Jeremiah, complaining of the prosperity of the wicked, by faith seeth their ruin. God admonishes him of his brethren's treachery against him, and lamenteth his heritage: he promiseth to the penitent a return from captivity.
Before Christ 608.
Jeremiah 12:1. Righteous art thou, O Lord— Righteous, &c. therefore will I plead with thee: but I will speak nothing but what is just with thee. Wherefore, &c. Jeremiah speaks this concerning those same wicked persons who consulted to take him off by poison; and he seems to wonder that all things succeeded well with them. But he expresses his wonder by an interrogation, that he may thence take an opportunity to prophesy that their prosperity would not be of long continuance. See Psalms 73 and Houbigant.
Jeremiah 12:2. They grow, &c.— Thou art near in their mouth, but far from their reins; signifies, agreeably to another passage in Scripture, They honour thee with their lips, while their heart is far from thee, See Isaiah 29:13. Matthew 15:8.
Jeremiah 12:3. Pull them out, &c.— Thou wilt separate them as sheep to be sacrificed, and set them apart, &c. Houbigant.
Jeremiah 12:4. Because they said, &c— And yet they said, &c. He will not regard our ways; Houbigant; who follows the LXX. According to our interpretation the meaning is, that those impious people said that God had no regard for human affairs. The word אחרית acharith, rendered last end, signifies, as in Proverbs 23:18, reward or recompence.
Jeremiah 12:5. In the swelling of Jordan— Houbigant thinks that these are the words of Jeremiah to his fellow-citizens, and to the king and the leaders of the army, whom he addresses in the next verse. He compares the footmen to the horse, says St. Jerome, because all Persia, Chaldea, and those countries, excel in cavalry. Calmet observes, that the manner of expression is proverbial. "The Philistines, Edomites, Ammonites, &c. have been too strong for you; what then will you do with the Chaldeans, who are more numerous and powerful? The first had only infantry; the others abound in cavalry and chariots." The prophet goes on, "You are secure when the land is quiet; but what will you do when Jordan shall overflow? You think to be in security in your own country; but what will you do, when the Chaldean army, composed of multitudes of people around you, shall come and overflow Judaea?" The Scripture frequently expresses the coming of an army into a country by inundation. See ch. Jeremiah 46:7. Daniel 11:10. Calmet thinks, that under the figure of the overflowing Jordan, the prophet principally means the Ammonites, Midianites, Moabites, and Arabs, who were separated from Judaea by the Jordan, and who joined the army of the Chaldeans against the Jews.
Jeremiah 12:6. For even thy brethren, &c.— "The Edomites and Ishmaelites, the Moabites and Ammonites, sprung from the same original, from Abraham and Lot, joined the army of Nebuchadnezzar, to make war against thee, O Judah and Jerusalem." They, however, spoke fair words to the Jews before they did so; against which Jeremiah here warns them. See ch. Jeremiah 27:3, &c. Instead of, Yea, they have called a multitude after thee, Houbigant reads, Yea, they will pursue thee with full cry.
Jeremiah 12:8. Mine heritage is unto me as a lion, &c.— "Judah hath exalted himself against me; he hath roared like a lion, and carried his wickedness to the last extremities. Therefore I look upon him as a ravenous beast; I view him with horror and detestation. Therefore, never more say, that I suffer wickedness to go unpunished, and that the wicked are the most happy in this world." See Calmet.
Jeremiah 12:9. Mine heritage, &c.— Bochart and the LXX. read Mine heritage is unto me as the ravenous hyena; the ravenous beasts are round about it. The context seems indisputably to prove the propriety of this interpretation עוט aiit, unquestionably signifies a wild beast, as well as a rapacious bird. See Parkhurst on the word. In this view the meaning of the prophet is, "Wherefore do the Jews, whom I have adopted for my sons, and chosen for my heritage, roar, rage, and clamour against me? Are they so lost to every dictate of reason and humanity, as to become like the hyena? Shall I say, that they who inhabit this land are become enormously brutal, and are more like wild beasts than men? especially as their manners are more depraved than those of the most barbarous nations, or the most rapacious animals? They are certainly beasts of prey, and no longer men: as such, I will send against them other beasts of prey, namely, the Chaldeans, who shall render their country desolate. Come ye, assemble all the wild beasts of the field; come to devour." See Boch. Hieroz. vol. 1: lib. 3 cap. 11 and Scheuchzer on the place.
Jeremiah 12:10. Many pastors— Many eaters, or devourers. The same persons here are meant as in chap. Jeremiah 6:3 namely, Nebuchadnezzar and his army.
Jeremiah 12:11. Being desolate, it mourneth unto me— Lo! it mourneth because it is made desolate. An elegant figure, whereby the prophet expresses the lamentable condition of the land. No man layeth it to heart. "No man acknowledgeth the hand of the Almighty in the calamities that he feels, or humbles himself under them." This desolation of Judaea, says Bishop Newton, is expressed or implied in several other places in Scripture, and the state of Judaea now for many ages hath been exactly answerable to this description. That a country should be depopulated by the incursions of foreign armies is nothing wonderful; but that it should lie so many ages in this miserable condition, is more than man could foresee, and could be revealed only by God. A celebrated French writer [Voltaire], in his history of the Croisades, pretends to exhibit a true picture of Palestine; and he says, that then "it was just what it is at present, the worst of all the inhabited countries of Asia. It is almost wholly covered with parched rocks, on which there is not one line of soil; if this small territory were cultivated, it might not improperly be compared to Switzerland." But there is no need to cite authorities in proof that the land is forsaken of its inhabitants, is uncultivated, unfruitful, and desolate; for the enemies of our religion make this very thing an objection to the truth of religion. They say, that so barren and wretched a country could never have been a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have supplied and maintained such multitudes, as it is in Scripture represented to have done. But they do not see and consider, that hereby the prophesies are fulfilled; so that it is rather an evidence for the truth of religion than an argument against it. See his Dissertations on Prophesy, p. 222.
Jeremiah 12:14. Thus saith the Lord against all mine evil neighbours— Against all my neighbouring shepherds, who border upon the inheritance, &c. Houbigant. This rendering excellently suits the kings of the Ammonites, the Moabites, and Edomites, who bordered upon the Jews. See chap. Jeremiah 27:3; Jeremiah 48; Jeremiah 49.
Jeremiah 12:16. Then shall they be built, &c.— We have here a clear prophesy of the calling of the Gentiles; and though, after the return from Babylon, the Maccabees in particular were zealous to make proselytes to the law of Moses, it is certain that this and other similar promises had their full accomplishment only in the preaching of the Gospel.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The prosperity of the wicked has been a great temptation to more than one good man, Psalms 73. Jeremiah is staggered with it, and earnestly desires to be resolved concerning this point.
1. He presumes to plead with God, and talk with him of his judgment; desiring to obtain information, and have his own doubts silenced, fully persuaded that God is righteous, though he sees mysterious providences which he cannot solve. Note; (1.) Though we may not find fault with God's dispensations, we may reason with him upon them, and inquire into the grounds of them, for our greater satisfaction. (2.) Though there may be dark providences which we cannot understand, we must never quit this great and general truth, that God is righteous, and whatever he doth is well done.
2. The particular subject of his inquiry is, the prosperity of the wicked. Their way prospers, their malicious designs take effect, their treachery and hypocrisy meet with success, and they are happy to outward appearance; living at ease, and enjoying every earthly good. Thou hast planted them, as if they were God's peculiar care; yea, they have taken root; they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit; their families increase, their wealth accumulates, and they seem fixed in their possessions; thou art near in their mouth, they make a profession of godliness, and have the Lord's name often in their lips; but, notwithstanding, he is far from their reins, they have no real inward faith, fear, or love of him. Note; (1.) Worldly prosperity is here frequently the lot of God's enemies, who in their life-time receive their good things. (2.) The language of piety is easily learnt; but God trieth the reins, and requireth truth in the inward parts; without which, all besides is but sounding brass, and a tinkling cymbal.
3. God knew his simplicity as well as their hypocrisy, that his heart was right towards him; and that in all the trials he had been exposed to, he had approved his fidelity. Note; (1.) It is happy for us when we can appeal to God for our uprightness before him. (2.) God's judgment concerning us is not taken from our outward appearance, but from our hearts; keep, therefore, thy heart with all diligence. (3.) We may sit easy under men's revilings, if we are conscious of God's approbation of us.
4. He desires to see the ruin of these wicked ones; that, as fattened for slaughter, God would pull them out, and rid the land of that burden under which it groaned. For their wickedness, the famine devoured, and even the beasts and birds perished for want of sustenance, because they said He shall not see our last end; either God, whose judgments they defied, or Jeremiah, whose prophesy they despised, and whom they resolved to put to death, that he at least should not live to see the fulfilment of the threatenings which he denounced against them. Note; (1.) Prosperous sinners are only as the ox fattened for the slaughter. (2.) The earth groans under men's iniquities, but it shall shortly be relieved in their destruction.
5. God answers his complaints; not indeed in a direct explication of his dispensations, but in an admonition designed for his own profiting. If thou hast run with the foot-men, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? If thou canst not find out the devices of the men of Anathoth, how shouldst thou fathom the secrets of God's providence? so some interpret it: or rather, if these conflicts with the men of Anathoth discouraged him, how would he be able to cope with the king, princes, and priests at Jerusalem? and if in the land of peace wherein thou trustedst, in his own city, where he promised himself peace and safety, they have wearied thee; made such an impression on his spirits; how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? when a flood of greater persecution shall burst forth upon him, and threaten to overwhelm him. For even thy brethren, the priests, the house of thy father, to whom by blood he was so nearly connected; even they have dealt treacherously with thee, seeking to silence or destroy him: yea, they have called a multitude after thee, raised a mob against him, and instigated them to insult and hoot him as he passed; believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee; they pretend to abhor persecution, and to discountenance such riotous proceedings, when in fact they are at the bottom of them; and when their words are smoother than oil, they have hearts full of rancorous enmity. Note; (1.) They who stand up for God and his truth, must prepare themselves for the world's opposition. (2.) Our bitterest enemies are often our nearest kinsmen, or our brethren in office. (3.) God prepares his servants by lesser trials for greater ones. (4.) In our own strength the least temptation will weary us; in God's strength, we shall be enabled to stem the swelling of Jordan.
2nd, We have,
1. God's dereliction of his people. His temple he deserts, his heritage he forsakes, the dearly-beloved of his soul he gives up into the hands of his enemies. Once they bore these favoured titles, God delighted in them, separated them for himself, and chose them for a peculiar people, setting his love upon them; but their ingratitude drove him from them, and left them an easy prey to every invader. The people of his heritage were as lions in the forest, roaring against God in the persons of his prophets, blaspheming his name, and renouncing his government, and become cruel, blood-thirsty, and oppressive; therefore have I hated it; withdrawn every token of favour from them, and devoted them to destruction. Note; Woe unto the soul, to the people from whom God departs; they are on the verge of ruin!
2. Their destruction by the Chaldeans. Come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour; the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, fierce and savage, are summoned to take the field, and consume this devoted people, Revelation 19:17-18 and no sooner is it spoken than done. Many pastors, the captains of the Chaldean host, have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness: once God regarded this place and people as his own, and delighted in it as his portion; but now universal desolation reigns, the country is turned into a wilderness, the cities sacked, burnt, and rased from their foundations, the sword devours from one end of the land to the other: and while this impenitent people lay not their sins to heart, the very earth mourns as more deeply affected than they, upbraiding their ingratitude and hardness of heart; and all attempts to extricate themselves are vain. It is the sword of the Lord, and therefore no flesh shall have peace; though they sow wheat, they shall reap thorns; literally, a curse being upon the ground for their sins; and figuratively, though they contrived to engage the Egyptians as their auxiliaries, they would prove a vexation to them, rather than assistance. Their pains are spent to no profit; and shame and confusion will cover them, when they see all their schemes disappointed, and their revenues, so lavishly spent to hire foreign aid, thrown away, because of the fierce anger of the Lord; against which all their policy and power were equally fruitless, and which was infinitely more to be feared than even the Chaldean army. Note; (1.) If we have God for our enemy, we can hope for no peace in time or eternity. (2.) Nothing can engage sinners to lay to heart the evil of their ways, when God withdraws his Spirit from them; even the heaviest judgments then but harden and exasperate. (3.) If God spared not his own pleasant portion or land, let no other guilty land hope to escape.
3rdly, Jeremiah's commission extended not merely to his own people, but to the neighbouring nations.
1. God threatens them with destruction for their unkindness to Israel. They are called his evil neighbours, such as the Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, &c, by their connexions with whom God's people had been led into sin and idolatry, and that is the greatest evil which any can do; that touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit, made inroads upon them, assisted the Chaldeans to destroy them, and led away many captives: for this God will visit them. Behold, I will pluck them out of their land, they too shall be utterly wasted and destroyed; and pluck out the house of Judah from among them; who, when their ruin came, would be released, and escape from their captivity. Note; (1.) It is a dangerous and irksome state to dwell in the midst of evil neighbours. (2.) They who have been our tempters, are often made our tormentors. (3.) If judgment begin at the house of God, let not the ungodly and the sinner think of escaping.
2. God still appears ready to have compassion on them, notwithstanding his judgments against them. Though cast out and captives, he will bring them again every man to his heritage, and every man to his land; on this condition, that, forsaking their former idolatries, they diligently learn the ways of my people, to worship and serve the true God, to swear by my name, The Lord liveth, and renounce all idols; in opposition to their former wicked conduct, when they taught my people to swear by Baal; then, not only shall their captivity be turned, but they shall be built in the midst of my people, become intitled to all the blessings and benefits of native Israelites, united with them in love, and admitted to the worship and service of God's temple. And this seems to look farther than to the conversion of many to the Jewish religion, who returned with them from Babylon; and had eminently its accomplishment when the Gentiles were gathered into the church, made fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel; but shall have its complete fulfilment, when Jews and Gentiles become, without distinction, one fold under one shepherd. Note; (1.) The bitterest enemies of God and his people may yet be reconciled; there is ever hope for the returning sinner. (2.) Whey who learn the ways of God's people will have their happy lot with them. (3.) They who would be proficients in the school of Christ must use all diligence; sloth and ignorance are inseparable.
3. Judgment is denounced on those who refused to obey the Gospel, and return to God. I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, saith the Lord. Note; There is but one alternative; either we must turn to God, and be made happy in everlasting blessedness; or by departing from God, and continuing impenitent, go down into everlasting burnings.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany