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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?
He ventures to expostulate with Yahweh as to the prosperity of the wicked, who had plotted against his life (Jeremiah 12:1-4); in reply, he is told that he will have worse to endure, and that from his own relatives (Jeremiah 12:5-6). The heaviest judgments, however, would be inflicted on the faithless people (Jeremiah 12:7-13); and then on the nations cooperating with the Chaldeans against Judah, with, however, a promise of mercy on repentance (Jeremiah 12:14-17).
Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee - (Psalms 51:4, "Against thee ... have I sinned ... that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest").
Let me talk with thee of thy judgments - only let me reason the case with thee: inquire of thee the causes why such wicked men as these plotters against my life prosper (cf. Job 12:6; Job 21:7; Psalms 37:1; Psalms 37:35; Psalms 73:3; Malachi 3:15). It is right, like Jeremiah, when hard thoughts of God's providence suggest themselves, to fortify our minds by justifying God beforehand, even before we hear the reasons of His dealings.
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.
They grow - literally, go on, progress. Thou givest them sure dwellings and increasing prosperity.
Thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins - (Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8). Hypocrities.
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.
Thou, O Lord, knowest me - (Psalms 139:1).
Tried mine heart - (Jeremiah 11:20).
Toward thee, [ 'itaak (H854)] - rather, with thee, i:e., entirely devoted to thee; contrasted with the hypocrites (Jeremiah 12:2), "Thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins." This being so, how is it that I fare so ill, they so well?
Pull them out - containing the metaphor from a 'rooted tree' (Jeremiah 12:2).
Prepare - literally, separate, or set apart as devoted.
Day of slaughter - (James 5:5, "Ye have nourished your hearts as in a day of slaughter").
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.
How long shall the land mourn - personification (Jeremiah 14:2; Jeremiah 23:10).
For the wickedness - (Psalms 107:34, "A fruitful land (He turneth) into barrenness, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein").
Beasts - (Hosea 4:3).
He shall not see our last end - Yahweh knows not what is about to happen to us (Jeremiah 5:12). (Rosenmuller.) So Septuagint (Psalms 10:11; Ezekiel 8:12; Ezekiel 9:9). Rather, 'The prophet (Jeremiah, to whom the whole context refers) shall not see our last end.' We need not trouble ourselves about his boding predictions. We shall not be destroyed as he says (Jeremiah 5:12-13).
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?
If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? - Yahweh's reply to Jeremiah's complaint - i:e., horsemen: the argument a fortiori. A proverbial phrase. The injuries done thee by the men of Anathoth ("the footmen") are small compared with those which the men of Jerusalem ("the horsemen") are about to inflict on thee. If the former weary thee out, how wilt thou contend with the king, the court, and the priests at Jerusalem?
(Wherein) thou trustedst, (they wearied thee). The English version thus fills up the sentence with the italicized words, to answer to the parallel clause in the first sentence of the verse. The parallelism is, however, sufficiently retained with a less ellipsis. 'If (it is only) in a land of peace thou art confident' (Maurer).
How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? In harvest time and earlier (April and May) it overflows its banks (Joshua 3:15), and fills the valley called the Ghor. Or, 'the pride of Jordan'-namely, its wooded banks, abounding in lions and other wild beasts (Zechariah 11:3, "The pride" [nª'own-the same Hebrew word as here is translated the swelling] "of Jordan is spoiled;" cf. 2 Kings 6:2, implying its wooded character). Maundrell says that between the Sea of Tiberias and Lake Merom the banks are so wooded that the traveler cannot see the river at all without first passing through the woods. If in the champaign country (alone) thou art secure, how wilt thou do when thou fallest into the wooded haunts of wild beasts? (cf. Proverbs 24:10.)
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.
Even thy brethren ... have dealt treacherously with thee - as in Christ's case (Psalms 69:8; John 1:11; John 7:5: cf. Jeremiah 9:4; Jeremiah 11:19; Jeremiah 11:21; Matthew 10:36). Godly faithfulness is sure to provoke the ungodly even of one's own family.
Called a multitude after thee - (Isaiah 31:4, "Like the lion ... when a multitude of shepherds is called forth against him"). Jerome translates, 'cry after thee with a loud (literally, full) voice.'
Believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee - (Proverbs 26:25, "He that hateth dissembleth with his lips ... when he speaketh fair, believe him not").
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.
I have forsaken mine house - Yahweh will forsake His temple and the people peculiarly His ("mine heritage"). The mention of God's close tie to them, as heretofore His, aggravates their ingratitude, and shows that their past spiritual privileges will not prevent God from punishing them.
Beloved of my soul - image from a wife (Jeremiah 11:15; Isaiah 54:5).
Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; it crieth out against me: therefore have I hated it.
Mine heritage is unto me - is become unto me: behaves toward me as a lion which roars against a man, so that he withdraws from the place where he hears it; so I withdrew from my people, once beloved, but now an object of abhorrence because of their rebellious cries against me.
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.
Speckled bird - [ ha`ayiT (H5861) tsaabuwa` (H6641)] - many translate, 'a ravenous beast, the hyena;' the corresponding Arabic word means hyena; so the Septuagint. But the Hebrew always elsewhere means 'a bird of prey' [from `iyT (H5860), to pounce upon]. The Hebrew for "speckled" is from a root [tsaaba`] 'to colour,' answering to the Jewish blending together with paganism the altogether diverse Mosaic ritual. The neighbouring nations, birds of prey like herself (for she had sinfully assimilated herself to them), were ready to pounce upon her.
Come ye, assemble ye all the beasts of the field. The Chaldeans are told to gather the surrounding pagan peoples as allies against Judah (Isaiah 56:9; Ezekiel 34:5).
Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.
Pastors - the Babylonian leaders (cf. Jeremiah 12:12, "the spoilers;" Jeremiah 6:3).
Destroyed my vineyard - (Isaiah 5:1; Isaiah 5:5).
Trodden my portion - (Isaiah 63:18, "Our adversaries have trodden down thy sanctuary").
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.
Mourneth unto me - i:e., before me. Eichorn translates, 'by reason of me,' because I have given it to desolation (Jeremiah 12:7).
Because no man layeth it to heart - because none by repentance and prayer seek to deprecate God's wrath. Or, 'yet none lays it to heart;' as Jeremiah 5:3, "Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved" (Calvin).
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 spoilers are come upon all high places - before he had threatened the plains; now the hills.
Wilderness - not an inhabited desert, but high lands of pasturage, lying between Judea and Chaldea (Jeremiah 4:11).
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.
They have sown wheat, but shall reap thorns - description in detail of the devastation of the land (Micah 6:15).
They shall be ashamed of your revenues. The change of persons, in passing from indirect to direct address is frequent in the prophets. Equivalent to, 'Ye shall be put to the shame of disappointment at the smallness of your produce.'
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.
Prophecy as to the surrounding nations, the Syrians, Ammonites, etc., who helped forward Judah's calamity; their shall share her fall; and on their conversion they shall share with her in the future restoration. This is a brief anticipation of the predictions in Jeremiah 47:1-7; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Jeremiah 49:1-39.
Verse 14. Thus saith the Lord against all mine evil neighbours that touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit - (Zechariah 2:8, "He that toucheth you toucheth the apple of his eye").
Behold, I will pluck them out of their land, and pluck out the house of Judah from among them - (cf. end of Jeremiah 12:17). During the 13 years that the Babylonians besieged Tyre, Nebuchadnezzar, after subduing Coelo-Syria, brought Ammon, Moab, etc., and finally Egypt, into subjection (Josephus, 'Antiquities,' 10: 9, sec. 7). On the restoration of these nations they were to exchange places with the Jews. The latter were now in the midst of them, but on their restoration they were to be 'in the midst of the Jews' (Jeremiah 12:16), i:e., as proselytes to the true God; not literally in the midst of the Jews, because the Jews in their own land shall be the grand center and metropolis of Christendom, to which the nations shall flock "to keep the Feast of Tabernacles" (cf. Micah 5:7; Zechariah 14:16). "I will pluck them," namely, the Gentile nations: in a bad sense. "Out of their land," i:e., out of the Jew's land. "I will pluck Judah:" in a good sense; used to express the force which was needed to snatch Judah from the tyranny of those nations by whom they had been made captives, or to whom they had fled; otherwise they never would have let Judah go. Previously he had been forbidden to pray for the mass of the Jewish people, but here he speaks consolation to the elect remnant among them. Whatever the Jews might be, God keeps His covenant.
Verse 15. After I have plucked them out, I will return, and have compassion on them - a promise applying to Judah as well as to the nations specified (Amos 9:14). As to Moab, cf. Jeremiah 48:47; as to Ammon, Jeremiah 49:6.
Verse 16. Swear by my name - (note, Jeremiah 4:2; Isaiah 19:18; Isaiah 65:16); i:e., confess solemnly the true God.
Then shall they be built - be made spiritually and temporally prosperous; fixed in sure habitations (cf. Jeremiah 24:6; Jeremiah 42:10; Jeremiah 45:4; Psalms 87:4-5; Ephesians 2:20-21; 1 Peter 2:5).
Verse 17. If they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up ... that nation (Isaiah 60:12.) Remarks:
(1) When we are perplexed by the dealings of God in His providential government of the world, our wisest way is, like Jeremiah, to go directly to God himself for the explanation. Though He will not gratify self-sufficient reasoners by giving an account of His ways, He will enable the humble worshipper to justify Him on the ground of His absolute sovereignty, infinite wisdom, and experienced goodness. If we would have our doubts cleared away, instead of harbouring for a moment hard thoughts of God, we ought to begin by justifying God, "Righteous art thou, O Lord" (Jeremiah 12:1), and then wait in patient faith until His Word and His Spirit make all our difficulties and perplexities to vanish away.
(2) The prosperity of the ungodly and the trials of the godly in this present world have perplexed many of the saints, as Job, David (Psalms 37:1-40; Psalms 73:1-28), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 12:1-4); but the fact that we are fallen creatures, living in a fallen world, and that there is appointed by God in this life a twofold process of probation to the godly and ungodly respectively, ending in eternal joy to the former and eternal woe to the latter, affords some clue toward the solution of the difficulty, though of course there are many things in God's dealings which we must take on trust rather than require that all the reasons for them shall be made plain to us.
(3) Impatience under the comparatively light cross laid upon us in our days is altogether unbecoming us, when we consider the far heavier cross laid on believers in other countries and in other ages. God asks Jeremiah, if the men of Anathoth have wearied out his patience, what will he do when he shall have to contend with the king, the court, and the priests of Jerusalem? If we faint now, when tried in seasons of health, what shall we do in seasons of sickness, and especially in the dying hour, when we shall have to pass through "the swelling of Jordan" (Jeremiah 12:5).
(4) Our grief that so much evil is permitted in the world often flows more from peevishness at the trials which it occasions ourselves than from zeal for the honour of God. Let us seek more to ignore self, and to do and bear cheerfully all that God ordains, not being overcome of evil, but overcoming evil with good.
(5) How heinous a thing is sin, seeing that it constrained God to forsake His sole temple on earth, and to "give the dearly-beloved of His soul," Israel His espoused bride, "into the hand of her enemies!" (Jeremiah 12:7.) When Israel, instead of crying to God, "cried out, against God" (Jeremiah 12:8), God forsook her. Like a "speckled bird of prey," she had blended things of utterly incongruous complexion, the worship of God and that of idols. Many still in our professing Christian Church try to mix the religion of Christ with the vain fashions, aims, and pollutions of the world. The pagan nations to which Israel had assimilated herself in order to gain their favour were made the very instruments of her punishment, just as the speckled bird of prey is pounced upon by other ravenous birds around. So also the world-power, with which the Church hath committed spiritual fornication, will be made in the last days the very instrument of her punishment (Revelation 17:15-16).
(6) Yet the Lord, in remembrance of His everlasting covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has mercy at last in store for Judah and Israel, and will punish those who have "touched the inheritance which he caused Israel to inherit" (Jeremiah 12:14), and He will bring His people again to their "heritage" and "land" (Jeremiah 12:15). Then, through Israel restored, He will bless the Gentiles also; and as once they led God's people from the Lord, so shall they then be led to the Lord themselves, and be spiritually "built in the midst of God's people" (Jeremiah 12:16). Well may we say, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!" (Romans 11:33.)
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27