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JERUSALEM; THE GRIEVING WIDOW,
THE THEME OF LAMENTATIONS
"How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people!
She has become as a widow, she that was great among the nations!
She that was a princess among the provinces is become tributary!
She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks;
Among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her:
All her friends have dealt treacherously with her;
they are become her enemies.
Judah is gone into captivity,
because of affliction and because of great servitude;
She dwelleth among the nations, she findeth no rest.
All her persecutors overtook her within the straits."
"How doth the city sit solitary" (Lamentations 1:1). "The word `How' is the characteristic introduction to an elegy, or a dirge." The Hebrew text used the word as the title of the book; and it carries the sense, "Behold, how great a tragedy!"
There is no continuity of thought in Lamentations. "It repeats themes in various ways, with numerous descriptions of calamity, along with psychological and emotional reactions of the people."
"She is become as a widow" (Lamentations 1:2). "Many years later, a Roman coin struck by Titus (70 A.D.) depicted a woman sitting under a palm-tree with the inscription `JUDEA CAPTA' (as in Lamentations 1:3)." A grief-stricken woman sitting in misery and poverty represented the common fate of countless widows in antiquity, and this was an apt portrayal of the humiliation of the Chosen People.
"Among all her lovers ... none to comfort her" (Lamentations 1:2). "These lovers were those nations such as Egypt who had wooed her into their alliance against Babylon (Jeremiah 27:3)." Of course, they supported Judea only so long as it served their own selfish interests to do so; and Judah's stupidity in this was most reprehensible because they ignored the urgent and repeated warnings of their holy prophets against such alliances with those false lovers.
"All her friends, ... are become her enemies" (Lamentations 1:2). "The prophecy of Isaiah has come true (Isaiah 39:5-7; 47:8,9)." The mighty Jerusalem, once the great capital of Solomon's extensive empire, to which many nations paid tribute, has now fallen to cruel and arrogant conquerors. Once respected and honored, now hated and despised; once flourishing and prosperous, now forsaken and deserted, her Temple looted and burned, her walls broken down, her population butchered or deported, except for the poorest of the land, her condition was pitiful indeed. "And her plight was made even worse by the pagan environment."
May this terrible disgrace and humiliation of the proudest nation of all antiquity be a lesson for those nations which today are called "super-powers." Let them (including the U.S.A.) remember why it happened to Judea; and as Matthew Henry wrote, "Let no family, no state, no nation, no Babylon, nor any other, proudly boast of their security, saying, `I sit as a queen and shall never sit as a widow' (Isaiah 47:8; Revelation 17:7)." "The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (Daniel 4:25).
"Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction" (Lamentations 1:3). This was true in two ways. Judah had been forced into captivity by the military arm of Babylon, which resulted in captivity and servitude, but there was also a contingent of Judah, who attempted to escape their bondage by fleeing into Egypt. Jeremiah was probably taken against his will with that group. Cheyne wrote that, "Here the prophet is not thinking of the deportation of the captives, but of the Jews who sought refuge in foreign lands (Jeremiah 40:11)." Dummelow also favored this understanding of Lamentations 1:3. "This means that the Jews sought exile in order to escape the sufferings to which they were exposed in their native land."
"Here persecutors overtook her within the straits" (Lamentations 1:3). This may very well be a reference to Nebuchadnezzar's capture of the fleeing Zedekiah who tried to escape the siege of Jerusalem. Jerusalem's doom was sealed in that capture.
THE REASON FOR JERUSALEM'S HUMILIATION
"The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn assembly;
All her gates are desolate, her priests do sigh;
Her virgins are afflicted, and she herself is in bitterness.
Her adversaries are become the head, her enemies prosper;
For Jehovah hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions:
Her young children are gone into captivity before the adversary.
And from the daughter of Zion all her majesty is departed:
Her princes are become like harts that find no pasture,
And they are gone without strength before the pursuer.
Jerusalem remembereth in the day of her affliction and of her miseries;
all the pleasant things that were from the days of old:
When her people fell into the hand of the adversary,
and none did help her,
The adversaries saw her, they did mock at her desolations."
"The ways of Zion do mourn" (Lamentations 1:4). The `ways' were the roads leading to Jerusalem, which before the captivity were thronged with traffic as thousands made their way to the great annual festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles. No one attended any more. The inaccurate critical canard that, "The word Zion here was not a sanctuary name till after the exile," is disproved by the 43 times that Isaiah so used the term, plus the seventeen times Jeremiah used it, as well as many, many other times the term is found in Psalms, Amos, Joel and other prophets. Those who try to date Lamentations far later than the times of Jeremiah will need to come up with something a lot better than that.
"For the multitude of her transgressions" (Lamentations 1:5). There is a reason for the overwhelming destruction that befell Jerusalem, not merely in the instance of Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of it, but also again in 70 A.D. when Vespasian and Titus reduced it to rubble. The first destruction was due to the total apostasy of the wicked nation in their total departure from the Law of Moses, and the second was due to their consciousless rejection of the true Messiah the Son of God. Nations that today reject the Christian religion are asking for the same fate that again and again overwhelmed Jerusalem. The fact that evil men do not believe it is immaterial.
"Her young children are gone into captivity ... before the adversary" (Lamentations 1:5;). "They went not as a flock of lambs that follow the shepherd, but as slaves driven like cattle before the army of the Chaldeans."
"The language of this verse may be drawn from Deuteronomy 28:24, which describes the judgment that would be visited upon a disobedient Israel."
"They are gone without strength before the pursuer" (Lamentations 1:6). "This refers to Zedekiah and the nobles who have turned tail and fled away." Also, there appears here a possible excuse for their capture. They fled "without strength," (a reference to the famine (2 Kings 25:4). From hunger and starvation they were weakened and easily outrun and captured by the Chaldeans.
"They did mock at her desolations" (Lamentations 1:7). The derision and mockery of God's chosen people was perhaps the bitterest part of their punishment. They had forsaken the true God in order to revel in the lascivious worship of the gods of the pagans; and now the devotees of those pagan gods and goddesses were reveling in their mockery and taunting derisions of the Israel of God. It is little wonder that Israel, in this, forever rejected those pagan deities, never again stooping to honor their worship.
JERUSALEM'S PUNISHMENT RELATED TO HER SINS
"Jerusalem hath grievously sinned;
therefore she is become as an unclean thing;
All that honored her despise her,
because they have seen her nakedness:
Yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward.
Her filthiness was in her skirts;
she remembered not her latter end;
Therefore is she come down wonderfully;
she hath no comforter.
Behold, O Jerusalem, my affliction;
for the enemy hath magnified himself.
The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things:
For she hath seen that the nations are entered into her sanctuary,
Concerning whom thou didst command
that they should not enter thine assembly.
All her people sigh, they seek bread;
They have given their pleasant things for food to refresh the soul"
"They have seen her nakedness" (Lamentations 1:8). The wickedness of Israel was adultery, the taking of the worship which properly belonged to God alone (her husband) and the giving of it to the pagan gods and goddesses of the people, spiritual adultery, as it was called; however, it was the brazen immorality of that idol worship which constituted its principal offense; and that is what is meant by the reference in Lamentations 1:9 that, "her filthiness was in her skirts." In ancient times, the punishment of an immoral woman was a brutal public display of her naked body, in which her skirts were tied above her head and she was shamefully scourged out of society. (See our commentary under Nahum 3:5 for a further discussion of this type of humiliation.)
"She sigheth, and turneth backward" (Lamentations 1:8). "She turns her back upon her spectators in order to hide herself from their gaze." We can understand why she would not face her tormenters. The gross and shameful humiliation of Jerusalem in the calamities which had befallen her were equivalent in every way to that ancient, shameless punishment of harlots. "The proud lady (Jerusalem) has become a fallen woman by participating in the demoralizing rites of the worship of Baal." In consequence, she is suffering a similar shame and humiliation.
"She remembered not her latter end" (Lamentations 1:9). "She took no thought of her doom; she failed to consider the consequences of her actions until it was too late."
"The nations are entered into her sanctuary" (Lamentations 1:10). "The magnitude of this defilement of the Temple is seen in that it was the symbol of God's presence and Israel's privilege." No Gentile was permitted to enter it; and only one Israelite could enter it, and he could do so only once in the year, namely, when the High Priest entered upon the day of Atonement. Now, the Chaldeans had not only entered and desecrated it; they had also looted its treasures.
"They have given their precious things for food" (Lamentations 1:11). Ash pointed out the gruesome truth that, "This may very well mean that they sold their children for food. The same word used here for `precious things' means `children' in Hosea 9:16 and Ezekiel 24:16."
It should be noted that up through Lamentations 1:11a, the perspective of the narrator is that of an onlooker, speaking of Jerusalem in the third person; but in Lamentations 1:11b, there is a dramatic shift to the first person; and in the balance of the chapter, the ruined city herself speaks in the first person. This is why the versions divide the chapter into two paragraphs (1) Lamentations 1:1-11a, and (2) Lamentations 1:11b-22.
GOD HAS BOUND THE YOKE OF MY SINS UPON ME
"See, O Jehovah, and Behold, for I am abject.
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?
Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow,
which is brought upon me,
Wherewith Jehovah hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.
From on high hath he sent fire into my bones,
and it prevaileth against them;
He hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back.
He hath made me desolate and faint all the day.
The yoke of my transgression is bound by his hand;
They are knit together, they are come upon my neck;
he hath made my strength to fail:
The Lord hath delivered me into their hands,
Against whom I am not able to stand."
"From here to the end of the chapter the emphasis is upon God's responsibility in the things that have happened to Jerusalem."
"In the day of his fierce anger" (Lamentations 1:12). This day had already arrived for Jerusalem, but there is also a consciousness here of a similar day that shall arrive for the pagan nations that have humiliated Jerusalem; and the last half of the chapter will also emphasize that fact. "Most modern commentators ignore the severity of the divine nature. They fail to see that real goodness does not indulge evil."
"The yoke of my transgressions ... are come upon my neck" (Lamentations 1:14). "This is a powerful example of a people reaping what they have sown." In the days of their kings, as for example in the case of Solomon, they had enslaved the residue of the peoples of Canaan; now they themselves were enslaved. The metaphor employed here is from the plowman. "As he binds the yoke upon the necks of the oxen, so God compels Judah (and all men) to bear the burden of their sins."
"These words are a torrential flood of pent-up emotions; but there is no resentment; she freely confesses that she has rebelled against God, allowing that he is in the right; and she appeals to him as her only hope."
JERUSALEM IS HELPLESS UNDER GOD'S PUNISHMENT
"The Lord hath set at naught all my mighty men in the midst of me;
He hath called a solemn assembly against me to crush my young men:
The Lord hath trodden as in a winepress the virgin daughter of Judah.
For these things, I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water;
Because the comforter that should refresh my soul is far from me:
My children are desolate, because the enemy hath prevailed.
Zion spreadeth forth her hands; there is none to comfort her;
Jehovah hath commanded concerning Jacob,
that they that are round about him should be his adversaries:
Jerusalem is among them as an unclean thing.
Jehovah is righteous, for I have rebelled against his commandment:
Hear, I pray ye, all ye peoples, and behold my sorrow:
My virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.
I called for my lovers, but they deceived me:
My priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city,
While they sought them food to refresh their souls."
These tragic lines hardly need any comment. They repeat in different words many of the thoughts already uttered.
"The assembly" (Lamentations 1:15) is probably a reference to the great army of Babylon."
"Mine eye, mine eye" (Lamentations 1:16). "This emphatic repetition reminds one of Jeremiah's style elsewhere (Jeremiah 4:10; 6:14)."
"Jehovah hath commanded concerning Jacob" (Lamentations 1:17). "Jehovah had commanded that Jacob's enemies should be about him (Isaiah 23:11)."
"I have rebelled against thy commandment" (Lamentations 1:18). This repeated confession emphasizes the repentance and godly sorrow of the Chosen People, that is, the true Israel of God, not the vast majority of the `sinful nation.'
"My priests ... and elders ... gave up the ghost ... while they sought for food" (Lamentations 1:19). "This simply means they died of hunger, and that the young men and maidens were taken away as captives." "It was indeed a terrible famine when even the priests and elders starved to death."
JERUSALEM PRAYS FOR GOD'S VENGEANCE UPON HER ENEMIES
"Behold, O Jehovah, for I am in distress; my heart is troubled;
My heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled:
Abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is death.
They have heard that I sigh; there is none to comfort me;
All mine enemies have heard of my trouble;
they are glad that thou hast done it:
Thou wilt bring the day that thou hast proclaimed,
and they shall be like unto me.
Let all their wickedness come before thee;
And do unto them, as thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions:
For my sighs are many, and my heart is faint."
God indeed answered this prayer, in time, bringing an even more terrible judgment upon Babylon than upon Jerusalem. The awful destruction of Jerusalem actually made the destruction of all the pagan nations surrounding her an urgent necessity from God's viewpoint, because the ancient idea was that the defeat of any nation meant also the defeat of their God. Thus, the apostasy of God's people and the necessity of their destruction put the purpose of the Almighty absolutely back to square one as far as convincing all nations of his righteous reign among men was concerned.
"At home there is death" (Lamentations 1:20). "Jeremiah spoke clearly of this: `Death is come up into our windows; he hath entered our palaces, to cut off the infants without, and the young men in our streets' (Jeremiah 9:21)." "These terrible conditions were exactly what God through Moses had prophesied in case Israel rebelled against him (Deuteronomy 32:25)."
"This prayer amounts to a prophecy that God would indeed destroy the idolatrous nations of antiquity)." It was a prayer; but it was also a prophecy which was most circumstantially fulfilled.
"Although this prayer falls far below the plane of the Sermon on the Mount, it is nevertheless justified upon the basis of the recognition within it that wickedness is offensive to God; and that God will most certainly punish it."
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Lamentations 1". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19