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The Punishment of Zion


How the gold has grown dim,

how the pure gold is changed!

The sacred stones lie scattered

at the head of every street.



The precious children of Zion,

worth their weight in fine gold—

how they are reckoned as earthen pots,

the work of a potter’s hands!



Even the jackals offer the breast

and nurse their young,

but my people has become cruel,

like the ostriches in the wilderness.



The tongue of the infant sticks

to the roof of its mouth for thirst;

the children beg for food,

but no one gives them anything.



Those who feasted on delicacies

perish in the streets;

those who were brought up in purple

cling to ash heaps.



For the chastisement of my people has been greater

than the punishment of Sodom,

which was overthrown in a moment,

though no hand was laid on it.



Her princes were purer than snow,

whiter than milk;

their bodies were more ruddy than coral,

their hair like sapphire.



Now their visage is blacker than soot;

they are not recognized in the streets.

Their skin has shriveled on their bones;

it has become as dry as wood.



Happier were those pierced by the sword

than those pierced by hunger,

whose life drains away, deprived

of the produce of the field.



The hands of compassionate women

have boiled their own children;

they became their food

in the destruction of my people.



The L ord gave full vent to his wrath;

he poured out his hot anger,

and kindled a fire in Zion

that consumed its foundations.



The kings of the earth did not believe,

nor did any of the inhabitants of the world,

that foe or enemy could enter

the gates of Jerusalem.



It was for the sins of her prophets

and the iniquities of her priests,

who shed the blood of the righteous

in the midst of her.



Blindly they wandered through the streets,

so defiled with blood

that no one was able

to touch their garments.



“Away! Unclean!” people shouted at them;

“Away! Away! Do not touch!”

So they became fugitives and wanderers;

it was said among the nations,

“They shall stay here no longer.”



The L ord himself has scattered them,

he will regard them no more;

no honor was shown to the priests,

no favor to the elders.



Our eyes failed, ever watching

vainly for help;

we were watching eagerly

for a nation that could not save.



They dogged our steps

so that we could not walk in our streets;

our end drew near; our days were numbered;

for our end had come.



Our pursuers were swifter

than the eagles in the heavens;

they chased us on the mountains,

they lay in wait for us in the wilderness.



The L ord’s anointed, the breath of our life,

was taken in their pits—

the one of whom we said, “Under his shadow

we shall live among the nations.”



Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom,

you that live in the land of Uz;

but to you also the cup shall pass;

you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.



The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter Zion, is accomplished,

he will keep you in exile no longer;

but your iniquity, O daughter Edom, he will punish,

he will uncover your sins.


They who simply read, that the blind had wandered, deduce this meaning, that the blind were polluted in the streets, even because there was filth everywhere. They, indeed, come near to the meaning of the Prophet, but they do not clearly explain what he intended. I regard it therefore beyond dispute, that the people are here compared to the blind, but it does not yet appear for what purpose. But my opinion is this, that the whole city was so full of defilement’s, that they could not avoid uncleanness; for a blind man would touch a carcass, he would touch an unclean beast, he would touch a man infected with some disease; how so? because he could not see to distinguish between a dead and a living man, between the clean and unclean. Our Prophet now compares the people to the blind, and why? because wherever they went, uncleanness met them, so that their eyes were in a manner dazzled by thick darkness. For when pestilence does not spread everywhere, we can avoid an unclean place; but when there is no corner where there is not a dead corpse or some sickness, we must pass on anyhow, having no choice to make, — and why? because uncleanness surrounds us everywhere. So, then, the Prophet says that the citizens of Jerusalem were everywhere polluted, as though they were blind.

Now follows the reason, which has not been understood by interpreters, They were polluted, he says, with blood, because they could not but touch their garments. They all give this version, “They could not touch their garments,” and as there is much obscurity and almost absurdity in this rendering, they say that the meaning is that they were to avoid to touch their garments, because the law forbade them to touch the unclean. But the Prophet meant another thing. The words are literally thus, “They could not, they will touch their garments, that is, they will inevitably touch their garments. But the particle which I have mentioned is to be understood, and the passage will read thus, They could not but touch their garments; and we know that the language will bear this. And as this is consistent with the subject which the Prophet handles, every one, judging rightly, will readily receive what I have stated. The meaning then is, that they wandered as the blind, and were polluted in all the streets of the city, because they could not escape uncleanness, which met them everywhere; that is, because the city, as I have said, was full of so many pollutions, that they could not turn either here or there and avoid uncleanness. 216216     This clause has been variously explained. The whole passage from Lamentations 4:12-16 inclusive, ought to be considered. The taking of Jerusalem is said to have been incredible, even to heathens. Then the Prophet, in Lamentations 4:13, tells the cause — “the sins of the prophets and the iniquities of the priests;” and in Lamentations 4:14, 15, and 16, he describes their shame and their punishment at the siege, when the people found out by experience that they had be deceived by them, —

   13. For the sins of her prophets,
For the iniquities of her priests,
Who had shed in the midst of her
The blood of the righteous, —

   14. They wandered frantic in the streets,
They were (or, had been) polluted with blood:
Inasmuch as they could not
But touch their garments,

   15. “Depart ye, uncleanness,” they cried to them,
“Depart, depart, touch not:”
When they fled, yea, became fugitives,
They said among the heathens,
“They shall no more dwell there”;

   16. The face of Jehovah, their portion,
Shall no more look on them;
The face of their priests they regard not,
To their elders they shew no favor.”

   The last five lines contain what the heathens said, when they observed that the prophets and the priests were pronounced unclean by the people, and were ordered to depart. They had shed blood, and were thus polluted, or in their frenzy they touched the slain and became thus polluted. Their retribution was just, and rendered to them by their own people, whom they had led astray: for instead of attending to the true prophets, they killed them, and flattered the people with falsehoods, and encouraged them in their idolatry and vices; and thus brought on the ruin of a city deemed impregnable. — Ed.

As to the words, polluted with blood, they refer to the ceremonial law. There were indeed various kinds of pollutions, but this was the chief. He accommodates his expressions to his own age, and follows what was prescribed by the law. He, however, alludes to the sins designated by blood. We, in short, see that the whole of Jerusalem was so polluted with defilements, that no one could go forth without falling on some uncleanness. A confirmation follows, which also interpreters have not understood, —

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