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Verse-by-Verse Bible Commentary

Jeremiah 12:5



"If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?

Adam Clarke Commentary

If thou hast run with the footmen - If the smallest evils to which thou art exposed cause thee to make so many bitter complaints, how wilt thou feel when, in the course of thy prophetic ministry, thou shalt be exposed to much greater, from enemies much more powerful? Footmen may here be the symbol of common evil events; horsemen, of evils much more terrible. If thou have sunk under small difficulties, what wilt thou do when great ones come?

And if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst - I believe the meaning is this, "If in a country now enjoying peace thou scarcely thinkest thyself in safety, what wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan? in the time when the enemy, like an overflowing torrent, shall deluge every part of the land?"

The overflowing of Jordan, which generally happened in harvest, drove the lions and other beasts of prey from their coverts among the bushes that lined its banks; who, spreading themselves through the country, made terrible havoc, slaying men, and carrying off the cattle.

Perhaps by footmen may be meant the Philistines, Edomites, etc., whose armies were composed principally of infantry; and by the horses, the Chaldeans, who had abundance of cavalry and chariots in their army. But still the words are proverbial, and the above is their meaning.

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Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.

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Jeremiah 12:5

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses?

The heroism of endurance

Jeremiah had to pay the price of singularity. He had to learn not only to do without the sweet incense of popular favour, but also to stand unflinching even when it turned into the hot breath of hatred. He had to submit not only to be without friends, but to see friends become foes. This experience through which the prophet passed is a cruel one It either makes a man or mars him, and nearly always hardens him. It creates an indignation, a holy anger sometimes against men, sometimes against the strange, untoward state of affairs, sometimes against God. Jeremiah here is kicking against the pricks which have wounded the feet of men for centuries: how to account for the fact that in a world governed by a righteous God righteousness should often have to suffer so much. His indignant soul, on fire for justice, cries out that it ought not to be so. Jeremiah’s wherefore about the wicked is really a why about himself. Why am I bared to the blast in following Thy will and performing Thy command? why are tears and strife my portion? why am I wearied out and left desolate, though I am fighting the Lord’s battle? That is the prophet’s real complaint. Notice the answer, surely the strangest and most inconsequent ever given. The complaint is answered by a counter-complaint. Jeremiah’s charge against God of injustice is met by God’s charge against Jeremiah of weakness. “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? Though in a land of peace thou art secure, yet how wilt thou do (O faint-hearted one!) in the pride of Jordan?” The “pride of Jordan” means the dangerous ground by the river, where the heat is almost tropical and the vegetation is rank. It is jungle, tangled bush wherein wild beasts lurk, leopards and wolves and (at that time also) lions. The answer to the complaint against the hardness of his lot is just the assertion that it shall be harder still. Does it seem an unfeeling answer? It was the answer Jeremiah needed. He needed to be braced, not pampered. He is taught the need of endurance. Only a heroic soul could do the heroic work needed by Israel and by God; and it was the greatest heroism of all which was needed, the heroism of endurance. Nothing worth doing can be done in this world without something of that iron resolution. It is the spirit which never knows defeat, which cannot be worn out, which has taken its stand and refuses to move. This is the “patience” about which the Bible is full; not the sickly counterfeit which so often passes for patience, but the power to bear, to suffer, to sacrifice, to endure all things, to die, harder still, sometimes, to continue to live. The whole world teaches that patience. Inch by inch each advance has to be gained, fought for, paid for, kept. It is the lesson of all history also, both for the individual and for a body of men who have espoused any cause. Christ’s Church has survived through her power to endure. The mustard seed, planted with tears and watered with blood, stood the hazard of every storm, gripped tenaciously the soil, twining its roots round the rocks, reared its head ever a little higher, and spread out its branches ever a little fuller, and when the tempest came held on for very life; and then, never hasting, never resting, went on in the Divine task of growing; and at last became the greatest of trees, giving shelter to the birds of the air in its wide-spreading branches. It is the same secret of success for the individual spiritual life. “In your patience ye shall win your soul. This method is utterly opposed to the world’s method of insuring success, which is by self-assertion, aggressive action, force for force, blow for blow. Patience, not violence, is the Christian’s safety Even if all else be lost it saves the soul, the true life. It gives fibre to the character. It purifies the heart, as gold in the furnace. What do we know of this heroic endurance? In our fight with temptation, in our warfare against all forms of evil, have we used our Master’s watchword, and practised our Master’s scheme? Think of our temptation in the matter of foreign missions, for example. We are easily made faint-hearted about it. We say that results are disproportionate to the effort; or rather (for that is not true) we are overpowered by the vastness of the work. If we find our small attempt a burden, how can we face the vaster problem of making the kingdoms of this world the kingdom of God and His Christ? If we are wearied in our race with footmen, how can we contend with horses? We are so easily dispirited, not only in Christian enterprise, but also in personal Christian endeavour. We are so soon tempted to give up. We need some iron in our blood. We need to be braced to the conflict again. We need the noble scorn of consequence. What have we done, the best of us, for God or for man? (Hugh Black.)

Testing questions

The text may be applied to--

I. Duties. If in the ordinary duties of life you have been wearied, how will you be able to meet the higher and special duties to which you may be called? Manfully and courageously face these, and then you may hope to meet the others with strength equal to their performance.

II. Trials. If the trials which are common to man tax your patience, how will you do when called to pass through extraordinary? Do not give way under these, but endure them without shrinking, then when the Job-like trials come, you may bear them as he did.

III. Temptations. If those, common to man, have taxed your strength, and led you to complain of their severity, how will you do when special and more than ordinary temptations come upon you? Resist the devil in the first temptation, and you will be better able to resist him in the second, and so on.

IV. Troubles. Do the ripples on the waters of the sea of life affect you, then how will you do when the surges of the tempest come upon you? Do the dark clouds of the sky frighten you, then how will you feel when the lurid lightning and terrible thunders fill the heavens? (J. Bate.)

Comparative estimate of trials

I. The unhappy disposition which shows itself in many persons to disquiet themselves unduly on account of comparatively small trials. That man should, under any circumstances, seek to become his own tormentor is a singular anomaly, and strikingly proves how sin infatuates the human mind. The desire of happiness is a native and universal feeling in the breast. We do not assert that men are required to stifle all natural feeling, and to maintain a stoical apathy in reference to what we term “inferior trials.” The inconveniences and lighter evils of life must be felt. One person is seen to brood over what is called “the badness of the times”: another is in trouble, because his mercantile or household affairs are disarranged through the unfaithfulness of servants or dependants: a third is unhappy because the tongue of slander has gone forth against him: and a fourth is out of sorts because he had ardently aspired at something which he has failed to obtain. It is observable, moreover, that persons are often wont to complain in connection with those very points where they have the least possible ground for complaint. This man makes a trial of a bad speculation in trade, though his barns are filled with plenty, and his presses burst out with new wine; and that man makes a trial of certain domestic irregularities, while, in the main, he is thickly encompassed with domestic mercies.

II. The bearing which the disposition or propensity of which we have spoken, has upon the real afflictions of life, as well as upon the soul’s spiritual conflict.

1. In the natural course of things we may expect that man to be ill prepared for a season of sorrow, who is wont to fret and disquiet himself on common and frequently recurring occasions. The mind which is not inured to salutary discipline will, sooner or later, be found an enemy to its own peace.

2. But let us take higher ground, and view the subject in a spiritual light. In the case of the true believer, we cannot, for a moment, doubt that God designs every circumstance which befalls him, however minute, and every trial which comes upon him, however slight, to work for his good. Neither can we doubt that this gracious design is answered or defeated, according to the disposition of mind in which either comforts or crosses are received.

3. All the crosses and inconveniences of life should have the effect of sending the Christian to a throne of grace. No circumstance which threatens to harass the mind is too trivial to be carried to God in prayer, with a view to the obtaining of that assistance which is promised for every time of need. It will seldom, however, be found that persons who yield to the habit of magnifying inferior evils, and discomposing their minds with comparatively trifling occurrences, will see fit to pray for a right spirit in connection with these things, and for grace suited to the occasion. The consequence of the omission can hardly fail to be experienced in the darker day of adversity, when large supplies of strength are needed, and when increased exertion is called for.

4. In spiritual as well as in providential dispensations, the lesser has its bearing upon the greater. A propensity to be discouraged or alarmed, if perchance an envenomed dart is, now and then, hurled from Satan’s quiver, or if a cloud occasionally overcasts the soul’s experience, is by no means a desirable preparative for that severer discipline of the life of grace, with which few of the Lord’s people are entirely unacquainted.


1. The language of Divine reproof should put every Christian upon serious and faithful self-examination.

2. It is well, in a certain way, to anticipate seasons of heavy affliction. Think how soon health may be interrupted, friends removed, schemes defeated, and hopes forever blasted! Such thoughts, if sanctified in answer to prayer, will have a happy effect upon the general character of your experience.

3. Seasons of intense suffering are often made occasions of signal interpositions in behalf of God’s people. Your emergency shall prove your Heavenly Father’s opportunity; your heaviest trials shall be made the marked occasions of your realising the greatness of His power, and the intensity of His love.

4. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ which imparts to the gloomy foliage of this wilderness world every particle of the radiance with which it is tinged. To see in Christ Jesus, the foundation of our every hope, the source of our strength, the channel of our consolations, the vitality of every spiritual principle and movement in our souls,--this is truly to know Him as “the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (W. Knight, M. A.)

The Christian’s triumph

One of the greatest battles on record was fought and won, seven hundred years ago, by the merchants and artisans of Brussels against the arms of France. Reduced by famine to the greatest straits, the city one evening opened her beleaguered gates, not to admit the enemy, but that such as were able to carry arms might march out--to make their last throw in the bloody game of war. The night, which was falling down when they came in sight of the banners and tents of France, was spent by their enemies in riot and carousings. It was spent by these wise, brave burghers in seeking rest for tomorrow’s fight; and by their leaders, in making the most skilful arrangements. The men of Brussels rose with the dawn, and took what was to some, and might be to all, their last earthly meal. Knowing that they, a few rude townsmen, had no chance against the magnificent host of France unless God helped the fight for home, and wife, and children, and liberty, they cried to heaven for help. Every man made confession, and received the rites administered to the dying. The solemn service concluded, they rose from their knees; closed their ranks; levelled their pikes; and wheeling round so as to throw the glare of the sun in the eyes of the enemy, came down on their lines an avalanche of steel. The charge was irresistible. They bore cuirass and knightly lance before them; and these base-born traders scattered the chivalry of France, like smoke before the wind, and chaff before the whirlwind. This story illustrates a remarkable saying of one who fought many battles, and seldom, if ever, lost any. Asked to what he attributed his remarkable success, he replied, I owe it, under God, to this, that I made it a rule never to despise an enemy. To what warfare is this rule so applicable as to the Christian’s; to the battles of the faith; to those conflicts which the believer is called to wage with Satan, the world, and the flesh? In spiritual matters we are, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and of the Word of God, to steer right between the two; and, to help you forward in this safe and blessed course, let me explain and answer the question of the text.

I. Man is less a match for Satan now than when Satan, at their first encounter, proved himself more than a match for man. The bravest soldiers hang back from the breach, where, as it belches forth fire and smoke, they have seen the flower of the army fall; mowed down like grass. The bravest seamen dread the storm which has wrecked, with the stout ship, the gallant lifeboat that had gone to save its crew; men saying, If with her brave hands and buoyant power she, whelmed among the waves, could not live in such a sea, what chance for common craft? And what chance for us where our first parents perished? how can guilt stand where innocence fell? Hope there is none for us out of Christ.

II. If we were overcome by sin ere it had grown into strength, we are now less able to resist it. Fallen though we are, there remains a purity, modesty, ingenuousness, and tenderness of conscience, about childhood, that looks as if the glory of Eden yet lingered over it, like the light of day on hilltops at even, when the sun is down. It has wrung our heart, as we looked on some lost and loathsome creature--the pest of society, and the shame of her sex--to think of the days when she was a smiling infant in a mother’s happy arms, or, ignorant of evil, lisped long-forgotten prayers at a mother’s knee; when her voice rose in the psalms of family worship, or of the house of God, like the song of a seraph in the skies. Alas! “How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed!” Justifying this sad description, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies,”--alas, how soon does sin cloud life’s brightest dawn! If we were no match for the cub, how shall we conquer the grown lion? If we had not strength to pull out the sapling, how are we to root up the tree? Every new act of sin casts up an additional impediment in our way of return to virtue, and to God; until that which was once only a molehill swells into a mountain that nothing can remove, but the faith at whose bidding mountains are removed, and cast into the depths of the sea. I can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth me.

III. Show how these difficulties are to be overcome. The Spirit and the flesh, grace and nature, heavenly and earthly influences, are sometimes so fairly balanced, that like a ship with wind and tide acting on her with equal power, but in opposite directions, the believer makes no progress in the Divine life. He loses headway. He does not become worse, but he grows no better; and it is all he can do to hold his own. Sometimes, indeed, he loses ground; falling into old sins. Temptation comes like a roaring sea squall, and, finding him asleep at his post, drives him backward on his course; and farther now from heaven than once he was, he has to pray, Heal my backsliding, renew me graciously, love me freely--For Thy name’s sake, O Lord, pardon mine iniquity, for it is great. Are we never to grow fit for heaven? is our hope of it but a pious dream, a beautiful delusion? Daily called to contend with temptation, the battle often goes against us; in these passions, and tempers, and old habits, the sons of Zeruiah are too strong for us. Not that we do not fight. That startling cry, “The Philistines are on thee, Samson!” rouses us; we make some little fight; but too often resisting only to be conquered, we are ready to give up the struggle, saying, It is useless; and like Saul in Gilboa’s battle, to throw away sword and shield. We would; but that, cheered by a voice from above, and sustained by hope in God’s grace and mercy, we can turn to our souls to say, Why art thou cast down, my soul; why is my spirit disquieted within me?--rise; resume thy arms; renew the combat; never surrender--Hope thou in God, for I shall yet praise Him who is the health of my countenance, and my God. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)

Fearful odds

I. The troubles of the mind in this life are often sharp and bitter, enough to tax its powers to the seeming limit of endurance. When the mind looks back upon its past history, views its present state, and anticipates its future destiny, and finds in them respectively occasions of regret, shame, and alarm, it is filled with acute suffering. And if this survey is directed to its moral condition and relations, if it is led to view itself as endowed with a capacity to know and choose good and evil, as having its being under the government of God, bound to obey His laws, and liable to answer at His throne for all its faults and offences, it tastes the bitterness of an accusing conscience, and is stung with keen remorse, and agitated with horrible dread. Yet, in such moments of unwonted moral illumination, we do but guess of that which shortly shall be. What the eye then sees, it sees, after all, but “through a glass darkly.” And oh! if the glimpse be so horrible, what shall be the naked vision? If such periods be so rich in suffering, what shall be the eternity they foreshadow? For memory is now exceedingly imperfect, and self-knowledge partial, and the horrors of the prospect before us mitigated by the medium of future opportunity and preparation, through which they are seen. Time covers up much of our wickedness from ourselves; and self-love and the “deceitfulness of sin” so ten the ugliness of our faults; and futurity presents a thousand avenues of escape, and “convenient seasons” of reformation. Thus we now have resorts and refuges whither we can betake ourselves from the arrows of conscience. Then, oh! “if in this land of peace wherein we trust,”--wherein there is so much in which the soul may confide, so much to stay it up, and give it quietness in reference to its controversy and reckoning with God,--we find the sense of our sinfulness and the apprehensions of wrath too much for us, a wearisome “burden too heavy to be borne,” what, oh! what “shall we do in the swelling of Jordan,” when “the waters shall overflow our hiding places”? And if “a wounded spirit we cannot bear,” now, while there are so many nostrums of our own to soothe its pains, while there is a sovereign balm at hand to heal it, and a good Physician near to bind it up; how, oh! how shall we endure its smart, when “indignation shall vex it as a thing that is raw” beneath its own eye; and the eye of God, shining into it with an insufferable brightness, shall give it a keen sense of what it has been, is, and shall be, and all the universe cannot afford it a covert, or a balsam to assuage its agony?

II. The body has its pains, too, in this life, and they are many and exquisite. We are “fearfully” as well as “wonderfully made,” compacted of an infinite number of frail, delicate, and sensitive fibres, which are broken and lacerated by very trivial causes and accidents. What, then, may be the sufferings of which an immortal and “spiritual body” may be capable? And how intolerable the anguish, of which the refined and exquisite texture of that indestructible and everlasting organisation which awaits us at the resurrection, may be susceptible!

III. We are here forced to endure distresses of estate, of outward and relative situation. Here is one who wears the outward paraphernalia of consequence and prosperity, but there is a worm gnawing at the heart of his happiness. There is some hidden mischief that spoils all; some vicious, or sickly, or idiot child, it may be, some wayward spirit in his family, some “root of bitterness” in his domestic circumstances, which men either do not see, or justly estimate, that poisons all his good things. Yonder is a man who might be happy, if there were not so many above him in society, whose level he cannot reach. A little matter will suffice to destroy the sweetness of a thousand blessings. Now, if we find it so hard to bear the inconveniences and annoyances of this life, where is the strength to endure the discomforts of a situation in a world, where all the society is vile and malignant, “hateful, and hating one another,” and all the circumstances fraught with nothing but mortification, disgrace, restraint, impotent desire, ineffectual effort, and hopeless resistance? Oh! then, let the exhaustion and vexation wherewith our Omnipotent Antagonist makes known His power in the milder visitings of His displeasure that reach us this side the grave, persuade us to leave off our mad rebellion, and seek a timely peace. (R. A. Hallam, D. D.)

Gradations of trial

I. To those who are discouraged by trifling difficulties, in the service of God. To renounce Christian service because of its difficulties, is to faint among the footmen, and ultimately to contend with the horses. For how will it be when awakened conscience, with its multiplied rebukes, assails thee? How wilt thou assuage the mourning over lost opportunities, and the deep remorse called up by the retrospect of a wasted life?

II. To those who succumb to but feeble temptations. Take the case of one who has recently fallen into the commission of sin--open, known sin. The inducements to commit the great transgression were not powerful in themselves, but the unhappy victim was ensnared almost without resistance; perhaps from want of vigilance, or it may have been through desperate carelessness. The circumstances may even have proved favourable for a triumph over the powers of darkness. A few urgent cries for deliverance would have been successful, escape was close at hand, but the effort, alas! was not made, or feebly made; and now the memory of that sin haunts the conscience, destroys the peace, and embitters all the joys of life. Falling thus easily into the wiles of Satan, what will become of you when he cometh in like a flood? How will you endure when resistance must be unto blood striving against sin? In that hour, unless the heart be established by grace, you will be driven like chaff from the threshing floor. Or, take the case of the young man who, while yet in his father’s house, surrounded by all the amenities of domestic love, and sheltered by the sanctions of a Christian home, has fallen, nevertheless, into sinful habits. What will become of him when all these restraints are removed?

III. To those who sink under light afflictions. It is not insensibility which is required of us, because there can be no courage in bearing what we do not feel; nor are we to sink into despair in the hour of suffering, because that would sacrifice the virtue of the trial. The happy medium is prescribed (Hebrews 12:5). It is, however, a very narrow pathway this, between too much and too little feeling of Divine chastisement. There is too much sensibility when we are rendered incapable of the worship of God, or are thrown out of sympathy with our fellow men, or when we are utterly absorbed in sorrow to the neglect of all the pressing claims of duty. There is too little feeling of Divine chastisement when we are not, by its agency brought to faithful heart searching, and to anxious inquiry respecting the purpose of our Heavenly Father in the correction. Let us look at all our trials as opportunities of personal advantage. The exercise of patience is of itself a grand moral lesson. To be joyous in tribulation is greater grace than to be zealous in the time of strength. It may help us in the season of depression and suffering to compare our condition with that of others. The most accumulated of distresses, the strangest combination of griefs, will not make us the worst off in the world. Least of all can we count our sorrows against His “who gave Himself an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour.” We can also in the midst of all afflictions anticipate the rapidly approaching hour of deliverance. We shall presently cast off all earth’s calamities as the drops of a summer shower that have scarcely penetrated through our garments.

IV. To those who are not profiting by favourable providences. One of the later Latin poets has an apologue on the missing of opportunity worthy of our attention. A visitor to the studio of Phidias having inspected the statues of the different deities, inquired the name of one unknown object. It had winged feet,--to show how swiftly it flies; its features were covered with hair,--because, when approaching the spectator, it is rarely identified; it was bald behind,--because when once gone none can seize upon it;--closely following at its heels was a slavish form. The first is Opportunity,--the last Repentance. Men miss the goddess Opportunity, and fall into the arms of Repentance. “So are the sons of men snared in an evil time, when it falleth suddenly upon them.” (W. G. Lewis.)

The progressive trials in life’s mission

The preceding verses display two things in the spiritual history of the prophet, which good men in all ages have often deeply felt--

1. An apparent incongruity between a fundamental article of religious belief, and the common facts of society. The righteousness of God he grasped with the tenacity of an earnest faith, it lay as the basis of all his religious views; and yet the facts of society, everywhere, seemed to contradict it. He saw, on all hands, the wicked prosperous and happy.

2. An incongruity between the fundamental spirit of religion and the passing feelings of the moment. The underlying spirit of religion is love; love to God and love to man--love even to enemies; but the prophet here expresses feelings in direct opposition to this spirit. How does he feel towards these wicked men? Commiseration? No, vengeance! Now, the text must be regarded as a gentle but impressive reproof, addressed by the great God to the prophet, for his want of forbearance and self-control.

I. The trials in life’s mission are of various degrees of power in the history of the same man.

1. None ever sailed the sea of mortal life and found every wind and tide propitious, the ocean always calm, and the horizon ever bright. But we are to speak of trials of a certain class, not the trials which come upon a man independent of his conduct, such as physical pain, bereavement, etc.; rather of such as are connected with the prosecution of his duties,--the trials of endeavour.

2. Every man has a mission; and every man who endeavours to fulfil it will meet with trials.

II. The man who fails to contend successfully with the lesser trials, will not be able to withstand the greater. This principle is capable of application to all the departments of action to which we have referred: but we shall apply it exclusively to the comparative difficulties of getting religion in different periods of life.

1. We apply it to youth and age. With youth there are docility of disposition, tenderness of feeling, and freedom of intellect. As age comes on these disappear, and prejudices, indifference, and confirmed habits take their place.

2. We apply it to health and disease. There is required, especially in adult life and for investigating minds, a large amount of mental abstraction as the necessary means of attaining religion. Disease and suffering are not only unfavourable to such abstraction, but, in many cases, necessarily prevent its exercise.

3. We apply it to life and death. What is religion? The surrendering of our all to God,--the yielding up of ourselves as a living sacrifice. How can the man, therefore, who cannot resign himself to a commercial loss, or who responds most inadequately, if at all, to the claims of benevolence in life, be able, cheerfully, to yield his friends, property, and all he has, and is, to the great God in death? (Homilist.)

The less and the greater conflict

The Christian life is an exercise; necessarily a trial of strength and scene of discipline. But in the order of nature and providence there is a wise gradation, a benevolent introduction from the lesser to the greater ills of life. Steadfastness, patience, cheerful confidence in the smaller and less dangerous conflicts of life, will discipline and adapt us to bear the fiery assaults of the enemy.

I. Ordinary life, common everyday life, is the “running with the footmen,” is “the land of peace, where we are secure.” It tries our temper, our patience, our principles. It puts us to the proof whether we honour God most and best. Look where you will, be what you may, life is a trial. Riches, learning, piety, nothing can ward off trouble. It is a condition, not an accident of humanity.

II. There is a benevolent preparation and education for greater and more distressing conflicts by accustoming us to those which are common. The unerring eye sees the cup, the strong fatherly hand measures the draught. But we must bear in mind, when we have to tread the winepress alone, that God has a purpose in every vexation of daily life, in every cross, in every baffled enterprise, in every silent tear; and that that purpose is to prepare us by steadfastness in what is little and easy to bear, for confidence in Him under greater perils, in troubles which are hard to bear. The light in the darkness of today’s disappointment is designed to make us hold fast the lamp against the hour of that “darkness which may be felt.” Let no one think these lessons of daily life unimportant. “He that despiseth little things shall perish by little and little.” We must learn the secret of strength while running with the footmen.

III. In this Divine remonstrance it is distinctly implied that we shall be called to contend with the horsemen. The future is dark with shadows, but the Lord’s words will hold good of us all. Prepared or unprepared we must meet the storm, and if a little rain frighten us, how shall we meet it? Our sins, our weaknesses, our temptations, the virulence of the enemy, all render the coming struggles inevitable. Whatever you have gone through in this way is but a preparation for the hour of darkness; you will be called to contend with an enemy stronger than yourself, as a horseman is stronger than a footman; and you will be trodden down unless you are clothed with the strength of Him who is able to make you confident, “though a host should encamp against you.” (B. Kent.)

Trivial trouble

We condole with ourselves about troubles which are nothing but passing inconveniences; pin pricks are crucifixions. The fact is we bewail ourselves so continually and piercingly because we have little or no real trouble. Consider the sorrows of your neighbours, the misfortunes and crushing trials of your friends, and, in comparison, your troubles are absurd. Landsmen crossing the sea are full of anxiety and protest if only a slight breeze rock the ship; they are in anguish as if they suffered shipwreck; but the old salt, who has known the wrath of the ocean, smiles at their fretfulness and fear: and our neighbours and friends, who know what trouble is, listen with a compassionate smile to the glib recital of our toy tragedies. Our lamentations over this, that, or the other trifle, are convincing proof that we are well off; one genuine misfortune, one shattering thunderbolt, would hush our woeful tale. In the meantime we make more ado about a crumpled rose leaf than thousands of noble men and women do about a crown of thorns. The age in which we live tends to intensify sensitiveness, and we need to be on our guard against magnifying molehills into mountains and thistles into forests. We are taken care of on every side, our thousand artificial wants are promptly and ingeniously met, we have facilities and luxuries innumerable, until we become hypersensitive, and feel ourselves martyrs if the wind blows a little hot or cold, if we suffer toothache, or are overtaken by “the pleasant trouble of the rain.” The habit of observing these shallow troubles, nursing them, talking about them, making fax more of them than we justly ought to make, is to be carefully watched. It tends to impair the largeness, strength, and heroism of the soul, and to leave us unfortified against the real trials which most likely await us a little farther on. If the footmen weary us, how shall we contend with horses? A calm, wise, reticent way of bearing ordinary irritations, annoyances, and misfortunes will discipline and brace us to play our part worthily when we must battle with the avalanche, earthquake, and flood. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Prepare for greater things

If they cannot face the candle, what will they do when they see the sun? (Demosthenes.)

Effort easier now than it will be in the future

If, in early life, when sin was comparatively weak and conscience was comparatively strong, we were so easily and so often overcome by temptation, what hope for us when this order is reversed; when conscience has become weak and sin grown strong? If we were no match for the cub, how shall we conquer the grown lion? If we had not strength to pull out the sapling, how are we to root up the tree? If it exceeded our utmost power to turn the stream near its mountain cradle, how shall we turn the river that, roaring and swollen, pours its flood on to the sea? If we could not resist the stone on the brow of the hill, how shall we stop it when gathering speed at every turn, and force at every bound, it rushes into the valley with resistless might? Sin gaining such power by time and habit.

And if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?--

The land of peace

I. Expostulation.

1. God has appointed to all of us our peculiar trials; some have a heavy burden, and are inclined, on looking upon the events which befall them, to join in the complaint of the patriarch, “All these things are against me.” “Deep calleth unto deep,” etc. (Psalms 42:7); while that which has fallen to the lot of others is so slight as hardly to be called trial at all. The point in question, however, is not as to the degree of trial, but as to the way in which it is borne, and the results it is producing. All trials have their own work to perform, their result to produce, which could be produced in no other way; but then let us ask ourselves individually, Are these trials producing that result in my own case? We know what those fruits are; the patience, the bringing under the impatient and rebellious will, and the disciplining it to wait in humble submission upon God, the experience of self, and of the evil within, of God’s love as exactly suiting the need felt--the hope, not impulsive and uncertain, but sure and steady, and making not ashamed.

2. Similar thoughts may be suggested with regard to our conflict with sin and internal corruption. We are apt to complain of the difficulties of our Christian course. The way of self-denial and cross-bearing is found to be a hard way, the power of indwelling corruption is great, and love is cold. This is all true; but God warned us on our setting out, that the race we were engaging in was no easy matter, but that it would call for every energy, and that at no time could vigilance be laid aside with safety. The question is, then, have those difficulties complained of led to increased distrust of self--more constant watchfulness? There may be greater difficulties yet to be overcome, a greater and more important work to be done for the Master’s sake, and how can utter failure be avoided in these more difficult contests, unless we are gaining ground in that to which we have already been called? The question is (and this point is a most important one), not what success might you be gaining under other conditions, with temptations less strong, with fuller opportunities of good, and so forth; but in that particular conflict to which you are called, with those very besetting sins, prone to this infirmity or that, are you striving in the strength of the Lord earnestly and unremittingly?

3. There is a thought which may be brought to our minds by the typical idea familiarly attached to Jordan, as the emblem of death. Is there not often too wide a difference between a Christian employed in the active duties of life, and the same man when cast upon a bed of sickness, and knowing that perhaps his end may be near? There is necessarily a difference in the demonstration of feeling, but should there be this difference in the whole tone as it were of our religion? Unless now, while all is peaceful, and matters are going on in their accustomed course, there is the habitual living upon Christ, with a frequent sense of His presence, and delight in communion with Him, how shall we do in the swelling of Jordan?

II. Encouragement from the converse thought. If you have been faithful in that which is less, there is room for hope that you will be upheld in that which is greater, that if you have not been wearied and neglectful in the lesser conflict in which you have already been engaged, you will not be suffered to fall or be overcome in any that may yet threaten you. Have you misgivings and doubts as to future attacks of sin, and the strength of temptation under some new circumstances which may hereafter arise? As far as your own strength is concerned there is indeed much reason for that fear, but you know whom you have believed, whose strength has been put forth for you, on whose arm you have leant in the past, and therefore although your race were to become far more arduous than it is now, although hundreds of difficulties now unforeseen should spring up into being, yet you will not doubt His love, or distrust His power. What you have learnt of His past faithfulness and love forbids you to be apprehensive for the future; you will trust and not be afraid, knowing that you can do all things through Christ who strengtheneth you. The question is worthy of serious consideration, especially by those who, convinced of the vanity of earth’s gratifications, and of the value of the Christian portion, are yet withholding their hearts from Christ, and are yet unwilling to be wholly His. This, indeed, is the land of peace wherein you trust; but is yours indeed a true peace which will abide? Peace is truly offered, reconciliation provided, all ready on God’s part. Peace will surely follow upon pardon--upon the purging away of sin in the blood of Jesus, but is that peace truly yours now? (J. H. Holford, M. A.)

Then how wilt thou do In the swelling of Jordan?--

The swelling of Jordan

I. The historical significance and primary meaning of the words. Like many of the names that occur in Old Testament Scripture, that of Jeremiah--“raised up,” or “appointed by God,”--has a peculiar significance, if we consider the duties, important, yet hazardous, he was called upon to discharge during successive reigns. Jeremiah was very young when the Word of the Lord first came to him, in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, while he was resident at Anathoth, his native city. There, after the prophetic gift was imparted, he continued to live for several years, until the hostility, not only of his fellow townsmen, but of the members of his own family having been aroused, on account, probably, of the holiness of his life, and the fidelity of his remonstrances, he quitted Anathoth, and took up his residence at Jerusalem. The finding of the Book of the Law, five years after he had begun to prophesy, must have had a powerful influence on the mind of Jeremiah, in whom, doubtless, the young and right-minded king Josiah found valuable help in the efforts he put forth with a view to promote national reformation. No sooner, however, was the influence of the court in favour of true religion withdrawn, than Jeremiah became an object of attack, as he had doubtless been long an object of dislike, on the part of those whose anger had been roused by his rebukes. This bitterness of opposition continued during successive reigns, and at various times his life was threatened. At the commencement of the reign of Zedekiah, he was “put in confinement by Pashur, the chief governor of the house of the Lord”; but he seems soon to have been liberated, for we find that he was not in prison at the time when Nebuchadnezzar’s army commenced the siege of Jerusalem. The prophet Jeremiah had severe trials and manifold difficulties and discouragements to contend against. His counsels were rejected, and his voice was lifted up in the name of Jehovah seemingly in vain; his soul yearned with solicitude and tender affection towards those who turned a deaf ear to his admonitory voice, despised his “counsels,” and would have none of the reproofs he was commissioned to utter. By footmen some understand the Philistines and Edomites, whose armies were composed principally of infantry, and by “horses” the Chaldeans, who had abundance of cavalry and chariots in their army, and who subsequently ravaged Palestine, at the time of Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion. But whether such be the force of the allusion or not, the gist of the argument seems to be as follows:--if lesser trials seem hard to be borne; if earthly losses have a sting of bitterness, and often inflict a severe wound; is there not need of holy resolution, based on a sure foundation, when, in addition to minor ills, as in the swelling of Jordan, which periodically overflowed its banks in the time of harvest, men’s lives might be placed in jeopardy, their flocks exposed to lions driven out of their lairs, and the produce of the harvest fields submerged or swept away; so the more ordinary trials of life, which yet demanded patience and meekness, would be followed by graver emergencies, such as a heaven-derived and supported hope, resting on no insecure or shifting foundation, but upon the Rock, the “Rock of Ages,” could alone enable men to bear up under; when, so to speak, the heavens grew dark, the waters raged, the banks were overflowed, the lashing hail fell, the earth “shook and trembled,” the lightning glanced and the thunder rolled, as in the severity of an almost tropical storm? “How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?”

II. Practical lessons, applicable to various classes of persons.

1. To those who are careless about religion and its claims. It were almost ludicrous, if it were not also most melancholy, to notice man, who is indebted to God for all that he possesses, thus standing to “defy the Omnipotent in arms”; yet such is the attitude assumed by everyone who defies, maligns, insults the Great Benefactor, who, if strong to save, is also mighty to inflict just and condign punishment upon His foes. “Now, consider this,” says the Psalmist, “ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.”

2. To the undecided. The position resembles that of a man on shifting sand, liable to the encroachment of the swiftly flowing stream. Ah! if at certain times uneasiness could not be banished, but care ate as a canker into the heart of what had the semblance of joy; an angry God, as it were, seen above; the abyss of darkness opening beneath; “blackness of darkness,” as if around; what need of arriving at a proper and satisfactory decision! Now, while, mercy can be found; while God’s invitation through Christ is heard, of “turning to the Stronghold as a prisoner of hope”; for if lesser difficulties have been perplexing; if grief and disappointment have already planted furrows on the brow, “what shall be the end of them that will not obey the Gospel of God”; who will not comply with a Saviour’s bidding, nor give their minds to the truth, nor allow of the Holy Spirit’s action upon the heart?

3. To such as are living in antagonism and opposition to God’s holy mind and will. Judgment may appear to be deferred; it is impending nevertheless--God hath spoken it.

4. To doubting Christians. Pilgrim, come: there “is bread enough, and to spare.” Tempted one, come: strength shall be given and decision imparted to repel the evil suggestion, as Paul at Melita cast aside the viper that sprang out of the fire, and fastened upon his hand. Mourner, approach; the Friend of mourners can support under earthly blanks and losses. (A. R. Bonar.)

The swelling of Jordan

I. Certain circumstances which make death more appalling than any other calamity.

1. Death must be met alone.

2. Not only the solace of thine accustomed society, but every other temporal result will then fail thee.

3. Death ushers us into a new and strange world. Well may flesh and blood shrink from the prospect of being effectually unhinged from all that is usual and accustomed--effectually divested of every material and earthly association, and of dipping its foot in the brink of that cold river, whose flood is appointed to roll over the head of all flesh.

4. Our great Enemy, as in all our trials so in this especially, will be at hand to improve it to our ruin.

II. To every sincere believer in Christ the horror with which the above circumstances invest death is entirely dispelled.

1. Although the Christian, in the trying hour of dissolution, cannot, any more than others, fall back upon the sympathy and support of his fellow men, still he is not left in the pitiful plight of the worldling and sinner to encounter death alone (Psalms 23:4).

2. What is it to him, if all earthly stays and confidences be broken up? He has not built his hopes of eternity on refuges of lies. He has “an anchor of the soul sure and stedfast.” He has first the sure word of promise, assuring him that his Lord will be with him when he passes through the rivers (Isaiah 43:2). And then he has the gracious and glorious work of atonement and mediation, upon which is based the everlasting covenant which God has made with him in Christ, and from the consideration of which he may draw up endless supplies of peace and satisfaction, even in those dark hours of disquietude.

3. It follows next to speak of the acquaintance which the Christian’s soul has during life contracted with the new sphere into which the swelling of Jordan bears him away. Some regards and respects to things terrestrial he must have entertained as dwelling on the earth--but this home, the home of his affections, has never, since he became a sincere Christian, been situated here below. This is only the house of his pilgrimage, and he accounts it so to be. While walking on the earth he has his “conversation in heaven.” Accordingly death ushers him into no strange scene, and introduces him to no strange company. No, he is already “come to Mount Sion,” etc. (Hebrews 12:22-24).

4. The “Lion of the tribe of Judah” is at hand to wrestle with the lion who “walketh about seeking whom he may devour,” and to bear away triumphantly from the conflict his own redeemed servant without the loss of a hair of his head, thus asserting his claim to “divide a portion with the great, and to divide the spoil with the strong.” (Dean Goulburn.)

The swellings of Jordan

If troubles, slow as footmen, surpass us, what will we do when they take the feet of horses? and if now in our lifetime we are beaten back and submerged of sorrows because we have not the religion of Jesus to comfort us, what will we do when we stand in death, and we feel all around about us “the swelling of Jordan”? What a sad thing it is to see men all unhelped of God, going out to fight giants of trouble; no closet of prayer in which to retreat, no promise of mercy to soothe the soul, no rock of refuge in which to hide from the blast. Oh, when the swift coursers of trouble are brought up, champing and panting for the race, and the reins are thrown upon their necks, and the lathered flanks at every spring feel the stroke of the lash, what can we on foot do with them? How can we compete with them? If, having run with the footmen, they wearied us, how can we contend with horses? We have all yielded to temptation. We have been surprised afterwards that so small an inducement could have decoyed us from the right. How insignificant a temptation has sometimes captured our soul. And if that is so, my dear brother, what will it be when we come to stand in the presence of temptation that prostrated a David, and a Moses, and a Peter, and some of the mightiest men in all God’s kingdom? If the footmen are too much for us, won’t the odds be more fearful against us when we contend with horses? But my text suggests something in advance of anything I have said. We must all quit this life. Oh, when the great tides of eternity arise about us, and fill the soul and surround it, and sweep it out towards rapture or woe, ah, that will be “the swelling of Jordan.” Our natural courage won’t hold us out then. However familiar we may have been with scenes of mortality, however much we may have screwed our courage up, we want something more than natural resources. When the northeast wind blows off from the sea of death, it will put out all earthly lights. The lamp of the Gospel, God-lighted, is the only lamp that can stand in that blast. The weakest arm holding that shall not be confounded; the strongest one neglecting that shall stumble and die. Oh, I rejoice to know that so many of God’s children have gone through that pass without a shudder. Someone said to a dying Christian: “Isn’t it hard for you to get out of this world?” “Oh, no,” he says, “it is easy dying, it is blessed dying, it is glorious dying”; and then he pointed to a clock on the wall, and he said: “the last two hours in which I have been dying, I have had more joy than all the years of my life.” General Fisk came into the hospital after the battle, and there were many seriously wounded, and there was one man dying, and the general said: “Ah, my dear fellow, you seem very much wounded. I am afraid you are not going to get well.” “No,” said the soldier, “I am not going to get well, but I feel very happy.” And then he looked up into the general’s face, and said: “I am going to the front!” But there is one step still in advance suggested by this subject. If this religion of Christ is so important in life, and so important in the last hours of life, how much more important it will be in the great eternity. Alas! for those who have made no preparation for the future! When the sharp-shod hoofs of eternal disaster come up panting and swift to go over them, how will they contend with horses? And when the waves of their wretchedness rise up, white and foamy, under the swooping of eternal storms and the billows become more wrathful and dash more high, oh, what, what will they do “amid the swelling of Jordan”? (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Are you prepared to die

I. This is an exceedingly practical question. How wilt thou do? is the inquiry. There are some subjects which are more or less matters of pure faith and personal feeling; and though all Christian doctrines bear more or less directly upon the Christian life, yet they are not what is commonly meant by practical subjects. Our text, however, brings us face to face with a matter which is essentially a matter of doing and of acting: it asks how we mean to conduct ourselves in the hour of death. Christians may differ from me on some points, but I am sure that here we are united in belief--we must die, and ought not to die unprepared.

II. It is undoubtedly a personal question. How wilt “thou” do? It individualises us, and makes us each one to come face to face with a dying hour. Now we all need this, and it will be well for each one of us to look for a minute into the grave. We are too apt to regard all men as mortal but ourselves. The ancient warrior who wept because before a hundred years were passed he knew his immense army would be gone, and not a man remain behind to tell the tale, would have been wiser if he had wept also for himself, and left alone his bloody wars, and lived as a man who must one day die, and find after death a day of judgment. Each one of you must die. We all come into the world one by one, and will go out of it also alone. We had better therefore take the question up as individuals, seeing that it is one in which we shall be dealt with singly, and be unable then to claim or use the help of an earthly friend.

III. It is one of the most solemn questions. Death and life are stern and awful realities. To say that anything “is a matter of life and death,” is to bring one of the most emphatic and solemn subjects under our notice. Now, the question we are considering is of this character, and we must deal with it as it becomes us, when we investigate a subject involving the everlasting interest of souls.

IV. This question was put by way of rebuke to the prophet Jeremiah. He seems to have been a little afraid of the people among whom he dwelt. They had evidently persecuted him very much, and laughed him to scorn; but God tells him to make his face like flint, and not to care for them, for, says He, If thou art afraid of them, “how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” This ought to be a rebuke to every Christian who is subject to the fear of man. There is an old proverb, that “he is a great fool that is laughed out of his coat,” and there was an improvement on it, that “he was a greater fool who was laughed out of his skin”; and there is another, that “he is the greatest fool of all who is laughed out of his soul.” He that will be content to be damned in order to be fashionable, pays dear indeed for what he gets. Oh, to dare to be singular, if to be singular is to be right; but if you are afraid of man, what will you do in the swelling of Jordan? The same rebuke might be applied to us when we get fretful under the little troubles of life. You have losses in business, vexations in the family--you have all crosses to carry--but my text comes to you, and it says, “If you cannot bear this, how will you do in the swelling of Jordan?” When one of the martyrs, whose name is the somewhat singular one of Pommily, was confined previous to his burning, his wife was also taken up upon the charge of heresy. She, good woman, had resolved to die with her husband, and she appeared, as far as most people could judge, to be very firm in her faith. But the jailer’s wife, though she had no religion, took a merciful view of the case as far as she could do so, and thought, “I am afraid this woman will never stand the test, she will never burn with her husband, she has neither faith nor strength enough to endure the trial”; and therefore, one day calling her out from her cell, she said to her, “Lass, run to the garden and fetch me the key that lies there.” The poor woman ran willingly enough; she took the key up and it burned her fingers, for the jailer’s wife had made it red hot; she came running back crying with pain. “Ay, wench,” said she, “if you cannot bear a little burn in your hand, how will you bear to be burned in your whole body?” and this, I am sorry to add, was the means of bringing her to recant the faith which she professed, but which never had been in her heart. I apply the story thus: If we cannot bear the little trifling pangs which come upon us in our ordinary circumstances, which are but as it were the burning of your hands, what shall we do when every pulse beats pain, and every throb is an agony, and the whole tenement begins to crumble about the spirit that is so soon to be disturbed?

V. The question may be put as a matter of caution. There are some who have no hope, no faith in Christ. Now I think, if they will look within at their own experience, they will find that already they are by no means completely at ease. The pleasures of this world are very sweet; but how soon they cloy, if they do not sicken the appetite. After the night of merriment there is often the morning of regret. “Who hath woe? who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine; they that go to seek mixed wine.” It is an almost universal confession that the joys of earth promise more than they perform, and that in looking back upon them, the wisest must confess with Solomon, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” Now if these things seem to be vanity while you are in good bodily health, how will they look when you are in sickness? If vanity while you can enjoy them, what will they appear when you must say farewell to them all?

VI. I use the question as exciting meditation in the breasts of those who have given their hearts to Christ, and who consequently are prepared to die whenever the summons may come. Well, what do we mean to do, how shall we behave ourselves when we come to die? I sat down to try and think this matter over, but I cannot, in the short time allotted to me, even give you a brief view of the thoughts that passed through my mind. I began thus, “How shall I do in the swelling of Jordan?” Well, as a believer in Christ, perhaps, I may never come there at all, for there are some that will be alive and remain at the coming of the Son of Man, and these will never die. A sweet truth, which we place first in our meditation. I may not sleep, but I must and shall be changed. Then I thought again, “How shall I do in the swelling of Jordan?” I may go through it in the twinkling of an eye. When Ananias, martyr, knelt to lay his white head upon the block, it was said to him as he closed his eyes to receive the stroke, “Shut thine eyes a little, old man, and immediately thou shalt see the light of God.” I could envy such a calm departing. Sudden death, sudden glory; taken away in Elijah’s chariot of fire, with the horses driven at the rate of lightning, so that the spirit scarcely knows that it has left the clay, before it sees the brightness of the beatific vision. Well, that may take away--some of the alarm of death, the thought that we may not be even a moment in the swelling of Jordan. Then again, I thought, if I must pass through the swelling of Jordan, yet the real act of death takes no time. We hear of suffering on a dying bed; the suffering is all connected with life, it is not death. A dying bed is sometimes very painful; with certain diseases, and especially with strong men, it is often hard for the body and soul to part asunder. But it has been my happy lot to see some deaths so extremely pleasing, that I could not help remarking, that it were worth while living, only for the sake of dying as some have died. Well, then, as I cannot tell in what physical state I may be when I come to die, I just tried to think again, how shall I do in the swelling of the Jordan? I hope I shall do as others have done before me, who have built on the same rock, and had the same promises to be their succour. They cried “Victory!” So shall I, and after that die quietly and in peace. If the same transporting scene may not be mine, I will at least lay my head upon my Saviour’s bosom, and breathe my life out gently there.

VII. “How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?” may be well used by way of warning. You grant that you will die, and you may die soon. Is it not foolish to be living in this world without a thought of what you will do at last? A man goes into an inn, and as soon as he sits down he begins to order his wine, his dinner, his bed; there is no delicacy in season which he forgets to bespeak, there is no luxury which he denies himself. He stops at the inn for some time. By and by there comes in a bill, and he says, “Oh, I never thought of that--I never thought of that.” “Why,” says the landlord, “here is a man who is either a born fool or else a knave. What I never thought of the reckoning--never thought of settling day!” And yet this is how some of you live. You have this, and that, and the other thing in this world’s inn (for it is nothing but an inn) and you have soon to go your way, and yet you have never thought of settling day! “Well,” says one, “I was casting up my accounts this morning.” Yes, I remember a minister making this remark when he heard of one that east up his accounts on Sunday. He said, “I hope that is not true, sir.” “Yes,” he said, “I do cast up my accounts on Sunday.” “Ah, well,” he said, “the day of judgment will be spent in a similar manner--in casting up accounts, and it will go ill with those people who found no other time in which to serve themselves except the time which was given them that they might serve God.” You have either been a dishonest man, or else you must be supremely foolish, to be spending every day in this world’s inn, and yet to be ignoring the thought of the great day of account. But remember, though you forget it, God forgets not.

VIII. Before I close I must guide your thoughts to what is the true preparation for death. Three things present themselves to my mind as being our duty in connection with the dying hour. First seek to be washed in the Red Sea of the dear Redeemer’s blood, come in contact with the death of Christ, and by faith in it you will be prepared to meet your own. Again, learn of the Apostle Paul to die “daily.” Practise the duty of self-denial and mortifying of the flesh till it shall become a habit with you, and when you have to lay down the flesh and part with everything, you will be only continuing the course of life you have pursued all along. And as the last preparation for the end of life, I should advise a continual course of active service and obedience to the command of God. I have frequently thought that no happier place to die in could be found than one’s post of duty. If I were a soldier, I think I should like to die as Wolfe died, with victory shouting in my ear, or as Nelson died, in the midst of his greatest success. Preparation for death does not mean going alone into the chamber and retiring from the world, but active service, doing the duty of the day in the day.” The best preparation for sleep, the healthiest soporific, is hard work, and one of the best things to prepare us for sleeping in Jesus, is to live in Him an active life of going about doing good. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Who shall carry me over the river

A prominent business man thus expressed himself to a Christian minister: “I am interested in Church matters, and always glad to see ministers when they call. But I have thought the subject over long and carefully, and have come to the deliberate decision that I have no need of Jesus.” A single week had not passed before that man was taken sick. His disease was accompanied with such inflammation of the throat as forbade his speaking at all. This enforced silence continued until the hour, of death, when he was enabled to utter simply this one despairing whisper: Who shall carry me over the river?”

The swelling of Jordan

These words are a remonstrance which God addresses to His prophet, Jeremiah. He had the most shrinking, sensitive nature of all the Hebrew prophets. Yet his task was to make a stand for God in the time of his nation’s direst need. Babylon, the great heathen power, had thrown a cord round the neck of Israel which it tightened every year. Its forces were closing round Jerusalem with the slow but sure pressure of a military advance. And the people all the while were unaroused, like sleeping children in a house that has caught fire. The politicians trusted to their diplomacy; they hoped to fight the brute force of the enemy with their wits. The priests and the prophets drugged the conscience of the nation with the facile phrases of a lazy and stupid trust. Jeremiah stood out alone, like Athanasius against the world, hated alike by the statesmen and the leaders of the religious world. There are usually, we say, two sides to every question, and the case for Jeremiah’s foes was something like this. He seemed to them a tiresome herald of ill, prating always of fateful things because he had a gloomy nature. He seemed to be without any patriotic feeling, constantly saying hard things about his own country, and glorifying Babylon as the avenging instrument of God. So it had come about, long ere the last crisis of Jerusalem, that the Jews felt a bitter hatred of Jeremiah. We have read (Jeremiah 11:18; Jeremiah 12:6) how, somewhat early in his history, some of them tried to kill him. The prophet was paying a visit to his native village of Anathoth, a few miles from Jerusalem. He was ignorant of danger. And all the while his own townsmen and brethren were plotting his death. But for some special providence of God his career would have reached a too early close. But now, when the danger is past, a strange thing is seen. There is no record of any psalm of deliverance to help the praise of our later generations. But, as if in its place, there falls on the prophet one of those terrible moods of depression when, in Bunyan’s language, he is held in the grasp of Giant Despair and thrown into Doubting Castle. Why must he face with single hand the troops of the wicked? Why cannot God strike in and cut short the struggle? He who by nature was sensitive as a reed became by God’s grace as an iron pillar and a brazen wall. And so it is here. In the words of the text, the demon of depression is driven off and retires for a season. Jeremiah crushes the cowardly thoughts that had arisen within him by the vision of sterner trials in the future. The brush with the men of Anathoth is a small affair, a mere race with footmen; Jerusalem in the days to come will see him try his speed against horses. Soon he will look back to the present time as to a mild land of peace, girdled by a summer-dried river. Ah, you say, we have little in common with a great prophet. He was set to do a loud-resounding task, while our days are passed in obscurity, far away from the roar of a battle of the nations. Yes, but all human lives run up to a centre. The inner struggle of every soul is the same, whether it is fought out in the cottage, or in the tent of the soldier, or in the fiery heart of the prophet. It has come readily to men to liken human life to a stream descending to the sea. But it is not the precise image of the text, which rather compares the life of man to the flat meadows that adjoin some mighty stream. For long months of the year there is a time of holy quiet. The flowers are gay, the grass is green, the river murmurs gently as if singing a song of rest, the boys and girls are shouting at their play. But one day a change seems to come over the stream. Its gentle murmur swells into a threatening roar. The days of dreadful ease are gone; desolation looks men in the face with a grey and grim reality; the evil days have come. That is the image of the text. What of its practical meaning? There are times when our duty seems almost easy, when it is not hard to beat off temptation. Such times are our “land of peace.” But there are other times, when the need is sore and the contest cruel. Every nerve is strained. Such times are for us as “the swelling of Jordan.” The text puts into heightened and rhythmic words a very obvious truth, which surely wins emphasis and illumination from the stern history to which it belongs. It should make us cease moaning over our trivial griefs, when we find that God speaks so lightly of a serious trouble. Jeremiah had barely escaped with his life, yet his foretaste of the bitterness of death is compared to “a land of peace.” He gets no petting, and is promised no relief from such trial in the future. He is merely asked to reflect on the principle that underlies all moral heroism. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” Let us follow out this principle in two or three illustrations. Take first of all the everyday calls of duty, what Keble has named “the trivial round, the common task.” To all of us, at some time in our lives, there come periods of crisis when a heavy demand is made on our store of courage and endurance. Then it is that the dire need sifts our character and declares the moral poverty or wealth. As the man is, so is his strength. The text tells us that this great clay of “the swelling of Jordan” is bound together with our easy days in “the land of peace.” Those deeds of vast renown, which the grace of God calls out on occasion, do not come flashing out of a background of moral laxity or shame. They are not idle, lawless lights of heaven, coming we know not whence, going we know not whither. They have been prepared for by long and quiet days of lowly service. In the “Character of the Happy Warrior” Wordsworth insists that a soldier’s brave feats of daring in battle are just the outcome of faithfulness to duty in days of peace. In “the mild concerns of ordinary life” the genuine hero is training for a mightier task. Suddenly he confronts some awful moment, weighty with solemn issues. Then the hidden strength leaps forth. He is “attired with sudden brightness, like a man inspired.” Water; we say, does not rise higher than its source, and certainly men and women do not leap to a height and marvel of self-sacrifice until their daily practice has subdued them to a resolute self-mastery. Take, as a second illustration of the principle of the text, our everyday experiences of temptation and moral defeat. The man who brings his conscience to bear on his everyday tasks is training for higher things in a future that may rush on him at any moment. But there is also the sad opposite of that truth. Neither for good nor for evil can we wholly cut ourselves away from our past life. The years that are no more have a part on shaping the years that are to be. The fall from grace today was easier because yesterday you did not strive mightily against sin. Habits and desires move on to their climax and fulfilment. Alike in the kingdom of God and the kingdom of sin, you have no permission to stand still. Every day of our lives puts us to some proof or trial. These things are so, yet it is only in our high moments that we fully realise and act upon them. We forget that the oft-repeated story of a ruined life tells not of one great fall, but of many little ones. Men overlook the tiny breaches which sin has made in the wall of resistance. They are weary of this endless running with the footmen. After long days there steals on them the drowsiness of the enchanted ground. But the weariness is fatal, as the soft sleep of the tired traveller amid the falling snow. Let us remember that those periods of moral crisis struck even upon the stainless Christ. He was tempted, an apostolic writer tells us, in all points as we are. But temptation concentrated its powers in great turning points of His history, in the wilderness and in the agony of the garden, in the remonstrance of a chosen apostle and in the hour of darkness on the Cross. All the disastrous forces with which the moral atmosphere was charged gathered themselves together and burst in furious storm. And the life of Jesus resembles in this the life of men. All our history is in part a history of temptation. But there are times in the lives of all of us when temptation concentrates its powers. Our life is no longer a series of skirmishes. Now at length it is a pitched battle with the enemy in full armour, and all his forces set in array against us. (D. Conner, M. A.)

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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Jeremiah 12:5". The Biblical Illustrator. 1905-1909. New York.

Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible


"If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, how canst thou contend with horses? and though in a land of peace thou art secure, yet how wilt thou do in the pride of the Jordan? For even thy brethren, and the house of thy father, even they have dealt treacherously with thee; even they have cried aloud after thee; believe them not, though they speak fair words unto thee."

God's answer to Jeremiah is somewhat shocking. The Lord rebuked him, and we might paraphrase the meaning of this paragraph in this manner:

Look, Jeremiah, why should you be bothered about the prosperity of wicked men? If, in your race for me, you have been worn out by men, what are you going to do when you have to run against horses? If you have trouble feeling secure on level ground, what is going to happen to you when you have to pass through the "pride of the Jordan?" You have hardly seen anything at all yet. Buckle your seat belt, the worst is yet to come!

This might not be all that God said to Jeremiah, because, in Jeremiah 12:4, it appears that God also might have mentioned the "latter end" of the wicked. Certainly, in the Old Testament, this was the inspired answer to the problem Jeremiah was having with the prosperity of the wicked. The Psalmist was tempted to stumble on the problem that troubled Jeremiah; but he confessed that the truth appeared to him, "When I went into the sanctuary of God, and considered their latter end." (Psalms 73:17). The ultimate fate of the wicked nullifies and cancels out all of the earthly joys and prosperities of evil men; and that sublime truth was surely available to all of God's children living in that dispensation.

"The pride of Jordan ..." (Jeremiah 12:5). "The `pride of Jordan' referred to the rank growth of trees, shrubs and vegetation that grew on both sides of the Jordan river, especially between the Sea of Tiberias and Lake Merom, and which afforded a shelter for wild boars, lions, bears and tigers."[5]

These two verses stress the fact that, after all, prosperous wickedness is a very ordinary problem that should not discourage any one.

Today, lions are almost never seen west of the Euphrates river, having disappeared from the `pride of Jordan'; but, "The bones of lions have been found in the gravel of the bed of the Jordan."[6] It is always a mistake to understand conditions as they exit now as an indication of what the conditions were thousands of years ago. The critics did when they questioned the account in Acts that relates Paul's shaking off a poisonous snake into the fire. Of course, the snakes have indeed disappeared from Malta; but they have also disappeared from Manhattan Island, and for exactly the same reason, namely, the vast increase in the population.


We have already noted that much more satisfactory answers to the problem of the prosperity of evil men which somewhat perplexed Jeremiah are available in the teaching of Christianity in addition to the answers available under the Old Covenant.

A. The values focused upon in Christianity are not temporal and physical at all, but eternal. People who suffer persecution, defeat, frustration, hardship, or even physical suffering and death are commanded to remember, "Great is your reward in heaven!" (Matthew 5:12).

B. The favor and prosperity enjoyed by wicked men are not marks of God's approval but an indication of his mercy; for God "Is longsuffering ... not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Peter 3:9).

C. God's world is an orderly world; and there are certain rewards and penalties that derive from that order. It happens that in many instances wicked men are more skilled in adjusting to God's order than are righteous persons. Jesus noted that, "The sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light." (Luke 16:8). No doubt this fact sometimes contributes to the prosperity of evil men.

D. The great fact is that the rewards of eternal life are so great, surpassing even the utmost limits of human imagination, that whatever the sufferings, sorrows, and limitations may fall upon our earth-life, all such things shall be canceled and nullified by the glories of eternal life. As Paul put it: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed" (Romans 8:18).

E. It all turns on the difference in time and eternity. When the two are compared, an entire earthly life is less than a fraction of a second compared to a billion years. To win the great prize of Eternal Glory with Christ is more than worth bearing the burdens of whatever disasters our earth-life is capable of bringing upon us. No recipient of such a blessing should be troubled by whatever pleasures and prosperities may be enjoyed by the wicked for the brief season of earthly life.

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Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

John Gill's Exposition of the Whole Bible

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee,.... The Targum introduces the words thus,

"this is the answer which was made to Jeremiah the prophet, concerning his question; a prophet thou art, like to a man that runs with footmen, and is weary.'

Then how canst thou contend with horses? or with men on horses: the sense is, either as Kimchi gives it, thou art among men like thyself, and thou art not able to find out their secrets and their designs against thee (see Jeremiah 11:18); how shouldest thou know my secrets in the government of the world, as to the prosperity of the wicked, and the afflictions of the righteous? be silent, and do not trouble thyself about these things: or rather, as thou hast had a conflict with the men of Anathoth, and they have been too many for thee; they have grieved and distressed thee, and have made thee weary of my work and service; and thou hast been ready to give out, and declare that thou wilt be no longer concerned therein; what wilt thou do, when thou comest to be exercised with greater and sorer trials, and shalt have to do with the king of Judah and his court, with his princes and nobles, the sanhedrim at Jerusalem, and the priests and inhabitants thereof? The Targum interprets the footmen of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and of the good things done to him; and the horses of the righteous fathers of the Jews, who run like horses to do good works, and of the much greater good reserved for them; but very improperly: much better might it be applied, as it is by some, to the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites, who gave the Jews much trouble; and therefore what would they do with the Chaldean army, consisting of a large cavalry, and which would come upon them like an impetuous stream, and overflow, as the swelling of Jordan, as follows?

and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee; if in his own native country, where he promised himself much peace, safety, and security, he met with that which ruffled and disturbed him:

then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? when it overflowed its bank, Joshua 3:15 and may denote the pride and haughtiness of the king and princes of Judea, and of the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and the difficulties that would attend the prophet's discharge of his duty among them; and the same thing is signified by this proverbial expression as the former.

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Gill, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "The New John Gill Exposition of the Entire Bible". 1999.

Geneva Study Bible

If thou hast run with the f footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and [if] in the land of peace, [in which] thou didst trust, [they wearied thee], then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

(f) Some think that God reproves Jeremiah, in that he would reason with him, saying that if he was not able to march with men, then he was far unable to dispute with God. Others, by the footmen mean them of Anathoth: and by the horsemen, them of Jerusalem who would trouble the prophet worse than his own countrymen did.

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Beza, Theodore. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "The 1599 Geneva Study Bible". 1599-1645.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Jehovah‘s reply to Jeremiah‘s complaint.

horses — that is, horsemen: the argument a fortiori. A proverbial phrase. The injuries done thee by the men of Anathoth (“the footmen”) are small compared with those which the men of Jerusalem (“the horsemen”) are about to inflict on thee. If the former weary thee out, how wilt thou contend with the king, the court, and the priests at Jerusalem?

wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee - English Version thus fills up the sentence with the italicized words, to answer to the parallel clause in the first sentence of the verse. The parallelism is, however, sufficiently retained with a less ellipsis: “If (it is only) in a land of peace thou art confident” [Maurer].

swelling of Jordan — In harvest-time and earlier (April and May) it overflows its banks (Joshua 3:15), and fills the valley called the Ghor. Or, “the pride of Jordan,” namely, its wooded banks abounding in lions and other wild beasts (Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44; Zechariah 11:3; compare 2 Kings 6:2). Maundrell says that between the Sea of Tiberias and Lake Merom the banks are so wooded that the traveler cannot see the river at all without first passing through the woods. If in the champaign country (alone) thou art secure, how wilt thou do when thou fallest into the wooded haunts of wild beasts?

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible". 1871-8.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

If — If thou art not able to encounter lesser dangers, how wilt thou be able to overcome greater? I have greater dangers for thee to encounter than those at Anathoth; if thou art so disturbed with them, how wilt thou be able to grapple with those at Jerusalem.

Jordan — Anathoth seems to be understood by the land of thy peace, that is, the land of thy friends wherein thou hadst a confidence: if thy enemies there tire thee, what wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan? In a place in which thou art like to meet with greater troubles, like the swelling of Jordan (which in harvest used to overflow its banks).

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Wesley, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "John Wesley's Explanatory Notes on the Whole Bible". 1765.

Calvin's Commentary on the Bible

Many think that God here checks the boldness of Jeremiah, as though he had exceeded the limits of moderation when he contended with God, as we have seen, because he patiently endured the reprobate and did not immediately punish them. Hence they elicit this meaning from rite words, “Thou hast hitherto been contending with mortals, and hast confessed that thou didst maintain an unequal contest; dost thou dare now to assail me, who am far greater than the whole world? Footmen have wearied thee, who walk on earth; but thou engagest now with horsemen, that is, with me.”

But I have already shewn that the Prophet did not undertake this cause presumptuously, nor was he carried away by blind zeal when he disputed with God, but that he thus spoke through a divine fervor: he was indeed influenced by God, in order that he might by this mode of speaking more fully rouse an obstinate people. There was therefore no need to check hint; for his object was no other than to shew by a lively representation, that God would be the Judge of the Jews, who had despised his teaching and esteemed it as nothing.

Some think that a comparison is made between the citizens of Anathoth and the citizens of Jerusalem: they hence suppose that Jeremiah is encouraged, lest he should succumb under the temptations which awaited him; as though it was said, “Thy citizens or thy people are like footmen; thou seest now how much they have wearied thee, for thou canst not bear their insolence: what then will become of thee, when thou comest to Jerusalem? for as there is more power there, so there is more arrogance; thou wilt have to contend with the king and his court, with the priests and with the people, who are blinded by their own splendor: horsemen will be there, and thou wilt have all equestrian contest. Thou mayest hence see how thou art to prepare thyself; for these things are only the beginnings, and yet thou complainest of them.”

But when I maturely weigh all things, I come to another opinion, which both Jerome snd Jonathan (58) have suggested, and yet obscurely, and so confusedly that the meaning cannot be correctly understood, and especially for this reason, because they did not state the exposition which we have hitherto given; hence the meaning of what they have said does not seem suitable. But the Prophet, I doubt not, here reproves the people and condemns their presumption, because they thought themselves furnished with so many defences that they despised the judgment of God. I regard then this verse as spoken in the person of God, for hitherto Jeremiah has been the accuser, and arraigned the whole people as guilty before God, and was also the herald of his judgment. Now that what he says might have more weight, God himself comes forth and says, Thou hast hitherto run with footmen, and thou hast been wearied, how will it be when thou comest to an equestrian contest? he intimates by these words that a much greater outrage was at hand than what the Jews had already experienced. Their country had been oppressed, their city had been exposed to extreme peril, there had been as it were a pedestrian conflict; but God now intimates that a heavier storm was nigh at hand, for horsemen would assail them, because the Chaldeans and the Assyrians were to come with much greater violence to lay waste the whole country and to destroy the city itself.

This then is not addressed to the Prophet, but to the people; as though it was said, that the Jews had but a slight contest with the Assyrians, and yet were conquered and oppressed by many calamities; but that they would have now to fight more seriously, as a greater violence was impending over them: how then, he says, canst thou contend with horsemen? (59)

He then adds, In the land of peace thou trustest, and how wilt thou do in the rising of Jordan? The land of peace is commonly taken for the town of Anathoth, where the Prophet ought to have enjoyed a quiet life, as he lived there among his relations and friends. The rising of Jordan is also taken as signifying violent waves; but this has nothing to do with the subject. Were I to approve of this view, I would rather take the rising of Jordan as meaning its fountain, for we know that Jordan rose from Mount Lebanon, north of Jerusalem: so then would I interpret the words, and the explanation would be plausible. But as I feel assured that the words are not addressed to the Prophet, but to the people, I doubt not but that the land of peace is the land open to plunder, that is, not protected. As that is called the land of war, which is surrounded by alefences, and fortified by towers, moats, and ramparts; so that is called the land of peace, which is not capable of repelling enemies. The Prophet derided the Jews, because they swelled with so much arrogance, though they possessed no fortresses: “Ye are,” he says, “in the land of peace, having no means to carry on war, and possessing no forces to resist your enemies: as then ye swell with so much pride in your penury and want, what would become of you, were you in the rising of Jordan? that is, were your cities on the banks of Jordan, where it widely spreads, so as to prevent any access?” Rising here means height or largeness: for גאון gaun, signifies pride, and metaphorically it means the highest or chief glory. “What wouldest thou do,” he says, “in the largeness of Jordan? that is, were that river a defense to you against enemies? for there is nothing that can hinder your enemies from coming to your gates, from breaking down your walls by warlike instruments; and ye glory: how great is your madness, for ye do not consider how weak you are?” We hence see that in the whole of this verse the foolish boastings of the people are beaten down; for they were proud without a cause, as they were destitute of all defences and auxiliaries. This then is what I consider to be the real meaning. (60) It afterwards follows —

The rendering of Blayney is as follows, —

If thou hast run with footmen, and they have wearied thee,
Then how wilt thou chafe thyself with horses?

More literally, —

If with footmen thou hast run, and they have tired thee,
Then how wilt thou heat thyself with horses?

“Horses” may indeed be rendered horsemen, as “feet” in the previous line is rendered footmen. As to the verb “heat thyself,” the versions and the Targum differ, but the word in Hebrew is plain enough; it is חרה to heat, to burn, or to be warm or hot, in Hithpael. To “contend” has been taken from the Vulgate. Ed..

Blayney, following the Vulgate, renders the passage thus, —

And though in the land of peace thou mayest have confidence,
Yet how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

But rather as follows, —

And in the land of peace thou art secure;
But how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

That is, “Thou complainest though living secure in a land which enjoys peace and is not harassed with war: what then wilt thou do when the troubles of war shall come over the land like the overflowings of Jordan?” or, according to some, “Thou complainest though living in retirement among thine own people, where thou didst expect rest and peace, what wilt thou do when exposed to the violent persecutions of the great and powerful?” the swelling of Jordan being considered a proverbial expression, designating great and overwhelming troubles. — Ed.

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Calvin, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". 1840-57.

Scofield's Reference Notes

swelling of Jordan

i.e. under such a test as in Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44; Joshua 3:15; 1 Chronicles 12:15

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Scofield, C. I. "Scofield Reference Notes on Jeremiah 12:5". "Scofield Reference Notes (1917 Edition)". 1917.

John Trapp Complete Commentary

Jeremiah 12:5 If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and [if] in the land of peace, [wherein] thou trustedst, [they wearied thee], then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

Ver. 5. If thou hast run with the footmen.] Here God returneth an answer to the prophet’s foregoing complaint, saith the Chaldee, partly checking him for his discontentedness, and partly exciting him to a humble submission and a well-knit resolution.

Then how wilt thou contend with horses?] If thy countrymen of Anathoth overmatch and overmaster thee, how wilt thou deal with those of Jerusalem, who are a far deal worse?

And if in a land of peace.] These are proverbial speeches, both to one purpose:

Ferre minora velis, ut graviora feras.

How wouldst thou endure wounds for Christ, that canst not endure words? saith one. And how wilt thou fry a faggot that startlest at a reproach for the truth? While William Cobberly, martyr, was in durance, his wife also, called Alice, being apprehended, was in the keeper’s house the same time detained, where the keeper’s wife had secretly heated a key fire hot, and laid it in the grass on the back side; so speaking to Alice Cobberly to fetch her the key in all haste, she went with speed to bring the key, and taking it up in haste, did piteously burn her hand, whereupon she cried out, Ah, thou drab! Quoth the other, Thou that canst not abide the burning of thy hand, how wilt thou be able to abide the burning of thy whole body? And so she afterwards repented. (a)

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Trapp, John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". John Trapp Complete Commentary. 1865-1868.

Sermon Bible Commentary

Jeremiah 12:5

The difficulty implied by this proverb appears—

I. In this, that man is less a match for Satan now than when Satan proved himself more than a match for man. Beaten in Eden, where else can man look for success? Overcome in our innocence, what hope remains for us in this warfare now? Beneath a heaven that has empty thrones and in a world full of ruins, how may poor fallen creatures help to conquer an enemy who has won victories in the fields both of heaven and earth, and overcome the innocence both of angels and of men? We have been reduced to slavery—and did bondsmen ever win where freemen lost? But that we go to battle in the name of Jesus, backed by the Lord God of Hosts, we had had no answer to the question of the text.

II. If we were overcome by sin ere it had grown into strength, we are now less able to resist it. The difficulty of resisting our bad passions and corrupt nature, grows with man's growth, and strengthens with his strength. The farther we go down the slopes of evil, it is the more difficult to return. Nor could we ever hope that, having been overcome of sin when it was weak, we should overcome it when it is strong, but that faith, undaunted by difficulties can say, "What art thou, O great mountain? before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain!"

III. Consider how these difficulties are to be overcome. Take two cases—those of Peter and Abraham—where they, who had been overcome by the lesser overcame the greater trial; and though wearied by the footmen, nobly contended with horses. It was God that made them strong; and what they did, they did through the power of His might. He strengthened them with all might by His Spirit in the inner man, and though these actors have left the stage for lesser men to fill, the might, the power, the promises remain—God remains behind. "One man shall chase a thousand." "He that is feeble among them shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God."

T. Guthrie, Family Treasury, May 1861, p. 257.

The river Jordan was an eminent and appropriate type of death, as being the barrier which parted the wilderness of Israel's sojourn from the promised land of their assured inheritance.

I. The reasonableness of the question in the text will be made manifest by pointing out certain circumstances which make death more appalling than any other calamity. (1) Death must be met alone. We are so constituted that in seasons of danger, difficulty, and alarm nothing is a more comfortable stay for the mind than a resort to the connections with which Providence has surrounded us—to the old familiar faces of our kinsmen or our friends. But in death every possibility of resort to human sympathy will be cut off from us; our spirits must encounter the last enemy alone. (2) There is a failure of every former confidence in the hour of death. Every plank of refuge shall be broken up, every mooring which held thee to the shore of life shall be loosened, and there shalt thou be launched alone upon the billows to meet the tempest of the wrath of God. (3) Another circumstance of terror attaching to death is that it ushers us into a new and strange world. The heart of man is constantly turning the energies of its attachments around the house of its pilgrimage. A future sphere of existence will be an untried sphere. Well may flesh and blood shrink from the prospect of being effectually unhinged from all that is usual and accustomed, divested of every material and earthly association. (4) Our great enemy, as in all our trials so in this especially, will be at hand to improve it to our ruin.

II. To every sincere believer in Christ the horror with which circumstances invest death is entirely dispelled. (1) The Christian is not left in the pitiful plight of the worldling and sinner, to encounter death alone. His Redeemer is in spirit with him, Christ's rod and Christ's staff they comfort him. (2) If all earthly stays and confidences be broken up, the Christian has an anchor of the soul sure and steadfast; it is the word and the work of Christ. (3) The Christian's soul has, during life, contracted an acquaintance with the new sphere into which the swelling of Jordan bears him away. Death ushers him into no strange scene, and introduces him to no strange company. (4) The great enemy shall be defeated in his last assault upon the Christian. God shall prepare a table before His people in the presence of their enemies.

E. M. Goulburn, Sermons in the Parish Church of Holywell, p. 51.

References: Jeremiah 12:5.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 635; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 293; G. Dawson, Sermons on Daily Life and Duty, p. 313; B. J. Snell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xiv., p. 312; J. Pulsford, Old Testament Outlines, p. 246. Jeremiah 13:1-11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1706. Jeremiah 13:13.—Outline Sermons to Children, p. 107. Jeremiah 13:14.—Parker, Christian Commonwealth, Sept. 16th, 1886. Jeremiah 13:15.—Outline Sermons to Children, p. 109; R. Newton, Bible Warnings, p. 239.. Jeremiah 13:15-17.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxix., No. 1748; V. Hay Aitken, Mission Sermons, vol. i., p. 23. Jeremiah 13:16.—W. T. Bull, Christian World Pulpit, vol. x., p. 97; J. Budgen, Parochial Sermons, vol. ii., p. 302. Jeremiah 13:20.—A. Davies, Christian World Pulpit, vol. iii., p. 324; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. i., p. 3. Jeremiah 13:22-25.—W. Hubbard, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 285.

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Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "Sermon Bible Commentary".

Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible

Jeremiah 12:5. In the swelling of Jordan Houbigant thinks that these are the words of Jeremiah to his fellow-citizens, and to the king and the leaders of the army, whom he addresses in the next verse. He compares the footmen to the horse, says St. Jerome, because all Persia, Chaldea, and those countries, excel in cavalry. Calmet observes, that the manner of expression is proverbial. "The Philistines, Edomites, Ammonites, &c. have been too strong for you; what then will you do with the Chaldeans, who are more numerous and powerful? The first had only infantry; the others abound in cavalry and chariots." The prophet goes on, "You are secure when the land is quiet; but what will you do when Jordan shall overflow? You think to be in security in your own country; but what will you do, when the Chaldean army, composed of multitudes of people around you, shall come and overflow Judaea?" The Scripture frequently expresses the coming of an army into a country by inundation. See ch. Jeremiah 46:7. Daniel 11:10. Calmet thinks, that under the figure of the overflowing Jordan, the prophet principally means the Ammonites, Midianites, Moabites, and Arabs, who were separated from Judaea by the Jordan, and who joined the army of the Chaldeans against the Jews.

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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". Thomas Coke Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.

Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture



Jeremiah 12:5

The prophet has been complaining of his persecutors. The divine answer is here, reproving his impatience, and giving him to understand that harder trials are in store for him.

Both clauses mean substantially the same thing, and are of a parabolic nature. The one adduces the metaphor of a race: ‘Footmen have beaten you, have they? Then how will you run with cavalry?’ The other is more clear in the Revised Version rendering: ‘Though in a land of peace you are secure, what will you do in Jordan when it swells?’ The ‘swelling of Jordan’ is a figure for extreme danger.

The questions may be taken as referring to our own lives. Note how the one refers more to strength for duties, the other to peace and safety in dangers. They both recognise that life has great alternations as to the magnitude of its tasks and trials, and they call on experience to answer the question whether we are ready for times of stress and peril.

I. Think of what may come to us.

We all have had the experience of how in our lives there are long stretches of uneventful days, and then, generally without warning, some crisis is sprung on us, which demands quite a different order of qualities to cope with it. Our typhoons generally come without any warning from a falling barometer.

We may at any moment be confronted with some hard duty which will task our utmost energy.

We may at any moment be plunged in some great calamity to which the quiet course of our lives for years will be as the still flow of the river between smiling lawns is to the dash and fierce currents of the rapids in a grim canyon.

The tasks that may come on us and the tasks that must come, the dangers that may beset us and the dangers that must envelop us, the possibilities that lie hidden in the future, and the certainties that we know to be shrouded there, should surely sometimes occupy a wise man’s thoughts. It is but living in a fool’s paradise to soothe ourselves with the assurance which a moment’s thought will shatter: ‘To-morrow shall be as this day.’ We shall not always have the easy competition with footmen; there will some time come a call to strain our muscles to keep up with the gallop of cavalry. We shall have to struggle to keep our feet in the swelling of Jordan, and must not expect to have a continual leisurely life in ‘a land of peace.’

II. Think of what experience tells us as to our power to meet these crises.

The footmen have wearied you. The small tasks have been more than your patience and strength could manage. No doubt great exigencies often call forth great powers that were dormant in the humdrum of ordinary life. But the man who knows himself best will be the most ready to shrink with distrust from the dread possibilities of duty.

If we think of the ‘footmen’ with whom we have contended as representing the smaller faults that we have tried to overcome, does our success in conquering some small bad habit, some ‘little sin,’ encourage the hope that we could keep our footing when some great temptation of a lifetime came down on us with a rush like the charge of a battalion of horsemen? Or, if we cast our eyes forward to the calamities that lie still ‘on the knees of the gods’ for us, do we feel ready to meet the hours of desolating disaster, the ‘hour of death and the day of judgment’? Even in a land of peace we have all had alarms, perturbations, and defeats enough, and our security has been at the mercy of marauders so often that if we are wise, and take due heed of what experience has to say to us of our reserve of force, we shall not be hopeful of keeping our footing in the whirling currents of a river in full flood.

III. Think of the power that will fit us for all crises.

With the power of Jesus in our spirits we shall never have to attempt a duty for which we are not strengthened, nor to front a danger from and in which He will not defend us. With His life in us we shall be ready for the long hours of uneventful, unexciting duties, and for the short spurts that make exacting calls on us. We ‘shall run and not be weary; we shall walk and not faint.’ If we live in Jesus we shall always be in ‘a land of peace,’ and no ‘plague shall come nigh our dwelling.’ Even when the soles of our feet rest in the waters of Jordan, the waters of Jordan shall be cut off, and we shall pass over on dry ground into the land of peace, where they that would swallow us up shall be far away for ever.

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MacLaren, Alexander. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". Alexander MacLaren's Expositions of Holy Scripture.

Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

That these are the answer of God to the prophet is reasonably well agreed by the best interpreters, as also that this is a proverbial expression; but as to the application of it in this place, there is some difference. Some make it this: If thou dost not understand what is done by the men of thine own city, how canst thou think to fathom my dispensations of providence in the government of the world? But this sense seemeth not very probable, because the sense of the proverb seemeth to be, If thou be not able to encounter lesser dangers, how wilt thou be able to over come greater? I rather agree with those who make the sense this: Jeremiah, I have greater dangers for thee to encounter than those thou art exposed to at Anathoth; if thou be so disturbed with them, who are but as footmen, how wilt thou be able to grapple with those far greater enemies which thou art like to meet with at Jerusalem? Anathoth also seemeth to be understood by the land of thy peace; that is, the land of thy friends, wherein thou hadst a confidence: If thy enemies thou hast there met with thee, what wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan? that is, in a place where thou art like to meet with an increase of greater troubles, like the swelling of Jordan (which in harvest used to overflow its banks). Many other things are said by interpreters, both with reference to the sense of this text, and the explication of these proverbial expressions; but the sense above mentioned seemeth to me least strained, and best agreeing with what went before and what follows.

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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

5. If… they have wearied thee — In this beautiful verse Jehovah rebukes Jeremiah’s impatience. It consists of two proverbial sayings, unlike in form and specific import, but alike relevant to the object of the address. The present trials of Jeremiah at Anathoth are a mere running with foot-men, but there will soon be a contending with horses. And if he can be tranquil and truthful only in a land of peace, where there is no difficulty and no danger, how can he tread the jungly banks of the Jordan, where is the lair of ravenous beasts? In this God foreshadows the prophet’s swiftly-coming trials. See Jeremiah 26:8-9; Jeremiah 32:2; Jeremiah 38:8. What be was then experiencing was but the beginning of sorrows — merely an ordinary trial as compared with the appalling calamities before him.

Swelling of Jordan — Literally, pride of Jordan. The same phrase is used in Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44, and in Zechariah 11:3, in all of which places it is mentioned as the haunt of lions. Hence it cannot mean, as the Authorized Version has it, the “swelling,” or inundation, “of Jordan,” but rather the jungly thicket on its banks.

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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

The Lord replied by asking Jeremiah how he expected to be able to endure the rigors of coming antagonism if the present hostility he was experiencing wore him out (cf. Jeremiah 11:19; Jeremiah 11:21; Jeremiah 23:21). If he fell in a relatively peaceful environment, how could he get though the turbulence to come, which resembled the violent, overflowing Jordan River in the spring. The Jordan Valley was a sub-tropical jungle, inhabited by lions, that was hard to penetrate at any season of the year (cf. Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44; 2 Kings 6:2).

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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". 2012.

George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary

Horses. If thou hast been terrified at the threats of thy fellow-citizens, how wilt thou withstand those of Jerusalem? (Menochius) or he speaks to Juda, who would not be able to resist the Chaldeans, since the Philistines, &c., had routed the Jews, though destitute of cavalry. --- Jordan, or the nations of Ammon, &c., on that side. (Calmet) --- Protestants, "if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt," &c. (Haydock)

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Haydock, George Leo. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "George Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary". 1859.

E.W. Bullinger's Companion Bible Notes

trustedst = confidedst. Hebrew. batah. App-69.

swelling. Hebrew pride. Put by Figure of speech Metonymy (of Adjunct), for proud beasts in the undergrowth on the banks of the Jordan. See Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44, and compare Job 41:34.

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Bullinger, Ethelbert William. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "E.W. Bullinger's Companion bible Notes". 1909-1922.

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? - Yahweh's reply to Jeremiah's complaint - i:e., horsemen: the argument a fortiori. A proverbial phrase. The injuries done thee by the men of Anathoth ("the footmen") are small compared with those which the men of Jerusalem ("the horsemen") are about to inflict on thee. If the former weary thee out, how wilt thou contend with the king, the court, and the priests at Jerusalem?

(Wherein) thou trustedst, (they wearied thee). The English version thus fills up the sentence with the italicized words, to answer to the parallel clause in the first sentence of the verse. The parallelism is, however, sufficiently retained with a less ellipsis. 'If (it is only) in a land of peace thou art confident' (Maurer).

How wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan? In harvest time and earlier (April and May) it overflows its banks (Joshua 3:15), and fills the valley called the Ghor. Or, 'the pride of Jordan'-namely, its wooded banks, abounding in lions and other wild beasts (Zechariah 11:3, "The pride" [n

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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". 1871-8.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

(5) If thou hast run with the footmen.—The prophet is compelled to make answer to himself, and the voice of Jehovah is heard in his inmost soul rebuking his impatience. What are the petty troubles that fall on him compared with what others suffer, with what might come on himself? The thought is not unlike that with which St. Paul comforts the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:13), or what we find in Hebrews 12:4. The meaning of the first clause is plain enough. The man who was wearied in a foot-race should not venture (as Elijah, e.g., had done, 1 Kings 18:46) to measure his speed against that of horses. The latter (“the swelling of Jordan”) suggests the thoughts of the turbid stream of the river overflowing its banks in the time of harvest (Joshua 3:15; 1 Chronicles 12:15). In Zechariah 11:3, however, the same phrase (there translated “the pride of Jordan”) is used apparently in connection with the lions and other beasts of prey that haunted the jungle on its banks (Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:44), and that may be the thought here. Commentators differ, and there are no data for deciding. In any case, there is no need for the interpolated words of the English Version. The sentence should run, “In a land of peace thou art secure (i.e., it is easy to be tranquil when danger is not pressing). What wilt thou in the swelling (or, amid the pride) of Jordan?

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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Treasury of Scripture Knowledge

If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace, wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan?
thou hast
Proverbs 3:11; 24:10; Hebrews 12:3,4; 1 Peter 4:12
26:8; 36:26; 38:4-6
49:19; 50:44; Joshua 3:15; 1 Chronicles 12:15; Psalms 42:7; 69:1,2

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Torrey, R. A. "Commentary on Jeremiah 12:5". "The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge".

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