You are always righteous, Lord , when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease? You have planted them, and they have taken root; they grow and bear fruit. You are always on their lips but far from their hearts. Yet you know me, Lord ; you see me and test my thoughts about you. Drag them off like sheep to be butchered! Set them apart for the day of slaughter! How long will the land lie parched and the grass in every field be withered? Because those who live in it are wicked, the animals and birds have perished. Moreover, the people are saying, “He will not see what happens to us.” “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan? Your relatives, members of your own family— even they have betrayed you; they have raised a loud cry against you. Do not trust them, though they speak well of you. – Jeremiah 12:1-6
Jeremiah is engaged in a philosophical debate with God about an important question: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all the faithless live at ease?” Jeremiah is wondering why people who seem bent on walking apart from God seem to prosper, at least from an earthly perspective. This is something that I think many God followers wonder at times. I think the answer lies in how we measure success and what should be the ultimate goal of our lives. The world would say the goal is to take care of our physical bodies and have long lives. God has a different goal for us.
Jeremiah would like there to be more justice from his perspective for the wayward ways of the people and the consequences of their disobedience on the land. There seems to be a corruption of nature itself as a result of the actions of the people who are choosing idols over God. These people feel like they are getting away with it in a sense. They think that God “will not see what happens to us.”
The passage then passes into a metaphor that remains a bit murky to me. I think God is responding to the pride of the people by saying “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses?” If I have this straight God seems to be saying that those who fail in following Him with their bodies (racing with men on foot) have no hope of achieving the more difficult task of following God with their spirit (competing with horses). I may have this totally wrong, but that is the only way it makes sense to me at the moment.
God continues with this theme by using another analogy, “If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?” This is the reference to water, albeit tangential, to the Jordan River. The idea seems to be that if you cannot walk a straight path in “safe country” how will you ever find your way in the murky depths of the soul, “the thickets by the Jordan”.
The closest thing I have experienced to the “thickets of the Jordan” is stands of young Lodge Pole pines in northern Montana. The locals refer to these “forests” as dog hair. I will say that ones feels very much like a frustrated flee on a dog’s back trying to navigate these thickets of pine. The way forward is very non-linear and one can become disoriented, discouraged, and downright crazy with the constant whipping meted out by the young pines.
I think the take home message for me is that as hard as it seems to faithfully follow God through this “land of oblivion” the voyage to the “undiscovered country” with our soul is much harder, more confusing, and sometimes frustrating. Maybe the efforts we make to obey God on a daily basis are actually just practice for the much harder task of spiritual obedience. It puts things in a new perspective for me as I struggle to follow God.
God wants us to allow our lives and our spirits to be held by Him. He wants to carry us like a son or Daughter, but we often insist on walking on our own. This reminds me of a song by one of my favorite musical groups Casting Crowns called “Just be Held”. Here are some of the lyrics that seem to come right out of this passage:
Hold it all together
Everybody needs you strong
But life hits you out of nowhere
And barely leaves you holding on
And when you’re tired of fighting
Chained by your control
There’s freedom in surrender
Lay it down and let it go
So when you’re on your knees and answers seem so far away
You’re not alone, stop holding on and just be held
Your world’s not falling apart, it’s falling into place
I’m on the throne, stop holding on and just be held
Just be held, just be held
– “Just be Held” by Casting Crowns
Prayer: God help us to prayerfully practice obedience with our bodies so that our spirits can follow.