Today: [Jeremiah 12] Where Does Responsibility Lie? In this chapter, Jeremiah cries out to God that He would have mercy upon the people. The Babylonians have descended, the cities of Judah are being taken one by one. Jeremiah complains to God that wickedness is triumphing over the Lord’s heritage. God’s response to Jeremiah is that the people have set themselves against Him and therefore enmity exists between the Father and the people. Going on to emphasis where the responsibility lies the Father gives an indictment against the leaders of the people, “many pastors” who are held in God’s view responsible before anyone else for the devastation coming upon the nation.
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[Jer 12:1-17 KJV] 1 Righteous [art] thou, O LORD, when I plead with thee: yet let me talk with thee of [thy] judgments: Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? [wherefore] are all they happy that deal very treacherously? 2 Thou hast planted them, yea, they have taken root: they grow, yea, they bring forth fruit: thou [art] near in their mouth, and far from their reins. 3 But thou, O LORD, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart toward thee: pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and prepare them for the day of slaughter. 4 How long shall the land mourn, and the herbs of every field wither, for the wickedness of them that dwell therein? the beasts are consumed, and the birds; because they said, He shall not see our last end. 5 If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and [if] in the land of peace, [wherein] thou trustedst, [they wearied thee], then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? 6 For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee; yea, they have called a multitude after thee: believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee. 7 I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage; I have given the dearly beloved of my soul into the hand of her enemies.
In this chapter, the prophet Jeremiah pleads the case of the daughter of his people as the Babylonians descend upon the nation. Jeremiah cites the righteousness of God and questions which the way of the wicked prospers and why the treachery of nations prevails over his people. This is a common question asked by scholars and everyday people alike. We look around us and see the wisdom of the world prevailing and the counsels of wicked men triumphing over the nations and we struggle to reconcile this with our faith in God and His word. David himself spoke of this and his own difficulty when considering the seeming victory of the ungodly around him:
[Psa 73:2-3, 5, 12-13, 16-17 KJV] 2 But as for me, my feet were almost gone; my steps had well nigh slipped. 3 For I was envious at the foolish, [when] I saw the prosperity of the wicked. … 5 They [are] not in trouble [as other] men; neither are they plagued like [other] men. … 12 Behold, these [are] the ungodly, who prosper in the world; they increase [in] riches. 13 Verily I have cleansed my heart [in] vain, and washed my hands in innocency. … 16 When I thought to know this, it [was] too painful for me; 17 Until I went into the sanctuary of God; [then] understood I their end.
David sees the prosperity of the wicked and questions God but we see in verse 16 the answer to this dilemma. God does not work in our time frames. Notice that David says understanding came when he went to the sanctuary of God. In other words when we place ourselves and our lives in the midst of ungodliness then we will only see their triumph and the prevailing of their purposes. It is all a matter of placement and the meditation of our hearts. Sometimes it is difficult not to see anything other than what is contrary to God’s word but it is up to us to determine where we are going to focus the mediation of our hearts. The world and its systems reach out to us and compel us to think their thoughts, see their visions and follow their agenda. The Holy Spirit however is a gentleman, just quietly waiting till we have had our fill making Himself available to renew our minds according to the promises of His word.
In verses 3-4 Jeremiah prays for God to give relief to His people from the suffering that is beginning to be in evidence as the invasion of the Babylonians begins in earnest. The reply of God is not what Jeremiah wants to hear. The Father’s reply is that the suffering of the nation arises from the treachery in the hearts of the people in turning against God and violating the covenant of His word in their dealings. What where the primary offenses? There is repeated mention throughout Isaiah and Jeremiah that the people have generationally, with the endorsement and leadership of their kings from the line of David:
1. Corrupted the worship of Jehovah with syncretic rituals, mixing paganism and Baal worship with the traditions of Moses.
2. Adherence to Moses’ law has all but gone by the wayside. Agricultural laws calling for the land to lie at rest every seven years have been completely ignored.
3. There is no indication that from the time of Joshua until the last king of the line of Judah that the 50 year Jubilee where debts were cancelled and lands returned to their owners was observed one single time.
Yet in all of this as the nation suffers the people cry out plaintively in their difficulty not seeming to make any connection between their difficulties and their disobedience. Both Jeremiah, Isaiah and other prophets spelled this out time and again and they have shown themselves incapable of questioning their own flawed adherence to the law of Moses. Disobedience and explaining away why there should have been strict obedience to the Torah were entrenched in the thinking of the people. Their way of life was one of detached and feigned reverence for the words of Moses that were nothing other to them than tokens of history without any real relevance to their lives. Because of this and the fact that that God of Moses still lived and superintended over their affairs, consequences are being visited upon the people very much not of their liking.
8 Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; it crieth out against me: therefore have I hated it. 9 Mine heritage [is] unto me [as] a speckled bird, the birds round about [are] against her; come ye, assemble all the beasts of the field, come to devour. 10 Many pastors have destroyed my vineyard, they have trodden my portion under foot, they have made my pleasant portion a desolate wilderness. 11 They have made it desolate, [and being] desolate it mourneth unto me; the whole land is made desolate, because no man layeth [it] to heart. 12 The spoilers are come upon all high places through the wilderness: for the sword of the LORD shall devour from the [one] end of the land even to the [other] end of the land: no flesh shall have peace. 13 They have sown wheat, but shall reap thorns: they have put themselves to pain, [but] shall not profit: and they shall be ashamed of your revenues because of the fierce anger of the LORD. 14 Thus saith the LORD against all mine evil neighbours, that touch the inheritance which I have caused my people Israel to inherit; Behold, I will pluck them out of their land, and pluck out the house of Judah from among them. 15 And it shall come to pass, after that I have plucked them out I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again, every man to his heritage, and every man to his land. 16 And it shall come to pass, if they will diligently learn the ways of my people, to swear by my name, The LORD liveth; as they taught my people to swear by Baal; then shall they be built in the midst of my people. 17 But if they will not obey, I will utterly pluck up and destroy that nation, saith the LORD.
The Father in verse 8 describes the people of Judah as a predator that lurks in the forest, seeking to devour what God can bring to them but not to walk in peace with His words and His laws. Because of this the law of the jungle rules among the nations as the Father gives them up to their own counsels of war as deprivation and chaos reigns where peace once prevailed. Where does the fault lie in all of this? Where does correction need to come. If there is going to be correction and we ourselves are to escape the fate of unfortunate Judah and Jerusalem where can we begin to make the necessary changes. Verse 10 tells us where the responsibility lies: “many pastors have destroyed My vineyard, making it desolate and bringing desolation…” What does it mean, “many pastors…” This speaks of a multitude of leaders, each one telling the people what they want to hear as the people according to Paul in 2 Tim. 3:7 “heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears – ever learning but never coming to the knowledge of the truth…” So, the responsibility and culpability does not lie primarily with godless leaders of our nation, or with the lukewarm condition of the people of God. From God’s stand point He first and foremost holds our pastors responsible for the condition of the nation and the condition of His people. This is very interesting because pastors tend to be very eloquent then the very conditions that God holds them firstly accountable for creating.
If you are a leader what is to be your response to this? To humble yourself to the incitement of God’s word. If you look around your city and see ungodliness ruling then before you point the finger at others you must be willing to say “my fault, my responsibility…” When you look out at the tepid and lukewarm state of the congregation, rather than being righteously indignant perhaps the more God honoring response would be to conclude “if my congregation is less than what God would desire then the fault and responsibility first lies with me, and how will I go about to correct it…” verse 17 of the chapter calls for the people to repent and to obey His voice no longer following the voice of Baal. It is interesting that Baal had a voice in the midst of the nation? What was that voice? It was the voice of pastors giving the people what they wanted rather than what they needed. Baal means “dominative father”. Many times people in times of insecurity think that a strong and forceful leader is the answer to the problems of the nation. This was the error that brought king Saul to the throne and to his own destruction. A pastor is not to move in the spirit of a Saul, seeking to be larger than life, or head and shoulders above the people. Rather he is to have the heart of David and bring the people the sweet psalms of his piety and personal struggle to walk with God in order to demonstrate the honesty and transparency that will lead the people and the nation back to a place of right standing with the Father.
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