Jeremiah 12:1. Righteous art thou, O Lord — The prophet, being about to inquire into the reasons and meaning of some of the divine dispensations, first recognises a truth of unquestionable certainty, namely, that God is righteous, that is, just and holy in all his ways. Thus he arms himself against the temptations wherewith he was assaulted, to envy the prosperity of the wicked, before he begins to plead with God concerning it. And, in imitation of him, when we are least able to understand the intent of the divine counsels and proceedings, we must still resolve to retain just thoughts of God, and must be confident of this, that he never did and never will do the least wrong to any of his creatures; that even when his judgments are unsearchable as a great deep, and altogether unaccountable, yet his righteousness is as conspicuous and immoveable as the great mountains, Psalms 36:6. Yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments — Not by way of accusing thee, but for my own satisfaction concerning thy dispensations in the government of the world. Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? — Why are their designs and projects successful? Why are all they happy that deal very treacherously? — Why are the affairs and families of the perfidious and unjust in a prosperous state? Why dost thou permit this? What end of thy righteous government is to be answered by it? By all they, he means many of them, and is thought to have spoken thus with a special reference to the priests at Anathoth, who had conspired against his life. The prosperity of the wicked hath, in all ages, been a mystery, and hath served to furnish infidels with an objection against the providence of God, and, upon that account, hath been a source of temptation to many of God’s people.
Jeremiah 12:2-3. Thou hast planted them — In a rich soil, by thy power: they have taken root; they grow — Their prosperity seems to be confirmed and settled by thy providence. Thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins — They talk of thee, and profess piety, but do not believe in and obey thee from their hearts; the true character this of hypocrites, who, according to Isaiah, honour God with their mouths, but their hearts are far from him, Isaiah 29:13. But thou, O Lord, knowest me — As if he had said, Thou knowest, O Lord, it is otherwise with me: I am maligned, and my life is hunted after, though my heart is upright before thee; and I have been faithful in declaring to the people that, and only that, which thou didst reveal to me: yet it is for this they seek my life. Pull them out like sheep, &c. — Or rather, as Dr. Waterland and Houbigant translate the clause, “Thou wilt separate them as sheep to be sacrificed, and set them apart for the day of slaughter.”
Jeremiah 12:4. How long shall the land mourn? — As it doth under thy judgments inflicted upon it; for the wickedness of them that dwell therein — Lord, shall they themselves prosper, who ruin all about them? The wickedness of the people is here represented as having brought a great calamity upon the land, under which all living creatures, even the beasts of the earth, and the fowls of heaven, as well as the human race, were now suffering grievously. This calamity was a long drought, or want of rain, which happened, it seems, in the latter end of Josiah’s, and the beginning of Jehoiakim’s reign. It is mentioned Jeremiah 3:3; and Jeremiah 8:13; and Jeremiah 9:10; Jeremiah 9:12; and more fully afterward, chap. 14. Some of its effects are here noticed; namely, that the herbs of every field were withered, and the beasts and birds consumed. If they would have been brought to repentance by this lesser judgment, the greater would have been prevented. Because they — The wicked men; said, He shall not see our last end — Namely, Jeremiah, whom these abandoned Jews threatened to kill, as if they were not willing he should see the fulfilling of his prophecies concerning the calamities to come on Judea. Not that they believed what he predicted would really come to pass, but they spake thus in a sarcastical manner, as much as to say, Be it so, that the calamities which thou denouncest against us shall come upon us, yet we will take care that thou shalt not have the pleasure of seeing them fulfilled upon us.
Jeremiah 12:5-6. If thou hast run with the footmen — Here God speaks, and applies a proverbial expression to the prophet’s circumstances, the import of which is, that if men find themselves unable to contend with a less power, it is in vain for them to strive with a greater. This sentence, being applied to the prophet’s case, implies that, if he was so impatient that he could not bear the ill usage of his neighbours at Anathoth, how would he be able to undergo the hardships he must expect to meet with from the great men at Jerusalem, who would unanimously set themselves against him. And if in the land of peace — Where there is little noise or peril; then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan — The sense may be the same as in the foregoing sentence, though differently expressed. As if he had said, If thou art exposed to such persecutions in thy own country, and among thy own kindred, who are more peaceable, what must thou expect when those in power at Jerusalem shall combine against thee? whose rage shall be as great and terrible as when Jordan suddenly overflows the neighbouring fields with violence, and obliges all to seek their safety by flight, there being no way of standing against the impetuous torrent. Or, by the swellings of Jordan, may be meant the invasion of the country by the Chaldeans. Thus the words are understood by Blaney, who observes upon them as follows: “The ravages of war and hostile invasions are often represented in Scripture under the image of a river rising rapidly above its banks, and carrying all before it. To these inundations Jordan was very subject; and on such occasions, as we are told, (Maundrell’s Travels, p. 81,) several sorts of wild beasts, which are wont to harbour among the trees and bushes by the river side, are forced out of their coverts, and infest the neighbouring plains. This circumstance is particularly alluded to by the prophet, (Jeremiah 49:19,) and seems to have been here in his view. For among all the dire effects incident to a country from the approach of a foreign enemy, this is not one of the least formidable, that evil-minded persons, within the state, are imboldened to throw off all legal restraints, and, taking advantage of the general confusion, openly commit the most daring outrages on their fellow-citizens, not only with impunity, but often under a pretence of zeal for the public welfare. Silent leges inter arma, is a well-known adage; and the prophet found it verified to his cost, when even the authority of the king himself, as we learn from the following history, (Jeremiah 38:4-5,) was insufficient to protect him from the malice of his persecutors.” Even thy brethren — The priests of Anathoth; and the house of thy father — Who ought to have protected thee, and pretended to do so; even they have dealt treacherously with thee — Have been false to thee, and, while they pretended friendship, have secretly conspired and devised evil against thee. Yea, they have called a multitude after thee — Have endeavoured to bring thee under popular odium, to incense the common people against thee, and, raising a mob upon thee, to expose thee to their rage. Or, as the words may be rendered, They have pursued thee with a great cry, as a common malefactor. The sense is, Their former behaviour plainly shows that thou canst not reasonably depend on them for that countenance and support which a man naturally looks for from his friends and relations against the hostilities of strangers.
Jeremiah 12:7. I have forsaken my house — My temple, where I had placed my name. I have already withdrawn my favourable regard and presence from it, and shall withhold those manifestations of my power and goodness, which I have been wont to make to the people who come thither to worship me, and I will shortly give it up to utter desolation. I have left my heritage — The whole body of my people, with respect to my special providence over them and care of them, which have been such that, in comparison with them, I might seem to neglect all other countries. I have given the dearly beloved of my soul, &c. — That is, that nation, which was once my dearly beloved, precious in my sight, and honourable above any people; into the hands of her enemies — I have determined to deliver her into their power, and they shall tyrannise over, oppress, and enslave her at their pleasure. God terms the Jewish nation his dearly beloved here, to aggravate their sin in returning him hatred for his love, and their folly and misery in throwing themselves out of the favour of one who had such a kindness for them, and was mighty to protect and save them.
Jeremiah 12:8-9. My heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest — Those that were my lambs and sheep, following me, their chief shepherd, and the guidance of those prophets and pastors whom I set over them, are become like lions in the forest roaring against me, and rending and tearing the prophets whom I send unto them, and who speak to them in my name. It — My heritage; crieth out against me — They blaspheme my name, oppose my authority, and bid defiance to my justice. Therefore have I hated it — My disposition and conduct are changed toward them, and my heart is alienated from them, because their temper and behaviour are altered, and their hearts and ways alienated from me. My heritage is unto me as a speckled bird — Colorata, id est, fœdata sanguine, died or sprinkled with the blood of her prey. So R. Salomon interprets the words עישׂ צבוע, here used. Or, as some read it, Avis digitata, a bird with talons: so the margin; that is, a ravenous bird, uncis unguibus in prædam volans, says Buxtorf, flying on its prey with crooked claws. The meaning is, My people are become wild and savage, and, like a speckled, rapacious bird, are only fit for prey and deeds of violence. And as all the rest of the birds flock about such a one, and are ready to pull it in pieces; so have I stirred up all the enemies of my people to annoy them on every side; compared, in the next clause, to so many beasts of prey. See Jeremiah 2:15; Isaiah 56:9.
Jeremiah 12:10-11. Many pastures have destroyed my vineyard — Many eaters, or devourers, as Dr. Waterland translates רעים רבים, by which the Chaldee Paraphrast understands the generals of the Chaldean army, an interpretation which seems to be justified by the two following verses: though some explain it of the rulers of the Jews, who, by their wicked government, and equally wicked example, had ruined their country. God calls Judea his vineyard and pleasant portion, because of the care he took to cultivate and improve it, and of the fruit he might justly have expected from it: see note on Jeremiah 11:16. Being desolate, it mourneth unto me — Unto God; that is, lying in a neglected and doleful condition, it becomes a sad spectacle to me, and makes a sort of silent complaint, begging to be restored to its former prosperity. Because no man layeth it to heart — The principal cause of this great judgment is, that the people do not see and acknowledge my hand in the calamities they feel, nor humble themselves under them, but remain in general unaffected, stupid, and obstinate.
Jeremiah 12:12-13. The spoilers — The Chaldean soldiers, described by the metaphor of a full wind of the high places, Jeremiah 4:11, are come upon all high places — Have made themselves masters of all the natural fastnesses and artificial fortresses in the country. The prophet, as usual, speaks of a thing as already done, which was very shortly to be done. For the sword of the Lord shall devour — Thus those people are called, whom God excited to invade Judea, as a punishment of the Jews for their sins: they were the Lord’s sword: from one end of the land even to the other — The numerous army of the invaders shall disperse themselves through the whole country, penetrating into every corner of it. No flesh shall have peace — No rank or order of men shall be exempt from the calamity, or able to enjoy any tranquillity. They — Namely, the inhabitants of the land; have sown wheat, but shall reap thorns — Have taken much pains, and been at much charge, but all shall turn to their prejudice. It is a proverbial expression, signifying men’s loss of time and labour; or rather, their receiving only vexation and injury as the fruit of those efforts from which they expected great advantage. It is here applied to the fruitless and destructive endeavours of the Jews to save themselves from the evils that threatened them, by courting the assistance and alliance of idolaters. They shall be ashamed of your revenues — Or, increase, as תבואתיכםshould rather be rendered: it alludes to the reaping of thorns, mentioned in the former part of the verse, as if he had said, You shall be ashamed of the small and inconsiderable returns you make of all your pains and labours: because of the fierce anger of the Lord — Which shall make all your designs abortive.
Jeremiah 12:14-15. Thus saith the Lord, against, or concerning, all mine evil neighbours — By these are meant the Moabites, Ammonites, Idumeans, and Philistines; against whom Jeremiah prophesies, chap. 47., 48., 49.; and Ezekiel, chap. 25. These are called evil neighbours, because of the spite and ill-will which they showed toward the Jews on all occasions: that touch the inheritance, &c. — Who lie near to, and border upon, Judea: Behold, I will pluck them out, &c. — These people were accordingly wasted and spoiled, and part of them carried into captivity by the Babylonians. And pluck out the house of Judah, &c. — Many of the Jews were carried captive, or went for safety into those neighbouring countries, before the general Babylonish captivity, Jeremiah 15:4; Jeremiah 11:11. Of these Jews some were carried captive, together with the natives of those countries, by the Chaldeans afterward: others went down into Egypt. See chap. 43., 44. Here is foretold the restoration of the Jews from their several dispersions. Compare Jeremiah 32:37; Ezekiel 28:25-26. This promise was partly fulfilled in the time succeeding the Babylonish captivity, Psalms 147:2; but will be more fully accomplished at the final restoration of that nation, when the fulness of the Gentiles will likewise be brought into the church, which is foretold in the words of the next verse. And after that I have plucked them out — In justice for the punishment of their sins, and in jealousy for the honour of Israel; I will return — Will change my way, and have compassion on them — Though, as being heathen, they can lay no claim to the mercies of the covenant made with Abraham and his seed, yet they shall have benefit by the compassions of the Creator, who will look upon them as the work of his hands. And will bring them again every man to his heritage — Thus, after Jeremiah had threatened severe judgments upon several countries, he concludes with a general promise of their return from their captivity in the latter days; which promise probably relates chiefly to their conversion under the gospel.
Jeremiah 12:16-17. If they will diligently learn the ways of my people — If they will leave their idolatries, and learn of my people who lived among them to be worshippers of me the true God, and to swear by my name, The Lord liveth — That is, pay that homage, which they owe to the Divine Being, to me, the living and true God: as they taught my people to swear by Baal — As they drew in my backsliding people to join with them in the service of idols. Then shall they be built in the midst of my people — They shall have a portion among my people. The acceptance of the believing Gentiles is here clearly intimated, and their union with the church of God, the middle wall of partition being thrown down. Concerning the actual accomplishment of this prophecy, see Ephesians 2:13-22. But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up, &c. — But as for those, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, that shall continue in their idolatrous and superstitious practices, or that shall reject the Messiah, and continue in unbelief and disobedience, I will utterly destroy that people. Thus Isaiah 60:12, The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish: yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted. Those that will not be ruled by the grace of God, shall be ruled by the justice of God. And if disobedient nations shall be destroyed, much more shall disobedient churches, from which better things are expected.
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Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany