The Word Made Fresh
1Gold has lost its luster and its worth.
Even the purest gold is changed!
Sacred stones lie scattered on every street.
2The dear sons of Zion, who are worth their weight in gold,
are treated like clay pots,
merely the work of a potter’s hands.
3Even mother jackals nurse their young,
but my people have become cruel
like ostriches in the wilderness.
4The baby’s tongue sticks to the roof of its mouth,
so thirsty, begging for food.
But they are given nothing.
5Those who once ate rare delicacies now starve to death
and those who were brought up in wealthy families
cling to property that is no more than an ash pile.
6My people have been punished worse than Sodom
which was destroyed in a moment,
even though no enemy’s hand was against it.
7Their princes were pure as snow, white as milk,
their skin redder than coral
and their hair like lapis lazuli.
8Now they are black as soot, and no one recognizes them in the streets.
Their skin has shrunk on their bones
and is as dry as wood.
9Those who were killed by the sword were happier than those who starved;
their lives are ebbing away
with no crops produced in the fields.
10Women who loved their children have boiled them for meat.
Their own children became their food
while my people were being destroyed.
11The LORD’s anger was poured out without restraint,
and flared up as a fire in Zion
that burned even its very foundations.
12The kings of the earth and their people
did not believe that any foe
could enter the gates of Jerusalem.
13But it was because of the sins of her prophets,
and the corruption of her priests
who shed the blood of the righteous in her midst.
14They wandered through the streets as if they were blind.
They were so stained with blood
no one was allowed to touch their clothing.
15People shouted at them, “Get away from us! Don’t touch us!”
So, they became fugitives. They wandered aimlessly.
The nations all said, “They can’t stay here!”
16It was the LORD who scattered them,
who no longer pays them any attention.
The priests are shown no honor. The elders are given no favor.
17Our eyes grew dim, watching in vain for help.
All the people were watching eagerly,
searching for a nation that couldn’t save them.
18They tagged along behind us. We couldn’t even walk in our own streets.
Our end was near.
Our days were numbered, for our demise had arrived.
19Those who pursued us were swifter than the eagles.
They chased us into the mountains.
They were lying in wait for us in the wilderness.
20The LORD’s anointed one who was our breath, our life,
was taken in their traps, the very one of whom we said,
“We will survive among the nations under his leadership.”
21Rejoice and be glad, Edom, who resides in the land of Uz.
But your time will come for the cup to be placed in your hands,
and you will be drunk and all your clothing will be stripped.
22So, the punishment due you for your sins has been given, daughter Zion.
And the LORD will not keep you exiled forever, daughter Edom,
but your wickedness will be punished, your unfaithfulness revealed.
1-10: The horrors of life for those remaining in Jerusalem are described in heart-breaking detail: rubble in the streets, starving children everywhere, once healthy people now emaciated, people ignoring one another’s needs in the awful choices they have to make in order to survive, and the most horrible of all – women eating their own children to keep from starving to death. It would have been better to have been killed outright than to go through this much suffering.
11-12: In other words, verses 1-10 describe what happens when God’s full wrath is visited on a city. The prophet imagines that such a thing would not have been possible without God’s intent because Jerusalem was so secure. I doubt the kings of the world considered Jerusalem’s gates to be impenetrable — Nebuchadnezzar didn’t — but what Jeremiah is describing is something that for him was completely unimaginable.
13-16: The blame for the disaster is placed squarely on the heads of the very people who should have prevented it — the religious and spiritual leaders of the people. Their actions were so disgraceful that finally even the common people wanted nothing to do with them. “Away! Unclean! Do not touch!” is the language used of lepers in Leviticus 13:45-47. God certainly has no regard for them, and they are now scattered, taken into exile and expelled from the city.
17-20: The text here switches to first person plural, as if the community is now speaking to us. They are remembering the horror; the vain hope for an ally to come to their rescue, the relentless pursuit of enemy soldiers in the streets, refugees being hunted down in the hill country, the king, “the LORD’s anointed,” taken prisoner.
21-22: Edom is once again singled out for special attention. They are gloating now over the state of things in Jerusalem, but their time is coming.
The wrath of God is a terrible thing. Pray for our leaders in government and in religious institutions that their faithfulness will save us from God’s anger. When our leaders are corrupt, our relationship with God is damaged.