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Jeremiah 11:18-12:6 – A Lamb Led to the Slaughter


This segment consists of two laments of Jeremiah (11:18-20; 12:1-4) and two responses from God (11:21-23; 12:5-6).


Jeremiah has become aware of threats against his life, perhaps for the first time, because of the message he has been preaching. He considers himself to be like a "gentle lamb led to the slaughter"--that is, he had been innocent of these plans to take his life and silence his tongue until God made it known to him. While the lamb metaphor may be linked to other texts (Isaiah 53:7; John 1:29, 36), Jeremiah does not understand his suffering/death to be vicarious, though it is innocent. Jeremiah also does not plan to take action against the plotters himself; he commits his cause to God. God responds by identifying his enemies, namely his own family and neighbors, and promises that they will be judged for their schemes.

In the second lament (12:1-4), Jeremiah raises the perennial question regarding God's justice in the face of the presence and persistence of evil. He knows God will be proven right in these matters; yet, he wants to lay a case against God. Why do the treacherous continue to thrive? Jeremiah is impatient for God to judge his persecutors for their schemes. His cry, "How Long?" focuses on the adverse effects of their activities on the land and the animals--the ecological impact of human sin on the environment is brought to the fore (as it is in 12:7-11). The land itself mourns over what people are doing to harm it so.

God responds (12:5-6) by noting that, if Jeremiah thinks that his family and friends (the "foot-runners") have been difficult, how will he do when all the wicked in Israel (the riders on horses) descend upon him? If Jeremiah has difficulty in a reasonably safe land, how will he fare when he gets all tangled up in further community conflicts (the "thickets of the Jordan")? Jeremiah should be prepared for things getting even worse than they are. God then follows with God's own lament over what has happened to land and people (12:7-11).

Jeremiah 11:18-12:6

Jeremiah’s Life Threatened

18 It was the Lord who made it known to me, and I knew;
   then you showed me their evil deeds.
19 But I was like a gentle lamb
   led to the slaughter.
And I did not know it was against me
   that they devised schemes, saying,
‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit,
   let us cut him off from the land of the living,
   so that his name will no longer be remembered!’
20 But you, O Lord of hosts, who judge righteously,
   who try the heart and the mind,
let me see your retribution upon them,
   for to you I have committed my cause.

21 Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the people of Anathoth, who seek your life, and say, ‘You shall not prophesy in the name of the Lord, or you will die by our hand’— 22therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: I am going to punish them; the young men shall die by the sword; their sons and their daughters shall die by famine; 23and not even a remnant shall be left of them. For I will bring disaster upon the people of Anathoth, the year of their punishment.

Jeremiah Complains to God

12You will be in the right, O Lord,
   when I lay charges against you;
   but let me put my case to you.
Why does the way of the guilty prosper?
   Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
2 You plant them, and they take root;
   they grow and bring forth fruit;
you are near in their mouths
   yet far from their hearts.
3 But you, O Lord, know me;
   You see me and test me—my heart is with you.
Pull them out like sheep for the slaughter,
   and set them apart for the day of slaughter.
4 How long will the land mourn,
   and the grass of every field wither?
For the wickedness of those who live in it
   the animals and the birds are swept away,
   and because people said, ‘He is blind to our ways.’*

God Replies to Jeremiah

5 If you have raced with foot-runners and they have wearied you,
   how will you compete with horses?
And if in a safe land you fall down,
   how will you fare in the thickets of the Jordan?
6 For even your kinsfolk and your own family,
   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.

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