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5. Siege of Jerusalem Symbolized

1And thou, son of man, take thee a sharp sword; as a barber's razor shalt thou take it unto thee, and shalt cause it to pass upon thy head and upon thy beard: then take thee balances to weigh, and divide the hair. 2A third part shalt thou burn in the fire in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled; and thou shalt take a third part, and smite with the sword round about it; and a third part thou shalt scatter to the wind, and I will draw out a sword after them. 3And thou shalt take thereof a few in number, and bind them in thy skirts. 4And of these again shalt thou take, and cast them into the midst of the fire, and burn them in the fire; therefrom shall a fire come forth into all the house of Israel. 5Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the midst of the nations, and countries are round about her. 6And she hath rebelled against mine ordinances in doing wickedness more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries that are round about her; for they have rejected mine ordinances, and as for my statutes, they have not walked in them. 7Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Because ye are turbulent more than the nations that are round about you, and have not walked in my statutes, neither have kept mine ordinances, neither have done after the ordinances of the nations that are round about you; 8therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I, even I, am against thee; and I will execute judgments in the midst of thee in the sight of the nations. 9And I will do in thee that which I have not done, and whereunto I will not do any more the like, because of all thine abominations. 10Therefore the fathers shall eat the sons in the midst of thee, and the sons shall eat their fathers; and I will execute judgments on thee; and the whole remnant of thee will I scatter unto all the winds. 11Wherefore, as I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, surely, because thou hast defiled my sanctuary with all thy detestable things, and with all thine abominations, therefore will I also diminish thee; neither shall mine eye spare, and I also will have no pity. 12A third part of thee shall die with the pestilence, and with famine shall they be consumed in the midst of thee; and a third part shall fall by the sword round about thee; and a third part I will scatter unto all the winds, and will draw out a sword after them. 13Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my wrath toward them to rest, and I shall be comforted; and they shall know that I, Jehovah, have spoken in my zeal, when I have accomplished my wrath upon them. 14Moreover I will make thee a desolation and a reproach among the nations that are round about thee, in the sight of all that pass by. 15So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment, unto the nations that are round about thee, when I shall execute judgments on thee in anger and in wrath, and in wrathful rebukes; (I, Jehovah, have spoken it;) 16when I shall send upon them the evil arrows of famine, that are for destruction, which I will send to destroy you: and I will increase the famine upon you, and will break your staff of bread; 17and I will send upon you famine and evil beasts, and they shall bereave thee; and pestilence and blood shall pass through thee; and I will bring the sword upon thee: I, Jehovah, have spoken it.

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By another vision God confirms what he had lately taught concerning the siege of Jerusalem. For he orders the Prophet to shave the hairs off his head and his beard, then to distribute them into three parts, and to weigh them in a balance. He mentions a just balance, that equity may be preserved, and that one portion may not surpass another. There is no doubt that by the hairs he understands the inhabitants of Jerusalem, as by the head he understands the seat itself of their dwelling-place. Then the application will follow; but this I shall pass by today, because I cannot proceed farther. It is sufficient to hold briefly, that men are here designated by hairs, for hair can scarcely be counted, indeed that of the beard is countless; such was the multitude at Jerusalem, for we know that the city was very populous. We know, again, that it took occasion for pride from this; when they saw that they were strong in the multitude of their people, they thought themselves equal, if not superior, to all enemies, and hence their foolish confidence, which destroyed them. God then commanded the Prophet to shave off all the hairs of his head and of his beard. Thus he taught that not even one man should escape the slaughter, because he says, make the sword pass, or pass it, over thy head, then over thy chin, so that nothing may remain. We see, then, how far the passing of the razor is to go — until no hair remains entire on either the head or beard. Whence it follows, that God will take vengeance on the whole nation, so that not one of them shall survive. As to his ordering three parts to be weighed, and a proportion to be kept between them, in this way he signifies what we have often seen in Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 15:2) — Whosoever shall have escaped the sword shall perish by famine, and whosoever shall escape the famine shall perish by some other means. But here God explains at length the manner in which he was about to destroy all the Jews, although they were distributed into various ranks. For their condition might seem different when some had been put to flight, and others had betaken themselves to Egypt. But in this variety God shows that it detracts nothing from his power or intention of destroying them to a man.

Let us come to the words make a razor pass over thy head and over, thy beard; and then take scales מאזנים, maznim, is properly called a balance on account of its two ears. Take, therefore, a balance, or scales for weighing, and divide the hair. What this division means I have already explained, because all the Jews were not consumed by the same punishment,, and therefore those who had escaped one kind of destruction boasted that they were safe. Hence they were enraged against God. But this foolish confidence is taken away, when the Prophet is ordered to divide the hair extracted from his head and beard, Divide them, he says; afterwards he adds, a third part. As to God’s distributing the people into three parts, it is not done without the best reason for it; for a part was consumed by famine and distress before the city was taken. But because God marks all miseries by fire, therefore he orders a third part to be cast into the fire, and consumed there. Now because there were two parts remaining, every one promised himself life; for he who escapes present death thinks himself free from all danger, and hence confidence is increased; for we too often think ourselves safe when we have overcome one kind of death. For this reason, therefore, it is added, after thou hast burnt a third part in the fire, he says, take a third part and strike it with the sword Besides, he orders a third part to be burnt in the midst of the city. Ezekiel was then in Chaldea, and not near the city; but we said that all this took place by a prophetic vision. What is here said answers to the wrath of God, because before the siege of the city, a third part was consumed by pestilence, and famine, and distress, and other evils and slaughters; and all these miseries are here denoted by fire. For after the city had been taken, God orders a third part to be struck with the sword. We know this to have been fulfilled when the king with all his company was seized, as he was flying over the plain of Jericho, (2 Kings 25) when meeting with the hostile army; because very many were killed there, the king himself was carried off, his sons murdered in his sight, while his eyes were put out, and he was dragged to Babylon bound in chains. Hence this is the third part, which he commanded the Prophet to strike with the sword, because that slaughter represented the slaughter of the city.

Now it is added, that he should take a third part and cast it to the wind: then follows the threat, I will unsheathe my sword after them Here it is spoken as well of the fugitives who had gone into various countries, as of the poor, who being dispersed after the slaughter of the city, protracted their life but a short time. For we know that some lay hid in the land of Moab, others in that of Ammon, more in Egypt, and that others fled to various hiding-places. This dispersion was as if any one should cast the shorn-off hairs to the wind. But God pronounces that their flight and dispersion would not profit them, because he will draw his sword against them and follow them up to the very last. We see therefore, although at first sight the citizens of Jerusalem differ, as if they were divided into three classes, yet the wrath of God hangs over all, and destroys the whole multitude.

It is now added: Thou shalt take then a small number, and bind them, (that is, that number, but the number is changed,) viz., those hairs of which the number is small in the skirts of thy clothing It either takes away the confidence which might spring up from a temporary escape, or else it signifies that very few should be safe in the midst of the destruction of the whole people, which came to pass wonderfully. If that is received, the correction is added, that God would give some hope of favor because the people was consumed, yet so that the covenant of God might remain. Hence it was necessary that some relics should be preserved, and they had been reduced like Sodom, unless God had kept for himself a small seed. (Isaiah 1:9; Romans 9:29.) Therefore in this sense the Prophet is ordered to bind and to hide in the skirts of his garment, some part of the hair. Moreover, that part is understood only in the third order, because those who had escaped thought that they had obtained safety by flight, especially when they collected themselves in troops. Afterwards it follows, thou shalt then take from these, and throw it into the midst of the fire, and burn it in the fire Out of these few hairs God wishes another part to be burnt and consumed; by which words he signifies, even where only a small portion remains, yet it must be consumed in like manner, or at least that many out of these few will be rejected. And indeed those who seemed to have happily escaped and to have survived safely, were soon after cut off by various slaughters, or pined away by degrees as if they had perished by a slow contagion. But since it pleased him to remember his promise, we gather that a few of the people survived through God’s wonderful mercy: for because he was mindful of his covenant, he wished some part to be preserved, and therefore that correction was interposed, that the Prophet should bind under his skirts a small number. Yet from that remnant, God again snatched away another part, and cast it into the fire. If the filth of the remainder was such, that it was necessary to purge it, and cast part of it into the fire, what must be thought of the whole people, that is, of the dregs themselves? For the portion which the Prophet bound in his skirts was clearly the flower of the people: if there was any integrity, it ought to be seen there.

We just saw that there were many reprobate in that small number. Hence, therefore, it is easily gathered how desperate was the impiety of the whole people. After this, he says, take: this adverb is used that those who survived after the slaughter of the city should not think that all their punishments were over: after this, says he, that is, when they shall fancy all their difficulties over, thou shalt take from that part which thou hast preserved, and shalt cast it into the fire. Thence, he says, a fire shall go forth through the whole house of Israel He signifies by these words, as we have seen before, that the vision was not illusory, just as many fictitious things are represented in a theater. Hence God says, what he shows by vision to his servant would happen, as the event itself at length proved. But he goes further that the whole house of Israel shall burn in this burning, because indeed the last destruction of the city brought despair to the miserable, exiles, who, while the city was standing, promised themselves a return. But when they saw such utter destruction of the city, they were consumed just as if fire from Judea had crept even to themselves. In the meantime the remnant are always excepted whom the Lord wonderfully preserved, although he was in a vision destroying the whole people. We now see the tendency of this vision. I will not proceed further, because I should be compelled to desist, and so the doctrine would be abrupt. It is sufficient therefore to hold, although the people was divided into many parts so that the condition of each was distinct, yet that all should perish, since God so determined. Hence the confidence of those who thought they would be safe at Jerusalem was broken: then the ten tribes, which were captives, ought also to acknowledge that the last vengeance of God was not complete, until the city itself, the seat of government and the priesthood was destroyed.

Now God shows the reason why he determined to act so severely and harshly towards that holy city which he had selected as the royal residence. For the greater the benefits with which he had adorned the city, by so much the baser and grosser was their ingratitude. God recounts, therefore, his benefits towards Jerusalem, and that for the sake of reproving it. For if the Jews had embraced the blessing of God, doubtless he would have enriched them more and more with his gifts: but when he saw that they rejected his favors, he was the more angry with their indignity. For contempt of God’s benefits is a kind of profanation and sacrilege. Now, therefore, we understand the intention of the Holy Spirit when he says, that Jerusalem was placed as it were on a lofty platform, that its dignity might be conspicuous on all sides. This is not said in praise of Jerusalem, but rather to its greatest disgrace, because whatever the Lord had conferred upon it ought to be taken into account, since they had so unworthily corrupted themselves and had polluted God’s glory as it were on purpose. As to its being said, that Jerusalem was in the midst of the nations,(Psalm 74:12,) I do not take this so precisely as Jerome and most others. For they fancy that Jerusalem was the center of the earth, and he twists other places also into this sense: where God is said to have worked salvation to the midst of the earth, he explains it the very middle, as they say. But that is in my judgment puerile, because the Prophet simply means that Jerusalem was placed in the most celebrated part of the world: it had on all sides the most noble nations and very rich, as is well known, and was not far distant from the Mediterranean Sea: on one side it was opposite to Asia Minor: then it had Egypt for a neighbor, and Babylon on the north. This is the genuine sense of the Prophet, that Jerusalem was endued with remarkable nobility among other nations, as if God had placed it in the highest rank. There is no city which has not nations and lands round it, but God here names lands and nations par excellence, not any whatsoever, but those only which excelled in fruitfulness, in opulence, and all advantages. And the demonstrative pronoun is emphatic when he says, This is Jerusalem: for he extols the city with magnificent praises, that its ingratitude may appear the greater — hence it was placed in the midst of the nations and of countries round about it: because it was surrounded by many opulent regions, and there the grace of God was chiefly displayed, as if it were the most beautiful part of a theater, which attracted all eyes towards it, and moved all minds to admiration.

He now adds, My judgments are changed concerning the word מרה, mereh, I said that it signifies sometimes to change, but oftener to transgress or to reject, and there the sense suits very well, because the Jews were rebellious against the judgments of God even to impiety. But he enlarges upon their wickedness when he says, my statutes have been despised since they so addicted themselves to impiety. For if there had been any pretext of virtue, their fault might have been extenuated, but when they cast themselves into gross impiety, and thus despise God’s commandments, this is inexcusable. Let us learn from this passage, that unless we use God’s blessings with purity the charge of ingratitude will always lie against us: for whatever God bestows upon us, he sanctifies as well to our salvation as to the glory of his name. We are then sacrilegious when we corrupt those things which were destined for his glory; then are we utterly perverse when we convert to our destruction what God has appointed for our salvation. Now we must consider the ingratitude of Jerusalem as flagrant, because they rejected the commandments of God. When therefore God deposits among us the treasure of celestial doctrine, we must diligently take care that we do not turn aside to impiety, because there is no excuse for error when once we have been taught what is right, and that from the mouth of God himself. Then he declares the same sentiment in other words, and says, beyond all nations and all lands which were round about; by which sentence he signifies that the Jews; were worse than all the rest, because knowingly and willingly they had shaken off God’s yoke. Other nations had not conducted themselves better, for we know that the worship of God was then everywhere vitiated: but the impiety of the elect people was fouler, for they turned light into darkness, while the Gentiles wandered in darkness for they were blind, but the conduct of this people was different whom God had familiarly instructed. Since therefore the teaching of the law was conspicuous among the Jews, the Prophet deservedly says, that they were impious beyond all nations and countries Then he explains how they had either changed the judgment of God, or were themselves rebellious, because they had despised, says he, my judgments, and had not walked in my statutes First, he says, they had not fallen through ignorance but through pride and contempt; for when the will of God is made known to us, there is no place for ignorance. We do not sin lightly therefore, but our minds are necessarily infected with pride and contempt of God. Now he adds, that they did not walk in his precepts, by which words he signifies that the contempt just mentioned appeared openly, because in truth the fruit showed itself in their whole life. It follows —

This verse is variously expounded on account of the word המנכם, hemenekem: for some read it jointly in one context, as if through being multiplied they did not worship God; as if he meant that they were luxurious through their opulence, as horses are restive through too much food and fatness. That passage of Moses has been marked: Israel, when highly fed, kicked; therefore they think that this place is like it, and so they combine it together: because thou hast been multiplied beyond. all Gentiles which were around thee, thou hast despised my judgments, for thou hast become blind and drunken by prosperity. (Deuteronomy 32:15.) But I do not approve of this sense, for it is clearly too forced. Others derive it from המה, hemeh, which signifies to be agitated or disturbed, and elicit this sense, because ye are tumultuous beyond all nations — -that is, because your lasciviousness and licentiousness surpass that of all people, whilst your eagerness has drawn you on as it were without a bridle. But I fear that explanation is far-fetched, and so I take it simply for to be multiplied, or multiplication; for machor may be either a noun or a verb, but in the same sense. At the same time, I do not refer this to the number and multitude of the people, nor even to the abundance of goods, as the majority do; for they say that the number of persons was multiplied, which does not suit the sense; if it be referred to wealth, it is indeed true that God had acted liberally towards that city, but I take it actively, that they have multiplied beyond all nations: and Jerome, in my opinion, has not rendered it badly by translating, “because ye have surpassed the nations,” yet he has departed from the proper sense of the word: so it will be better to retain the verb “multiply” or the noun “multiplication,” yet actively, because they had wantoned intemperately in their superstitions, so that they surpassed all nations in evil doing. On account then of your multiplying, or on account of your multiplication beyond all nations, that is, because ye were not content with moderate impiety, but heaped together all kinds of wickedness, so that your impiety has arrived at the highest pitch whence a curse follows it: but before he comes to that he confirms what he had said before, namely, because they had not walked in his statutes, and had not kept his judgments This, therefore, is the meaning of to multiply, because when the law was delivered to them they despised it, and imitated the wickedness of the nations and the countries around them. These sentences then agree, because beyond all the nations they had been rebellious in impiety against God, and then because they had multiplied beyond all nations and countries. Again the reason is to be observed, because they did not walk in God’s statutes For the Gentiles held no course, hence it is not surprising that they wandered in their own oblique direction. But a way had been shown to the Jews: the language of Moses was not in vain. (Deuteronomy 30:19.) I call heaven and earth to witness that I have set before you life and death: choose ye therefore life. Since then God had thus laid down the doctrine of salvation for the Jews, he was the more indignant at their insolence and baseness in not walking according to his statutes. Life then had been set before them, as Moses says; it remained for them to walk therein, which the Gentiles could not do.

Now he adds, and according to the judgments of the Gentiles which are round about you Here the Prophet seems to blame what otherwise and in many places is praised. For the Jews ought to be separate from the Gentiles, so that they might worship God in purity, and the Prophets often expostulate with them because they followed the judgments or statutes of the Gentiles. On these words I have said nothing, because they occur often, and it has been already shown in many places why God calls his judgments laws. Some distinguish between judgments and statutes, because judgments belong to mortals, and statutes to ceremonies. But this distinction is not everywhere observed. But God, in very many places, commends the precepts of his law, since he shows that nothing necessary to a complete system of teaching was omitted. But. this name is sometimes transferred to perverse rites and vicious superstitions, so that to walk in the judgments of the Gentiles, is to corrupt oneself with their perverse morals. As I have said already, the Jews were often condemned by the Prophets because they gave themselves up to the corruptions of the Gentiles.

Here, therefore, the Prophet says, that they had not done according to the judgments of the Gentiles But he understands that in this particular, also, they had surpassed the madness of the Gentiles, because they had not embraced the law of God so as to remain constantly in obedience to it. For we saw in the second chapter of Jeremiah, (Jeremiah 2:10, 11,) that the Gentiles were obstinate in their madness. Although that was not praiseworthy, yet God deservedly blames his people because they held him in less honor than the Gentiles did their idols. For we know how obstinately the nations were fixed in their superstitions, for they did not change their religion except by some violent impulse, just as if heaven and earth were shaken together. Since, therefore, the religion of each was firm and fixed, God accuses the Jews of trifling deservedly, because they inclined towards the errors and madness of the heathen. This, therefore, is Ezekiel’s meaning when he says, the Jews had not done according to the statutes of the Gentiles: as if he had said, they should have looked at the Gentiles, and as they saw them obstinately worshipping idols, so they should have persisted in my law and in pure worship. But while the obstinacy of the Gentiles was so great that they could not be torn away from their own superstition, my people, says he, have perfidiously declined from me and my law by rash impulse, and without necessity for it. Now, therefore, we perceive why the Prophet adds this to their crimes, that the people had not walked after the judgments or manners of the Gentiles. Hence they might have perceived, that what men had once embraced they ought not lightly to have thrown away, because when we are suddenly and easily turned aside in the matter of the worship of God, it is certain that we have never put forth living roots. Since, then, the Gentiles instructed the Jews in their duty, their crime became more detestable.

Now follows the threat, that God was prepared to take vengeance. Behold, I, even, I, am against you The particle גם, gam, “even,” is used as we in French say, yea, even: I, even I. We now see that the repetition is emphatic, as if God asserted a horrible destruction to be hanging over the Jews. For he wishes to inspire them with fear, since he assures them that he will prove an avenger. Though I do not receive Jerome’s comment, for he says, that angels and other ministers of God’s wrath are excluded, because God determined to destroy the Jews by himself. This we know to be false, for he made use of the Assyrians and Chaldeans. Since then those people were his scourges, it follows, that angels and men are not excluded when God pronounces himself an avenger. But he increases the weight of the punishment when he says, I, even I, am he with whom thou shalt have to do Now he adds, I will execute judgments, by which word jurisdiction, as they call it, is intended. What Jerome and those interpreters who follow him affirm is not correct, that by this name God’s justice is asserted, as if he meant, that he would not be cruel in exacting punishment, nor yet unjust nor too rigid. For to execute judgment means merely to exercise jurisdiction, and an earthly judge is said to exercise justice when he sits on his tribunal, even if he perverts justice and equity. This, indeed, cannot be the case with God, although the word allows of it. Besides, there is a suitable antithesis between the doctrinal judgments and the actual ones; God complained that the Jews did not execute his judgments: now he threatens that he himself would execute them, because he will vindicate his law by punishments.

The sum of the whole is that he will execute judgments in the midst of Jerusalem, because he will ascend a tribunal and compel the wicked to plead their cause, and to render an account of their life. God, therefore, then executed his judgments when he manifested his vengeance by means of the Chaldeans, and so famine was a part of his punishment, as well as the sword and the pestilence. For while he delays, he seems to have ceased from his duty, and then the impious indulge themselves as if he had forgotten to execute judgment. Therefore, in opposition to this, he denounces that he would execute judgments: as if he had said, I will appear as judge although you think me asleep. For he says, he will execute judgments in the midst of Jerusalem, before the eyes of the Gentiles, by which assertion he means, that their punishments would be remarkable, and such as might be easily considered by all the nations: for we know that the Gentiles were then blind, for they thought that good and evil happened by chance. But God affirms, that his judgments will be so manifest that the blind will be, as it were, eye-witnesses. Now it follows —

Now God subjoins, that their punishment should be so severe that no similar example could be found in the world — I will do what I have not done, nor intended to do, that is, I will avenge your contempt of my law in a striking and unexpected manner; for God sometimes so chastises men as not to exceed the ordinary method. But because punishments seem vile and contemptible when they are so common, God is compelled to surpass the ordinary measure, and to punish the wicked signally and portentously, as he says by Moses. (Deuteronomy 28:46.) When therefore he now says, that he would do what he had not done before, and what he would not do again, he signifies a horrible vengeance, which has no similar example. It means nothing else than what, we have quoted from Moses, that the vengeance would be signal and portentous. Interpreters take this metaphorically, but this view cannot be admitted, because in their opinion no history has recorded its fulfillment; hence they fly to allegory and metaphor. But first of all, we know what Josephus says, that mothers were so ravenous that they slew their children and fed upon them, although here a previous siege is referred to, in which God signifies that he would cause fathers to devour their children: I confess it; but even if we receive what they wish, it was not done then; hence Jeremiah is mistaken when he says, that miserable women cooked their children for food. (Lamentations 4:10.) Surely this is a sufficient witness; for to say that we never find that this actually happened is to reject the testimony of Jeremiah. Besides, God had threatened that very thing by Moses; nor can the passage be eluded, because there is weight in the words —

“Men delicate among you, and those accustomed to luxuries,” says he, “shall eat their own children; a man shall envy the wife of his bosom, so that he shall not suffer her to enjoy that nefarious food with him. Then by stealth shall he consume and devour the flesh of his son, so that he shall distribute no part of it to another.” (Deuteronomy 28:54, 55.)

When Moses uses this language he certainly does not mean that there shall be intestine dissensions, so that disciples shall rise up against their masters, and masters oppress their disciples, as Jerome fancies. But it is necessary to take the words as they sound, namely, that God would not be content with common and customary punishments when the Jews had arrived at the very last pitch of impiety and wickedness, since he blames them so severely. Hence Ezekiel now threatens this; nor is it surprising that the Prophets took such forms of expression from Moses, since they used the language of Moses rather than a new one, that the people might not despise their prophesyings. Now, therefore, we must decide, that the Prophet uses these threatenings against the Jews literally. But if any one now object that what God says will not happen does often happen, a solution must be sought for. For we said that when the Jews were besieged by Titus, such a ravenousness attacked certain women, that they fed by stealth on their own children. But God pronounces that he never would do this again I reply that this kind of vengeance is not to be restricted to one day, so that God should not often punish the Jews in a similar manner. But we do not read that this was done, except by the Jews, for although this cruelty is related in tragedies — that children were used as food by their parents, yet this barbarity nowhere existed, that a father knowingly and willingly ate his own son; hence this was peculiar to the Jews. And that God had once executed this vengeance on them by means of the Chaldeans, is no obstacle to his again inflicting the same punishment, when he wished to take vengeance on the extreme rebellion of the people. For although in Ezekiel’s time all things were very corrupt, yet we know that when the Son of God was rejected, the Jews cut off from themselves all hope of restoration to the mercy of God. It is not surprising, then, if again he had suffered sons to be devoured by their fathers, as he now threatens that fathers should be so rabid as not even to spare their own bowels.

I know not why Jerome invented this difference, which is altogether futile. For he says, that when a thing is honorable and becoming it should be ascribed to God, but when the thing itself is base, God averts the infamy from himself. For when this wonder is treated of here, God does not say I will cause the people to eat their sons, but he says, fathers shall eat their sons, and sons their fathers. But there is nothing solid in this comment, because the cruelty which the Chaldeans exercised towards the Jews certainly was not either honorable or becoming, and yet God ascribes to himself whatever the Chaldeans did. Again, what was baser than the incest of Absalom, in debauching his father’s wives? and even that was not sufficient, but he wished the whole people, at the sound of a trumpet, to be witnesses of his crime; and yet what does God say? “I will do this before the sun,” says he. (2 Samuel 12:12, and 2 Samuel 16:21, 22.) We see, then, that this man was not familiar with the Scriptures, and yet that he offered his comments too hastily. There was, indeed, no true religion in the man, and it is not without cause that I admonish you; for there is danger lest many be deceived, if they were not admonished that his genius was full of ostentation and arrogance.

He says, then, fathers shall eat their sons in the midst of you, and this was certainly fulfilled: for Jeremiah speaks of women, but he comprehends men also. (Lamentations 4:10.) For he says that women are tender-hearted, he does not say mothers merely, but that they were humane beyond others; but we know that maternal affection is more tender. But when mothers and those tender ones devour their children, that was the final portent. Now he adds, I will execute, therefore, (for the copula here ought to be resolved into the expletive particle,) judgments against thee That is, in this manner I will really show myself a judge, and I will scatter all thy remnants unto all winds. He signifies that there should be such dispersion, that no body or name of the people should remain. But that hope might cherish and sustain the Jews, if any name and body of the people had been left. But when God pronounces that they should be offscourings to be scattered to every wind, he takes away all hope of restoration for the present at least. We know that there was a certain number left, but such destruction was necessarily threatened before God gave any hope of his mercy. When he says, to any wind, he signifies in any quarter whatever. For as one or another wind blows so the dust is carried, and the offscourings are dispersed in all directions. It follows —

Here God again expresses more clearly why he was so eager to take vengeance namely, because the religion of the Jews was corrupt, and the Temple had been violated, as we shall see to-morrow.

Now he explains without a figure what he had previously proposed figuratively. For he had been commanded to shave off the hairs of his head and of his beard with a razor, and to divide them so that the pestilence should consume one part, the sword another, and the famine a third. Now he repeats the same thing but in another manner. Hence God explains why he had offered a vision of this kind to his servant. But he shortens what we formerly saw, because he omits the fourth member; for he was commanded to take some portion and to hide it under his armpit, or in the hem of his garment: but here there is no mention of that part, and yet it was not spoken in vain, but God speaks in various manners, and that by his own right. Meanwhile, both the figure and its application agree, because God was consuming the whole people by either famine, pestilence, or the sword. What was said concerning the fourth part was not in vain, but it was not necessary to repeat it. To this end then the Prophet tended, since some were survivors it might seem that they were exempt from the common slaughter: that he might take away that hope, he said, that they also, or at least many of them, should perish by burning, so that they should light up a fire in the whole people of Israel. For it happened through the unconquerable obstinacy of the people, that the wretched exiles were more hated; those who had already spared them began afresh to rage against them with cruelty, because the name of the people became detestable among all men. Because, therefore, the remnant of the citizens who remained at Jerusalem perished, hence it happened that the burning penetrated to the ten tribes, and to those wretched exiles who were captives in remote lands. But now our Prophet is silent on this point. In the meanwhile, he comprehends whatever we saw before, although more briefly: only that explanation was wanting, which, although it was formerly useful, yet ought not of necessity to be repeated. A third part, therefore, shall die by pestilence, and shall perish by hunger in the midst of thee; then a third part shall perish by the sword around thee, and a third part shall be scattered towards every wind: although God claims this for himself, I will scatter, says he, the third part, and draw out the sword after them, so that they also shall perish in their dispersion. Now that dispersion is by itself miserable, but God pronounces that he would not be content with that moderate punishment until he utterly consumed them. It follows —

In this verse the Prophet only teaches what he had said before, but by way of confirmation, namely, that God’s vengeance would be horrible and unceasing until the destruction and extinction of the people. There are some who think that this was interposed that God might mitigate the rigor of his vengeance, and so this verse, according to them, contains a promise of pardon; but it is rather a threat. For what they assert — that God would cause his anger to cease — cannot stand. For it follows afterwards they shall know that I Jehovah have said it, when I shall have filled up my wrath or anger against them And the context, as we shall afterwards see, will refute that comment. Let this, then, remain fixed, that the Prophet does not here promise the people any mitigation of their punishment, but goes on denouncing the vengeance which he formerly mentioned.

First he says, it shall be filled up: כלה, keleh, signifies sometimes “to finish,” but also, “to be accomplished,” “to consume,” and also, “to be consumed.” In this place God signifies that there should be no end to the punishments until he was satisfied. The image is taken from men desirous of vengeance, whose eagerness does not cease till they satiate themselves with revenge. God, therefore, here likens himself to men when he speaks of the end or fulfillment of his anger. Now he adds, I will cause my fury to rest upon them, that is, my fury shall be, as it were, fixed upon them. For “rest” is not to be received here for “cease,” for wrath is said to rest when it has spent itself, but God wishes here to mark by his Prophet the perseverance or untiring course of his vengeance. My wrath, therefore, shall rest upon them, that is, it shall not remove or pass away; for God is said to withdraw his hand when he ceases to punish us, but here the rest of his wrath is its perpetual continuing. He adds, I will take comfort Here God transfers to himself what properly does not belong to him, for he does not delight himself after the manner of men when he takes vengeance on wickedness; but we know that God’s judgment cannot be comprehended, unless he puts on the character of man, and in some manner transforms himself. Hence he is said to receive comfort in the approbation of just judgment. For this comfort signifies, that God cannot bear the contempt of his law — then that the malice of man is so desperate, that the judge must at length appear in his own nature; not that he indulges in any passions, as is sufficiently known, but because we cannot otherwise conceive him to be a just judge, unless he declare himself pleased with vengeance, when he sees men so utterly abandoned and beside themselves, as not to be otherwise recalled to penitence.

He afterwards adds, and they shall know that I Jehovah have spoken it Here God obliquely blames the stupidity of the people, because they not only despised all prophecies, but also proudly laughed at his threats. As often, then, as the Prophets declared the vengeance and judgments of God, they gave material for laughter to a perverse and impious people, and their obstinacy so blinded them that they did not think it was God who spoke; for they supposed that men only would be their adversaries, and hence their rage against the Prophets. For if they had thought that they had spoken by divine inspiration, they would never have dared to rise against them so madly; but because they thought that the Prophets uttered in public their own comments, therefore they strove with them in forgetfulness of God. The Jews, therefore, did not acknowledge him. But let us mark the source of their ignorance: they turned aside their senses from God of their own accord, as at this time many do not think that God speaks when his truth is openly shown from the Scriptures. Why do they not think so? because they are unwilling. Hence this blindness was voluntary and affected, so to speak, in the ancient people, since they imagined that the prophecies would be without effect. This is the reason why the Prophet says, then they shall know that I have spoken, because, as the proverb is, experience is the fool’s teacher; since, therefore, they rejected all threats, it came to pass that, by the teaching of calamity, they perceived too late that God was the speaker. And so there is an antithesis between experimental knowledge, and blindness which arises from an evil disposition and a contempt of God. For when he says, they shall know when he has fulfilled his wrath, that knowledge shall be too late and unfruitful. Lastly, God here pronounces, that he would inflict just punishment on their voluntary ignorance, from which the Jews should know, whether they would or not, that the prophecies against which they had closed their eyes had proceeded from himself alone.

He says also, that he had spoken in his zeal, or jealousy, because the Prophets were thought to be very furious when they thundered so against the impious. God therefore here acquits those whom we know were commonly esteemed fanatics, and says that he spoke in his zeal, because the impious, when they wish to load the servants of God with envy, object that he is mild and merciful, and that it does not accord with his character to speak roughly and sharply. God therefore says that he also uses zeal, or anger, that the Jews might not think his Prophets carried away with inconsiderate zeal and fervor, since we know that they fell into that grievous error. It follows —

He explains what we saw before more at length, whence also we understand that in the next verse God had not softened his anger, but proclaimed the ultimate destruction of the nation. He says therefore, that the Jews shall be desolate, as they translate it: it also signifies dryness, and hence is the name for a desert. But it suits this place to say, the Jews shall be laid waste, and a reproach among the nations: for they were formerly a celebrated nation: God had ennobled them with remarkable gifts, so that they excelled in dignity in the sight of all the nations. Now he says, they should be like a vast desert, and in utter ruin, and a reproach; and not only is this rumor spread abroad, but all travelers through that land are witnesses of this reproach. But in the next verse this is followed out more at length.

He further explains how the Jews should be devastated and become a reproach among the nations. Now, he does not speak of their dispersion, but uses two words for one idea: he puts חרפה, cherepheh, which signifies a reproach, and adds גדופה, gedopheh, which signifies a taunt and a mocking: but this could not take place without the slaughter of the people. Unless the profane heathen had some ground for it, there was no reason why they should utter their taunts and hissings against the Jews. Hence destruction and complete slaughter are comprehended under the words reproach and taunt, or laughing-stock. But this sentence belongs to the former verse: there it was said, I will make thee: here, thou shalt be Meanwhile the execution of God’s vengeance is marked; when, therefore, God reproaches us, we are compelled to lie under the power of his hand, because an attempt to resist him is vain. We shall wrestle, indeed, as the ungodly do, but unless we yield willingly, the violence of his power will crush us. Hence we must observe the context: I will make thee a reproach, and thou shalt be one, because God signifies that his threats should not be either empty or in vain. He adds, thou shalt be a correction: מוסר, moser, signifies discipline and instruction, but is often used for that correction which springs from a sense of God’s wrath. When, therefore, God chastises his people, if they repent, they are said to profit by his discipline, since they have learnt themselves to be sinners by the punishments which he has inflicted on them. But he says that the Jews should be a correction to the profane nations, because they should grow wise by their punishments; for while we apply examples to our use, this is a timely correction, since we do not wait till God strikes us; but when he takes vengeance on the despisers of his law at a distance, if we are moved by such examples, this is, as I said, correction in good time: for the Prophet now applies it to the nations, not without the disgrace of the elect people: as if he had said that their punishment would be so notorious that the very blind would recognize them, and tremble at the perception of their import.

Afterwards he adds — in astonishment These words, indeed, do not seem sufficiently in agreement with the Jews being for a wonder and a correction; but the Prophet does not simply mean that those who perceived the judgment of God should be either stupid or docile, he only means that in God’s severity material would be proposed for all, as well of correction as of astonishment, so that they should be horrified when they saw God treating his elect people so harshly. For he adds, when I shall execute judgments on thee in wrath, and in fury, and in burnings of anger. He confirms what we saw before, namely, that God’s judgment would be remarkable, because he had so long borne with a reprobate people. Since he had so long borne their impiety, he broke forth at length in one impulse, and then exercised the formidable judgment of which he speaks. This is the reason why he says the nations shall be astonished when I execute my judgments upon thee. What, then, were these judgments? — in truth, anger, and burning, and furious rebukes. Here the Prophet seems verbose; but he could not be too much so, since the sluggishness of the people was so great that they were not moved by any prophecies. As we have formerly seen, he had been, doubtless, derided by those Jews in Chaldea, who as yet remained at home tranquil, as it were, in their nests. “Does he, the wretched exile, threaten us? let him be content with his own lot: since God has spared us, he seems to be stirred up to vex us by envy alone; but we have no reason to fear the envy of a captive and an exile.” Since, then, the Prophet knew that he was contemptible among the Jews, it was necessary to heap up such forms of speech, that his teaching might have more weight: nor does he look: at the Jews alone, but at those people also who had been dragged into the same exile; for he has to advise them, for the reasons which we have formerly explained. Now, therefore, we understand his meaning when he speaks concerning anger and burning, and adds, at the same time, burning rebukes He adds also, I Jehovah have spoken it: which he will repeat at the last verse of the chapter. And this confirmation is also very useful, because when both the Israelites and the Jews looked at a mortal and abject man, a captive and a slave of an impious people, they would doubtless have despised all his prophecies. Hence he sets God before them, by which he means that he was not the author of the threats, but spoke only from the mouth of God, as the organ of the Spirit. It follows —

He illustrates the sentiment which we have seen, but not after the manner of rhetoricians, who affect splendor and ornament of speech; but his only design was to penetrate the minds of the people, like stones or iron. This, then, is the reason why he uses such variety here, and adorns his teaching with various figures. For he now compares God to an archer, who points his arrows against them; but he speaks metaphorically concerning the arrows of God; for he calls them arrows of famine and evil, that is, deadly and death-bearing. Since, then, I shall hurl evil arrows against them, they shall cause their destruction, says he; that is, they shall not escape death, because they shall be struck with mortal wounds. A person might be struck by the blow of an arrow, and yet become convalescent; but God pronounces the arrows of which he speaks deadly, so that whoever is struck by them has no hope of safety left. Besides, by arrows of famine we may understand such barrenness of soil as flies, locusts, and other scourges of God — at one time scorching, at another mildew dries up the corn-field, now rains make the wheat rot, now heat burns it up, as many sources of corruption and pestilence as these are to the crops, so many are the arrows of God which transfix men’s hearts, and that too by a deadly wound. If so subtle an explanation does not please any one, he is at liberty to take it otherwise; yet if any one properly attends, he will confess that God darts his own arrows as often as he causes famine, or deprives men of sustenance. He adds, which shall become corruption He confirms what we said was denoted by the epithet הרעים, hergnim. He says, therefore, that these arrows would be destructive, because they should be for perdition and destruction. Another confirmation follows: which I will send, says he, against them to destroy them Here God distinctly affirms that he would dart forth those arrows, and repeats again what we saw before, and that, too, in the same verse. But we have taught you why the Prophet insists, in many words, on a matter by no means obscure. He adds, and I will multiply famine against them. Here he signifies that he was armed with different weapons, so that if men perceive themselves to have fallen, they may perceive that God has other hidden weapons, which he has not yet brought into use. By the word multiplythe Prophet expresses what we have already seen, by means of arrows, for he uses the plural number, but the impious restrict as much as they can the power of God. “If God wills” they say, “he can indeed ruin the corn-fields with continual rain, he can also burn them up by too much heat, if we have escaped the frost and the hail, the storm, and the rain., and the drought, it will have already gone well with us.” Thus the impious harden themselves in their security. And why? because they restrict God’s arrows to a fixed and certain number. This is the reason why he says, I will multiply famine upon them; that is, when they think their yearly produce safe, because they have escaped drought, and rain, and mildew, and storm, and hail, I will find, says he, other modes unknown to them, by which I will bring famine upon them. And he expresses one manner of doing so — I will break the staff of bread, concerning which form of speaking we have spoken previously. I do not subscribe to their opinion who say, that the staff of bread is broken when God sends a deficiency of corn; for in the greatest plenty the staff of bread is broken, as we saw in Moses, when God takes away the nourishing quality of bread, and makes it vanish, (Deuteronomy 8:3,) because man lives not by bread alone, but by that secret inspiration which God has implanted in the bread. Hence we may eat more than fourfold the usual quantity, and yet not be satisfied, as this form of speech often occurs with the Prophets, which they take from Moses. Thou shalt eat, and not be satisfied, say they. (Leviticus 26:26; Isaiah 9:20; Ezekiel 7; Hosea 4:10; Micah 6:14.) So also here the Prophet repeats what we saw in the last chapter — that God breaks the staff of bread, that is, takes away its nourishing quality, so that he who feeds upon it does not feel that he has recovered new rigor. It follows —

Here God speaks generally concerning certain adversities — I will send evil upon them, he says, but immediately afterwards he adds the kind of evil, of which he had not yet spoken. Hence, under the name of evil he embraces all adversities, as if he had said that he intended to exact the penalty from the wicked, not in one or two ways only, but by those numberless troubles which surround us, and to which we are subject; so that there would be no bounds to his wrath, unless men should cease to provoke his anger. This is the reason, then, why he now speaks generally concerning evil; but as I have said he adds the kind of evil — An evil beast shall come upon thee, and so I will bereave thee Although only one form of evil is expressed, yet it is by no means doubtful that for the sake of example God mentions this, that they might understand that all injuries are in his hand. And these are numberless. If we look upwards, how many deaths hang over us from that direction? If we look at the earth, how many poisons? how many wild and fierce beasts, how many serpents, swords, pitfalls, stumbling-blocks, precipices, falls of houses, throwings of stones and darts? In short, we cannot stir a step without ten deaths meeting us. So God here speaks of wild beasts only for the purpose of showing that they were at hand, and that by them he would execute his judgments. Now, therefore, we understand why Ezekiel first spoke of the genus, and afterwards came to the species.

And at length he adds, I will bereave or deprive them, namely, that he will deprive fathers of their sons, and sons of their fathers; and he will do that, not only by cruel and savage beasts, but by various other ways. Again he repeats — pestilence and blood shall pass over thee. He had not spoken of blood before, unless under the name of the sword, which he repeats again: but he heaps together, as I have said, various forms of speech, so that those should be at length awakened who had been too slow, and were afterwards turning themselves willingly away from all sense of the wrath of God. Hence he says, pestilence and blood shall pass through thee. Then, I will bring a sword, says he, upon thee When he spoke of blood, he really intended a sword, but, as I have already said, this did not cause either the Israelites or Jews instantly to tremble at such threats. What, therefore, was in itself sufficiently clear and easy, ought to be impressed in various ways. With this view he adds again, I Jehovah have spoken For he turns away the Jews and Israelites from looking at himself, and shows them that he was not the author of the threats, but that he faithfully delivers what he had received from God’s hand, and what he was commanded to utter against them.