Jeremiah 12 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Jeremiah 12
Pulpit Commentary
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?
Verse 1. - Painfully exercised by the mysteries of the Divine government, the prophet opens his grief to Jehovah. Righteous art thou, etc.; rather, Righteous wouldest thou be, O Jehovah, if I should plead with thee; i.e. if I were to bring a charge against thee, I should be unable to convict thee of injustice (comp. Psalm 51:4; Job 9:2). The prophet, however, cannot refrain from laying before Jehovah a point which seems to him irreconcilable with the Divine righteousness. The rendering, indeed, must be modified. Let me talk with thee of thy judgments should rather be, yet will I debate questions of right with thee. The questions remind us of those of Job in Job 21, 24. Thus to have been the recipient of special Divine revelations, and to be in close communion with God, gives no security against the occasional ingress of doubting thoughts and spiritual distress. Wherefore are all they happy, etc.? rather, secure. The statement must be qualified by what follows. In the general calamity the wicked still fare the best.
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.
Verse 2. - Far from their reins; i.e. from their heart (the seat of strong impulses and desires); comp. Psalm 16:7; Psalm 26:2.
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.
Verse 3. - Hast seen me, and tried; rather, seest me, and triest. Pull them out. Perhaps this is correct, and there is an allusion to the figure of the plant in Ver. 2. But the verb need mean no more than "separate" (comp. Jeremiah 6:29). Prepare them; literally, consecrate them, as victims for the sacrifice.
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.
Verse 4. - How long, etc.? The verse is decided rather differently by the Hebrew accents. The question should end at wither, and the following words run on. Every field should be the whole field (i.e. open country). The connection has caused some difficulty. But drought is constantly described as a judgment (Jeremiah 3:3; Jeremiah 5:24, 25; Jeremiah 14:2-7; Jeremiah 23:10), and it is a prophetic doctrine that the lower animals suffer for the fault of man. Because they said; rather, because they say. The speakers are the ungodly. The subject of the following verb is uncertain. Some think it is God; but when God is said to "see" (i.e. take notice of) anything, it is always something actually existing. The subject must, therefore, be the prophet, of whom the ungodly scoffingly declare, He shall not see our last end, because his predictions are mere delusions.
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?
Verse 5. - Jeremiah's impatience corrected. The expressions are evidently proverbial. The opposition to the prophet will reach a still higher pitch; and if he is so soon discouraged, how will he bear his impending trials? And if in the land of peace, etc.? a second figure, the translation of which needs amending. If (only) in a land of peace thou art confident, how wilt thou do in the pride of Jordan? The "pride of Jordan" means the thickets on its banks, which were notorious as the haunts of lions (Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44; Zechariah 11:3). " Lions' bones have been found by Dr. Roth in the gravel of the Jordan. Lions are seldom or never found now west of the Euphrates, although they occasionally cross the river" (Revelation W. Houghton, 'Bible Educator,' 1:22).
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.
Verse 6. - An example of the "treachery" referred to in Ver. 1; a conspiracy against Jeremiah in his own family. Have called a multitude after thee; rather, have called aloud after thee, as one raises a hue and cry after a thief.
I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies.
Verses 7-17. - A separate prophecy. The key to it is in 2 Kings 24:1, 2, where it is related that, after Jehoiakim's rebellion against Nebuchadnezzar, "Jehovah sent against him bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, and bands of the Moabites, and bands of the children of Ammon, and sent them against Judah to destroy it." The prophecy falls into two strophes or sections, Vers. 7-13 and Vers. 14-17. In the first we have a complaint of the desolation produced by the guerilla warfare; in the second, a prediction of the captivity of the hostile peoples, not, however, without a prospect of their return home and conversion to Jehovah. It is evident enough that this passage stands in no connection with what precedes. The whole tone is that of a description of present scenes and not of the future. Sometimes, no doubt, a prophet, in the confidence of faith, represents the future as though it were already past; but there is always something in the context to determine the reference and prevent ambiguity. Here, however, there is nothing to indicate that the description relates to the future; and it is followed by a prediction which presupposes that the preceding passage refers to the literal past. Verse 7. - I have forsaken mine house. The "house" is here not the temple, but the people of Israel, as the parallel clause shows (see Hosea 8:1, and setup. Hebrews 3:6; 1 Timothy 3:15). Jehovah, not the prophet, is evidently the speaker. I have left; rather, I have east away. Into the hand of her enemies. The Hebrew is more expressive: "Into the palm of the hand." Bonomi ('Nineveh and her Palaces,' p. 191) has an engraving from the monuments of guests at a banquet, holding their drinking-vessels in the deeply hollowed palm of their hand. So here the people of Israel, in her weak, fainting state, needs only to be held in the quiet pressure of the palm of the hand. The remark and the illustration are due to Dr. Payne Smith.
Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; it crieth out against me: therefore have I hated it.
Verse 8. - The reason why Jehovah has given up his people. Israel (or, more strictly, Judah) has proceeded to open hostility against his God. He is unto me - or rather, has become unto me - as a lion in the forest; a familiar circumstance (comp. on Ver. 5 and Jeremiah 4:7). Therefore have I hated it. "To hate" is a strong expression for the withdrawal of love, shown by the giving up of Israel into the power of his enemies, as Malachi 1:3 (Keil).
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.
Verse 9. - The first part of this verse is mistranslated. Instead of Mine heritage is unto me, etc., it should be, Is mine heritage unto me (i.e. to my sorrow, a dativus ethics) a colored bird of prey? Are birds of prey round about her? The passage is difficult, but the following seems the most plausible explanation: - Jehovah is represented as surprised to see his chosen people a prey to the heathen (a strongly anthropomorphic description, as if Jehovah had not anticipated that his "giving up" his people would have such sad results). It seems to him (adopting human modes of speech) as if Israel were "a colored bird of prey," the bright plumage of which excites the animosity of its less brilliant comrades, who gather round it and pull it to pieces. It is an allusion to the phenomenon, well-known to the ancients (Tacit., 'Ann.' 6:28; Suet., 'Caes.,' 81; Plin.,' Hist. Nat.,' 10:19), of birds gathering round and attacking a strange-looking bird appearing in their midst. The prophet might have simply said "a bird;" why does he say "a bird of prey ('ayit)"? Probably because he has just described the hostile attitude of Israel towards Jehovah under the figure of a lion. Some particular, rare kind of vulture seems to be intended. Sennacherib apparently uses a cognate word ('it) for the vulture ('Taylor Cylinder,' 3. 68). Bochart and Gesenius, following the Septuagint, think "hyena," and not "bird of prey," is the right rendering in the first clause; but Gesenius does not offer any other passage for the meaning bestia rapax. Come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field. There is a parallel passage in Isaiah 56:9, where, as here, the "beasts of the field (i.e. the wild beasts of the open country) are the heathen powers employed as God's instruments for chastising Israel (comp. also Ezekiel 34:5, where the same figure occurs). "The prophet adopts the strongest way of expressing that Israel, utterly bereft of his natural defenders, lies at the mercy of the great heathen empire" (note on Isaiah 56:9). Come to devour; rather, bring them to devour.
Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.
Verse 10. - Another simpler and more natural image, expressing the same idea, as these in Ver. 9. The favorite way of representing Jehovah's relation to his people is that of a vine-proprietor to his vineyard (see on Jeremiah 2:21). How would a vineyard be ruined if a band of shepherds were to drive their flocks among the tender vine-shoots! The many pastors (or, shepherds) are clearly Nebuchadnezzar and his generals (comp. Jeremiah 6:3). My pleasant portion. Jehovah is the "portion" of his people; his people and its land are the "portion" of Jehovah (see on Jeremiah 10:16). The epithet "pleasant" expresses the emotion of the surprised speaker.
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.
Verse 11. - Layeth it to heart; rather, laid it to heart. Inconsiderateness is repeatedly spoken of as an aggravation of the moral sickness of Israel (Isaiah 42:25; Isaiah 57:1, 11).
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.
Verse 12. - Upon an high places thresh the wilderness; rather, upon all bare heights in the wilderness (see on Jeremiah 3:2). Hardly with a reference to their pollution by idolatry; the mention of "the wilderness" (or pasture-country) suggests that it is merely a feature in the impoverishment of the country (a contrast to Isaiah 49:9). The sword of the Lord shall devour; rather, the Lord hath a sword which devoureth. It is the heavenly sword (Isaiah 34:5), the symbol of Divine vengeance (see below on Jeremiah 46:5).
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.
Verse 13. - A description in proverbial language of the absence of "peace" (literally, soundness, i.e. prosperity, security), from which "all flesh" in Judah at this time shall suffer. The trouble of sowing has been in vain, for they have reaped thorns (so we must render grammatically, and not shall reap, and in the next clause shall not profit ought to be have not profited). And they shall be ashamed of your revenues; rather, be ashamed then of your produce; but it is more natural to emend the pronominal suffix, and render, and are ashamed of their produce (the Authorized Version seems to have very nearly taken this easy step). It is, of course, the produce of husbandry which is referred to.
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 out of their land, and pluck out the house of Judah from among them.
Verse 14. - Here occurs a transition. The prophet comes forward with a denunciation in the name of Jehovah. All mine evil neighbors; the hostile, peoples, mentioned, in 2 Kings 24. My neighbors, because Jehovah "dwelleth in Zion." Pluck them out of their land; viz. by deportation into a foreign land. Judah and the neighboring nations shall share the same fate. This is indicated by the use of the same verb "to pluck out" in the next clause with reference to Judah (comp. 1 Kings 14:15, Hebrew). In the case of Judah, however, to be "plucked out" is a mercy as well as a judgment, considering who they are "out of" whose "midst" the Jews are "plucked."
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.
Verse 15. - I will return, and have compassion. The rendering is too Hebraistic; the sense is simply, I will again have compassion. The prophets offer no partial or "nationalistic" view; of the mercy of God (comp. on Jeremiah 48:47).
And it shall come to pass, if they 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 in the midst of my people.
Verse 16. - Israel has been converted and restored, and if the other nations follow his example and swear by my name, i.e. adopt the religion of Jehovah (comp. Isaiah 19:18), they shall be rewarded by being suffered to dwell safely in Israel's midst. Observe the contrast with Ver. 14. Before, Israel had dwelt amidst them to his own detriment; now they shall dwell amidst Israel to their profit.

But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, saith the LORD.
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