From Jeremiah 7-9
Today we look at the origin story for what the New Testament will eventually call ‘hell’. It was once a place of horrible sacrifice. Then the LORD changed its name. Hell was the place where dead bodies were stacked up and left to rot. Unclean, undignified, very dead. This was were the evil family was laid. Jesus explains very strong words the lengths people should go to to avoid being dumped in hell.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
Jeremiah has been speaking about the evil in the land of Judah. The people have put their trust in the temple of the LORD believing it will never be taken. But they have not amended their wicked deeds. They claim deliverance, only to go on with their abominations, making the temple a ‘den of robbers’ (Jer 7.1-29).
In today’s reading we continue this chapter. Jeremiah speaks about the punishment that awaits the sons of Judah who have done evil.
30 “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. 31 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. (Jer 7.30-31)
The people of Judah have built their own high places of worship. Centers of worship for foreign gods. They conduct the horrible practice of sacrificing their own children.
They burn their own children as a sacrifice in a place called Topeth, or the Valley of the son of Hinnom.
This practice in itself is not unique. It seems to be typical of some religions in the ancient near east as we will see below.
32 Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. 33 And the dead bodies of this people will be food for the birds of the air, and for the beasts of the earth, and none will frighten them away. 34 And I will silence in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, for the land shall become a waste. (Jer 7.32-34)
The place where they sacrifice their own children will become the place where their dead bodies will be laid. Food for the scavengers.
In light of this the LORD will change the name of the place to the valley of slaughter and silence the people. No more joy and happiness. Only the quietness of death and waste.
8 “At that time, declares the LORD, the bones of the kings of Judah, the bones of its officials, the bones of the priests, the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be brought out of their tombs. 2 And they shall be spread before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven, which they have loved and served, which they have gone after, and which they have sought and worshiped. And they shall not be gathered or buried. They shall be as dung on the surface of the ground. 3 Death shall be preferred to life by all the remnant that remains of this evil family in all the places where I have driven them, declares the LORD of hosts. (Jer 8.1-3)
The worship of the ‘host of heaven’ (foreign gods) has extended to all levels of society in Judah. Kings, officials, priests, prophets and the inhabitants. Presumably Babylon will invade and slaughter them all. They will even go so far as dump the bones of those buried in the valley of slaughter with all the other dead..
They shall not be gathered to their people or buried. Dead and unclean. Bodies exposed and vulnerable. Left to rot and be eaten.
The LORD predicts a grizzly end for the evil family who abandoned him.
The sacrifice of children was part of foreign worship and occurred during the times of ancient Israel. We can find various laws in Leviticus about giving or passing children to Moloch (Lev. 18:21, 20:2–4) and Deuteronomy speaks of ‘burns his son as an offering’ (Dt 18:10). We see the same in 2 Kings 16:3, 17:17, 21:6. For example;
10 And he defiled Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, that no one might burn his son or his daughter as an offering to Molech. (2 Ki 23.10)
Other texts refer to the sacrifice of children. Psalms 106.37–38 speaks of child sacrifice to the idols of Canaan. Ezekiel 20:25–26 speaks disapprovingly of sacrificing children to the LORD. Jeremiah 19:5 speaks of sacrificing children to Baal. Ezekiel 16.21, 20.31, 23.37, 39 and Isaiah 57.5 of sacrificing children to unnamed gods.
In Israel’s memory then Topheth, the valley of Hinnom, now the valley of slaughter was known for its horrible acts of idolatry, murder and as the place where the LORD would pile up all the dead bodies of those who committed such acts.
Their dead bodies would be laid in the place where they sinned.
The Valley of Ben Hinnom, located south of Jerusalem outside the city wall, probably was named for a previous owner. After being a place for human sacrifice, the area may have become a place in later times where garbage was burned. Because of the earlier repugnant associations, by NT times Gehenna (“valley of Hinnom”) had become the name of the place of eternal punishment in Jewish thought. (Huey, F.B., 1993. Jeremiah, Lamentations, Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.)
Gehenna is the Greek noun for hell.
In the gospel, Jesus draws upon this background in warning his followers away from sin in the strongest possible terms.
42 “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
43 And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. 45 And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 47 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,
48 ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’
49 For everyone will be salted with fire. 50 Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” (Mk 9.42-50)
Jesus isn’t talking about a place with the the devil, demons and pitchforks. He is using this kind of imagery to say if sin is part of them they will be thrown with the rubbish and left to rot.
Don’t follow in Judah’s example and go to Hell. Heed Jesus warnings and remove the sin from your life.
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