In Lamentations, the Poet refers over and over again to poor Zion, which has been utterly destroyed:
He has broken down his booth like a garden, he has destroyed his tabernacle; the Lord has abolished in Zion festival and sabbath, and in his fierce indignation has spurned king and priest. The Lord has scorned his altar, disowned his sanctuary; he has delivered into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; a clamor was raised in the house of the Lord as on a day of festival. The Lord determined to lay in ruins the wall of daughter Zion; he stretched the line; he did not withhold his hand from destroying; he caused rampart and wall to lament; they languish together. Her gates have sunk into the ground; he has ruined and broken her bars. (2:6-9)
Here we have the most important city in the Jewish world. It's the center of the people's lives. It's the place where God literally calls home. And it's been leveled to the ground. All Zion's glory and majesty is gone.
The Poet also talks about Zion exclusively in feminine terms:
- From daughter Zion has departed all her majesty. (1:6)
- Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her. (1:17)
- How the Lord in his anger has humiliated daughter Zion! (2:1)
- To what compare you, O daughter Jerusalem? To what can I liken you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter Zion? (2:13)
- They hiss and wag their heads at daughter Jerusalem; "Is this the city that was called the perfection of beauty, the joy of all the earth?" (2:15)
- The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter Zion, is accomplished. (4:22)
This image of "daughter Zion" is pretty common throughout the Bible. Here it has a little twist of irony. If Jerusalem is like God's daughter, then she's entitled to her father's protection. She's a young, beautiful girl who should be shielded from the horrors of the world. But God pretty much let the Babylonians rape and pillage her. That's grim.
Zion really represents how far the people have fallen. Jerusalem was once an awesome city, but now it's just a pile of rubble. We're supposed to juxtapose its former glory and beauty to the total ruin it's become.
- How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed! The sacred stones lie scattered at the head of every street. The precious children of Zion, worth their weight in fine gold-- how they are reckoned as earthen pots, the work of a potter's hands! (4.1)
- Those who feasted on delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple cling to ash heaps. (4.5)
- Her princes were purer than snow, whiter than milk; their bodies were more ruddy than coral, their hair like sapphire. Now their visage is blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets. Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as wood. (4.7)
The city has been destroyed, but so has the Jewish way of life and the people's relationship with God. Can it ever heal?
In Pop Culture
Zion pops up all over the place. Lots of other religious traditions dig the idea of a holy utopia where everyone is blissful.
- Christians believe that God will start a "new Jerusalem" (Revelation 21:2) when Jesus comes back. Sweet.
- In the Rastafarian tradition, Zion is associated with Africa or an idealized place of peace and unity.
- Someone who's a "Zionist," is a person who believes the Jewish people are entitled to a national home in Israel based on their historical attachment to the land.
But secular types have fun with Zion, too. It has connotations of a mystical homeland:
- The human-controlled, underground city in the Matrix movies is called Zion. It's pretty run down, so it's had a battle or two with Babylon.
- Zion is also the name of a space station in the novel, Neuromancer.
In 2012, there were 1,516 babies born named Zion. Cool name—wonder if they were boys or girls.