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I. THE DESTRUCTION AND MISERY OF JERUSALEM (THE FIRST LAMENT) CH. 1
This acrostic lament contains a variety of similar statements describing the destruction and the consequent misery of Jerusalem. Thus, the two section titles that follow describe a slight shift in viewpoint, rather than a major division of the chapter into two distinct segments. In the first part (Lamentations 1:1-11), the prophet described the desolate city primarily from the viewpoint of an observer. In the second part (Lamentations 1:12-22), he personified Jerusalem bewailing her own desolate condition.
"Jeremiah’s first dirge established the book’s theme-the sorrow of sin." [Note: Dyer, "Lamentations," p. 1211.]
All the dirges in Lamentations express the grief of the defeated Jerusalemites. But the miserable condition of the city is most prominent in this first one, not so much what she had undergone as what she had become.
Jeremiah bewailed the abandoned city of Jerusalem that had once been so glorious and independent. Sitting alone is sometimes a picture of deep sorrow and mourning (cf. Lamentations 2:10; Ezra 9:3; Nehemiah 1:4). Now the city was as solitary as a widow and as servile as a forced laborer. It had changed in three ways: numerically, economically, and socially.
"Jerusalem, a city which used to be close to God, has been changed by the choice of significant men. They have turned away from Him when they knew Him, and now their city is under siege. There is death in the city." [Note: Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City, pp. 17-18.]
1. The extent of the devastation 1:1-7
A. An observer’s sorrow over Jerusalem’s condition 1:1-11
Jeremiah first viewed Jerusalem’s destruction as an outsider looking in. Lamentations 1:1-7 describe the extent of the desolation and Lamentations 1:8-11 its cause.
The prophet personified Jerusalem as a young girl abandoned by her lovers and betrayed by her friends (cf. Jeremiah 4:30; Jeremiah 30:14). Normally weeping gives way to sleep at night, but when it does not, sorrow is very great indeed.
The prophet then expounded on the calamity (Lamentations 1:3-6). Judah had gone into exile because of the affliction and servitude that Yahweh had allowed Babylon to impose on her. She was out of the Promised Land, where God had said she would find rest (cf. Deuteronomy 12:10; Deuteronomy 25:19; Joshua 21:44; Joshua 23:1; 2 Samuel 7:1; 2 Samuel 7:11; 1 Kings 8:56; Psalms 95). Now there was no rest for her, but only distress, as the people lived among the Gentiles.
No Judahites came to the feasts in Jerusalem because they were in exile. Consequently the roads mourned that pilgrims did not cover them with joyful song. Jerusalem’s gates missed the constant flow of people in and out of the city. The gates were where people congregated to transact business, to carry out legal transactions, and to socialize. The few priests and virgins left there were lonely and miserable.
Jerusalem’s enemies had become her masters, since God had caused them to prevail because of Jerusalem’s many sins.
"Over and over again he [Jeremiah] affirmed that the Lord Himself had decreed (Lamentations 1:17; Lamentations 2:17; Lamentations 3:37-38) and sent the calamity (Lamentations 1:5; Lamentations 1:12-15; Lamentations 2:1-8; Lamentations 3:1; Lamentations 3:43-45; Lamentations 4:11)." [Note: Chisholm, p. 359.]
The city was devoid of children since they were in captivity.
Once majestic, Jerusalem now sat humiliated. Her leaders, including Zedekiah and his advisers, had fled like frightened stags that could find no pasture-even though they had been strong in the past (cf. 2 Kings 24:1; 2 Kings 24:12; 2 Kings 25:4-5; Jeremiah 39:4-5).
Jerusalem looked back on better times, now that she was in exile. She remembered how no other nations came to help her-but mocked her-when the Babylonians besieged her (e.g., Ammon, Moab, and Edom).
"The heathen used to mock at the Jews’ Sabbath, as showing their idleness, and term them Sabbatarians . . ." [Note: Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Practical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, p. 662.]
"To this day in Bible lands laughter does not occupy the place it does in the West. . . . In the vast majority of cases, laughter is linked with scorn [cf. Genesis 17:17; Genesis 18:12; Job 8:21; Psalms 126:2]." [Note: Ellison, p. 704.]
Mental anguish accompanied physical hardship.
Jerusalem’s great sinning had resulted in her becoming unclean and despised, like an overexposed woman. She had embarrassed herself; her sins and vices had come to the light. Jeremiah began to explain why calamity had befallen Jerusalem.
"The theme of Jerusalem’s sin, introduced in Lamentations 1:5, is now examined more closely, and ultimately becomes one of the major theological emphases of the book." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 209.]
2. The cause of the desolation 1:8-11
The city had fallen because it had not considered the consequences of its apostasy (cf. Deuteronomy 32:29; Isaiah 47:7). Sin had stuck to her like dirt to the hem of a garment (cf. Leviticus 5:3; Leviticus 7:21). Now the enemy had gained the upper hand and there was no one to comfort her.
Jerusalem’s enemy had gained control of her because she had not kept the temple holy. The Judahites had allowed pagan people to worship with them and so had diluted their allegiance to Yahweh.
The residents of the city did not have enough to eat, even though they had given their valuables for food. The city cried out to Yahweh to look on her despised condition.
Jerusalem bewailed the lack of concern that her desolate condition drew from onlookers in this classic expression of grief. Her pain was uniquely great because the Lord had poured out His wrath on her.
". . . real goodness is not indulgent of evil." [Note: Price, p. 697.]
1. Jerusalem’s call to onlookers 1:12-19
B. Jerusalem’s sorrow over her own condition 1:12-22
In contrast to the first half of the lament, these verses present the picture of an inside observer looking out. Lamentations 1:12-19 record Jerusalem’s call to people who had observed her desolation, and Lamentations 1:20-22 contain her call to the Lord.
The Lord had sent fire into the city’s bones when he allowed the Babylonians to burn it. He had captured Jerusalem as a bird in His net. He had thoroughly desolated and demoralized her by removing all sustenance from her.
The Lord had put Jerusalem into a yoke like an ox. She had lost her freedom. Now others were controlling her, so that she could not stand by herself.
He had removed all the strong young men from the city, and He had trodden Jerusalem down as a virgin in a winepress. He had squeezed all the life out of her.
Four metaphors describe God’s judgment of Jerusalem in the last four verses: fire (Lamentations 1:12), a net (Lamentations 1:13), a yoke (Lamentations 1:14), and a winepress (Lamentations 1:15).
Jerusalem cried because of her condition and because no one sought to comfort or strengthen her (cf. Lamentations 1:12). The people were desolate because Jerusalem’s enemy had prevailed.
Rather than comforting Zion, who appealed with outstretched hands, her neighbors had withdrawn from her as from an unclean thing.
The prophet confessed for the city her rebellion against the Lord’s commands.
"The only reason men were in the place where they were in the days of Jeremiah, or are in our own post-Christian world, is that they have turned away from the propositional revelation of God and as such they are under the moral judgment of God." [Note: Schaeffer, p. 28.]
God’s punishment of Jerusalem had been just. She mourned the loss of her young citizens who were now in exile.
The city had called to its political allies (e.g., Egypt) and its leaders for help, but even the priests and elders had been selfishly taking care of themselves rather than guarding the citizens.
The city was greatly distressed because of the calamity that had come upon it, due to its rebelliousness against Yahweh. The streets and houses had become places of death and now stood empty.
2. Jerusalem’s call to the Lord 1:20-22
Jerusalem’s enemies had heard of her calamity and had rejoiced over it. The city wished that God’s predicted judgment of these enemies would come soon and that they would become like Jerusalem.
She asked God to consider the wickedness of these nations and to take vengeance on them for their treatment of Jerusalem-because she was weak and groaning under divine judgment for her transgressions.
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Lamentations 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20