Jeremiah 12
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
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?
1. Righteous art thou] God’s justice is established as the result of every enquiry into His ways. Jeremiah, while admitting this, yet asks how it can be reconciled with (i) the prosperity of the wicked, (ii) his own adversity.

plead] See on Jeremiah 2:9; Jeremiah 2:29.

the wicked] in this case the men of Anathoth. The general question was one which much exercised the men of the old dispensation, who had no clear view of any but temporal rewards and punishments. See Psalms 37, 39, 49, 73, and the book of Job, especially ch. Jeremiah 21:7, etc.

Jeremiah 12:1-6. See summary at commencement of section. Pe. points out that this passage is very important in religious history, since it is probably the first expression we have in Hebrew literature of the problem, Why do the wicked prosper? Habakkuk, who also deals with it (Jeremiah 1:13 ff.), is likely to have been at the earliest a younger contemporary of Jeremiah. (See Intr. p. xxx.) Du. rejects the passage on the ground that (a) Jeremiah expected the immediate overthrow of rich and poor alike, and that the wicked are not known to have been more prosperous than the godly in his time. But these arguments are inconclusive except perhaps for the later portion of Jeremiah 12:3, while the larger part of the passage seems to carry with it in point of style its own credentials.

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.
2. planted] The same metaphor is used of the whole nation, 2 Samuel 7:10. The figure of a tree is worked out in the verse. They have been placed in security and have prospered throughout life. We may compare Isaiah 40:24 for the same figure applied in that case to the overthrow of those who are the objects of Divine wrath.

reins] See on Jeremiah 11:20.

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.
3. The second half of the v. presents some difficulty. Jeremiah’s personal enemies have not yet been definitely mentioned, nor, if we take Co.’s view and place this passage (see on Jeremiah 11:18-23) earlier, have they been even hinted at. If, on the other hand, it refers to the wicked generally, we may question whether Jeremiah drew a distinction between their coming fortunes and those of the nation as a whole. Co. accordingly agrees so far with Du. as to omit this part of the v.

pull them out] a strong expression in the Hebrew. The verb is that rendered “are broken” in Jeremiah 10:20.

prepare] For mg. Heb. sanctify see on Jeremiah 6:4.

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.
4. This v., while suiting Jeremiah’s style, is quite out of harmony with the context. See further on Jeremiah 12:13.

He shall not see our latter end] He will predecease us, not we him, as he pretends. But the LXX, assuming the pronoun to refer to Jehovah, and transposing two consonants in the last Hebrew word, translate, God shall not see our ways. In that case cp. Psalm 73:11. Co. and so Gi. (Metrik) for metrical reasons omit the v.

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?
5. pride] mg. swelling, but the text agrees better with Zechariah 11:3 (“the pride of Jordan is spoiled”). The luxuriant vegetation or jungle is meant, the haunt of lions. Cp. Jeremiah 49:19, Jeremiah 50:44.

5, 6. The Divine answer. God does not solve the difficulty, but warns the prophet that he will need still more patience in the future.

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.
6. even they have cried aloud after thee) Co. omits this clause, as it otherwise appears that the danger consisted of secret, not open attack. Gi. (Metrik) makes the whole v. to be an addition in which the metre is not clear.

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.
7. mine house] shewn by the parallelism of the clauses to mean, not the Temple, but the nation itself; so in Hosea 8:1; Hosea 9:15.

Ch. Jeremiah 12:7-17. Devastation of Judah to be wrought by hostile neighbours, who shall be punished by exile unless they submit to the God of Israel

Jehovah in pathetic language deplores the necessity of permitting the devastation of His land.

This section has no connexion with the preceding or subsequent context. It may safely be dated late in Jehoiakim’s reign, as relating to the attack upon Judah on the part of Chaldaeans, Syrians, Moabites, and Ammonites (see 2 Kings 24:1 f.), under the figure of birds of prey attacking one whose plumage attracts their attention as unusual. Du. places Jeremiah 12:14-17 in the 2nd cent. b.c. He considers “the evil neighbours” of Jeremiah 12:14 to mean the persons of various nationalities who were living in the land in the time of John Hyrcanus and his son. He compares Zechariah 14:16 ff.; Isaiah 19:16 ff. as having a similar reference. But, as Pe. says, we do not in those passages, as here, read of exile followed by restoration, nor would a writer of the 2nd cent. b.c. have put into the mouth of Jeremiah a prediction which in fact was not realised.

The section may be subdivided thus.

(i) Jeremiah 12:7-13. Jehovah’s heritage has turned as a savage beast against Him. Therefore He has given her over to be the prey of neighbouring nations. She is like a speckled bird attacked by her own kind. The country is laid waste, because its inhabitants took no serious thought. The culture of the land brings no produce, because of the wrath of Jehovah.

(ii) Jeremiah 12:14-17. Judah’s foes shall themselves be driven into exile—permanent, if they refuse to hear Jehovah; but, if they turn to Him, they shall be restored to their lands.

Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; it crieth out against me: therefore have I hated it.
8. as a lion] The open hostility of the people towards the Lord is likened by Him to the angry roar and fierce attack of a lion ranging the forest. He therefore withdraws and leaves it as some savage beast to the solitude that it has made for itself.

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.
9. bird of prey? are the birds of prey, etc.] The change of one consonant (reading ki for li) would enable us to unite the two questions into one, and read (without “unto me”) bird of prey, that the birds of prey are, etc. For the figure see introd. note, and for the method of expressing mingled amazement and pain cp. Jeremiah 2:14.

Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.
10. shepherds] See on Jeremiah 6:3.

vineyard] For this figure cp. Isaiah 5:1 ff.

have trodden my portion under foot] The figure is that of the destruction of vineyards by wandering hordes and their flocks.

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.
11. unto me] lit. upon me, i.e. to my sorrow. Dr. quotes the parallel in Genesis 48:7.

layeth it to heart] i.e. has taken warning in time.

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.
12. bare heights] See on ch. Jeremiah 3:2.

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.
13. The v., at least in its present context, is obscure. The subject is either (a) the spoilers, whose disasters, however, belong not to this but to the following paragraph, or (b) Judah, in which case the expressions are unsuited to the previous description of their attitude. Co. suggests that it should follow immediately on Jeremiah 12:4, but even so its connexion with that v. is not obvious.

ye … your] Read they … their.

ashamed] See on Jeremiah 2:26.

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.
14. and will pluck up … from among them] This clause, occurring in a passage otherwise dealing solely with foreign nations, is suspiciously like a gloss. Gi. for this and metrical reasons omits the clause, omitting also “which I have caused … to inherit.”

14–17. See introd. summary to the section.

And it shall come to pass, after that I have plucked them out I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land.
And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, The LORD liveth; as they taught my people to swear by Baal; then shall they be built in the midst of my people.
16. to swear by my name] See on ch. Jeremiah 4:2.

But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, saith the LORD.
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