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The Prosperity of the Wicked
As a result of the murder plans plotted against him at the end of the previous chapter, a problem arises for Jeremiah, and that is how it is possible that the wicked can be so prosperous (Jer 12:1). It is not that he doubts the righteousness of the LORD (cf. Psa 145:17a). He knows that the LORD’s righteousness would become apparent if he would assail Him with questions about His actions. He knows that the LORD has reasons for His actions. But what are those reasons? That is what he wants to know and that is why he wants to speak to the LORD about His judgments, about His way of judging.
Jeremiah asks the LORD the question of why the wicked prosper. He cannot understand that. It is the “why” of the God-fearing heart that wonders how the LORD, Who is righteous, permits the wicked to prosper instead of intervening and judging them. How can the wicked be at ease while they “deal in treachery”?
He wrestles with the same questions that Job and Asaph wrestled with (Job 21:7; Psa 73:2-3; cf. Psa 94:3; Hab 1:12-17). Of these struggles Jeremiah should know. He should also know the conclusion that Asaph came to: that he and we too should perceive the end of the wicked (Psa 73:17-18). It means that we are aware of what the end will be for the wicked.
Before we get to that point, we see that we have to go through experiences ourselves in order to come to the same conclusion that others have come to by experience. We torment ourselves with this question until we go into the sanctuary and pay attention to their end. The problem of the prosperity of the wicked in the light of the righteousness of God is nowhere directly resolved in Scripture. The ultimate answer lies in faith in the sovereign wisdom and righteousness of God.
Jeremiah points out that it seems that the LORD is providing this prosperity for them who are of the world, but also belong to God’s people, yet among these people there is only a hypocritical confession of His Name (Jer 12:2). He says that it seems that the LORD has planted them and cared for them, for they have taken root, they can do what they want, and they produce fruit.
But that doesn’t square at all with what he knows about them. Jeremiah knows far too well that their prosperity only makes them appear outwardly righteous (Psa 1:3). Indeed, he also knows that in their hearts they are far from the LORD (cf. Isa 29:13; Eze 33:31; Mt 15:8; Mk 7:6). It is people today who go to church, talk about religious things and yet live in unrighteousness and go wayward ways.
Jeremiah becomes impatient to see them continue to live on while he suffers so much. He points out to the LORD the contrast between the wicked and himself. Without being haughty, he can say that his heart is with the LORD in truth and that it is far from hypocrisy (Jer 12:3). When will the LORD put an end to this dishonesty? He asks the LORD to judge these hypocrites like sheep for slaughter.
How long must it be that things are going well for the wicked and bad for the land (Jer 12:4)? The land is mourning because of the desolation as a result of the drought. Whatever crop is on it has withered and produces nothing to live on. The effects of the people’s sins can be seen in nature. Because of the evil “of those who dwell in it”, that is, of those who possess the land, the land and the beasts perish. Because of their sins, the LORD had to withhold the rain.
These people sin in pride by thinking that the LORD does not pay attention to what they do. They believe that Jeremiah will not see their end, meaning that they are giving themselves a longer life than Jeremiah so that he will not experience their downfall. They do not see the future as bleak as Jeremiah presents it. It is an agony for Jeremiah that they think and act this way, without God intervening. We see here the foolishness of the sinner and the impatience of the believer.
The LORD answers with a comparison (Jer 12:5). He tells Jeremiah that the people with whom he is already having so much trouble because they are so prosperous are runners. Jeremiah can’t keep up with them. If he is already getting so tired of these people, what about when it all gets much worse and these runners become horses? The LORD is preparing His servant for an even worse situation.
It is already bad, but it will become much worse. There is peace in the land now, but how will it fare when it is taken away? That will happen when the enemy will flood the land like the Jordan overflows its banks. Just as the Jordan rises proudly, as it were, from its bed and overflows its banks and cannot be stopped in doing so, so also the enemy who floods into the land cannot be stopped.
On top of this aggravated, unstoppable situation comes a matter even more painful. Worse than the rejection by the men of Anathoth – his fellow townspeople in the previous chapter – is that while family members speak kindly, they deal treacherously with him (Jer 12:6; Jer 9:3-4; cf. Mk 13:12; Mt 10:36). The LORD warns him not to trust them when they speak kindly to him. Jeremiah, so says the LORD, you are all alone, but with Me.
Punishment of the Wicked
In Jer 12:7, the LORD Himself begins to complain. He speaks of “My house” and “My inheritance” and “the beloved of My soul”. These names show that He always sees His apostate people in what they are originally for His heart and why He is so concerned with them. He has had to forsake His house because of the persistence of their sins (Eze 10:18; Eze 11:22-23). He has had to abandon His inheritance, His land and His people because they have become estranged from Him. He has given her, whom He loves with the love of His soul, into the hand of her enemies precisely because the people are so precious to Him and He loves them so much and they have become so apostate from Him. The enemy thinks he is doing it, but here it says the LORD is doing it.
The reason is that His people have rebelled against Him (Jer 12:8). He compares His people, whom He again calls “My inheritance”, to a lion that roars. A roaring lion terrifies. Of course, God is not frightened by it, but it shows how much His people have turned against Him. Therefore He hates that people, He is disgusted with them, just as He hates and abhors sin.
His people, called “My inheritance” by Him for the third time, have become like a speckled bird of prey that is besieged by the nations around it that are birds of prey (Jer 12:9). A speckled bird in a nest of black or white birds is pecked to death by the other birds. A speckled bird is neither white nor black. This is how God’s people are when they connect with the world. The LORD calls the predators to feast on His people.
The shepherds are the people who led God’s people – who the LORD now calls “My vineyard” (Jer 5:10; Jer 6:9; Jer 8:13) and “My field” – but who have ruined it and trampled it down (Jer 12:10). By the shepherds can be meant the leaders of Israel, but also the rulers of the nations who destroyed the land that was to the LORD “My pleasant field”. We sense here how great the sorrow of God’s heart is that this has happened to His land. The land that He had looked upon with joy and expected to bring Him joy has become “a desolate wilderness.”
That the land is desolate is not because of Him (Jer 12:11). People who have apostatized from Him, have made it desolate. The desolation is great. The LORD hears the land mourning. However, He is the only One Who hears it. It lies so devastated because no man lays it to heart, that is, there is no one who wonders how it came to be. His beloved is not moved by it to return. This language of God’s love passes her by. It is tragic that what means so much to God’s heart is considered so worthless by His people.
The destroyers were announced and also came (Jer 12:12). They are identified with “the sword of the LORD” that devours from one end of the land even to the other, that is, the entire land. No one escapes, no one has peace, despite the prophecies of all those false prophets who proclaimed peace (Jer 6:14).
As a result of the enemy’s work as the sword of the LORD, whatever is edible becomes a torment (Jer 12:13). All their work has been in vain. The wheat they have sown produces thorns (cf. Gen 3:17-18). How could they have the benefit of a good harvest, when they are only after their own benefit? They reaped the opposite of what they expected. The paltry yield should bring them to their senses. They should be ashamed of the cause of it: their disobedience to the LORD, which caused Him to bring His fierce anger upon them.
Promises for Penitent Nations
Suddenly a ray of hope breaks through again. Now we hear how the LORD stands up for His people against all who have sought to plunder His people for their own benefit (Jer 12:14). The LORD speaks here of “My people Israel”, which is the people as a whole, the two and the ten tribes together.
All His neighbors, the neighboring nations of His people – such as Syria, Moab, and Ammon – He calls “My wicked neighbors” because they have taken advantage of His people, which means that they have also taken advantage of Him. He will judge those nations by the same people who judge Judah, Babylon, and do it in the same way, namely, by uprooting them from their land. He also will remove His people, “the house of Judah”, from those nations. With them He stands in a special relationship and He will also punish them separately.
Then He will return to them and have mercy on them and bring them back to their possession (Jer 12:15). He will do the same with the hostile nations (Jer 48:47; Jer 49:6). With His people it happened partially and in weakness at the return from the Babylonian exile. It will happen fully in the realm of peace. Each will get back his inheritance. We see here that God does discipline His people, but it is for the purpose of their restoration.
The LORD also has a promise for the nations who have taken advantage of His people (Jer 12:16). If they join His people and walk in the ways of His people and confess Him as LORD, they will have a place in the midst of His people. To be in the midst of His people means that they, who before that time were enemies and haters of God’s people, will now be surrounded, protected and blessed by God’s people. They will then have repented of their former conduct. They used to be out to teach God's people to swear by Baal. If they have repented, they will learn from God’s people to swear by the Name of the LORD. But the people who will not listen, He will uproot forever and destroy them (Jer 12:17).
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Jeremiah 12". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26