14. Give them, O Lord: what wilt thou give? give them a miscarrying womb and dry breasts.
14. Da illis, Jehova: quid dabis? Da illis valvam abortientem (vel, interficere facientem) et ubera arida.
Interpreters translate these words in a different way: |Give them what thou art about to give,| then they repeats |Give them;| but, as I think, they do not comprehend the design of the Prophet, and are wholly mistaken; for the Prophet appears here as one anxious and perplexed. He therefore presents himself here before God as a suppliant, as though he said, |Lord, I would gladly intercede for this people: what then is it that I should chiefly desire for them? Doubtless my chief wish for them in their miserable dispersion is, that thou wouldest give them a killing womb and dry breasts;| that is, that none may be born of them. Christ says, that when the last destruction of Jerusalem should come, the barren would be blessed (Luke 23:29;) and this he took from the common doctrine of Scripture, for many such passages may be observed in the Prophets. Among the blessings of God, this, we know, is not the least, the birth of a numerous offspring. It is, therefore, a token of dreadful judgement, when barrenness, which in itself is deemed a curse, is desired as an especial blessing. For what can be more miserable than for infants to be snatched from their mothers' bosom? and for children to be killed before their eyes, or for pregnant women to be slain? or for cities and fields to be consumed by fire, so that children, not yet born, should perish together with their mothers? But all these things happen when there is an utter destruction.
We hence see what the prophet chiefly meant: the state of the people would be so deplorable that nothing could be more desirable than the barrenness of the women, that no offspring might be afterwards born, but that the name and memory of the people might by degrees be blotted out.
He has, indeed, already denounced punishments sufficiently grievous and dreadful; but we know that the contumacy and hardness of those are very great on whom religion has no hold. Hence all threatening were derided by that obstinate people. This is the reason why the Prophet now takes the part of an intercessor. |O Lord,|, he adds |give them;| that is, |O Lord, forgive them at least in some measure, and grant them yet something.| And |what wilt thou give?| Here he reasons with himself, being as it were in suspense and perplexity; and he also reasons with God as to what would be the most desirable thing. |I am indeed a suppliant for my own nation, whom I pity; but what shall I ask? I would wish thee, Lord, to pardon this people; but what shall be the way, what can give me comfort, or what sort of remedy yet remains? Certainly I see nothing better than that they should be barren, that none hereafter should be born of them; but that thou shouldest suffer them to consume and die away; for this will be their chief happiness in a condition so deplorable.| It was then the Prophet's design here, to strike hypocrites and profane men with terror, that they might understand that God's vengeance, which was at hand, could by no means be fully expressed; for it would be the best thing for them to be deprived of the blessing of an offspring, that their infants might not perish with them, that they might not see women with child cruelly slain by their enemies, or their children led away as a spoil. That such things as these might not take place, the Prophet says, that barrenness ought to be desired by them as the chief blessing. The Prophet, I doubt not, meant this. It now follows --