No CavalryBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
Rashi says that this chapter is the dirge lamenting King Josiah referred to in II Chronicle 35:25.
Even the gold appears to have dimmed! The holy gems are scattered in the streets! (The Targum says this refers to the gold and jewels of the Temple; Rashi says it refers to the faces of the people, which had formerly shone like gold, and the children, who are like previous gems.) The inhabitants of Jerusalem used to be valued as gold, but now they are like easily-broken pottery. Even fearsome sea creatures care for their young, but now the people of Jerusalem are unable to do so. (Rashi says there is not enough bread for them to feed both their children and themselves.) People who used to feast on delicacies are collapsing in the streets from starvation.
The sin of the nation must have been worse than that of Sodom, since Sodom was overthrown relatively quickly. The Nazirites of the nation, who abstained from Earthly pleasures, were once pure as snow. Now they have become shriveled and blackened like coal, so that they are unrecognizable as the same people. Those who were killed by the sword were the lucky ones, as those who are starving suffer much more. Women are forced to cook their children, whom they love, in order to survive.
G-d poured out His wrath and lit a fire in Jerusalem, consuming it to the ground. The whole world was amazed that an enemy could actually take Jerusalem; this only happened because the false prophets enabled the people in their sins, such as the murder of the kohein (priest) Zechariah. (We’ll read about that in II Chronicles 24.) People stagger through the streets as if blind. They are covered in blood so that others drive them away as unclean. This causes them to be separated from other people; G-d did this to them in His anger. They will no longer enjoy His consideration because they did not respect their priests and they did not defer to their elders. (Or “Because the people did not respect the priests, the invaders did not take it easy on the elders.” Verse 16 is a Kri/Ksiv in which the way words are written differs from the way they are read. An additional “and” in the oral version allows for the variant interpretations.)
The people strained their vision looking for help that never arrived. They had hired the army of Egypt, but the soldiers fled back to their homeland. (Rashi refers us to Isaiah 30:7 and Jeremiah 37:7 for more about Egypt in this regard.) The invaders hunted the inhabitants of Jerusalem to such a degree that the people knew their end was imminent. The enemy pursued them swiftly and lay in wait for them. The invaders captured King Josiah, the “breath” of the nation, who was their last hope.
Jeremiah tells Edom (Rome, who would destroy the Second Temple) to laugh it up while they can, because their time will come. Israel has received her punishment – they have nowhere to go but up! But Edom’s punishment is yet to come and they’ll get theirs in due time.