From Set-Apart to Set-Aside.
“They also took all the ash buckets, shovels, lamp snuffers, basins, dishes, and all the other bronze articles used for making sacrifices at the Temple.” – Jeremiah 52:18 NLT
This is the saddest chapter of all. It recounts the burning and pillaging of the Temple, the ransacking of Jerusalem and the destruction of the city walls. It also tells us about the tragic and violent end of Zedekiah’s reign. We read about the capture and exile of thousands of God’s people to the land of Babylon. And what hits me is the tragic juxtaposition between the way things were and they way thing had ended up. I don’t think it is any coincidence that Jeremiah makes special effort to recount what happened to the Temple and all its contents. The Temple of God was just that – the temple that had been built for and dedicated to God. It was His house. It had been patterned after the Tabernacle, the structure ordained and designed by God during the wilderness wandering years. When the people finally took possession of the Promised Land and had conquered the majority of their enemies in the land under the leadership of King David, he determined to build a Temple to the Lord. But God refused to let David build the Temple because He had blood on his hands. So it was Solomon, David’s Son, who got the privilege of building God’s house.
The entire Temple and all it contained belonged to God. It was dedicated to His use. It had been set-apart, made holy, for God. There was nothing inherently unique or special about the building materials that were used. It was made of ordinary stones and common cedar. Sure, it contained a large quantity of gold and other precious metals, but there was nothing out of the ordinary about how the metal was refined. The basins, buckets, shovels, dishes, bowls, pots, lampstands, and incense burners were not special in and of themselves. What made them holy was that they had been set apart for God’s use. They had been dedicated solely for His purposes. The same is true of the priests who ministered in the Temple. This structure and all it contained were His. That is what made them holy. To use any of the contents of the Temple for anything other than the worship of God would result in their desecration. They would become impure or unholy, because they were no longer set apart. If one of the priests had decided to take home one of the basins used in the sacrificial system for use as a punch bowl at a dinner party, he would have made that item impure and unholy. He would have taken something that had been set apart for God’s use and re-purposed it – making it no longer set apart or holy.
That is the picture Jeremiah is giving us in this final chapter of his book. Look at what happens. The Temple is burned. It was a symbol of the set apartness of the people of Judah. It was the home of their God. No one else had a Temple to Yahweh, the God of Israel. And if anyone had tried to build another temple to Him, like Jeroboam had done in the northern kingdom, God would not have inhabited it. The Temple in Jerusalem was where He had chosen to dwell. After Solomon completed the construction and dedication of the Temple, God said to him: “I have heard your prayer and your petition. I have set this Temple apart to be holy—this place you have built where my name will be honored forever. I will always watch over it, for it is dear to my heart” (1 Kings 9:3 NLT). But God went on to warn Solomon, “But if you or your descendants abandon me and disobey the commands and decrees I have given you, and if you serve and worship other gods, then I will uproot Israel from this land that I have given them. I will reject this Temple that I have made holy to honor my name” (1 Kings 9:6-7 NLT). From set apart to set aside. From usefulness to uselessness.
Look at the chapter one more time. The Temple is burned. The contents of the Temple – all the items set apart for the worship of God – are taken. The priests who were set apart to administer the sacrifices to God and care for the Temple of God – become the property of the king of Babylon. The citizens of Jerusalem, representing the chosen, set apart people of God, are taken captive as well. They are even removed from the very land God had given them. They went from set apart to set aside. But why? What was the reason God gave for the destruction of His Temple, the desecration of His sacrificial system and the deportation of His chosen people? He gave us the answer years in advance when Solomon dedicated the Temple. God made His intentions clear: “And though this Temple is impressive now, all who pass by will be appalled and will shake their heads in amazement. They will ask, ‘Why did the Lord do such terrible things to this land and to this Temple?’ And the answer will be, ‘Because his people abandoned the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of Egypt, and they worshiped other gods instead and bowed down to them. That is why the Lord has brought all these disasters on them.’” (1 Kings 9:8-9 NLT).
The truth is, the people of God had set themselves aside. They had removed themselves from effective service to God by their choices. They still remained His people and He would one day restore them to the land. But their sinful choices had made them useless and no longer useful for His service. They should have been lights to the world, living according to God’s will, directed by God’s hand, and set apart for His service and glory. But they had chosen to worship other gods, serve their own desires, and follow their own wills. And in doing so, they went from set apart to set aside. And we run the risk of doing the same thing in our lives. As believers we can go from set apart to set aside. We can make choices that destroy our usefulness to God. Instead of being instruments dedicated to His purposes, we desecrate ourselves by dedicating our bodies, which are temples of God, to something other than God. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” We don’t belong to ourselves, we belong to God. We are His people. Peter tell us, “…for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people. Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy. Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’ to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world” (1 Peter 2:9-12 NLT). We have been set apart. We have been made holy. We are to live lives that are unique, different, and dedicated to God’s use. When we choose not to, we set ourselves aside and become ineffective and non-influential. That is what happened to the people of God. May we not let it happen to us.
Father, help me live a life that is truly set apart and distinctive, bringing glory and honor to You through the way I live in accordance to Your will and dedicated to Your glory. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men