צַדִּיק אַתָּה יְהוָה כִּי אָרִיב אֵלֶיךָ אַךְ מִשְׁפָּטִים אֲדַבֵּר אֹותָךְ מַדּוּעַ דֶּרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים צָלֵחָה שָׁלוּ 12:4 כָּל־בֹּגְדֵי בָגֶד׃
Jere. 12:1 Righteous are You, O Lord,
for I can plead to You,
yet I might speak of judgments with You:
Why is the way of the wicked prosperous?
At peace, all are dealing treachery.
The last two words in this verse, which I translate as all are dealing treachery, most likely form an idiom. If the phrase is translated literally, if that is even possible after 3,000 years, it would be something like all garments of treachery. Of course, it’s also possible that the literal meaning is what Jeremiah intended. The final part of the verse would still make some kind of peculiar sense.
On a more significant point that actually recurs throughout this chapter, a question is brought to mind as to who is Jeremiah talking about? Some say he is referring to the men of Anathoth. Others say he is speaking of the inhabitants of Israel and Judah. Still others believe he is speaking of the surrounding heathen nations. In addition, I add the possibility that he is speaking of the priests. As we shall see below, the evidence seems to support no one answer more than the others.
נְטַעְתָּם גַּם־שֹׁרָשׁוּ יֵלְכוּ גַּם־עָשׂוּ פֶרִי קָרֹוב אַתָּה בְּפִיהֶם וְרָחֹוק מִכִּלְיֹותֵיהֶם׃ 12:2
Jere. 12:2 You plant; indeed, they take root;
they may walk; indeed, they produce fruit.
You are near in their mouth,
but far from their reins.
Jeremiah’s pleading continues in this verse. Here the evidence seems to point to Israel or the men of Anathoth as the object of his words.
וְאַתָּה יְהוָה יְדַעְתָּנִי תִּרְאֵנִי וּבָחַנְתָּ לִבִּי אִתָּךְ הַתִּקֵם כְּצֹאן לְטִבְחָה וְהַקְדִּשֵׁם לְיֹום הֲרֵגָה׃ 12:3
Jere. 12:3 But You, O Lord, know me;
You can inspect me, and test my faith in You.
Pull them out like sheep to the slaughter
and consecrate them for the time of slaughter!
Having finally finished his plea for the moment, but continuing in the next verse, he abruptly vents his own anger and begs the Lord to destroy them, whoever they are.
עַד־מָתַי תֶּאֱבַל הָאָרֶץ וְעֵשֶׂב כָּל־הַשָּׂדֶה יִיבָשׁ מֵרָעַת יֹשְׁבֵי־בָהּ סָפְתָה בְהֵמֹות וָעֹוף כִּי אָמְרוּ לֹא 12:4
Jere. 12:4 How long shall the land mourn
and the herbs of every field wither
because of the wickedness of its inhabitants!
It consumes the beasts and the birds.
“Surely,” they say, “He will not see our end.”
Here we are presented with an additional uncertainty. Who is speaking and who is being referred to in the last quote? It could be the men of Anathoth speaking about Jeremiah and assuming that he will die before they do. It could also be the men of Anathoth, or the people of Israel, or the priests speaking arrogantly about God.
כִּי אֶת־רַגְלִים רַצְתָּה וַיַּלְאוּךָ וְאֵיךְ תְּתַחֲרֶה אֶת־הַסּוּסִים וּבְאֶרֶץ שָׁלֹום אַתָּה בֹוטֵחַ וְאֵיךְ תַּעֲשֶׂה 12:5
Jere. 12:5 “If you run with footmen and they weary you,
then how can you burn the horses?
When you are confident in a land of peace,
then how can you deal
with the lush vegetation of the Jordan?”
The Lord starts His answer to Jeremiah, with two short but mysterious parables or metaphors. Here’s what I believe about them. I think the first part is questioning the idea of Jeremiah’s blaming his tormenters for his difficulties. Is the Lord saying here that Jeremiah’s anger at the men of Anathoth should be redirected to himself? Or that he should expect this kind of treatment as a troubling prophet? Then I think the second part further addresses Jeremiah’s frustration and anger, by asking in a rhetorical sense, if Jeremiah were comfortable (confident in a land of peace), how could he deal with the metaphorical lush vegetation of the Jordan (which was probably full of wild animals)?
כִּי גַם־אַחֶיךָ וּבֵית־אָבִיךָ גַּם־הֵמָּה בָּגְדוּ בָךְ גַּם־הֵמָּה קָרְאוּ אַחֲרֶיךָ מָלֵא אַל־תַּאֲמֵן בָּם כִּי־יְדַבְּרו 12:6ּ
Jere. 12:6 “For even your brothers
and the house of your father,
even they, have dealt treacherously with you.
Even they have proclaimed as one behind you.
You cannot trust them
even if they may speak pleasant words to you.”
In this verse we have some support for the men of Anathoth being the object of Jeremiah’s words in v. 12:1.
עָזַבְתִּי אֶת־בֵּיתִי נָטַשְׁתִּי אֶת־נַחֲלָתִי נָתַתִּי אֶת־יְדִדוּת נַפְשִׁי בְּכַף אֹיְבֶיהָ׃ 12:7
Jere. 12:7 “I abandon My house;
I forsake My possession;
I give the beloved one of My soul
into the palm of her enemy.”
Having apparently answered Jeremiah’s question to the extent that He will, the Lord now plunges into His own lament.
הָיְתָה־לִּי נַחֲלָתִי כְּאַרְיֵה בַיָּעַר נָתְנָה עָלַי בְּקֹולָהּ עַל־כֵּן שְׂנֵאתִיהָ׃ 12:8
Jere. 12:8 “My possession is like a lion in the forest to Me;
she sets against Me noisily
-- therefore I ‘hate’ her.”
הַעַיִט צָבוּעַ נַחֲלָתִי לִי הַעַיִט סָבִיב עָלֶיהָ לְכוּ אִסְפוּ כָּל־חַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה הֵתָיוּ לְאָכְלָה׃ 12:9
Jere. 12:9 “The speckled bird is My possession to Me;
the bird of prey circles about her.
Come, assemble, all you beasts of the field!
Come to the food.”
רֹעִים רַבִּים שִׁחֲתוּ כַרְמִי בֹּסְסוּ אֶת־חֶלְקָתִי נָתְנוּ אֶת־חֶלְקַת חֶמְדָּתִי לְמִדְבַּר שְׁמָמָה׃ 12:10
Jere. 12:10 “Many shepherds have destroyed My vineyard.
They have trampled My portion.
They have exchanged the parcel of My desire
for a desolate wilderness.”
שָׂמָהּ לִשְׁמָמָה אָבְלָה עָלַי שְׁמֵמָה נָשַׁמָּה כָּל־הָאָרֶץ כִּי אֵין אִישׁ שָׂם עַל־לֵב׃ 12:11
Jere. 12:11 He has made it a devastation;
it laments to me, a desolation.
All the land is made desolate,
but there is no one to pay attention.
All the bibles to which I have access start the translation of this verse with the pronoun they. That makes this verse a continuation of the lament started in v. 12:7. However, the word in which we find the pronoun (as a suffix) spells it as singular not plural. As a result, my more accurate translation would make this verse the start of Jeremiah’s resumption of the dialogue, which continues for most of the next three verses.
עַל־כָּל־שְׁפָיִם בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּאוּ שֹׁדְדִים כִּי חֶרֶב לַיהוָה אֹכְלָה מִקְצֵה־אֶרֶץ וְעַד־קְצֵה הָאָרֶץ אֵין שָׁלֹום 12:12 לְכָל־בָּשָׂר׃
Jere. 12:12 Upon all the high places in the wilderness
come the destroyers,
for the Lord's sword is destroying
from one end of the land to the other end of the land;
there is no peace for any flesh.
In this verse the evidence points to the whole of Israel being the subject of v. 12:1.
זָרְעוּ חִטִּים וְקֹצִים קָצָרוּ נֶחְלוּ לֹא יֹועִלוּ וּבֹשׁוּ מִתְּבוּאֹתֵיכֶם מֵחֲרֹון אַף־יְהוָה׃ 12:13
Jere. 12:13 They have sown wheat, but they harvest thorns.
They make themselves sick without benefiting.
Be ashamed by your yield
because of the ferocity of the “anger” of the Lord!
כֹּה אָמַר יְהוָה עַל־כָּל־שְׁכֵנַי הָרָעִים הַנֹּגְעִים בַּנַּחֲלָה אֲשֶׁר־הִנְחַלְתִּי אֶת־עַמִּי אֶת־יִשְׂרָאֵל הִנְנִי 12:14 מֵעַל אַדְמָתָם וְאֶת־בֵּית יְהוּדָה אֶתֹּושׁ מִתֹּוכָם נֹתְשָׁם׃
Jere. 12:14 Thus says the Lord about all my neighbors who are evil, who are striking at the inheritance “… that I have caused My people, Israel to possess: Behold, I am plucking them out from their land, and I shall be plucking the house of Judah from their midst.”
This verse also presents us with a minor dilemma. Who is speaking when and about whom? As I’ve interpreted the Hebrew, I see Jeremiah starting the verse, speaking of his neighbors, most likely the conquering nations, and then quoting the Lord. And the Lord may be saying He will soon pluck the Judeans from their land. But an entirely different scenario is also possible. Other translators have assumed the Lord is speaking the entire verse and is referring to the heathen surrounding and threatening Israel. As a result, they assume that the Jews are already being described as in exile, so the plucking is from out of the heathen nations. The next verse continues the dilemma by equally supporting either interpretation.
וְהָיָה אַחֲרֵי נָתְשִׁי אֹותָם אָשׁוּב וְרִחַמְתִּים וַהֲשִׁבֹתִים אִישׁ לְנַחֲלָתֹו וְאִישׁ לְאַרְצֹו׃ 12:15
Jere. 12:15 “And it shall be, after plucking them out, I shall turn back and have compassion on them and return them, each to his inheritance and each to his land.”
וְהָיָה אִם־לָמֹד יִלְמְדוּ אֶת־דַּרְכֵי עַמִּי לְהִשָּׁבֵעַ בִּשְׁמִי חַי־יְהוָה כַּאֲשֶׁר לִמְּדוּ אֶת־עַמִּי לְהִשָּׁבֵע 12:16 בַּבָּעַל וְנִבְנוּ בְּתֹוךְ עַמִּי׃
Jere. 12:16 “Then it shall be, if they diligently teach the ways of My people, to swear in My name, the living Lord, as they taught My people to swear by Baal, that they shall be reestablished among My people.”
This verse makes it sound as if the object of v. 12:1 is the priesthood.
וְאִם לֹא יִשְׁמָעוּ וְנָתַשְׁתִּי אֶת־הַגֹּוי הַהוּא נָתֹושׁ וְאַבֵּד נְאֻם־יְהוָה׃ 12:17
Jere. 12:17 “And if they do not give heed, then I shall pick out that nation to be expelled and destroyed,” says the Lord.
All in all, some of this chapter is rather confusing -- at least to me.
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