Bible Commentary: Jeremiah 11:18-12:17

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Jeremiah 11:18-12:17

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Plot to Kill Jeremiah

Jeremiah 11 concludes with a plot against the prophet's life. Those behind it wanted to destroy "the tree with its fruit" (verse 19)—that is, the prophet with his prophecies. But God gave Jeremiah supernatural awareness of it. Indeed, God had warned when Jeremiah was first called that such threats would come—and He had encouraged him with the promise of divine protection and help (Jeremiah 1:17-19). Yet that was long ago, and it is possible that Jeremiah had not faced such threats so far—as he surely had state protection during the reign of godly Josiah. Now Josiah was dead though, and the nation was conspiring against God and His prophets. Moreover, the circumstances no doubt made this situation particularly difficult for Jeremiah: "Throughout his four decades of service to God the prophet would know the wrath of kings and courtiers, prophets and priests, and the entire population of Judah. He would be accused of betraying his country. He would be imprisoned and almost killed. But perhaps nothing would hurt as much as this first crisis, when God revealed that the people of his hometown, Anathoth, were plotting to murder him! The conspiracy was even more dreadful because Anathoth was a city settled by priestly families. Anyone who has taken a stand for his or her moral convictions, or witnessed outspokenly about faith in Christ, will understand the pain of ridicule or rejection. But few have any notion of the hurt Jeremiah experienced when those he had known from childhood wanted to take his life" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on Jeremiah11:18-20).

This parallels the reception Jesus Christ later experienced in His hometown of Nazareth (see Luke 4:16-29). Indeed, there are other parallels with Christ here as well. "His own familiar friends had plotted against the prophet. The language [about being a lamb led to the slaughter] is exactly the same as that applied to Messiah (Isaiah 53:7). Each prophet and patriarch exemplified in his own person some one feature or more in the manifold attributes and sufferings of the Messiah to come; just as the saints have done since His coming (Galatians 2:20; Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24)" (Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary, note on Jeremiah 11:19).

Jeremiah lays the case before God as the righteous Judge and Vindicator. And God pronounces a punishment of death by sword and famine, both of which would come with the later Babylonian invasion and siege. God says that "no remnant" would be left to "the men of Anathoth" (verse 23)—that is, to the men involved in the conspiracy. That there were some in the town who weren't involved is evident from the fact that Ezra later reported that some men of Anathoth returned to the town following the Babylonian captivity (see Ezra 2:1, Ezra 2:23).

In Jeremiah 12, we see the prophet terribly disturbed at the whole affair. He asks questions that had been asked before. "Why does the way of the wicked prosper?" (verse 1; see Job 12:6; Psalm 73:12). He remarks on how such treacherous people spoke of God often—indeed, Anathoth was a town of priests!—but their hearts were far from Him (Matthew 15:8; Isaiah 29:13). This is a problem so many have today. They give lip service to following Christ, but they don't obey Him (Matthew 7:21-23). In contrast, Jeremiah served God from the heart as God well knew (Jeremiah 12:3). How strange then that the wicked seemed to have it so good and he seemed to have it so hard.

Jeremiah seems to wonder why God is talking about doing something but not yet doing it. He pleads for God to act. As he had been like a lamb led to the slaughter, he asks that they experience the same (verse 3). In verse 4, Jeremiah appears to be remarking on droughts that were already occurring as warnings of greater punishment to come (see Jeremiah 14:1-6). These hurt the plants and animals but were not reforming the wicked! They still said, "He [Jeremiah] will not see our final end" (Jeremiah 12:4). In other words, they were basically saying that he would die before them—that he would be killed and they would go on living, in no worry over this dreadful "final end" he spoke of.

In verse 5, instead of giving an answer of comfort, God says things are going to get much worse. He first uses the metaphor of a race. If Jeremiah is worn out in his contest with the "footmen" (the men of Anathoth), how can he make it against "horses" (the much greater and more powerful antagonists he still has to face)? If he can't take it in peacetime (as he yet suffered no actual harm), how would he make it through the "floodplain [or thicket] of the Jordan"? That is, as this expression connoted "the wild, luxuriant and beast-infested growths of the hot marshy land beside the Jordan" (New Bible Commentary, note on verse 5), how would he endure real physical suffering later? Even now, it was already worse than Jeremiah knew. Some of his own family members were part of the conspiracy against him (verse 6).

The fact is, God had already told Jeremiah He would handle it—and would protect him. So He now expects the prophet to grit his teeth and develop strength. That is a call to character. Indeed, what he was now going through was to prepare him for tougher times ahead. It is very much like the Christian experience today. God does not remove all our trials. We constantly witness the seeming prosperity of those who don't follow His ways while things don't always go so well for us. Moreover, our families and others close to us sometimes turn against us as Jesus warned (Matthew 10:36). But in spite of it all we must remain strong and devoted to following God—just as Jeremiah was required to. And in doing so, there will be great reward (see Mark 10:29-30).

In Jeremiah 12:7, God appears to simply pick right back up where He left off in Jeremiah 11:17—as if to say, "All right then, let's get back to it." But in his words there is a message for Jeremiah and his situation. God basically states that He has had to forsake His house and those He loves because others have ruined them. God, we see, does not ask His people to endure things that He Himself has not endured. This was made most evident in the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh to suffer and die for the sins of the world.

Message for Neighboring Lands

After speaking of the destruction that would come on His people for their sins, He then turns to the surrounding lands—“evil neighbors" who worshiped other gods and taught God's people to do the same (verses 14-17). They would now invade. These neighbors "included the powerful nations of Babylon and Assyria, as well as opportunistic kingdoms like Edom, Moab, and Ammon. These latter kingdoms seized land, crops, and hostages when Judah was weakened by invasion" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 14). Ultimately, God would bring punishment on them all. But He also "gave them an amazing promise: He would show compassion on them by allowing them to learn about him, the God of Israel, even as they had taught the Israelites about their gods (12.16). Rather than just wiping them from the face of the earth, the Lord would give them an opportunity to turn from their worthless idols and serve him. This was truly amazing kindness. This gesture shows God's heart of compassion for all the people of the world. It demonstrates the truth that Peter would later express, that the Lord is 'patient, because he wants everyone to turn from sin and no one to be lost' (2 P[eter] 3.9 [Contemporary English Version]" ("An Amazing Promise," Word in Life Bible, 1998, sidebar on Jeremiah 12:14-17).

The beginning of Jeremiah 13 (verses 1-5) may have followed chapter 12 in time order, but since the remainder of chapter 13, explaining the significance of the first five verses, appears to refer to events during the reign of Jehoiakim's son Jehoiachin or Jeconiah (compare verses 6, 18), we will read all of chapter 13 at a later time.