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Zion bewaileth her pitiful estate: she confesseth her sins. Edom is threatened. Zion is comforted.
Before Christ 588.
THE prophet contrasts, in various affecting instances, the wretched and deplorable circumstances of the Jewish nation with the flourishing state of their affairs in former times; and ascribes the unhappy change principally to the profligacy of their priests and prophets, which had drawn upon them the universal abhorrence of God and man. The people proceed with lamenting their hopeless condition, and in a particular manner the captivity of their sovereign. The judgment of Edom is at length foretold, together with a final cessation of Sion's calamities.
Lamentations 4:1. How is the gold become dim! &c.— "How is the glory of the temple obscured! The sanctuary, which was overlaid with gold, now lies in the ruins." Some think that the prophet here alludes to the princes and chief persons of the country. See the next verse, and Psalms 119:83.
Lamentations 4:3. Sea-monsters—give suck to their young ones— See Job 39:13-14, and Parkhurst on the word ענה anah. We are told by voyagers, that the sea lioness, and other sea-monsters, have dugs with which they give suck.
Lamentations 4:5. They that did feed delicately, &c.— See the note on 1Sa 2:8 where it has been observed that it was usual in the east to burn dried dung, and consequently to lay up heaps of it for use in their cottages. The author of the Observations thinks that this will serve to explain the expression in this verse of embracing dunghills. "This taking refuge in dunghills (says he) is not mentioned in European descriptions of the horrors of war; but if they in the east burned dung anciently, as much as they do now, and preserved a stock of it with the solicitude of these times, it will appear quite natural to complain that those who had fed delicately, were wandering without food in the ways; and they who had been covered not only with clean garments, but with robes of magnificence, were forced by the destruction of their palaces, to take up their abode in places designed for the reception of this sort of turf, and to sit down upon those heaps of dried dung." See Observations, p. 137.
Lamentations 4:6. And no hands stayed on her— Nor were hands weakened in her. Sodom was destroyed by a sudden act of God which the prophet thinks preferable to lingering and wasting with disease and want, as was the case in Jerusalem during the long siege.
Lamentations 4:7. They were more ruddy, &c.— They were brighter in body than pearls, &c. See Bochart, lib. 2: cap. 6.
Lamentations 4:9. For these pine away— For they who are cut down by the sword, have departed quickly as the fruits of the field: "They who have perished by the sword, are quickly cut down like the ripe fruits of the field; and therefore it is better with them than with those who have wasted away by a long famine." Houbigant.
Lamentations 4:10. The hands, &c.— The hands of tender-hearted women have boiled their own children: they served them for meat in their calamity, &c.
Lamentations 4:12. The kings of the earth— Jerusalem was so strongly fortified both by art and nature, and had been so often miraculously preserved by God from the attempts of its enemies, that it seemed almost incredible that it should suffer so total a subversion. See Calmet.
Lamentations 4:14-15. So that men could not touch their garments— It could not be avoided but their garments must be touched. Therefore the prophet immediately addresses the citizens of Jerusalem, Lamentations 4:15. Depart, proclaim ye their uncleanness; depart, depart, touch not, that they may fly away and wander. Say among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there. Houbigant.
Lamentations 4:17. As for us, our eyes as yet failed— While we yet continued, our eyes failed with the vain expectation of help. Houbigant.
Lamentations 4:19. Our persecutors, &c.— The Lord hath brought upon us the judgment that he threatened by Moses, of bringing a nation against us, as swift as the eagle flieth; for such are the Chaldean horsemen. See Jeremiah 4:13; Jeremiah 48:40; Jeremiah 49:22.
Lamentations 4:20. The breath of our nostrils, &c.— That is to say, Our king; namely Zedekiah, whose flight the Chaldean soldiers intercepted, and on whose account the captive Jews hoped that their servitude would be lighter. So long as he was safe they might hope to preserve some face of religion and government. Calmet observes, that nothing can be more applicable than these words to our Lord Jesus Christ. This divine Saviour, the source of our life, the Lord and Master of the universe, the object of our love, and the Anointed of the Father, voluntarily delivered up himself for our sins; and has delivered us from death by the price of his life and blood.
Lamentations 4:21. Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom— This is an ironical expression against the Edomites, who had joined themselves to the Chaldeans in the siege of Jerusalem. See Psalms 137:7. Obad. Lamentations 4:10.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, Who can, unaffected, behold the desolations here described?
1. The temple is laid in ruins; the gold tarnished, the stones of the demolished sanctuary scattered on every side. Which may also be understood figuratively, as in the next verse, of the precious sons of Zion, who possessed immortal souls, comparable to fine gold for their worth, but now broken by the Chaldeans as an earthen pitcher, and lying slain in every street of the city.
2. People of all ranks and ages perish in the famine. The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst, the famished mother's breasts are dry, and, unable to moisten their lips, they seemed more cruel than the sea-monsters, or the ostriches of the wilderness. The weaned infant cried for bread, and the distressed parent hath it not to give; or, pressed by insufferable hunger, is deaf to his lisping, and cannot spare the least morsel. They who were used to every delicacy that affluence could procure, and were brought up in scarlet, or upon scarlet carpets spread under them, now wander in the street, and rake the dunghills for the vilest scraps to appease their raging appetite: to such distresses may the greatest be reduced. Their Nazarites, who were separated for God, and abstained with nicest care from every defilement; or her nobles, as some interpret it, who were so elegant and curious, white as snow, ruddy as rubies, and their skins smooth as polished sapphire; now, black with famine, grief, and melancholy, are so changed, that their visage is no longer known, withered and destitute of all moisture as a dry stick: perishing miserably for want, a lingering death more terrible than the sword, multitudes fall on every side; while, driven by raging hunger, horrible to tell! even mothers murder their infants, and ravenously feed upon the sodden corpses.
3. The cause of all is the sin of Jerusalem, provoking the fierce anger of the Lord; and now his fury poured out has accomplished her ruin. Greater than Sodom's punishment is her's because more aggravated her sins: that devoted city never enjoyed those means which Jerusalem had slighted; therefore her overthrow, though terrible, was sudden; while, by a lingering death upon the rack, the destruction of Zion is completed.
4. They who behold these desolations are astonished. So strong the fortress, so numerous the forces, so highly honoured by the residence of the great God, so signally before rescued by his interposition, the kings of the neighbouring nations never conceived it possible for the Chal-deans to have prevailed. Nor could they, if Zion's defence had not first departed, and God been turned against her as an enemy; and then no marvel that ruin terrible and remediless overtook her.
2nd, We have,
1. The principal cause of Jerusalem's destruction. The sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who, while by office and profession they should have reformed others, were the great examples and encouragers of iniquity, and filled up fast the measure of the national guilt. They shed the blood of the just, being the first to persecute God's faithful ones, especially the true prophets, who remonstrated against their wickedness. They wandered as blind men in the streets, pretending to lead others while themselves were bewildered in error, ignorance, and sin; and, thus polluted with blood, every good man shunned their company as defiling, and cried unto all near them to beware of them, as if their touch or breath communicated infection; depart ye, it is unclean, touch not: and in the lands whither they were carried captive, these destroyers of their country were marked with a peculiar brand of infamy; they said among the heathen, they shall no more sojourn there, God having decreed, concerning these false teachers, that they should die in the land of their captivity, and never see or partake of the restoration which God had promised to his people. Under God's peculiar wrath they were now divided and dispersed; and as he will no more regard them, neither shall they find any respect or favour from their heathen masters: or the last words of Lam 4:16 may be interpreted as their sin, as well as punishment: they had created with contempt God's true and faithful ministers, and therefore they themselves justly receive the same. Note; (1.) Wicked priests and prophets, more than any others, conspire to hasten a nation's ruin. (2.) We cannot keep at too great a distance from their company, whose evil communications tend to corrupt and destroy the soul.
2. In the time of their calamity all help failed this unhappy people. They expected assistance from the Egyptians, but in vain; eagerly they looked for their advancing to raise the siege, till their eyes failed; and too late they found their case desperate, and that their allies could not save them from the Chaldean army: their mounts were raised so high that they overlooked the walls; and if but a person appeared in the streets, they pursued him with their slings and arrows as a beast is hunted. Their end was near, it now was evident that they could not hold out long; the days appointed by the prophetic word were near expiring, and then the fearful end of Zion must come. Flight was useless, when, swifter than eagles, their persecutors pursued; nor could the mountain or wilderness afford a covert from their piercing eyes; nay, even their king himself found no protection for his sacred person; and all their flattering hopes, that under his protection they should be safe amid the surrounding heathen nations, now vanished as a dream: they behold him seized, his eyes put out, and he led away in brazen fetters a miserable captive. Some have applied this as if it had a reference to Christ, the anointed Saviour, seized by the hands of his enemies and slain, while his disheartened disciples, beholding the scene, were ready to abandon themselves to despair.
3. A gracious promise closes the lamentation, so doleful and full of misery. Edom had maliciously rejoiced at Zion's fall; and with pointed irony the prophet bids them continue their joy; but lets them know, that of the cup of vengeance which Jerusalem had tasted they themselves must drink, and sink down as a drunken man overpowered with liquor, under the fury of the Lord; helpless be stripped of all their treasures and ornaments, and driven naked as slaves before their conquerors: and while Zion's punishment has an end, and she is restored, no more to be a captive, the iniquity of Edom shall still be visited, and her sins discovered in the punishment inflicted on her. And what is here said seems to look to future times, Edom being the figure of the antichristian powers, as Zion is of the church of God. The Jews, after their return from Babylon, were, we know, led captive again, and are to this day in a state of bondage; but when Rome, the spiritual Edom, shall be destroyed, then shall the church be triumphant, and never know the yoke of captivity any more.
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Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Lamentations 4". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany