Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
The prophet's displeasure at the prosperity of the wicked. - The enmity experienced by Jeremiah at the hands of his countrymen at Anathoth excites his displeasure at the prosperity of the wicked, who thrive and live with immunity. He therefore beings to expostulate with God, and demands from God's righteousness that they be cut off out of the land (Jer 12:1-4); whereupon the Lord reproves him for this outburst of ill-nature and impatience by telling him that he must patiently endure still worse. - This section, the connection of which with the preceding is unmistakeable, shows by a concrete instance the utter corruptness of the people; and it has been included in the prophecies because it sets before us the greatness of God's long-suffering towards a people ripe for destruction.
"Righteous art Thou, Jahveh, if I contend with Thee; yet will I plead with Thee in words. Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper, are all secure that deal faithlessly? Jer 12:2. Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root; grow, yea, bring forth fruit. Near art Thou in their mouth, yet far from their reins. Jer 12:3. But Thou, Jahveh, knowest me, seest me, and triest mine heart toward Thee. Tear them away like sheep to the slaughter, and devote them for a day of slaughter. Jer 12:4. How long is the earth to mourn and the herb of the field to wither? For the wickedness of them that dwell therein, gone are cattle and fowl; for they say: He sees not our end. Jer 12:5. If with the footmen thou didst run and they wearied thee, how couldst thou contend with the horses? and if thou trustest in the land of peace, how wilt thou do in the glory of Jordan? Jer 12:6. For even thy brethren and they father's house, even they are faithless towards thee, yea, they call after thee with full voice. Believe them not, though they speak friendly to thee."
The prophet's complaint begins by acknowledging: Thou art righteous, Lord, if I would dispute with Thee, i.e., would accuse Thee of injustice. I could convict Thee of no wrong; Thou wouldst appear righteous and prove Thyself in the right. Psa 51:6; Job 9:2. With אך comes in a limitation: only he will speak pleas of right, maintain a suit with Jahveh, will set before Him something that seems incompatible with God's justice, namely the question: Why the way of the wicked prospers, why they that act faithlessly are in ease and comfort? On this cf. Job 21:7., where Job sets forth at length the contradiction between the prosperity of the wicked and the justice of God's providence. The way of the wicked is the course of their life, their conduct. God has planted them, i.e., has placed them in their circumstances of life; like a tree they have struck root into the ground; they go on, i.e., grow, and bear fruit, i.e., their undertakings succeed, although they have God in their mouth only, not in their heart.
To show that he has cause for his question, Jeremiah appeals to the omniscience of the Searcher of hearts. God knows him, tries his heart, and therefore knows how it is disposed towards Himself (אתּך belongs to לבּי, and את indicating the relation - here, viz., fidelity - in which the heart stands to God; cf. Sa2 16:17). Thus God knows that in his heart there is no unfaithfulness, and that he maintains to God an attitude altogether other than that of those hypocrites who have God on their lips only; and knows too the enmity which, without having provoked it, he experiences. How then comes it about that with the prophet it goes ill, while with those faithless ones it goes well? God, as the righteous God, must remove this contradiction. And so his request concludes: Tear them out (נתק of the tearing out of roots, Eze 17:9); here Hiph. with the same force (pointing back to the metaphor of their being rooted, Jer 12:2), implying total destruction. Hence also the illustration: as sheep, that are dragged away out of the flock to be slaughtered. Devote them for the day of slaughter, like animals devoted to sacrifice.
Jer 12:4 gives the motive of his prayer: How long shall the earth suffer from the wickedness of these hypocrites? be visited with drought and dearth for their sins? This question is not to be taken as a complaint that God is punishing without end; Hitz. so takes it, and then proposes to delete it as being out of all connection in sense with Jer 12:3 or Jer 12:5. It is a complaint because of the continuance of God's chastisement, drawn down by the wickedness of the apostates, which are bringing the land to utter ruin. The mourning of the land and the withering of the herb is a consequence of great drought; and the drought is a divine chastisement: cf. Jer 3:3; Jer 5:24., Jer 14:2., etc. But this falls not only on the unfaithful, but upon the godly too, and even the beasts, cattle, and birds suffer from it; and so the innocent along with the guilty. There seems to be injustice in this. To put an end to this injustice, to rescue the innocent from the curse brought by the wickedness of the ungodly, the prophet seeks the destruction of the wicked. ספה, to be swept away. The 3rd pers. fem. sing. with the plural ות-, as in Joe 1:20 and often; cf. Ew. 317, a, Gesen. 146, 3. "They that dwell therein" are inhabitants of the land at large, the ungodly multitude of the people, of whom it is said in the last clause: they say, He will not see our end. The sense of these words is determined by the subject. Many follow the lxx (οὐκ ὄψεται ὁ Θεὸς ὁδοὺς ἡμῶν) and refer the seeing to God. God will not see their end, i.e., will not trouble Himself about it (Schnur., Ros., and others), or will not pay any heed to their future fate, so that they may do all they choose unpunished (Ew.). But to this Graf has justly objected, that ראה, in all the passages that can be cited for this sense of the word, is used only of that which God sees, regards as already present, never of that which is future. "He sees" is to be referred to the prophet. Of him the ungodly say, he shall not see their end, because they intend to put him out of the way (Hitz.); or better, in a less special sense, they ridicule the idea that his prophecies will be fulfilled, and say: He shall not see our end, because his threatenings will not come to pass.
In Jer 12:5 and Jer 12:6 the Lord so answers the prophet's complaint as to reprove his impatience, by intimating that he will have to endure still worse. Both parts of Jer 12:5 are of the nature of proverbs. If even the race with footmen made him weary, how will he be able to compete with horses? תּחרה here and Jer 22:15, a Tiph., Aramaic form for Hiph., arising by the hardening of the ה into ת-cf. Hos 11:3, and Ew. 122, a - rival, vie with. The proverb exhibits the contrast between tasks of smaller and greater difficulty, applied to the prophet's relation to his enemies. What Jeremiah had to suffer from his countrymen at Anathoth was but a trifle compared with the malign assaults that yet awaited him in the discharge of his office. The second comparison conveys the same thought, but with a clearer intimation of the dangers the prophet will undergo. If thou puttest thy trust in a peaceful land, there alone countest on living in peace and safety, how wilt thou bear thyself in the glory of Jordan? The latter phrase does not mean the swelling of Jordan, its high flood, so as that we should with Umbr. and Ew., have here to think of the danger arising from a great and sudden inundation. It is the strip of land along the bank of the Jordan, thickly overgrown with shrubs, trees, and tall reeds, the lower valley, flooded when the river was swollen, where lions had their haunt, as in the reedy thickets of the Euphrates. Cf. v. Schubert, Resie, iii. S. 82; Robins. Bibl. Researches in Palestine, i. 535, and Phys. Geogr. of the Holy Land, p. 147. The "pride of the Jordan" is therefore mentioned in Jer 49:19; Jer 50:44; Zac 11:3, as the haunt of lions, and comes before us here as a region where men's lives were in danger. The point of the comparison is accordingly this: Thy case up till this time is, in spite of the onsets thou hast borne, to be compared to a sojourn in a peaceful land; but thou shalt come into much sorer case, where thou shalt never for a moment be sure of thy life. To illustrate this, he is told in Jer 12:6 that his nearest of kin, and those dwelling under the same roof, will behave unfaithfully towards him. They will cry behind him מלא, plena voce (Jerome; cf. קראוּ מלאוּ, Jer 4:5). They will cry after him, "as one cries when pursuing a thief or murderer" (Gr.). Perfectly apposite is therefore Luther's translation: They set up a hue and cry after thee. These words are not meant to be literally taken, but convey the thought, that even his nearest friends will persecute him as a malefactor. It is therefore a perverse design that seeks to find the distinction between the inhabitants of Anathoth and the brethren and housemates, in a contrast between the priests and the blood-relations. Although Anathoth was a city of the priests, the men of Anathoth need not have been all priests, since these cities were not exclusively occupied by priests. - In this reproof of the prophet there lies not merely the truth that much sorer suffering yet awaits him, but the truth besides, that the people's faithlessness and wickedness towards God and men will yet grow greater, ere the judgment of destruction fall upon Judah; for the divine long-suffering is not yet exhausted, nor has ungodliness yet fairly reached its highest point, so that the final destruction must straightway be carried out. But judgment will not tarry long. This thought is carried on in what follows.
The execution of the judgment on Judah and its enemies. - As to this passage, which falls into two strophes, Jer 12:7-13 and Jer 12:14-17, Hitz., Graf, and others pronounce that it stands in no kind of connection with what immediately precedes. The connection of the two strophes with one another is, however, allowed by these commentators; while Eichh. and Dahler hold Jer 12:14-17 to be a distinct oracle, belonging to the time of Zedekiah, or to the seventh or eighth year of Jehoiakim. These views are bound up with an incorrect conception of the contents of the passage-to which in the first place we must accordingly direct our attention.
"I have forsaken mine house, cast out mine heritage, given the beloved of my soul into the hand of its enemies. Jer 12:8. Mine heritage is become unto me as a lion in the forest, it hath lifted up its voice against me; therefore have I hated it. Jer 12:9. Is mine heritage to me a speckled vulture, that vultures are round about it? Come, gather all the beasts of the field, bring them to devour! Jer 12:10. Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard, have trodden down my ground, have made the plot of my pleasure a desolate wilderness. Jer 12:11. They have made it a desolation; it mourneth around me desolate; desolated is the whole land, because none laid it to heart. Jer 12:12. On all the bare-peaked heights in the wilderness are spoilers come; for a sword of Jahveh's devours from one end of the land unto the other: no peace to all flesh. Jer 12:13. They have sown wheat and reaped thorns; they have worn themselves weary and accomplished nothing. So then ye shall be put to shame for your produce, because of the hot anger of Jahve."
Jer 12:14. "Thus saith Jahveh against all mine evil neighbours, that touch the heritage which I have given unto my people Israel: Behold, I pluck them out of their land, and the house of Judah will I pluck out of their midst. Jer 12:15. But after I have plucked them out, I will pity them again, and bring them back, each to his heritage, and each into his land. Jer 12:16. And it shall be, if they will learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name: As Jahveh liveth, as they have taught my people to swear by Baal, then they shall be built in the midst of my people. Jer 12:17. But if they hearken not, I will pluck up such a nation, utterly destroying it, saith Jahve."
Hitz. and Graf, in opposition to other commentators, will have the strophe, Jer 12:7-13, to be taken not as prophecy, but as a lament on the devastation which Judah, after Jehoiakim's defection from Nebuchadnezzar in the eighth year of his reign, had suffered through the war of spoliation undertaken against insurgent Judah by those neighbouring nations that had maintained their allegiance to Chaldean supremacy, Kg2 24:2. In support of this, Gr. appeals to the use throughout of unconnected perfects, and to the prophecy, Jer 12:14., joined with this description; which, he says, shows that it is something complete, existing, which is described, a state of affairs on which the prophecy is based. For although the prophet, viewing the future with the eyes of a seer as a thing present, often describes it as if it had already taken place, yet, he says, the context easily enables us in such a case to recognise the description as prophetic, which, acc. to Graf, is not the case here. This argument is void of all force. To show that the use of unconnected perfects proves nothing, it is sufficient to note that such perfects are used in Jer 12:6, where Hitz. and Gr. take בּגדוּ and קראוּ as prophetic. So with the perfects in Jer 12:7. The context demands this. For though no particle attaches Jer 12:7 to what precedes, yet, as Graf himself alleges against Hitz., it is shown by the lack of any heading that the fragment (Jer 12:7-13) is "not a special, originally independent oracle;" and just as clearly, that it can by no means be (as Gr. supposes) an appendix, stuck on to the preceding in a purely external and accidental fashion. These assumptions are disproved by the contents of the fragment, which are simply an expansion of the threat of expulsion from their inheritance conveyed to the people already in Jer 11:14-17; an expansion which not merely points back to Jer 11:14-17, but which most aptly attaches itself to the reproof given to the prophet for his complaint that judgment on the ungodly was delayed (Jer 12:1-6); since it discloses to the prophet God's designs in regard to His people, and teaches that the judgment, though it may be delayed, will not be withheld.
contain sayings of God, not of the prophet, who had left his house in Anathoth, as Zwingli and Bugenhagen thought. The perfects are prophetic, i.e., intimate the divine decree already determined on, whose accomplishment is irrevocably fixed, and will certainly by and by take place. "My house" is neither the temple nor the land inhabited by Israel, in support whereof appeal is unjustly made to passages like Hos 8:1-14; Hos 1:1-11; Hos 9:15; Eze 8:12; Eze 9:9; but, as is clearly shown by the parallel "mine heritage," taken in connection with what is said of the heritage in Jer 12:8, and by "the beloved of my soul," Jer 12:7, means the people of Israel, or Judah as the existing representative of the people of God (house = family); see on Hos 8:1. נחלתי = עם נחלה, Deu 4:20, cf. Isa 47:6; Isa 19:25. ידדוּת, object of my soul's love, cf. Jer 11:15. This appellation, too, cannot apply to the land, but to the people of Israel - Jer 12:8 contains the reason why Jahveh gives up His people for a prey. It has behaved to God like a lion, i.e., has opposed Him fiercely like a furious beast. Therefore He must withdraw His love. To give with the voice = to lift up the voice, as in Psa 46:7; Psa 68:34. "Hate" is a stronger expression for the withdrawal of love, shown by delivering Israel into the hand of its enemies, as in Mal 1:3. There is no reason for taking שׂנאתי as inchoative (Hitz., I learned to hate it). The "hating" is explained fully in the following verses. In Jer 12:9 the meaning of העיט צבוּע is disputed. In all other places where it occurs עיט means a bird of prey, cf. Isa 46:11, or collective, birds of prey, Gen 15:11; Isa 18:6. צבוּע, in the Rabbinical Heb. the hyaena, like the Arabic s[abu'un or s[ab'un. So the lxx have rendered it; and so, too, many recent comm., e.g., Gesen. in thes. But with this the asyndeton by way of connection with עיט does not well consist: is a bird of prey, a hyaena, mine heritage? On this ground Boch. (Hieroz. ii. p. 176, ed. Ros.) sought to make good the claim of עיט to mean "beast of prey," but without proving his case. Nor is there in biblical Heb. any sure case for צבוּע in the meaning of hyaena; and the Rabbinical usage would appear to be founded on this interpretation of the word in the passage before us. צבע, Arab. s[aba'a, means dip, hence dye; and so צבע, Jdg 5:30, is dyed materials, in plur. parti-coloured clothes. To this meaning Jerome, Syr., and Targ. have adhered in the present case; Jerome gives avis discolor, whence Luther's der sprincklight Vogel; Chr. B. Mich., avis colorata. So, and rightly, Hitz., Ew., Graf, Ng. The prophet alludes to the well-known fact of natural history, that "whenever a strange-looking bird is seen amongst the others, whether it be an owl of the night amidst the birds of day, or a bird of gay, variegated plumage amidst those of duskier hue, the others pursue the unfamiliar intruder with loud cries and unite in attacking it." Hitz., with reference to Tacit. Ann. vi. 28, Sueton. Caes. 81, and Plin. Hist. N. x. 19. The question is the expression of amazement, and is assertory. לי is dat. ethic., intimating sympathetic participation (Ng.), and not to be changed, with Gr., into כּי. The next clause is also a question: are birds of prey round about it (mine heritage), sc. to plunder it? This, too, is meant to convey affirmation. With it is connected the summons to the beasts of prey to gather round Judah to devour it. The words here come from Isa 56:9. The beasts are emblem for enemies. התיוּ is not first mode or perfect (Hitz.), but imperat., contracted from האתיוּ, as in Isa 21:14. The same thought is, in Jer 12:10, carried on under a figure that is more directly expressive of the matter in hand. The perfects in Jer 12:10-12 are once more prophetic. The shepherds who (along with their flocks, of course) destroy the vineyard of the Lord are the kings of the heathen, Nebuchadnezzar and the kings subject to him, with their warriors. The "destroying" is expanded in a manner consistent with the figure; and here we must not fail to note the cumulation of the words and the climax thus produced. They tread down the plot of ground, turn the precious plot into a howling wilderness. With "plot of my pleasure" cf. 'ארץ חמדּה, Jer 3:19.
In Jer 12:11 the emblematical shepherds are brought forward in the more direct form of enemy. שׂמהּ, he (the enemy, "they" impersonal) has changed it (the plot of ground) into desolation. It mourneth עלי, round about me, desolated. Spoilers are come on all the bare-topped hills of the desert. מרבּר is the name for such parts of the country as were suited only for rearing and pasturing cattle, like the so-called wilderness of Judah to the west of the Dead Sea. A sword of the Lord's (i.e., the war sent by Jahveh, cf. Jer 25:29; Jer 6:25) devours the whole land from end to end; cf. Jer 25:33. "All flesh" is limited by the context to all flesh in the land of Judah. בּשׂר in the sense of Gen 6:12, sinful mankind; here: the whole sinful population of Judah. For them there is no שׁלום, welfare or peace.
They reap the contrary of what they have sowed. The words: wheat they have sown, thorns they reap, are manifestly of the nature of a saw or proverb; certainly not merely with the force of meliora exspectaverant et venerunt pessima (Jerome); for sowing corresponds not to hoping or expecting, but to doing and undertaking. Their labour brings them the reverse of what they aimed at or sought to attain. To understand the words directly of the failure of the crop, as Ven., Ros., Hitz., Graf, Ng. prefer to do, is fair neither to text nor context. To reap thorns is not = to have a bad harvest by reason of drought, blight, or the ravaging of enemies. The seed: wheat, the noblest grain, produces thorns, the very opposite of available fruit. And the context, too, excludes the thought of agriculture and "literal harvesting." The thought that the crop turned out a failure would be a very lame termination to a description of how the whole land was ravaged from end to end by the sword of the Lord. The verse forms a conclusion which sums up the threatening of Jer 12:7-12, to the effect that the people's sinful ongoings will bring them sore suffering, instead of the good fortune they hoped for. נחלוּ, they have worn themselves out, exhausted their strength, and secured no profit. Thus shall ye be put to shame for your produce, ignominiously disappointed in your hopes for the issue of your labour.
The spoilers of the Lord's heritage are also to be carried off out of their land; but after they, like Judah, have been punished, the Lord will have pity on them, and will bring them back one and all into their own land. And if the heathen, who now seduce the people of God to idolatry, learn the ways of God's people and be converted to the Lord, they shall receive citizenship amongst God's people and be built up amongst them; but if they will not do so, they shall be extirpated. Thus will the Lord manifest Himself before the whole earth as righteous judge, and through judgment secure the weal not only of Israel, but of the heathen peoples too. By this discovery of His world-plan the Lord makes so complete a reply to the prophet's murmuring concerning the prosperity of the ungodly (Jer 12:1-6), that from it may clearly be seen the justice of God's government on earth. Viewed thus, both strophes of the passage before us (Jer 12:7-17) connect themselves singularly well with Jer 12:1-6.
The evil neighbours that lay hands on Jahve's heritage are the neighbouring heathen nations, the Edomites, Moabites, Ammonites, Philistines, and Syrians. It does not, however, follow that this threatening has special reference to the event related in Kg2 24:2, and that it belongs to the time of Jehoiakim. These nations were always endeavouring to assault Israel, and made use of every opportunity that seemed favourable for waging war against them and subjugating them; and not for the first time during the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, at which time it was indeed that they suffered the punishment here pronounced, of being carried away into exile. The neighbours are brought up here simply as representatives of the heathen nations, and what is said of them is true for all the heathen. The transition to the first person in שׁכני is like that in Jer 14:15. Jahveh is possessor of the land of Israel, and so the adjoining peoples are His neighbours. נגע ב, to touch as an enemy, to attack, cf. Zac 2:12. I pluck the house of Judah out of their midst, i.e., the midst of the evil neighbours. This is understood by most commentators of the carrying of Judah into captivity, since נתשׁ cannot be taken in two different senses in the two corresponding clauses. For this word used of deportation, cf. Kg1 14:15. "Them," Jer 12:15, refers to the heathen peoples. After they have been carried forth of their land and have received their punishment, the Lord will again have compassion upon them, and will bring back each to its inheritance, its land. Here the restoration of Judah, the people of God, is assumed as a thing of course (cf. Jer 12:16 and Jer 32:37, Jer 32:44; Jer 33:26).
If then the heathen learn the ways of the people of God. What we are to understand by this is clear from the following infinitive clause: to swear in the name of Jahveh, viz., if they adopt the worship of Jahveh (for swearing is mentioned as one of the principal utterances of a religious confession). If they do so, then shall they be built in the midst of God's people, i.e., incorporated with it, and along with it favoured and blessed.
But they who hearken not, namely, to the invitation to take Jahveh as the true God, these shall be utterly destroyed. נתושׁ ואבּד, so to pluck them out that they may perish. The promise is Messianic, cf. Jer 16:19; Isa 56:6., Mic 4:1-4, etc., inasmuch as it points to the end of God's way with all nations.