11. As for Ephraim, their glory shall fly away like a bird, from the birth, and from the womb, and from the conception.
11. Ephraim, quasi avis avolavit gloria eorum, a partu et ab utero et a conceptione, (jungamus etiam sequentem versum: )
12. Though they bring up their children, yet will I bereave them, that there shall not be a man left: yea, woe also to them when I depart from them!
12. Quia si extulerint filios suos, tunc exterminabo eos ab homine (hoc est, ne sint in numero hominum: ) certe etiam vae illis quum recessero ab eis. 1
The Hebrews, we know, have often abrupt sentences as in this place, Ephraim! their glory has fled. Ephraim is to be placed by itself; and the speech seems striking, when the Lord thus breaks off the sentence, Ephraim! he does not continue the sense, but immediately adds, Like a bird their glory has fled. When he speaks of Ephraim, he no doubt refers especially to his offspring; and by mentioning a part for the whole, he includes whatever was then deemed to be wealth, or glory, or power. The Prophet, I say, speaks of offspring, for he immediately adds, from the birth, and the womb, and the conception. But they are mistaken who confine this sentence to offspring only; for it is, as I have said, a mode of speaking, by which a part is taken for the whole. According to the letter, he mentions children or offspring; but yet he includes generally the whole condition of the people.
Then as a bird the glory of Ephraim fled away. In what respect? From the birth, from the womb, from the conception. The Prophet, no doubt, sets forth here the gradations of God's vengeance, which was yet in part near at hand to the Israelites, and which was in part already evident by clear proofs. He says, from the birth, then from the womb, and, lastly, from the conception. If, then, the glory of Ephraim had vanished at the beginning, the Prophet would not have thus spoken; but as the Lord showed signs of his wrath by degrees, that vengeance at length might reach the highest point, the Prophets in the first place, mentions birth, then the womb; as though he said, "The glory of Israel shall vanish from the birth, but if they still continue proud, and seem not subdued by this punishment, I will slay them in the womb itself; nay, in the conception, if they repent not; they shall be suffocated as in the very womb."
He then adds, Though they shall bring up children, I will yet exterminate them, so that they shall not be men, or, before they grow up, as some expound the words. The meaning is, that though Ephraim then flattered himself, yet a dreadful ruin was at hand, which would extinguish the whole seed, so that there would be nothing remaining. But lest they should think that all was over, when the Lord had inflicted on them one punishment, he lays down three gradations; that God would slay them first in the birth, then extinguish them in the womb, and, lastly, before conception; but if he spared them, so that they would raise up children, it would yet be without advantage, inasmuch as God would take away the youths in the flower of their age. Thus, then he threatens entire destruction to the kingdom of Israel.
And, lastly, he closes the verse in these words, And surely woe will be to them when I shall depart from them. The Prophet means by these words, that men become miserable and accursed, when they alienate themselves from God, and when God takes away from them his favour. After having mentioned especially the vengeance of Godwhich was at hand, he says here that the cause and occasion of all evils would be, that God would depart from them, inasmuch as they had previously renounced their faith in him. But we must bear in mind the reason why the Prophet added this clause, and that is, because wicked men dream, that though God be displeased, things will yet go on prosperously with them: for they neither ascribe adversities to the wrath of God, nor acknowledge the fountain of all blessings to be God's free and paternal favour. As then profane men do not understand this truth, however much God may proclaim that he is an enemy to them, that he is armed to destroy them, they care nothing, but promise to themselves a prosperous fortune: until they feel the hand of God and the signs of destruction appear, they continue still secure. This is the reason why the Prophet says, that there is woe to men when God departs from them. Forasmuch, then, as Scripture teaches everywhere that every desirable thing comes and flows to us from the mere grace of God and his paternal favour, so the Prophet declares in this place, that men are miserable and accursed when God is angry with them. But it follows --
11. 'Ephraim as a bird flieth swiftly away; Their glory is from the birth, and from the womb, and from conception:
12. 'But though they bring up their children, I will yet destroy them, that they shall not be men; Yes, even woe will be to them, when I turn aside from them.'
Fruitfulness of progeny was included in Jacob's blessing on Joseph, the father of Ephraim, who especially represented him. "Blessings of the breasts and of the womb" are specifically mentioned, Genesis 49:25. The former of these two verses alludes to this circumstance. Ephraim is compared to a bird, soon fledged and flying away from the nest: and then it is added, that the glory of that people was their rapid increase. It is a declaration, not a denunciation, for this follows in the next verse. Besides, a denunciation comports not with what is said in that verse, nor with the contents of the fourteenth. If their glory had departed from the birth, etc., how was it that the threatening on the next verse is, that their children should not grow up to be men, and that the Prophet should pray God to give them, in verse 14, an abortive womb, etc.? --Ed.