. God was going to break them like an earthen potter's vessel (19:10, 12).
- So Jeremiah went forth into the valley of the son of Hinnom, and there he proclaimed to the kings of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem that the judgment of God that was about to come down upon them (19:2-5).
- In verse 10, the LORD said to Jeremiah, "Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee..."
- Therefore, the potter's vessel represented the rebellious people of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. God was going to break them like a potter's vessel (19:10, 12).
- Psalm 2:9 says, "Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel."
- Revelation 2:27 says, "And he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers." The Messiah will break and shatter the heathen nations, but here in the book of Jeremiah we see God had to break His own people!
THE SYMBOLISM OF TOPHET (19:6)
- Tophet is mentioned nine times in Scripture -- once in the book of Isaiah, and the other eight times here in the book of Jeremiah (cf. 19:6, 11, 12, 13, 14).
- The first reference to Tophet is in Isaiah 30:33. "For Tophet is ordained of old; yea, for the king it is prepared; he hath made it deep and large: the pile thereof is fire and much wood; the breath of the LORD, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it."
- Tophet was located "in the valley of the son of Hinnom" (19:6; cf. 7:31).
- This wicked place, where backslidden, idolatrous Israelites would go "to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire" (7:31; cf. 19:4, 5) was defiled by King Josiah, who was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah (cf. 1:1, 2).
- Second Kings 23:10 says, "And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech" (cf. Psalm 106:37-41).
- What this means is King Josiah turned Tophet into a cesspool and garbage dump. It became the receptacle for waste matter and all sorts of putrefying filth from the city of Jerusalem.
- The dead bodies of criminals and animals were thrown there to be eaten by dogs. When the dogs were through with them, their mangled corpses were put in the fires that were kept burning to consume all of the rubbish from the city.
- No one knows for sure where the word "Tophet" came from or even what it means. Many Bible teachers think the name comes from the Hebrew word toph, which means "drum."
- When these demon-possessed idol-worshipers started sacrificing their babies to Baal and Moloch, they would place the screaming babies in the fire (Jer. 19:4-6; cf. 7:31).
- As the babies screamed and cried, the idolaters would beat on their drums to try and drown out their cries. By the way, these same horrible drum beats are used today in rock music.
- The other day our neighbors had a big party. Though they are two doors away we could feel the heavy drum beat.
- John Milton refers to these drums of Tophet in Paradise Lost, and he recognized Tophet as a picture of hell itself, for he says in Paradise Lost:
"The pleasant Valley of Hinnom, Tophet thence
And black Gehenna called, the Type of Hell."
- Some scholars believe the word "Tophet" is derived from the Hebrew word for "stove" or "oven."
- But whatever its origin, the Bible describes it as a horrible place where demon-possessed Canaanites worshipped Baal and other idols.
- Later it became the center of Baal worship by apostate Jews (cf. Jer. 7:31-33; 32:35).
- This horrible place forms the background to the prophet Jeremiah’s message here in Jeremiah 19 (cf. 19:1, 2) and helps us to understand our Lord's warnings about hell in the New Testament.
THE SYMBOLISM BEHIND JEREMIAH'S WARNINGS
- In Jeremiah 19:2, the LORD told Jeremiah to "go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom" (19:2).
- This wretched place would serve as an appropriate background for Jeremiah’s message of judgment.
- After he left Tophet, Jeremiah "stood in the court of the LORD's house" (19:14; cf. 7:1-11).
- Nearly 100 years before, the LORD spoke by His servants the prophets and pronounced judgment upon Jerusalem and Judah because of the abominations of wicked King Manasseh.
- The LORD said, "Behold, I am bringing such evil upon Jerusalem and Judah, that whosoever heareth of it, both his ears shall tingle" (II Kings 21:12).
- Now the LORD repeats the same message again (Jer. 19:3). The reasons for the impending calamity were gross idolatry, immorality, and sacrificing their babies in the fires of Tophet (Jer. 19:4, 5).
- Their sacred shrine for Baal would no longer be called Tophet nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, "but the valley of slaughter" (19:6).
- They would "fall by the sword before their enemies…" (19:7).
- The city of Jerusalem would become desolate. God would send them horrible plagues (19:8).
- For sacrificing their children to Baal and Molech, they would be reduced to starvation and cannibalism (19:9; cf. Lam. 4:9, 10).
- The Lamentations of Jeremiah were written after the fall of Jerusalem, and the prophecies of chapter 19 were fulfilled.
- After delivering his message, Jeremiah was to "break the bottle" (19:10) and say to them: "Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel…" (Jer.19:11; cf. Rev. 2:26, 27).
- Once God broke that vessel, it could never be put together again. Judah’s stubbornness and obstinacy had hardened them beyond repair (19:11).
- Then after Jeremiah left Tophet, where the LORD had sent him to prophesy; "he stood in the court of the LORD's house.." (19:14, 15).
- Though they were backslidden and rebellious, they continued to worship in the temple, so the LORD told Jeremiah to deliver his message there (cf. 7:1-11).
- Jeremiah had warned them and pleaded with them but their hearts were hard and stubborn.
- "The clay had resisted the hand of the Potter too long. Very soon the enemy would come and shatter the nation in pieces" (J. Vernon McGee).
- God's judgment was irreversible.
Jeremiah's bold preaching led to his arrest (20:1, 2).