Judgment’s Coming in the Valley of Hinnom
Judah’s social injustice and idolatry tragically intersected just outside the city walls in the valley of Ben-Hinnom. There they built a high place of Topheth, a name that emphasized the shameful nature of this site, and burned their children alive as sacrifices to please pagan gods, like Molech. Child sacrifice was explicitly forbidden in the Torah (see Lev 18:21 and 20:2-5). In Jeremiah’s sermon, it’s clear that God hates it; such a thing would not even enter his mind.
Jeremiah proclaims that this valley would become the ironic site of their destruction. It will be renamed the “Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room” (Jer 7:32). When Babylon captures them, the place where they once slaughtered their children will become the place where they are slaughtered. In that day, the place will be so full of dead bodies that they will remain unburied and left as food for the scavengers, an indescribable horror for the Israelite.
With that, Jeremiah’s sermon concludes. The hearer is left with images of corpses heaped upon one another as Yahweh silences the voices of gladness in the streets of Jerusalem. The point is inescapable—all of their empty rituals will come to a halt as the city and temple they cherish so deeply is laid waste in the Babylonian captivity.
However, Jeremiah 7 isn’t the last time we hear about this particular idea in the Bible. The valley of Hinnom was translated into Aramaic as Ge-hinnom, which was later translated into the Greek Gehenna, a term you might be familiar with. It’s the New Testament’s word for hell. In the Jewish mind, Gehenna was the place of eternal punishment of the wicked. It’s actually the primary metaphor Jesus used to talk about final judgment. His understanding would have been shaped largely in part from this passage in Jeremiah “where children were burned in the terrible fires, illustrating powerfully the way in which all forms of ‘judgment’ are essentially human, making the product and consequence of evil” (Peter Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, Jeremiah 1-26).
For Jesus, hell or Gehenna is final judgment reserved for those who, like Judah, persistently reject God’s call to repentance. It’s for those seeking false security in something other than faith in God’s gracious provision so they can pursue their idols and continue in destructive ways of life.
Speaking of Jesus...
There’s another important New Testament connection with this passage you don’t want to miss. If you turn to Matthew 21, you’ll get a sense of déjà vu: Israel is back in the Promised Land, the temple is rebuilt, empty ritualistic worship is alive and well, social justice is totally neglected, and God’s people have placed a false sense of national security in the temple, despite being under Rome’s thumb (who is often associated with Babylon in the New Testament). The circumstances are strikingly familiar. This is Jeremiah 7 all over again!
Into this context, Jesus storms the temple courts, turning over tables and driving out money-changers. In a recapitulation of Jeremiah 7, he quotes verse 11, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you are making it 'a den of robbers'” (Matt 21:13). There wouldn’t have been an Israelite in the temple that day that missed what Jesus was saying through this symbolic reenactment—Yahweh was coming to destroy the temple as an act of judgment against Israel’s empty religious practices and covenantal unfaithfulness.
Jesus also offered an alternative message to all who were willing to listen to his words. Jesus’ own body, as the true temple of God, would be destroyed on the cross as the ultimate sacrifice for rebellious covenant-breakers and raised on the third day. All who trust in Him as their true source of hope, not merely a lucky charm who offers you a “get out of hell card,” are given new hearts and new lives. These new lives result in the kind of things that God had always wanted from Israel—true worship, acts of justice, and obedience to his words.
Whitney Woollard is a writer, speaker, and Bible teacher in Portland, OR. She holds her M.A. in biblical and theological studies from Western Seminary and loves sharing her passion for the Bible with others. You can check out her work at her website, whitneywoollard.com