Miseries of the Besieged City*
1How the gold has lost its luster,
the noble metal changed;
Jewels* lie scattered
at the corner of every street.
2And Zion’s precious children,
worth their weight in gold—
How they are treated like clay jugs,
the work of any potter!a
3Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young;
But the daughter of my people is as cruel
4The tongue of the infant cleaves
to the roof of its mouth in thirst;
Children beg for bread,
but no one gives them a piece.
5Those who feasted on delicacies
are abandoned in the streets;
Those who reclined on crimson*
now embrace dung heaps.c
6The punishment of the daughter of my people
surpassed the penalty of Sodom,
Which was overthrown in an instant
with no hand laid on it.d
7Her princes were brighter than snow,
whiter than milk,
Their bodies more ruddy than coral,
their beauty like the sapphire.
8Now their appearance is blacker than soot,
they go unrecognized in the streets;
Their skin has shrunk on their bones,
and become dry as wood.e
9Better for those pierced by the sword
than for those pierced by hunger,
Better for those who bleed from wounds
than for those who lack food.
10The hands of compassionate women
have boiled their own children!
They became their food
when the daughter of my people was shattered.f
11The LORD has exhausted his anger,
poured out his blazing wrath;
He has kindled a fire in Zion
that has consumed her foundations.g
12The kings of the earth did not believe,
nor any of the world’s inhabitants,
That foe or enemy could enter
the gates of Jerusalem.
13Except for the sins of her prophets
and the crimes of her priests,
Who poured out in her midst
the blood of the just.h
14They staggered blindly in the streets,
defiled with blood,
So that people could not touch
even their garments:i
15“Go away! Unclean!” they cried to them,
“Away, away, do not touch!”
If they went away and wandered,
it would be said among the nations,
“They can no longer live here!
16The presence of the LORD was their portion,
but he no longer looks upon them.
The priests are shown no regard,
the elders, no mercy.
17Even now our eyes are worn out,
searching in vain for help;
From our watchtower we have watched
for a nation* unable to save.
18They dogged our every step,
we could not walk in our squares;
Our end drew near, our time was up;
yes, our end had come.
19Our pursuers were swifter
than eagles in the sky,
In the mountains they were hot on our trail,
they ambushed us in the wilderness.j
20The LORD’s anointed—our very lifebreath!—*
was caught in their snares,
He in whose shade we thought
to live among the nations.k
21Rejoice and gloat, daughter Edom,
dwelling in the land of Uz,*
The cup will pass to you as well;
you shall become drunk and strip yourself naked!l
22Your punishment is completed, daughter Zion,
the Lord will not prolong your exile;
The Lord will punish your iniquity, daughter Edom,
will lay bare your sins.m
* [4:1–22] This chapter returns to the focus of chaps. 1 and 2, namely the horrors of a siege. Unlike chaps. 1 and 2, however, the character of personified Zion never interrupts the voice of the poet to protest her abject state. As a result, the emotion of the poem is less intense, while at the same time seeming more grim on account of its lack of petition to the Lord.
* [4:1–2] Jewels: lit., “holy stones.” These precious things designate the children who are abandoned, starving, and killed in the siege of Jerusalem (cf. Zec 9:16). Another explanation is that these are the stones of the destroyed Temple.
* [4:5] Crimson: a sign of luxury. Tyrian purple, a red-purple or blue-purple dye produced from shellfish, was very expensive and the only colorfast dye in the ancient Near East. Thus purple or crimson cloth was available only to the wealthy.
* [4:17] A nation: probably Egypt, which failed to give effective aid against Babylon.
* [4:20] Our very lifebreath: lit., “the breath of our nostrils,” that is, the king. This expression occurs in Egyptian texts of the late second millennium B.C., and may have survived as a royal epithet in the Jerusalem court. After the disaster of 598 B.C. (2 Kgs 24:1–17), Jerusalem could have hoped to live in peace amidst her neighbors; but they (vv. 21–22) as well as Babylon turned against her to ensure her total devastation in 587 B.C.