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Jeremiah 12:1 You are righteous, Yahweh, when I contend with You; yet I would reason the cause with You: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are all they at ease who deal very treacherously?- This is a parade example of how we should approach issues relating to the justice of God; beginning with the simple recognition that Yahweh is righteous, even if we don't understand. This prophecy appears to have been at the time of Josiah, when Judah were still relatively at ease and prospering, despite Josiah's reforms not having been deeply responded to.

Jeremiah 12:2 You have planted them, yes, they have taken root; they grow, yes, they bring forth fruit-
This planting is that of Jer. 11:17. They were planted by God when they left Egypt and entered covenant with God (Ex. 15:17; Num. 24:6), and also when they entered Canaan and God cleared the land of the Canaanite tribes (Ps. 44:2; 80:8). Having done everything possible through their planting that they might produce fruit (Is. 5:2), it was appropriate for God to also destroy them when they failed to respond. Likewise we have been "planted" in a manner and position optimal for our spiritual fruitfulness; we cannot therefore blame our lack of spiritual fruit on bad environment.

You are near in their mouth, and far from their heart- This can be translated as them saying "You are near" with their mouths, when in fact they were far from God in their heart. This statement "You are near" was based on the much loved Dt. 4:7, which states that no God has Israel so "near" them (s.w.). Indeed Yahweh was near them- but they had to come near to Him in their hearts. He was "near" in that His word was to be near in their hearts and not far off from their hearts (Dt. 30:11,14 s.w.), but they were refusing His word through Jeremiah. The nearness of God is therefore potential, for man in response must also draw near unto Him (Ez. 42:13; 43:19 s.w.). But the grace of God was such that He would save them even from "far off" (Jer. 30:10 s.w.). See on Jer. 23:23. Even from that situation, God's grace could work on their hearts. They were taken "far [off]" to captivity because they had Him far from their hearts.

Jeremiah 12:3 But You, Yahweh, know me; You see me, and try my heart towards You: pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter-
This is just how Jeremiah describes himself, a lamb for the slaughter, in Jer. 11:19. There he was alluding to the prophecy of the suffering servant in Is. 53. But the significance is that they were the condemned lamb for the slaughter, and the state of Jeremiah's heart was different; he was not for the slaughter. But he willingly identified with Israel's sin and condemnation whilst being personally sinless in this matter- a fine type of the Lord's representative sufferings and sin bearing for us on the cross.

Jeremiah 12:4 How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of the whole country wither? for the wickedness of those who dwell therein, the animals are consumed, and the birds-
And yet the wicked people of :1 apparently prospered. So we may be reading the present tense spoken of as the future. And yet actually all animals weren't consumed from off the land. In wrath God remembered mercy, by His amazing grace. See on Jer. 10:18.

Because they said, He shall not see our latter end- They said this in their hearts; they psychologically assumed that God did not "see" their behaviour nor foresee a final judgment for them.

Jeremiah 12:5 If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? and though in a land of peace you are secure, yet how will you do in the swelling of the Jordan?-
The land was not in peace at the time of many of Jeremiah's prophecies, and so this must be an earlier prophecy. The book of Jeremiah isn't chronological. The prediction that his own family would seek to kill him (:6) was therefore made early in his ministry, but he apparently disbelieved this word (Jer. 11:19). The idea was that the Jordan was going to swell up, rather than be under their control as it was when they first entered Canaan. The previous incursions of the Babylonians were as foot soldiers compared to the cavalry which were to pour into the land. This is God's response to Jeremiah's apparent complaint in :4 that the judgments were too severe. He is at this point personally out of step with God's judgment program; and so God reminds him that
his very own family were intending to kill him (:6). Jeremiah had an overly positive view of Israel, but he was also even in that reflecting God's love and imputation of righteousness to His wayward people.

Jeremiah 12:6 For even your brothers, and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; even they have cried aloud after you: don’t believe them, though they speak beautiful words to you-
See on :5; Jer. 11:19. Jeremiah was sharing God's experiences with His people, who had dealt treacherously with Him too (s.w. Is. 48:8; Jer. 3:8,11; 5:11; 9:2), as Jeremiah himself recognized (:1). To Jeremiah's face they were nicely spoken, but behind his back they cried for his blood. Likewise with their God, they had Him on their lips but their hearts were far from Him (:2).  

Jeremiah 12:7 I have forsaken My house, I have cast off My heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies-
This and the following verses are God's response as to how He would respond to the treachery of His own people. But this :7 may be Jeremiah's response, which (as often in Jeremiah) merges into the feelings of God too and then God becomes the dominant thinker and speaker rather than Jeremiah. In this case, Jeremiah would be responding that he had dissociated himself from his family, and had resigned his dearly beloved, perhaps his wife, to destruction because she too refused to respond to his message. Yahweh 'cast off' Judah (Jer. 12:7; 23:33) but only because they had cast Him off (Jer. 15:6 s.w.). And yet God did not cast off His people (Jer. 33:26); Jeremiah personally was persuaded that God would not cast off His people for ever (Lam. 3:31). He will show them mercy as if He had not cast them off (Zech. 10:6); this reversal of their casting off was to be through the repentance of the exiled community (Lev. 26:44). But even this didn't happen, and yet God still did not cast them away (Rom. 11:2). His love and grace was such that He holds on to them. This desperate holding on to His people is seen in the experience of every person who joins God's people through baptism into Christ. They may indeed be cast off ultimately, but that is because they cast Him off, and wrestled against His insistent desire to keep hold of them eternally.

Jeremiah 12:8 My heritage has become to Me as a lion in the forest: she has uttered her voice against Me-
It was appropriate therefore that her invaders would be as lions, uttering their voice against her; for this was how they had treated God. Judgment is but an extension of how we ourselves have acted.

Therefore I have hated her- A love as strong as God's is going to also elicit the emotion of hatred and anger when that love is rejected and abused. He "hated" (s.w.) Judah's insincere worship and relationship with Him (Is. 1:14; 61:8; Jer. 44:4). But it is hard to separate the sin from the sinner. That distinction may be helpful for us in order to avoid judging others too personally, but God it seems doesn't make that decision. He gave Israel into the hands of those who hated her (s.w. Ez. 16:27,37) and in that sense He hated her. The feelings of hatred which Hosea had for Gomer due to her abuse of His love were those of God for Israel: "There I hated them" (Hos. 9:15). God is not simply "love" in the abstract. He is love for real, with all the emotion and psychological complex which goes along with love; and this will include hatred if that love is abused.

Jeremiah 12:9 Is My heritage-
To lose an inheritance was a major tragedy in the thought of those times. God was losing His inheritance in that He was allowing it to be consumed, 'polluting it' (Is. 47:6). No man would ever spoil his own inheritance like this; but God did, such was His belief in the need to punish His people for their sins. And yet the metaphor of lost / spoilt inheritance reflects how painful this was for God, felt as a personal loss. The whole idea elicits sympathy for God in this tragic loss. See on :10.

To Me as a speckled bird of prey? Are the birds of prey against her all around? Go, assemble all the animals of the field, bring them to devour- The rhetorical question was because this situation need not be, if Judah repented. As it was, God's people were like a different coloured bird which attracted the aggression of the other birds. It then is brought to the ground and the animals come to devour it. There was something perceived as different about Judah, the root of all anti-Jewish sentiment down the centuries. And this attracted others to attack that which was different. But the difference was not in their spirituality; it was perhaps in their manic desire to be like other nations. Israel was "speckled" or dyed with multiple different colours, like pagan idol worshipping clothes (s.w. Jud. 5:30). The anger of the nations with Judah was that she had made covenants of unique loyalty with each of them, on the agreement that Judah would worship their gods. And now they discovered she had made such agreements with them all, and the Jerusalem temple was full of the idols of the various nations. This was the basis for their combined anger with her. See on :12.

Jeremiah 12:10 Many shepherds have destroyed My vineyard, they have trodden My portion under foot, they have made My pleasant portion a desolate wilderness-
At this time, Judah was still prosperous (see on :1). The past tenses indicate that what God threatened He was now going to fulfil, and it was as good as done. The vineyard of Israel had been carefully planted and prepared by God (Is. 5). For God to allow His own vineyard to be destroyed was therefore a huge personal loss to Him. See on :9,11.

Jeremiah 12:11 They have made it a desolation; it mourns to Me, being desolate; the whole land is made desolate, because no man lays it to heart-
The desolation of the land is not specifically predicated upon idolatry, but upon not laying things to heart; a light hearted, not serious attitude to the things of God. This was of paramount pain and significance to God, and it remains so to this day. That the land should be desolate was a personal tragedy to God (s.w. Ex. 23:29); as noted on :9,10, God's judgment of His people was at huge personal loss to Himself.

Jeremiah 12:12 Destroyers have come on all the bare heights in the wilderness; for the sword of Yahweh devours from the one end of the land even to the other end of the land: no flesh has peace-
And yet at the time of the prophecy, perhaps still in Josiah's time, the land was in peace (:5). The present tense is used for the future, so certain was it of fulfilment. The "destroyers" are the invaders, and yet it was the shepherds of Israel who are the destroyers in :10. Jeremiah was from the priestly family, and perhaps their hatred for him (:6) was because of his criticism of them. The high places, where Judah thought they could secretly worship idols, were going to be destroyed; it was Judah's promiscuous relationship with multiple nations and idols which provoked the anger of the invaders. See on :9.

Jeremiah 12:13 They have sown wheat, and have reaped thorns-
The Lord may have had His eye on this in constructing the parable of Mt. 13:27. The wheat sown didn't produce wheat because an enemy sowed thorns amongst the wheat which eclipsed the wheat. So the idea is that although they sowed wheat, they had also sown thorns, and these had eclipsed what apparent spirituality they had. Only a wholehearted devotion to God can succeed in spiritual life.

They have put themselves to pain, and profit nothing: and you shall be ashamed of your fruits, because of the fierce anger of Yahweh- Although they had been given materially all that they needed on entering the land (Jer. 2:7), the attraction of the idols was "profit". The idols of Canaan were fertility cults, and they were worshipped in the hope of good harvests and material benefits or "profit". They worshipped them with the "pain" of offering their firstborn to them. But the same word is used of the grief or pain which the representative Saviour would experience for them (Is. 53:10), bearing every aspect of their condemnation. So Yahweh's blessing of His people materially only elicited in them a craving for yet more materialism, and they turned to the idols- which in reality did not "profit", for all such blessing is only from Yahweh. In the day of condemnation, they would look at the few "fruits" they thought they had gained due to idol worship, and be ashamed that they sought them at the expense of eternity. And so it shall be for all materialists in that day.

Jeremiah 12:14 Thus says Yahweh against all My evil neighbours-
Even in the midst of condemning His people, God closely identifies with them, speaking here of the surrounding nations as "My neighbours". This is typical of the prophetic revelations of condemnation.

Who touch the inheritance which I have caused My people Israel to inherit- Whoever touches Israel touches the apple of God's eye, such is His extreme sensitivity towards His people even when they are under condemnation (Zech. 2:8).

Behold, I will pluck them up from off their land, and will pluck up the house of Judah from among them- Potentially, there was huge Divine power available to those who repented in exile and wanted to return. The decree of Cyrus is evidence enough. But the majority preferred the soft life of Babylon. We too are commanded to come out from Babylon, and if we even nod a "yes" toward that, we will be hugely confirmed in it.


Jeremiah 12:15 It shall happen, after that I have plucked them up, I will return and have compassion on them; and I will bring them again, every man to his inheritance, and every man to his land-
This implies that those taken captive would themselves return. The exact duration of the exile was always an open question.
Ezekiel was asked to prophecy that Judah would suffer for their sins for 40 years (Ez. 4:6). Perhaps something could've happened after 40 years... And then, the starting point of the 70 or 40 years was somewhat flexible- for Ez. 22:3,4 records Ezekiel's prophecy that the desolation of Jerusalem by the Babylonians [the starting point of the time periods] was actually being hastened, brought forward, by the terrible behaviour of the Jews living there after the initial Babylon invasion of the land. Closer study reveals the variableness of outworking of the time periods. Jer. 25:11,12 and Jer. 29:10 speak of a 70 year period of Babylonian rule over Judah, beginning with the invasion of BC597. But Babylon only ruled over Judah for 49 years, before Babylon fell to the Persians. This would connect with the way that Zech. 4:3 speaks of 7 menorah candlesticks each with 7 lamps, making 49 lamps. 49 is the cycle of 7 Sabbath years that culminated in the jubilee year, and the jubilee year, the proclamation of liberty to the land (Lev. 25:8-12; 27:7-24) is a figure used so often in Isaiah to describe the freedom of Judah once released from Babylon. Lev. 26:34,43 speak of the land enjoying her Sabbaths whilst Israel were in exile for their sins- i.e. for 49 years. So it seems that there could have been some restoration after 49 years- but it didn't happen. But Dan. 9:2 and 2 Chron. 36:21 seem to reinterpret those 70 years of Jeremiah's prophecies as speaking of a 70 year period during which Jerusalem and the temple would be desolate. See on Ez. 6:8.

But the people in view (and this depends upon translation) could refer to the Gentile invaders. It was God's intention that they should return to their own lands experiencing God's compassion. But the Jews mixed with the people of the land, they didn’t teach them the Name, and so the prophecy didn’t come true- they weren’t built up in the midst of Israel as intended (:16). Prophecies like Is. 19:18,24 were thereby disabled from fulfilment at that time- “In that day there shall be five cities in the land of Egypt that… swear to the Lord… in that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria”. Is. 2:2-4, Zech. 8:21-23 etc. speak of how Gentile nations would desire to learn the ways of God and come up to a temple in Zion for this purpose. Could it not be that these passages are to be read in the context of Jer. 12:14-17- that all this was only possible if at the time of the restoration the nations had learnt God’s ways from the Jews? In this case these passages are not to be taken as ‘proof’ that there has to be a future temple built in Zion.    

Jeremiah 12:16 It shall happen, if they will diligently learn the ways of My people, to swear by My name, As Yahweh lives; even as they taught My people to swear by Baal; then shall they be built up in the midst of My people-
See on :15. The if…then construction in :15-17 is clearly conditional: the Gentiles could have come and dwelt in the land in a Kingdom-like situation, if Judah had taught them, and if they had responded. "The ways of My people" were by implication the ways of Yahweh. If Judah been obedient, then they would have been a witness to the nations where they were carried captive, and they too would have repented, become Jews, and been "built up in the midst of My people",  incorporated into God's revived, refined Israel. The future building up of a replanted Israel in their land would have meant their building up too (s.w. Jer. 24:6; 31:28; 33:7). But so much potential was wasted because of the lack of human repentance.

Jeremiah 12:17 But if they will not hear, then will I pluck up that nation, plucking up and destroying it, says Yahweh
- This sounds like the total end of Israel as a nation. But that didn't happen, even though they did not hear. They were not plucked up and destroyed. God did not cast away His people (Rom. 11:2). The God whose love is so strong that He even doesn't carry out the judgments He threatens... is a God of love and grace to the ultimate term. If the impoverished remnant who remained in the land had been obedient, then they would not have been plucked up (Jer. 42:10). They were not obedient, and yet still God preserved His people.