There are three divisions in this chapter: (Jeremiah 12:1-6) which register’s Jeremiah’s complaint, (Jeremiah 12:7-13) which recounts God’s judgment upon Judah and her enemies, and (Jeremiah 12:14-17) that promises the return of Israel from captivity and the conversion of Gentiles, both of which are conditional.
“Wherefore… doth the wicked prosper …” (Jeremiah 12:1)? Jeremiah got to the point at once; and the problem here presented before the Lord in faith and humility was indeed an old one. Habakkuk had struggled with it; the patriarch Job (Job 21:7) was perplexed by it; and the Book of Psalms devotes at least two chapters to a discussion of it (Psalms 37 and Psalms 73).
“Why do the wicked prosper? Why is crookedness a prime prerequisite for success in this world? Lord, you plant these scoundrels, and they grow. Why? They are pious frauds who mouth words of religion but have no real love for you in their hearts.”
God’s answer to Jeremiah is somewhat shocking. The Lord rebuked him. We might paraphrase in this manner:
Look, Jeremiah, why should you be bothered about the prosperity of wicked men? If, in your race for me, you have been worn out by men, what are you going to do when you have to run against horses? If you have trouble feeling secure on level ground, what is going to happen to you when you have to pass through the “pride of the Jordan?” You have hardly seen anything at all yet. Buckle your seat belt, the worst is yet to come! NOTE: In essence God is telling Jeremiah why be distracted by the successes of the wicked or this world. I called you to prophecy the destiny of Judah and Israel, not the earth-bound prosperity of the evil. Jeremiah is asking the wrong question of God.
- The values focused upon in Christianity are not temporal and physical at all, but eternal.
- The favor and prosperity enjoyed by wicked men are not marks of God’s approval
- God’s world is an orderly world; and there are certain rewards and penalties that derive from that order. It happens that in many instances wicked men are more skilled or aggressive in his or her goals, ambitions, and (earthly) achievement(s).
- The success of people of this world is that they make no other choice but this world in which to live and prosper. They think the grave ends it all.
- This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through.
Jeremiah 12:7 refers to a house. This is not the House of the Temple but Israel as a people. The two teachings in Jeremiah 12:7 are (1) the Lord removed his presence, or Spirit, from the Jewish temple, and (2) he forsook the apostate nation, the “righteous remnant” alone being exempt.
It is apparent that Israel along with other heathen nations prefers a god one can see, touch and move to other places. The invisibility of God-Jehovah is their issue. Truth in their eyes comes only by seeing. Very forgetful memories have the people of Judah.
Verse 10 of Jeremiah 12 is also something of interest to the bible student. The word Shepherds in this verse is sometimes translated “pastors” from the Hebrew. Some translations suggest the best translation should be “rulers.” However, this is not the point in this verse. It is what they have done to God’s flock that is primary. “They have trodden my (God’s) portion under foot; striped my vines of its fruit; laid waste a once bountiful land.”
This is another one of those dual or double-meaning verses. Sheep graze the land and often pull up the grass by the roots. They leave the land desolate by their eating habits. What isn’t eaten to the root is “trodden under foot.” The second thought is the sheep being Israelis. They have grazed God’s grace and left no remnant of belief and faithfulness (seeds) behind through the upbringing and training of their children.
The next verse points out the desolation of the land. Recall that when the twelve Tribes of Israel first moved into this land, it was a land of “milk and honey.” It was a land area we call today the Levant; rich soils and great crops with plenty of rain. This has all changed and gets worse as we move to chapter 14 a b it later.
Verse 14 [a new paragraph within chapter 12 changes the subject] is both a double promise to both Judah during this time in history and to Judah’s neighbors in a future as discussed in Daniel 11. His warning is against “all mine evil neighbors that touch the inheritance which I caused my people Israel to inherit” [ESV]. Note very carefully that this verse does not identify the land as Israel’s but God identifies it as “HIS LAND by calling other nations “MY NEIGHBORS.” There are two things in this verse. God will pluck or remove the evil peoples next door from their land and remove the Israelis from their Promised Land. The neighbors who take advantage of this temporarily vacated land will themselves be *“plucked out of their own home and land in the future.”
*To understand this better, one might wish to go back to the Book of Daniel articles to re-read his prophecies. In particular, read chapter 11 of Daniel. This is events of a future 300 years after Jeremiah was writing his book.
But the very next verse also states that God will eventually “…bring them again [this could mean after the 70 year captivity in Babylon] every man to his heritage and every man to his land” [End Time prophecy and the Millennial Reign of Christ.
Verse 16 is a promise that also is an indication of End Time prophecy; i.e. yet to be fulfilled. It is a verse with promise: “…if they [non-Jewish peoples or Gentiles] will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, as Jehovah liveth; even as they taught my people to swear by Baal; then shall they be built up in the midst of my people”. All this will be fulfilled during the reign of the Messiah during the Millennial Reign of Jesus. God is here talking about the Gentile races, not Israel itself. He is talking New Testament times, belief in Jesus and God, but written in the Old Testament some 600 years before the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem.
The end of this chapter as written in the Contemporary English Version is self-explanatory…
Jer 12:15 But later, I will have pity on these [foreign] nations [people] and bring them back to their own lands.
Jer 12:16 They [foreign people] once taught my people to worship Baal. But if they admit I am the only true God, and if they let my people teach them how to worship me, these nations will also become my people.
Jer 12:17 However, if they [foreign nations outside of God] don’t listen to me, I will uproot them from their lands and completely destroy them. I, the LORD, have spoken.
The Christians today are also God’s people; i.e. the one-body church with Jesus at the head; not intended to refer to or infer any particular congregation within any denomination or church building. V17 is totally End Time New Testament prophecy… if they [foreign nations outside of God] don’t listen to me, I will uproot them from their lands and *completely destroy them. I, the LORD, have spoken.
*The Great White Throne Judgment of Revelation 20:11-15 (Matthew 7:23; Mark 9:43-48; Romans 2:16; Hebrews 9:27.