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Jeremiah 12:9-12

Context

12:9 The people I call my own attack me like birds of prey or like hyenas. 1 

But other birds of prey are all around them. 2 

Let all the nations gather together like wild beasts.

Let them come and destroy these people I call my own. 3 

12:10 Many foreign rulers 4  will ruin the land where I planted my people. 5 

They will trample all over my chosen land. 6 

They will turn my beautiful land

into a desolate wasteland.

12:11 They will lay it waste.

It will lie parched 7  and empty before me.

The whole land will be laid waste.

But no one living in it will pay any heed. 8 

12:12 A destructive army 9  will come marching

over the hilltops in the desert.

For the Lord will use them as his destructive weapon 10 

against 11  everyone from one end of the land to the other.

No one will be safe. 12 

1 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.

2 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.

3 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.

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

5 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.

6 tn Heb “my portion.”

7 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.

8 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.

9 tn Heb “destroyers.”

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

11 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.

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



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