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A Final Plea for God's Remembrance
Many scholars have mentioned the differences of this chapter from the preceding four. Although it has exactly twenty two verses in the same pattern as the others, it is not an acrostic. Furthermore, it is not primarily a dirge, but a national prayer, most probably written by Jeremiah upon behalf of the beleaguered people of God. In its conclusion, it rises above all the sorrows in the magnificent appeal to Him whose throne is forever and ever. The final appeal for God to "turn Israel" unto himself should be the prayer of the Church in every generation. May God "turn us all" unto Him, who alone is our hope of eternal life.
"Remember, O Jehovah, what has come upon us:
Behold and see our reproach."
In faithful submission to God's will, this lays the profound burden of the people's anguish before the Lord, pleading merely for him to look upon it and to behold the manifold wretchedness of their condition. Their king Hezekiah, when Sennacherib threatened the city, did a similar thing, when he spread the insulting message of the Assyrian king before the presence of God in the Temple (2 Kings 19:14). Price called this chapter, "A national prayer to Jehovah, Zion's only hope and help." "It is not a dirge, but a nation's prayer for compassion." Nevertheless, the Douay Version heads this chapter as, "The Prayer of Jeremiah." It was the prophet's prayer for the suffering nation.
THEY ARE BARELY ABLE TO SURVIVE
"Our inheritance is turned unto strangers,
Our houses unto aliens.
We are orphans and fatherless;
Our mothers are as widows.
We have drunken our water for money;
Our wood is sold unto us."
The rest of the Bible does not give a very graphic picture of the oppression of Israel during their captivity; but in these lines, the stark ugliness, injustice, greed and sadistic cruelty of it are plainly visible. The conquerors had taken over everything. Note the expressions, `our water,' and `our wood.' Without limit these necessities had once belonged to Israel; now they could use such things only by buying them from their enemies.
THE REMAINING PEOPLE WERE ENSLAVED
"Our pursuers are upon our necks;
We are weary, and have no rest.
We have given the land to the Egyptians,
And to the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread.
Our fathers sinned, and are not;
And we have borne their iniquities.
Servants rule over us:
There is none to deliver us out of their hand.
We get our bread at the peril of our lives,
Because of the sword of the wilderness."
These verses describe the condition of the poorest people of the land who had been left behind by the Chaldean conquerors. The land owners were not these poor Israelites but the Assyrians and Egyptians who also laid heavy tribute upon them. In addition to that the Babylonian `servants' (governors) over them also exacted heavy taxes to be forwarded to Babylon. The people were not allowed any rest, for they were essentially slaves.
"The Egyptians ... and the Assyrians" (Lamentations 5:6). "These are mentioned here as indications of the geographical areas to which some of the people had gone in order to survive."
"Servants rule over us" (Lamentations 5:8). "Babylonian satraps were often the promoted slaves of the king's household."
Price's description of this is accurate:
"They lack the necessities of life; homes and loved ones are gone; they must pay black market prices even for wood and water; they work incessantly; they beg bread from their enemies; they are enslaved and ruled over by former servants."
"Because of the sword of the wilderness" (Lamentations 5:9). Cook accurately understood the `sword of the wilderness' here to be that of Bedouin marauders. "Those who had been left in the land, in their attempt to gather such fruits as might have remained, were exposed to incursions by the Bedouin." Ash noted that, "The captivity was terrible, but the fate of those left in the land was no less so."
FURTHER DEPLORABLE CONDITIONS OF GOD'S PEOPLE
"Our skin is black like an oven,
Because of the burning heat of famine.
They ravished the women in Zion,
The virgins in the cities of Judah.
Princes were hanged by their hand:
The faces of elders were not honored.
The young men bare the mill;
And the children stumbled under the wood.
The elders have ceased from the gate,
The young men from their music."
"They ravished the women ... the virgins of the cities of Judah" (Lamentations 5:11). This is an accompanying vice of warfare that is just as much a part of modern wars as it was in antiquity. Nothing is more terrible and disgusting than the wholesale rape of the women (all of them) by an army of enemies. The bestiality of wicked men unrestrained by any outside force is the utmost in depravity.
"Princes were hanged up by their hand" (Lamentations 5:12). Recent translations read, "Princes were hung up by their hands," and, "Our leaders have been taken and hanged." The clause was also translated, "Princes were hanged by the hand of the enemy." Evidently, there is some uncertainty as to the exact meaning. Hanging a victim by his hands was a form of crucifixion. Dummelow also mentioned a custom of those times in which, "They impaled bodies after death in order to expose them to the most utter contempt possible."
"Young men bare the mill ... children stumbled under the wood" (Lamentations 5:13). What we have here is, "The disgrace of young men being compelled to do the work usually assigned to women or slaves (grinding at the mill)." Also, we see the abuse of the children in their being compelled to carry burdens too heavy for a child.
"Elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their music." (Lamentations 5:14). "Under the pressure of their circumstances, all public meetings and amusements had ceased." The gates of ancient cities were places where public meetings, trials and rallies of all kinds were held. "The mention of young men and their instrumental music here indicates that the city gates were also places of amusement and entertainment." All such things were impossible under the conditions imposed upon Israel by their conquerors.
ALL GOD'S PEOPLE ARE HEARTBROKEN
"The joy of our heart is ceased;
Our dance is turned into mourning.
The crown is fallen from our head:
Woe unto us! for we have sinned.
For this our heart is faint;
For these things our eyes are dim.
For the mountain of Zion, which is desolate:
The foxes walk upon it."
"The joy of our heart is ceased" (Lamentations 5:15). "At last the community have come to realize the deep significance of her sin by its consequences." Today if sinners walking in their own lustful ways in rebellion against the moral government of God Himself could only realize the eternal consequences of their sins, no doubt some of them, at least, would renounce the works of the flesh and obey the gospel of the Son of God. The failure of the modern pulpit to stress the true consequences of wickedness is part of the reason behind prevalent iniquity. The same reticence of the ancient prophets of the people of God to stress this same fact was also part of the reason for Israel's shameful apostasy.
"Woe unto us! for we have sinned" (Lamentations 5:16) Osborne offered the following as a better translation: "Alas, that we ever sinned."
"For this our heart is faint ... our eyes dim, for the mountain of Zion ... is desolate: the foxes walk upon it" (Lamentations 5:17-18). The last clause here is better rendered, "The jackals prowl over it." "These words are a transition to the final appeal. Although the thought of Zion's desolation is overwhelming, the prophet will lift himself up again when he recalls the sublime truth of the inviolable security of Israel's God."
"The mountain of Zion is desolate" (Lamentations 5:18). This is the climax of all that is wrong in Israel. "Zion is the central symbol of God's presence, the visible sign of Israel's election, and it is deserted! This was the very ultimate of all the terrible things that had happened to Israel.
THE FINAL TRIUMPHANT APPEAL TO GOD
"Thou, O Jehovah, abidest forever;
Thy throne is from generation to generation.
Wherefore dost thou forget us forever,
And forsake us so long time?
Turn thou us unto thee, O Jehovah, and we shall be turned.
Renew our days as of old.
But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us."
"Thy throne is from generation to generation" (Lamentations 5:19). "Although the crown has fallen from the head of David's dynasty (Lamentations 5:16), which has been sent crashing to the earth, the throne of God still abides."
"A noble faith is awakened here, finding its expression in the wonderful words from Psalms 80, `Turn us again, O Jehovah,' thus laying upon Jehovah the task of initiating Israel's restoration: Thou must give us the compelling spirit, else we can do nothing."
"Wherefore dost thou forget us forever" (Lamentations 5:20)? Adam Clarke agreed that these words should be read interrogatively, "Wilt thou be angry with us for ever"? The words carry the thought, "Surely, O God, thou wilt not be angry with the people for ever."
"Turn thou us unto thee, O Jehovah" (Lamentations 5:21). This is important. Paul may plant, Apollos may water, but "only God can give the increase." (1 Corinthians 3:6). Men cannot `stir up' a revival. Only God must inspire men to turn from wickedness unto the God of all creation.
Coffman's Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Lamentations 5". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25