The siege. Finally the enemy encamped round Jerusalem, and all of us holed up, waiting for food and water to fail, and for us to become weak enough that the enemy could easily end it. The worst thing was not the false prophets who kept on and on promising the King victory against Babylon. How they were listened to, believed, and how they put me to shame. Nor was it being imprisoned as a traitor in the barracks. Of course I was a traitor, I spoke ceaselessly against what they called ‘the war effort’. I saw only misery and defeat. We needed to surrender. I spoke to the soldiers of it. They put me into a black slimy cistern, a water-holder, yards and yards deep. I sank into the mud, wondering how deep it was, and when it would cover my mouth. But it did not. I stood there, waiting for exhaustion to take me, for me to fall asleep under the smothering filthy blanket.
Being unexpectedly drawn up by kind hands – hands which had padded the ropes that hauled up my thin, exhausted flesh. That was actually good, for all that I had resigned myself to death. They dragged me before Zedekiah the King, and left me there. And there he stood. He was starving, we all were as the siege pressed on and on, yet he was still dressed in gorgeous embroidered robes and well enough fed to stand without effort. And there I stood, mud up to the loins, shatteringly tired, and swaying with lack of food. And he begged me. He implored me. He wanted the truth, finally. Surrender, I told him. End it now, get what mercy you can.
He was too afraid to do it. I promised him what I promised everyone who would stand still long enough to be told. A new covenant, not based on sacrifices and rituals, and physical circumcision. Instead based on love, on each man and woman and child devoting themselves directly to Yahweh. A heart with the shell removed, a soft, tender, bare thing. That Jerusalem would be rebuilt and would flourish as a centre of justice and mercy where all tribes and all nations would be well treated. And that, that is what he was too afraid to accept. And as I looked at him and little pools of mud gathered around my feet, I pitied him, who was so much more afraid than I was.
In the end, when inevitably the city fell, they made him watch his sons being executed and then put his eyes out. I wept for him when I heard that. But that was not the worst thing. And neither was it the breach in the walls, and the soldiers pouring in, and the brutality of them, and the horrible profane hands snatching all the precious holy things, and my suddenly realising how much I cared for the Temple after all.
No the worst thing, the very worst thing, was before that. It was watching a woman nurse her child who was dying because there was no milk in her breasts. That was the worst thing. A mother weeping over her dead son.