34. Howl, ye shepherds, and cry; and wallow yourselves in the ashes, ye principal of the flock: for the days of your slaughter and of your dispersions are accomplished; and ye shall fall like a pleasant vessel.
34. Ulalate pastores, et clamate, et volutate vos eximii gregis; quia impleti sunt dies vestri ad mactandum, et dispersiones vestrae (vel, afflictiones, confractiones;) et cadetis tanquam vas desiderii (id est, pretiosum.)
I doubt not but that the Prophet now turns his discourse especially to his own nation, which interpreters have not observed, and hence have not understood the meaning of the Prophet. He prophesied of God's judgments, that the Jews might know that they in vain looked for impunity, as the Lord would not pardon the ignorant and destitute of all true knowledge, who might have pretended their ignorance as an excuse; and also that this comfort might support the minds of the godly, that the heathens, involved in the same guilt, would be subjected to the same judgment; and lastly, that knowing the difference between them and other nations, they might flee to God's mercy and be encouraged to repent by entertaining a hope of pardon. After having then treated this general subject, he now returns to the people over whom he was appointed a teacher. He might indeed have declared from an eminence what was to take place through the whole earth; for so extensive was the office of a herald which God had conferred on him. He might then by the virtue of his office have denounced ruin on all nations; but he ought not to neglect his special care for the chosen people. And so I explain this passage; for he now again directs his discourse to the Jews.
Hence he says, Howl, ye pastors, and cry, etc. By pastors he means the king and his counsellors, the priests and other rulers; and by the choice of the flock he seems to understand the rich, whose condition was better than that of the common people. Some in a more refined manner consider the choice of the flock to have been those void of knowledge, unlike the scribes and priests and the king's counsellors; but this view seems not to be well-founded. I therefore adopt what is more probable, -- that the choice of the flock were those who were rich and high in public esteem, and yet held no office of authority in the commonwealth or in the Church. However this may be, the Prophet shews, that as soon as God began to put forth his hand to punish the Jews, there would be no ranks of men exempt from lamentation, for he would begin with the pastors and the choice of the flock.
He adds that their days were fulfilled. Here he indirectly condemns that wicked security which had for a long time hardened them, so that they despised all threatenings; for God had now for many years called on them, and had sent his Prophets one after another; when they saw the execution of judgment suspended over them, they considered it only as a bugbear, "Well, let the prophets continue to pronounce their terrors, if they will do so, but nothing will come of them." Thus the ungodly turned God's forbearance into an occasion for their obstinacy. As then this evil was common among the Jews, the Prophet now says, by way of anticipation, that their days were fulfilled. For there is to be understood this contrast, that God had spared them, not that he had his eyes closed, or that he had not observed their wicked deeds, but that he wished to give them time to repent; but when he saw that their wickedness was unhealable, he now says that their days were completed. And he adds, to be killed or slain. I wonder that learned interpreters render this, "that they may slay one another." There is no need of adding anything, for the Prophet meant to express no such sentiment, nor to restrict what he denounces here on the Jews, to intestine or domestic wars; on the contrary, we know that they were slain by aliens, even by the Chaldeans. This sense then is forced, and is also inconsistent with history. It is added, and your dispersions1 also are fulfilled, or your breakings. The verb Pwp, puts, means to scatter or to dissipate, and also to afflict, to tear; and the sense of tearing or breaking is what I prefer here. And he adds, And ye shall fall as a precious vessel. This simile appears not to be very appropriate, for why should he not rather compare them to an earthen vessel, which is of no value and easily broken? But his object was to point out the difference in their two conditions, that though God had honored them with singular privileges, yet all their excellency would not keep them safe; for it often happens that a vessel, however precious, is broken. And he speaks not of gold or silver vessels, but of fragile vessels, once in great esteem. That he might then more grievously wound them, he says that they had been hitherto precious vessels, or a precious vessel; for he speaks of them all in the singular number, and that they were to be broken; and thus he confirms what I said on the last verse, that hypocrites in vain trusted in their present fortune, or in the superior blessings of God, for he could turn to shame whatever glory he had conferred on them. It follows, --
34. Howl, ye pastors, and cry, And roll yourselves in the dust, ye illustrious of the flock, Because fulfilled are your days For the slaughter and for your dispersions; And ye shall fall like a precious vessel.
The word rpab, "in the dust," is connected with the verb here used in Jeremiah 6:26, and in Ezekiel 27:30, and it is supplied here by the Vulg. and the Targ. The line is rendered by the Sept., --
And mourn, ye rams of the flock.
But the verb has no other sense but that of rolling, though the other word may be rendered "rams," as it is in the masculine gender.
Venema gives the following version, --
Howl, ye pastors, and cry aloud, And sprinkle yourselves with dust, ye illustrious of the flock; For fulfilled are your days to be sacrificed; And there shall be your breakings, And ye shall fall like a precious vessel.
He considers the first and the fourth line as connected, and the second and the third; the pastors were to be broken, and the illustrious of the flock to be slain in sacrifice. There is certainly a congruity in the parts thus viewed. -- Ed.