IN THE EIGHTH CENTURY BEFORE CHRIST, Hosea experienced the terrible betrayal of a woman joined to him by the covenant of marriage who was tragically committed to prostitution. He learned thereby something of how God perceives the spiritual prostitution of the people to whom he was covenantally linked. In a somewhat similar vein, Jeremiah has suffered rejection by his friends and relatives (Jer. 11:18-23---yesterday's meditation). His anguish and anger over the situation sets the stage for God to explain his own response to the people who have rejected him (Jer. 12).
The question Jeremiah raises is prompted by his experiences in the immediately preceding verses. He has been doing his bit to foster reformation, yet his life is threatened by the relatives and people of his own village. Although he still affirms the righteousness of God, Jeremiah protests, "Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?" (Jer. 12:1). Plunged into despair and flooded with a sense of the sheer inequity of it all, Jeremiah in the opening verses of this chapter asks God why he does not simply root out the wicked and do away with them.
God does not directly respond to Jeremiah's question (Jer. 12:5-6). Instead, he tells the prophet, in effect, that he hasn't seen anything yet. If Jeremiah stumbles so painfully in his own village, how will he fare in the far more complicated and perverse atmosphere of Jerusalem? "If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?" (Jer. 12:5). If you stumble in the relatively safe arena of Anathoth, "how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?" (In the preexilic period, the Jordan's flood-plain was covered with luxuriant vegetation that protected many wild animals, including the Asiatic lion.) Many Christian leaders have had to learn that initial sufferings merely prepare the way for much more of the same.
At least Jeremiah is a little better able to understand what God means when he says, "I will forsake my house, abandon my inheritance; I will give the one I love into the hands of her enemies. My inheritance has become to me like a lion in the forest. She roars at me; therefore I hate her" (Jer. 12:7-8). So the following verses depict the judgment that must inevitably ensue.
Even here, however, God's graciousness shines through. After God has "uprooted" them, he will bring them back to their own inheritance (Jer. 12:14-15). If exile is inevitable because of their sin, restoration will follow because of God's compassion. Even pagan nations will join in the blessing of the Lord, wherever they repudiate the Baals and swear by the living God (Jer. 12:16).