Animal Parables in the Bible (II): Partridge and Cuckoo

“As a partridge that hatches eggs which it has not laid,

So is he who makes a fortune, but unjustly;

In the midst of his days it will forsake him,

And in the end he will be a fool.”

Jeremiah 17:11 (NASB)
 Great Spotted Cuckoo chick with “mother” Hooded Crow. Photo by Amir Silberman

Few years ago, in the month of April, my son heard strong bird screaming outside our house. Looking up to the top of our pecan tree, he saw those two birds: a large cuckoo chick and a crow that fed the chick with pieces of meat.

The crows couple that were nursing this big chick were very zealous to feed him whenever he called. Their instincts led them to take care of a parasite that someone else laid in their nests, killing their offsprings.

Many types of cuckoos are “brood parasites”. They lay their eggs in other birds nests and fly away to enjoy life without the hassle of raising their kids.

Making fortune unjustly

Jeremiah, uses the parable of birds to explain the fate of anyone who makes fortune while being unjust to other people.

Even if that rich man thinks he has made it and he he can enjoy all that money – “In the midst of his days it will forsake him, And in the end he will be a fool.”

And Jeremiah continues with his preaching:

A glorious throne on high from the beginning

Is the place of our sanctuary.

13 O Lord, the hope of Israel,

All who forsake You will be put to shame.

Those who turn away on earth will be written down,

Because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord.

Jeremiah 17:12-13 (NASB)

Jeremiah tells us that being unjust to other people means to “turn away from the Lord“. And the consequences, eventually, will be of great shame.

Partridge. Photo: Amir Silberman

Parable double meaning

When reading the parable about the partridge, there are two different ways to understand it:

The first way, and this is how the NASB translation interpreted (quote above), is of a bird that sat on eggs that she have not laid.

ESV interprets it the same way:

Like the partridge that gathers a brood that she did not hatch

Jeremiah 17:11 (ESV)

and NIV:

Like a partridge that hatches eggs it did not lay

Jeremiah 17:11 (NIV)

But there is a different way to understand this verse.

The King James version, has a different interpretation:

As the partridge sitteth on eggs, and hatcheth them not;

Jeremiah 17:11 (KJV)

The older translation of King James suggests that the bird was sitting on eggs that did not hatch at all.

Reading the Hebrew, we can understand the confusion.

Literally, the sentence says: “A partridge sat on eggs and it did not give birth”

The key word is the last word in the sentence: יָלָ֔ד (Yalad), which means “gave birth”

Reading this literally leads us to conclude that NASB, ESV and NIV were right.

But there is a problem.

The word יָלָד (Yalad – gave birth) and the word נוֹלַד (Nolad – was born) are from the same Hebrew root: י.ל.ד (Y.L.D), and they are just two forms of the same verb: one active (gave birth) and one passive (was born).

Therefore, it makes a lot of sense, that Jeremiah meant:

“A partridge sat on eggs and it was not born”

In that case, it was King James that got it right.

Which interpretation is correct?

From the meaning of the parable, I tend to think that King James was right this time. Jeremiah talks about people that get their money in an unjust way, and therefore their fruit will become their shame.

The parable to explain that is of a bird that lay eggs and sits on them, but there are no chicks in those eggs.

Lapwing nest with chick and two eggs. Photo: Amir Silberman

Which interpretation do you think is right?

Author: Ran Silberman

I am a tour guide in Israel with a passion for the Bible. For many years I work in the software industry as a software consultant. I blog in http://ransilberman.blog

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