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(1) How doth the city . . .—The poem of twenty-two verses divides itself into two symmetrical halves, (1) Lamentations 1:1-11, in which the prophet laments over Jerusalem; and (2) Lamentations 1:12-22, more dramatic in its form, in which the daughter of Zion bewails her own miseries. Each verse is divided into three lines, each line beginning, in the Hebrew, with the same letter. The opening picture reminds us of the well-known Judœa capta, a woman sitting under a palm-tree, on the Roman medals struck after the destruction of Jerusalem.
How is she become.—Better, making one sentence instead of two, She is become a widow that was great among the nations, and so with the clause that follows.
Provinces.—The word, used in Esther 1:1; Esther 1:22, and elsewhere, of the countries subject to Persia and Assyria and so in Ezra 2:1; Nehemiah 7:6, of Judah itself, here indicates the neighbouring countries that had once, as in the reign of Hezekiah, been subject to Judah. “Tributary,” as used here, implies, as in Joshua 16:10, personal servitude, rather than the money payment, for which, at a later period, as in Esther 10:1, it was commuted.
(2) She weepeth sore in the night.—The intensity of the sorrow is emphasised by the fact that the tears do not cease even in the time which commonly brings rest and repose to mourners. The “lovers” and the “friends” are the nations, Egypt (Jeremiah 2:36), Edomites, Moabites, and others, with which Judah had been in alliance, and which now turned against her. (Comp. Psalms 137:7; Ezekiel 25:3-6; Jeremiah 40:14, for instances of their hostility, and specially Lamentations 4:21.)
(3) Because of affliction.—The Authorised version suggests the thought that the words refer to the voluntary emigration of those who went to Egypt and other countries (Jeremiah 42:14), to avoid the oppression to which they were subject in their own land. The Hebrew admits, however, of the rendering “from affliction,” and so the words speak of the forcible deportation of the people from misery at home to a yet worse misery in Babylon as the land of their exile. Even there they found no “rest” (Deuteronomy 28:65) Their persecutors hunted them down to the “straits” from which no escape was possible.
(4) The ways of Zion do mourn.—The words paint what we may call the religious desolation of Jerusalem. The roads leading to it, the “gates” by which it was entered, were no longer thronged with pilgrims and worshippers. “Virgins” are joined with “priests” as taking part in the hymns and rejoicing processions of the great festivals (Exodus 15:20; Psalms 68:25; Judges 21:19-21; Jeremiah 31:13).
(5) Her adversaries are the chief.—Literally, have become the head (Deuteronomy 28:13).
Her enemies prosper.—Better, are at ease, secure from every resistance on her part. “Before the enemy,” driven, i.e., as slaves are driven.
(6) Her princes are become like harts . . .—Probably a reference to the flight and capture of Zedekiah (2 Kings 25:5; Jeremiah 39:5), who, with his sons and princes, fell into the hands of the Chaldæans, like fainting and stricken deer.
(7) Jerusalem remembered.—Better, remembereth. The present is contrasted with the past. Still. the “sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.”
That she had in the days of old.—Better, which have been since the days of old.
Did mock at her sabbaths.—The noun is not found elsewhere, but is connected with that commonly rendered “sabbath.” It seems coined as a word of pregnant meaning to express at once the enforced sabbaths of the untilled land (Leviticus 26:34-35), and the sabbaths, no longer festivals, but conspicuous for the absence of any religious rites, which had followed on the destruction of the Temple.
(8) Therefore she is removed.—The verb is used technically for the separation of a woman under ceremonial defilement; and the daughter of Zion in her sin and shame is compared (as in Lamentations 1:17) to such a woman. The figure is continued with a startling boldness. Like a woman exposed to the gaze of scorners, Jerusalem would fain turn her back upon those who exult in the twofold nakedness of her sin and of its punishment.
(9) Her filthiness.—The picture of pollution is pushed to its most loathsome extreme. The very skirts of the garment are defiled.
She remembereth not . . .—Better, she remembered not. It was her recklessness as to the future (comp. Deuteronomy 32:29, for the phrase) which brought her down to this “wonderful” and extreme prostration.
O Lord, behold my affliction.—The words are not those of the prophet, but of Zion, anticipating the dramatic personation which begins systematically at Lamentations 1:12.
(10) Upon all her pleasant things . . .—The use of a like phrase in 2 Chronicles 36:10; 2 Chronicles 36:19, of the vessels of the Temple, leads us to think primarily or them; but the word itself has a wider range, and includes all works of art and ornamentation.
Whom thou didst command.—Stress is laid on the profanation rather than the plunder of the sanctuary. Ammonites and Moabites were excluded from the congregation in Deuteronomy 23:3, and yet they and other heathen nations now rushed even into the Holy of holies, which none but the High Priest might enter.
(11) All her people sigh. . . .—The words which describe the famine at Jerusalem are in the present tense, either as painting the sufferings of the past with the vividness of the historic present, or because the sufferings still continued even after the capture of the city. The remnant that was left had to bring out their treasures, jewels, and the like, and offer them for bread.
To relieve the soul.—Better, to revive, literally, to bring back.
(12) Is it nothing to you . . .—Literally, Not to you, ye passers by, which the Authorised version takes as a question. The LXX. and Vulg., however, seem to have taken the adverb as an interjection: “O all ye that pass by . . .” And some interpreters have taken the negative but not the question, “Nor to you . . . (do I say this).” The Authorised version, however, has most to commend it. What the mourning city felt most keenly was that her unparalleled sufferings were met with an unparalleled indifference.
(13) From above . . .—The words are probably figurative. The judgments that had fallen on Jerusalem were as a fire from heaven, piercing even to “the joints and marrow,” the innermost recesses of life.
He hath turned me back . . .—The phrase points not to the defeat and flight of battle, but, completing the figure of the net, paints the failure of every effort to escape. The word for “desolate” implies, as in the case of Tamar (2 Samuel 13:20), an utter, hopeless misery.
(14) Is bound by his hand . . .—The verb is not found elsewhere, but was probably a technical term for the twisting of the thongs by which the yoke was fastened, the “yoke” in this case being the transgressions of Judah, which were as a sore burden too heavy to be borne.
He hath made.—Better, it hath made; i.e., the yoke which was above her strength to bear.
The Lord.—It is noticeable that here, and in thirteen other passages in this book, the word Adonai is used instead of the more usual Jehovah, as though the latter, the covenant Name of the God of Israel, was less appropriate in the lips of one who was under His condemnation.
(15) Trodden under foot.—Better, hath made contemptible, as those who are weighed in the balance and found wanting.
All my mighty men . . .—The adjective is used elsewhere of bulls (Psalms 22:12; Isaiah 34:7), but stands here for the heroes of Judah, who fell, not in open battle, but ignominiously “in the midst” of the captured city.
He hath called an assembly.—The point of the phrase lies in its being that commonly used for proclaiming a religious festival (Leviticus 23:4). Here the festival is proclaimed, not for Jerusalem, but against her, and is to be kept by those who exult in the slaughter of her youthful warriors.
The Lord hath trodden the virgin . . .—Better, hath trodden the winepress for the virgin . . . For the winepress as the symbol of judgment and slaughter, see Isaiah 63:2; Revelation 14:19; Revelation 19:15.
(16) For these things . . .—The unparalleled misery finds vent in a flood of bitterest tears. We note the emphasis of iteration in “mine eye, mine eye.” On “relieve,” see Note on Lamentations 1:11; and on “desolate,” see Note on Lamentations 1:13.
(17) Zion spreadeth forth her hands . . .—The normal attitude of Eastern prayer, or, perhaps, of lamentation and despair.
That his adversaries . . .—Better, that those round about him should be his adversaries, the nearest neighbours being the bitterest foes.
Jerusalem is as . . .—The image is the same as in Lamentations 1:8, and might be rendered as one polluted, or as an abomination.
(18) The Lord is righteous . . .—An echo from Jeremiah 12:1; 2 Chronicles 12:6. Misery does its work, and issues in repentance. The suffering comes from the all-righteous Judge. It is, perhaps, significant that with this beginning of conversion the name “Jehovah” reappears.
All people . . .—Better, all peoples. Those addressed are the heathen nations, who are summoned to gaze on the desolate mourners.
(19) I called for.—Better, to. The “lovers,” as in Lamentations 1:2, are the former allies of Judah.
My priests and mine elders.—The pressure of the famine of the besieged city is emphasised by the fact that even these, the honoured guides of the people, had died of hunger. On the phrase that follows, see Lamentations 1:11. A conjectural addition, at the end of the verse, “and found not,” is supplied in the LXX and Syriac versions; but rhetorically there is more force in the aposiopesis, the suggestive silence, of the Hebrew.
(20) Behold, O Lord . . .—Deserted by men, the mourner appeals to Jehovah. “Bowels” and “heart” are used almost as synonymous for the deepest emotions of the soul. The word for “troubled,” elsewhere (Psalms 75:8) used of colour, might, perhaps, be better rendered inflamed.
At home there is as death.—The “as” seems inserted to give the emphasis of the undefined. It is not death pure and simple that makes each home tremble, but the “plurima mortis imago” (Virg. Aen. ii. 369), the starvation, disease, exhaustion, which all were deadly, i.e. deathlike, in their working.
(21) They are glad that thou hast done it . . .—Historically the words refer to the conduct of nations like the Edomites, as described in Psalms 137:7.
Thou wilt bring the day that thou hast called.—Better, proclaimed. By some commentators the first verb is taken as a perfect, “Thou hast brought,” and the “day” is that of vengeance upon Judah. With the rendering of the Authorised version the clause coheres better with that which follows, and the “day” is that of the punishment of the exulting foes.
(22) Let all their wickedness . . .—The prayer for a righteous retribution, the first natural prayer of the outraged, reminds us of Psalms 69, 109, 137, yet more strongly of the language of the prophet himself in Jeremiah 18:21-23. It is something more than a prayer for revenge, and rests on the underlying thought that righteousness requires the punishment. By some critics, it may be noted, Psalms 69, 109 have, on the strength of this parallelism, been ascribed to Jeremiah
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Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Lamentations 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19