Jeremiah 5:6
Why a lion out of the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goes out there shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.
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(6) A lion out of the forest.—The imagery is vivid in itself. The three forms of animal ferocity, lion, wolf, leopard—representing, perhaps, the three phases of simple fierceness, ravenousness, and cunning; possibly even three oppressors in whom those attributes were to be impersonated—are brought together to embody the cruelty of the invader. The three animals were all common in Palestine, but it seems a weak rendering of the prophet’s words to take them literally as simply predicting that the land would be ravaged by the beasts of prey.

A wolf of the evenings.—Better, as in the margin, of the deserts; but the term “evening,” as applied to the habits of the beast of prey prowling in the darkness, is supported by Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3. The same three animals appear in the symbolism of the first canto of Dante’s Inferno, and the coincidence can hardly be thought of as accidental.

A leopard shall watch . . .—There is no adequate reason for substituting “panther.” The leopard finds its place in the Fauna of Syria (Hosea 13:7; Habakkuk 1:8). The “watching” is that of the crouching beast making ready for its spring.

Jeremiah 5:6. Wherefore a lion, &c. — Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean army are here pointed at under the metaphor of beasts of prey, of three kinds: being powerful, courageous, and violent as a lion; rapacious, greedy, and devouring as a wolf; and swift, lively, and active as a leopard. The word ערבוה, rendered evenings in the text, is translated deserts in the margin of our Bibles, which probably is the sense here intended. “And those wide and extensive plains, or unenclosed commons, seem to be meant, which were used only for sheep-walks and pasturage, and were, of course, most likely to be infested with wolves.” — Blaney.5:1-9 None could be found who behaved as upright and godly men. But the Lord saw the true character of the people through all their disguises. The poor were ignorant, and therefore they were wicked. What can be expected but works of darkness, from people that know nothing of God and religion? There are God's poor, who, notwithstanding poverty, know the way of the Lord, walk in it, and do their duty; but these were willingly ignorant, and their ignorance would not be their excuse. The rich were insolent and haughty, and the abuse of God's favours made their sin worse.Evenings - See the margin. From its habit of skulking about in the twilight the wolf is often called the "evening wolf" Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3, but the word used here means a sandy desert.

Leopard - panther.

6. lion … wolf … leopard—the strongest, the most ravenous, and the swiftest, respectively, of beasts: illustrating the formidable character of the Babylonians.

of the evenings—Others not so well translate, of the deserts. The plural means that it goes forth every evening to seek its prey (Ps 104:20; Hab 1:8; Zep 3:3).

leopard … watch … cities—(Ho 13:7). It shall lie in wait about their cities.

Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldean army from Syria and Libanus, woody places, are here pointed at under the metaphor of beasts of prey of three kinds; the malignity that is proper to each of these creatures shall be put forth in this Babylonian army, compared, for instance, to a lion, Jeremiah 4:7 which notes his great power, courage, pride, and insulting over his prey.

A wolf, for their greediness and unsatiableness; one wolf will destroy abundance of sheep; and said to be the wolf of the evenings, or deserts, or plains, they being the usual haunts of the wolf; or evenings, because then they are observed to be most ravenous, Habakkuk 1:8, possibly because lying most part of the day in their dens for fear of the huntsmen, want of prey enrageth their hunger at night; and because of this greediness to devour, the judges among themselves are said to be

evening wolves, described Zephaniah 3:3,

They gnaw not the bones till the morrow, either through hunger or rage.

A leopard; the Chaldean army compared to a leopard, not for its speed only, but especially for its vigilancy and subtlety; they will be so vigilant, that scarce any shall escape, according to Jeremiah 4:16.

Increased, Heb. strong: here is the reason why God would bring such a devastation upon them, because they did, as it were, strengthen themselves in the multitude of their rebellions against him. Wherefore a lion out of the forest shall slay them,.... Meaning King Nebuchadnezzar out of Babylon, a place full of people, and so comparable to a forest, as the king is to a lion, for his strength, fierceness, and cruelty; and who came from thence, besieged and took Jerusalem; and who not only slew their young men with the sword, but also the king's sons, and the princes and nobles of Judah, 2 Chronicles 36:17.

and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them; which, having sought for its prey all the day, or not daring to go out for any, is hungry, raging and furious, and tears and destroys whatever it meets with; see Zephaniah 3:3, so the Targum and Kimchi understand it of such a wolf; but Jarchi and Ben Melech interpret it, "a wolf of the desert", or deserts; as the word (q) will bear to be rendered; one that frequents desert places, and rages about in the wilderness; as the king of Babylon with his army did among the wilderness of the people of the nations about him, and at length spoiled Judea, and laid it desolate:

a leopard shall watch over their cities; the same enemies, who are compared to watchers, and to keepers of a field, Jeremiah 4:16. Kimchi interprets the lion of a king, that being the king among beasts; the wolf, of his army; and the leopard, of the princes of the army; and so the Targum,

"wherefore a king with his army shall come up against them, as a lion out of the forest; and the people, who are strong as the wolves of the evening, shall slay them; and the rulers, who are mighty as the leopard, shall make a prey of them, watching over their cities;''

but Jarchi applies them to the several monarchies; by the lion, he understands the kingdom of Babylon; by the wolf, the kingdom of the Medes; and by the leopard, the kingdom of Greece; and so Jerom:

everyone that goes out thence; from any of the cities of Judea, watched by the enemy:

shall be torn in pieces; by those beasts of prey. Jarchi adds, by the Persians; the reason of all which follows, and shows it to be a righteous judgment of God upon them:

because their transgressions are many: their rebellions against God, their violations of his righteous law, were not a few, but many; God had bore long with them, and they had abused his patience and longsuffering; and therefore now he determines to punish them by such instruments:

and their backslidings are increased; though he had so often, and so kindly and tenderly, invited them to return unto him, Jeremiah 3:12.

(q) "lupus desertorum", Montanus; "lupus solitudinum", Calvin; "deserta incolaus", Pagninuns, Vatablus; "lupus camporum", Schmidt.

Wherefore a {f} lion from the forest shall slay them, and a wolf of the evenings shall spoil them, a leopard shall watch over their cities: every one that goeth out from there shall be torn in pieces: because their transgressions are many, and their backslidings are increased.

(f) Meaning, Nebuchadnezzar and his army.

6. For the danger from actual wild beasts in Palestine cp. 1 Samuel 17:34; 1 Kings 13:24; 1 Kings 20:36. Here the description “spoiling,” “watching over” (i.e. lying in wait) shews that the passage is metaphorical. Cp. Jeremiah 4:7.

evenings] deserts, as mg., thus preserving the parallelism with “forest.” The mistake arose from the similarity of the two words in Hebrew.

leopard] panther.

watch over] Cp. Hosea 13:7.Verse 6. - This verse reminds us of a famous passage in the first canto of Dante's 'Commedia,' in which Dante the pilgrim is successively opposed by three wild beasts - a panther, a lion, and a she-wolf. That the poet had Jeremiah in his mind cannot be doubted. The deep knowledge of the Scriptures possessed by medieval theologians (and such was Dante) may put many Protestants to shame. Curiously enough, whereas the early commentators on Dante interpret these wild beasts of vices, the moderns find historical references to nations. On the other hand, while modern expositors explain Jeremiah's wild beasts as symbols of calamities, Rashi and St. Jerome understand them of the Chaldeans, Persians, and Greeks. A lion out of the forest. The first of a series of figures for the cruel invaders of Judah (comp. Jeremiah 4:7). The frequent references (see also Jeremiah 12:8; Jeremiah 25:38; Jeremiah 49:19; Jeremiah 50:4) show how common the lion was in the hills and valleys of the land of Israel. A wolf of the evenings; i.e. a wolf which goes out to seek for prey in the evening. So the Peshito, Targum, Vulgate (comp. "wolves of the evening," Habakkuk 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3). But there is no evidence that 'erebh, evening, has for its plural 'arabhoth, which is, in fact, the regular plural of arabah, desert. Render, therefore, a wolf of the deserts, i.e. one which has its den in the deserts, and falls upon the cultivated parts when it is hungry. Luther, "the wolf out of the desert." A leopard; rather, a panther. The Chaldeans are compared to this animal, on account of its swiftness, in Habakkuk 1:8. Jeremiah 4:31, as giving a reason, is introduced by כּי. Zion's attempts to secure the goodwill of the enemy are in vain, for already the prophet hears in spirit the agonized cry of the daughter of Zion, who beseechingly stretches out her hands for help, and falls exhausted under the assassin's strokes. חולה, partic. Kal faem. from חוּל; see Ew. 151, b, and Gesen. 72, Rem. 1. צרה, in parallelism with קול and dependent on "I hear," means cry of anguish. התיפּח, breathe heavily, pant, sign. תּפרשׂ is joined asynd. with the preceding word, but is in sense subordinate to it: she sighs with hands spread out; a pleading gesture expressing a prayer for protection. עיף, be exhausted, here equals sink down faint, succumb to the murderers.
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