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 … then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your ancestors for ever and ever. Jeremiah 7:4-5, 7

King Josiah had been a good king who brought about many reforms, restoring the temple and removing idols (2 Kings 23). However, these changes didn’t last after Josiah’s death. Judah’s repentance was superficial, it wasn’t a heart-changing revival. Josiah’s reforms restored the ceremonial functions of their beliefs but people were worshipping idols in the privacy of their homes and oppressing the poor (verse 6). Their actions didn’t line up with their stated beliefs.

In their misguided thinking, they thought God would always protect the temple and this would ensure their protection. The temple became their object of worship instead of the Lord himself.

Earlier in Jeremiah’s prophesies we read: “‘In spite of all this (seeing Israel being exiled), her unfaithful sister Judah did not return to me with all her heart, but only in pretense,’ declares the Lord. ‘The Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah’” (Jeremiah 3:10-11).

Israel was “faithless”. She didn’t cover up the fact she wasn’t following the Lord which made her rejection of the Lord at least, honest. Whereas God calls Judah “unfaithful” as she had made a commitment to follow the Lord but didn’t. Judah acted as if they were keeping the covenant but it was all a pretence.

God considered Israel more righteous. God prefers honest rejection to people going through outward observances which don’t engage their hearts or change their behaviour.