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Since today marks the 145th running of the historic Kentucky Derby, it is appropriate that our text directs our attention to what it takes to run with thoroughbreds. Jeremiah was tempted to throw in the towel and drop out of the race (= his ministry calling). He was not seeing any tangible results for faithfulness in preaching his confrontational message. Instead even his family and fellow countrymen were conspiring to put him to death. God wanted to encourage his prophet to persevere and set his sights on the finish line rather than wallow in self-pity due to the difficulties of the present.


You must see yourself as a minister (small m in the context of the priesthood of all believers equipped with a spiritual gift) with a ministry calling in order to relate to this text so that you can receive the divine encouragement that God has for you. We are all tempted to throw in the towel; to question whether our labor in the Lord is in vain.


A. (:1a) Starting Point = God is Fair

“Righteous art Thou, O LORD, that I would plead my case with Thee;

Indeed I would discuss matters of justice with Thee:”

Most of our questions about how God treats us vs. how God treats others come back to the concept of the righteousness and justice of God. Can we trust Him to really be fair?

Right view of God is always the best starting point when in times of perplexity.

B. (:1b) Searching Question #1 – Why Do the Wicked Prosper?

“Why has the way of the wicked prospered?

Why are all those who deal in treachery at ease?”

Many bible passages deal with this age-old question:

– Job 12:6; 21:7-15

– Psalm 37; 73

– Hab. 1:12-17

Mackay: Arising out of the startling impact of the revelation of the plot against his life, Jeremiah has been led to meditate, as many others have before and since, about the fairness of life and the apparent anomalies in God’s providential dealings. Although expressed as a complaint regarding the prosperity of the wicked, the underlying counter-motif is the treatment accorded the prophet. Jeremiah is particularly perplexed because he cannot see how to reconcile the success the wicked enjoy with his belief in the goodness of God. “Why does this happen?” is the anguished plea that he sets out before the Lord. But we must notice that it is before God he brings it. His faith is such that he is not driven to despair, but to ask deep questions about the way God orders events in this life, in particular why he has not acted to vindicate the message he has given to his messenger.

Kidner: This is one of 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, re-orientate us or reassure us.

C. (:2-3) Summary Distinction

1. (:2) Ungrateful and Hypocritical Pagan Nations

“Thou hast planted them, they have also taken root;

They grow, they have even produced fruit.

Thou art near to their lips But far from their mind.”

Guzik: The people Jeremiah had in mind were those who made an outward profession of religion but did not really care about God and the things of God.

2. (:3a) Grateful and Transparent Prophet of God

“But Thou knowest me, O LORD; Thou seest me;

And Thou dost examine my heart’s attitude toward Thee.”

3. (:3b) Reversal of Analogy of Sheep for the Slaughter

“Drag them off like sheep for the slaughter

And set them apart for a day of carnage!”

Remember how this analogy had been applied to Jeremiah in 11:19.

Constable: The Lord knew that Jeremiah’s attitude toward Him was entirely different than those hypocrites. The prophet prayed that the Lord would drag them off to punishment like sheep going to the slaughter (cf. Jeremiah 11:19). He prayed that God would reserve them for special destruction, as He had set Jeremiah apart for his ministry (Jeremiah 1:5).

D. (:4) Searching Question #2 – How Long Before God Makes Things Right?

“How 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.’”


A. (:5) Principle #1 – Failing Easy Tests Makes It Impossible to Pass Harder Tests

“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?”

Contrast between foot soldier and calvary

Mackay: In vv. 5-6 w have the first part of the divine response to Jeremiah’s complaint. God does not explain the workings of his providence; nor does he seek to cheer up the prophet by pointing to some set of good times to come. Instead his words are brusque and challenging. This perhaps permits us to gauge how Jeremiah’s complaint ought to be read in this context. He has been speaking in a voice of self-pity at the hardship he has sustained and the trials he is having to undergo in the discharge of his divine commission. The Lord is warning him that he has not yet experienced anything very much at all. . .

The response of vv. 5-6 does not directly address the questions posed by the prophet regarding the good fortune of the wicked and the hard time endured by those who are loyal to the Lord. It would seem that the Lord is saying that loyalty to him is its own reward. Those who are granted the privilege of serving the king have to do so without having revealed to them all the counsel of the king. Often they have to live with perplexing problems and open opposition. What they are called on to do is to maintain their obedience to their God despite the puzzles that the circumstances of life frequently set for them. Notwithstanding their lack of comprehension they are to struggle to remain faithful and rely on the provision of the one who had promised his presence would be with them (1:19).

Wiersbe: The easy life is ultimately the hard life, because the easy life stifles maturity, but the difficult life challenges us to develop our spiritual muscles’ and accomplish more for the Lord.

Constable: The Lord replied by asking Jeremiah how he expected to be able to endure the rigors of coming antagonism if the present hostility he was experiencing wore him out (cf. Jeremiah 11:19; Jeremiah 11:21; Jeremiah 23:21). If he fell in a relatively peaceful environment, how could he get though the turbulence to come, which resembled the violent, overflowing Jordan River in the spring. The Jordan Valley was a sub-tropical jungle, inhabited by lions, that was hard to penetrate at any season of the year (cf. Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44; 2 Kings 6:2).

Ryken: If Jeremiah thought he had trouble today, he needed to wait until tomorrow. Anyone who gets discouraged, downtrodden, and defeated over little things will never fulfill his divine calling. If even little disappointments tempt Jeremiah to leave his calling, how will he cope with real persecution? God had great things in store for Jeremiah. But he would never achieve them unless he was willing to persevere in the little things. . . (Is. 40:28-31) – The Lord gives the strength to keep pace.

B. (:6) Principle #2 – Flattery of Family and Friends Can Hide Evil Intentions

“For 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.”


A. (:7-9) Pictures of Desolation Resulting from Opposition

1. (:7) Lament of the Lord – Abandonment of Inheritance

“I have forsaken My house,

I have abandoned My inheritance;

I have given the beloved of My soul into the hand of her enemies.”

God is pointing out to Jeremiah the parallel nature of their concerns; God has a lament to raise as well – but on a higher level; how could He have graciously provided everything to the nations and then be spurned and even opposed?

Takes a lot for God to portray Himself as the one abandoning his people.

Longman: God turns from Jeremiah’s situation with his own family to God’s own situation with the people. Just like those who should love and trust Jeremiah have determined to hurt him, so the same is true of Yahweh’s people.

2. (:8) Roaring Lion

“My inheritance has become to Me Like a lion in the forest;

She has roared against Me;

Therefore I have come to hate her.”

Parunak: Judah is a wild beast provoking the Lord, a lion in the forest roaring as it attacks him. His destruction of them is simply the expected result of this provocation.

Ryken: Jeremiah does not mean “hate” in the sense of a violent, angry emotion. What it means is that God intended to perform an act of rejecting his people, at least for a time. He was going to disinherit them.

3. (:9) Speckled Bird

“Is 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!”

Parunak: Judah is a bird of prey, attacked by her peers. As a “speckled bird,” she looks strange and foreign to them, so they attack her. “Come ye …” is what the other birds cry out to the beasts of the field, summoning them against Judah. Thus we continue with the notion of Judah as an aggressive animal of prey, but now even the other animals in the forest have marshalled themselves against her.

Merrill Unger: The “speckled bird” represents a blending together of worship of the true God of heaven with pagan idolatry, so the neighboring nations were ready to pounce upon her in her sinful assimilation to their idolatry.

Ryken: The Jews were like the speckled bird. They were different. They stood out among the nations, perhaps because God’s favor rested upon them. So the other nations will move in for the kill, like wild beasts who come and devour. Reluctantly God will let them attack, because his inheritance has become like a lion in the forest.

B. (:10-11) Pictures of Desolation Resulting from Neglect

1. (:10) Unfaithful Shepherds

“Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard,

They have trampled down My field;

They have made My pleasant field A desolate wilderness.”

Constable: Many of the foreign kings had ruined the Lord’s people, like unfaithful shepherds sometimes ruined a vineyard. They had trodden the people down so that they had become as unproductive as a wilderness, completely desolate. Furthermore, Judeans did not express enough concern to do something about the situation; they failed to repent.

Mackay: Though “shepherds” coupled with a past translation may refer to Judah’s rulers (2:8) who have wasted the land with their imprudent actions, it is more probable that the phrase points to the leaders of the invading armies (6:3: 25:34-36). It is a figure of more organized and concerted action against the land than that of Ps. 80:13.

2. (:11) Uncaring People

“It has been made a desolation, Desolate, it mourns before Me;

The whole land has been made desolate, Because no man lays it to heart.”

Parunak: Judah is a vineyard, trodden down by careless shepherds. If you’ve ever had a garden, you know how destructive animals can be when they get into it. Imagine rabbits eating your lettuce, or turtles munching on the tomatoes. It’s even worse when a whole flock of sheep comes through, trampling everything under foot. Here Judah is portrayed as a vineyard (cf. Isa. 5), and careless shepherds have allowed their flocks to ravage it. Cf. Ezek. 34 for further indictments of the shepherds, the civil leaders of Judah at this period. They allow the godless to trample down those who truly are God’s portion and heritage.

C. (:12-13) Pictures of Desolation Resulting from God’s Wrath Like a Destroying Harvest

1. (:12) The Sword of the Lord

“On 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.”

Parunak: the “high places” (lit. caravan paths) in the wilderness

2. (:13) Harvest of Thorns

“They 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.”


A. (:14-15) Process of Uprooting and Restoration

1. (:14) Process of Uprooting

a. Uprooting of Wicked Nations from Their Lands

“Thus 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”

Thompson: The wicked neighbors would include all those who at some time spoiled the land that Yahweh had given to his people. Among these were the Egyptians, Assyrians, Edomites, Moabites, Amorites, Arameans, and Babylonians.

b. Uprooting of Judah From Captivity to Return to Promised Land

“and will uproot the house of Judah from among them.’”

2. (:15) Process of Restoration of Nations to Their Lands

“And 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.”

B. (:16-17) Potential for Prosperity or Destruction

1. (:16) Obedience Leads to Prosperity

“Then it will come about that 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, then they will be built up in the midst of My people.”

No accommodation for religious pluralism

2. (:17) Rebellion Leads to Destruction

“’But if they will not listen, then I will uproot that nation, uproot and destroy it,’ declares the LORD.”

Parunak: This is a common prophetic motif; cf. Isa. 10:5-19. God may use a pagan nation to punish his people, but that pagan nation will itself be judged for its savagery. God may chastise his people severely, but he will ultimately restore them to himself.

Feinberg: In this section we have an anticipation of the prophecies in chapters 47-49. In prophesying to the nations, Jeremiah was fulfilling his commission (1:10). The nations (Syria, Moab, Ammon) were to be punished by the same enemy that punished Judah, namely, Babylon. . . A millennial setting is in view in vv. 15-16. Repatriation is promised for Israel and the nations, who have learned of God from his people, just as Israel formerly learned the worship of idols through these nations. Notice that the basis of the predicted blessing is repentance and faith. If the pagans adopt the worship of God in truth, they will be incorporated into God’s people. Israel will lead in godliness as she formerly did in idolatry. There will be a remnant among the nations (cf. Gen 12:1-3; Rom 11:15). But the members of the remnant will have to make a genuine avowal of God as their own (cf. 4:2). Then the nations with Israel will know peace in the Messianic Age. When they were in the midst of the nations (vv. 7, 9), it was to God’s people’s detriment; when the nations are in the midst of God’s people, it will be to the nations’ spiritual blessing. The chapter closes with the alternative to faith and is a warning to all (v. 17). For unbelief there will be doom. Here, as always, prophecy is ethically conditioned.