“An eye.” This verse specifically mentions the eye, which is the figure of speech synecdoche of the part, where a part is put for the whole. In this case, the part, the eye, is put for the whole person who mocks and disobeys. The eye is likely being emphasized because for unrighteous people, the eye was associated with being haughty or prideful (Prov. 30:13), with greed (Prov. 23:5-6; 28:22), and with evil doings (Prov. 6:13; 10:10). The evil person has a greedy eye, but his desire will not be fulfilled, instead his lamp will go out in a time of darkness (Prov. 20:20).
“ravens of the valley.” This phrase has the subtle overtone that besides being completely rejected by his family and mankind, perhaps this person who rejected his family turned out to be a criminal. Ravens are found all over Israel, in fact, over Europe and parts of Asia as well; they don’t roost or live only in “the valley,” so the fact that they are referred to as “ravens of the valley” has specific meaning. In this context, the valley was a river valley or wadi, which sometimes referred to a valley with a perennial stream, but more often was a valley that only had water in it during the rainy season. These wadis often were quite deep with steep sides and harbored wild animals and dangerous men, and it is one of these that is called the “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4). It would not be uncommon to throw an unwanted dead body into one of these wadis, where it would not pollute the farmland and would soon be devoured by animals and carrion birds.
For example, the valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem was infamous because of the people who were killed there (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31-32; 32:35). It became the garbage dump of Jerusalem in New Testament times and was known by the Greek word “Gehenna,” a Hellenized form of the Hebrew ge Hinnom, the “valley of Hinnom.” All kinds of garbage, dead animals, and perhaps even some dead bodies were thrown in Gehenna. [For more on Gehenna, see commentary on Matthew 5:22, “Gehenna”].
“the offspring of a vulture.” The Hebrew word we translate “vulture” is nesher (#05404 נֶשֶׁר), and it was used to refer to both eagles and vultures. In this case, the verse shows us the translation should be “vulture.” The phrase “the offspring of a vulture” is more literally in Hebrew, “the sons of a vulture,” which is an idiomatic way of saying vultures (some commentators think it refers to young vultures, but the Hebrew does not demand that interpretation).
Although some versions, especially older ones such as the King James (1611), ASV (1901), and Rotherham (1902) read “eagles,” the bird being referred to is a vulture. Vultures are well known for eating dead bodies, and the fact that this verse shows them coming as a group, as “the sons of a vulture,” is typical vulture behavior. In contrast, eagles are usually loners when it comes to eating.
The picture being painted in the text is of a person who rejected his father and mother and thus was rejected by his family. So when he died, perhaps even as a criminal (see commentary on “ravens” in this verse), he was not even buried but was being picked at and eaten by a group of vultures. In a culture when family tombs and burial plots were common and it was a great curse to not be buried, most people believed (falsely, but it was a very universal belief) that a proper burial was important for a comfortable existence in the afterlife. Thus, this verse was a horrifying threat of unspeakable loneliness and rejection (see commentary on Jer. 14:16).