By Jay T. Robertson, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Systematic Theology, University of Mobile
Jeremiah raised a question that has been asked throughout history: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” Using the language of the courtroom, Jeremiah affirmed that God is righteous so it would be clear that he was not questioning God’s integrity. However, Jeremiah could not reconcile God’s justice with the fact that the wicked appeared to prosper and live at ease.
Jeremiah questioned why God had planted the wicked and allowed them to take root, grow and produce fruit. They outwardly acknowledged the Lord, but they were not devoted to Him in their hearts. The Lord knew Jeremiah was devoted to Him even when he suffered for proclaiming God’s Word. Surely, the Lord must know the hearts of the wicked.
The prophet wanted the Lord to drag them away like sheep to be slaughtered. Not only was he suffering, but the land was suffering because of their sin.
What Jeremiah could not understand was that God’s unwillingness to annihilate them didn’t mean He was ignorant of the circumstances. Neither did it have anything to do with His ability. God is not ignorant or impotent. The issue was God’s plan and God’s timing. Jeremiah had an honest complaint, and God replied with an honest response.
God did not console Jeremiah as He had in Chapter 11, nor did He answer Jeremiah’s question about the prosperity of the wicked. God warned the prophet that if he could not cope with challenges he was then facing, he should consider what he would do in a really serious situation. God employed two metaphors to warn Jeremiah that things would get worse before they got better: If a footrace against men would tire him, how could he compete with horses? If he stumbled in a peaceful land, how could he manage in jungle-like thickets that grew along the Jordan River?
One of the most hurtful things for Jeremiah was that members of his own family had betrayed him and were involved in the plot against his life (11:19).
God commanded him not to trust them even though they spoke well of him publicly. We cannot base our faithfulness to God on the actions of other people. We need to trust the Lord to be with us and to supply everything we need regardless of the circumstances.
God responded corporately to Judah. He declared that He had abandoned them and handed the love of His life over to her enemies.
These verbs are known as prophetic perfects. Although the Babylonians had not yet captured Jerusalem and conquered the people of Judah, it was as good as done in the mind of God.
God’s inheritance had turned on Him like a savage lion and a fierce hyena so He rejected them for breaking covenant with Him. God’s statement, “I hate her,” does not mean hate in the sense of a violent, angry emotion. It means God intended to reject His people, at least for a time. He was going to disinherit them.
God accused the shepherds — a synonym for rulers — for destroying His vineyard. This term could be referring to Judah’s kings or to the ruler God was sending against His people to execute His judgment.
The harvest of Judah’s wickedness was about to come on its inhabitants, and they would bear their shame.