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by Joseph Benson
THE LAMENTATIONS OF JEREMIAH.
THIS book has no title in the Hebrew, but, like the five books of Moses, takes its name from the first word of it, איכה , Echah, How. The Jewish commentators, however, entitle it, as the Greeks, Latins, our translators, and others do, Lamentations; an appellation expressive of the subject matter of it, the prophet lamenting in it, and that most pathetically, the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the desolation of Judea, and the captivity of God’s ancient people. Some indeed, and those men of eminence in literature, have supposed that the death of Josiah is the chief subject of these mournful poems, and that these are the lamentations mentioned 2 Chronicles 35:25, as being composed by Jeremiah on that occasion. But, as Blaney justly observes, “whatever is become of those lamentations, these cannot possibly be the same; for their whole tenor, from beginning to end, plainly shows them not to have been composed till the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple, and the depopulation of the country by the transmigration of all its inhabitants; which events are not at all described in the style of prophetic prediction, but are alluded to and bewailed as what had been already fully accomplished. And that this was the most ancient opinion held concerning them, appears from the introductory title prefixed to the Greek version of the LXX., and from thence, probably, transmitted to the Latin Vulgate:” (see note on Jeremiah 52:1.) but “the internal evidence is sufficient to ascertain both the date and the occasion of these compositions; nor can we admire too much the full and graceful flow of that pathetic eloquence, in which the author pours forth the effusions of a patriotic heart, and piously weeps over the ruins of his venerable country.” “Never,” says an unquestionable judge of these matters, “was there a more rich and elegant variety of beautiful images and adjuncts arranged together within so small a compass, nor more happily chosen and applied. What can be more elegant and poetical than the image of the city, which was formerly the pride of nations, sitting by herself, absorbed in grief, and a widow; deserted by her friends, betrayed by her relations, stretching out her hands in vain, and finding no one to comfort her? What can be more elegant than the image of the ways of Zion, which are represented as grieving, and demanding the celebration of their solemn festivals? But if we should produce all the beautiful passages, we should be obliged to transcribe the whole poem.” See Bishop Lowth, de Sacra Poesi Hebræorum, Prælec. 22. Indeed, as has been observed, the prophet’s peculiar talent lay in working up and expressing the passions of grief and pity; and, unhappily for him, as a man and a citizen, he met with a subject but too well calculated to give his genius its full display.
These Lamentations of Jeremiah are very properly distributed into five chapters, each of them containing a distinct elegy, consisting of twenty-two periods, or stanzas, according to the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet; although it is in the first four chapters only that the several periods begin, acrostic-wise, with the different letters following each other in alphabetical order. By this contrivance the metre is more precisely marked and ascertained, particularly in the third chapter, where each period contains three verses, which have all the same initial letter. The first two chapters in like manner consist of triplets, excepting only the seventh period of the first, and the nineteenth of the second, which have each a supernumerary line. The fourth chapter resembles the three former in metre, but the periods are only couplets. In the fifth chapter the periods are couplets, but of a considerably shorter measure. See Blaney.
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19