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Jeremiah 12:5-17

Context

12:5 The Lord answered, 1 

“If you have raced on foot against men and they have worn you out,

how will you be able to compete with horses?

And if you feel secure only 2  in safe and open country, 3 

how will you manage in the thick undergrowth along the Jordan River? 4 

12:6 As a matter of fact, 5  even your own brothers

and the members of your own family have betrayed you too.

Even they have plotted to do away with you. 6 

So do not trust them even when they say kind things 7  to you.

12:7 “I will abandon my nation. 8 

I will forsake the people I call my own. 9 

I will turn my beloved people 10 

over to the power 11  of their enemies.

12:8 The people I call my own 12  have turned on me

like a lion 13  in the forest.

They have roared defiantly 14  at me.

So I will treat them as though I hate them. 15 

12:9 The people I call my own attack me like birds of prey or like hyenas. 16 

But other birds of prey are all around them. 17 

Let all the nations gather together like wild beasts.

Let them come and destroy these people I call my own. 18 

12:10 Many foreign rulers 19  will ruin the land where I planted my people. 20 

They will trample all over my chosen land. 21 

They will turn my beautiful land

into a desolate wasteland.

12:11 They will lay it waste.

It will lie parched 22  and empty before me.

The whole land will be laid waste.

But no one living in it will pay any heed. 23 

12:12 A destructive army 24  will come marching

over the hilltops in the desert.

For the Lord will use them as his destructive weapon 25 

against 26  everyone from one end of the land to the other.

No one will be safe. 27 

12:13 My people will sow wheat, but will harvest weeds. 28 

They will work until they are exhausted, but will get nothing from it.

They will be disappointed in their harvests 29 

because the Lord will take them away in his fierce anger. 30 

12:14 “I, the Lord, also have something to say concerning 31  the wicked nations who surround my land 32  and have attacked and plundered 33  the land that I gave to my people as a permanent possession. 34  I say: ‘I will uproot the people of those nations from their lands and I will free the people of Judah who have been taken there. 35  12:15 But after I have uprooted the people of those nations, I will relent 36  and have pity on them. I will restore the people of each of those nations to their own lands 37  and to their own country. 12:16 But they must make sure you learn to follow the religious practices of my people. 38  Once they taught my people to swear their oaths using the name of the god Baal. 39  But then, they must swear oaths using my name, saying, “As surely as the Lord lives, I swear.” 40  If they do these things, 41  then they will be included among the people I call my own. 42  12:17 But I will completely uproot and destroy any of those nations that will not pay heed,’” 43  says the Lord.

1 tn The words “The Lord answered” are not in the text but are implicit from the context. They are supplied in the translation for clarity.

2 tn Some commentaries and English versions follow the suggestion given in HALOT 116 s.v. II בָּטַח that a homonym meaning “to stumble, fall down” is involved here and in Prov 14:16. The evidence for this homonym is questionable because both passages can be explained on other grounds with the usual root.

3 tn Heb “a land of tranquility.” The expression involves a figure of substitution where the feeling engendered is substituted for the conditions that engender it. For the idea see Isa 32:18. The translation both here and in the following line is intended to bring out the contrast implicit in the emotive connotations connected with “peaceful country” and “thicket along the Jordan.”

4 tn Heb “the thicket along the Jordan.” The word “River” is not in the Hebrew text, but has been supplied in the translation for clarity.

sn The thick undergrowth along the Jordan River refers to the thick woods and underbrush alongside the Jordan where lions were known to have lived, and hence the area was considered dangerous. See Jer 49:14; 50:44. The Lord here seems to be telling Jeremiah that the situation will only get worse. If he has trouble contending with the plot from his fellow townsmen, what will he do when the whole country sets up a cry against him?

5 tn This is an attempt to give some contextual sense to the particle “for, indeed” (כִּי, ki).

sn If the truth be known, Jeremiah wasn’t safe even in the context of his own family. They were apparently part of the plot by the people of Anathoth to kill him.

6 tn Heb “they have called after you fully”; or “have lifted up loud voices against you.” The word “against” does not seem quite adequate for the preposition “after.” The preposition “against” would be Hebrew עַל (’al). The idea appears to be that they are chasing after him, raising their voices along with those of the conspirators to have him killed.

7 tn Heb “good things.” See BDB 373 s.v. II טוֹב 2 for this nuance and compare Prov 12:25 for usage.

8 tn Heb “my house.” Or “I have abandoned my nation.” The word “house” has been used throughout Jeremiah for both the temple (e.g., 7:2, 10), the nation or people of Israel or of Judah (e.g. 3:18, 20), or the descendants of Jacob (i.e., the Israelites, e.g., 2:4). Here the parallelism argues that it refers to the nation of Judah. The translation throughout vv. 5-17 assumes that the verb forms are prophetic perfects, the form that conceives of the action as being as good as done. It is possible that the forms are true perfects and refer to a past destruction of Judah. If so, it may have been connected with the assaults against Judah in 598/7 b.c. by the Babylonians and the nations surrounding Judah recorded in 2 Kgs 24:14. No other major recent English version reflects these as prophetic perfects besides NIV and NCV, which does not use the future until v. 10. Hence the translation is somewhat tentative. C. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” EBC 6:459 takes them as prophetic perfects and H. Freedman (Jeremiah [SoBB], 88) mentions that as a possibility for explaining the presence of this passage here. For another example of an extended use of the prophetic perfect without imperfects interspersed see Isa 8:23-9:6. The translation assumes they are prophetic and are part of the Lord’s answer to the complaint about the prosperity of the wicked; both the wicked Judeans and the wicked nations God will use to punish them will be punished.

9 tn Heb “my inheritance.”

10 tn Heb “the beloved of my soul.” Here “soul” stands for the person and is equivalent to “my.”

11 tn Heb “will give…into the hands of.”

12 tn See the note on the previous verse.

13 tn Heb “have become to me like a lion.”

14 tn Heb “have given against me with her voice.”

15 tn Or “so I will reject her.” The word “hate” is sometimes used in a figurative way to refer to being neglected, i.e., treated as though unloved. In these contexts it does not have the same emotive connotations that a typical modern reader would associate with hate. See Gen 29:31, 33 and E. W. Bullinger, Figures of Speech, 556.

16 tn Or “like speckled birds of prey.” The meanings of these words are uncertain. In the Hebrew text sentence is a question: “Is not my inheritance to me a bird of prey [or] a hyena/a speckled bird of prey?” The question expects a positive answer and so is rendered here as an affirmative statement. The meaning of the word “speckled” is debated. It occurs only here. BDB 840 s.v. צָבוּעַ relates it to another word that occurs only once in Judg 5:30 which is translated “dyed stuff.” HALOT 936 s.v. צָבוּעַ relates a word found in the cognates meaning “hyena.” This is more likely and is the interpretation followed by the Greek which reads the first two words as “cave of hyena.” This translation has led some scholars to posit a homonym for the word “bird of prey” meaning “cave” which is based on Arabic parallels. The metaphor would then be of Israel carried off by hyenas and surrounded by birds of prey. The evidence for the meaning “cave” is weak and would involve a wordplay of a rare homonym with another word that is better known. For a discussion of the issues see J. Barr, Comparative Philology and the Text of the Old Testament, 128-29, 153.

17 tn Heb “Are birds of prey around her?” The question is again rhetorical and expects a positive answer. The birds of prey are of course the hostile nations surrounding her. The metaphor involved in these two lines may be interpreted differently. I.e., God considers Israel a proud bird of prey (hence the word for speckled) but one who is surrounded and under attack by other birds of prey. The fact that the sentences are divided into two rhetorical questions speaks somewhat against this.

18 tn Heb “Go, gather all the beasts of the field [= wild beasts]. Bring them to devour.” The verbs are masculine plural imperatives addressed rhetorically to some unidentified group (the heavenly counsel?) Cf. the notes on 5:1 for further discussion. Since translating literally would raise question about who the commands are addressed to, they have been turned into passive third person commands to avoid confusion. The metaphor has likewise been turned into a simile to help the modern reader. By the way, the imperatives here implying future action argue that the passage is future and that it is correct to take the verb forms as prophetic perfects.

19 tn Heb “Many shepherds.” For the use of the term “shepherd” as a figure for rulers see the notes on 10:21.

20 tn Heb “my vineyard.” To translate literally would presuppose an unlikely familiarity of this figure on the part of some readers. To translate as “vineyards” as some do would be misleading because that would miss the figurative nuance altogether.

sn The figure of Israel as God’s vine and the land as God’s vineyard is found several times in the Bible. The best known of these is the extended metaphor in Isa 5:1-7. This figure also appears in Jer 2:20.

21 tn Heb “my portion.”

22 tn For the use of this verb see the notes on 12:4. Some understand the homonym here meaning “it [the desolated land] will mourn to me.” However, the only other use of the preposition עַל (’al) with this root means “to mourn over” not “to” (cf. Hos 10:5). For the use of the preposition here see BDB 753 s.v. עַל II.1.b and compare the use in Gen 48:7.

23 tn Heb “But there is no man laying it to heart.” For the idiom here see BDB 525 s.v. לֵב II.3.d and compare the usage in Isa 42:25; 47:7.

sn There is a very interesting play on words and sounds in this verse that paints a picture of desolation and the pathos it evokes. Part of this is reflected in the translation. The same Hebrew word referring to a desolation or a waste (שְׁמֵמָה, shÿmemah) is repeated three times at the end of three successive lines and the related verb is found at the beginning of the fourth (נָשַׁמָּה, nashammah). A similar sounding word is found in the second of the three successive lines (שָׁמָהּ, shamah = “he [they] will make it”). This latter word is part of a further play because it is repeated in a different form in the last line (שָׁם, sham = “laying”); they lay it waste but no one lays it to heart. There is also an interesting contrast between the sorrow the Lord feels and the inattention of the people.

24 tn Heb “destroyers.”

25 tn Heb “It is the Lord’s consuming sword.”

26 tn Heb “For a sword of the Lord will devour.” The sword is often symbolic for destructive forces of all kinds. Here and in Isa 34:6; Jer 47:6 it is symbolic of the enemy armies that the Lord uses to carry out destructive punishment against his enemies, hence the translation “his destructive weapon.” A similar figure is use in Isa 10:5 where the figure is more clearly identified; Assyria is the rod/club that the Lord will use to discipline unfaithful Israel.

27 tn Heb “There is no peace to all flesh.”

28 sn Invading armies lived off the land, using up all the produce and destroying everything they could not consume.

29 tn The pronouns here are actually second plural: Heb “Be ashamed/disconcerted because of your harvests.” Because the verb form (וּבֹשׁוּ, uvoshu) can either be Qal perfect third plural or Qal imperative masculine plural many emend the pronoun on the noun to third plural (see, e.g., BHS). However, this is the easier reading and is not supported by either the Latin or the Greek which have second plural. This is probably another case of the shift from description to direct address that has been met with several times already in Jeremiah (the figure of speech called apostrophe; for other examples see, e.g., 9:4; 11:13). As in other cases the translation has been leveled to third plural to avoid confusion for the contemporary English reader. For the meaning of the verb here see BDB 101 s.v. בּוֹשׁ Qal.2 and compare the usage in Jer 48:13.

30 tn Heb “be disappointed in their harvests from the fierce anger of the Lord.” The translation makes explicit what is implicit in the elliptical poetry of the Hebrew original.

31 tn Heb “Thus says the Lord concerning….” This structure has been adopted to prevent a long dangling introduction to what the Lord has to say that does not begin until the middle of the verse in Hebrew. The first person address was adopted because the speaker is still the Lord as in vv. 7-13.

32 tn Heb “my wicked neighbors.”

33 tn Heb “touched.” For the nuance of this verb here see BDB 619 s.v. נָגַע Qal.3 and compare the usage in 1 Chr 16:22 where it is parallel to “do harm to” and Zech 2:8 where it is parallel to “plundered.”

34 tn Heb “the inheritance which I caused my people Israel to inherit.” Compare 3:18.

35 tn Heb “I will uproot the house of Judah from their midst.”

sn There appears to be an interesting play on the Hebrew word translated “uproot” in this verse. In the first instance it refers to “uprooting the nations from upon their lands,” i.e., to exiling them. In the second instance it refers to “uprooting the Judeans from the midst of them,” i.e., to rescue them.

36 tn For the use of the verb “turn” (שׁוּב, shuv) in this sense, see BDB s.v. שׁוּב Qal.6.g and compare the usage in Pss 90:13; 6:4; Joel 2:14. It does not simply mean “again” as several of the English versions render it.

37 sn The Lord is sovereign over the nations and has allotted each of them their lands. See Deut 2:5 (Edom), Deut 2:9 (Moab), Deut 2:19 (Ammon). He promised to restore not only his own people Israel to their land (Jer 32:37) but also Moab (Jer 48:47) and Ammon (Jer 49:6).

38 tn Heb “the ways of my people.” For this nuance of the word “ways” compare 10:2 and the notes there.

39 tn Heb “taught my people to swear by Baal.”

40 tn The words “I swear” are not in the text but are implicit to the oath formula. They are supplied in the translation for clarity.

41 tn The words “If they do this” are not in the text. They are part of an attempt to break up a Hebrew sentence which is long and complex into equivalent shorter sentences consistent with contemporary English style. Verse 16 in Hebrew is all one sentence with a long complex conditional clause followed by a short consequence: “If they carefully learn the ways of my people to swear by name, ‘By the life of the Lord,’ as they taught my people to swear by Baal, then they will be built up in the midst of my people.” The translation strives to create the same contingencies and modifications by breaking up the sentence into shorter sentences in accord with contemporary English style.

42 tn Heb “they will be built up among my people.” The expression “be built up among” is without parallel. However, what is involved here is conceptually parallel to the ideas expressed in Isa 19:23-25 and Zech 14:16-19. That is, these people will be allowed to live on their own land, to worship the Lord there, and to come to Jerusalem to celebrate the feasts. To translate literally would be meaningless or misleading for many readers.

43 tn Heb “But if they will not listen, I will uproot that nation, uprooting and destroying.” IBHS 590-91 §35.3.2d is likely right in seeing the double infinitive construction here as an intensifying infinitive followed by an adverbial infinitive qualifying the goal of the main verb, “uproot it in such a way as to destroy it.” However, to translate that way “literally” would not be very idiomatic in contemporary English. The translation strives for the equivalent. Likewise, to translate using the conditional structure of the original seems to put the emphasis of the passage in its context on the wrong point.



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