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Bible Study Guide

Jeremiah

Jeremiah 12 Commentary

This Jeremiah 12 commentary is a continuation of our Jeremiah 11 commentary

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verse 1

Well, now that the Lord has promised vengeance on Jeremiah’s conspirators, Jeremiah responds to the Lord with praise. … And then a few questions about the way things are in the world – especially in Jeremiah’s time in Jeremiah 12:1.

12:1 ¶ Righteous art thou, O LORD, [when/whenever] I [plead/have complained] with thee:

yet let me talk with thee of thy [judgments/justice]:

Jeremiah has found the Lord to be very patient with him when he’s asked questions or complained before (i.e., “Lord, you’ve deceived them!”).

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verses 1-2

So, emboldened by that knowledge, Jeremiah would like some clarification on the following matter.

Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?

wherefore are all they [happy/at ease] that deal very treacherously?

2 Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root:

they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit:

There’s a tree analogy again.

thou art near [in/to] their [mouth/lips] [i.e., they speak of you],

and far from their [reins/mind] [i.e., but they don’t care anything about you].

So, the wicked are doing well – even seeming to be receiving God’s blessing!

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verse 3

And then there’s Jeremiah.

3 But thou, O LORD, knowest me:

thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee:

So, the wicked are doing well. Jeremiah is not, though the Lord knows that he loves him.

Therefore, Jeremiah has a request – regarding especially the people conspiring against him.

[pull/drag] them [out/off/away] like sheep for the slaughter,

and [prepare/set apart] them for the day of [slaughter/carnage] [i.e., appoint a time for them to be killed].

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verse 4

And it’s not just for his own sake that he asks for judgement upon these people. He asks for the sake of the entire land. Their evil deeds are ruining everything.

4 How long shall the land mourn,

and the herbs of every field wither,

for the wickedness of them that dwell therein?

The beasts are consumed, and the birds;

because they [i.e., men of Anathoth] said, He shall not see [our last end/what happens to us].

Righteousness exalts a nation. But sin is a reproach to any people. And that’s what was happening in Jeremiah’s day – the whole land was feeling the effects of the sin of its inhabitants.

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verse 5

The Lord then responds to Jeremiah’s request. It starts with what seems like almost a rebuke to Jeremiah himself. Or if not a rebuke then something like a reality check for him.

5 If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee,

then how canst thou [contend/compete] with horses?

So, Jeremiah’s to picture himself as a man in a race. He’s run against mere men and they’ve worn him out. Then if that’s the case, what is he going to do when he’s supposed to race against horses, that are much faster than men??

and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, [i.e., if you feel safe only in a peaceful land]

then how wilt thou do in the [swelling/thicket/thick undergrowth] of Jordan?

Now, the Lord wants Jeremiah to consider the fact that the land still has relative peace. And the idea is if Jeremiah feels secure (he “trusts”) in only that kind of place, then what is he going to do when things get really hard in Judah when God brings real and widespread destruction on his people (the lion coming up from the swelling or the thicket of the Jordan)?

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verse 6

And things will get really hard. And God tells Jeremiah that the fact that his own brethren have conspired against him to kill him is an indication that things will be getting much worse.

6 For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father,

even they have [dealt treacherously with/betrayed] thee;

yea, they have called a multitude after thee:

And so here’s the Lord’s advice to Jeremiah.

believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee.

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verse 7

And beyond how to deal with Jeremiah’s own fellow Anathothites, the Lord lets Jeremiah in on what he’s going to do to all the people of Judah.

7 I have forsaken mine [house/nation],

I have left mine [heritage/inheritance/people whom I’ve called my own];

I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the [hand/power] of her enemies.

So, the Lord is going to give Judah over to her enemies.

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verses 8-9

Then the Lord goes on to compare his people to a few different animals.

8 [Mine heritage/The people I call my own] is unto me

as a lion in the forest;

it [crieth out/roars] against me:

therefore have I hated it.

9 Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird,

the birds round about are against her;

come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field,

come to devour.

So, Judah is like a lion that roars against a man from the forest. I take this to indicate that they are rebellious. Like, they won’t come to him. They hide in the forest and roar. They keep their distance. And they’re violent and deadly. So, the Lord will keep his distance as well.

And because Judah takes such a stance of defiance and rebellion, that nation is also like a bird. And all the birds around her are against her – speaking figuratively of Judah’s enemies.

And not only is it as if Judah is a bird that’s being preyed on by all her “fellow-birds” – her neighbor nations. But also the Lord ended Jeremiah 12:9 calling all the animals in the field to come and eat her.

These metaphorical pictures are all contributing to the same concept – namely, that God has called all of Judah’s neighbors to attack her as punishment for her conspiracies against God and Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verses 10-12

So, the Lord continues speaking of the attacks that Judah faces from their neighbors.

10 Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard,

And I’ll stop here and just note something. So far when we’ve seen this term “pastor” in Jeremiah it’s been used to speak of leaders. And so far I think it’s only been spoken of Judah’s leaders. But here I think – based on the context of attack by surrounding enemy nations – we’re still speaking of leaders – but they’re foreign leaders. That is, leaders of the surrounding countries that are attacking Judah with God’s permission and blessing.

they have trodden my portion under foot,

they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.

11 They have made it desolate,

and being desolate it mourneth unto me;

the whole land is made desolate,

because no man layeth it to heart.

12 The [spoilers/destructive army] are come upon all [high places/bare heights] through the wilderness:

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verses 12-13

And behind these spoilers or destroyers or pastors is a power far greater. The Lord himself!

for the sword of the LORD shall devour

from the one end of the land even to the other end of the land:

no flesh shall [have peace/be safe].

13 They have sown wheat, but shall reap thorns:

they have put themselves to pain, but shall not profit:

and they shall be ashamed of your [revenues/harvest]

because of the fierce anger of the LORD.

Jeremiah 12 Commentary
Verses 14-17

And finally the Lord says something very interesting about these surrounding enemies of Judah. And it’s interesting for a few reasons.

14 ¶ Thus saith the LORD against all mine evil neighbours, that touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit;

Behold, I will pluck them [i.e., the nations] out of their land, and pluck out the house of Judah from among them.

So, even though the Lord will use these evil neighbors of Judah to execute his punishment on his people, yet these neighbors themselves will also be punished for their evil.

15 And it shall come to pass,

after that I have plucked them out

So, yes, the Lord is going to exile not just Judah but all her neighbors.

But then look what the Lord promises these nations.

I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again,

every man to his heritage, and every man to his land.

So, just like the Lord would return Israel to her land after he exiles them, so too is he promising to do to Israel’s neighbors.

And so, just to fill out our understanding of Old Testament Scripture, it seems that when that Persian king Cyrus decreed that the Jews should return to their own land back in Ezra 1:1 he very likely wasn’t saying that just to Israel. It’s very likely from both passages like this one in Jeremiah and from other things we know from history – it’s likely that Cyrus was allowing several nations to go back to their land from exile. And this would have been a fulfillment of Jeremiah 12:15! I seem to remember reading that Cyrus wanted to gain favor from as many gods as possible, and so he would release the people who had been conquered by Babylon in order that they might go back to their land and worship their gods and pray to those gods for the king’s welfare.

Now, the Lord continues his predictions about the exiled neighbors of Judah by stating that this return to the land from exile could be permanent – if these nations turn to the Lord. In other words, they too could submit to God’s sovereignty and live, as the message of this book goes.

16 And it shall come to pass,

if they [i.e., exiled neighbors] will diligently learn the ways of my people,

to swear by my name, [“] The LORD liveth [”];

as they taught my people to swear by Baal;

then shall they be [built/built up] in the midst of my people.

This is quite a promise from the Lord – the Lord whom these nations have largely ignored. But God here is promising that if those idolatrous nations will turn to the Lord when he returns them to their land then he will build them up in the midst of his people.

And yet, the Lord needs to give a dire warning for them if they refuse to turn to him.

17 But if they will not obey,

I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation,

saith the LORD.

And this is one reason as to why we don’t have a nation of Ammonites anymore. We don’t Tyrian and Sidonians. We don’t have Moabites these days. I imagine one reason is because when the Lord did return these nations to their lands they didn’t turn to the Lord. They didn’t submit to his sovereignty/authority. And so they didn’t live.

So, there it is. Jeremiah 11-12 – Covenant and Conspiracy.

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