Matthew Poole's Commentary
Righteous art thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal very treacherously?The prophet complaineth of the wicked’s prosperity; by faith seeth their ruin, Jeremiah 12:1-4. God admonisheth him of his brethren’s treachery against him, and lamenteth his heritage, Jeremiah 12:5-13. A return from captivity promised to the penitent, Jeremiah 12:14-17.
Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee: the prophet begins hero with a recognition of God’s unquestionable righteousness and justice, in all his providential dispensations in the government of the world. Some read the latter part, should I plead with thee. But let it be should I plead; or, although or when I plead, that is, argue with thee; yet the prophet doth it not without a previous resolution to agree the Lord’s dispensations just, whatsoever he should say.
Yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments; yet, saith he, let me talk with thee, not by way of accusing thee, but for my own satisfaction concerning thy judicial dispensations in the government of the world.
Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? wherefore are all they happy that deal treacherously? by all they, he means many of them, and is thought to have spoken with a special relation to the priests at Anathoth, that had conspired against his life. The prosperity of the wicked hath in all times been a riddle, and a sore temptation to the best of God’s people; to Job, Job 21:7,13; to David, Psalm 37:1 73:3,12 94:3,4 Hab 1:4,5. Lord, saith Jeremiah, I know thy ways of providence are just and righteous, but they are dark and hidden from me, I cannot understand why thou doest this.
Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou art near in their mouth, and far from their reins.Here are a people that indeed talk of thee, and one that only observeth their mouths would judge thou wert near to them, and they had communion with thee; but he that observeth their lives may easily discern that thou art far from their inward parts, they have neither fear of thee, nor love for thee, nor desire after thee, nor delight in thee, nor are they obedient to thee; yet thou hast planted them by thy power, and by thy providence they thrive, go on, and prosper.
But thou, O LORD, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee: pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter.But thou, O Lord, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried my heart toward thee: here seemeth to be something understood, viz. But, Lord, it is otherwise with me, I am maligned, and my life is hunted after; yet, Lord, thou knowest the sincerity of my heart before and towards thee, thou hast had experience of me in the discharge of my prophetical office, and knowest that I have been faithful in revealing to the people what thou didst reveal to me, yet for this it is they seek my life and would have my blood.
Prepare them for the day of slaughter: Lord, avenge me on this wicked generation, confirm the words against them which I have from thee denounced. Concerning the meaning of expressions of this nature, and the lawfulness of putting up such petitions against those who are not only our enemies, but God’s also, See Poole "Jeremiah 11:20".
How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end.The prophet seems to give a reason of his former passion and prayer against those wicked men he before reflected on, because they were the cause of the nation’s ruin, which is also asserted by the psalmist, Psalm 107:34. A land is said to mourn, metaphorically, when it is brought to an ill complexion, and looketh unpleasantly, the grass and green herbs in it being destroyed by enemies, or drought, or vermin. Nay, the effects of their wicked courses reached to the very beasts and birds, because they were so presumptuous as to conclude that they should do well enough, neither the prophet nor any other should see their last end.
If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?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.
For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee; yea, they have called a multitude after thee: believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee.The men of Anathoth, thine own town and country, and those of thy own family, have conspired evil against thee secretly.
They have called a multitude after thee; either they have exposed thee to the rage and rudeness of a multitude, or they have accused thee to a multitude. Though therefore they give thee many fair words, yet repose no trust nor confidence in them, but look to thyself.
I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies.God by his
house here understandeth the temple, which God is said here to have forsaken with respect to his gracious manifestations in it to the people that came thither to worship him. By his
heritage he means the whole body of the Israelites, called God’s heritage not in this chapter only, but Jeremiah 2:7 Joel 2:17 Micah 7:14: whom God threateneth to leave with respect to his special providence, by which he had taken care of them; upon which account Canaan is called the land which God cared for, Deu 11:12; that is, so cared for, as in comparison with them he might seem to neglect all other countries.
I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hands of her enemies; that is, he had given that nation which was once his dearly beloved into the hands or power of their enemies.
Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; it crieth out against me: therefore have I hated it.That is, the reason why my heart is alienated from them, is because they are altered; those that were as my sheep, following me their chief Shepherd, and the guidance of those prophets and pastors which I set over them, are become like lions in the forest roaring against me, and rending and tearing the prophets which I sent unto them.
Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird, the birds round about are against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour.Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird: the word in the Hebrew signifies to dye, or colour, and interpreters are here divided, whether to interpret it of a bird coloured by nature (so our translators understood it, and therefore have translated it speckled) or by accident, as ravenous birds are coloured by the blood of other birds killed by them. Hence some interpret the text as a reflection upon the Jews for their cruelty, coloured by their oppression and innocent bloodshed. Others, of their tincture by a variety of superstition and idolatry. The latter seemeth to me most probable, because of what follows, it being what is usual and natural for other birds to flock about a strange-coloured bird, such as they have not been used to see, but rather to fly from, than to come at a bird of prey, that hath already stained her feathers with the blood of other birds. But it may be understood of either, for the Jews were notoriously guilty of both, and it is God that causeth the birds to come against her, and the beasts of the field to devour.
Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness.By
pastors most here think civil persons, not ecclesiastical officers, are meant; but they are divided, some interpreting it of the rulers and princes of Nebuchadnezzar’s army, who took Jerusalem, and destroyed Judah, called God’s vineyard, Isaiah 5:1,2; others understanding it of the rulers of the Jews, who by their wicked government, and as wicked example, had ruined their country, and caused God to turn the country which he had chosen for his portion, and declared such a pleasure in, into a wilderness, and such a wilderness as was not. only thinly inhabited, but wholly desolate.
They have made it desolate, and being desolate it mourneth unto me; the whole land is made desolate, because no man layeth it to heart.They have made it desolate, Heb. He hath made it desolate; but it cannot be meant of God, for it is God that speaketh, and God is he mentioned in the next words: it must therefore either be understood of Nebuchadnezzar, the instrumental cause; or (one number being put for another) of the people or the rulers as the meritorious cause; and in that rueful state into which their sins had brought it it cried unto God. And one great cause of this sore judgment upon the land; as the people’s not laying to heart, not seriously considering, what God had done or was doing against it.
The spoilers are come upon all high places through the wilderness: for the sword of the LORD shall devour from the one end of the land even to the other end of the land: no flesh shall have peace.The prophet (as very usually) speaketh of a thing as already done which was very shortly to be done; he saith they were come up because they should come up, and no places should be so high but they should climb them, none so strong but they should subdue them. The sword of the enemy is called
the sword of the Lord, because he ordereth and succeeds it, though the enemy manageth it; and he saith it shall be against all, of all ranks and orders, no flesh should have peace; by
no flesh he meaneth no ranks, no orders of men.
They have sown wheat, but shall reap thorns: they have put themselves to pain, but shall not profit: and they shall be ashamed of your revenues because of the fierce anger of the LORD.They have sown wheat, but shall reap thorns: if these words be understood literally, they only signify that God would blast the labours of the husbandman, and curse them in the field. The earth’s bringing forth thorns and thistles was part of the curse for the first transgression of man, Genesis 3:18. God’s blasting the labours of husbandmen is often threatened as a punishment of sin. See Leviticus 26:16 Deu 28:38. If it be taken metaphorically, it is expounded by the next words.
They have put themselves to pain, but shall not profit; that they should labour in vain, all the works of their hands, all their counsels and deliberations, should be of no profit or avail unto them.
They shall be ashamed of your revenues because of the fierce anger of the Lord; the fierce anger of God against them shall be so showed, that the returns of their labours or estates, the profits of their trades, &c., shall be so small that they shall be ashamed of them.
Thus saith the LORD against all mine evil neighbours, that touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit; Behold, I will pluck them out of their land, and pluck out the house of Judah from among them.God will not be angry for ever with his own people, nor suffer the rod of the wicked for ever to rest upon the back of the righteous; for saith he, for those that are nay evil neighbours, the nations bordering upon Judea, which God calls his inheritance, upon which account he calleth them his neighbours, who touched his inheritance, not so much by contiguity of habitation, as by rapacious fingers to do them hurt, insulting over them when the hand of God was upon them, and contributing to their affliction and misery by helping their enemies against them, as did the Edomites, Philistines, Moabites, &c.:
I will also pluck them out of their land, I will bring the sword upon them also, and they shall be led into captivity; and though they may have made some inroads upon my people, and have carried away some of them into captivity, yet I will fetch them out of their captivity.
And it shall come to pass, after that I have plucked them out I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land.This seemeth not to be a prophecy only of the Jews’ return into their land after the fulfilling of the years of their captivity, but also of the bringing back of these nations after that they should be plucked up, and seems to relate to the calling of the Gentiles; but this prophecy must be limited by what followeth in the next verse, and not understood of all the inhabitants of those nations.
And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, The LORD liveth; as they taught my people to swear by Baal; then shall they be built in the midst of my people.Though these people be heathens, yet if they will leave their idolatries, and superstitious ways of worship, and learn to worship and serve me, as my people do and ought to worship me, and
swear by my name, The Lord liveth; that is, pay that homage which they pay to the Divine Being to me, the living and true God; owning me alone as the fountain of life, and searcher of the hearts (for there is a great homage paid to the true God in swearing by his name only, which showeth the great impiety and profaneness of other oaths); then, saith God, I will bless and prosper them also, and they shall not only have a portion in the earth, but amongst my people; which was eminently fulfilled in the conversion of the Gentiles, Romans 11:17; they were originally wild olives, and grafted in amongst the Jews, and with them made partakers of the root and fatness of the olive tree.
But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, saith the LORD.But for those, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, that shall continue in their idolatrous and superstitious courses, that shall refuse the Messias, and continue in unbelief, and go on in courses of rebellion and disobedience, (saith God,) I will utterly destroy that people. Thus Isaiah 60:12, The nation and kingdom that will not serve thee shall perish; yea, those nations shall be utterly wasted.