JEREMIAH 12: JEREMIAH COMPLAINS (RESPECTFULLY)
In chapter 12, Jeremiah complained to the Lord. It is a complaint most of us have made. He asks “why do the wicked prosper?” The corollary question is “why do I not prosper when I am faithful?”
Notice that Jeremiah asked the question respectfully. He began his question by stating that the Lord is righteous. Righteous means to act according to a standard. Jeremiah confessed that God always acts according to his holy nature. He is not capricious, that is he does not act according to different standards on different occasions.
So, it is not that Jeremiah is accusing God of being unrighteous. Rather, he says “I know you are righteous, so please explain why this happens. I do not understand it.”
Jeremiah was not talking about the Babylonians, either. He was talking about the wicked people of his own country, his own priestly line and his family. Remember that God just told him the men of his city were plotting to kill him. (11:18)
Jeremiah described them as wicked and treacherous. They do not love God. We all know people like this and we all know some prosperous people like this.
Why do I Not Prosper?
Jeremiah says, Lord you know me and my heart toward you. He means you know I love you. I am faithful. I am obedient. Yet, everyone hates me. People want to kill me.
Jeremiah called for God to punish them. He actually asked God to kill them. He said pull them out for slaughter. This is not an attitude I recommend, but the guy is honest. And we’ve all thought that. God why do you not just take this bad person out that is bothering me?
We heard David make this same plea in the Psalms. He was often surrounded by enemies and cried to the Lord for help. In Psalm 28:4, he spoke of the wicked and said “give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds”. Like Jeremiah, he wanted God to bring judgment on his wicked enemies soon.
Peter wanted to call down fire on a village that did not receive Christ. (Luke 9:51-56)
Jesus, however, prayed for his enemies: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
The Bible records several instances of people questioning God. His response varied with the situation. For example, Job endured all of his suffering well. But at the end, he questioned God. In chapter 31, Job extols all the good things he has done. He asserts himself as blameless and then demanded that God answer him and tell him why all this happened. (31:35) He said “let the Almighty answer me”.
What happened? Well, first his friend Elihu got onto him because he justified himself rather than God. This went on from chapter 32 through chapter 37. That is a long rebuke!
But after that, God answered Job by asserting God’s sovereignty and Job’s lack of standing to question his ways. This went on from chapter 38 though chapter 41!
Fortunately, Job’s response was to repent and all went well from then on.
Here, Jeremiah did not make any demands. More importantly, he did not defame God’s character. So, God answered.
It is a good thing for us to remember this approach. When you do not understand something, do not accuse God of being unjust or unrighteous. That is blasphemy. We know he is just and righteous because he has said so in his word. So confess that he is just and righteous, but that you do not understand what he is doing. He may reveal what he is doing or why, or he may not. He may require you to simply trust him and follow him.
It is also good to remember that God does not owe you an answer. He may require that you simply trust him. A good verse to memorize is Deuteronomy 29:29. It says:
“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.”
God is sovereign. He is working in the world to accomplish his plan and his will. He will reveal some of that to us. Some he will keep secret. That part you trust him for. There is a song that says I will live by faith even when I cannot see. But the fact is, you only live by faith when you cannot see. When you can see, you live by sight, not faith.
The Lord lets Jeremiah know this is also a tragedy for the Lord. Look at verses 7-9 and notice all the first person pronouns (I and my). Israel had grieved him more than it had grieved Jeremiah. Further, Israel rejected Jeremiah because it rejected the Lord.
Jesus told the same thing to his disciples. He said “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death and you will be hated for my name’s sake”. Matthew 24:9. He also said “If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you.” John 15:18.
The First Answer (12:5-6)
God’s first answer, however, was not to explain himself. Instead, he pointed out Jeremiah’s lack of endurance. He basically said, if you are panicked now, what are you going to do when the going really gets rough. The implication here is that Jeremiah must trust the Lord no matter what, and not listen to those who criticize or blaspheme God. But, he should know that the worst is yet to come. This is the metaphor of verse 5. God was saying, if the men of the little village of Anathoth wear you out, how will you deal with the kings and priests in Jerusalem. Because they would later persecute him greatly.
The Second Answer (12:7-13)
What God Will Do To Wicked Israel
God told Jeremiah he would indeed punish the wicked in Israel. The time was not quite ripe, but he would do it. He had already started it. He has forsaken his house, meaning the temple. (12:7) Since the Lord’s presence inhabited the temple, that was a big thing. He had also abandoned Israel as his heritage. That means he would no longer protect them and keep them in the land.
In our time, we would like God to punish the wicked. In many countries, the church is persecuted. In our country, we are seeing the culture move away from God at an alarming pace. We see increased government opposition to the church. The New Testament is clear that there will be judgment at the end. Some may be removed or punished in our time, but most will continue on until God decides the time of mercy is over and the time of judgment has come.
Even worse, sometime we see wicked people right in the middle of church. Jesus will judge the wicked who infiltrate the church as well, but not until the end. Jesus told parables about it. We know the parable in America as the “wheat and tares”. Weeds, known as tares in Biblical times, grew up among the wheat stalks. Jesus said at the harvest the weeds will be separated from the wheat and burned. This is a parable of judgment of the wicked. (Matthew 13:24)
The Third Answer (12:14-17)
God Will Judge the Neighboring Nations
The last part of God’s answer to Jeremiah is that he will also punish the wicked nations who help Babylon destroy Israel. This is in verse 14. There are a couple of word plays here. First, the word “pluck”. He will pluck Israel from its land. And if the nations do not repent, he will pluck them up out of their land.
This was fulfilled, I believe, as Nebuchadnezzar swept across the continent. Josephus wrote that Nebuchadnezzar subdued Syria, Ammon, Moab and finally Egypt. [Josephus, Antiquities, 10:9.7]
But notice God’s grace and mercy. Even as he will return Israel to its land, he will have mercy on the nations if they repent. He said in verse 15 he would punish those nations who harmed Israel by driving them out of their lands, but if they repented he would bring them back. And, if they learned from Israel how to worship God, they will be built up in the midst of God’s people. (16) This is the second word play. Israel learned bad things from living in the midst of these countries. (16) But these countries can find salvation in the midst of Israel, God’s people.
I believe this word is fulfilled in Christ and the church. Jesus commanded the church to take the gospel to all people. As people from all over the world received Christ as savior and lord, this word to Jeremiah was fulfilled. They learned to worship God through Christ and will inherit the kingdom and the world just as the Jews who received Christ.
Ephesians 2:13-20 deals with this concept. Jesus brought the non-Jewish nations (the Gentiles of the New Testament) to God through the blood of Christ. He made Jew and Gentile one body through the cross. Gentiles became fellow citizens of the House of God and all believers together became the temple through the work of the Holy Spirit.
That is why racial prejudice among Christians is wrong. According to Christ, there are no races. There are only his family, his house, his temple, and those who reject him and are part of “the world”.
Revelation 7:9 records John’s vision of the throne of Christ. He saw a great multitude from all tribes and peoples and languages standing before the throne crying out “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb!” The church on earth should reflect the church in eternity. Men and women of all races, colors, nationalities, languages and ages should stand together in worship of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.