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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 7:16-20

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, August 29, 2014

Do not pray for them
16 As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or a request for them, an do not intercede with me, for I will not listen to you.

God says “Do not pray…” three times in the Bible, and all three are in this book (Jeremiah 7:16, 11:14, 14:11). Prophets were led to pray for God’s people out of compassion many times. When God wanted to destroy Israel and begin with a new nation (this was when they made the golden calf) Moses prayed for them and God relented (Exodus 32:14; Deuteronomy 9:14). The prophet Amos prayed on Israel’s behalf when God was preparing a locust swarm to devastate them, and God relented (Amos 7:2). Another time God wanted to annihilate Israel with fire—and after the prophet prayed for them, God relented (Amos 7:5). But here God knew the hearts of the people, and he knew what had to take place. His judgment had to stand, so he commanded Jeremiah not to pray for them.

We don’t have any such command from God about any living person today. We are not the ones who judge the hearts of people, and so we continue to pray for people as long as life continues, because this lifetime is our time of grace; the time we have in which to come to faith and to respond to God’s grace with our lives. A person may have to be removed from our fellowship, but they should never be removed from our prayers.

17 Do you not see what they are doing in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem? 18 The children gather wood, the fathers light a fire, and their wives knead dough to make cakes for the Queen of Heaven. They pour out drink offerings to other gods just to make me angry. 19 But are they provoking me? declares the LORD. Aren’t they harming themselves, to their own shame?

There are many times in the Bible when God condemns and even mocks a craftsman for taking a block of wood and making a god out of part of it and cooking his dinner over the rest of it, or a wooden bowl for some profane use (Isaiah 44:19). A man might even have to nail down the idol “so that it will not topple” (Isaiah 41:7; Jeremiah 10:4). Here, the condemnation is not just of the craftsman, but of whole families joining together in their idolatry, serving the false goddess together. The children get the wood, the father lights the fire, and the mother bakes cakes to the Queen of Heaven.

The Queen of Heaven was the goddess Ishtar, a Babylonian goddess. With great irony the people of Judah were serving the goddess of Babylon while still in Judah, but they would cry out to serve the Lord again when they were captive in Babylon: “Our eyes grow dim for Mount Zion, which lies desolate” (Lamentations 5:17-18). The cakes they baked were stamped with the image of Ishtar or actually shaped like a woman (“we were making cakes like her image,” Jeremiah 44:19). Since the star and the moon were also symbols of Ishtar, these cakes might have looked like stamped Christmas cookies to our eyes. But Christmas cookies are just treats with no worship aspect. Whole families in Judah were showing that they trusted in Babylon’s goddess but not the true God.

20 Therefore this is what the Lord God says: My burning anger will be poured out on this place, on man and beast, on the trees of the field and on the fruit of the land. It will burn and not be quenched.”

God’s judgment gives him glory. Sin cannot stand before him, and when the terrible justice of God exposes and condemns sin, it only dishonors and shames the sinful. God cannot tolerate a rival god—if he did, if he were tolerant and even indulged his people a little bit in this way, then the command to have no other gods would be useless, and no one could be condemned for idolatry; nor even for killing the Almighty God himself. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ would be emptied of its meaning, and there would be no salvation possible for anyone. For God to allow any worship at all of anyone other than himself would be a catastrophe and an impossibility.

That includes worship of Christian saints, and it includes prayers to the Virgin Mary. The popular idealization of Mary today as the Queen of Heaven is an abomination every bit as wicked and idolatrous as idealizing Ishtar as the Queen of Heaven in Jeremiah’s time. Prayer is a form of worship. We see that when Abraham’s servant bowed down in worship by praying rather than by making any sacrifice (Genesis 24:26-27), and when the elders of Israel bowed down in in prayerful worship when Moses and Aaron showed them the signs they would perform before Pharaoh (Exodus 4:31). The Israelites also showed this by falling down in prayer to worship God when the Glory of the Lord appeared in the temple (2 Chronicles 7:3). So when people pray to a saint, even Mary, who gave birth to God with her own body and nursed him, they are worshiping someone who is not God; they are sinning against the First Commandment.

But we should never be smug about other people’s First Commandment sins, or any other sins for that matter. Anything held up above God and God’s holy word, even our own opinions or ideas or impulses, are just as idolatrous; just as damning. So we turn to God in repentance, and ask his forgiveness. We trust in him alone for that forgiveness. Our joy and our peace comes from knowing that in Christ we have the certainty of the resurrection from the dead and the joy of eternal life in heaven. There we will worship our Lord side by side with Mary and so many who have been titled “saints” by the world. But we are all equally saints in the eyes of God, and we will worship him together as one united and eternal Church.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.