This segment consists of two laments of Prophet who condemned Judah's infidelity to God, warned of Babylonian conquest, and promised a new covenant (11:18-20; 12:1-4) and two responses from God (11:21-23; 12:5-6).
Jeremiah has become aware of threats against his life, perhaps for the first time, because of the message he has been preaching. He considers himself to be like a “gentle lamb led to the slaughter”–that is, he had been innocent of these plans to take his life and silence his tongue until God made it known to him. While the lamb metaphor may be linked to other texts (Isaiah, son of Amoz, who prophesied in Jerusalem, is included among the prophets of the eighth century B.C.E. (along with Amos, Hosea, and Micah)--preachers who boldly proclaimed God's word of judgment against the economic, social, and religious disorders of their time. 53:7; John 1:29, 36), Jeremiah does not understand his suffering/death to be vicarious, though it is innocent. Jeremiah also does not plan to take action against the plotters himself; he commits his cause to God. God responds by identifying his enemies, namely his own family and neighbors, and promises that they will be judged for their schemes.
In the second lament (12:1-4), Jeremiah raises the perennial question regarding God’s justice in the face of the presence and persistence of evil. He knows God will be proven right in these matters; yet, he wants to lay a case against God. Why do the treacherous continue to thrive? Jeremiah is impatient for God to judge his persecutors for their schemes. His cry, “How Long?” focuses on the adverse effects of their activities on the land and the animals–the ecological impact of human sin on the environment is brought to the fore (as it is in 12:7-11). The land itself mourns over what people are doing to harm it so.
God responds (12:5-6) by noting that, if Jeremiah thinks that his family and friends (the “foot-runners”) have been difficult, how will he do when all the wicked in Israel (the riders on horses) descend upon him? If Jeremiah has difficulty in a reasonably safe land, how will he fare when he gets all tangled up in further community conflicts (the “thickets of the Jordan”)? Jeremiah should be prepared for things getting even worse than they are. God then follows with God’s own lament over what has happened to land and people (12:7-11).