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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.


The Prophet says first,, that the punishment of his people was heavier than that of Sodom. If any one prefers the other version, I will not contend, for it is not unsuitable; and hence also a most useful doctrine may be drawn, that we are to judge of the grievousness of our sins by the greatness of our punishment for God never exceeds what is just when he takes vengeance on the sins of men. Then his severity shews how grievously men have sinned. Thus, Jeremiah may have reasoned from the effect to the cause, and declared that the people had been more wicked than the Sodomitites. Nor is this unreasonable; for if the Jews had not fallen into that great wickedness of which the Sodomites were guilty, yet the Prophets everywhere charged them as men who not only equaled but also surpassed the Sodomites, especially Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 16:46, 47.) Isaiah also called them the people of Gomorrha, and the king’s counselors and judges, the princes of Sodom, (Isaiah 1:9, 10.) This mode of speaking is then common in the Prophets, and the meaning is not unsuitable.

But as he dwells only on the grievousness of their punishment, the other explanation seems more simple; for I regard not what is plausible, but accept the true meaning. Let us then repeat the Prophet’s words: greater is the punishment of my people, etc. The word עון, oun, means punishment as well as iniquity; this is certain, beyond dispute. Now חטאת, chethat, means also both sin and punishment. It is hence applied to expiations; the sacrifice for sin is called חטאת, chethat. As to the words, then, they designate punishment as well as sin, the cause of it. But the reason which follows leads me to consider punishment as intended, for he says that Sodom was overthrown as in a moment. Here, doubtless, we see that the sins of the Jews are not compared to the sins of the Sodomites, but their destruction only: God had overthrown Sodom, as afterwards he overthrew Jerusalem; but the ruin of Sodom was milder, for it perished in a moment — for when God had dreadfully thundered, the Sodomites and their neighboring citizens were immediately destroyed; and we know that the shorter the punishment, the more tolerable it is. As the Prophet here compares the momentary destruction of Sodom with the prolonged ruin of the city and slaughter of the people, we see that what is spoken of is not sin, but on the contrary God’s judgment.

There is yet no doubt but that the Prophet summoned the Jews to God’s tribunal, that they might know that they deserved such a vengeance, and that they might perceive that they were worse than the Sodomites. For it was not the Prophet’s object to expostulate with God, or to charge him with having been too rigid in destroying the city of Jerusalem. As, then, the Prophet does not charge God either with injustice or with cruelty, it is certain that punishment is what is here set forth, in order that the people might know what they deserved. 212212     The early versions and the Targ. render the words “iniquity,” and “sin;” but modern critics agree with Calvin. Penalty and punishment might be suitably adopted. — Ed.

But the words declare nothing more than that God’s vengeance had been severer towards the Jews than towards the Sodomites. How so? it is evident from this reason, because Sodom was consumed as in a moment; and then it is added, and strokes remained not on her. The word יד, id, as it is well known, means hand, a place, but sometimes, metaphorically, a stroke. Interpreters vary here, but I shall not recite the opinions of all, nor is it needful. Those who seem to come nearest to the words of the Prophet, render them thus, “and hands (or forces) have not encamped against her.” But this is a forced and far-fetched meaning. It would run better, “have not remained.” The verb חול chul, means sometimes to encamp and sometimes to remain, to settle. Then the most appropriate meaning would be, that strokes settled not on the Sodomites, while the Jews pined away in their manifold evils. 213213     The clause might be rendered, —
   And not wearied against (or, over) her were hands.

   This is substantially the Sept. and the Syr. Grotius says that the meaning is, that Sodom was destroyed not by human means, that is, not by a siege, as Jerusalem had been. — Ed.
For they did not immediately perish like the Sodomitites; but when God saw them so obstinate in their wickedness, he destroyed some by famine, some by pestilence, and some by the sword; and then the city was not immediately demolished altogether, as it often happens when enemies make a slaughter and kill men, women, and children; but this people were not so destroyed. Many of them were driven into exile, and some of the common people were left to inhabit the ruined cities, for there was dreadful desolation. The king himself, as it has before appeared, was removed to Babylon, but his eyes had previously been pulled out, and his children slain in his presence.

We hence see that the destruction of the city was like a slow consumption: and that thus strokes remained there as it were fixed, which did not happen to Sodom; for Sodom suddenly perished when God thundered against it; but the hand of God did not depart from the Jews, and the strokes or smitings, as I have said, were fixed on them and continued. It follows, —

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