Jeremiah 12:5
If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein you trusted, they wearied you, then how will you do in the swelling of Jordan?
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(5) If thou hast run with the footmen.—The prophet is compelled to make answer to himself, and the voice of Jehovah is heard in his inmost soul rebuking his impatience. What are the petty troubles that fall on him compared with what others suffer, with what might come on himself? The thought is not unlike that with which St. Paul comforts the Corinthians (1Corinthians 10:13), or what we find in Hebrews 12:4. The meaning of the first clause is plain enough. The man who was wearied in a foot-race should not venture (as Elijah, e.g., had done, 1Kings 18:46) to measure his speed against that of horses. The latter (“the swelling of Jordan”) suggests the thoughts of the turbid stream of the river overflowing its banks in the time of harvest (Joshua 3:15; 1Chronicles 12:15). In Zechariah 11:3, however, the same phrase (there translated “the pride of Jordan”) is used apparently in connection with the lions and other beasts of prey that haunted the jungle on its banks (Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44), and that may be the thought here. Commentators differ, and there are no data for deciding. In any case, there is no need for the interpolated words of the English Version. The sentence should run, “In a land of peace thou art secure (i.e., it is easy to be tranquil when danger is not pressing). What wilt thou in the swelling (or, amid the pride) of Jordan?

Jeremiah

CALMS AND CRISES

Jeremiah 12:5


The prophet has been complaining of his persecutors. The divine answer is here, reproving his impatience, and giving him to understand that harder trials are in store for him.

Both clauses mean substantially the same thing, and are of a parabolic nature. The one adduces the metaphor of a race: ‘Footmen have beaten you, have they? Then how will you run with cavalry?’ The other is more clear in the Revised Version rendering: ‘Though in a land of peace you are secure, what will you do in Jordan when it swells?’ The ‘swelling of Jordan’ is a figure for extreme danger.

The questions may be taken as referring to our own lives. Note how the one refers more to strength for duties, the other to peace and safety in dangers. They both recognise that life has great alternations as to the magnitude of its tasks and trials, and they call on experience to answer the question whether we are ready for times of stress and peril.

I. Think of what may come to us.

We all have had the experience of how in our lives there are long stretches of uneventful days, and then, generally without warning, some crisis is sprung on us, which demands quite a different order of qualities to cope with it. Our typhoons generally come without any warning from a falling barometer.

We may at any moment be confronted with some hard duty which will task our utmost energy.

We may at any moment be plunged in some great calamity to which the quiet course of our lives for years will be as the still flow of the river between smiling lawns is to the dash and fierce currents of the rapids in a grim canyon.

The tasks that may come on us and the tasks that must come, the dangers that may beset us and the dangers that must envelop us, the possibilities that lie hidden in the future, and the certainties that we know to be shrouded there, should surely sometimes occupy a wise man’s thoughts. It is but living in a fool’s paradise to soothe ourselves with the assurance which a moment’s thought will shatter: ‘To-morrow shall be as this day.’ We shall not always have the easy competition with footmen; there will some time come a call to strain our muscles to keep up with the gallop of cavalry. We shall have to struggle to keep our feet in the swelling of Jordan, and must not expect to have a continual leisurely life in ‘a land of peace.’

II. Think of what experience tells us as to our power to meet these crises.

The footmen have wearied you. The small tasks have been more than your patience and strength could manage. No doubt great exigencies often call forth great powers that were dormant in the humdrum of ordinary life. But the man who knows himself best will be the most ready to shrink with distrust from the dread possibilities of duty.

If we think of the ‘footmen’ with whom we have contended as representing the smaller faults that we have tried to overcome, does our success in conquering some small bad habit, some ‘little sin,’ encourage the hope that we could keep our footing when some great temptation of a lifetime came down on us with a rush like the charge of a battalion of horsemen? Or, if we cast our eyes forward to the calamities that lie still ‘on the knees of the gods’ for us, do we feel ready to meet the hours of desolating disaster, the ‘hour of death and the day of judgment’? Even in a land of peace we have all had alarms, perturbations, and defeats enough, and our security has been at the mercy of marauders so often that if we are wise, and take due heed of what experience has to say to us of our reserve of force, we shall not be hopeful of keeping our footing in the whirling currents of a river in full flood.

III. Think of the power that will fit us for all crises.

With the power of Jesus in our spirits we shall never have to attempt a duty for which we are not strengthened, nor to front a danger from and in which He will not defend us. With His life in us we shall be ready for the long hours of uneventful, unexciting duties, and for the short spurts that make exacting calls on us. We ‘shall run and not be weary; we shall walk and not faint.’ If we live in Jesus we shall always be in ‘a land of peace,’ and no ‘plague shall come nigh our dwelling.’ Even when the soles of our feet rest in the waters of Jordan, the waters of Jordan shall be cut off, and we shall pass over on dry ground into the land of peace, where they that would swallow us up shall be far away for ever.Jeremiah 12:5-6. If thou hast run with the footmen — Here God speaks, and applies a proverbial expression to the prophet’s circumstances, the import of which is, that if men find themselves unable to contend with a less power, it is in vain for them to strive with a greater. This sentence, being applied to the prophet’s case, implies that, if he was so impatient that he could not bear the ill usage of his neighbours at Anathoth, how would he be able to undergo the hardships he must expect to meet with from the great men at Jerusalem, who would unanimously set themselves against him. And if in the land of peace — Where there is little noise or peril; then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan — The sense may be the same as in the foregoing sentence, though differently expressed. As if he had said, If thou art exposed to such persecutions in thy own country, and among thy own kindred, who are more peaceable, what must thou expect when those in power at Jerusalem shall combine against thee? whose rage shall be as great and terrible as when Jordan suddenly overflows the neighbouring fields with violence, and obliges all to seek their safety by flight, there being no way of standing against the impetuous torrent. Or, by the swellings of Jordan, may be meant the invasion of the country by the Chaldeans. Thus the words are understood by Blaney, who observes upon them as follows: “The ravages of war and hostile invasions are often represented in Scripture under the image of a river rising rapidly above its banks, and carrying all before it. To these inundations Jordan was very subject; and on such occasions, as we are told, (Maundrell’s Travels, p. 81,) several sorts of wild beasts, which are wont to harbour among the trees and bushes by the river side, are forced out of their coverts, and infest the neighbouring plains. This circumstance is particularly alluded to by the prophet, (Jeremiah 49:19,) and seems to have been here in his view. For among all the dire effects incident to a country from the approach of a foreign enemy, this is not one of the least formidable, that evil-minded persons, within the state, are imboldened to throw off all legal restraints, and, taking advantage of the general confusion, openly commit the most daring outrages on their fellow-citizens, not only with impunity, but often under a pretence of zeal for the public welfare. Silent leges inter arma, is a well-known adage; and the prophet found it verified to his cost, when even the authority of the king himself, as we learn from the following history, (Jeremiah 38:4-5,) was insufficient to protect him from the malice of his persecutors.” Even thy brethren — The priests of Anathoth; and the house of thy father — Who ought to have protected thee, and pretended to do so; even they have dealt treacherously with thee — Have been false to thee, and, while they pretended friendship, have secretly conspired and devised evil against thee. Yea, they have called a multitude after thee — Have endeavoured to bring thee under popular odium, to incense the common people against thee, and, raising a mob upon thee, to expose thee to their rage. Or, as the words may be rendered, They have pursued thee with a great cry, as a common malefactor. The sense is, Their former behaviour plainly shows that thou canst not reasonably depend on them for that countenance and support which a man naturally looks for from his friends and relations against the hostilities of strangers.12:1-6 When we are most in the dark concerning God's dispensations, we must keep up right thoughts of God, believing that he never did the least wrong to any of his creatures. When we find it hard to understand any of his dealings with us, or others, we must look to general truths as our first principles, and abide by them: the Lord is righteous. The God with whom we have to do, knows how our hearts are toward him. He knows both the guile of the hypocrite and the sincerity of the upright. Divine judgments would pull the wicked out of their pasture as sheep for the slaughter. This fruitful land was turned into barrenness for the wickedness of those that dwelt therein. The Lord reproved the prophet. The opposition of the men of Anathoth was not so formidable as what he must expect from the rulers of Judah. Our grief that there should be so much evil is often mixed with peevishness on account of the trials it occasions us. And in this our favoured day, and under our trifling difficulties, let us consider how we should behave, if called to sufferings like those of saints in former ages.Yahweh rebukes Jeremiah's impatience, showing him by two proverbial sayings, that there were still greater trials of faith in store for him. Prosperous wickedness is after all a mere ordinary trial, a mere "running with the footmen;" he will have to exert far greater powers of endurance.

And if in the land ... - Rather, "and in a land of peace thou art secure; but how wilt thou do amid the pride of Jordan?" if thou canst feel safe only where things are tranquil, what wilt thou do in the hour of danger? The "pride of Jordan" is taken to, mean the luxuriant thickets along its banks, famous as the haunt of lions (compare Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44; Zechariah 11:3). What will the prophet do when he has to tread the tangled maze of a jungle with the lions roaring round him?

5. Jehovah's reply to Jeremiah's complaint.

horses—that is, horsemen: the argument a fortiori. A proverbial phrase. The injuries done thee by the men of Anathoth ("the footmen") are small compared with those which the men of Jerusalem ("the horsemen") are about to inflict on thee. If the former weary thee out, how wilt thou contend with the king, the court, and the priests at Jerusalem?

wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee—English Version thus fills up the sentence with the italicized words, to answer to the parallel clause in the first sentence of the verse. The parallelism is, however, sufficiently retained with a less ellipsis: "If (it is only) in a land of peace thou art confident" [Maurer].

swelling of Jordan—In harvest-time and earlier (April and May) it overflows its banks (Jos 3:15), and fills the valley called the Ghor. Or, "the pride of Jordan," namely, its wooded banks abounding in lions and other wild beasts (Jer 49:19; 50:44; Zec 11:3; compare 2Ki 6:2). Maundrell says that between the Sea of Tiberias and Lake Merom the banks are so wooded that the traveller cannot see the river at all without first passing through the woods. If in the champaign country (alone) thou art secure, how wilt thou do when thou fallest into the wooded haunts of wild beasts?

That these are the answer of God to the prophet is reasonably well agreed by the best interpreters, as also that this is a proverbial expression; but as to the application of it in this place, there is some difference. Some make it this: If thou dost not understand what is done by the men of thine own city, how canst thou think to fathom my dispensations of providence in the government of the world? But this sense seemeth not very probable, because the sense of the proverb seemeth to be, If thou be not able to encounter lesser dangers, how wilt thou be able to over come greater? I rather agree with those who make the sense this: Jeremiah, I have greater dangers for thee to encounter than those thou art exposed to at Anathoth; if thou be so disturbed with them, who are but as footmen, how wilt thou be able to grapple with those far greater enemies which thou art like to meet with at Jerusalem? Anathoth also seemeth to be understood by the land of thy peace; that is, the land of thy friends, wherein thou hadst a confidence: If thy enemies thou hast there met with thee, what wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan? that is, in a place where thou art like to meet with an increase of greater troubles, like the swelling of Jordan (which in harvest used to overflow its banks). Many other things are said by interpreters, both with reference to the sense of this text, and the explication of these proverbial expressions; but the sense above mentioned seemeth to me least strained, and best agreeing with what went before and what follows. If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee,.... The Targum introduces the words thus,

"this is the answer which was made to Jeremiah the prophet, concerning his question; a prophet thou art, like to a man that runs with footmen, and is weary.''

Then how canst thou contend with horses? or with men on horses: the sense is, either as Kimchi gives it, thou art among men like thyself, and thou art not able to find out their secrets and their designs against thee (see Jeremiah 11:18); how shouldest thou know my secrets in the government of the world, as to the prosperity of the wicked, and the afflictions of the righteous? be silent, and do not trouble thyself about these things: or rather, as thou hast had a conflict with the men of Anathoth, and they have been too many for thee; they have grieved and distressed thee, and have made thee weary of my work and service; and thou hast been ready to give out, and declare that thou wilt be no longer concerned therein; what wilt thou do, when thou comest to be exercised with greater and sorer trials, and shalt have to do with the king of Judah and his court, with his princes and nobles, the sanhedrim at Jerusalem, and the priests and inhabitants thereof? The Targum interprets the footmen of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and of the good things done to him; and the horses of the righteous fathers of the Jews, who run like horses to do good works, and of the much greater good reserved for them; but very improperly: much better might it be applied, as it is by some, to the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites, who gave the Jews much trouble; and therefore what would they do with the Chaldean army, consisting of a large cavalry, and which would come upon them like an impetuous stream, and overflow, as the swelling of Jordan, as follows?

and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee; if in his own native country, where he promised himself much peace, safety, and security, he met with that which ruffled and disturbed him:

then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? when it overflowed its bank, Joshua 3:15 and may denote the pride and haughtiness of the king and princes of Judea, and of the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and the difficulties that would attend the prophet's discharge of his duty among them; and the same thing is signified by this proverbial expression as the former.

If thou hast run with the {f} footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, in which thou didst trust, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

(f) Some think that God reproves Jeremiah, in that he would reason with him, saying that if he was not able to march with men, then he was far unable to dispute with God. Others, by the footmen mean them of Anathoth: and by the horsemen, them of Jerusalem who would trouble the prophet worse than his own countrymen did.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verse 5. - Jeremiah's impatience corrected. The expressions are evidently proverbial. The opposition to the prophet will reach a still higher pitch; and if he is so soon discouraged, how will he bear his impending trials? And if in the land of peace, etc.? a second figure, the translation of which needs amending. If (only) in a land of peace thou art confident, how wilt thou do in the pride of Jordan? The "pride of Jordan" means the thickets on its banks, which were notorious as the haunts of lions (Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44; Zechariah 11:3). " Lions' bones have been found by Dr. Roth in the gravel of the Jordan. Lions are seldom or never found now west of the Euphrates, although they occasionally cross the river" (Revelation W. Houghton, 'Bible Educator,' 1:22). Therefore Jeremiah calls upon the Lord, as the righteous judge and omniscient searcher of hearts, to punish his enemies. This verse is repeated almost verbally in Jeremiah 20:12, and in substance in Jeremiah 17:10. Who trieth reins and heart, and therefore knows that Jeremiah has done no evil. אראה is future as expressing certainty that God will interfere to punish; for to Him he has wholly committed his cause. גּלּיתי, Pi. of גּלה, is taken by Hitz., Ew., etc. in the sense of גּלל: on Thee have I rolled over my cause; in support of this they adduce Psalm 22:9; Psalm 37:5; Proverbs 16:3, as parallel passages. It is true that this interpretation can be vindicated grammatically, for גלל might have assumed the form of גלה (Ew. 121, a). But the passages quoted are not at all decisive, since Jeremiah very frequently gives a new sense to quotations by making slight alterations on them; and in the passage cited we read גּלל את ריב. We therefore adhere, with Grot. and Ros., to the usual meaning of גּלה; understanding that in making known there is included the idea of entrusting, a force suggested by the construction with אל instead of ל. ריב, controversy, cause. - The prophet declares God's vengeance to the instigators of the plots against his life, Jeremiah 11:21-23. The introductory formula in Jeremiah 11:21 is repeated in Jeremiah 11:22, on account of the long intervening parenthesis. "That thou diest not" is introduced by the ו of consecution. The punishment is to fall upon the entire population of Anathoth; on the young men of military age (בּחוּרים), a violent death in war; on the children, death by famine consequent on the siege. Even though all had not had a share in the complot, yet were they at heart just as much alienated from God and ill-disposed towards His word. "Year of their visitation" is still dependent on "bring." This construction is simpler than taking שׁנת for accus. adverb., both here and in Jeremiah 23:12.
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