Yirmiyahu, in chapter 7, delivers a condemnation of Israel’s idolatry from the gates of the Temples. Yet again, it is not enough to offer sacrifices, one must be faithful and just as well. Neither the priests, nor the prophets, nor the people have done either, and idolatry has run rampant. Given the times, it’s hardly a surprise. With city after city falling to the Chaldeans, all the local peoples must have tried every form of magic they could think of to avert disaster, and the Israelites did, too.
2 Melechim (2 Kings) 23 tells us that even the Temple was used for the worship of Baal–one of the many things that Yosiyahu (Josiah) stopped. Yirmiyahu’s message in this chapter must have been delivered shortly before Yosiyahu’s reforms started. We are told that the Israelites have gone so far as to offer their children as idolatrous burnt sacrifices in a valley alongside Jerusalem called Topheth, which bordered on Mt. Zion. Topheth means “the roasting place.” As a consequence, Hashem warns that the region will face radical depopulation, and Topheth will be filled with the corpses of the slain, earning it a new name: the valley of slaughter. Yirmiyahu will later prophecy at Topheth regarding the horrors of the seige against Jerusalem.
The desecration of graves prophesied at the beginning of chapter 8 is a discussion of another of Yosiyahu’s reforms. According to 2 Melechim 23, Yosiyahu destroyed all the tombs except for that of a righteous prophet from Samaria (23:16-18). Chapter 8 also includes a reference to the partially self-inflicted nature of the end of Beit David’s rule (verse 3):
And death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue that remain of this evil family, that remain in all the places whither I have driven them, saith the LORD of hosts.
King Zedekiyahu’s fate and the siege of were due in part to his refusal to capitulate, despite being told explicitly to do so. He chose death, thus ending a dynasty.
In chapter 9, Yirmiyahu returns his attention to the aftermath of the fall of Jerusalem and the desolation resulting from siege and conquest. But chapter 10 returns to the theme that superstition and idols are not Hashem. And Hashem has a special interest in the children of Israel. They are his heirs, his children. It pains Him to punish us, but punished we must be when we work wickedness. These are words of comfort spoken to those living under siege in Jerusalem (10:17). And Yirmiyahu prays that Hashem will do His work as measured discipline and not out of pure anger (10:23-25).
Most of chapter 11 recalls the now-broken Covenant made between Hashem and the freed Israelites in the wilderness. It attributes the violence of the times to the breaking of the covenant (as do many passages in many prophesies), but the style is notable for being more legal and less metaphorical. Since it begins, “Hear, ye, the words of this covenant…” (11:2), one can imagine Yirmiyahu perhaps delivering this prophecy at the end of a Sabbath Year, when the priests were to read the Law to the people (Devarim 31:10-13).
The end of chapter 11, however, draws attention to Yirmiyahu’s personal situation. He has drawn the attention of other priests, and the attention is not good. Specifically, the priests in the Levitical city of Anathoth have begun to conspire against him. These families will suffer violence as Hashem’s judgment for rejecting Yirmiyahu’s prophesies.
Meanwhile, Yirmiyahu struggles with doubt. Chapter 12 echoes themes found in some of the Tehilim (Psalms). Why do good things happen to bad people? Why is Yirmiyahu being vilified for doing Hashem’s work? When will Hashem pass His promised judgment on Yirmiyahu’s enemies? He has one of the most powerful lineages in the TaNaKh, he has been abandoned by his relatives. Meanwhile, Hashem has abandoned His Temple–the thing which Yirmiyahu had been reared to protect and serve.
Hashem responds with a reiteration of the promise that He will ultimately destroy, for their wickedness and their hubris, the forces He used to punish His people. Moreover, He will extend his faithfulness, not only to His own people, but He will include as among His people any among the nations who are willing to join His people and swear in His Name.