If God is righteous, then why do the wicked prosper? Today’s Scripture takes a look at God's answer to this very serious question.
Jeremiah Chapter 12
Lessons from the text
Profit that Leads to Shame
The wicked can prosper. Someone who lies, cheat, and steps on other people to get promotions can, and most commonly does, get rewarded for such actions. These people get to "enjoy" the pleasures of riches riches and success. They may get to raise they wanted, the big extra vacation houses, and even be the envy of all those around them. Yet for all of their labor, have they labored after the correct thing? Riches, success, and honor are all good things, but are they satisfying to the soul?
In the end, the things that satisfy the heart are love, righteousness, justice, and the knowledge and friendship of God. If you achieve riches by immoral actions or by cutting corners, your conscience will not allow you to be fully satisfied with your material or social success. There will always be a part of your mind gnawing at you saying, “You didn't really earn it. You don't deserve this. You never should've gotten this." Such is why, in the end, even if you pain and labor after something, if you go about it by the wrong means, all you will reap will be thorns.
If, however, you seek after that which is good and do so by honorable means, then when you achieve success in that area, you will be satisfied not only by the results but also in your soul by the fact that you did so in an honorable and worthy fashion. When you have done the right thing, you can sleep easy at night knowing that everything will be all right.
As this chapter reveals, in the end we must all give an account for our conduct in this life. If we have labored after good things but with wickedness in our heart, then we will stand ashamed before God, seeing ourselves compared to the righteous who were trampled and oppressed by our quest for success.
Verse by Verse Commentary
1-2 Jeremiah knows that God is righteous. He also knows that, when he looks around, those who do wickedly are the ones who are wealthy and live luxuriously. Naturally, he accredits God with their flourishing. Jeremiah notices that while these people say that they are godly, their actions demonstrate that God is not in control of their lives (has their reins). This leads to the awkward question as to why God would bless the wicked.
3-4 Jeremiah appeals to God's knowledge of himself. God knows that Jeremiah is doing everything he can to fulfill what God has asked of him. He is demonstrating faith by being obedient, which is righteousness in the eyes of God (Gen. 15:6). Compared to Jeremiah's walk of faith, the prosperous appear wicked and deserving of nothing more than judgment and destruction.
Jeremiah is basically saying that it is not fair that he, who tries to do right and who has been tested by the Lord, should be punished while those who do wickedly are unhindered in their quest for posterity and prestige. The wicked are able to empower themselves, so that they are the ones who have authority over the land, and, being wicked, they abuse and feed off of the land instead of caring for and providing for it. Jeremiah says that the reason the wicked abuse their authority is because they have no fear of judgment or the consequences of their actions. The fear of judgment after death is essential for recognizing the need for godliness in one's life.
5-17 God answers Jeremiah by stating first, that he is out of his league concerning such matters and second, that He will judge those who have done wickedly.
5 God is saying that if Jeremiah has engaged his equals in discussion and activities and has been wearied by so doing, why would Jeremiah think that he has the ability confront the principalities that drive men? If Jeremiah is feeling like his life is unfair while God is with him, God wonders how Jeremiah will act if matters get worse. God wants one to overcome where one is, but also not to think too highly of oneself; one must know his place in spiritual matters.
6 Since Jeremiah's complaint is centered around the fact that the wicked are desiring to harm him (11:19), God redirects Jeremiah's thoughts to the treachery of those closest to him. Namely, that his family may speak fair words to him but inwardly despise his preaching. This betrayal by his family is the swelling of Jordan of verse five.
7 God's house is the temple in Jerusalem, and His heritage is the nation Israel (Deut. 32:9). As His wife, the Jews are His dearly beloved, yet because of their sins, He has allowed her enemies to overcome her.
8 Instead of being His crown jewel (Isa. 62:3), the Jews are acting as a devouring beast, sounding loudly to frighten and accuse their Maker. Therefore, God been repulsed by instead of glad of His people.
9 Instead of being spotless and without blemish, Israel is speckled and as such is despised by the nations which surround it. Sin makes a nation an easy target for destruction.
10-11 Not only will Israel be destroyed from the outside, but also the leaders from within Israel have destroyed it. The physical destruction to come is merely mimicking the spiritual destruction that has already taken place within God's people. The cause of the spiritual destruction is a lack of considering the works of God; by not laying it to heart, one fails to recognize and consider God's words and judgments in one's life.
12-13 The spoilers are an invading army. God will use them to make Israel reap the consequences of their decisions. Although the Jews have labored, because they have not labored for the correct thing, their labor is in vain and will yield only thorns. Profit that is earned through ungodly means will only leave one ashamed before a righteous God.
14 God proclaims that all those who are wicked in Israel will be removed from their heritage. In judgment, God separates the good and bad people. See Mt. 13:30, 25:33.
15-17 After God has removed the people from their land, He will demonstrate His grace by giving them that which they do not deserve: the redemption of their land and heritage. This redemption is conditional. If they learn from their mistakes and become as obedient to God as they have been to their idols, then they will always have a dwelling place in the promised land. If, however, they fail to learn from their mistakes, then they will be once again removed from Israel, this time with no chance for a second redemption. Noteworthy that this proclamation is only against the wickedness of Israel, not to Israel as a whole.
Thank you for your faithfulness in studying God’s word.
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