Hope for the Nations
“If they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, ‘As the LORD lives,’ even as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built up in the midst of my people. But if any nation will not listen, then I will utterly pluck it up and destroy it” (vv. 16–17).- Jeremiah 12
At one point, “the men of Anathoth,” the people from Jeremiah’s hometown, plotted to kill him (Jer. 11:21; see 1:1). This conspiracy to murder the prophet likely occurred during Josiah’s reign. Jeremiah supported Josiah in recentralizing worship in Jerusalem, which affected the leading citizens of Anathoth drastically. With worshipping pilgrims shunning Anathoth in favor of Jerusalem, the city lost tax revenue and its status was diminished. Unsurprisingly, then, the city opposed Jeremiah.
This plot inspired Jeremiah to speak the lament recorded in today’s passage. Like others in Scripture, the prophet wanted to know why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer (12:1; see Ps. 73:3, 16). Note that Jeremiah says that this prosperity was within the scope of God’s will—He ordains the planting, growth, and success of the wicked (v. 2). Only those who believe the Lord controls all and is wholly good could find the prosperity of the wicked perplexing. If the Lord were not in full control of all things or if He were not omnibenevolent (all good), we could explain that the wicked prosper because they operate outside of the good God’s control or because the sovereign God is not wholly good. Jeremiah’s lament reveals His belief in God’s sovereignty and goodness.
The Lord’s response was not to explain the reasons for the success of wicked men but to tell Jeremiah that things were going to get worse before they would get better. Jeremiah was already tired of contending with men against whom he stood with equal footing, but how would he fare when opposition to him increased and more powerful assaults—the calvary or “horses”—ensued? (v. 5a). If the prophet suffered in a “safe land,” it would be harder once his situation worsened and became a “thicket”? (v. 5b).
Although this may seem like a depressing answer, it also included hope. Jeremiah would see vindication because the people would be disciplined for their sin (vv. 6–13). Exile was coming and Jeremiah’s words would be proven true. Moreover, Jeremiah and even Judah and the world had further reasons for hope. Judah would be plucked up and expelled from its land, but so would the nations who, in God’s sovereignty, wrought devastation upon Judah for their own sinful purposes (v. 14). But the Lord would return His people to their land, as well as those nations who trusted in Him and learned His way (vv. 15–17). The hope of God’s salvation is for all nations who turn to Him.
In our lives, things often get worse before they get better. At such times, we can be perplexed at why God allows us to suffer while allowing the wicked to succeed. Such confusion can be an expression of faith as long as we remember that God does not owe us an answer and we do not doubt His sovereignty and goodness. We walk by faith and not by sight, and we should not expect or demand an answer to all that confuses us on this side of glory.
Passages for Further Study
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