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Jeremiah 25:34-36

Context

25:34 Wail and cry out in anguish, you rulers!

Roll in the dust, you who shepherd flocks of people! 1 

The time for you to be slaughtered has come.

You will lie scattered and fallen like broken pieces of fine pottery. 2 

25:35 The leaders will not be able to run away and hide. 3 

The shepherds of the flocks will not be able to escape.

25:36 Listen to the cries of anguish of the leaders.

Listen to the wails of the shepherds of the flocks.

They are wailing because the Lord

is about to destroy their lands. 4 

1 tn Heb “Wail and cry out, you shepherds. Roll in the dust, you leaders of the flock.” The terms have been reversed to explain the figure.

sn The term “shepherd” has been used several times in the book of Jeremiah to refer to the leaders of the people who were responsible for taking care of their people who are compared to a flock. (See Jer 23:1-4 and the notes there.) Here the figure has some irony involved in it. It is the shepherds who are to be slaughtered like sheep. They may have considered themselves “choice vessels” (the literal translation of “fine pottery”), but they would be slaughtered and lie scattered on the ground (v. 33) like broken pottery.

2 tn The meaning of this line is debated. The Greek version does not have the words “lie scattered” and it reads the words “like broken pieces of fine pottery” (Heb “like choice vessels”; כִּכְלִי חֶמְדָּה, kikhli khemdah) as “like choice rams” (כְּאֵילֵי חֶמְדָּה, kÿele khemdah); i.e., “the days have been completed for you to be slaughtered and you will fall like choice rams.” The reading of the Greek version fits the context better, but is probably secondary for that very reason. The word translated “lie scattered” (תְּפוֹצָה, tÿfotsah) occurs nowhere else and the switch to the simile of “choice vessels” is rather abrupt. However, this section has been characterized by switching metaphors. The key to the interpretation and translation here is the consequential nature of the verbal actions involved. “Fall” does not merely refer to the action but the effect, i.e., “lie fallen” (cf. BDB 657 s.v. נָפַל 7 and compare Judg 3:25; 1 Sam 31:8). Though the noun translated “lie scattered” does not occur elsewhere, the verb does. It is quite commonly used of dispersing people and that has led many to see that as the reference here. The word, however, can be used of scattering other things like seed (Isa 28:25), arrows (2 Sam 22:15; metaphorical for lightning), etc. Here it follows “slaughtered” and refers to their dead bodies. The simile (Heb “ fallen like choice vessels”) is elliptical, referring to “broken pieces” of choice vessels. In this sense the simile fits in perfectly with v. 33.

3 tn Heb “Flight [or “place of escape”] will perish from the shepherds.”

sn Judging from Gen 14:10 and Judg 8:12 (among many others), it was not uncommon for the leaders to try to save their own necks at the expense of their soldiers.

4 tn Heb “their pastures,” i.e., the place where they “shepherd” their “flocks.” The verb tenses in this section are not as clear as in the preceding. The participle in this verse is followed by a vav consecutive perfect like the imperatives in v. 34. The verbs in v. 38 are perfects but they can be and probably should be understood as prophetic like the perfect in v. 31 (נְתָנָם, nÿtanam) which is surrounded by imperfects, participles, and vav consecutive perfects.

sn Jer 25:36-38 shifts to the future as though the action were already accomplished or going on. It is the sound that Jeremiah hears in his “prophetic ears” of something that has begun (v. 29) but will find its culmination in the future (vv. 13, 16, 27, 30-35).



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