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V. THE RESPONSE OF THE GODLY (THE FIFTH LAMENT) CH. 5
This poem, like the one in chapter 3, contains verses of only two lines each. It is the only non-acrostic chapter in the book, though like chapters 1, 2, and 4, it consists of 22 verses. The doleful qinah meter is also absent in this chapter, giving it a somewhat more positive tone. However, 45 words end in u (in all verses except 19), which gives the chapter a rather mournful tone when read aloud in Hebrew.
The chapter is more of a prayer than a lament, though its content focuses on the pitiful condition of the Judahites because of Jerusalem’s fall.
"The best fruit of anyone’s mourning is his praying to God." [Note: Ibid., pp. 136-37.]
Jeremiah’s prayer, which he voiced for his people, contains two petitions, namely: that God would remember the plight of His people (Lamentations 5:1-18), and that He would restore them to their promised covenant blessings (Lamentations 5:19-22; cf. Deuteronomy 30:1-11).
"The chapter comprises a confession of sin [Lamentations 5:16] and a recognition of the abiding sovereignty of God [Lamentations 5:19]." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 238.]
Jeremiah called on Yahweh to remember the calamity that had befallen His people, and to consider the reproach in which they now lived (cf. Lamentations 3:34-36). The humbled condition of the Judahites reflected poorly on the Lord, because the pagans would have concluded that He was unable to keep His people strong and free. Jeremiah implied that if Yahweh remembered His people, He would act to deliver them (cf. Exodus 2:24-25; Exodus 3:7-8).
A. A plea for remembrance 5:1-18
The Promised Land, Yahweh’s inheritance to His people, had passed over to the control of non-Israelites (Jeremiah 40:10; Jeremiah 41:3). Their homes also had become the property of alien people (cf. Ezekiel 35:10).
Because the Lord no longer protected and provided for the people, they had become virtual orphans. They had lost their rights as well as their property. Jewish men had become defenseless, and Jewish mothers had become as vulnerable as widows having lost their protection.
The extent of their oppression was evident in their having to purchase water and firewood, commodities that were normally free. The Judahites’ enemies were trying to squeeze the life out of them (cf. Joshua 10:24; Isaiah 51:23). They had worn them out with their heavy demands and taxes (cf. Deuteronomy 28:65-67; Ezekiel 5:2; Ezekiel 5:12).
Even to get enough food to live, the people had to appeal to Egypt and Assyria for help. This may refer to Judah’s earlier alliances with these nations that proved futile (cf. Ezekiel 16:26-28; Ezekiel 23:12; Ezekiel 23:21). But probably the writer used Assyria as a surrogate for Babylonia (cf. Jeremiah 2:18). Judah could no longer provide for herself but had to beg for help from her Gentile enemies.
The present generation of Judeans was bearing the punishment for the sins that their fathers, who had long since died, had initiated. They had continued and increased the sins of their fathers. Jeremiah rejected the idea that God was punishing his generation solely because of the sins of former generations (Jeremiah 31:29-30). His contemporaries had brought the apostasy of earlier generations to its worst level, and now they were reaping its results.
Even slaves among the oppressors were dominating God’s people, and there was no one to deliver them. Only the poorest of the Judahites remained in the land following the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., but even the lowest classes of Chaldeans were dominating them.
"Israel, once a ’kingdom of priests’ (Exodus 19:6), is become like Canaan, ’a servant of servants,’ according to the curse (Genesis 9:25). The Chaldeans were designed to be ’servants’ of Shem, being descended from Ham (Genesis 9:26). Now through the Jews’ sin, their positions are reversed." [Note: Jamieson, et al., p. 667.]
It had become life-threatening for the Judahites even to acquire essential food, because their enemies tried to kill them when they traveled to obtain bread. Famine had resulted in fever, which had given the people’s skin a scorched appearance. [Note: Ellison, p. 731.]
The enemy had raped the women and girls in Jerusalem and Judah. Respected princes had experienced the most humiliating deaths, and the enemy gave no respect to Judah’s elderly. Since Nebuchadnezzar evidently did not torture his victims (cf. Jeremiah 52:10-11; Jeremiah 52:24-27), it may be that the Chaldeans strung up the princes by their hands-after they had died-to dishonor them (cf. Deuteronomy 21:22-23). [Note: Keil, 2:451.]
Young men had to grind grain like animals (cf. Judges 16:21), and small children buckled under the loads of firewood that the enemy forced them to carry. Elders no longer sat at the town gates dispensing wisdom and justice, and young men no longer played music, bringing joy and happiness into the people’s lives. These were marks of the disappearance of peaceful and prosperous community living conditions.
Joy had left the hearts of the people, and they mourned so sadly that they could not bring themselves to dance. The eventual result of sin is the absence of joy.
God’s blessing and authority, symbolized by a crown, had departed from the head of the nation. All these characteristics marked the nation because it had sinned against Yahweh. She suffered under His judgment.
Divine judgment had demoralized and devastated the people. Wild foxes or jackals prowled on now-desolate Mount Zion, which formerly had been full of people and the site of many joyful celebrations.
Jeremiah acknowledged the eternal sovereignty of Yahweh, Israel’s true king. Judah was not suffering because her God was inferior to the gods of Babylon, but because sovereign Yahweh had permitted her overthrow.
B. A plea for restoration by Yahweh 5:19-22
The writer now turned from reviewing the plight of the people to consider the greatness of their God.
"In Lamentations 5:19-20 the writer carefully chose his words to summarize the teaching of the entire book by using the split alphabet to convey it. Lamentations 5:19 embraces the first half of the alphabet by using the aleph word (. . . ’you’) to start the first half of the verse, and the kaph word (. . . ’throne’) to start the second half. This verse reiterates the theology of God’s sovereignty expressed throughout the book. He had the right to do as He chooses, humans have no right to carp at what He does. Wisdom teaching grappled with this concept and God’s speech at the end of the Book of Job, which does not really answer Job’s many sometimes querulous questions, simply avers that the God of the whirlwind cannot be gainsaid (Job 38-41). Job must accept who God is without criticism. Then Job bowed to this very concept (Job 42:1-6). Now the writer of Lamentations also bowed before the throne of God accepting the implications of such sovereignty. . . .
"One reason there is no full acrostic in chapter 5 may be that the writer wanted the emphasis to fall on these two verses near the conclusion of the book. In so doing, he has adroitly drawn attention to the only hope for people in despair." [Note: Heater, pp. 310-11.]
In view of God’s sovereignty, the prophet could not understand why the Lord waited so long to show His people mercy and restore them. It seemed as though He had forgotten all about them (cf. Lamentations 5:1).
Lamentations 5:21-22 amplify the creedal statement in Lamentations 5:19-20.
Jeremiah prayed for Yahweh’s restoration of the nation to Himself. Only His action would result in restoration. The prophet cried out for renewal of the nation to its former condition of strength and blessing.
"God is the only source of true revival." [Note: Price, p. 701.]
The only reason the Lord might not restore Israel was if He had fully and permanently rejected His people because He was so angry with them. By mentioning this possibility at the very end of the book, Jeremiah led his readers to recall God’s promises that He would never completely abandon His chosen people.
Because this last verse of the book is so negative, many Hebrew manuscripts of Lamentations end by repeating Lamentations 5:21 after Lamentations 5:22. It also became customary, when the Jews read the book in synagogue worship, for them to repeat Lamentations 5:21 at the end. They also did this when they read other books that end on a negative note (i.e., Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and Malachi).
In view of God’s promises to Israel, He would not abandon the nation completely. He would bless them in the future (cf. Leviticus 26:44; Jeremiah 31:31-37; Romans 11:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:13). Nevertheless the focus of this book is on the misery that sin produces, not the hope of future deliverance.
"The theological message of Lamentations may be summarized as follows: God’s angry disciplinary judgment of His people, while severe and deserved, was not final." [Note: Chisholm, p. 359.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Lamentations 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25