Jeremiah 12–16: Judgment & Ruin

Read the Bible in 2023 ◊ Week 15: Friday

Then Yahweh said to me, “Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My soul would not be with this people; send them away from My presence and let them go!
And it will be that when they say to you, ‘Where should we go?’ then you are to tell them, ‘Thus says Yahweh:
destined for death, to death;
And those
destined for the sword, to the sword;
And those
destined for famine, to famine;
And those
destined for captivity, to captivity.”’
Jeremiah 15:1–2 LSB

Friday’s Bible reading is Jeremiah 12–16. As I read of the prophet’s words about God’s judgment that is coming inescapably upon Judah, I found Jeremiah 14:11 a woeful indication of the extent of Judah’s rebellion and wickedness: God forbids Jeremiah to pray for their welfare.

Jeremiah 12 finishes his fourth message, “Jeremiah and the Covenant,” which began in chapter 11.1 Derek Kidnes explains the background:

“Our chapter [Jeremiah 11] arises, it seems, directly out of this, and gives a fascinating glimpse of the cross-currents beneath the surface of this great reform. King Josiah saw to it that it remained the established faith, ‘all his days’ (2 Ch. 24:33); but he could not change the hearts and habits of his people. That comes out in two ways here: first in the nation-wide idolatry that refused to be stamped out (9–17), and secondly, at the local level, in the conspiracy against Jeremiah’s life by the men of his own village (18–23), apparently for prophesying in support of the reform”2

Jeremiah echoes Job’s cries in the opening verses of Jeremiah 12, “be addressing himself to the age-long problem of the success of the wicked.”3 in verse 5 the Lord answers Jeremiah’s questions at the beginning of Jeremiah 12.

“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you fall down,
how will you do in the jungle of the Jordan?”
Jeremiah 12:5 RSV

Kidner explains:

This [12:1–4] is one of the many cries of ‘Why?’ and ‘How long?’ in the Old Testament — to which God’s answer is never philosophical, as though he owed us explanations, but always pastoral, to rebuke us, reorientate us or reassure us. Here, when we include the long view of the closing verses (14–17), there will be something of all three.

It was wise of Jeremiah (and an example worth remembering) to precede what he could not grasp with what he could not deny: namely, Righteous art thou [12:1]. His ‘Why?’ could then take its proper place and tone: troubled but teachable. Yet we can be grateful that we hear the very human, urgent voice that speaks here, exaggerating the gloom as we tend to do in bad times (do all who are treacherous thrive, 1?), welcoming too personally the thought of retribution (3b, echoing 11:19), and slipping from his general concern (How long will the Lord mourn? 4a) into preoccupation with his private hurt (4d).

For our own good, self-pity must be banished, and facts be faced: hence the tone of verse 5:

If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you,
how will you compete with horses?

— hence, too, the bad news of verse 6, now broken to him, that not only his village, but his own family is out for his blood.

So the pace has already quickened, and the question is now not Jeremiah’s ‘How long?’ but the Lord’s ‘How will you compete…? How will you do…?‘ Faithful friend that he is, the Lord knows when to be unsparing with us, and when to relent. The sensitive Jeremiah rose to the challenge, not without loud cries of protest in the course of the next eight or nine chapters (sometimes called his ‘Confessions’, sometimes his ‘Gethsemane’). The result of this hard training can be seen in his fortitude, right through to the end of his comfortless career.4

The jungle of Jordan was a dangerous place. Whatever other animals may have lived there, we know there were lions in the jungle of Jordan. Jeremiah is also beset with danger.

Kidner writes that in Jeremiah 12:7–13,

“The second part of God’s reply is remarkable, saying in effect, ‘Your tragedy is a miniature of mine.’

“This still speaks to many of our most wounding situations. The pain of ingratitude, indifference, disappointment; desertion by a spouse; defiance by a son or daughter, are things that God himself knows very well…

“It is, in measure, a true parallel, since the family’s rejection of Jeremiah sprang directly from the nation’s rejection of his Master.”5

In God’s reply He speaks of His judgment. 2 Chronicles 33 will give you background on the sins of Manasseh and of Judah.

Thus Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray in order to do more evil than the nations whom Yahweh destroyed before the sons of Israel.
2 Chronicles 33:9 RSV

That’s quite an indictment. Kidner goes on to say,

“…the entire passage annouces wrath and retribution on the people and their land.

“Yet grief keeps showing through, in the revealing expressions, my heritage, my portion; above all, the beloved of my soul (7, cf. 11:15). The other thing that needs saying is that the situation offered no alternative. God’s beloved has turned vicious (7–8), his vineyard was already vandalized (10, his heritage was no longer a prodigy among the nations but an oddity to be mobbed (9)…

“It is generally we, not God, who struggle to preserve what we have ruined. But it is God who smites to heal; or, as he had put it to Jeremiah at the outset, who calls for demolition in order ‘to build and to plant’ (1:10).”6

Jeremiah 13 has five warnings in 1–11; 12–14; 15–17; 18, 19; and 20–27.7 In the first warning there is one of several object lessons that the Lord gives to Jeremiah throughout the book. Here he tells Jeremiah to buy a linen belt, wear it, then hide it in the crevice of a rock, and finally go back to get it.

Then I went to the Euphrates and dug, and I took the belt from the place where I had hidden it; and behold, the belt was ruined; it was totally worthless.
Then the word of Yahweh came to me, saying,
“Thus says Yahweh, ‘Just so will I ruin the pride of Judah and the great pride of Jerusalem. This evil people, who refuse to listen to My words, who walk in the stubbornness of their hearts and have walked after other gods to serve them and to worship them, let them be just like this belt which is totally worthless. For as the belt clings to the loins of a man, so I made the whole household of Israel and the whole household of Judah cling to Me,’ declares Yahweh, ‘that they might be for Me a people, for a name, for praise, and for beauty; but they did not listen.’”
Jeremiah 13:7–11 LSB

I’m sure Jeremiah knew what would happen to the belt, but there is nothing like seeing something with your own eyes. and in this case, handling it to realize exactly what God had intended Judah to be, and what would happen to Judah in judgment.

Cawley and Millard title Jeremiah 14–20, “Shadow of Doom.”8 Here we learn there is no option left for Judah; judgment is coming.

Then Yahweh said to me, “Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My soul would not be with this people; send them away from My presence and let them go!
And it will be that when they say to you, ‘Where should we go?’ then you are to tell them, ‘Thus says Yahweh:
destined for death, to death;
And those
destined for the sword, to the sword;
And those
destined for famine, to famine;
And those
destined for captivity, to captivity.”’
Jeremiah 15:1–2 LSB

Jeremiah 16 closes with Jeremiah’s worship of God, and a vision of the future.

O Yahweh, my strength and my strong defense,
And my refuge in the day of distress,
To You the nations will come
From the ends of the earth and say,
“Our fathers have inherited nothing but lies,
Futility and things of no profit.”
Can man make gods for himself?
Yet they are not gods!
“Therefore behold, I am going to make them know⁠—
This time I will make them know
My power and My might;
And they shall know that My name is Yahweh.”
Jeremiah 16:19–21 LSB

Kidner writes:

“The thought of God’s proven reality, over against the phantom gods of heathenism, opens Jeremiah’s eyes to foresee the day when far-flung peoples will realize the hollowness of their religions and turn to the Lord. If this seems almost too remote a hope, it can reawaken our wonder at the fact that most of us who read these words are drawn from the ends of the earth (19), as part of their fulfilment.”9

This section of Jeremiah is a proclamation of unmitigated judgment. In this day we must not lose sight of the reality of sin, and the truth of God’s right judgment of our sin. Those without Christ are lost in their sin and will perish. Twice in Jeremiah, God has said:

“They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.”
Jeremiah 6:14. 8:11 LSB

Judah is broken because of sin and rebellion. We cannot heal the brokenness of people superficially. There is no peace for those who are under God’s wrath unless they repent of their sins and believe in Christ.

In Death in the City, Francis Schaeffer analyzes how Paul speaks to men without the Bible. That’s our generation. He points out that Paul does this three times in the New Testament (Acts 14:15-17, 17:16-32; Romans 1:18-2:16), and he says we must learn to speak as Paul did.

“The first thing Paul says to the man without the Bible is this: “You’re under the wrath of God because you hold the truth in unrighteousness.” Notice that he immediately begins to preach the wrath of God. Think now of this man without the Bible (and he is no different then than now). If you merely say what Paul did in 1:16 and 17, “Here’s salvation,” he will shrug his shoulders and say, “Why do I need salvation?”  Or if modern man thinks he needs salvation, it will be some modern psychological salvation. But Paul says, “No. What you need is moral salvation. You are guilty. You have true guilt in the presence of God…

“I am convinced that many men who preach the gospel and love the Lord are really misunderstood. People make a “profession,” but because they haven’t understood the message, they are not really saved. They feel a psychological need and they want psychological relief, but they don’t understand that the Christian message is not talking only about psychological relief (although it includes that) but is talking about true moral guilt in the presence of a holy God who exists. The real need is salvation from true moral guilt, not just relief from guilt feelings…

“So Paul has a reply to the man who shrugs his shoulders and says, “Why do I need salvation?” His response is this: “You need salvation because you are under the wrath of God. You have broken God’s law.”10

If you’ve read any of Schaeffer, you know he is adamant about how we treat people.

“We must treat men with love, we must treat them and talk to them humanly. But we must not tone down our message.”11

Toning down our message to go with the flow of culture heals people’s brokenness lightly, which is to say, it doesn’t give any healing at all. Whatever others may say, God’s truth is not unloving. We must not be unloving in how we deliver it. This wasn’t easy for Jeremiah, to say the least, and it’s not easy for us.

As I said last week, do you see why God chose Jeremiah, who was a man of sensitivity with depth of emotion to deliver such a message of judgment? God was sending judgment, and He also grieved over His people. His message of judgment was given by a man who was stricken by his message and lamented for his people. When we know someone will die in their sins without Christ, and we grieve over this, we will presevere, come wind, come weather, in our message.

Silvesterzug Laterne: Bk muc. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Linen Cloth recovered from Qumran Cave 1 near the Dead Sea: Public domain.
Indian lion male (Panthera leo persica) at Gir National Park: Shanthanu Bhardwaj. (CC BY-SA 2.0). This is an Asiatic lion.
1,3,7,8F. Cawley and A. R. Millard, “Jeremiah,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds., (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 635–636, 636, 636–637, 637.
2,4,5,6,9Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah: Against wind and tide (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1987) 58, 60–61, 61, 62, 71.
10Francis Schaeffer, Death in the City (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1969) 92–93,

I’m using Michael Coley’s Bible reading plan (one page PDF to print) to read through the Bible in 2023. Each day my posts are on different books because he divides Bible readings into seven categories, one for each day of the week: Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels. There’s more information on his plan and other ones at Read the Bible in 2023.

Copyright ©2011–2023 Iwana Carpenter

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