For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough 

12:1.  “Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?  wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?”


Jeremiah freely acknowledged the righteousness of Jehovah, right being on God’s side every time anyone would attempt to charge Him with wrongdoing; yet the prophet felt compelled to ask for an explanation as to why the wicked seem to prosper and enjoy peace


12:2.  “Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.


God Himself had planted them, and they had taken root, i.e., had prospered and become firmly established, being fruitful,  increasing continually in prosperity.  And God’s name was always on their lips, but it was a hypocritical outward show, for in their reins (kidneys - believed to be the seat of the emotions) they cared nothing about God.


The same question is asked by many today relative to the prosperity of the wicked, and the opposite state of the godly.  God doesn’t answer the question, for two reasons.  If the questioner is an unbeliever, a far more necessary question for him to ask would be that asked by the Philippian jailor in Acts 16:30, “What must I do to be saved?”  And the spiritual believer doesn’t need to ask, for he knows that God’s favor is not measured in temporal blessings. 


The truth is that riches are just one of the things God uses to reveal the true state of men’s hearts.  The godly man, knowing that he is simply a steward of all that is entrusted to him, and that he will one day have to render an account of his stewardship, seeks to use everything for God’s glory.  Riches given the ungodly, however, almost invariably beget pride and independence of God, so that in the end they prove to be a snare that brings him into condemnation.


12:3.  “But thou, O Lord, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee: pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter.”


Jeremiah had the same assurance as is possessed by every believer, that no matter what might be wrong in his life, the omniscient eye of God, which discerns the thoughts and intents of every man’s heart, knew that in spite of the frailty which marks even the most godly believer, there was genuine love for Him, and a sincere desire to express that love in obeying His will, as it is written, “Hath the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?  Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams,” 1 Sa 15:22.  The Lord also declared the worth of obedience in His command to the disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments .... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself unto him,” John 14:15-21.


“... and tried (tested) mine heart.”  We aren’t told how, but somehow God had tested His servant, Jeremiah’s response to that testing revealing the reality of His love for God.  He is a wise man who views every circumstance of life - the seeming adverse as well as the good - as the means by which God tests his faith.  Complaint against God’s ordering of our lives is nothing less than the expression of rebellion against His will, which Scripture assures us, “... is good, and acceptable, and perfect,” Ro 12:2, our encouragement lying in the further assurance that, “all things (the seeming bad as well as the good) work together for good to them that love God,” Ro 8:28.


Having been shown that the destruction of that rebellious and unrepentant generation of Judah was inevitable - they had sinned away their day of grace, and exhausted God’s patience - and having been commanded not to pray for them (11:14), Jeremiah’s acquiescence in God’s will was expressed in his reply to God, “pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter.”


Again, God would have us see in His destruction of that evil generation of Judah, the foreshadowing of the destruction which is about to overtake this present evil world in the fast approaching Great Tribulation.


12:4.  “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 said, He shall not see our last end.”


The Speaker here is God asking an angry and rhetorical question relative to the evil conduct which required Him to withhold the blessing that attends obedience, so that the land would lie desolate and barren, emptied even of wildlife.  The answer is that the time of blessing had already ended: the time of judgment had come.  And the reason?  The people in their folly imagined that the sacrifices offered as part of their hypocritical worship were all that was needed to cover their wickedness and hide their sins from God’s eye.  What they failed to understand was that the only sins covered by the prescribed sacrifices were those of truly repentant offerers.  The offerings of unrepentant hypocrites are worthless in God’s sight, bringing deeper condemnation rather than absolution. 


The hypocrisy of that generation of Judah mirrors that of today’s Christendom.  It too believes that mere outward observance of ritualistic religious forms is sufficient to secure absolution from every sin, thus permitting them to continue reveling in sin without fear.  Judah’s awakening, however, is but a foreshadowing of that which is about to overtake Christendom in the coming Great Tribulation.


12:5.  “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?  and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?”


This begins God’s reply to Jeremiah, and clearly the language is metaphoric, the “footmen” being used as a figure or type of the prophet’s kinsmen and townsmen in Anathoth, the word “wearied” meaning to be, or to make, disgusted; to cause one to grieve or loath.


The “horses” are generally understood to represent the king and priests, i.e., the political and religious power of all Judah, so that the question might be paraphrased, “If the opposition of those of your own family and town have disgusted and grieved you, and necessitated your having to seek a hiding place from their hatred and intention to kill you, what do you think it is going to be like when the whole nation seeks to destroy you?”


If there was no safety in the “land of peace,” i.e., amongst his own in his own town, much less would there be safety in the “swelling (thickets or jungles) of Jordan," the haunt of dangerous wild animals,” i.e., anywhere else within the borders of Judah.  His faithfulness as God’s prophet would incur the wrath of the whole guilty nation, so that they wouldn’t be content until they had killed him.


The type was fulfilled when a later generation of that same evil nation sought to silence the Lord, and tried to accomplish that objective by crucifying Him.


With hatred just as deep, but by means more subtle, today’s apostate Christendom attempts to silence those who denounce their wickedness, and warn of coming judgment.  In the coming Tribulation, however, there will be no subtlety on the part of the enemy.  The Beast, and all who worship him, will hound true believers mercilessly for their lives.


The latter part of this verse, “... how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” is very frequently used in the context of its application to the unrepentant sinner on the day when he will have to “cross Jordan,” i.e., go from time into eternity to meet the God against whom he has sinned, and Whose mercy he has despised.  Every unconverted man would do well to ponder that question while it is still the day of grace.  He who would cross to heaven must know Christ as his Savior; those who don’t know Him will cross into eternal torment in hell and the lake of fire.


12:6.  “For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee; yea, they have called a multitude after thee: believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee.”


God continues to warn His servant of the murderous hatred of his own brethren, and of the utmost need not to be deceived when they would seek to disguise their evil intent by using flattering words to throw him off guard.  Their having “called a multitude” after Jeremiah means that they would try to incite a mob to stone him to death.  How clearly is foretold in all of this the attitude of a later generation of that same people against the Lord Jesus Christ!


12:7.  “I have forsaken my house, I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies.”


This declares the dreadful finality of the destruction of that generation of Judah.  God no longer acknowledged the Temple as His earthly house, nor Judah as His heritage, i.e., as belonging to Him.  He had abandoned them and delivered them into the hand of their enemies, the Babylonians.  In spite of all their terrible sin, however, He still loved them, but that love couldn’t save them, for to have turned a blind eye to their evil would have been to impugn His Own holy character, something He cannot and will not do, as it is written of Him, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity,” Hab 1:13.


Today’s apostate Christendom, as wicked, but also as much loved, has also signed its own death warrant by following in Judah’s guilty footsteps, and like her, refusing to repent.  All who enter the eternal torment of the lake of fire will do so in spite of a love that transcends human comprehension, and that has been revealed in God’s having given His only Son do die so that their sins might be forgiven.  Their refusal to believe and accept the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior is the sin that will doom them, for repentant faith brings remission of every sin.


12:8.  “Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; it crieth out against me: therefore have I hated it.”


Judah was God’s heritage, i.e., His people; but by their idolatry they had made themselves His enemies, their attitude towards Him being similar to that of a snarling lion against a man.  Instead of bowing before Him in grateful worship for all the blessings He had showered upon them, they spoke evil of Him, attributing their blessings to the Baals before whom they prostrated themselves in worship that belongs to God alone.  In their sinful blindness they failed to realize that blighted crops, shrinking flocks and herds, etc., were the evidences of His displeasure against their idolatry, and were His attempts to call them back to Him, His only desire being to bless them.


Today’s world has also failed to read the signs of His displeasure in famine, flood, drought, earthquakes, devastating storms, epidemics such as AIDS, etc., all of them designed to call them back to Him in repentance, so that He might bless them; but like rebellious Judah they have failed to listen, failed to repent in His time, and now their doom is also sealed.  It is too late for repentance.  Their destruction is inescapable.


“... therefore have I hated it.”  Clearly these words are not to be understood in their usual sense, but rather as the announcement that God now had to treat them as though He did hate them, even though He continued to love them even in their rebellion against Him, see verse 7.  By comparison with the love displayed in His dealings with them when they were obedient, His present actions would seem like hate.


12:9.  “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.”


God’s heritage Judah had become in His eyes like a speckled (striped or unusually colored) bird, and therefore subject to attack by other birds.  “Birds” in the present context refers to hawks or other birds of prey; and the “beasts of the field” are wild beasts.  The language is symbolic, the speckled bird representing Judah become morally unclean; the birds representing the surrounding nations waiting to snatch what would be left after Babylon (represented by the beasts of the field) had destroyed Judah.  The picture continues to be that of a nation doomed to destruction, God using the other nations as His instruments to do that work.


The word “speckled” is virtually the same as “striped hyena,” an unclean scavenger, and if accepted here would continue to depict Judah's condition in God’s sight.


12:10.  “Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.”


“Pastors” in the present context refers to leaders of other nations who would plunder and subjugate Judah, “portion” referring to the land itself.  These invading nations would leave the land desolate.  (So certain was the judgment that God could speak of it as having already been executed).


12:11.  “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.”


The coming desolation of the land continues to be the theme, with emphasis being upon the fact that there would be no one left to care, except God Himself.


12:12.  “The spoilers are come upon all high places through the wilderness: 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.”


The destruction continues to be spoken of as an accomplished fact, the spoilers being not only the Babylonians, but also bands of plunderers who would continue to scavenge after the bulk of the people had been carried to Babylon, those having no peace being the poor whom the conquerors would leave in the land.  The raiding bands would make life miserable for those left by the Babylonians.


12:13.  “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 because of the fierce anger of the Lord.”


Even before the coming of the Babylonians, Judah would sow but would be bitterly disappointed by the meager harvests; and it is instructive to consider that the word chosen to describe those harvests is thorns, the biblical symbol of the curse, see Ge 3:17-18.  Had they not been spiritually blind they should have been able to read the warning God was giving in those diminished harvests: their sin was bringing cursing instead of blessing.


Their having put themselves to pain, but without profit, means simply that their hard work would be wasted, for God would not bless them.  And their being ashamed of their revenues means that they would be sorely disappointed by the small harvests resulting from all their labor.


12:14.  “Thus saith the Lord against all mine evil neighbors, that touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit; Behold, I will pluck them out of their land, and pluck out the house of Judah from among them.”


Here God turns to declare his anger against the surrounding nations that would encroach upon the land He had given to His people Israel.  He would cast them, the encroaching neighbors, out of their own lands, and would also snatch Judah out from under their dominion.  It is one thing for God to chastise His rebellious people, but woe betide others who would attempt to benefit themselves by means of that chastisement.  This calls to mind what is written concerning the relationship between God and Israel, “He who touches you (Israel) touches the apple (pupil) of His eye,” Zech 2:8.


12:15.  “And it shall come to pass, after that I have plucked them out I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land.”


This looks on to what will be at the end of the Great Tribulation.  The Israel which has been scattered amongst the Gentile nations since AD 70 will be taken up again, and after the Lord Jesus Christ, returned in power and glory, has judged the nations, banishing into hell every unbelieving Jew and Gentile, He will gather the believing remnant of Israel back to Palestine to enjoy in the Millennium the blessings so long forfeited by their disobedience.  In that halcyon age every promise made to Abraham will be fulfilled in far fuller measure than anyone could imagine.


12:16.  “And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the way 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 in the midst of my people.”


Millennial blessing will not be limited to Israel: the Gentiles too will be blessed, and on the same conditions as will Israel: they must be obedient.  Having once been guilty of teaching Israel to worship Baal, the Gentiles will then simply have to confess in sincerity that Israel’s Jehovah is also their God, and that He is the only God.


12:17.  “But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, saith the Lord.”


In the Millennium death will be rare, striking only those whose sin is overt, so that it will be as it was in the beginning: men will live for a thousand years, and then pass into the enjoyment of eternal blessing in the new heavens and new earth.

[Jeremiah 13]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough