Jeremiah 12-13

Jeremiah 12:1 Wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper?

“Many things which seem unjust and unfair to us now, with our limited vision and understanding, will become clear if we will be patient, suspend judgment for a while, and have faith in our Heavenly Father. We need to realize that when our vision is blurred, patience and time are essential elements in restoring our perceptions… The wicked do prosper sometimes, but only for a short while; and whatever suffering the righteous may endure is only temporary. In the end, it will be the other way around. The wicked will suffer damnation for their behavior, while the righteous who endure earthly trials well will be blessed with peace here and crowned with exaltation hereafter.
“The Lord has counseled us to recognize that our perceptions are limited and, therefore, we need to have patience and faith in our Heavenly Father as we struggle through our trials and sorrows in this life. As we climb the mountain of mortality, there are times when our vision will be clouded and unclear. It is only when we reach the summit that we can see and know things as they really are. Until then, we must be patient and live by faith.” (A. LaVar Thornock, “Do the Wicked Prosper While the Righteous Suffer?” Ensign, Oct. 1990, 16)
Jeremiah 12:3 But thou, O Lord, knowest me: thou hast seen me, and tried mine heart
Jeremiah went through a lot of trials during his ministry.  He was imprisoned, put in the stocks, and repeatedly rejected. At one point, the trials seemed too much and he declared, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed.” (Jer. 20:14) Like Joseph Smith in Liberty Jail, it was difficult for him to see the wicked go unpunished while the righteous suffer.  Jeremiah cried out, “O Lord of hosts, that triest the righteous, and seest the reins and the heart, let me see thy vengeance upon them.” (Jer. 20:12)  Joseph Smith asked, “How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold for the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants… how long shall they suffer these wrongs…?” (D&C 121:2-3)
The Lord’s answer is hard to remember in times of persecution:
   Cursed are all those that shall lift up the heel against mine anointed… who swear falsely against my servants, that they might bring them into bondage and death—
   Wo unto them; because they have offended my little ones they shall be severed from the ordinances of mine house…
   They shall not have right to the priesthood…
   It had been better for them that a millstone had been hanged about their necks, and they drowned in the depth of the sea. (D&C 121:16-22)
Jeremiah 12:5 If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?
Gerald N. Lund
Jeremiah challenged the people of his day, saying that if they were already troubled by the first of the Lord’s judgments, how would they cope with the fury yet to come? Yet he couches it all in figurative language. “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? (Jer. 12:5.)
The annual flooding of the Jordan River, in the early summer just as the first of the grain harvest was beginning, drove the lions and other dangerous animals from the thick undergrowth that lined the banks. Because most of the people were in the fields for the harvest, these wild animals did great damage. Thus, Jeremiah’s question, “Then how wilt thou do in the swelling of the Jordan?” is a powerful reminder that if Israel does not repent, much worse is yet to come! (“Understanding Scriptural Symbols,” Ensign, Oct. 1986, 27)
Jeremiah 12:6 even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee
“The widespread hostility to and rejection of divine messages made it a hard time to be an authentic prophet. Even the priestly men of Anathoth, Jeremiah’s hometown, repeatedly made attempts on Jeremiah’s life, saying, ‘Prophesy not in the name of the Lord, that thou die not by our hand.’ (Jer. 11:21.) The plotters even involved his brothers and the house of his father. (See Jer. 12:6.)
“Jeremiah was horrified at the variety of plots being made against him: ‘I was like a lamb or an ox that is brought to the slaughter; and I knew not that they had devised devices against me, saying, Let us destroy the tree with the fruit thereof, and let us cut him off from the land of the living.’ (Jer. 11:19.)” (Keith H. Meservy, “Jerusalem at the Time of Lehi and Jeremiah,” Ensign, Jan. 1988, 25)
Jeremiah 12:7 I have forsaken mine house, I have left mine heritage
After the Temple of Solomon was dedicated, the Lord appeared to Solomon and declared:
   I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me: I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually.
   And if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, in integrity of heart, and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded thee, and wilt keep my statutes and my judgments:
   Then I will establish the throne of thy kingdom upon Israel for ever, as I promised to David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man upon the throne of Israel.
   But if ye shall at all turn from following me, ye or your children, and will not keep my commandments and my statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods, and worship them:
   Then will I cut off Israel out of the land which I have given them; and this house, which I have hallowed for my name, will I cast out of my sight; and Israel shall be a proverb and a byword among all people:
   And at this house, which is high, every one that passeth by it shall be astonished, and shall hiss; and they shall say, Why hath the LORD done thus unto this land, and to this house?
   And they shall answer, Because they forsook the LORD their God, who brought forth their fathers out of the land of Egypt, and have taken hold upon other gods, and have worshipped them, and served them: therefore hath the LORD brought upon them all this evil. (1 Kgs. 9:3-9)
Jeremiah 12:8 Mine heritage is unto me as a lion in the forest; it crieth out against me
The Lord compares Israel to an angry lion.  He had fed it, taken care of it, groomed its mane, protected it from other lions, and provided the best place in the world to live.  What could he expect in return?  If it were possible, the lion would tear Him in two, roaring against Him in anger as if he had been abused and treated poorly.  The Lord deserved the loyalty of a lap dog and got the anger of a lion instead.
Jeremiah 12:9 Mine heritage is unto me as a speckled bird
Apparently, no one likes speckled birds—even the other birds are prejudice against them. (See Gen. 30:32)
Brigham Young
Let us look now for a moment at what is termed the “moral code,” the ten commandments revealed by the Lord to the Jews, the House of Israel, for a law to control their everyday walk and conduct. Do the Latter-day Saints keep this? Yes. Does that make them so very strange? Why should it? Does that fact make them a speckled bird in the communities of the world? It should not. Then why is it that we are so considered? (Journal of Discourses, 13:235)
Jeremiah 12:15 After that I have plucked them out I will return, and have compassion on them, and will bring them again
The capture of Jerusalem and the subsequent 70 years in Babylon are a type for the scattering and gathering of the entire House of Israel in the latter-days.  The Lord had made great promises to his people, but with wickedness they had sold their inheritance for a thing of naught.  They would be driven from their homes into a Gentile world—the city of Babylon—but would return 70 years later to rebuild the temple and inherit the land promised.
So will it be in the latter-days.  The scattered House of Israel will return from the land of the Gentiles, from the darkness of spiritual Babylon, to the land of their inheritance to build again a temple unto the Lord their God.
Ezra Taft Benson
For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, … and I will cause them [plural] to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.” (Jer. 30:3; italics added.)
Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah.” (Jer. 31:31.)
And hear the words of Zechariah:
“I will strengthen the house of Judah, and I will save the house of Joseph, and I will bring them again to place them. …
“I will hiss for them, and gather them; for I have redeemed them.” (Zech. 10:6, 8.)
I have witnessed this spirit work upon the Jews. In 1946, I was impressed as we interviewed many to find how determined they were to return to Palestine. As they would come to the relief agencies and the displaced-person camps to get temporary help, we would ask them why they did not settle nearby, and often would invite them to stay. But most had but one desire—to return to the land of their fathers.
The Book of Mormon is no less explicit in its prophecy concerning Israel’s and Judah’s gathering from a long dispersion:
“And it shall come to pass that they shall be gathered in from their long dispersion, from the isles of the sea, and from the four parts of the earth; and the nations of the Gentiles shall be great in the eyes of me, saith God, in carrying them forth to the lands of their inheritance.
“Yea, the kings of the Gentiles shall be nursing fathers unto them, and their queens shall become nursing mothers.” (2 Ne. 10:8–9.)
I saw the fulfillment of this prophecy with my own eyes in war-torn Europe in 1946 when ships of Great Britain smuggled the Jews to Palestine in response to the powerful spirit of gathering. The Mormon people understand this spirit. (Ensign, Dec. 1976, 70-71)
Jeremiah 13                                                 The Manner of Prophesying Among the Jews
After quoting 13 chapters of Isaiah, Nephi felt compelled to explain that his people didn’t quite understand Isaiah, “for they know not concerning the manner of prophesying among the Jews.” (2 Ne. 25:1) Chapter 13 of Jeremiah is a good place to stop and look at “the manner of prophesying.”  Although we may feel like the Nephites who didn’t understand, we need to remember that the Jews did understand, “I know that the Jews do understand the things of the prophets, and there is none other people that understand the things which were spoken unto the Jews like unto them” (2 Ne. 25:5).
In Jeremiah 13 we have some unorthodox prophesying.
  1. The house of Israel is compared to Jeremiah’s underwear
  2. Jeremiah declares the obvious about bottles of wine
  3. God says I will “discover thy skirts upon thy face” (v. 26)
What is the point?  Let’s go through this chapter with that question in mind.
Jeremiah 13:1-11  The parable of Jeremiah’s underwear
Old Testament object lessons are awesome—quite different from anything you are likely to see in your Sunday School class  One of my all time favorites is when God asks Ezekiel to cook his food over dried human dung!  The object lesson is designed to get the attention of the Jews as they watch him eat his food prepared in such a disgusting manner.  Ezekiel, however, protests and the Lord allows him to cook his food over cow dung instead.  God allows the compromise and the Jews are still disgusted. (Ezek. 4:9-17)  The shock value for today’s Latter-day Saint is about the same as the shock value for the captive Jews to whom Ezekiel preached.  Try that one in Sunday School!
Well, Jeremiah’s object lesson about his underwear is almost as good.  Put a dry linen girdle around your loins then go to Euphrates and hide it in a rock.  In the dry climate you could preserve anything for thousands of years if kept in a hole in the rock (think of the Dead Sea Scrolls).  But after many days Jeremiah goes to check on his undies only to find that they are completely ruined.  This is impossible!   Mold and mildew will not survive a day in the heat of the desert.  His ruined loincloth is completely unexpected and gets the attention of his audience.  Then the Lord compares the loincloth to the House of Israel, which should have been perfectly preserved, but was basically good for nothing. The Jews understood the symbolism that they were supposed to cling to the Lord like a girdle clings to the loins of a man, but the underwear analogy is strange to us.
Jeremiah 13:4 go to Euphrates, and hide it there
“Commentators are uncertain whether Jeremiah traveled all the way to the Euphrates River for the sake of an illustration, a distance in excess of 400 miles.  Such a journey would have taken about four months each way, and the prophet also had to go there again to retrieve the garment (v. 6).  Some interpreters suggest that Jeremiah went to the spring called Perath (the name is similar to “Euphrates” in Hb) near Anathoth, his family home.” The Apologetics Study Bible, T. Cabal [Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007], 1108)
Jeremiah 13:12-14  The symbol of the wine bottle
Jeremiah is going to draw his audience in by stating the obvious, “Every bottle will be filled with wine.”  The Jews reply is, “Well, duh, everyone knows that a wine bottle is filled with wine. Do we need this prophet to tell us what to do with a wine bottle?”  The audience is now paying attention.  The Lord then explains that everyone from the kings to the least of Jerusalem will be filled with drunkenness in preparation for their utter destruction.  A man is helpless when completely drunk.  Like Laban before Nephi’s sword, the inebriated inhabitants of Jerusalem will be dashed against one another by the enemy.  It will all come as a destruction from the Lord, “I will not pity, nor spare, nor have mercy, but destroy them.”
Jeremiah 13:16 before your feet stumble upon the dark mountains
The image of feet stumbling in the darkness, groping for the light, but being unable to find it is reminiscent of Lehi’s vision of the tree of life.  “And it came to pass that there arose a mist of darkness; yea, even an exceedingly great mist of darkness, insomuch that they who had commenced in the path did lose their way, that they wandered off and were lost” (1 Ne. 8:23).  The Jews had “commenced in the path,” but were so lost that the chances of finding the light were quickly fading.
Jeremiah 13:17 my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride; and mine eye shall weep sore
Joseph Fielding Smith
These are reasons why the Lord wept and why the heavens wept. I was asked by a brother one time if a man could be perfectly happy in the celestial kingdom if one of his children was not permitted to enter there. I told him that I supposed that any man who was so unfortunate as to have one of his children barred from the celestial kingdom would, of course, have feelings of sorrow because of that condition; and that is just the position our Father in heaven is in. Not all of his children are worthy of celestial glory, and many are forced to suffer his wrath because of their transgressions, and this causes the Father and the whole heavens to have sorrow and to weep. (Conference Report, April 1923, Third Day-Morning Session 137)
Jeremiah 13:22 For the greatness of thine iniquity are thy skirts discovered, and thy heels made bare
Modesty among the Jews must have been similar to many modern Muslim societies: bodies are covered, veils over the face, etc.  It would be horribly embarrassing for a woman to be seen in public with even the arms or legs exposed.  How much more embarrassing, then, if the skirts were uncovered?  Ezekiel declared, “therefore I will gather all thy lovers, with whom thou hast taken pleasure, and all them that thou hast loved, with all them that thou hast hated; I will even gather them round about against thee, and will discover thy nakedness unto them, that they may see all thy nakedness.” (Ezek. 16:37, see also Isa. 47:3; Nahum 3:5)  The image is of a woman, out there in the open, for all to see, with her heels in the air like a woman in stirrups at her Gynecology appointment.  Horrifying!  Embarrassing!  Mortifying!
Jeremiah 13:23 Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?
By baptism, our blemishes can be washed clean again.  The leopard spots, in effect, are washed away.  But only God can work such a miracle.  Man is too weak.  Hence, the Savior asked, “which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?”  (Matt. 6:27) And He reminds us, “thou canst not make one hair white or black” (Matt. 5:36).  Similarly, Jeremiah asks, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots?”  The answer is no!  Only the Lord can do that.
The wickedness of the Jews was so entrenched that they were past repenting. They had rejected that God who could wash away their spots.  They had turned their backs on the only source of redemption.  Can an evil fountain produce that which is good? “then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil.”
“Jeremiah’s efforts provided a timeless example for all people. Although Jeremiah did not bring Judah to repent, and he did not avert the destruction of Jerusalem, the beneficial consequences of his life have been incalculably great. Jeremiah’s unwavering dedication to the Lord and his own personal brilliance are obvious in his forceful and moving denunciations of sin.” (K. Codell Carter, “Dark Clouds of Trouble,” Ensign, July 1980, 29)