1. Moreover take you up a lamentation for the princes of Israel,
1. Et tu tolle lamentu super principes Israel,
2. And say, What is thy mother? A lioness: she lay down among lions, she nourished her whelps among young lions.
2. Et dices, Quare mater vestra leaena inter leones occubuit? in medio leonum educavit catulos suos.
3. And she brought up one of her whelps: it became a young lion, and it learned to catch the prey; it devoured men.
3. Et sustulit unum e catulis suis, leo factus est, et didicit praedari praedam, homines comedit.
4. The nations also heard of him; he was taken in their pit, and they brought him with chains unto the land of Egypt.
4. Et audierunt de ipso Gentes, in fovea ipsarum captus est; et abduxerunt in cathenis in terram AEgypti.
Here the Prophet, under the image of a lion, informs us that whatever evils happened to the Israelites could not be imputed to others. We must understand then his intention: it is not surprising that the Spirit of God insists on a matter not very obscure, since nothing is more obstinate than the pride of men, especially when God chastises them, although they pretend to humility and modesty, yet they swell with pride and are full of bitterness, and, lastly, they can scarcely be induced to confess God to be just, and that they deserve chastisement at his hand. For this reason, therefore, Ezekiel confirms what we formerly saw, that the Jews were not afflicted without deserving it. But he uses, as I have said, a simile taken from lions. He calls the nation itself a lioness: for when he treats of the mother of the people, we know that the offspring is considered. He says, therefore, that the people was full of insolence. The comparison to a lion is sometimes taken in a good sense, as when Moses uses it of the tribe of Judea, as a lion's whelp shall he lie down, (Genesis 49:9,) a, phrase used in a good sense. But here Ezekiel denotes cruelty, as if he had said that all the Jews were fierce and savage beasts. For under the name of mother, as I said, he embraces the whole nation. At the beginning he orders his Prophet to take up a mournful wailing: for thus I interpret the word qynh, kineh, but there is in my judgment an indirect opposition between this lamentation which God dictated to them by his Prophet, and the common complaints which sounded constantly from their tongues. For when their condition was not only ruinous, but utterly deplorable, they made many groanings and bewailings. But at the same time no one extended his thoughts beyond the pressure of present evils they all exclaimed that they were wretched, but no one was anxious to inquire why they were so or whence their miseries arose; nay, they avoided this contemplation. The Prophet then indirectly reproves them, by stating that this mournful complaint was suggested by God, but yet was very different from that ordinary lamentation and howling in which the Jews stopped at blind grief, and never inquired why God was so hostile to them. Take up, therefore, a lamentation, says he, regarding or against the princes of Israel. In this way God does not excuse the people from blame, he only means that not only the common people were lost, but the very flower of the nation and all who were held in honor.
He says next, that their mother lay down among lions, alluding to the people's origin from lions, as we said before, when the Prophet calls Judea the descendant of Canaan, and the sister of Sodom and Samaria. When he now says, their mother lay down among lions, he means that they were shamefully mixed with the corruption of the Gentiles, so that they did not differ from them. But God had chosen them as his peculiar people on the very condition of being separate from all the filth of the Gentiles. There was, therefore, a certain withdrawing of God's favor when the mother of the people lay down among the lions, that is, when they all promiscuously gave themselves up to the perverse morals and superstitions of the Gentiles. He says, that she brought up whelps, or young lions, which she produced to these lions; since their origin was impure, being all Abraham's children, but, as I have said, a degenerate race. He afterwards adds, that the lion's whelp, or young lion, grew up till it became a lion: then it learnt to seize prey, says he, and to devour men. He refers to King Jehoahaz, son of Josiah, (2 Kings 23:30-32:) but he had before asserted that the whole people had a lion's disposition, and that the princes, who were more exalted, were like whelps. As only one lion is here brought forward, it ought to be referred to the violence by which that wicked king manifested his real disposition. But if it be asked whence the lion went forth, the reply is, from amidst his brethren, for they were all lions' whelps, or young lions. They could not administer the government either together or singly, but each devoured his brother, and was devoted to robbery and rapine. The king only, because freed from all fear, could surpass the rest in rapine and robbery with impunity. We see, then, that not only the king was here condemned, but that he becomes the type of the whole nation; because, since no one could restrain his passions, he could rob and devour mankind with unbridled freedom.
He afterwards adds, that the nations had heard, and were taken in their pit-fall. Here Ezekiel states that Jehoahaz was hurled from the royal throne, and taken captive by the Egyptians, not only because God had beheld his cruelty, but because the Gentiles had observed it; and it was notorious among them all. In this way he signifies that the cruelty of King Jehoahaz was intolerable: and he mentions him, since all the neighboring nations had heard of his fame, and had conspired to destroy him; and so he was taken in their pit, and confined by chains, and led away into Egypt. He means, as I said, Jehoahaz, whom King Pharaoh-nechoh took captive. (2 Kings 23; 2 Chronicles 36.) For when he thought that the Egyptians were distracted by foreign wars, he took the opportunity of collecting an army, and endeavored to seize on certain neighboring cities. But Pharaoh, after he was disengaged from other business, entered Judea, and since Jehoahaz was unable to resist, he was taken. We now understand the Prophet's meaning, namely, when this first calamity and destruction happened to the Jews they were justly chastised, because they were young lions; and a lion had sprung from them whose cruelty was already intolerable to the profane Gentiles: this is the sense of the passage. Now if we consider who was the father of Jehoahaz this will be more detestable. For we know, that if ever any king excelled in piety and every virtue, Josiah was among the number: and from the son being so unlike his father, we perceive his perverse disposition. There can be no doubt that his father desired to instruct him in the fear and worship of God, and to train him to the discharge of the royal office. But if we descend to the whole people, the prodigy will be yet more detestable. For we know with what fervor and zeal Josiah strove to form the morals of the people, so that the kingdom should be entirely renewed. But the people soon declined, so that the Holy Spirit says, their mother was a lioness, and lay down among lions, whence we see their depraved nature. It now follows --