Where the world comes to study the Bible

Jeremiah 12


(The parentheses represent poetic literary units)

Jeremiah's Prayer Jeremiah's Question The Prosperity of the Wicked Jeremiah Questions the Lord Jeremiah's First Personal Lament
  The Lord Answers Jeremiah 12:4b-5
God's Answer   Yahweh Laments His Ravaged Inheritance The Lord's Sorrow Because of His People God's Lament
The Neighboring Peoples: Their Judgment and Salvation The Lord's Promise to Israel's Neighbors Judah's Neighbors
12:14-17 12:14-17 12:14-17 12:14-17 12:14-17

READING CYCLE THREE (see introductory section)


This is a study guide commentary,which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



1Righteous are You, O Lord, that I would plead my case with You;
Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with You:
Why has the way of the wicked prospered?
Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?
2You have planted them, they have also taken root;
They grow, they have even produced fruit.
You are near to their lips
But far from their mind.
3But You know me, O Lord;
You see me;
And You examine my heart's attitude toward You.
Drag them off like sheep for the slaughter
And set them apart for a day of carnage!
4How long is the land to mourn
And the vegetation of the countryside to wither?
For the wickedness of those who dwell in it,
Animals and birds have been snatched away,
Because men have said, "He will not see our latter ending."

12:1 "Righteous" See Special Topic at 4:2.

▣ "are You" YHWH is righteous which denotes His justice (see Special Topic at 4:2). This is one aspect of His character.


▣ "I would plead my case with You" This chapter has three poetic strophes. The first two (vv. 1-4; 5-6) are part of Jeremiah's first confession starting in 11:18. It is presented as a court case (as is chapter 2).

Jeremiah almost seems to border on blasphemy in his dialog with God, therefore, the two Jewish exegetists in the Middle Ages, Rashi and Kimchi, try to explain away Jeremiah's hard words. Rashi says that he asked God to know God's ways, while Kimchi says he asked because the prophet was confused. To me the depth of Jeremiah's emotions directed toward God are a sign of their deep interpersonal relationship. I believe God prefers our heartfelt thoughts to false piety!

▣ "Why has the way of the wicked prospered?

Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease" These are in a Hebrew synonymous parallel relationship (see Appendix One: Hebrew Poetry). This is a major theological question because it seems to be exactly opposite to the Mosaic Law and Psalm 1. Humans have always struggled with the unfairness of life (cf. Job. Psalm 73; Habakkuk; Mal. 3:13-15). Psalm 37:7-9 is a good summary of the Bible's advice in this area.

12:2 "You have planted them" YHWH created a nation out of the seed of Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 15:12-21). He created/planted (cf. 11:17) them to be a light to the world, but they became evil and reflected the character of the fallen world instead of YHWH (cf Ezek. 36:22-38).

▣ "You are near to their lips

But far from their mind" They had religion but not relationship (cf. Isa. 29:13; Ezek. 33:30-33; Rom. 2:17-29; II Tim. 3:5).

12:4 "You know me, O Lord" The Hebrew word "to know" (see Special Topic at 1:5) emphasizes intimate personal relationship (cf. Gen. 4:1; Jer. 1:5). Jeremiah was confident that God knew his motives and his heart (cf. Ps. 139:1,23).

▣ "Drag them off" The last two lines of v. 2 have two parallel imperatives.

1. "drag them off" - BDB 683, KB 736, Hiphil imperative

2. "set them apart" (lit. "sanctify") - BDB 872, KB 1073, Hiphil imperative (see Special Topic at 2:3)

Both call on God (imperatives of request) to actively judge the wickedness of His own people (cf. Amos 3:2; I Pet. 4:17).

Jeremiah is much like David (i.e., some Psalms); he is very forceful in his request for vengeance.

▣ "How long is the land to mourn" Judah's wickedness causes the curses of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 27-28 to fall on Palestine (cf. Hosea 4:1-3). The land of milk and honey has no produce nor flocks! This is exactly the opposite of what YHWH wanted to do!

The same question, "how long," was also asked by Isaiah in Isa. 6:11-13! Judgment is coming on God's covenant people.

The sin of Adam and Eve brought about the disruption of the normal cycles of nature (cf. Rom. 5:12-21; 8:18-25). This is not the world God intended it to be (see John W. Wenham, The Goodness of God and The Enigma of Evil: Can We Believe in the Goodness of God).

▣ "Because men have said, 'He will not see our latter ending'" This line can have two meanings.

1. the prophets are giving a false message of peace and prosperity (cf. 5:31)

2. the Judean people do not believe YHWH will act against them because of

a. Abrahamic covenant

b. the presence of the temple (cf. chapter 7)

There are two textual issues.

1. who does "he" refer to

a. Jeremiah - "he" (ambiguous)


2. how to translate the last words

a. our ways (ארחותנו) - LXX, NJB, REB

b. our latter end (אחריתנו) - MT, NASB, NKJV, JPSOA

3. our fate - NRSV (possibly #2)

The NET Bible (p. 1323) adds an interesting thought that this line may relate to Deut. 32:20.

5"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 the Jordan?
6For even 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."

12:5-6 God is telling Jeremiah (cf. TEV, JPSOA footnote), if you cannot handle the pressure from your hometown, how are you going to handle the pressure from Jerusalem? In reality, God is saying, Jeremiah, are you too impatient or too sensitive? If you think this is bad now, you have seen nothing yet! Problems cause us to depend on God-trials are for training (cf. Heb. 5:8)!


NASB"Even they have cried aloud after you"
NKJV"yes, they have called a multitude after you"
NRSV"they will pursue you in full cry"
TEV"they join in the attacks against you"
LXX"they too shouted; they were gathered behind you"
JPSOA"they cry after you as a mob"

The MT is ambiguous. The context suggests that after he preached, they (his hometown tribal friends and relatives) chased after him condemning him loudly.

▣ "Do not believe them" The verb (BDB 52, KB 63, see Special Topic at 3:12) is a Hiphil jussive. Be careful of the flattery of wicked people (cf. 9:8; Ps. 28:3; Pro. 26:23,25). Kind words often hide an agenda (cf. Ps. 12:6-8)! The self centeredness of the Fall is a perennial flower.

It seems that v. 6, lines 1-3, relates to negative things said and done against Jeremiah by his hometown. However, the last line deals with their flattery!

7"I have forsaken My house,
I have abandoned My inheritance;
I have given the beloved of My soul
Into the hand of her enemies.
8My inheritance has become to Me
Like a lion in the forest;
She has roared against Me;
Therefore I have come to hate her.
9Is My inheritance like a speckled bird of prey to Me?
Are the birds of prey against her on every side?
Go, gather all the beasts of the field,
Bring them to devour!
10Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard,
They have trampled down My field;
They have made My pleasant field
A desolate wilderness.
11It has been made a desolation,
Desolate, it mourns before Me;
The whole land has been made desolate,
Because no man lays it to heart.
12On all the bare heights in the wilderness
Destroyers have come,
For a sword of the Lord is devouring
From one end of the land even to the other;
There is no peace for anyone.
13They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns,
They have strained themselves to no profit.
But be ashamed of your harvest
Because of the fierce anger of the Lord."

12:7-13 This is written in a characteristic poetic form which has three beats followed by two beats, denoting a funeral dirge or lament. The verbs, all mostly perfects, denote a completed action. YHWH's attitude is set on judgment because Judah's attitude is set on sin! In this section God is described as a broken-hearted husband (i.e., "I have come to hate her," v. 8). This is very similar to 8:18-9:16 and Hos. 11:8,9.

One wonders if vv. 7-8 are theologically related to vv. 5-6. As Jeremiah was painfully and loudly rejected by his own hometown, YHWH is rejected by His own. As Jeremiah's hometown "cries" against him, YHWH's people "roar" against Him. It is possible that v. 6, line 3, is a hunting metaphor, if so, then the animals searching prey in v. 9 are a literary parallel.

Notice the series of covenant terms used by God to describe Judah:

1. "My house" (cf. 11:15; Hosea 8:1; 9:15)

2. "My inheritance" (cf. vv. 7,8,9; 2:7; 50:11)

3. "Beloved of My soul" (cf. 11:15)

4. "My vineyard" (cf. Isaiah 5)

5. "My pleasant field" (cf. 3:19)


12:7 Notice the parallelism of. v. 7. YHWH has

1. forsaken - BDB 736, KB 806, Qal perfect

2. abandoned - BDB 643, KB 695, Qal perfect

3. given - BDB 678, KB 733, Qal perfect

His people into the hand (see Special Topic at 1:9) of foreign invaders!

12:8-9 YHWH has rejected them because

1. they became as a lion to Him, v. 8

2. they became as a bird of prey, v. 9

The result is that YHWH's love, mercy, and care have changed to "hate" (cf. Hos. 9:5; Amos 6:8; see Special Topic at 1:9).

12:9 "My inheritance like a speckled bird of prey to Me" The interpretive question is about the word "speckled" (BDB 840, KB 997), which is found only here. It can denote colored (BDB 840, cf. Jdgs. 5:30), therefore,

1. hyena

2. speckled bird of prey (NRSV, NKJV)

JPSOA translates the phrase as "like a bird of prey [or] hyena" (cf. NJB). The LXX translates it as "a hyena's cave." The UBS Text Project gives "speckled" an A Rating, but suggests translating it as ("is my heritage to me) a hyena's lair (with birds of prey [hovering] all about it," p. 214). This is how REB translates it.

The enemies described here seem to refer to the surrounding nations which were a part of the mercenary army of Neo-Babylon (cf. II Kgs. 24:2).

The last two lines of v. 9 have three imperatives which are the consequences of covenant violations (cf. Deut. 28:64). The birds and beasts shall eat the flesh of the fallen of Judah (cf. 7:33; 15:3; 16:4; 19:7; 34:20; Ps. 79:2; Isa. 18:6; 56:9).

1. go - BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative

2. gather - BDB 62, KB 74, Qal imperative

3. bring - BDB 87, KB 102, Hiphil imperative


12:10 "Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard" "Shepherds" refers to the spiritual leaders of Judah (cf. Jer. 2:8; 10:21; Ezek. 34:1-10). But, because of the context, it could refer to foreign alliances (cf. 6:3).

12:11 "it mourns before Me

The whole land has been made desolate" There is a repetition of the root שמס (BDB 1031, cf. v. 10, line 4).

1. a feminine singular noun - BDB 1031

2. a feminine singular adjective - BDB 1031

3. a Niphal perfect verb - BDB 1030, KB 1563)

The NASB Study Bible (p. 1075, footnote) mentions that in v. 11 there are seven "s" sound words and seven "n" sound words. See Appendix One: Hebrew Poetry.

Here again (cf. v. 4) is the theological emphasis on the land (personified) being affected by human sin (cf. Leviticus 26; Deuteronomy 27-28; Rom. 5:12-21; 8:18-22).

▣ "Because no man lays it to heart" This line can have one of two orientations.

1. Judah sinned and did not repent so the land suffered (cf. Isa. 42:25).

2. There was no righteous person to intercede on Judah's behalf (cf. 5:1; Isa. 59:16; Ezek. 22:30).


12:12 "On all the bare heights in the wilderness" This could refer to

1. judgment coming from the desert winds, cf. 4:11-13

2. the place of Ba'al worship, cf. 2:20; 3:2,6; 17:2; Deut. 12:2-3

3. invaders capturing the "caravan trails" (see NASB, NJB footnote) or passes (heights, BDB 1046, cf. 14:6) through the Judean highlands


▣ "a sword of the Lord is devouring" Remember, this was not the power of the foreign invaders or their gods, but the punishing power of YHWH (cf. 51:15-23; Isa. 10:5).

▣ "There is no peace for anyone" This may be a play on the message of the false prophets who said "Peace, peace" (cf. 8:11). The term "anyone" is literally "all flesh" and could refer to animals and humans. All were suffering because of Judah's idolatry.

12:13 "They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns" There have been three ways to understand this.

1. The farmers sowed but because of the invasion there was no one to work the fields so weeds and thorns flourished (cf. Lev. 26:16; Deut. 28:38).

2. There was a series of drought seasons (cf. v. 4; 14:2-4).

3. Human effort without God will come to naught (cf. Ps. 108:12; 127:1-2).


▣ "But be ashamed of your harvest" This is a Qal imperative (BDB 101, KB 116) which refers to their idolatry. They were reaping the results of willful, continual covenant violations (cf. 11:20; 17:10).

14Thus says the Lord concerning all My wicked neighbors who strike at the inheritance with which I have endowed My people Israel, "Behold I am about to uproot them from their land and will uproot the house of Judah from among them. 15And it will come about that after I have uprooted them, I will again have compassion on them; and I will bring them back, each one to his inheritance and each one to his land. 16Then if they will really 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, they will be built up in the midst of My people. 17But if they will not listen, then I will uproot that nation, uproot and destroy it," declares the Lord .

12:14-17 This is an extremely important section which deals not only with the judgment on the surrounding nations which have participated in or benefitted from the Babylonian invasion of Judah, but also the hope of their incorporation one day into the people of God. This is a wonderful passage which shows clearly that God desires all humans to be a part of His covenant people. See Special Topic at 1:5!

There is a repeated use of "uprooted" (BDB 684, KB 737), the opposite of "planted" (see 1:10).

1. surrounding nations will be uprooted, v. 14

2. Judah will be uprooted, v. 14

3. after uprooting them YHWH will have compassion (BDB 933, KB 1216, Piel perfect), v. 15

4. if they will not listen then He will uproot

a. that nation, v. 17

b. uproot and destroy it, v. 17


12:14 "all My wicked neighbors who strike at the inheritance" We know from history that nations like Edom and probably some of the other surrounding nations (i.e., Ammon, 49:1; Moab, Zech. 2:8-11) became mercenaries in the Babylonian army, and even participated in the siege of Jerusalem and its plunder.

▣ "Behold I am about to uproot them" This is a metaphor used quite often in the book of Jeremiah to describe the work of the prophet (cf. 1:10; 18:7).

12:15 "I will again have compassion on them; and I will bring them back" This is a tremendous statement of hope of restoration, not only for Judah, but for Gentiles as well. This universal theme is found several times in the book of Jeremiah, 3:17,19; 4:2; 16:19; 48:47; 49:6,39. This reflects the recurrent universal theme of the prophet Isaiah (cf. 2:2-4; 12:4-5; 19:16-25; 25:6-9; 42:6-12; 45:22-23; 49:5-6; 51:4-5; 56:6-8; 60:11-14). See SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH's ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN at 1:5.

12:16 "they will really learn the ways of My people, to swear by My name" The use of YHWH's name was part of the regular worship liturgy of the temple (cf. 4:2; Deut. 6:13; 10:20; Isa. 65:16; Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:9-13).

Notice that the Lord's compassion (v. 15) is conditional on "if they will really learn the ways of My people."

1. "really learn" - this is the intensified form of an infinitive absolute and an imperfect verb from the same root (BDB 540, KB 531, cf. Isa. 42:6; 49:6)

2. notice Judah's faith was meant to be a light and learning for the nations (cf. Ezek. 36:22-38)


▣ "As the Lord lives" This reflects the covenant name for God, YHWH, from the Hebrew verb "to be," Exod. 3:14. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY at 1:2.

▣ "to swear by Baal" See Special Topic at 2:20.

▣ "they will be built up in the midst of My people" The verb "build" (BDB 124, KB 139, Niphal perfect) is used several times to describe Jeremiah's ministry (cf. 1:10; 18:9; 24:6; 30:18; 31:4,28; 32:31; 33:7; 42:10; 45:4). It can be used in a positive or negative way.

12:17 The conditional nature of biblical covenants is repeated (i.e., Deut. 30:1-10).