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RECAPITULATION OF ZION’S CALAMITIES AND PRAYER
THE verses of this chapter are not arranged according to the order of the alphabet, yet their number corresponds to its number. More distinctly than the preceding chapters this one shows the “parallelism” of Hebrew poetry, in which one clause of a verse is closely related by sentiment and construction to the other. The contents suggest that the circumstances of the writer impelled him to take a retrospect of what had befallen his fellow-countrymen, and to found, on the variety and intensity of their sorrows, a hope that their iniquities would be pardoned, and that they would receive from the Lord’s hand tokens of His restored favour, according to the days wherein He had afflicted them.
Lamentations 5:1. Remember, O Jehovah, what has happened to us—an application not to one who had forgotten, but to One who could consider their affliction and pain with a view to forgive all their sins and redeem Israel out of all his troubles; a prayer which is not so much an utterance concurrent with the nature of God, as concurrent with the partial knowledge and felt needs of the worshipper; behold, and see our reproach, the reproach of Thy servants … wherewith Thine enemies have reproached, O Jehovah, the footsteps of Thine anointed.
A PITEOUS APPEAL TO JEHOVAH
Once more, and for the last time, the prophet returns to his sorrowful theme. There is a fascination in it he cannot resist. Grief, unduly indulged, is apt to make us selfish, and so to accustom us to a grievance that we never wish to be without one: we coax and caress our troubles rather than seek to he bid of them. But the sorrow of the prophet arose from no mere personal distress. He was the mouthpiece to express the lamentations of the best spirits of his day over a national and world-wide disaster. His poetic and prophetic insight fitted him the more clearly to grasp and weigh the magnitude of the calamity. The profound and passionate grief with which he recited the leading incidents in the national catastrophe tended to stamp them with indelible distinctness upon his memory. He could never forget them, and it would seem as if he could not cease talking about them. As if with a clinging fondness for the theme and loathe to dismiss it, he passes in slow and final review the chief features of the siege and capture of Jerusalem. “Thus wailed the genius of Hebrew poetry over the desolation of Judah and Jerusalem! Other cities and countries have had their minstrels to lament their public sorrows, but the national elegies of the Jew alone have spread among all races of the earth, and remain fresh after twenty-five centuries. Nor are they even yet without deep and practical interest, recording as they do the catastrophe that awaits any community, however highly favoured, which forgets that public and private righteousness alone secures permanent prosperity” (Geikie). This fifth and last elegy begins and ends in prayer It is a hopeful sign when trouble brings us to our knees. We are then in the way of receiving comfort and delivering help. This verse is a piteous appeal to Jehovah.
I. Rising from the hearts of a suffering people. “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us.” The trouble is not simply threatened and approaching: it is upon us; we are now in the midst of it, and cannot be in a worse plight than we are in already. Our nation ruined, our city gone, our Temple gone, and the spiked heel of the oppressor even now presses us in the dust. If Thou canst do anything for us, O Lord, do it now. The cry of real suffering has an irresistible pathos about it: there is the sound of tears in it. Such a cry never fails to reach the ears of Jehovah, and His pitying heart yearns to help the suppliant.
II. Is expressed by a people who regard their sufferings as a reproach. “Behold our reproach.” We are sunk from dignity and greatness to abject humiliation and shame, from affluence to poverty. We are the people of Jehovah, chosen by Him and publicly acknowledged by Him before the world. He has wrought miracles of power on our behalf, and we thought we were lifted above the possibility of change and decay to which other nations were liable. But now we are abandoned by our Divine Protector, and have become objects of scorn by our oppressors. Our calamities reflect upon the name and honour of Him who has done so much for us: our reproach is His reproach. So they thought; and so think the privileged in all ages when trouble overtakes them. They are apt to blame any one but themselves, and are slow to see that their distresses are the fruits of their own sins.
III. Is uttered with the confidence that His help will he graciously afforded. “Remember, consider, behold.” Remember what is past, the sufferings we have had; and behold and consider the present, the sufferings under which we at this moment writhe. Is this nothing to Thee, O God of our fathers? Is it a matter of indifference to Thee that Thine own children are in such abject woe? It cannot be. Our fathers sinned and so have we; but we repent. We are still the heirs of the promises. Lord have mercy, and fulfil Thy word unto Thy servants. It is a great help to prayer to believe that God not only sees and commiserates our miseries, but that He is able and willing to help us.
1. God is not indifferent to the sufferings of His people.
2. The suffering heart finds relief in prayer.
3. Prayer is the first stage in the process of religious reform.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
The hopefulness of prayer.
1. When it is the cry of distress.
2. When it encourages a humble and reverential familiarity with God.
3. When it is an earnest appeal from the weak to the strong.
4. When it is based on the assurance that God knows all about our case and is willing to succour.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The need of prayer.
“When prayer delights the least, then learn to say,
Soul, now is greatest need that thou shouldst pray.
Say what is prayer, when it is prayer indeed?
The mighty utterance of a mighty deed.
The man is praying who doth press with might
Out of his darkness into God’s own light.
All things that live from God their sustenance wait,
And sun and moon are beggars at His gate.”
Prayer in trouble. Sinking times are praying times with the Lord’s servants. Peter neglected prayer at starting upon his adventurous journey, but when he began to sink, his danger made him a suppliant, and his cry, though late, was not too late. In our hours of bodily pain and mental anguish we find ourselves as naturally driven to prayer as the wreck is driven upon the shore by the waves. The fox hies to his hole for protection, the bird flies to the wood for shelter, and even so the tried believer hastens to the mercy-seat for safety. Heaven’s great harbour of refuge is All-prayer. Thousands of weather-beaten vessels have found a haven there, and the moment a storm comes on it is wise for us to make for it with all sail.—Spurgeon.
Prayer should be importunate. Prayer pulls the rope below, and the great bell rings above in the ears of God. Some scarcely stir the bell, for they pray so languidly; others give but an occasional pluck at the rope; but he who wins with Heaven is the man who grasps the rope boldly, and pulls continuously with all his might.—Biblical Treasury.
God answers prayer. I once saw a grand procession in which an Oriental monarch, surrounded by a thousand life-guards, moved to the sound of all kinds of music. Some unknown subject had a request to urge. He knew the utter impossibility of ever breaking through the guards that day and night surrounded his majesty. That humble person perhaps had some dear friend in prison, who, according to Oriental custom, could never be tried or freed while the prosecutor’s malice or purse held out. They have no Habeas Corpus law among nations without the Bible. This poor creature took the only possible way known to one unable to bribe the officers, and flung his petition over the heads of the guards, and it fell at the feet of the sovereign. In a moment one of the life-guards pierced it with his bayonet and flung it back into the crowd. Alas! the proud, pleasure-loving monarch, amid the luxuriant splendours of his court, palace, army, and plans of reaping renown, never so much as dreamed of noticing the prayer of that broken heart and crushed spirit. Not thus does the King of kings treat the humblest suppliant who seeks His help.—Van Doren.
—I never was deeply interested in any object, I never prayed sincerely and earnestly for anything, but it came; at some time, no matter how distant a day, in some shape, probably the last I should have devised, it came.—Adoniram Judson.
Prayer brings deliverance. Prayer procures deliverance from trouble just as Naaman’s dipping himself seven times in Jordan procured him a deliverance from his leprosy; not by any virtue in itself adequate to so great an effect, you may be sure, but from this, that it was appointed by God as the condition of his recovery, and so obliged the power of Him who appointed it to give force and virtue to His own institutions beyond what the nature of the thing itself could otherwise have raised it to.—South.
Lamentations 5:2 begins to describe the substance of the reproaches. Our inheritance, the land which was promised to Abraham, and of which his descendants had held possession for generations, is turned over unto strangers. Indeed, all their property had passed into other hands; our houses unto aliens. Even if any small houses were left standing, after the Chaldeans had destroyed every important building in Jerusalem, besides breaking down the city walls, they were at the disposal of those foreigners.
Lamentations 5:3. No recondite application of the terms of this verse—as that, “We are abandoned by Thee, our Father”—need be considered. The note of a Targum sufficiently defines them, “We are like the most desolate of beings.” We have become orphans, without a father. A devastating war, a merciless capture of Jerusalem, a banishment to a far country of thousands of the population, must have caused reports of many among the “bread-winners” being dead or missing; hence it could be said virtually, if not really, Our mothers [are] like widows, the words being true of other families as well as of those whose head had perished.
Lamentations 5:4. Not only are they orphaned and desolate, but they are cruelly mulcted. Our water for money we have drunken. The bitterness of the act was that water, perhaps from their own wells and cisterns, had to be paid for, and similarly to that, Our wood has come for a price. Held in such durance that they could not get the requisites for personal and domestic comfort, to which they had free access formerly, unless by bribing their custodians.
Lamentations 5:5. It is best to suppose that the phrase, On our necks we are pursued, means, our pursuers keep so close as to be, as it were, holding our necks; yet, tired out by such persecution, no rest is for us.
THE MISERIES OF THE DISINHERITED
I. To see their possessions enjoyed by foreigners. “Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens” (Lamentations 5:2). The land of Canaan was God’s gift to the Jews. It was promised to them long before they entered into possession. There was a time when it seemed they would not be permitted even to look upon their Beulah-land. But God kept His word, and, after long wandering and many disappointments, the tribes received their allotted inheritance. In beauty and fruitfulness they found the land all that it had been represented. For many happy years they sat under their own vine and fig-tree, none daring to make them afraid. It was a bitter disappointment to find themselves violently ejected, and their loved inheritance occupied by their enemies. The possessions of earth are liable to strange and sudden changes; but the heavenly inheritance is indefeasible, and can never be wrested from the faithful.
II. To be reduced to the condition of widows and orphans. “We are orphans and fatherless; our mothers are as widows” (Lamentations 5:3). Their misery was comparable to the sad and lonely desolation of fatherless orphans and wives just bereaved of their husbands. The guardian, guide, and support of family life is taken away, and they are left to battle with the cold, unpitying world, surrounded with heartless and cruel enemies. It is a painful experience for any family to be reduced by a single stroke from affluence to penury and friendlessness. If God did not help the widows and the fatherless, their condition would be unbearable. The competition of life is keen enough to the most favoured; but it is a terrible struggle to the lonely and friendless. The luxury of former years unfits many for the fierceness of life’s conflict, and thousands go down into untimely oblivion.
III. To be compelled to pay for the food and fuel produced on their own property. “We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us” (Lamentations 5:4). The bitterness of the complaint is intensified in not merely that they must pay for the necessaries of life, but that it is their own property which they have to purchase. The water in their own house cisterns is taxed; the wood in their own forests must be paid for—and they paid dearly for every fagot. “The captives were doubtless closely watched, and not allowed to stray from the place where they were detained in preparation for their removal to Babylon, and thus could obtain wood and water only by paying for them” (Speaker’s Commentary). How would they long now for the sticks their little children used to gather for the fires in which they idolatrously baked cakes for the queen of heaven! (Jeremiah 7:18). It is in the hardships of life that we lament the wanton waste of more prosperous times.
IV. To be harassed by incessant toil. “Our necks are under persecution: we labour and have no rest” (Lamentations 5:5). We were pursued so actively that our enemies seemed ever so close upon us as to be leaning over our necks ready at once to seize us. We were tired out with being thus chased incessantly, and no opportunity was allowed us of refreshing our weary frames (Speaker’s Commentary). Labour is necessary for health, for sustenance, for happiness. There is nothing servile in honest and necessary work, whether by hand or brain. Abraham fed his own flocks. Moses kept sheep in the desert. Paul stitched canvas tents while labouring as a pioneer among the Gentiles. The fathers of the Roman Republic ploughed their own fields, sowed the seed, and reaped their harvests with their own hands. But there is neither nobility nor pleasure in forced labour, especially in labour unrelieved by necessary rest. Life becomes one long, weary, monotonous, and depressing grind. And this is often the fate of the disinherited.
1. It is a great hardship to see our rightful inheritance violently transferred to strangers.
2. The loss of worldly property is not always the greatest calamity.
3. The truly good have an inheritance that is incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 5:2-5. The sudden reverses of fortune.
1. From wealth to poverty (Lamentations 5:2).
2. From social happiness to loneliness (Lamentations 5:3).
3. From freedom to galling exactions (Lamentations 5:4).
4. From ease to excessive toil (Lamentations 5:5).
Lamentations 5:2. Property.
1. Knows nothing of absolute ownership.
2. Is constantly changing hands.
3. Its loss by robbery and pillage a great hardship.
4. Its fickle tenure contrasts with the imperishable character of spiritual possessions.
Lamentations 5:3. Bereavement.
1. One of the great curses of war.
2. The inevitable lot of humanity.
3. Brings pungent sorrow to somebody.
Lamentations 5:4-5. The loss of liberty. I. Is painfully realised by the imposition of unjust exactions. “We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us” (Lamentations 5:4). II. Is followed by oppression. “Our necks are under persecution” (Lamentations 5:5). III. Subjects to the slavery of incessant labour. “We labour and have no rest” (Lamentations 5:5).
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The sadness of national decline. “Since first the dominion of men was asserted over the ocean, three thrones, of mark beyond all others, have been set upon its sands—the thrones of Tyre, Venice, and England. Of the first of these great powers only the memory remains; of the second, the ruin; the third, which inherits their greatness, if it forget their example, may be led, through prouder eminence, to less pitied destruction. The exaltation, the sin, and the punishment of Tyre have been recorded for us in perhaps the most touching words ever uttered by the prophets of Israel against the cities of the stranger. Her successor, like her in perfection of beauty, though less in endurance of dominion, is still left for our beholding in the final period of her decline, a ghost upon the sands of the sea, so weak, so quiet, so bereft of all but her loveliness, that we might well doubt, as we watched her faint reflection in the mirage of the lagoon, which was the city and which the shadow.”—Ruskin.
Bereavement has its consolations. A little boy once went out in the early morn, and was greatly delighted with the little globes formed by the dew on the brambles. He hastened back, and led his father out to see these miniature worlds; but when the father and son arrived, the sun was up, and had drawn up in vapour the globes that had hung on the brambles, and so displeased the child. The child cried, and said, “The angry sun has taken them all up.” The father looked up and saw the beautiful rainbow on the bosom of the cloud, and said, “There, my child, the sun has taken up the bramble globes, and they help to form that beautiful bow on the cloud.” Ah! my friends, God has taken up some of our friends, and have we not murmured? But where are they? Ah! do they not form the beautiful bow round the throne of God?
Industry secures independence. He that hath a trade hath an estate, and he that hath a calling hath an office of profit and honour; but then the trade must be worked at and the calling followed. If we are industrious, we shall never starve, for at the working man’s house hunger looks in but dares not enter. Nor will the bailiff or the constable enter, for industry pays debts while despair increaseth them.—Franklin.
Compassion for the needy. King Oswald of Northumbria accompanied the monk Aidan in his long missionary journeys as interpreter. One day, as he feasted with the monk by his side, the thegn, a noble of his war-band, whom he had set to give alms to the poor at his gate, told him of a multitude that still waited fasting without. The king at once bade the untasted meat before him be carried to the poor, and his silver dish he divided piecemeal among them. Aidan seized the royal hand and blessed it. “May this hand,” he cried, “never grow old.”
Persecution defeats itself. The cruelty of Mary’s reign and the lurid fires of Smithfield had only worked in Londoners a fiercer conviction of the error and falsity of the Roman Catholic religion, and when Elizabeth came to the throne, the people thronged the streets and greeted her with acclamation, as though her coming were as the rising of the sun.
—Speaking of the persecutions and martyrdoms in the time of Queen Mary, Mr. Froude says, “Every martyr’s trial was a battle; every constant death was a defeat of the common enemy; and the instinctive consciousness that truth was asserting itself in suffering converted the natural emotion of horror into admiring pride.”
Lamentations 5:6. Judæa was on the verge of famine through the foragings of the invaders, and, under the ominous shadow of starvation, To Egypt we have given the hand, i.e., imploring supplies of food, as is signified by the parallel clause, to Assyria to be satisfied with bread. The people appealed to a supposed friendly and to an openly hostile government; for the Babylonian empire, even in the height of its power, was occasionally spoken of as Assyria (Jeremiah 2:18), into whose dominion it had entered.
Lamentations 5:7. Our fathers have sinned; they are not in the land of the living. The hour of punishment had not come in their time. The measure of iniquity was not yet full; but the consequences of their doings, which were not good, had not been buried with them. The disruption of civil and religious order, by which we have so fearfully suffered, results from the guilt which was incurred by preceding generations. We have borne their iniquities. This truth is stated again and again in the Old Testament Scriptures (Exodus 20:5; Numbers 14:18; 2 Kings 23:25-26); it is, however, only half a truth, and becomes an error if understood to say that the descendants were not also guilty. This other half was beginning to dawn upon Israel. It is noted in Lamentations 5:16, and was boldly announced by the prophets of this period, Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:29-30) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 18:0). Yet God strikes the sins of forefathers with penal judgments on their children only when the children persist in sin, as their predecessors did. But such vicarious suffering placed them in a position like sin-bearers, and becomes ground of appeal for the exercise of Divine compassion.
Lamentations 5:8. Servants have ruled over us. Who they were may be uncertain. It is a farfetched supposition that they were the conquering chiefs, because “the Babylonians in general might be called slaves in comparison with the kingdom of priests and sons of Jehovah.” The suggestion rather is that the galling yoke was made doubly galling by the insolence and brutality of menials, “dressed in the brief authority of office,” slaves in Oriental countries often rising to places of power. A parallel is mentioned by Nehemiah, who says (chap. Lamentations 5:5), Even their (i.e., the governor’s) servants bare rule over them; there was no deliverer from their hands.
Lamentations 5:9. With our lives we get our bread—they jeopardised their lives when going to gather a scanty harvest, or to take from provisions which had been stowed away—because of the sword of the desert, wielded by the predatory Bedawin, who would plunder and even kill those who were in possession of food. So Gideon had to get his wheat in secret, lest the Midianites should seize it (Judges 6:11); and the ten men who bought their lives from the robbers and murderers of Gedaliah (Jeremiah 41:8) drew from concealed stores of victuals.
I. Personal liberty is surrendered for a livelihood. “We have given the hand to the Egyptian and to the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread” (Lamentations 5:6). Absolutely it was Babylon that had just destroyed their national existence, but Jeremiah means that all feelings of patriotism were crushed, and the sole care that remained was the selfish desire for personal preservation. To secure this the people would readily have submitted to the yoke either of Egypt or Assyria, the great powers from which in their past history they had so often suffered (Speaker’s Commentary). Life is sweet, and it is appalling to think how many there are ready to sell their conscience, their souls, their friends, their country for bread! The sting of want demoralises the soul. It is matter for unspeakable thankfulness when men are lifted above the degrading temptations of poverty.
II. The penalty of continuance in sin. “Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities” (Lamentations 5:7). It is a frequent practice of the unfortunate to blame the past. Here the sufferers complain that their predecessors, who commenced the national apostasy, had died before the punishment began, and that they are left to bear alone the fatal consequences which previous transgressors had escaped. It was some time before the truth dawned upon their minds that they had adopted and continued with aggravated obstinacy the sins of their forefathers, and that there was quite sufficient guilt in their own iniquity to merit the chastisement they suffered. The course of sin is downward, ever downward, and plunges its victims into the most humiliating subjection.
III. A painful experience to a high-spirited people when domineered over by inferiors. “Servants have ruled over us: there is none that doth deliver us out of their hands” (Lamentations 5:8). Among the things for which “the earth is disquieted and which it cannot bear,” the proverb saith, “For a servant when he reigneth” (Proverbs 30:21-22). In Oriental countries slaves often rose to high office, and there were no doubt such in the Chaldean army. The rule of such is often maintained with unnecessary rigour. They seem to think that they can gain respect and reverence only by severity. The Jews fretted and chafed under the petty tyranny of men whom they regarded as in every respect their inferiors except in their cruel bondage. Virgil has said—
“Since slaves so insolent are grown,
What may not masters do?”
The Jews had rebelled against the wise and gentle rule of Jehovah and His servants the prophets. Now they are ruled by the tyranny of their enemies and of their slaves. The sinner cannot escape the operation of law. He only exchanges rulers.
IV. The victims are compelled to snatch their food at the peril of their lives. “We gat our bread at the peril of our lives, because of the sword of the wilderness” (Lamentations 5:9). Though they were willing to surrender their liberty for food, its supply was very uncertain and precarious. “This verse apparently refers to those who were left as delvers and vine-dressers in the land, and who, in gathering in such fruits as remained, were exposed to incursions of the Bedaween, here called the sword of the desert.” Every morsel of food they ate was snatched as from the mouths of wild beasts. The next forage for food may cost them, not only their independence, but their lives. They had indeed to eat their bread with quaking and carefulness, as it had been predicted (Ezekiel 12:18-19). There is no advantage in selling our souls for bread; it is a bad bargain. Honour is more precious than food, or than life itself.
1. War imposes great degradations on the conquered.
2. Sin is at the root of all humiliation and suffering.
3. Subjection is intolerable to those who have tasted the sweets of freedom.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 5:6; Lamentations 5:8-9. The intense love of freedom for food (Lamentations 5:6).
2. Subjects life:
1. Tempts men to barter their to the oppressive tyranny of inferiors (Lamentations 5:8).
3. Will run great risks in the struggle for maintenance (Lamentations 5:9).
Lamentations 5:7. Sin and punishment:
1. Are closely linked together.
2. The sins, like the virtues, of one generation pass on in their consequence to the next.
3. Suffering on account of others is taken into account in God’s dealing with individuals and with nations.
4. Every offender is punished only according to his own sin.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Mistaken views of life. Two old men, amateur naturalists, who had devoted their whole lives, one to ferns and the other to orchids, travelled together for many hours. At the end of their journey he who had cultivated ferns said to his companion with a sigh, “I have wasted my life: if I had it to live over again, I should devote it to orchids.”
Life divinely ordered. Our life is a web woven by the hand of God, the thread reaching from our birth to our death. The woof is trouble, but still runs with it a weft of interwoven comforts.—Adams.
Sin in man. In man there will be a layer of fierce hyena or of timid deer running through the nature in the most uncertain and tortuous manner. Nero is sensitive to poetry and music, but not to human suffering. Marcus Aurelius is tolerant and good to all men but Christians. The Tlascalans of Mexico loved, and even worshipped flowers, but they were cruel to excess, and sacrificed human victims with savage delight. The good and the evil lie close together, the virtues and the vices alternate, so is human power accumulated; alternately the metal and the rags, a terrible voltaic pile. In the well-bred animal the claw is nicely cushioned; the old Adam is presentable.—A. F. Russell.
Humiliation. It is with us as with the reeds which grow by the river-side; when the waters overflow, the reed bows its head and bends down, and the flood passes over without breaking it; after which it uplifts its head and stands erect in all its vigour, rejoicing in renewed life. So is it with us; we also must sometimes be bowed down to the earth and humbled, and then arise with renewed joy and trust.
Submission. Let us not charge God over-hastily with the untoward incidents of life. In the main we are the manufacturers of our own life-material. If you give the weaver none but dark threads, he can only fashion a sombre pattern.—Halsey.
Lamentations 5:10. The bread, which was obtained at the risk of their lives, was not enough in quantity to nourish them. Our skin is hot like an oven; the feverishness is because of the burning heat of hunger. “Hunger dries up the pores of the skin, so that it becomes like as if it had been exposed to the burning heat of the simoom.”
We must not fancy that the several distressing things alluded to befell every one of all classes. We should rather believe that some troubles were felt by one portion, while another portion had to bear different troubles. So the author proceeds to record what sufferings were endured by particular divisions of the population.
Lamentations 5:12. The most gentle were outraged, and princes were hanged up by their hand—not the hand of the foe is referred to, though by him the cruel deed was perpetrated; still less is the reference to compulsory suicide, as Calvin surmises; but the hand of the princes was the leverage by which their bodies were lifted up. Whether they were first killed and then suspended, or were tortured by such suspension when every nerve and muscle was vibrating with life’s waves, is a question to which no sure reply can be given; but probably the latter is hinted at. The bodies of Saul and his sons were fastened to the wall of Beth-shan (1 Samuel 31:10-12); and more recent commentators refer to “Records of the Past,” 1:38, in which an inscription of Sennacherib is quoted as saying of the people of Ekron, “The chief priests and noblemen I put to death; on stakes all round the city I hung their bodies;” and the practice seems to have been not uncommon among Assyrians and Babylonians. Still, impalement after death does not correspond distinctly to the atrocity mentioned here. The faces—persons—of elders were not honoured. Not only men high in rank, but also those who held responsible positions among the people—aged persons are spoken of after this—were treated with indignity in the insolence of conquest.
Lamentations 5:13. The choice portion of the nation were forced to be nothing but mere burden-bearers. Young men bare the mill. They had to carry about, and no doubt to turn, the hand-mills to grind corn for their military masters, thus doing the work of women or of slaves; while the fuel, for cooking and other purposes, was laid on shoulders ill able to bear a load. Boys stumbled [under] a burden of wood.
THE GALLING TYRANNY OF CONQUEST
I. There is the physical suffering occasioned by starvation. “Our skin is black like an oven because of the terrible famine” (Lamentations 5:10). The human body can bear a great deal, but it cannot resist, nor can it survive, the ravages of famine. The bloom of health fades from the cheek, the eyes shine with an unnatural lustre, and then lose all expression; the flesh is dried and parched, the skin becomes “fiery red like an oven, because of the fever-blast” of famine, and the whole frame becomes skeletonised. During one of the famines in Ireland there was a form of face which came upon the sufferers when their state of misery was far advanced, and which was a sure signal that their last stage of misery was nearly run. The mouth would fall and seem to hang, the lips at the two ends of the mouth would be dragged down, and the lower parts of the cheeks would fall, as though they had been dragged and pulled. There were no signs of acute agony, none of the horrid symptoms of gnawing hunger. The look was one of apathy, desolation, and death. The agony of want was past. Nothing could save.
II. Social purity is outraged. “They humbled the women in Zion, and the maids in the city of Judah” (Lamentations 5:11). History records revolting examples of the excesses committed by a brutal soldiery in the mad delirium of conquest. War brings in its train worse consequences than wounds and death. There is a fouler lust than the lust of military glory. The pure and unoffending are dishonoured. The sanctity of social life is invaded, and its sacred laws violated.
III. Rank and age are treated with indignity. “Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured” (Lamentations 5:12). See exegetical notes on this verse. It was a barbarity of ancient warfare that the conqueror paid so little regard to the feelings of the conquered. To the humiliation of defeat was added whatever could pain and degrade the vanquished. The princes of the royal blood and magistrates who had grown old in their lengthened term of office were treated with scant courtesy. The conqueror seemed to glory in parading the most illustrious of his captives under the most ignominious conditions. There were noble exceptions to this rule, but they were so rare that history has not failed to chronicle them.
IV. Young men and children are forced into the performance of the most menial and exhausting tasks. “They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood” (Lamentations 5:13). To grind the corn in the hand-mill was the work of female slaves. It was a great blow to the self-respect and ambition of the young men who were of legal age for military service to be condemned to this menial work. The little Jewish children, whose tender years should have been a sufficient protection against such cruelty, staggered under the loads of firewood they were compelled to carry for the Chaldean soldiers, who indulged in inhuman sport at the brave little fellows as they fell exhausted under their crushing burdens. Many of the children would be crippled for life. It is one of the praiseworthy features of nineteenth-century civilisation that so much care is shown in the protection and healthy development of child-life.
1. Woe to the people who fall into the hands of a heartless conqueror!
2. There are worse sufferings than the sense of being vanquished.
3. The tyrant conqueror has no respect for sex, or rank, or age.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 5:10. The sufferings of famine.
1. Apparent in their ghastly physical results.
2. Reduce all ranks to a common level.
3. Are intensified by conscious defeat and humiliation.
Lamentations 5:11-13. The atrocities of war.
1. The pure and defenceless are defiled (Lamentations 5:11).
2. Princes and aged counsellors are treated with contempt and cruelty (Lamentations 5:12).
3. The spirit of the young is crushed with overpowering burdens (Lamentations 5:13).
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The cause of famine. For unknown years the Persians have been cutting off their trees, and diminishing their rainfall thereby. Nay, not only has the removal of the forests decreased the supply, but it has wasted whatever rain fell. For the roots of the trees and of all the innumerable shrubs, bushes, vines and ferns that thrive in their shadow, kept the ground open, and held the water in countless natural wells for the use of the soil in droughts. But all the undergrowth dying when its protecting forests were felled, the scanty showers percolated into the streams at once, causing rare floods and frequent droughts. The droughts yielded no harvests, and no harvests were followed by famine, pestilence, and death.
The fascination of lust. You will go on in your lust and your sins, despite warnings, despite advice, until you perish in your guilt. How worse than children are grown-up men! The child who goes for a merry slide upon a pond, if he be told that the ice will not bear him, starts back affrighted, or, if he daringly creeps upon it, how soon he leaves it if he hears but a crack upon the slender covering of the water! But you men have conscience, which tells you that your sins are vile, and that they will be your ruin. You hear the crack of sin as its thin sheet of pleasure gives way beneath your feet; ay! and some of you have seen your comrades sink in the flood and lost, and yet you go sliding on. Worse than childish, worse than mad, are you, thus presumptuously to play with your everlasting state.—Spurgeon.
“I have lived long enough. My way of life
Is fallen into the sere and yellow leaf:
And that which should accompany old age,
As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,
I must not look to have.”—Shakespeare.
Helplessness appeals to our pity. Thus was the heart of the rough sailor touched when, tossing with other castaways in an open boat on the open sea, he parted with a morsel of food, which, hidden with more care than misers hide their gold, he had reserved for his own last extremity. Around him lay men and women, some dead, with glassy eyes, some dying, and these reduced to ghastly skeletons; but none of these moved him to peril his own life for theirs. The object of his noble and not unrewarded generosity—foras if Heaven had sent it on purpose to reward the act, a sail speedily hove in sight—was a gentle boy, that, with his face turned on hers, lay dying in a mother’s arms, and between whose teeth the famished man put his own last precious morsel.—Guthrie.
The atrocities of war. I look on war with a horror which no words can express. I have long wanted patience to read of battles. The thought of man, God’s immortal child, butchered by his brother, the thought of sea and land stained with human blood by human hands, of women and children buried under the ruins of besieged cities, of the resources of empires and the mighty powers of nature all turned by man’s malignity into engines of torture and destruction—this thought gives to earth the semblance of hell. I shudder as among demons.—Charming.
Lamentations 5:14. Entire collapse of interest in the common ways of life was shown by the abandonment of public meetings and social pastimes. The elders ceased from [frequenting] the gate. They had gone thither as to the usual gathering-place; they adjudicated, advised, had general intercourse, and received the marks of respect suggested by the law—Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head and honour the face of the old man (Leviticus 19:32); but that resort was no longer theirs. Moreover, the buoyancy of youthful spirits was crushed down. Young men ceased from their music, accompanied by instruments.
Lamentations 5:15. The iron had entered the soul. Ceased is the joy of our heart, and past pleasures had become a pain; turned into mourning our dance.
BUSINESS AND RECREATION
I. Are necessary in all organised communities. Commercial activity and prosperity lead to a more highly organised condition of social life. To prevent the clashing and confusion of the multiplicity of interests generated by an increasing commerce, certain rules are laid down for general observance. It is only thus that law and order can be maintained. It is soon recognised that business and pleasure must be judiciously combined in order to develop a healthy and vigorous people. Incessant labour would grind down and destroy the force of the national character, and an uninterrupted round of pleasure would weaken and dissipate its enterprise and energy. The happy medium in promoting what is best in both individual and national life is found in the wise alternation of work and recreation.
“Run if you will, but try to keep your breath;
Work like a man, but don’t be worked to death.”
II. Are evidences of a happy and contented people. The gate of an Eastern city is the common rendezvous of the citizens for both business and recreation. There the venerable counsellors sit in repose and dignity to discuss and settle disputes. There the traders vend their wares. There the young life of the city expresses its exuberant joy in song and dance. Here we have a picture of prosperity, peace, and happiness. No people will be long content where there is not a thriving commerce, a reverence for law and age, ample employment and food, and the opportunity for innocent recreation.
III. Their absence a pathetic sign of general desolation. “The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their music. The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning” (Lamentations 5:14-15). The aged magistrates no longer frequent the gate, the bazaars of the merchants are deserted, the busy murmur of buying and selling is hushed, the instruments of music are laid aside unstrung, the voice of singing is no longer heard, and the spirits of the youthful dancers are crushed. Business and pleasure alike are abandoned. The joy of happier times is turned into mourning. The prophet could give no more graphic a picture of the desolation and ruin that had settled down upon the land.
1. The character and condition of a nation may be read in its commerce and recreations.
2. Work and play are alike necessary in the development of national life.
3. When the spring of enterprise is broken, a nation sinks into decay.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 5:14-15. The extinction of national life:
1. When the wise and aged are no longer interested in public affairs.
2. When the voice of mirth is hushed.
3. When youth has lost its elasticity and hope.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The dignity of labour. It is time that the opprobrium of toil were done away. Ashamed of toil, art thou? Ashamed of thy dingy workshop or dusty labour-field, of thy hard hand, scarred with service more honourable than that of war, of thy soiled and weather-stained garments, on which Mother Nature has embroidered, amidst sun and rain, amidst smoke and steam, her own heraldic honours? Ashamed of these tokens and titles, and envious of the flaunting robes of imbecile idleness and vanity? It is treason to Nature, it is impiety to Heaven. Toil—toil either of the brain, of the heart, or of the hand—is true nobility.
Business not to absorb all our time. Who gave thee leave, Christian, to overlade thyself with the encumbrances of life? Is not God the Lord of thy time, as of everything else? He does indeed allow thee a fair portion for the lower employments of the body, but did He ever intend to turn Himself out of all? This is as if the sailors, who are allowed by the merchant some small adventure for themselves, should fill the ship, and leave no stowage for his goods; or as if a servant should excuse himself to his master, when reproved for neglecting his duty, by saying he could not do it because he was drunk.—Gurnall.
Business and religion. Piety does not retreat from business, but it seizes business, sanctifies it, and makes it sacred. If I understand religion, it is to open a shop, it is to freight ships, it is to keep accounts, it is to write up your ledgers, it is to wear an apron till it be as holy as a bishop’s sleeve, and to wield a spade as responsibly and devoutly as a monarch sways a sceptre. The true characteristic of religion is to go down into everything, rise up to the highest, till, like the atmosphere, it embraces all in its beneficent and beautiful folds.—Cumming.
Recreation. Lute-strings sound all the sweeter for being sometimes let down; and fields sowed every year become barren. So it is with body and mind.
—A primitive Christian playing with birds vindicated his conduct by comparison with the bow, which, if constantly bent, becomes useless. Recreation is a second creation.
Pleasure itself unsatisfying. George Moore, when a wealthy man, wrote in his diary—“After this we kept a great deal of company. The house was looked upon as a work of art. All our friends expected to be invited to see it and partake of our hospitality. We accordingly gave a large dinner weekly, until we had exhausted our numerous friends and acquaintances. But happiness does not flow in such a channel. Promiscuous company takes one’s mind away from God and His dealings with men; and there is no lasting pleasure in the excitement.”
Lamentations 5:16. Fallen is the crown from our head. That which was their honour has gone—the crown with which the Lord Jehovah had decked His chosen nation. I put … a beautiful crown upon thine head … and thy renown went forth among the nations for thy beauty; for it was perfect through my majesty, which I had put upon thee (Ezekiel 16:12; Ezekiel 16:14). Now it is in the dust, set at nought by all those who had admired it. So, as if in irrepressible acknowledgment that they themselves were responsible for the dismal change, the exclamation bursts forth, Woe unto us! for we have sinned—sinned not against a ritual or a code of law, but against a living Person—Maker, Monarch, Father. This second clause is in correlation with Lamentations 5:7, and expresses the share which their own iniquities had in the guilt which had drawn down such condign suffering as they were subjected to. Like their fathers, they had disowned truth and righteousness, and addicted themselves to false and unholy practices. This view of themselves, and confession of its evil nature, opens the eyes of the heart to look for the throne of grace.
THE LOSS OF HONOUR
I. Honour is the crown of individual character. Honour is moral rectitude, the crown and dignity of the true man.
“Say what is honour? ’Tis the finest sense
Of justice which the human mind can frame,
Intent each lurking frailty to disclaim,
And guard the way of life from all offence
Suffered or done.”—Wordsworth.
Moral rectitude is not a natural possession; it is the gift of Divine grace. It must be humbly and penitently sought, gratefully received, and strengthened and increased by incessant exercise. It is all of grace, and this grace sheds a glory and lustre upon the soul. As the diamond in the ring, so is grace to the soul. A heart beautified with grace has the picture of the King of heaven hung in it. It is dignified with the reflected splendour of the Divine majesty.
II. When honour is lost, man is discrowned. “The crown is fallen from our head.” Israel not only lost their national king, and with him their national independence, but they lost their moral kingship, their personal righteousness; and this they lost before they were deprived of their earthly king. All that had given them rank and honour was tumbled in the dust
“Better to die ten thousand deaths
Than wound my honour.”
“Mine honour is my life; both grow in one;
Take honour from me, and my life is done.”
III. Honour is lost when righteousness is abandoned. “Woe unto us that we have sinned.” Afflicted Judah is getting clearer light. In the seventh verse they still cling to the idea that their national calamities were to be ascribed to the sins of their ancestors. Now they see the enormity of their own sins, and acknowledge that they deserved chastisement Man is invulnerable to the assaults of the enemy and to the heaviest blows of misfortune and suffering while he retains his integrity. He is fenced round with the unconquerable protection of the God in whom he trusts. It is when he is untrue to himself, to his highest sense of honour, that he is untrue to God, and, falling away from righteousness, he becomes discrowned, and sinks into disgrace and misery.
1. Righteousness confers dignity.
2. That man suffers unspeakable loss who does not act up to his holiest impulses.
3. When a man loses a sense of honour, he may sink to any depth of infamy.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 5:16. The degradation of sin:
1. Begins in personal unfaithfulness.
2. It is undignified to sin.
3. The course of sin ends in misery and in woe.
A series of woes. “Woe unto us that we have sinned.”
1. The first woe is the polluting of the soul by sin.
2. The second woe is God’s hatred and abhorrence.
3. The third woe is God’s leaving us.
4. The fourth woe is all kinds of punishment—an Iliad of evils.—Bishop Ussher.
“True dignity is never gained by place,
And never lost when honours are withdrawn.”—Massinger.
“Ye proud, ye selfish, ye severe,
How vain your mask of state;
The good alone have joy sincere,
The good alone are great.”—Beattie.
“I have ventured,
Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,
This many summers in a sea of glory,
But far beyond my depth: my high-blown pride
At length broke under me; and now has left me,
Weary and old with service, to the mercy
Of a rude stream, that must for ever hide me.
Vain pomp and glory of this world, I hate ye!”
Degradation. That which renders men so unwilling to believe themselves capable of union with God is but the sense of their own degradation. I would gladly be informed whence this creature, who acknowledges himself so weak, obtains the right to measure and limit the Divine mercy as his own fancy suggests. Man understands so little the nature of God that he understands not himself; and yet, troubled by the contemplation of his own condition, he boldly pronounces that it is beyond the power of God to qualify him for this connection.—Pascal.
The agony of dishonour. The most terrible blow that General Grant ever knew was when the bank in which he was a partner had suspended payment. Not only was he ruined, his sons and daughters penniless by reason of all their savings invested in it being lost; but after a few days there came out a horrible story of craft and guile, and it was seen that his honoured name had been used to entice and decoy hosts of friends, to their own injury and Grant’s discredit Imputations were even cast on the fame that belonged to the country, and this blow was worst of all: the shock of battle was less tremendous; his physical agonies less acute.
Lamentations 5:17. How depressing is the conviction of personal sin. For this our heart has become faint. Many sorrows had surged over them and exhausted the faculty of external and mental vision. For these things our eyes are darkened.
Lamentations 5:18. The depression of heart meets its most striking symbol in that which, once the glory of the land, is now its reproach. As to Mount Zion—regarded as embracing both the dwelling-place of Jehovah and the precincts of the sacred city, which is desolate; jackals roam in it. These animals live in waste places, and avoid man’s presence, so their wandering upon Zion proves that it has become a ruinous area, without inhabitant. The place of the tabernacle of thy glory, the hill and the watch-tower, are turned into dens for wild beasts.
I. Evident in the desolation of the sanctuary. “The mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it” (Lamentations 5:18). The foxes or jackals were very likely attracted to the ruinous site of Zion by the bodies of the slain, which they devoured for food and, finding how completely the place was deserted, they remained in undisturbed possession. How different from the time when the Temple services were in full swing and the city crowded with happy worshippers! Religion is at a low ebb when the house of God is neglected and its services disregarded; it is lower still when the sanctuary is closed and its mouldering stones are covered with mosses and lichens; but it has got to the lowest depth when the building is demolished and scattered in ruins. To this pass had all the pretentious religionism of Judah now come.
II. Is a reason for depression and sorrow. “For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim” (Lamentations 5:17). The Jews of all ranks and classes would lament the national disasters—the loss of national honour in the fall of their king, the loss of wealth and influence, the loss of independence and liberty; but the pious Jews would lament most of all the loss of religion. They sorrowed till their hearts became faint and their eyes grew dim with tears. We may well grieve over the loss of property and friends, of worldly comforts and necessities, but the devout heart sorrows most of all over the decline of religion and the cessation of the worship of God.
III. Should lead to much heart-searching as to its cause. “For this—for these things—because of Zion which is desolate” (Lamentations 5:17-18). To the Jewish mind the Temple was the residence and throne of Jehovah, the symbol of worship, the embodiment of the national religious life. The destruction of the Temple carried with it the doom of religion: no Temple, no religion. It is true that genuine religion is independent of temples and buildings, but as a matter of fact it does not exist long without them. Individual piety may flourish without a material temple, but collective and organised religion can be maintained only by continued association and intercourse, and the sanctuary becomes a necessity of associated religious life. Those who talk so grandiosely about worshipping God in the temple of Nature rarely worship Him at all anywhere. Where there is no recognised sanctuary there is no rally-point for worshippers, and religion is disorganised and depressed. The same result ensues when the house of God is habitually neglected.
1. Religious declension is at the root of national decay.
2. The people of God should be always deeply concerned in religious extension.
3. Religious declension is sincerely lamented by the good.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 5:17-18. The disasters of the Church:
1. Create profound concern in the hearts of the good.
2. Should be deplored by every member of the commonwealth.
3. Mean that there has been gross unfaithfulness somewhere.
Lamentations 5:18. A deserted sanctuary:
1. A pathetic and suggestive sight.
2. An evidence of indifference and sin
3. A reproach that should be promptly wiped away.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Religious declension. The consequences which Moses foretold (Deuteronomy 29:24-25) as the result of the religious defection of the people were such as no human wisdom could foresee or experience suggest. The practice of idolatry did not prevent the aggrandisement of ancient Rome, nor any mere statesman ensure the accomplishment of a prophecy that military success should always attend the worship of the one true God, and that military discomfiture should always follow idolatry. It is evident that Moses derived his accurate knowledge of futurity from immediate inspiration of God.
Religious sham. A religion that does not take hold of the life that now is, is like a cloud that does not rain. A cloud may roll in grandeur and be an object of admiration, but if it does not rain, it is of little account so far as utility is concerned. And a religion that consists in the observance of magnificent ceremonies, but does not touch the duties of daily life, is a religion of show and of sham.
Church-going not the end of religion. I fear there are some who imagine that church-going is in itself the aim and end of all religion. No mistake can be more deplorable or pernicious. It is a blunder as egregious as it would be for a visitor to a manufactory to suppose that the machinery was all set in motion merely to be gazed at, and to keep employed the people who are engaged in tending it. The manufacturer who lays out his capital in such costly apparatus would find but an unsatisfactory return at the end of the year if there had not been a given quantity of finished goods for profitable sale in the market. So it is with church-going. It is wretched work if the worship of the house of God begins and ends with the prayers uttered there.—Hooper.
Mercenary religion. One of the causes that led to the overthrow of religion in Ephesus was the growing wealth attached to the Temple of Diana. The priesthood established deposit banks. Kings and private individuals intrusted their money to the care of the goddess, and the priests reinvested this for a profit. But gradually the idea of religious sanctity gave place to that of commercial enterprise, and the temple became fair game for attack and robbery.
Decay of religion. The most curious phenomenon in all Venetian history is the vitality of religion in private life, and its deadness in public policy. Amidst the enthusiasm, chivalry, or fanaticism of the other States of Europe, Venice stands from first to last like a masked statue; her coldness impenetrable, her exertion only aroused by the touches of a secret spring. That spring was her commercial interests—this the one motive of all her important political acts or enduring national animosities. She could forgive insults to her honour, but never rivalship in her commerce. She calculated the glory of her conquests by their value, and estimated their justice by their facility. While all Europe around her was wasted by the fire of its devotion, she first calculated the highest price she could exact from its piety for the armament she furnished, and then, for the advancement of her own private interests, at once broke her faith and betrayed her religion.—Ruskin.
Lamentations 5:19. Nevertheless, whatever be the low estate of His sanctuary and people, the living God is and reigns. Thou, O Jehovah, abidest for ever. Not only is His continual existence denoted, but also that Jehovah sitteth as king for ever (Psalms 29:10), the same verb being used in this clause as in the Psalm quoted, and the next clause carries on the thought, Thy throne from generation to generation. Enemies may destroy the temple made with hands; they are powerless to injure the kingdom of Him who inhabits eternity. Generations come and go with their rises and falls, but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.
Lamentations 5:20. The perpetuity of God’s rule, amid all earthly changes, frames an appealing prayer. Reigning supreme over the army of heaven, it is impossible that He can renounce authority over the things of earth and man; then, Why dost Thou forget us for ever, forsakest us for so long? Is it not time for Thee to pluck Thy right hand out of Thy bosom and bring relief in the lifetime even of this generation? How bluntly petitioners address God when troubles press upon them! How ready to suppose His thoughts and ways must be like their own! How prone to fancy that, because their observation does not perceive His working, God can hardly care so much for His kingdom’s honour as they do!
Lamentations 5:21. Turn us, O Jehovah, unto Thee, and we shall be turned; a prayer which proves that a new heart has been given to those in whose name the writer speaks. Affliction has been a means of showing the blunders and sins of the past, and that the only remedy for them is in Jehovah Himself. They see that the reconciling power does not originate with themselves, but with Him; that He must draw them by a continual influence if they are to walk in the light of His countenance. We do not consider this request as merely for the restoration of their native land; we need to put a deeper meaning into it, which will, at least, indicate that they wanted to become true worshippers of the Lord God of their deliverances. The succeeding clause, however, seems to imply that they did not expect to attain to their desires unless they were repossessed with their former national organisation. Renew our days as of old; re-establish the gracious relations in which thou stoodest to us; let us again have country, city, and temple, priest, prophet, and king. Cause every man to sit under his vine and under his fig-tree, and none make them afraid.
Lamentations 5:22. The two initial Hebrew particles of this verse signify that it is not a fact which is stated, but the elements of a hope, and may be introduced with, This will come to pass, unless Thou hast utterly rejected us; art wroth against us exceedingly. The under-thought is, But this cannot be the case. Thou wouldst not so disgrace the throne of Thy glory. Thou wouldst not so falsify the promises made to our fathers. Thou wouldst not always give occasion for the mocking heathen to say, Where is now your God?
“This conclusion entirely agrees with the character of the Lamentations, in which complaint and supplication continue to the end, not without an element of hope, which, as Gerlach says, ‘merely glimmers from afar, like the morning star through the clouds, which does not indeed itself dispel the shadows of the night, though it announces that the rising of the sun is near, and that it shall obtain the victory’ ” (Keil).
AN EARNEST PRAYER FOR RESTORATION
I. Acknowledges the eternal sovereignty of Jehovah. “Thou, O Lord, remainest for ever; Thy throne from generation to generation” (Lamentations 5:19). The throne of Judah is fallen, but not so the throne of God. Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Israel, and all the nations of the earth may rise and fall, but God is unchanged. The fact of the perpetuity of the Divine government of the world forms the basis of a hope that, however desperate may be the condition of His people, God can restore them. If the throne of God was like the fickle governments of earth, there would be no prospect of recovery. All true prayer has the assurance of being heard and answered in the fact of the righteousness of an unchangeable God.
II. Deprecates the continued absence of the Divine favour. “Wherefore dost Thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?” (Lamentations 5:20). If Thy government is continuous, why are we forgotten and abandoned? If Thy throne in heaven is immovable, why is Thy throne in our earthly Zion overthrown? Thou didst once care for us and love us, and the memory of that happy time still keeps our hope alive. Thy favour was the joy and the sunshine of our lives; its absence is at the root of all our misery. Low as we have sunk, it cannot be that Thou hast utterly and for ever given us up., Cast us not away from Thy presence, and take not Thy Holy Spirit from us. Restore unto us the joy of Thy salvation. The soul that yearns in prayer for the Divine favour is on the brink of a glorious vision.
III. Supplicates the grace of genuine repentance. “Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21). Repentance is a turning about. For some time the course of Judah had been in one direction—wandering from God, and sinking into ever lower depths of sin and misery. Now there is a thoughtful pause, an arrest of the downward career. What has brought this about? Prayer; and that prayer becomes more eager and earnest as it becomes more evident that rescue is at hand. True prayer recognises that God alone can give repentance and renew the glory of the golden days of old. When the heart is changed, our outward circumstances soon alter for the better. When Judah regained the favour of God, she also regained lost temporal blessings.
IV. Is urged with the assurance that God cannot utterly reject the truly penitent. “But Thou hast utterly rejected us; Thou art very wroth against us.” Unless Thou hast utterly rejected us, unless Thou art very wroth against us. This is stated as a virtual impossibility. Geikie translates the verse, “Thou wilt not surely wholly forget us? Thou wilt not be angry with us beyond measure?” The miserable results of their repudiation by Jehovah become the ground of a confident appeal to Him. He heard the prayer, and at the end of seventy years the Jews were restored to their own land. The Book of Lamentations ends, as it begins, with a wail; but the concluding wail, unlike the first, has in it a joyous strain of hope. In many ancient MSS. the twenty-first verse is repeated after the twenty-second, to make a more agreeable finish when the book was read in the Synagogue; but Jeremiah did not think this arrangement necessary. He concludes with the refrain of what had been the burden of his sorrowful monologue, because he is so confident of help and restoration. “The message of God to the soul, even in threatenings, is ever in truth one of comfort.” The darkest night of suffering and sorrow is followed by the tranquillising hope of the golden daybreak.
1. When the Church begins to pray there is hope of revival.
2. True prayer is ever accompanied with repentance.
3. God not only hears, but answers the prayer of the contrite.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 5:19-20. The unchangeable God. I. His government is in perpetual activity. “Thou remainest for ever, Thy throne from generation to generation” (Lamentations 5:19). II. He cannot forget His people. “Wherefore dost Thou forget us for ever?” (Lamentations 5:20). III. He will not for ever stand aloof from His people. “Wherefore dost Thou forsake us for so long time?” (Lamentations 5:20).
Lamentations 5:21-22. A prayer for repentance. I. Recognises that repentance is a Divine act. “Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord; renew our days as of old” (Lamentations 5:21). II. When God gives repentance it is effectual. “And we shall be turned” (Lamentations 5:21). III. When God gives repentance it is evident His wrath is withdrawn, and He again accepts us. “Unless Thou hast utterly rejected us; unless Thou art very wroth against us” (Lamentations 5:22). But this cannot be, for He gives repentance. He “renews our days as of old.”
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The eternity of God. Would you gain some idea of the eternity past of God’s existence? Go to the astronomer and bid him lead you with him in one of his walks through space; and as he sweeps outward from object to object, from universe to universe, remember that the light from those filmy stains on the deep pure blue of heaven now falling on your eye has been travelling space for a million of years.—Mitchell.
Prayer the melody of misery.
“Oh, hearts that break and give no sign,
Save whitening lip and fading tresses,
Till death pours out his cordial wine,
Slow-dropped from misery’s crushing presses:
If singing breath or echoing chord
To every hidden pain were given,
What endless melodies were poured,
As sad as earth, as sweet as heaven!”
—O. W. Holmes.
Suffering prompts prayer. Afflictions make us most frequent and fervent in pouring forth our supplications unto God. In our prosperity we either utterly neglect this duty, or perform it carelessly and slothfully; but when we are brought into calamities, we flee to Him by earnest prayer, craving His aid and help. And as the child, fearing nothing, is so fond of his play that he strays and wanders from his mother, not so much as thinking of her, but if he be scared or frighted with the sight or apprehension of some apparent or approaching danger, presently runs to her, casts himself into her arms, and cries out to be saved and shielded by her, so we, securely enjoying the childish sports of worldly prosperity, do so fondly dote on them that we scarce think of our Heavenly Father; but when perils approach and are ready to seize upon us, then we flee to Him and cast ourselves into the arms of His protection, crying to Him by earnest prayer for help in our extremity.—Downame.
The value of prayer. If the whole world in which we live is but a continual temptation, if all around appears to agree with our inward corruptions to weaken and seduce us, if riches bribe and indigence sours, if prosperity elevates and afflictions abase us, if business dissipates and rest enervates, if the sciences exalt and ignorance bewilders us, if commerce exposes us too much and solitude leaves us too much to ourselves, if pleasure seduce us and holy works make us proud, if health awakens the passions and sickness produces murmurings—in a word, if since the fall of man all that surrounds us and all that is in us is perilous, in so deplorable a situation, O my God, what hope of salvation remains for us? If our sighs do not incessantly ascend from the depth of our misery towards the throne of Thy mercy, until Thou deignest to assist us and to rescue us from our fallen state.—Massillon.
God answers prayer. When poor men make requests to us, we usually answer them as the echo does the voice—the answer cuts off half the petition. We shall seldom find among men Jael’s courtesy, giving milk to those that ask water, except it be as this was, an entangling benefit, the better to introduce a mischief. There are not many Naamans among us that, when you beg of them one talent, will force you to take two. But God’s answer to our prayers is like a multiplying glass, which renders the request much greater in the answer than it was in the prayer.—Bishop Reynolds.
“More things are wrought by prayer
Than the world dreams of.”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Lamentations 5". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent