We often call the church a sanctuary. And that’s what it is. It’s a place where we can find God and find safety in his presence.
But it is not a sanctuary for everyone. And that’s what God tells the people here.
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless. Will you steal and murder, commit adultery and perjury, burn incense to Baal and follow other gods you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which bears my Name, and say, “We are safe”–safe to do all these detestable things? Has this house, which bears my Name, become a den of robbers to you? But I have been watching! declares the Lord. (3-11)
In short, you can’t just live your own way and claim sanctuary in the house of God. David’s general Joab learned that to his sorrow. After years of living his own way and killing innocent men, he tried to escape to the sanctuary to avoid being put to death. It didn’t work. Solomon had him struck down right there in the tabernacle (I Kings 2:28-34).
God told the people, “Look at Shiloh where my tabernacle used to be. It was wiped out because the people there turned their backs on me. And the same will happen to the temple in Jerusalem unless you repent (12-15). I’m not so interested in your sacrifices or religious rituals. I’m much more interested in your obedience. If you’ll just obey, everything will go well with you. But instead you continually harden your hearts as your forefathers did (21-27).”
Then he said,
This is the nation that has not obeyed the Lord its God or responded to correction. Truth has perished; it has vanished from their lips… “The people of Judah have done evil in my eyes,” declares the Lord…” So beware, the days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when people will no longer call it Topheth or the Valley of Ben Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury the dead in Topheth until there is no more room.” (28-30,32)
Topheth, in the valley of Ben Hinnom in Jerusalem, was a place where the Israelites were doing child sacrifice. While they were performing their sacrifices to God at the temple, they were also performing these vile sacrifices to false gods. And so God said, “I will bring judgment. Your going to the temple will not save you. Truth has perished to the point where you’re doing things that are evil in my eyes and you no longer respond to correction.”
How about you? Do you go to church thinking it absolves you from all the evil that you do during the week? It doesn’t. Going to church means nothing if you just live your own way the rest of the week.
So let us not live for God just for a few hours each week. But let us remember the words of Micah.
He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).