How Will You Compete With Horses?
In Jeremiah 11:18-12:6, Jeremiah asks a few questions of God, but God has a few questions of His own.
Have you ever been completely caught off guard? Maybe you’ve been peacefully walking down a street looking the wrong way when “bam!” You’re caught off guard and run into a pole. The next thing you know, you’re lying flat on your back, wondering what hit you. That’s like what happened to Jeremiah.
The Plot Against Jeremiah
Verse 19 of Jeremiah 11 says,
But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter. I did not know it was against me they devised schemes, saying, “Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.”
In modern times, we might say they were targeting him with a drone and planning to blow him to smithereens. Why were they so mad at him?
Jeremiah 11:21 says,
Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the men of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, “Do not prophesy in the name of the Lord, or you will die by our hand”—
They’re so infuriated with Jeremiah because they don’t like his words, which are really God’s words.
The back story is that these angry people are from Anathoth, which was a town where many priests lived and Jeremiah didn’t have many nice things to say about the priests.
In Jeremiah 5:31 and 6:13 he called the priests “false prophets” and “unjust for greedy gain.” So they wanted to kill him because he exposed them for what they were—a bunch of liars only interested in getting rich off their lies.
So no wonder they wanted to send Jeremiah to kingdom come. People don’t like it when we threaten their livelihood and reputation. And that’s no surprise, but perhaps Jeremiah is caught off guard because these people plotting against him are people from Jeremiah’s own hometown.
Jeremiah was also from Anathoth, like it says in chapter 1. And in verse 6 of chapter 12, God tells him,
For even your brothers and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you; they are in full cry after you; do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you.”
To his face, his very own family seemed friendly enough, but behind his back they were planning how to get rid of him—all because he spoke God’s words to them.
History is filled with people whose lives were threatened for preaching God’s words. John the Baptist, Stephen the Martyr, the apostle Paul, and Peter are just a few who sacrificed their lives rather than keep their mouths shut.
A preacher is called to preach God’s word no matter who it offends or consequences and that’s what Jeremiah was doing. He’s being faithful.
Jeremiah’s Request of Vengeance
Jeremiah doesn’t seek to get even on his own. Instead, he puts the matter in God’s hands. In chapter 11:20 Jeremiah says,
But, O Lord of hosts, who judges righteously, who tests the heart and the mind, let me see your vengeance upon them, for to you have I committed my cause.
Jeremiah knows that vengeance belongs to God and it’s good for us to remember, too. Paul reminds us of it in Romans 12:19...
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
So Jeremiah didn’t try to defend himself; instead he asked God to defend him. Jeremiah committed his cause to God, which is what we should all do.
Letting God take vengeance is best because God is in the best position to defend us. God judges righteously and so God’s vengeance will always be fair, because he knows every situation completely. We don’t know a person’s heart or if there are extenuating circumstances, but God does.
God’s Promise of Justice
So, in God’s perfect righteousness, He promises to punish Jeremiah’s enemies. In verse 22-23 God says,
Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: “Behold, I will punish them. The young men shall die by the sword, their sons and their daughters shall die by famine, and none of them shall be left. For I will bring disaster upon the men of Anathoth, the year of their punishment.”
God promises they’re going to get what they deserve. Vengeance belongs to God and he’ll repay. That’s a promise.
But it’s also a good reminder that God sees every sin we commit. There aren’t any secret sins with God, as it says in Ecclesiastes 12:14,
For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.
So if we’re wishing vengeance on others, never forget that God sees our sins, too.
Now, before we move on to chapter 12, let’s pause for a moment to think about the...
Comparison with Jesus
Jesus also had people conspiring against him. His own hometown and countrymen turned against him. The very people he came to save were conspiring to kill Him.
Like Jeremiah, Jesus is also called “a lamb led to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7), except Jesus wasn’t surprised by the persecution. Jesus knew they’d do more than just plot to kill him; they’d succeed.
Another difference from Jeremiah is that Jesus didn’t ask God to take vengeance on his enemies. Instead, he asked his father to forgive them. Luke 23:34 says that while Jesus hung on the cross, he said,
And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments.
And when Jesus was before the religious leaders, he didn’t defend himself either. Instead, he “remained silent and gave no answer” (Mark 14:61).
So if we’re looking for an example to follow, we should follow the example of Jesus, not Jeremiah, which is what we’re told in 1 Peter 2:20-23,
For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.
Christ set us an example, an example that he expects us to follow. It’s an example of not threatening others. It’s an example of refusing to take vengeance even when our enemies deserve it.
But this isn’t exactly the example of Jeremiah.
Now you’d think, after God’s promise of punishment, that Jeremiah would let the matter go and leave the timing up to God, but he doesn’t. Instead, he complains and tries to give God some constructive criticism. In chapter 12:1 Jeremiah says,
Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
In other words, God, you’re righteous and all, but I think you could do a little better if you’d punish these wicked people quickly because it sure looks like there getting away with it.
He’s making this complaint with two similar questions that ask essentially one thing— Why do good things keep happening to bad people? How would you answer that question?
One way is to say that God’s not in control. And that’s the direction a lot of people go, even Christians. They say man has free will and he makes his own decisions, so there isn’t really anything God can do about it right now. It’s just the way it is.
But that’s not a good enough answer for Jeremiah and it’s one I don’t accept either. It’s not good enough, as Jeremiah says in verse 2...
You plant them, and they take root; they grow and produce fruit; you are near in their mouth and far from their heart.
See, God isn’t a hands-off God. God plants people and they grow and produce fruit. He’s sovereign. There’s no question about that in Jeremiah’s think and yet God has chosen not to be in everyone’s heart.
Why not? If God is completely sovereign, then why do the wicked keep getting away with murder? Why does God let the wicked prosper? Why doesn’t he just save everyone? Is it because he can’t? That’s not a very good option.
The only other alternative, humanly speaking, is that if God is sovereign, then God must not be very good.
Now these questions and answers are struggled with by a lot of people. People see evil in the world and think if there’s an all-powerful God, then why does he allow evil to exist? Why doesn’t he just save everyone and stop evil from occurring if he’s so powerful? Either he can’t or he won’t and if he won’t, then he must not be all that good.
So God’s got an image problem and Jeremiah continues trying to be helpful in verse 3.
But you, O Lord, know me; you see me, and test my heart toward you. Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter, and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
He says, “God, test everyone’s heart and if they’re righteous like me, then spare them. But if they aren’t, then set them apart and kill them all.”
That’s what Jeremiah thinks God should do. God should take vengeance and stop allowing evil to continue. And in verse 4, Jeremiah concludes his complaint/advice with one last appeal for God to do the right thing:
How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? For the evil of those who dwell in it the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, “He will not see our latter end.”
In other words, there’s no time to waste God. You need to step up your game and do what needs to be done. Wipe them out God. If not for my sake, do it for the sake of the innocent birds and animals, Jeremiah says.
Now, in God’s response, we might be hoping for some good answers to Jeremiah’s questions about why God let’s the wicked thrive and why He continues to allow evil to exist. But we’re going to be disappointed because God doesn’t give any answers here. He doesn’t waste any time defending himself because He doesn’t need to. He’s God. [For a fuller explanation of this, read this excellent article from R.C. Sproul.]
Instead, he asks Jeremiah a few questions of his own. Jeremiah 12:5 says,
“If you have raced with men on foot, and they have wearied you, how will you compete with horses? And if in a safe land you are so trusting, what will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?
In other words, to be blunt, who are you to question God? God says, I’ll be the one to ask the questions from now on, thank you very much.
This sounds like Romans 9:20 when Paul was discussing predestination. There, he says, “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?”
In Jeremiah, God essentially asks the same thing, “how are you going to keep up with horses if you’re only capable of running on two feet? Is that all you’ve got?”
I remember one time, when I was about 13-years-old, in the car with my older brother. I was complaining about how terrible a driver he was and he had enough. A few feet from our driveway, he stopped the car, got out and told me to get in the driver’s seat and drive the rest of the way up. Now the car had a stick-shift, so all I could do was make the car lurch forward about six inches before it stalled. I never complained about my brother’s driving again.
I had no right to criticize my brother. I couldn’t even make the car move! No one has any right to criticize God, either.
Now let’s look at the second question in verse 5. It’s much like the first and I like how the CSB says it: “If you stumble in a peaceful land, what will you do in the thickets of the Jordan?”
In other words, if we can’t even keep from falling over while walking down this gentle path, how on earth are we going to manage in the thickets of the jungle?
Put plainly, if we’re going to complain about how bad things are now, what are we going to do when things get really bad? How are we going to deal with real persecution if we can’t even handle these relatively minor things?
Now remember, people were plotting to kill Jeremiah, which doesn’t seem minor, but also remember God had warned him and protected him. So, from God’s point of view, there wasn’t anything for him to worry about. God had it handled.
What about us? Do we start to panic when our religious rights are taken away or when someone says “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas?” Do we feel compelled to correct every wrong thing that someone else says?
Remember the example of Jesus that we’re expected to follow. We read in 1 Peter 2. “But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
So if we complain about the relatively minor things, how are we going to stand firm when things get really bad? Well, it won’t be by our own strength. The only way we’re going to stand is by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, as we conclude, listen to what Isaiah 40:28-31 says,
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.
How are we going to stand firm when things get really bad? We’re going to wait on the Lord for Him to renew our strength. And those that put their trust in Him will not faint. We’ll run and not grow weary. And that’s God sure promise for all of His people.