“The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes, declares the Lord. They have set up their detestable idols in the house that bears My Name and have defiled it. They have built high places of Topheth in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in the fire.” (Jeremiah 7:30-31)
It makes more sense that the “prophets prophesy lies, and the priests rule by their own authority” (Jeremiah 5:31) when we understand that for the first 18 years of Josiah’s reign, the first 5 years of Jeremiah’s ministry, the book of the Law was lost. It’s mind-numbing to conceive of the fact that God’s law was so inconsequential to the priests that it had been set aside and allowed to be “lost”. Yet, the fact of God’s Law being lost explains why the priests ruled “by their own authority”, and not according to the Law. Also, Jeremiah’s reference to the unfaithfulness of the leaders of the priests is echoed in 2 Chronicles 36:14. “Furthermore, all the leaders of the priests and the people became more and more unfaithful, following all the detestable practices of the nations and defiling the temple of the Lord, which He had consecrated in Jerusalem.” (This occurred during the reign of Zedekiah- more than 11 years after the death of Josiah.)
Constructing this timeline helped me to see that there was a brief interlude during the ministry of Jeremiah when Judah renewed its covenant with the Lord and returned to Him. It is said of Josiah that when he first heard the Law and the word of the Lord about the impending disaster that God was going to bring on Judah, that his heart was responsive to it and he humbled himself before God and wept in the presence of the Lord. So God heard him and decreed that Josiah would not live to see His outpouring of wrath on Judah. (2 Chronicles 34:27-28). This is consistent with Jeremiah 18:8, “and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned.” Perhaps the Lord used Jeremiah to bring about this interlude of revival in the land of Judah. It’s interesting that the Lord called Jeremiah to be a prophet one year after Josiah started to purify the land and rid it of all idolatry. God was gracious and gave Israel an extra 40 years of calm before the storm (there’s that number again! 18 yrs overlap of Jeremiah’s ministry and Josiah’s reign plus 22 yrs of the kings Jehoiakim and Zedekiah) that was probably due in large part to the repentance of Josiah and his renewal of the covenant.
God is merciful and hears the outcry of the repentant heart, but ultimately the people of Judah “made their faces harder than stone and refused to repent.” (Jeremiah 5:3) Even the remnant that had witnessed God’s wrath on Judah and swore to obey the Lord, ended up disobeying Him yet again and fleeing to Egypt instead of staying in the land! (Jeremiah 42) “Will you not learn a lesson and obey My Words?” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 35:13) God is gracious to give us His Word, but how often do we follow in the footsteps of the people of Judah who “did not listen or pay attention, but followed the stubborn inclinations of their evil hearts”? (Jeremiah 7:24 & 35:15) There will be a day of reckoning for us, too. Let us learn from God’s judgment of Judah and not be guilty of the same rebellion against the One True God. Rather, let us humble ourselves now before God and be obedient to His Word.