God Will Have Compassion on Them
Jeremiah 12:7-17 teaches that God will have compassion even for his enemies.
Every now and then I hear about friends I went to college with, with marriages that have fallen apart. People I used to know fairly well and even looked up to have done some pretty awful things to their spouses, including adultery, physical abuse, and complete abandonment of the kids.
There’s more to these stories that I’m not aware of, but that doesn’t reduce the heartbreak—the weeping by my friends and often by their children, too.
In this section, God is lamenting over the loss of a broken marriage, too. God weeps because of the lost relationships, but also because there are things that must be done due to his wife’s unfaithfulness, but he doesn’t take any joy in it.
Abandoning the Love of His Life
Because God is just, he must abandon Israel to her own devices. But it’s not just “good riddance and may I never see you again.”
That’s not how God feels. In verse 7, God says,
I have abandoned my house; I have deserted my inheritance. I have handed the love of my life over to her enemies.
These aren’t the words of an angry person. They are the words of someone who’s been deeply hurt and has made some hard decisions that had to be made.
God says it’s his house, his inheritance, that’s been handed over. It’s personal for God.
Yet he still calls her “the love of my life” even after all she’s done to him. This is the language of great loss from someone who’s still in love.
God continues in verse 8,
My inheritance has behaved toward me like a lion in the forest. She has roared against me. Therefore, I hate her.
This isn’t “hate” in the usual sense of the word. It doesn’t mean God is about to lash out in an uncontrolled rage with eyes ablaze.
What it does mean is that God is making a painful decision to disinherit his people. Compared to the great love he still has for her, his actions look like hate.
Why the hate? Because his people have behaved like a roaring lion in the forest. In other words, they’ve turned on their God. In rebellion, they’re “biting the hand that feeds them” so to speak.
Despite this, God still loves His people. They are the love of his life, but he has to do what was necessary. He has to abandon them to the ways of the world that they prefer.
God continues in verse 9,
Is my inheritance like a hyena to me? Are birds of prey circling her? Go, gather all the wild animals; bring them to devour her.
The word translated “hyena” in the CSB and can also be translated as “speckled bird of prey.” The reason it’s translated “hyena” here is because that’s the way the Jews translated it in the Septuagint and many of their other writings.
But no matter how we translate the word, the meaning is this— God is handing over his bride to the wild animals so that they can harm the one he loves. This brings him no joy, but it’s necessary if there’s going to be any hope of future reconciliation.
So God has abandoned His people and there are two things to learn from this:
First, we should learn that our sins are painful to God. Every time we sin, God takes it personally. We don’t sin in isolation. Even if no other human being knows, God knows and it affects him emotionally and personally.
Second, we should learn that no matter what we’ve been through, God has been through worse. Maybe you’ve been abandoned or gone through an awful divorce. Maybe you’ve been treated as less than human for years and years. Well, your heavenly Father understands.
God, the Son, understands too. Hebrews 4:15–16 says,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
So God has abandoned the love of his life, which brings him no joy, but it’s necessary. God also takes no joy in...
Abandoning the Land
In verse 10, God says,
Many shepherds have destroyed my vineyard; they have trampled my plot of land. They have turned my desirable plot into a desolate wasteland.
The verse says “they” have done this, but it’s not like this destruction occurs outside God’s control. It happens because God wills it to happen. More on this when we get to verse 12.
In verse 10, though, notice the shepherds. They are a reference to foreign leaders who God sent to ruin the land. As they invaded, they destroyed the fields and the vineyards, leaving the land a desolate wilderness.
Here’s what verse 11 says,
They have made it a desolation. It mourns, desolate, before me. All the land is desolate, but no one takes it to heart.
Desolation. Desolation. Desolation. It might be translated differently in your Bible, but in Hebrew, it’s the same word repeated three times.
Desolation times three, and yet it seems God’s people hardly notice. Or at least they don’t seem to make the connection between God’s judgment and their bad behavior. No one seems to get the point, so God continues to destroy the land.
Over all the barren heights in the wilderness the destroyers have come, for the Lord has a sword that devours from one end of the earth to the other. No one has peace.
This was partially fulfilled in the year 602 B.C., a few years before the Babylonians captured Jerusalem. In 602 the Lord sent armies to ravage the land, which you can read more about in 2 Kings 24.
But notice that the Lord is the one holding the sword and He uses it to harm his own land, inhabited by his own people. God sends foreign armies to destroy everything.
Here’s how it’s described in verse 13,
They have sown wheat but harvested thorns. They have exhausted themselves but have no profit. Be put to shame by your harvests because of the Lord’s burning anger.
The people try to carry on as usual, but it’s no good—the land is ruined. They plant seeds, but all they can get to grow is a bunch of thorns.
God has abandoned the land because of their sinfulness and he’s disciplining them justly, in burning anger. Now keep in mind, this is God’s righteous anger. It’s not an out-of-control rampage that we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from people.
Restoring the People and the Land
What happens next is very unusual because there are very few places in the Bible that so closely connect both God’s righteous anger and his gracious restoration. Usually, one or the other is emphasized.
But in verse 14, God connects them and says this not just about his own people, but about their enemies,
Jeremiah 12:14 says,
This is what the Lord says: “Concerning all my evil neighbors who attack the inheritance that I bequeathed to my people, Israel, I am about to uproot them from their land, and I will uproot the house of Judah from them.
In other words, pay attention evil neighbors: “You may think you’re going to get away with what you did to the love of my life. But not so fast you’re going to get what’s coming to you.”
And two things are going to happen: first they’re going to be uprooted from their own lands. That’s only fair, right? They took God’s people into captivity, so now he’s going to send them into captivity.
And second, God says He’s going to take his people away from their evil neighbors and send them back home.
Now, this prophecy was literally fulfilled about 50 years after the Babylonians invaded and took the Israelites into captivity in 586 B.C. Then, starting in 537 B.C., during the time of Zerubbabel and Ezra and Nehemiah, the people were uprooted from their captors and allowed to come back home.
But notice that verse 14 isn’t just about the Israelites being uprooted; it’s also about the evil neighbors being uprooted... and about them being restored, too.
That’s the context of verse 14 and the meaning of verse 15,
After I have uprooted them, I will once again have compassion on them and return each one to his inheritance and to his land.
The “them” is referring to the “evil neighbors” being addressed by God in verse 14. This prophecy isn’t just about Israel. God’s going to have compassion even on Israel’s enemies.
This amazing prophecy was partly fulfilled when the Israelites returned home, but it also points to greater fulfillment in Christ, who died not just for Jews but for Gentiles, too. God isn’t a respecter of persons and he offers salvation to all people, no matter what nation they come from.
But God’s compassion towards the nations comes with a warning.
Warning the Nations
Instead of calling it a warning, we could say God’s compassion is conditional, and here’s the condition/warning given to the nations in general:
Jeremiah 12:16 says,
If they will diligently learn the ways of my people—to swear by my name, ‘As the Lord lives,’ just as they taught my people to swear by Baal—they will be built up among my people.
In other words, they’ll be grafted in— if they give up their own gods and learn the ways of the true God, then they’ll receive compassion.
In other words, there’s only one way to be saved. There’s only one true God, and Baal, or the Muslim God, or the Buddhist God, or the Native American God aren’t the way.
Some might protest “who are we to say Buddhists, Muslims, etc. aren’t saved?” Well, it’s not us that says it; God himself says there is only one way.
And Jesus says it in John 14:6,
Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
So the New Testament and the Old Testament are both very exclusive about who will receive God’s mercy. God’s mercy isn’t given to everyone. It’s given to those who, as it says in verse 16, no longer swear by the name of Baal, but by the name of the one true God.
And if they don’t, they won’t receive God’s compassion. They won’t be saved.
Verse 17 drives this point home...
However, if they will not obey, then I will uproot and destroy that nation.” This is the Lord’s declaration.
This is true for all of us, no matter what nation we come from. There’s only salvation through trusting in Christ. Outside of Jesus, there is only judgment and eternal death. But if we trust in the name of Jesus, there’s redemption, even if we were once his enemies.