“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you are so trusting,
what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
For even your brothers and the house of your father,
even they have dealt treacherously with you;
they are in full cry after you;
do not believe them,
though they speak friendly words to you.”
“I have forsaken my house;
I have abandoned my heritage;
I have given the beloved of my soul
into the hands of her enemies.
My heritage has become to me
like a lion in the forest;
she has lifted up her voice against me;
therefore I hate her.
Is my heritage to me like a hyena’s lair?
Are the birds of prey against her all around?
Go, assemble all the wild beasts;
bring them to devour.
Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard;
they have trampled down my portion;
they have made my pleasant portion
a desolate wilderness.
They have made it a desolation;
desolate, it mourns to me.
The whole land is made desolate,
but no man lays it to heart.
Upon all the bare heights in the desert
destroyers have come,
for the sword of the Lord devours
from one end of the land to the other;
no flesh has peace.
They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns;
they have tired themselves out but profit nothing.
They shall be ashamed of their harvests
because of the fierce anger of the Lord.” – Jeremiah 12:5-13 ESV
In asking God, “Why?”, Jeremiah had shared his perspective. He saw things from a human point of view, wondering why he was having to suffer while those who plotted his death seemed to prosper. The circumstances surrounding his life appeared to make no sense. He was doing the will of God and suffering for it. The men of Anathoth were breaking the will of God and apparently, prospering because of it.
So, God share His perspective with Jeremiah. He gave the prophet some insights into how He saw things. First, God let Jeremiah know that things were going to get worse before they got better. And if he found his present circumstances difficult, he was going to be overwhelmed by what was coming. In fact, God gives Jeremiah the bad news that things were already worse than he thought. It wasn’t just the men of Anathoth who were plotting against him.
“Even your brothers, members of your own family,
have turned against you.
They plot and raise complaints against you.” – Jeremiah 12:5 NLT
As God’s spokesman, Jeremiah was going to find himself at odds with just about everyone in Judah. His message was not going to be well received by anyone. So, he better get used to being disliked. To use a more modern-day idiom, it was as if God was telling Jeremiah, “If you can’t run with the big dogs, you better stay on the porch.” Being a prophet was not for the weak or feint of heart. It took guts and determination. Speaking the truth, the Word of God, required real courage, because the opposition was real and the possibilities of facing harm were as well. God warned Jeremiah that it wasn’t just the outspoken loud mouths he had to fear. It was also the so-called friends who spoke to him using pleasant words and appeared to be on his side. No one could be trusted.
But the one thing Jeremiah had overlooked in all of this was how God felt. This is a common mistake we all make. For whatever reason, we see God as having no feelings. He simply acts, meting out justice and administering judgment, with no personal implications or emotional ramifications. We somehow see God as an unfeeling automaton, who lacks the ability to experience sadness or any other human-like emotion. But God paints a very different picture for Jeremiah. You can almost hear the pain in God’s voice as He shares with Jeremiah:
“I have abandoned my people, my special possession.
I have surrendered my dearest ones to their enemies.” – Jeremiah 12:7 NLT
All throughout this section of chapter 12, God uses terms like “my heritage”, “my house”, “the beloved of my soul”, “my vineyard”, and “my portion”. God is expressing His deep love and affection for the people of Judah. They are His children and He loves them. This wasn’t a case of some distant deity lashing out in hate at His helpless human subjects. This was a loving Father having to discipline His own children. And He felt great pain for having to do so. As Thomas L. Constable points out in his study notes on Jeremiah, “The Hebrew verbs in this section are prophetic perfects, which view future events as already past.” God is revealing what is going to happen as if it already has. He knows what the future holds, but He does not relish the idea of His own children’s destruction. Yes, they deserved it, but that doesn’t mean God enjoyed the idea of having to bring it about. Unhindered by the constraints of time, God can see into the future and witness the suffering on His people. He can see the devastated land of promise that He had promised to Abraham and provided to Joshua and the people.
“They have made it an empty wasteland;
I hear its mournful cry.
The whole land is desolate,
and no one even cares.” – Jeremiah 12:11 NLT
He had given this land as a gift to the people of Israel. It had been an expression of His love for them. But it would lie wasted and abandoned, its cities destroyed and its inhabitants either murdered or taken captive as slaves. And this would all be God’s doing.
“The sword of the Lord devours people
from one end of the nation to the other.
No one will escape!” – Jeremiah 12:12 NLT
He would be the one to bring it about. His people had broken their covenant with Him. They had abandoned Him for false gods. They had been unfaithful to Him, willingly turning their back on Him and giving their affections to lifeless idols instead. Rather than trusting in God and relying on His track record of faithfulness, they had looked elsewhere.
“My people have planted wheat
but are harvesting thorns.
They have worn themselves out,
but it has done them no good.
They will harvest a crop of shame
because of the fierce anger of the Lord.” – Jeremiah 12:13 NLT
And this broke God’s heart. He had promised to provide for them. He had made a covenant with them that guaranteed they would never do without – as long as they remained faithful to Him.
“If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God:
Your towns and your fields
will be blessed.
Your children and your crops
will be blessed.
The offspring of your herds and flocks
will be blessed.
Your fruit baskets and breadboards
will be blessed.
Wherever you go and whatever you do,
you will be blessed.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-6 NLT
God wanted to bless them. He wanted to provide for them. But they had decided to provide for themselves. They had made it a habit of relying on themselves or, worse yet, on the false gods of the nations around them. So, rather than enjoying the blessings of God, they were doomed to experience the curses He had warned them about. And God found no joy in any of this. But His holiness and justice demanded it. He could not allow them to get away with their treatment of Him. They had profaned His name among the nations. They had desecrated the land with their actions. They had proven to be poor bearers of His image. And God was obligated to deal with them accordingly. But like a loving Father punishing His wayward child, God was grieved by what He had to do.
Over in the gospel of Luke, we have recorded the words of Jesus, spoken as He neared the city of Jerusalem – the very same city that would be destroyed during the days of Jeremiah. And Jesus, as the city came into view, began to cry and said:
“How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not recognize it when God visited you.” – Luke 19:32-44 NLT
Jesus, like His Father, knew what was coming. He was well aware that, in the not-too-distant future, Jerusalem would be destroyed yet again. In 70 A.D., the Romans would set fire to the temple, reducing it to rubble and destroy the remainder of the city as well. But Jesus wept over what He knew was coming. He longed that the people of Jerusalem would recognize who He was and accept Him as their Messiah and Savior. But that was not to be. They would reject Him. They would play a part in having Him crucified, choosing to see a common criminal named Barabbas freed instead of Jesus. They would chant, “Crucify Him!” They would demand His death and jeer and mock Jesus as He made His way to Golgotha, bearing the weight of the cross upon which He would die. And even as Jesus hung on that cross, near death, rather than lash out at those who stood watching Him die, He would state, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24 ESV). Even in the midst of their rebellion and rejection of Him, Jesus loved them. He loved them so much that He took on their sins and died for them. And God would one day redeem the people of Judah as well. He would restore them to the land. He would rescue them from their captivity. Not because of them, but in spite of them. God takes no pleasure in punishing His children. But He lovingly disciplines them and faithfully rescues them – for the glory of His own name and in keeping with His covenant promises.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.