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God’s Word for You

Jeremiah 12:1-4

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Jeremiah’s Complaint
12 LORD, you are righteous
   when I bring a complaint before you.
Yet I would talk about a judgment with you:
  Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
  Why do the treacherous live at ease?
2 You plant them, and they take root.
     They grow, and they produce fruit.
You are always on their lips
  but far from their hearts.

Jeremiah’s complaint here is his response to the plot uncovered in chapter 11. His own family—the priests of Anathoth—had conspired against him, and in so doing they had also conspired against God, since Jeremiah was God’s true prophet. His words here reflect a similar complaint from the prophet Habakkuk: “Why do you make me look at injustice? Why do you tolerate wrong?” (Habakkuk 1:3). Jeremiah turns to Psalm 1, turning the words of the Psalm back on the situation he sees: If whatever the righteous man does prospers (Psalm 1:3b), why then does the way of the wicked prosper? If the righteous man is “like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3a), why then has God planted the wicked where they are? This is a call for justice, not a cry of unbelief. It’s the call of the faithful believer to God to carry out his justice. Jeremiah is also quick to note: God’s name is “always on their lips” (the lips of God’s enemies)—but only as a curse or an object of scorn. He is far from their hearts.

3 But you know me, LORD.
   You see me and test my heart toward you.
Drag them away like sheep for the slaughter,
  and set them apart for the day when they will be killed.

Calling up another Psalm in his heart, Jeremiah turns to the words of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts” (Psalm 139:23). Since his enemies had fixed their minds on murdering him, his request is that God would intervene and treat them the way they wanted to treat him—like sheep to be butchered. Jeremiah allows God to take vengeance; he only prays that God’s will be done.

4 How long will the land mourn
   and the grass of every field wither?
Because of the evil of the people who live there,
  the animals and birds are dying,
for the people have said,
  “He cannot see what we are doing.”

Yet another Psalm occurs to Jeremiah as part of his complaint. “My days are like the evening shadow; I wither away like grass” (Psalm 102:11). He lets the psalm speak for all of creation, suffering because of the sins of these people. Even the animals and birds suffer! Earlier these creatures had fled (Jeremiah 9:10), but now they are dying. Jeremiah’s contemporary Zephaniah had heard God proclaim that animals, birds and fish would all be swept away in the coming destruction (Zephaniah 1:3). Now, in some way, that was taking place.

Despite his troubles and his questions, Jeremiah remains the faithful, believing child of God. He speaks his mind and then waits for God’s answer. We ask questions of God, too—and either he will answer us by the things that happen (or don’t happen) in our lives, or directly in his holy word.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.