Jeremiah 12:1-17

Submitted by admin on Sat, 2016-10-15 14:06.

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Jeremiah was greatly troubled when he saw corrupt individuals prosper and deceitful persons enjoying security. He did recognize, however, that, if he were to contend with YHWH regarding this, YHWH would still be “righteous” or in the right. Nevertheless, Jeremiah decided to speak to him about judgments, questioning him about matters that disturbed him. “Why does the way of the wicked [impious or godless ones (LXX)] prosper?” (Why do they succeed in the corrupt course they pursue?) “Why are all those acting treacherously secure?” (Why do they enjoy quietness and well-being?) (12:1)

YHWH had let the wicked come into existence and had not taken action against them. Therefore, Jeremiah referred to him as having “planted them.” Like plants, they had “taken root,” grown (“produced offspring” [LXX]), and brought forth fruit. The wicked had flourished like plants in an ideal environment. These wicked ones were “near” to YHWH “in their mouth,” apparently making expressions that indicated belief in him, but he was “far away from their kidneys” or far away from their inner selves and thoughts. Their words were empty expressions, for they were not sincerely devoted to him as persons desirous of doing his will. (12:2)

The lawlessness of the people and their hostility toward him as YHWH’s prophet distressed Jeremiah. Therefore, he expressed himself confidently about having conducted himself in an approved manner before YHWH and appealed to him to take action against the wicked. “You, YHWH, know me; you see me and scrutinize [or test] my heart toward you. Drag them out like sheep for the slaughter, and sanctify them [or set them apart] for the day of [their (LXX)] slaughter.” Jeremiah’s words indicated that YHWH knew him intimately, having examined his “heart” or inmost self and thoughts, with the implication being that he had proved himself to be fully devoted to him and in the carrying out of his commission as his prophet. The corrupt people, however, merited death. (12:3)

Apparently Jeremiah regarded the droughts that had occurred as having resulted because YHWH withheld his blessing and had not taken action against the wicked on whose account the droughts did not end. Jeremiah wondered how long the land would “mourn,” or would continue to have the sad appearance of unproductive, parched soil, and the vegetation of every field would wither. The extreme droughts had brought suffering to wild animals and birds. Jeremiah attributed their being “swept away” or perishing to the wickedness of the people residing in the land. He quoted the wicked as saying, “He will not see our end.” This could mean that YHWH would not do anything to see their end by bringing it about. Another significance could be that, although he had prophesied against them, Jeremiah would not see their end. The Septuagint rendering is, “God will not see our ways.” Numerous modern translations convey this basic significance. “God does not see our ways.” (NAB) “God does not see what we are doing.” (REB) “God does not see our fate.” (NJB) “God can’t see the sins we commit.” (CEV) (12:4)

What Jeremiah had encountered among the people up to this point in his service as a prophet was comparable to running a race with men and caused him to complain about what appeared to be slowness on YHWH’s part in executing judgment against the wicked. To correct Jeremiah’s thinking and to reveal to him that he would face even more difficult situations, YHWH is quoted as asking him, “If with foot runners you have raced and they have wearied you, how can you hotly compete [literally, burn] with horses? And if in a land of peace [a safe or secure land] you are confident [feel secure only there], how will you fare in the pride of the Jordan [the thickets growing along the banks of the Jordan where predators lurked]?” (12:5; see the Notes section.)

In the case of Jeremiah’s “brothers” and the “house” or “household” of his father, they had dealt deceitfully or treacherously with him. They were in “full cry” after him or shouted loudly against him. The Septuagint rendering says that they “shouted” and “were gathered behind [him],” suggesting that they plotted against him behind his back. YHWH’s word to Jeremiah directed him not to trust them even when they spoke “good things” to him. (12:6)

YHWH no longer looked favorably upon his people. He had left his “house” (either the temple or his people [the house of Israel]), had abandoned his “inheritance” (either the land he had given to his people or his people as his own possession), and had “given the “beloved one of [his] soul into the hand [or palm] of her enemies. ” The one beloved of YHWH had been his people, but he delivered them into the power of enemy nations, for they had been unfaithful to him. (12:7)

To YHWH, his “inheritance,” or the people belonging to him, had become like a “lion in a forest,” an animal looking for prey. Like a predator, the people roared (literally, “lifted up” their “voice”) against YHWH, defiantly rebelling against him. Therefore, he came to hate them. (12:8)

Especially at breeding time, a bird of prey with distinctive variegated plumage would be noticed and not tolerated in the territory of other birds of prey. YHWH’s “inheritance” or his own people came to be to him like such a “bird of prey,” and the other birds of prey (the neighboring nations) would be round about it, set to attack. “Wild beasts” or other attackers were invited to come and to assemble for the purpose of joining the attack and participating in consuming YHWH’s inheritance. (12:9; see the Notes section.)

Based on the context, the “many shepherds” are kings, rulers, or leaders of foreign nations, and the expression “my vineyard” designates YHWH’s nation Israel, including the land he had given to his people. With their military forces, the “shepherds” had brought ruin to the “vineyard.” As the land was the inheritance the people of Israel had received from YHWH, it was his portion that the “shepherds” had trampled down (“defiled” [LXX]). The land was a desirable or delightful portion, and this pleasant portion the “shepherds” had turned into a desolate (“untrodden” [LXX]) wilderness. (12:10)

The one who “set” or appointed YHWH’s portion or the desirable land as a “desolation” (samah lishmamah [one set her as a desolation]) may be understood to refer to the primary “shepherd” (Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon). In its devastated state, the land had taken on a depressing appearance. It “mourned” to YHWH. The completeness of the devastation is emphasized with repetition. “Desolate — all the land is made desolate.” In the Hebrew text, the verb for “made desolate” immediately follows the adjective for “desolate” (shememah nashammah). The verse concludes with the words, “For no man takes it to heart.” No one really cared about the devastated state of the former desirable land. (12:11; see the Notes section.)

“Devastators” (those causing misery [LXX], warriors) came upon all the bare or treeless heights (“every passage” [LXX]) “in the wilderness.” From these heights, the invading warriors had an unobstructed view of the areas that were the object of their conquest. The invaders served YHWH’s purpose to punish his disobedient people. Therefore, the “sword of YHWH” is represented as devouring “from one end of the land to the other end of the land,” with no area escaping the conflict. “All flesh” or everyone facing the military advance would be deprived of “peace.” Any former state of well-being would come to its end. (12:12)

The people would experience the consequences from their having been unfaithful to YHWH. They had “sown wheat,” or had done what in their view was comparable to sowing an essential food crop, but they had “reaped thorns” (qotsim qatsaru [a Hebrew wordplay]). They gained nothing beneficial but reaped things that were harmful like thorns that can tear skin and flesh. The people had exhausted themselves or made themselves sick for that which did not benefit them. According to the Septuagint, “their portions [or the results from their actions] will not benefit them.” That which did not benefit them could refer to their veneration of Baal and other nonexistent deities. The people are then told, “Be ashamed of your harvests because of the burning” or fierce “anger of YHWH.” They had harvested bitter consequences from their wayward conduct, and this yield should have made them ashamed. They had become the object of YHWH’s anger, and this also should have been reason for them to feel shame. The Septuagint concludes with the words, “Be ashamed of your boasting, of reproach before the Lord.” (12:13)

“Bad neighbors,” or nations that were hostile to YHWH’s people Israel, “touched” (or attacked) the heritage or land he had given them. These bad neighbors included the Ammonites, Moabites, and Edomites. (See 2 Kings 24:2; Obadiah 10-14.) YHWH determined to uproot all the bad neighbors from their land, and he also purposed to “uproot” (“cast out” [LXX]) the “house of Judah from their midst,” which could refer to uprooting the people of the kingdom of Judah from the land that was surrounded by all their bad neighbors. (12:14)

After uprooting the bad neighbors from their respective territories, YHWH would again show them mercy, bringing them back again, “each one to his heritage and each one to his land.” (12:15) This promise, however, was conditional. Members of the nations who had proved to be bad neighbors needed “to learn the ways” (the right ways) of YHWH’s people, swearing by his name, “As YHWH lives.” This meant that they would have to come to recognize YHWH as the only true and living God and the One whom they wanted to revere. In the past, these bad neighbors had taught his people to swear by Baal, acknowledging Baal as a god whom they were desirous of serving. If they renounced what they had done formerly and sincerely became worshipers of YHWH, members of former bad neighboring nations would be “built up” in the midst of his people, indicating that YHWH would come to recognize them as belonging to him. (12:16; for the fulfillment, see Acts 15:6-18; Ephesians 2:11-22.) If, however, the people of a particular nation chose not to listen or refused to change their ways (to “turn” or “repent” [LXX]), YHWH would uproot that nation and destroy it. (12:17)


The Septuagint rendering of verse 5 differs somewhat from the reading of the Hebrew text. “Your feet run, and they exhaust you. How will you prepare yourself for horses? And you are confident in a land of peace; how will you do in the raging of the Jordan?”

In verse 9, the Septuagint renders the text differently. “Is not my inheritance a hyena’s cave to me, or a cave round about her? Go, assemble all the beasts of the field, and let them come to devour her.”

The Septuagint rendering of verse 11 is, “It [God’s desirable portion] was appointed for obliteration of destruction. On my account, all the land was obliterated with obliteration, for there is no man laying it to heart.”