Jeremiah 26 falls right in the middle of a series of messages given by God to the southern kingdom of Judah just before they are carried away into exile in Babylon. He gives them the opportunity to repent so that this disaster He has prepared for them might be turned aside. He threatens to make the temple and the city become like Shiloh, which had been the place where the tabernacle had settled after Israel entered the land. Shiloh was leveled because of their unfaithfulness and Jerusalem is facing the same fate. The corrupt priests and false prophets want to put Jeremiah to death and he gives himself up freely. He is spared, but not because the rulers repent. Another prophet giving the same message as Jeremiah is chased by the king all the way to Egypt and is dragged back and killed. The hearts of the people are still turned away from God.
Stephen, in his recount of the history of Israel, points out that this rejection is largely consistent with the way they have handled what had been given to them through the law and the prophets. The sons of Jacob sought to kill their brother Joseph because he was favored by their father and was to rule over them. When Moses wanted to show the Hebrews that God was giving them salvation by his hand, they rejected him as ruler and judge over them. He exiled himself and they had to wait as slaves another forty years for their deliverance. After Moses brought them out with great signs – the plagues, the crossing of the sea, the destruction of Pharaoh and his army – their hearts were still against him and longing for Egypt. Even when they had the tabernacle, the presence of God in their very midst, they were far from Him. Stephen is again the voice of God calling them to repentance, which they again refuse to hear. This marks the beginning of the turning of the gospel to the Gentiles.