Jeremiah 12-13: Swimming Against the Stream
October 6, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
Jeremiah has a question for God, a question that many of us have asked on occasion too. This question (12:1) is essentially, “Why do the wicked prosper?” In particular, he has in mind those who are “treacherous.” Why is it that people who betray you, who stab someone in the back, who take good deeds and make foul rumors of them, why is it that people who are bad do well in life?
This is a common question that many people have asked. Some people seem to think that the Bible teaches that the reason why people are to be good is that if we are good, we will do well in life. Certainly, in some instances and on some occasions there is a one-to-one correlation between upright, moral behavior and financial and other forms of prosperity. But in many instances that correlation is broken: sometimes people who work hard, who are gifted and talented, who are morally upstanding, are rejected and fail to gain the limelight or attention that it seems they deserve. While other people—less talented, less hard working, less moral, and treacherous betrayers to boot—seem to get away scot-free.
God’s answer is at one level simple. He confirms that these people who are betraying Jeremiah are indeed as bad as he thinks. What is more, the prophet is told not to trust them. “Do not believe them, though they speak friendly words to you;” they have “dealt treacherously” with Jeremiah (12:6). But Jeremiah is not to be surprised: God asks him how he will cope if he is tired in a foot race with other people if now he has to race against horses (12:5). In other words: what do you expect, Jeremiah? God has his people under judgment for their wicked deeds, Jeremiah is declaring that judgment, why should Jeremiah expect any kind of different treatment from these people?
To underscore this lesson, God gives Jeremiah two pictures. The first is a loincloth (13:1). A loincloth is an ancient undergarment, sometimes worn by itself, covering the lower regions. This loincloth is purchased by Jeremiah, and then Jeremiah is told to go and hide it under a rock (13:3). He comes back many days later and finds that the material has become worthless. It is “good for nothing” (13:7). So, says God, are his people: they are also “good for nothing” (13:10). When Jeremiah is to picture in his mind the state of God’s people, he is to picture a rotten and ruined pair of underpants. Not a pretty picture!
The other picture God gives to his prophet is of wine jars filled with wine (13:12). The point here is now regarding the leaders of God’s people. If the people themselves are like a pair of rotten underpants, the leaders are like drunkards filled with wine. They stumble around offering poor and inadequate and insufficient leadership.
The story of Jeremiah is not—which is probably why so seldom is Jeremiah preached—a pretty picture. But we do need its message. We need its message if we are a pastor or leader who is acting treacherously. Do not just run by your feelings and act in drunken violence, like a man stumbling down the street after having drunk too much at a bar. Be governed by God and his Word; have self-control.
We also need its message if we are faithful followers of Jesus. Perhaps you are finding your business or employment less than hospitable to your Christian lifestyle. Do not think that opposition to your Christian convictions is surprising. Keep on going anyway. As Churchill put it: never, never, never give up. Or, as it is here, if you run with people and you’re tired, how will you not be tired if you run with horses (12:5)? Swimming against the stream is harder work than coasting downhill. Keep swimming anyway.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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