Jeremiah 4:23-27 (translation and notes)

We looked at Jeremiah 4:23-27 in class this week and I plan a podcast on the text over at 5 Minute Bible so, since Ill use my own very literal translation there I though I’d publish it here wirth a few notes to explain it.It is intended to be as near word for word as I could get and still be English. So the repetitions stand out, it is laid out to show the terse almost staccato feel. I have noted some of my translation choices with footnotes.
23I looked at the earth.

It’s higgledy piggledy.2
To heaven,
but no light there!
24I looked on the mountains.
They are quaking.
All the hills shake themselves.
25I looked.
No human,
and all the birds of heaven have fled.
26I looked.
The field’s a desert,
and all its cities are destroyed
before YHWH,
before the heat of his anger.
27For thus says YHWH:
All the land will be desolation.
But I will not make a full ending.
28Because of this the earth will mourn,
and the heavens will be dark above,
because I have spoken,
I have decided;
and I have not relented
nor will I turn back

Warning, I may update this post, adding notes, or even adjusting the translation. I did this one some years back and need to revisit it when I have time, my son did years ago name my translation the Temporary English Version ;)

  1. הִנֵּה hinneh “look!” can serve a number of functions. In old translations it was often rendered “Lo!” or “Behold!” The important part this construction plays in giving language a “biblical” flavour, illustrates its significance to Hebrew speech. 

    In narrative hinneh often marks a change in view-point:
    Ruth 2:4 where we are invited to “join” Ruth in watching Boaz’ arrival;
    Ruth 3:8, having followed Ruth to Boaz’ feet, we share his surprised awakening.

    It also serves other functions:
    affirmation (translated something like “indeed”) – Ruth 3:2 (where the “look” seems redundant in English);
    explanation “that is…” (which we would put in brackets) Am 7:1;
    call to attention (Ruth 1:15)
    marking events that happen contemporaneously – Ruth 4:1 where וְהִנֵּה suggests that, hardly has Boaz sat down, than the other Goel arrives. []

  2. תֹהוּ וָבֹהוּ tohu vabohu
    This phrase is found most notably in Gen 1:2 (also though split by other words in Is 34:11) translators have to choose a rendering which ideally captures:
    the sense of confusion – rendered in traditional English translations “formless and void” –
    and the echoing sound.

    Various proposals have been tried; Robert Alter’s literary “welter and waste” is good. I have opted in Jer 4:23 for the more homely “higgledy piggeldy”. []

4 comments on “Jeremiah 4:23-27 (translation and notes)

  1. Jeff

    Thanks. I really like your categories of how הנה functions. I shall share it with my class, who can’t seem to get a grip on the word.

  2. Andrea Candy

    Most translations seem to get a bit sing-songy and soporific but this is wonderful for its vibrancy and immediacy. It’s got a ‘street-theatre’ feel too, which I imagine is appropriate to Jeremiah?

    1. tim

      Street theatre is a nice way to put it! Although sometimes it’s great poetry I suspect no one cared as long as it communicated. It’s greater rhetoric than poetry usually ;)

  3. Pingback: Jer 4:23-27 uncreation - 5 minute Bible