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Israel Degraded


As for you, raise up a lamentation for the princes of Israel, 2and say:

What a lioness was your mother

among lions!

She lay down among young lions,

rearing her cubs.


She raised up one of her cubs;

he became a young lion,

and he learned to catch prey;

he devoured humans.


The nations sounded an alarm against him;

he was caught in their pit;

and they brought him with hooks

to the land of Egypt.


When she saw that she was thwarted,

that her hope was lost,

she took another of her cubs

and made him a young lion.


He prowled among the lions;

he became a young lion,

and he learned to catch prey;

he devoured people.


And he ravaged their strongholds,

and laid waste their towns;

the land was appalled, and all in it,

at the sound of his roaring.


The nations set upon him

from the provinces all around;

they spread their net over him;

he was caught in their pit.


With hooks they put him in a cage,

and brought him to the king of Babylon;

they brought him into custody,

so that his voice should be heard no more

on the mountains of Israel.


Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard

transplanted by the water,

fruitful and full of branches

from abundant water.


Its strongest stem became

a ruler’s scepter;

it towered aloft

among the thick boughs;

it stood out in its height

with its mass of branches.


But it was plucked up in fury,

cast down to the ground;

the east wind dried it up;

its fruit was stripped off,

its strong stem was withered;

the fire consumed it.


Now it is transplanted into the wilderness,

into a dry and thirsty land.


And fire has gone out from its stem,

has consumed its branches and fruit,

so that there remains in it no strong stem,

no scepter for ruling.


This is a lamentation, and it is used as a lamentation.

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Here the Prophet, under the image of a lion, informs us that whatever evils happened to the Israelites could not be imputed to others. We must understand then his intention: it is not surprising that the Spirit of God insists on a matter not very obscure, since nothing is more obstinate than the pride of men, especially when God chastises them, although they pretend to humility and modesty, yet they swell with pride and are full of bitterness, and, lastly, they can scarcely be induced to confess God to be just, and that they deserve chastisement at his hand. For this reason, therefore, Ezekiel confirms what we formerly saw, that the Jews were not afflicted without deserving it. But he uses, as I have said, a simile taken from lions. He calls the nation itself a lioness: for when he treats of the mother of the people, we know that the offspring is considered. He says, therefore, that the people was full of insolence. The comparison to a lion is sometimes taken in a good sense, as when Moses uses it of the tribe of Judea, as a lion’s whelp shall he lie down, (Genesis 49:9,) a, phrase used in a good sense. But here Ezekiel denotes cruelty, as if he had said that all the Jews were fierce and savage beasts. For under the name of mother, as I said, he embraces the whole nation. At the beginning he orders his Prophet to take up a mournful wailing: for thus I interpret the word קינה, kineh, but there is in my judgment an indirect opposition between this lamentation which God dictated to them by his Prophet, and the common complaints which sounded constantly from their tongues. For when their condition was not only ruinous, but utterly deplorable, they made many groanings and bewailings. But at the same time no one extended his thoughts beyond the pressure of present evils they all exclaimed that they were wretched, but no one was anxious to inquire why they were so or whence their miseries arose; nay, they avoided this contemplation. The Prophet then indirectly reproves them, by stating that this mournful complaint was suggested by God, but yet was very different from that ordinary lamentation and howling in which the Jews stopped at blind grief, and never inquired why God was so hostile to them. Take up, therefore, a lamentation, says he, regarding or against the princes of Israel. In this way God does not excuse the people from blame, he only means that not only the common people were lost, but the very flower of the nation and all who were held in honor.

He says next, that their mother lay down among lions, alluding to the people’s origin from lions, as we said before, when the Prophet calls Judea the descendant of Canaan, and the sister of Sodom and Samaria. When he now says, their mother lay down among lions, he means that they were shamefully mixed with the corruption of the Gentiles, so that they did not differ from them. But God had chosen them as his peculiar people on the very condition of being separate from all the filth of the Gentiles. There was, therefore, a certain withdrawing of God’s favor when the mother of the people lay down among the lions, that is, when they all promiscuously gave themselves up to the perverse morals and superstitions of the Gentiles. He says, that she brought up whelps, or young lions, which she produced to these lions; since their origin was impure, being all Abraham’s children, but, as I have said, a degenerate race. He afterwards adds, that the lion’s whelp, or young lion, grew up till it became a lion: then it learnt to seize prey, says he, and to devour men. He refers to King Jehoahaz, son of Josiah, (2 Kings 23:30-32:) but he had before asserted that the whole people had a lion’s disposition, and that the princes, who were more exalted, were like whelps. As only one lion is here brought forward, it ought to be referred to the violence by which that wicked king manifested his real disposition. But if it be asked whence the lion went forth, the reply is, from amidst his brethren, for they were all lions’ whelps, or young lions. They could not administer the government either together or singly, but each devoured his brother, and was devoted to robbery and rapine. The king only, because freed from all fear, could surpass the rest in rapine and robbery with impunity. We see, then, that not only the king was here condemned, but that he becomes the type of the whole nation; because, since no one could restrain his passions, he could rob and devour mankind with unbridled freedom.

He afterwards adds, that the nations had heard, and were taken in their pit-fall. Here Ezekiel states that Jehoahaz was hurled from the royal throne, and taken captive by the Egyptians, not only because God had beheld his cruelty, but because the Gentiles had observed it; and it was notorious among them all. In this way he signifies that the cruelty of King Jehoahaz was intolerable: and he mentions him, since all the neighboring nations had heard of his fame, and had conspired to destroy him; and so he was taken in their pit, and confined by chains, and led away into Egypt. He means, as I said, Jehoahaz, whom King Pharaoh-nechoh took captive. (2 Kings 23; 2 Chronicles 36.) For when he thought that the Egyptians were distracted by foreign wars, he took the opportunity of collecting an army, and endeavored to seize on certain neighboring cities. But Pharaoh, after he was disengaged from other business, entered Judea, and since Jehoahaz was unable to resist, he was taken. We now understand the Prophet’s meaning, namely, when this first calamity and destruction happened to the Jews they were justly chastised, because they were young lions; and a lion had sprung from them whose cruelty was already intolerable to the profane Gentiles: this is the sense of the passage. Now if we consider who was the father of Jehoahaz this will be more detestable. For we know, that if ever any king excelled in piety and every virtue, Josiah was among the number: and from the son being so unlike his father, we perceive his perverse disposition. There can be no doubt that his father desired to instruct him in the fear and worship of God, and to train him to the discharge of the royal office. But if we descend to the whole people, the prodigy will be yet more detestable. For we know with what fervor and zeal Josiah strove to form the morals of the people, so that the kingdom should be entirely renewed. But the people soon declined, so that the Holy Spirit says, their mother was a lioness, and lay down among lions, whence we see their depraved nature. It now follows —

We yesterday read over that sentence in which the Prophet says that Judea produced another lion after the former had been captured and led into Egypt. Now this ought to be referred to King Jehoiakim, who was appointed by King Nebuchadnezzar, when he had laid waste a part of Egypt, possessed the whole of Judea, and imposed laws by establishing a king, according to the rights of conquest. But since he also acted perfidiously, he was led away into captivity. The Prophet, therefore, means that the nation did not repent through this single chastisement; nor did it change its disposition, since its mother was a lioness: and not only did it bring forth young lions, but taught them to seize upon their prey till they became grown up. He says, therefore, that she saw what she had hoped, and her hope was futile. Some think that the noun “hope” is here repeated by the Prophet — she saw that her hope was lost; lost hope, I say. But the other reading is better — she saw that she had hoped; that is, she saw that her hope had not produced any fruit for some time, because the royal throne remained deserted; therefore she took another of her whelps, says he, and made him a lion. The Prophet again briefly teaches that the whole royal offspring was like young lions. Although, therefore, the lion alone is called king, yet he is said to be taken from a number of whelps; and hence it follows that this denotes the depraved and cruel nature of all. Thus we see that the Jews are indirectly reproved for not returning to soundness of mind, when God punished them severely, and King Jehoahaz was taken. Since, therefore, that punishment did not result in their correction, it follows that their dispositions were depraved; and the Prophet means this when he says, that she took one of her whelps, and again made it a lion. It follows —

Ezekiel confirms what I have already briefly touched on, that this second lion was no less savage and cruel than the former, of which he had spoken. As to the phrase, he walked among lions, it means that his government was tyrannical, since there was then such foul barbarity in those regions, that, kings were scarcely human in their conduct. Since, therefore, kings were then everywhere like lions, the Prophet says that Jehoiakim was not different from them, but in every sense their ally. He walked, therefore, he says, in the midst of lions, since he imitated their ferocity, which at length he expresses more clearly, that he became a lion, and was taught to seize his prey, so as to devour not only animals, but men, thus marking his extreme cruelty. He afterwards adds —

He again confirms what he said of the cruelty of King Jehoiakim: but the phrase is mixed, since he retains but a part of the simile, and then speaks without a figure of palaces and cities. Although interpreters incline to a different opinion, and translate — and took notice of his widows: and if the remaining words had suited, this reading would have been better; but I do not see how things so different can be united, as destroying cities and noticing widows. First, those who adopt this comment are obliged to adopt the notion that Jehoiakim destroyed the men and deflowered their widows, since he could not possess them in freedom till they were widows. Every one will admit that this is far-fetched. But the word “afflict” suits tolerably well. And truly the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, where Christ is said to be bruised for our grieves, cannot be better explained, (Isaiah 53:3.) Some translate, that he experienced sorrows, or knew them, or was acquainted with them, in the passive signification. But those who say that he saw sorrows, or experienced them, do not consider how it suits the passage; and those who say that he was cognizant of grieves, meaning his own, also distort the Prophet’s words. I doubt not, therefore, that in this passage it means to afflict. Respecting the noun, I suppose the letter, ל (l) taken for ר (r); and in Isaiah (Isaiah 13:22) this word is used for palaces: wild beasts shall howl, says the Prophet, באלמנותיו, bal-meno-thiv, that is, in her palaces. The word cannot here mean widows, and all are agreed to take it for palaces; and when the Prophet adds, that he destroyed cities, the subject shows us that in the former clause the palaces were afflicted, and then the cities destroyed: the Prophet asserts this simply, and without a figure, though he soon returns to the simile, that the land was reduced to a desert by the voice of roaring. Again, he compares King Jehoiakim to a lion; whence it follows, as I said, that the Prophet’s language is mixed. Elsewhere, also, the prophets reprove the pride of their king. (Jeremiah 22:15; Jeremiah 36:30.) For although he was contemptible, yet he raised himself above other kings; hence he is derided, since he was not content with the condition and moderation of his father, who ate and drank, — that is, lived like mankind, — but he desired to raise himself above the race of men. For this cause the Prophet now says, that cities were destroyed by him, and palaces afflicted by him. There is a change of number in the pronouns, because the singular number is put in the word “palaces,” and the plural in cities. But we know how frequently this change occurs in the Hebrew Language; while as to the sense there is no obscurity, for King Jehoiakim was like a fierce and cruel beast, because he destroyed cities and pulled down palaces. But afterwards he adds, the land was laid waste and made solitary by the voice of his roaring. Here the Prophet enlarges upon the atrocity of that king, since by his roaring alone he had reduced the land to a desert. He does not speak of claws or teeth, but says that they were all so frightened at the sound of his roaring that the land was waste and solitary. He adds, the fullness of the land, by which expression Scripture usually denotes the ornaments of a country. The word comprehends trees, and fruits, and animals, as well as inhabitants; for a land is empty and bare without that clothing; that is, if trees and fruits are taken away as well as men and animals, the face of the land is deserted and deformed, and its state displays its emptiness. It afterwards follow: —

Since the word נתן, nethen, is often taken for “to utter a voice,” some explain this passage, that the nations came with great clamor against King Jehoiakim, as when an attack is made against a wild beast, the assailants mutually excite and encourage each other. They understand it, that such a clamor was raised on all sides that they rushed with one consent against King Jehoiakim. But since the same word means “to put,” it may, in my opinion, be properly applied to counsel, since they took counsel, that is, determined among themselves to take him captive. The passive sense does not suit at all. Now, then, we understand the Prophet’s meaning when he says, that the Gentiles had resolved against him, that is, had conspired to take him. No doubt the Chaldaeans were assisted by all their neighbors. First, we know that the Jews were hated by other nations; then the audacity and rashness of this king provoked many to send for the Babylonians, and eagerly to assist them; and because they scarcely dared to engage in the war by themselves, they conspired against King Jehoiakim under the protection of others. Thus far concerning other nations, for this cannot, be meant of the Chaldaeans alone; because, although they had other tribes under their sway, yet that monarchy had devoured the Assyrians, whose people made a portion of the Chaldaean army. Then the Prophet speaks of a circuit, and says, that King Jehoiakim was shut in on all sides: hence this must be ascribed to the neighboring nations, who not only favored the Babylonians, but assisted them with troops and wealth, as is sufficiently gathered from other passages.

At length he says, they expanded their net, by which metaphor he means plans, desires, and efforts. For before the neighboring nations openly declared war against the Jews, there is no doubt that they took secret counsel as to the best way of attracting the Chaldaeans to their side, and of insinuating themselves by various arts, as if they were laying snares; although by the word net we may also understand whatsoever apparatus they used for destroying King Jehoiakim. In fine, he says that he was taken in the pit of the nations, that is, was oppressed as well by snares as by open violence. He uses the word pitfall, in accordance with the resemblance of the king to a lion; but there is nothing absurd in extending the phrase to any hostile violence by which Jehoiakim was oppressed. It follows —

He pursues the same subject, saying that King Jehoiakim, after being taken captive, was bound with fetters and chains, adding, that he was brought to the king of Babylon; and thirdly, was cast into prison. He shows, therefore, how severely God punished the vicious obstinacy of that nation: for when King Jehoiakim was chastised, it thought to have been enough to correct then; but since the people were not improved by this, the severity was doubled; and here Ezekiel says, that King Jehoiakim was cast into a fortified dungeon. He adds, that his voice, that is, his roaring, should be no longer heard in the mountains of Israel. For although he was reduced to straits, through a great part of his kingdom being cut off, yet he did not desist from his ferocity. The Prophet, therefore, sharply derides his insolence, since he did not cease to cry out, and to roar even in the mountains of Israel. It follows —

Here Ezekiel places before our eyes the twofold state of the Jews, that they may acknowledge themselves fallen into extreme misery, because they had provoked God. For they did not sufficiently consider their present state, unless the former dignity and happiness with which they were adorned was brought to their remembrance. Now, in some way they had grown callous to all evils: although scarcely anything remained safe but Jerusalem, they did not look back, but were just as wanton as when their affairs were prosperous. Since they had not yet been humbled by so many slaughters, the Prophet, therefore, on the one hand, reminds them of their former condition, and then shows them how they had fallen. This comparison, then, thought to prick their consciences sharply, that they may at length feel that God was hostile to them. We now understand the Prophet’s intention in saying, that the people’s mother was at first like a flourishing and fruit-bearing vine. It is not surprising that he says, the vine was planted near the waters: for there the vines do not require lofty and dry situations, as in cold climates, but rather seek their nourishment from water, as we gather from many passages of Scripture. The Prophet, therefore, stays, that the people at, the beginning was like a vine planted in a mild and choice situation. He says, that the vine was flourishing, or branching, and fruitful, since it drew its juices from the waters.

Respecting the word “blood,” I think those who take it for vigor are mistaken; it rather refers to birth: he says, the mother of the people in her blood, that is, in bringing forth the people. Thus Ezekiel recalls the Jews to their first origin, as we previously saw the word used in this sense. When you was in thy blood, meaning, when you was born, as we know this to be the state of the young offspring, as the metaphor was explained in the sixteenth chapter. Live in thy blood, said God, (Ezekiel 16:6,) since the Jews were still defiled through not being cleansed from pollution. In fine, blood is taken for birth, as if it had been said, that the Jews, when first brought to light, were planted so as to take root, since God led them into the land of Canaan. Here he says they were brought to light when God restored them. He omits the intervening space of time which we saw elsewhere, because he passes directly from the end to the beginning. On the whole, he means that the Jews at their nativity were placed in the land of Canaan, which was very fruitful, so that they should bring forth their own fruit, that is, spend their time happily, and enjoy an abundance of all things. Now we understand the meaning of the phrase, the mother of the people was planted near the waters, as a flourishing and fruitful vine

He adds, she had branches, that is, vine twigs, for the scepters of those who bear rule. Those who translate with or above the scepters of rulers do not seem to me to comprehend the Prophet’s meaning. I have no doubt he intends that scepters were gathered from these vine branches, or rather that they were so formed as to be like royal scepters. Although this translation seems rather rough, yet the sense is not doubtful; because the Prophet means that kings were taken from the people just as branches from the vine, as God chose king’s from David to Zedekiah. In this sense he says that the vine branches became scepters of the rulers. He afterwards adds, her stature was conspicuous, that she was remarkable for her loftiness even in the multitude of the vine branches. This is extended to the whole body of the people. Since mention is made of the king, there is no doubt that God commends his grace towards the whole people, whose safety and happiness were placed in the king, as we saw elsewhere. But he asserts more clearly that the people had increased, so that they excelled in population, power, and wealth. On the whole, the Prophet teaches that the Jews were adorned from the beginning with all kinds of advantages, since God’s best gifts shone forth there, and their dignity was conspicuous, and their opulence great, since he unites the multitude of the boughs or vine branches with their height.

Let us come now to the second clause. He says that the vine was torn away in wrath, thrown on the ground, and dried by the east wind, and that its boughs were broken off and withered, and consumed by fire. I have now briefly explained the Prophet’s meaning. As the Jews had grown stupid in their calamity, and were not humbled so as suppliantly to fly to God’s mercy, the Prophet corrects their torpor when he shows them their origin. He now says that they were reduced to extreme wretchedness by a sudden assault; for a change which took place in a short space of time ought to affect them to the quick; but if they had been slowly diminished, the change had not been so remarkable: but when the vine was struck by lightning, torn up, withered, and burnt, that instantaneous slaughter, as I have said, showed that it was not by chance, but by the evident wrath of God. For this reason he says that the vine was violently torn up, and cast upon the ground. If the vine had been dried up by degrees, it, would not have been so wonderful; but its sudden tearing up ought to have made them sensible of the wrath of God, towards which they had grown callous. This is the reason why the Prophet adds one simile to another. The plucking up would have been sufficient; but he adds, it was cast upon the ground, that it should wither away completely. He adds, the east wind, which destroys both fruits and trees, as is sufficiently evident from many passages; and not only so, but he says that the boughs were broken, or plucked off, and withered: lastly, they were consumed with fire In fine, the hand of God appeared visibly in that horrible slaughter of the people, when they were torn up, cut off, withered, and burnt. It follows —

The Prophet seems here inconsistent with himself, since these two clauses are openly at variance, that the vine was not, only withered, but burnt up, and yet planted in a desert place; for if it was withered, it could not take root again; but the burning removed the slightest hope; for when the twigs were reduced to ashes, who ever saw a vine spring up and grow from its ashes? But when the Prophet says that the vine was withered and burnt up, he refers to the conclusion which men must arrive at by their own senses when the city was utterly ruined; for that was in truth a horrible spectacle, when the people were made tributary after their king was taken, the temple, plundered, the city ruined, and their safety dependent on the lust of their conqueror. Since, therefore, neither the royal name and dignity, nor freedom and security, remained, and especially when they were led to the slaughter-house, was not their ruin very like a burning? Now, therefore, we see why the Prophet said that the vine was torn and burnt up, for that most severe destruction took away all hope of restoration for a short time. Hence he spoke according to common sense: then he kept in view that form of horrible ruin, or rather deformity, which was like a burning and a final destruction of the people. But now, when he says that the vine was planted again, he commends the mercy of God, who wished some seed to remain for the production of young plants; as it is said in the first chapter of Isaiah, Lest you should be in like Sodom and Gomorrah, some small seed has been wonderfully preserved. Although, therefore, the people were burnt up after being violently plucked up, and all their lives subjected to the will of the proudest, of conquerors, yet God took some twigs or vine branches, which he planted, that he might propagate a new nation, which was done at the people’s return.

But he says that those vine branches were planted in the desert in the dry and thirsty land, since God preserves the religion of his people even in death. Hence he compares their exile to a desert and a wilderness. It may seem absurd at first sight that, Chaldaea should be likened to a desert, since that district we know to be remarkable for its fertility and other advantages; we know, too, that it was well watered, though called dry. But the Prophet here does not, consider the material character of the country, but the condition of the people in it. Although Chaldaea was most lovely, and full of all kinds of fruits, yet, since the people were cruelly oppressed and contemptuously treated, hence the land was called a desert. We say that no prison is beautiful, so that their exile could not be agreeable to the children of Israel; for they were ashamed of their life, and did not dare to raise their eyes upwards. Since, then, they were drowned in a deep abyss of evils, the land was to them a desert; hence there was no splendor, dignity, or opulence; and liberty, the most precious of all boons, was wrested from them. Now we see the sense of the words. It follows at length —

Here the Prophet comes down to the close of their woes, when Zedekiah was dragged into captivity, and so the people’s independence was abolished. God had formerly planted that vine, or at least some of the branches, in a desert spot, since first four tribes, and afterwards seven, were led away, and last of all, the greater part of the tribe of Judea; but the little that remained with King Zedekiah perished. He says, therefore, that the fire went forth from the vine branches: thus he shows that the last slaughter proceeded only from the people themselves; and lest they should utter their accustomed complaints, the Prophet meets them by saying that they were consumed by intestine fire; that is, their slaughter could not be ascribed to their Chaldaean conquerors, but to themselves; because King Zedekiah, by his own perfidy, had stirred up the king of Babylon against himself; for he might have spent his time in his kingdom, but he could not refrain himself from throwing off the yoke; for this reason he armed himself against the king of Babylon, because he was a breaker of treaties: and thus the Prophet says, with propriety, that a fire went forth from one rod, or twig of its branches, and hence the fruit of the whole vine was consumed; that is, the remnant was lost by the fault of that perfidious king. He now adds, there was no scepter for ruling among its rods. Hence it appears that the exposition which I have advanced suits best, and is entirely genuine. He said first that the rods were for a scepter of the rulers; but he here says there was no scepter for them among these rods. What follows we will treat tomorrow.