Jeremiah Questions the Lord’s Justice – Why are the wicked so prosperous? Jeremiah 12: 1 – 4

by Bola Abimbola

Let us examine what prophet Jeremiah had to say about his encounters with God and his fellow countrymen. From this we will discover many truths about prayer. An excellent way to understand the power of prayer is by examining the life and teaching of prophet Jeremiah, a man of deep feeling. He grieved over the status of his country and its plunge into disaster. This strong and sensitive man was honest with himself about his feelings. This openness led him also to be honest with God.

Jeremiah began his prayer, not with rage or impertinence, but with a reverent salutation: “You are always righteous, O Lord….” Only after such a greeting could he then lay out his feelings before God.

Jeremiah did not accuse God of injustice. He did not bring a case against God but rather before him. Jeremiah pleads his case with God. Jeremiah was troubled about the matter of justice, or in this case, what seemed like injustice “why does the way of the wicked prosper”? The godly seeming to be in small numbers, were not faring well. The ungodly, in vast numbers, seemed to prosper. Jeremiah could not understand it. He wondered if God was diligent about matters of the earth.

This situation seemed to be a reversal of the rules. The righteous were supposed to prosper and the wicked were supposed to vanish. It did not work out that way for Jeremiah, and it often does not today.  Why do the righteous suffer? Why do those who do not play straight prosper? Only God knows.

Jeremiah’s preaching was not well received by his countrymen and even his own family did not want his message. They even plotted against his life. All of this came after he tried to serve God faithfully, but seemed to get nowhere. Thus his complaint in Jeremiah 12:1 came pouring out.

People of genuine faith may address their doubts and questions to God in prayer. This is what Jeremiah did, and that is what we today must do. It is not blasphemy to raise genuine questions and doubts to God. It is instead a sign of deep trust

A Plot against Jeremiah

Jeremiah 11:18-21

18 Then the Lord told me about the plots my enemies were making against me. 19 I was like a lamb being led to the slaughter. I had no idea that they were planning to kill me! “Let’s destroy this man and all his words,” they said. “Let’s cut him down, so his name will be forgotten forever.”

20 O Lord of Heaven’s Armies,
you make righteous judgments,
and you examine the deepest thoughts and secrets.
Let me see your vengeance against them,
for I have committed my cause to you.

21 This is what the Lord says about the men of Anathoth who wanted me dead. They had said, “We will kill you if you do not stop prophesying in the Lord’s name.” 22 So this is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says about them: “I will punish them! Their young men will die in battle, and their boys and girls will starve to death. 23 Not one of these plotters from Anathoth will survive, for I will bring disaster upon them when their time of punishment comes.”

Jeremiah Questions the Lord’s Justice
Jeremiah 12: 1 – 4

1 Lord, you always give me justice
when I bring a case before you.
So let me bring you this complaint:
Why are the wicked so prosperous?
Why are evil people so happy?
2 You have planted them,
and they have taken root and prospered.
Your name is on their lips,
but you are far from their hearts.
3 But as for me, Lord, you know my heart.
You see me and test my thoughts.
Drag these people away like sheep to be butchered!
Set them aside to be slaughtered!

4 How long must this land mourn?
Even the grass in the fields has withered.
The wild animals and birds have disappeared
because of the evil in the land.
For the people have said,
“The Lord doesn’t see what’s ahead for us!”

The Lord’s Reply to Jeremiah

5 “If racing against mere men makes you tired,
how will you race against horses?
If you stumble and fall on open ground,
what will you do in the thickets near the Jordan?
6 Even your brothers, members of your own family,
have turned against you.
They plot and raise complaints against you.
Do not trust them,
no matter how pleasantly they speak.

When Jeremiah spoke openly to God, the Lord returned the favour. He spoke freely to the prophet. The answer God provided in Jeremiah 12:5 is something which Jeremiah was not searching. Perhaps he expected the Lord to say something like this “Yes Jeremiah, you are right. I’ve been negligent, but promise to do better. From now on, you can rest assured that I will be watching out for you a little better”.

God’s answer to Jeremiah is more a challenge than an easy answer. He challenged the prophet to grow, to get stronger, to prepare himself for the future battles that would be much tougher than the ones already fought.

One who reads the bible seriously learns quickly that God seldom gives simple, trite answers to our questions. Instead, God challenges us to grow and develop spiritually.  He wanted Jeremiah to get stronger in his smaller trails so that when the larger ones came, he would be ready. Genuine prayer is no trivial pursuit.

Speak openly to God about your problems, but remember you may get an unexpected answer.

In Jeremiah 20:7 we see Jeremiah accusing God of deceit:

“O Lord, you deceived me and I was deceived, you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me”.

This accusation, which runs from verse 7 through verse 18. Jeremiah felt deceived, he at least felt there was a divine purpose in all of this-that is, that God was doing this for a purpose.

Jeremiah felt a deep personal hurt. Not only did he feel abandoned by friends and family, but he also felt tricked by God. When a person fells this low, there is nowhere else to go but up. But the climb back up was not accomplished in an instant, or even in a day. For Jeremiah to come to terms with his circumstances took a lifetime. He poured out his anger and sense of outrage to God all the while.

No Concern of Ours

Why do the wicked prosper? Some succeed due to Satan’s influence. God may allow others to grow wealthy to try our character. Many have natural talents, a kind of Midas’ touch, whereby everything they do brings them gain. A few, like the lottery winners, roll in wealth because of time and chance. There are many reasons why uncalled and unrepentant people seem so successful.

It doesn’t matter, 0ur neighbours’ fortunes are completely out of our hands. God will deal with the wicked when it is appropriate, and only He knows when that time will come. What is under our control is how we respond and handle what God has given us. Rather than gaze enviously at our neighbours’ wealth, we should strive to reach the apostle Paul’s example: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

Apostle Paul writes in I Timothy 6:8-10:

And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. 9 But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness,and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

The pursuit of wealth is a path that is likely to end in trouble and unhappiness. If worship and follow God’s way, the blessings will come automatically, as God thinks we deserve it. Whether we prosper financially or not, we know that God has our best interests at heart (Romans 8:28). We can rely on Jesus’ promise in Matthew 6:33 that God will give us all we need if we keep our focus on the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.

Three simple instructions: Do good, trust God and don’t worry!