The So-Called "Confessions" of Jeremiah: Part Two
The So-Called ‘Confessions’ of Jeremiah:Ancient Pains and Modern Applications
Part Two - Jeremiah 11:18-12:6
Christian ministry is tough. As I have often told my students, “the classic work by A.T. Robertson on 2 Corinthians 2:14-6:10, The Glory of the Ministry, is misnomered. More accurately it should have been called ‘The Guts and the Glory of the Ministry.”’ In view of all that Paul said in the Corinthian correspondence and in his other epistles I think he would concur. And furthermore I believe that if Jeremiah had been around for another two and a half millennia and had read Robertson’s work he would concur also.
By this I’m not saying that God’s spokesmen dwelt only on the sufferings and pains of their respective ministries even though slander, challenge, ridicule, jeopardy of life and limb, etc. were their lot. God in His mercy and grace periodically administered booster shots of spiritual adrenaline so that His dependent spokesmen would not only persevere but also take joy in the privilege of being called by God as chosen mouth-pieces. Even in their darkest days Paul could call to mind his transcendent joy concerning people who had been saved by grace through faith, and Jeremiah, even though severely abused by the people to whom he was sent, still quite consistently sustained a passionate love for them. May this be true of us!
Now we finally come to the first installment of these “Ancient pains and Modern Applications,” this one arising from the prophet’s ‘Confessions’ recorded in Jeremiah 11:18-12:6. Actually there are two ‘confessions’ herein (i.e. 11:18-20 which is more specific and 12:1-6 which is more generic), and in between them is placed a previous divine revelation to Jeremiah about a conspiracy against him. This book indeed contains much historical/biographical material and this section is an especially noteworthy example of that (cf. esp. 11:21). The persecutors exposed herein were most likely from Jeremiah’s home town (cf. Anathoth in both 11:21 and 1:1).
In response to Yahweh’s revelation to Jeremiah of this shocking conspiracy the prophet launches out first with expressions from his anguished soul concerning their plottings (i.e. vv. 18-19). Then flowing out of this low blow comes Jeremiah’s lament punctuated with an imprecation (i.e. v. 20). Listen first to his acknowledgement of this behind the scenes information from the LORD in verse 18: “Because the LORD revealed their plot to me, I knew it, for at that time he showed me what they were doing” (NIV). He’s above all confirming the fact that without God having made these things known to him he would have been absolutely clueless of such dangers.
“Their deeds” (lit., NASB, ESV, et al.) which Yahweh revealed are briefly summarized in verse 19. In the first part of this verse Jeremiah lets us in on how surprised he was. He illustratively launches out with a familiar simile and then recounts a few of their wicked deliberations: “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter [remember the ultimate Suffering Servant; cf., e.g., Isa 53:7; Acts 8:32]. And I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more”’ (v. 19, NASB). They not only were conspiring to kill him but their ultimate goal was to blot out any memory of him forever, one of the greatest of curses in the ancient near east.
Jeremiah employs legal language in verse 20 as he seeks a vengeance verdict in the prayer presence of the Chief Justice of the universe. He is asking Yahweh God to judge between him and his enemies so as to render this verdict according to the divine standard God had given to Israel in Deuteronomy 25:1. His boldness before the Divine Judge in the bringing of his law suit indeed rivals that brought by his younger contemporary, Habakkuk (cf. Hab 1:2-4; 1:12-2:1). Although the current circumstances similarly experienced by both prophets were driving them to protest the injustices of society at all levels (and esp. of those being committed by political and religious leaders) they understood from Scripture that Yahweh was a righteous Judge. And in spite of His seeming inactivity He was continuously assaying, literally, the kidneys and hearts of all men (cf. this noun duo that will conspicuously show up in ch. 17, vv. 9-10). Consequently, Jeremiah (and Habakkuk) seek vengeance, the vengeance that belongs exclusively to Yahweh God (Deut 32:35). After all, the enemies of God’s people are pre-eminently enemies of Yahweh Himself (cf., e.g., Deut 32:41,43). This reality helps to bring such imprecations as Jeremiah’s into sharper perspective (cf., also, David, e.g., in Ps 139:19-22).
Now we come to that revelation of God which had come to the prophet antecedently to his immediately preceding words in verses 18-20. The next verse of Jeremiah is most historically informative: “Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the men of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, ‘Do not prophesy in the name of the LORD, or you will die by our own hand’-” (Jer 11:21, ESV). Once again, when this information is connected with that of Jeremiah 1:1 it seems that many or most of these conspirators would have been priests because of their high concentration in that town and region. We do know that after King Josiah was off the scene apostasy quickly set in again, and it was unfortunately catalyzed by the religious leaders, especially the court prophets and priests who were purveyors of false prophecies and unfounded messages such as “Peace; Peace!” And furthermore, if God would judge Judah by using Babylon, those frauds would falsely assure the populace that it would be minimal in its destruction and duration. Of course Jeremiah faithfully preached God’s oracles which were antithetical to those from these pseudo-comforters. No wonder that the religious establishment hated him and was plotting his demise. Once again, many parallel episodes recounting our Lord’s experiences in the gospels come to mind.
In verses 22-23 the LORD assures Jeremiah that His perfect vengeance will be executed against the people of Anathoth according to His own time table:
Therefore, this is what the LORD of hosts [or, armies] says: “I am about to punish them. The young men will die by the sword; their sons and daughters will die by famine. They will have no remnant, for I will bring disaster on the people of Anathoth [in] the year of their punishment” (Jer 11:22-23, HCSB).
Such a confirmation from Yahweh God to His prophet had to be comforting in his time of great jeopardy. The verbal that launches this divine promise is best taken as an impending participle: “Behold [or, Indeed] I’m going to punish [i.e. “visit” in the negative sense]; or, “Behold [or, Indeed] I’m about to punish…” them. This imminent divine visitation (cf., also the noun form of this Hebrew root at the end of v. 23) most likely extends beyond the immediate environ of Anathoth since the majority of Jeremiah’s prophecies are directed at all of Judah; however, this hometown of the prophet, at least in reference to this particular travesty, seems to have been marked out to be ground zero for Yahweh’s just retaliation. The briefly outlined results of that forthcoming judgment should have been blood curdling as it entered the ears of these apostates. Quick and slow deaths awaited Anathoth’s young people cutting off any possible remnant. This overwhelming misery would be the main reward for the conspirators. They and the majority of the populace of Judah had again and again disregarded the repeatedly reinforced truth about their God “who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindesses to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments; but repays those who hate Him to their faces to destroy them; He will not delay with him who hates Him, He will repay him to his face” (Deut 7:9-10; cf; also, e.g., chs. 27-28 on the various curses and blessings; Exod 34:5-7; etc.).
Now as we move into Jeremiah 12 the prophet’s protests concerning the wicked are far more inclusive involving all unrighteous people from all over the map. His accusatory lament is age-old, namely why do the unrighteous prosper and the righteous suffer, especially at their hands (cf., e.g., Asaph in Ps 73). Actually Jeremiah’s “How long?” and “Why?” laments take in verses 1-4 of Chapter 12. Verses 5-6 are most likely a preview of coming attractions revealed to the prophet by Yahweh.
Like the tension that Habakkuk would deal with, the perceived antithetical evidences of who God is and what He is doing or what He is about to do (contra. Hab 1:12ff. with 1:5-11), Jeremiah protests: “You are always righteous, O LORD, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” (Jer 12:1, NIV). In other words, ‘“I find your attributes of being and doing contradictory!’” The prophet next ratchets up his accusations against God in verse 2: “You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; you are near in their mouth and far from their heart” (Jer 12:2, ESV). Using God’s sovereignty as weapon for his argument the prophet barbingly points out to the Judge of all that He blesses them in spite of their hypocrisy and apostasy. Jeremiah obviously intended to deliver a painful “ouch!” to Yahweh.
However, the persecuted prophet is well aware of the fact that Yahweh x-rays his own heart and videos his life as well: “As for You, You know me, LORD; You see me. You test whether my heart is with you” (Jer 12:3a,b, HCSB). Even in the midst of his feelings which were driving his emotional perspective Jeremiah realized that God judges rightly and that this factor will be borne out in the end (cf. e.g., Jer 17:5-6, 7-8 in the context of vv. 9-10). So based upon God’s perfect discriminations His prophet slips right back into another imprecation (cf. 11:20) bolstered by more evidences for his request for divine intervention. Verses 3c-4 read: “Drag the wicked away like sheep to slaughter, and set them apart for the day of killing. How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field whither? Because of the evil of its residents, animals and birds have been swept away, for [the people] have said, ‘He cannot see what our end will be’” (HCSB). The force of these words could be paraphrased, “‘LORD, Wipe them out as demanded by the facts, namely, the desecration of Your land and the disregard of your sovereignty!’”
As previously intimated verses 5-6 are best taken as God’s immediate response to Jeremiah’s impassioned protests. However these words obviously were not the divine response the prophet was expecting. Contrastingly, God turned His spotlight back on the prophet and revealed to him that he was going to experience even tougher days ahead. It was as if Yahweh was warning him that his problems, for example, with the people of Anathoth were minor league because he was about to move him into the majors. The prophet’s persecutors would become more formidable and flatteringly deceptive. Just listen to Yahweh’s revelations:
If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, how will you do in the thicket of Judah? For sure your brothers and the household of your father, Even they have dealt treacherously with you, Even they have cried aloud after you. Do not believe them, although they may say nice things to you (Jer 12:5-6, NASB).
Darker days indeed were ahead for Jeremiah but he, although protesting all along the way, would remain committed to his calling. He truly was an Old Testament example of a servant, a steward who in the end would be found faithful (cf. 1 Cor 4:1-2). Would that we follow suit and get to hear those precious words of Christ at the end of our ministries: “Well done, good and faithful slave!”