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Jeremiah 8:4-13

Context
Willful Disregard of God Will Lead to Destruction

8:4 The Lord said to me, 1 

“Tell them, ‘The Lord says,

Do people not get back up when they fall down?

Do they not turn around when they go the wrong way? 2 

8:5 Why, then, do these people of Jerusalem 3 

continually turn away from me in apostasy?

They hold fast to their deception. 4 

They refuse to turn back to me. 5 

8:6 I have listened to them very carefully, 6 

but they do not speak honestly.

None of them regrets the evil he has done.

None of them says, “I have done wrong!” 7 

All of them persist in their own wayward course 8 

like a horse charging recklessly into battle.

8:7 Even the stork knows

when it is time to move on. 9 

The turtledove, swallow, and crane 10 

recognize 11  the normal times for their migration.

But my people pay no attention

to 12  what I, the Lord, require of them. 13 

8:8 How can you say, “We are wise!

We have the law of the Lord”?

The truth is, 14  those who teach it 15  have used their writings

to make it say what it does not really mean. 16 

8:9 Your wise men will be put to shame.

They will be dumbfounded and be brought to judgment. 17 

Since they have rejected the word of the Lord,

what wisdom do they really have?

8:10 18 So I will give their wives to other men

and their fields to new owners.

For from the least important to the most important of them,

all of them are greedy for dishonest gain.

Prophets and priests alike,

all practice deceit.

8:11 They offer only superficial help

for the hurt my dear people 19  have suffered. 20 

They say, “Everything will be all right!”

But everything is not all right! 21 

8:12 Are they ashamed because they have done such disgusting things?

No, they are not at all ashamed!

They do not even know how to blush!

So they will die just like others have died. 22 

They will be brought to ruin when I punish them,

says the Lord.

8:13 I will take away their harvests, 23  says the Lord.

There will be no grapes on their vines.

There will be no figs on their fig trees.

Even the leaves on their trees will wither.

The crops that I gave them will be taken away.’” 24 

1 tn The words “the Lord said to me” are not in the text but are implicit from the context. They are supplied in the translation to make clear who is speaking and who is being addressed.

2 sn There is a play on two different nuances of the same Hebrew word that means “turn” and “return,” “turn away” and “turn back.”

3 tc The text is quite commonly emended, changing שׁוֹבְבָה הָעָם (shovÿvah haam) to שׁוֹבָב הָעָם (shovav haam) and omitting יְרוּשָׁלַםִ (yÿrushalaim); this is due to the anomaly of a feminine singular verb with a masculine singular subject and the fact that the word “Jerusalem” is absent from one Hebrew ms and the LXX. However, it is possible that this is a case where the noun “Jerusalem” is a defining apposition to the word “these people,” an apposition which GKC 425 §131.k calls “permutation.” In this case the verb could be attracted to the appositional noun and there would be no reason to emend the text. The MT is undoubtedly the harder reading and is for that reason to be preferred.

map For location see Map5 B1; Map6 F3; Map7 E2; Map8 F2; Map10 B3; JP1 F4; JP2 F4; JP3 F4; JP4 F4.

4 tn Or “to their allegiance to false gods,” or “to their false professions of loyalty”; Heb “to deceit.” Either “to their mistaken beliefs” or “to their allegiance to false gods” would fit the preceding context. The former is more comprehensive than the latter and was chosen for that reason.

5 sn There is a continuing play on the same root word used in the preceding verse. Here the words “turn away from me,” “apostasy,” and “turn back to me” are all forms from the root that was translated “go the wrong way” and “turn around” in v. 4. The intended effect is to contrast Judah’s recalcitrant apostasy with the usual tendency to try and correct one’s mistakes.

6 tn Heb “I have paid attention and I have listened.” This is another case of two concepts being joined by “and” where one expresses the main idea and the other acts as an adverbial or adjectival modifier (a figure called hendiadys).

7 tn Heb “What have I done?” The addition of the word “wrong” is implicit in the context and is supplied in the translation for clarity. The rhetorical question does not function as a denial of wrongdoing, but rather as contrite shock at one’s own wrongdoing. It is translated as a declaration for the sake of clarity.

8 tn Heb “each one of them turns aside into their own running course.”

sn The wordplay begun in v. 4 is continued here. The word translated “turns aside” in the literal translation and “wayward” in the translation is from the same root as “go the wrong way,” “turn around,” “turn away from me,” “apostasy,” “turn back to me.” What God hoped for were confessions of repentance and change of behavior; what he got was denial of wrongdoing and continued turning away from him.

9 tn Heb “its appointed time.” The translation is contextually motivated to avoid lack of clarity.

10 tn There is debate in the commentaries and lexicons about the identification of some of these birds, particularly regarding the identification of the “swallow” which is more likely the “swift” and the “crane” which some identify with the “thrush.” For a discussion see the Bible encyclopedias and the UBS handbook Fauna and Flora of the Bible. The identity of the individual birds makes little difference to the point being made and “swallow” is more easily identifiable to the average reader than the “swift.”

11 tn Heb “keep.” Ironically birds, which do not think, obey the laws of nature, but Israel does not obey the laws of God.

12 tn Heb “do not know.” But here as elsewhere the word “know” is more than an intellectual matter. It is intended here to summarize both “know” and “follow” (Heb “observe”) in the preceding lines.

13 tn Heb “the ordinance/requirement of the Lord.”

14 tn Heb “Surely, behold!”

15 tn Heb “the scribes.”

16 tn Heb “The lying pen of the scribes have made [it] into a lie.” The translation is an attempt to make the most common interpretation of this passage understandable for the average reader. This is, however, a difficult passage whose interpretation is greatly debated and whose syntax is capable of other interpretations. The interpretation of the NJPS, “Assuredly, for naught has the pen labored, for naught the scribes,” surely deserves consideration within the context; i.e. it hasn’t done any good for the scribes to produce a reliable copy of the law, which the people have refused to follow. That interpretation has the advantage of explaining the absence of an object for the verb “make” or “labored” but creates a very unbalanced poetic couplet.

17 tn Heb “be trapped.” However, the word “trapped” generally carries with it the connotation of divine judgment. See BDB 540 s.v. לָכַד Niph.2, and compare usage in Jer 6:11 for support. The verbs in the first two lines are again the form of the Hebrew verb that emphasizes that the action is as good as done (Hebrew prophetic perfects).

18 sn See Jer 6:12-15 for parallels to 8:10-12. The words of Jeremiah to the people may have been repeated on more than one occasion or have been found appropriate to more than one of his collection of messages in written and edited form. See Jer 36:4 and Jer 36:28 for reference to at least two of these collections.

19 tn Heb “daughter of my people.” For the translation given here see 4:11 and the note on the phrase “dear people” there.

20 tn Heb “They heal the wound of my people lightly.”

21 tn Heb “They say, ‘Peace! Peace!’ and there is no peace!”

22 tn Heb “They will fall among the fallen.”

23 tn Or “I will completely destroy them.” The translation which is adopted is based on the revocalization of the MT which appears to mean literally “gathering I will sweep them away,” a rather improbable grammatical combination. It follows the suggestion found in HALOT 705 s.v. סוּף (Hiph) of reading אֹסֵף אֲסִיפָם (’ose, a first singular Qal imperfect of אָסַף [’asaf] followed by a noun אָסִיף [’asif] with possessive suffix) instead of the MT’s אָסֹף אֲסִיפֵם (’aspfasifem, a Qal infinitive absolute of אָסַף [’asaf] followed by the Hiphil imperfect of סוּף [suf] plus suffix). For parallel usage of the verb אָסַף (asaf) see BDB 62 s.v. אָסַף Qal.4, and for a similar form of the verb see Mic 4:6. The alternate translation follows the suggestion in BDB 692 s.v. סוּף Hiph: אָסֹף (’asof) is to be interpreted as a form of the Hiphil infinitive absolute (הָסֵף [hasef] would be expected) chosen for assonance with the following form. This suggestion would gain more credence if the MT is to be retained in Zeph 1:2 where parallel forms are found. However, that text too has been questioned on lexical and grammatical grounds. The translation adopted fits the following context better than the alternate one and is based on less questionable lexical and grammatical parallels. The Greek translation which reads “they shall gather their fruits” supports the translation chosen.

24 tn The meaning of this line is very uncertain. A possible alternate translation is: “They have broken the laws that I gave them.” The line reads rather literally “And I gave them they passed over them.” The translation adopted treats the first expression as a noun clause (cf. GKC 488-89 §155.n) which is the subject of the following verb, i.e., “the things I gave them [contextually, the grapes, etc.] passed over from them.” The alternate translation treats the expression as a dangling object (a Hebrew casus pendens) resumed by the pronoun “them” and understands “the things that I gave them” to be the law or some related entity which is often the object of this verb (see BDB 717 s.v. עָבַר Qal.1.i). Neither of these translations is without its weakness. The weakness of the translation which has been adopted is the unusual use it assigns to the object suffix of the verb translated “pass over.” The weakness of the alternate translation is the rather abrupt and opaque introduction of a new topic of reference (i.e., the laws) into the context. On the whole the latter weakness would appear to outweigh the former. This line is missing from the Greek version and J. Bright (Jeremiah [AB]) and J. A. Thompson (Jeremiah [NICOT]) despair of giving a translation. For other possible suggestions see, W. L. Holladay, Jeremiah (Hermeneia), 1:285-86.



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