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A WAIL OF DISTRESS FOR JERUSALEM.
Lamentations 1:1, Lamentations 1:2
The fate of Jerusalem is described in language which resembles here and there that used in Isaiah of fallen Babylon (Isaiah 47:1, Isaiah 47:8). It is probably the finest passage in the whole bock, and has inspired some grand lines in Mr. Swinburne's picture of the republican mater dolorosa—
"Who is she that sits by the way, by the wild wayside,
In a rust-stained garment, the robes of a cast-off bride,
In the dust, in the rainfall, sitting with soiled feet bare,
With the night for a garment upon her, with torn, wet hair," etc.?
How. The characteristic introductory word of an elegy (comp. Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 14:4, Isaiah 14:12), and adopted by the early Jewish divines as the title of the Book of Lamentations. It is repeated at the opening of Lamentations 2:1-22 and Lamentations 4:1-22. Sit solitary. Jerusalem is poetically personified and distinguished from the persons who accidentally compose her population. She is "solitary," not as having retired into solitude, but as deserted by her inhabitants (same word as in first clause of Isaiah 27:10). How is she become as a widow! etc. Rather, She is become a widow that was great among the nations; a princess among the provinces, she is become a vassal. The alteration greatly conduces to the effect of the verse, which consists of three parallel lines, like almost all the rest of the chapter. We are not to press the phrase, "a widow," as if some. earthly or heavenly husband were alluded to; it is a kind of symbol of desolation and misery (comp. Isaiah 47:8). "The provinces" at once suggests the period of the writer, who must have been a subject of the Babylonian empire. The term is also frequently used of the countries under the Persian rule (e.g. Esther 1:1, Esther 1:22), and in Ezra 2:1 and Nehemiah 7:6 is used of Judah itself. Here, however, the "provinces," like the "nations," must be the countries formerly subject to David and Solomon (comp. Ecclesiastes 2:8).
In the night. Not only by day, but even in the season of rest and unconsciousness. Her lovers … her friends; i.e. the neighbouring peoples, with which Judah had formed alliances, such as Egypt (Jeremiah 2:36), Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon (Jeremiah 27:3). This is a favourite phrase of Jeremiah's (comp. Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 4:30; Jeremiah 22:20, Jeremiah 22:22; Jeremiah 30:14), but also of Hosea (Hosea 2:5, Hosea 2:7, Hosea 2:10, Hosea 2:12, Hosea 2:13; Hosea 8:9) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:33, Ezekiel 16:36, Ezekiel 16:37; Ezekiel 23:5, Ezekiel 23:9, Ezekiel 23:22). The national God was conceived of as the Husband of the nation; and the prophets retained this idea and elevated it, just as they did circumcision and many other Eastern traditions.
Is gone into captivity because of affliction; rather, is gone into exile, etc. The poet is not thinking of the deportation of the captives, but of those Jews who sought refuge for themselves in foreign lands (comp. Jeremiah 40:11). An objection has been raised to this view that the number of fugitive Jews would not be large enough to warrant their being called "Judah." But we might almost as well object on a similar ground to the application of the term "Judah" to the Jews who were carried to Babylon. The truth may, perhaps, be that, after the fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish nation became split up into three parts:
(1) the Jews who succeeded in escaping into Egypt or elsewhere;
(2) those who were carried captive;
(3) the mass of the common people, who remained on their native soil, Keil, however, retains the view of the Authorized Version, only substituting "out of" for "because of." "Out of" the misery into which the Jews had been brought by the invasions of Necho and Nebuchadnezzar they passed into the new misery of captivity. Among the heathen; rather, among the nations. Between the straits. The phrase is peculiar, and reminds us of Psalms 118:5, "Out of the strait I called unto thee." "A strait," or narrow place, clearly means adversity, just as "a large place" (Psalms 118:5) means prosperity.
The ways of Zion do mourn. The reads leading to Jerusalem, usually so thronged with pilgrims, are desolate and "mourn" (comp. Lamentations 2:8 and Isaiah 3:26; Isaiah 14:31). All her gates are desolate. No one goes in or out of Jerusalem, and there is no concourse of citizens in the shady recess of the gates. The virgins are afflicted. So Zephaniah 3:18. The sorrow was on account of the cessation of the festival, in the music of which they took a leading part (comp. Psalms 68:25).
Are the chief; rather, are become the head. Comp. Deuteronomy 28:44, where, as a part of the curse of Israel's rebellion, it is foretold that "he [the stranger] shall become the head, and thou shalt become the tail." Before the enemy. Like a herd of cattle.
Beauty; rather, glory. Like harts that find no pasture; and therefore have no strength left to flee. An allusion to the attempted flight of Zedekiah and his companions (Jeremiah 39:4, Jeremiah 39:5).
Remembered; rather, remembereth. Miseries. The Hebrew is difficult, and perhaps means wanderings. At her sabbaths; rather, at her extinguishment. The word has nothing to do with the sabbaths; indeed, a reference to these would have been rather misplaced; it was no subject of wonder to the Babylonians that the Jews celebrated a weekly day of rest, as they had one of their own (sabattu).
Therefore she is removed; rather, she is become an abomination (literally, an impurity; comp. Leviticus 15:19). The poet leaves out the preliminary clause, "therefore she is grievously punished." It was the humiliation of Jerusalem, rather than her sin, which brought upon her the contempt of her neighbours. The destruction of a city is often compared to the ill treatment of a defenceless woman (Isaiah 47:3; Nahum 3:5).
She remembereth not, etc.; rather, she thought not upon, etc. An allusion to Isaiah 47:7. O Lord, behold, etc. This is the language in which the "sigh" (Isaiah 47:8) finds expression.
Her pleasant things; or, her precious things; that is, the treasures of the palaces of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:19), and still more those of the temple (2 Chronicles 36:10); comp. Isaiah 64:11). For she hath seen; rather, yea, she hath seen. The heathen entered, etc. In Deuteronomy 23:3 only the Ammonites and Moabites are excluded from religious privileges; but in Ezekiel 44:9 the prohibition is extended to all foreigners.
All her people sigh, etc. The sufferings of Jerusalem did not come to an end at the capture of the city. Some think that this verse relates solely to the miserable survivors. This is possible; at any rate, it includes the contemporaries of the writer. "Sigh" and "seek" are participles in the Hebrew. To relieve the soul; literally, to bring back the soul. The "soul," i.e. the principle of life, is conceived of as having for a time deserted the fainting frame. See, O Lord, etc. Another piteous cry of Jerusalem, preparing the way for the second half of the elegy.
The same subject; Jerusalem the speaker.
Is it nothing to you? The Hebrew is very difficult, and the translation therefore insecure. Keil, however, adopts a rendering very near that of the Authorized Version "(Cometh it) not unto you?" i.e. "Do ye not heed it?" Ewald supposes the phrase to be abbreviated from "Do I not call unto you?" (comp. Proverbs 8:4); but this would be a very harsh construction. The Septuagint has Οἱ πρὸς ὑμᾶς; the Targum, "I adjure you;" the Vulgate, O vos;—all apparently pronouncing lū instead of lō. At any rate, the object of the words is to heighten the force of the appeal which follows.
Three figures—fire, a net, sickness, for the calamities which have come upon Jerusalem. From above; i.e. from heaven. Spread a net for my feet, as though I were a wild beast (comp. Jeremiah 18:22). Turned me back. The consequence of being entangled in the net was that he could go no further, but fell into the hands of his pursuers.
Is bound …are wreathed. The transgressions of Jerusalem are likened to a heavy yoke. So numerous are they that they are said to be "wreathed," or twisted together, like ropes. Into their hands. The Hebrew has simply "into hands;" following a suggestion of the Septuagint. Budde would read, "Into the hands of adversaries."
Hath trodden under foot; rather, hath rejected; i.e. hath punished. Comp. Psalms 119:118, Psalms 119:119, where "thou rejectest [same verb as here] all them that wander from thy statutes" is followed by "thou puttest away all the ungodly of the earth like dross," Hath called an assembly; rather, hath proclaimed a festival. When Jehovah summons the instruments of his vengeance, the prophets describe it as the "proclaiming a festival." The Persians or Chaldeans, as the case may be, obey the summons with a holy glee, and destroy the enemies of the true God (comp. Isaiah 13:3). Hath trodden, etc.; rather, hath trodden the winepress for (i.e. to the ruin of) the virgin daughter of Zion. The poet. carries on the figure of the festival. It is a vintage which is to be celebrated, such a vintage as is described in Isaiah 63:3 (comp. Joel 3:13). The choicest youth of Judah are to be cut off like grapes from the vine. "Virgin daughter" is a frequent figure to express inviolate security (so Jeremiah 14:17).
For these things, etc. After the reflections of Lamentations 1:13-15, the poet gives vent anew to his hitter grief. Mine eye, mine eye. A repetition quite in Jeremiah's manner; comp. Jeremiah 4:19; Jeremiah 6:14 (repeated Jeremiah 8:11); Jeremiah 22:29; Jeremiah 23:25. The Septuagint and Vulgate, however, have "mine eye" only once. Relieve my soul (see on Jeremiah 23:11).
Again the poet passes into the tone of reflection, thus relieving the strain upon the feelings of the reader. Spreadeth forth her hands. The gesture of supplication and entreaty (comp. Psalms 28:2; Psalms 63:4; Isaiah 65:2). That his adversaries, etc.; rather, those who are about him are his adversaries. The neighbouring peoples, who ought to be sympathetic and friendly, gloat over the spectacle of his calamities. They both hate and (comp. Lamentations 1:8) despise the fallen city.
People; render, peoples.
For my lovers; render, to my lovers (see on Lamentations 1:2).
My bowels. The vital parts, especially the heart, as the seat of the affections, like σπλάγχνα. Are troubled; literally, are made to boil. So Job 30:27, "My bowels boil" (a different word, however). Is turned; or, turns itself; i.e. palpitates violently. At home there is as death. So Jeremiah 9:21, "For death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces." By "death," when distinguished, as here, from "the sword," pestilence is meant; so e.g. in Jeremiah 15:2; Jeremiah 43:11. But the poet says here, not that "there is death," but merely "as death," i.e. a mild form of pestilence, not the famine typhus itself. Or, perhaps, he means "every form of death" (Virgil's "plurima mortis imago").
Thou wilt bring. The Hebrew has, "Thou hast brought;" it is the perfect of prophetic certitude, which represents an event certainly foreseen as if it had already taken place. Ewald, however, takes this to be the precative, a variety of the perfect which certainly exists in Arabic, but has not been quite satisfactorily shown to exist in Hebrew. But very probably we should read, with the Septuagint," Thou wilt bring the day; thou wilt call the fit time."
For my sighs are many. This is not mentioned as the reason why God should punish Jerusalem's enemies; we ought rather to understand, either from Lamentations 1:20, "Behold, my distress;" or simply, "Deliver me."
The solitary city.
The first elegy on the desolation of Jerusalem opens with a lament over her solitariness, widowhood, and humiliation.
I. THE SOLITARINESS.
1. How it is to be measured.
(1) By the nature of the place. It is a city that is solitary. A deserted town strikes us as more lonely than the most dreary moor. We do not expect people in a wilderness; we look for them in a city. Streets which never echo to a footfall, windows which never brighten with a face, doors which are never opened, houses, palaces, shops, factories, markets, all silent and empty,—this is indeed a picture of desolation. It is contrary to experience, expectation, and purpose.
(2) By the former condition of the place. It used to be populous. Jerusalem was no sleepy old provincial town, but a busy capital. Crowds would throng the streets, little children play, and old men stand gossiping at the corners, and hucksters set up their stalls, where now no live creature is to be seen, save, perhaps, a few lean dogs prowling after their unclean food. The contrast of the past thus aggravates the distress of the present.
2. Why it is most sad. The loss of men is the great trouble. Fine buildings have been thrown down, marble statues broken, gold and precious stones stolen. But these are not the worst evils. Had all remained untouched, still the trouble would have been heart rending. The people are gone! Chicago rises out of her ashes in greater splendour because her people remain. Jerusalem is most desolate because her citizens have been carried into captivity. The strength of a city is its population. The power of a nation is in its people. The vigour of a Church is in its membership. A splendid cathedral, with a rich full service, but no congregation, fails in comparison with the homeliest mission, if the latter gathers the people. Doctrine may be sound and "means of grace" abundant, yet we shall not advance except as we hold the people.
II. WIDOWHOOD. Unintentionally and perhaps unconsciously, the inspired poet uses an illustration to describe the desolate condition of Jerusalem, which may serve as a hint of her deeper distress. "She is become as a widow." Who had been her husband? The favoured city used to be regarded as the mystic bride of the Eternal. She had often been accused of unfaithfulness to her marriage vows. Now the faithless wife is punished by becoming the miserable widow. Jerusalem loses the presence and favour of God. It is said that the Shechinah was seen there no more. The greatest loss is to be bereft of God. They who are unfaithful to God will find that he will forsake them. Many would retain the privilege of blessings from God, while renouncing the obligation of fidelity to God. The unfaithful wife is loth to lose the support and position contributed to her by her husband. But this inconsistency cannot be allowed. Christ the Bridegroom remains faithful. But if his bride, the Church, dishonours his Name, she will lose her Lord and become as a widow.
III. HUMILIATION. The city had been the princess among the provinces. She now not only loses her dependencies; she loses her own independence; she becomes a vassal to a strange city. Humiliation will be the peculiar punishment of the great who abuse their rank. The doom of pride will be shame. Few troubles are more galling than to have to come down openly in the sight of those over whom a certain superiority had been maintained.
1. Loss of position and character results in loss of influence. When the Church falls, her power over the world will disappear. Christian elevation of character is essential to Christian influence among men.
2. Loss of power entails loss of liberty. Jerusalem weakened and conquered becomes a vassal. Only the strong can be free. Spiritual failings lead to the loss of spiritual liberty.
3. When the Church ceases to influence the world she will become subject to the world. The fallen suzerain becomes a vassal. The Church can only retain her liberty by maintaining her supremacy. This is the great truth the abuse of which has led to the monstrous pretensions of Rome. The lawful supremacy of the Church must be spiritual, and this may be lost and the Church subject to the spirit of the world, even while she is greedily grasping after temporal power, perhaps just because she does hanker after this lower advantage.
In her distress Jerusalem looks for comfort to those neighbouring nations which flattered her during her prosperity and behaved then as "lovers;" but she is disappointed in finding that they all desert her in the hour of her need.
I. IT IS NATURAL TO SEEK FOR COMFORT IN ADVERSITY FROM THE FRIENDSHIPS OF PROSPERITY. Jerusalem had her "lovers." This fact throws a significant light on the statement that she had "become as a widow" (Lamentations 1:1). What shame that she, the wife of the Eternal, should have to be spoken to of "lovers"! But having them she must find her comfort in them. She dare not look to her husband for comfort. In plainer language, the Jews had adopted the idolatry of neighbouring nations as well as renounced the exclusive and retiring position which had been required of them by their God. It was fitting that they should find their consolation from the Babylonian invasion in these foreign connections and religions. If we let our business, our pleasure, our ambition, or any other earthly thing usurp the place of God in our hearts, the time will come when we shall have to try what help we can get in trouble from our idol.
II. UNWORTHY CONNECTIONS WILL AFFORD NO COMFORT IN TIMES OF TROUBLE. The lovers are for pleasure; adversity dismisses them. How bitter is the disappointment! how mortifying is the revelation! The true husband could have been depended on, but the bad lovers for whom he was forsaken coldly turn from the piteous pleading of the sufferer. Thus must it be with every one who forsakes the one Friend and Comforter. No other balm of Gilead will heal the broken heart. What can the pleasures of society say to one who has failed and disgraced himself? What consolation can a materialistic philosophy whisper in the ears of the mourner by the grave? How will the science of the history of religion smooth the pillow of the dying man?
III. THE LAST DROP OF THE BITTER CUP IS TO BE COMFORTLESS. Mere formal consoling is a weariness when it is not an insult to grief. But the comfort of sympathy, the soothing of love, and the cheering of congenial companionship are Divine remedies for sorrow. They are lights in the gloom, though they do not bring the day; gentle hands to wipe away the tears, the flowing of which they may not be able to stanch. The most desolate picture is that of one like Jerusalem in this elegy, weeping sore in the night, with no friendly ray to break the darkness, and no one to remove the tears that fall upon the cheeks unheeded and neglected, crying for comfort only to the pitiless silence.
1. Let us learn to dwell in faithfulness with God, that we may enjoy his unfailing sympathy.
2. Let us extend hands of brotherly compassion to the sorrowing, that, whatever be the grief, its last anguish may be spared; and then, through human comfort, we may lead up to the Divine consolations.
The abandoned feasts.
Jerusalem was the religious centre of the nation. Thither the tribes came up to present themselves before the Lord. Great assemblies and joyous feasts were held there for the benefit of all the Jews. But after the Babylonian destruction all this was suspended. None now came to the solemn feasts. The high roads which were wont to be thronged with pilgrims mourn for the lack of travellers; the gates through which they used to press are unused; priests sigh with weariness and distress, having no glad offerings to present; and the virgins who led the song and dance in honour of God are smitten with affliction.
I. IT IS A CALAMITY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP TO CEASE. Some regard public worship as an onerous duty and others as a superfluous infliction. But they who enter into the privileges of it heartily and spiritually know that it is a boon to the worshipper. As the sabbath is made for man, so also is the institution of worship. To be deprived of it is to suffer loss.
1. The loss of the joy of worship. There is a gladness in expressing love to earthly friends which should be found in the outpouring of our devotion to God. To mingle with the song of the angels is to taste the joy of the angels.
2. The loss of the elevating influence of worship. The soul rises on the wings of its own prayer. Worship is aspiration, and aspiration elevates. If we never worship we stagnate in worldliness. True worship is spiritual and may be enjoyed moat in private. But public worship greatly helps this spiritual worship with most people.
3. The loss of the social influence of worship. Public worship affords mutual help in worship. Numbers give warmth and life to it.
II. IT IS A CALAMITY FOR JOYOUS FESTIVALS TO CEASE. The loss is twofold.
1. The loss of the joy itself. The gladness of worship is no small part of the brightness of a devout man's life. Rob him of this, and you darken his sky. There are clouds enough; we cannot afford to lose the sunlight which pierces and sometimes illumines them.
2. The loss of the influence of the joy.
(1) This joy purifies. It keeps out unholy pleasures by satisfying the soul with its own blessedness.
(2) This joy strengthens. In gladness we can serve God most earnestly. If, then, the unavoidable loss of joyous exercises of religion is a calamity, how great is the error of those who voluntarily convert religion into a thing of gloom!
III. IT IS A CALAMITY FOR RELIGIOUS INTERCOURSE BETWEEN MEN TO CEASE. The festival was an occasion for the meeting of Jews from all quarters. Townsmen met countrymen. Herdsmen from the south met agriculturists from the north. When this assembly was interrupted, the people suffered in many respects.
1. The loss of brotherly association. We are tempted to forget our brethren if we cease to see them. Solitary Christians tend to become selfish Christians. Brotherly sympathy is fostered by brother fellowship.
2. The loss of mutual stimulus. The strong would urge on the weak, and the more spiritual inspire the less spiritual. There were prophets in these assemblies.
3. The loss of the breadth of variety. We become narrow by isolation. Intercourse broadens us. Christians should seek opportunities to meet with their fellow Christians, to gain width and liberality of view.
Her beauty departed from Zion.
I. ZION HAD A BEAUTY OF HER OWN. The dwellings of Zion shone splendid in cedar and gold. A softer beauty was shed over her from old memories and tender associations. The spiritual Zion has her beauty. It is not the magnificence of marble columns and gilded decorations. The beauty of Zion is the beauty of her worship and life.
1. The beauty of holiness. Purity is beautiful as impurity is ugly. This high spiritual loveliness is like the glory of God.
2. The beauty of love. Zion was the place where the tribes assembled. Here all jealousies were to be laid aside and all quarrels healed. What is more beautiful than concession and forgiveness? This beauty should characterize the Church of Christ. "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" etc. (Psalms 133:1-3.).
3. The beauty of joy. Zion was the centre of festive gatherings. The sacred hill used to echo with shouts of gladness; it was enlivened with the timbrel and song of happy maidens. The joy of Divine grace imparts a sweetness to the very countenance of the faithful servant of God.
II. ZION LOST HER BEAUTY. The fine city was sacked by ruthless soldiers; the splendid edifices rifled or fired; the pomp and pageantry dissipated by sword and axe. But the higher beauty of Zion was also lost, and lost before she was robbed of her external grandeur. Her holiness was corrupted. Sin destroys the spiritual beauty of the Christian. His white priestly garments are defiled when he descends into the mire of moral degradation. It is not only that sin will be visited with certain definite pains and penalties. Before that happens there is an indescribable loss in the tarnished character and marred beauty of the soul which, to one who is awake to the evil condition into which he has fallen, must be a shame and grief.
III. THE LOSS OF THE BEAUTY OF ZION WAS A MOURNFUL CALAMITY. This beauty is no idle ornament, to be put off and on at the caprice of the wearer and for objects of idle display. It is the pledge of her King's favour, the inspiration of her own best life, and the secret of her influence.
1. Health is lost. As when the sunlight which flashes on silvery lakes and mountain snows fades away, the chills and mists of night creep over the valley, so, when the glory of God departs from a soul, coldness, darkness, and death take its place.
2. Influence is lost. Christians are to be the light of the world. Losing their brightness, they cease to draw others to Christ. The fair countenance of the bride of Christ wins many guests to the wedding feast. Let her see that it is not marred, lest her Lord be dishonoured.
Pleasant things in the days of old.
I. IN TIMES OF TROUBLE WE CALL TO MIND THE PLEASANT THINGS IN THE DAYS OF OLD.
1. There have been pleasant things in the days of old. Few lives, if any, are wholly joyless from cradle to grave. There are rifts in the clouds of the darkest lot. Indeed, for most of us, the pleasant things far outnumber the painful.
2. These pleasant things are too often undervalued when in our possession. The fact that they may become subjects of fond and sad regret should lead us to take more account of them while they are with us. Let us not add to the lamentations of the loss of them remorse for an ungrateful and depreciatory treatment of them.
3. Trouble calls up the recollection of these pleasant things.
(1) It does this because it leads to reflection. We may observe a great contrast between the intellectual effects of joy and sorrow. Joy is usually thoughtless, sorrow meditative. When joy does stimulate the intellect, it urges it to look forward and inspires hope; but sorrow turns its gaze backward and contemplates the past.
2. It does this by the force of contrast. One experience suggests the thought of its opposite. Darkness makes us dream of light, silence of music, pain of joy.
4. Such recollections are likely to exaggerate the pleasantness of the past. Memory is not an even mirror. It is warped by prejudice and emotion. When we regret the loss of past happiness, we exalt that happiness in memory above what it ever was in experience. Unconsciously we drop the vexations out of notice. We remember the fine view, and forget the weary climb that preceded the enjoyment of it. The roses of a regretful memory have no thorns. The soft evening lights spread a glamour over the past which gilds its plain features and softens its rugged form and hides its ugly defects in a delicious haze of dreamy melancholy.
II. RECOLLECTIONS OF PLEASANT THINGS IN THE DAYS OF OLD EXAGGERATE THE DISTRESS OF TIMES OF TROUBLE. On the whole, it may be, life is prosperous. The balance is in favour of the pleasant things. But we cannot take life in the lump. We consume it piecemeal; and that portion which is with us at each moment is for us the life itself—the whole life. Our real living is in the present. It is true that "we look before and after," and hope may greatly lighten the burden of the present, but only by coming into the present as the twilight of dawn enters the world Before sunrise—a real light.
1. This fact helps us to see a more even equalizing of lots than is obvious at first. If man is born to trouble, he who seems at one time to have an unfair advantage will have to pay for it by the keener suffering of his adversity when that comes.
2. This fact should warn us against the folly of enjoying the present without preparing for the future. The more heartily we enjoy earthly treasures the worse will be our distress if we have no treasure in heaven to inherit.
3. It is foolish to yield to fond regrets of the pleasant things in the days of old. The past cannot be recalled. Let it die. The future is ours. The west will not brighten again with a return of the fading glow of sunset, but a new day will break in the east.
4. We may call to mind the happy things in days of old, not to increase our present distress, but to encourage hope. The sun did shine, then it may shine again. God is the same now as ever. If he blessed in the past he can bless in the future. Former mercies encourage us to hope for better things still to come.
Sorrow unequalled, yet unheeded.
Jerusalem sits alone in her unparalleled grief, and the bitterness of it is intensified by the pitiless disregard of spectators. Bedouins of the desert pitch their tents in sight of her ruined towers, and merchants passing north and south see her deserted streets, and yet all gaze unmoved at the heart-rending picture.
I. THE SORROW WAS UNEQUALLED.
1. Never was city more favoured than Jerusalem. She was the chosen scat of Divine grace. In her temple stood God's mercy seat. High privileges of revelation and spiritual blessings descended on her sons and daughters. The loss of these privileges brought a distress that men who had never enjoyed them could not feel. They who have tasted of the heavenly gift will find the outer darkness more terrible than those who have had no anticipation of the joys of the wedding feast. Apostate Christians will suffer agonies which the heathen and godless will not have to endure.
2. Never was city more loved than Jerusalem. This city of sacred memories and tender associations was dear to the hearts of her inhabitants. Her overthrow brought a grief that was proportionate to this love. The most fatal wound is one aimed at the heart. We are pained most cruelly when we are wounded in affection. What grief can be greater than that of parents for ruined children, and especially when the parents' sin has been the children's temptation?
3. Never was city more visited by Divine wrath than Jerusalem. Here is the secret of her deepest trouble. She is afflicted in the day of God's fierce anger. God is most angry with her because she has sinned against most light, most ungratefully, and most rebelliously.
II. THE SORROW WAS UNHEEDED. It would be thought that such unequalled grief would arrest the attention of the most hasty and strike pity into the hardest. But no; it seems that all will pass by with cold and stony indifference.
1. Note the causes of this indifference.
(1) Callousness. Men look with the eye who do not feel with the heart. The very sight of misery often encountered hardens men's sensibilities.
(2) Selfishness. People are self-absorbed. Sympathy requires effort, attention, self-renunciation. It costs more than the selfish will give.
(3) Contempt. The worst trouble of Jerusalem was her humiliation. But humiliation leads to contempt. Now, it is hard to pity those who are despised.
2. Consider the exceptions to this indifference.
(1) Good Samaritans. Thank God, such exist, though no synagogue honours them. One such is worth scores of priests and Levites who "pass by on the other side."
(2) The Divine compassion. The sufferer looks down and looks around him and sees no pity. If he will look up, he will see that the very Being who smote in righteous wrath is waiting to heal in merciful forgiveness (Hosea 6:1).
In conclusion, a parallel may be drawn between the sorrow of Christ and that of Jerusalem. The text cannot be understood to be written of our Lord. But it may illustrate that sorrow which far surpassed all other human grief. To how many is it as nothing! They pass the cross as Arabs and Phoenicians passed Jerusalem in her ruin. Yet, is it nothing to them?
(1) Their sins caused Christ's sorrow.
(2) Christ's sorrow can save their souls.
(3) Christ's sorrow calls, not for pity, but for gratitude and faith.
Lamentations 1:13, Lamentations 1:14
Fourfold trouble from God.
I. THE TROUBLE IS FROM GOD. This is the characteristic of it that the writer dwells upon with most concern.
1. We should recognize the Divine origin of trouble. We miss the meaning and purpose of it if we do not see the hand that sends it. Earthly means may be used, as the King of Babylon was the agent for the destruction of Jerusalem. But all punishment for sin is inflicted by the Judge of sin.
2. We should remember that trouble from God is most terrible trouble. It springs from that most fierce anger, the anger of outraged love. It is directed by almighty power and cannot be evaded or resisted. It stops the alleviation of the best consolations by flowing from the same source from which those consolations would come.
3. We should observe the purpose of trouble from God. He doth not willingly afflict. If he sends distress it is for an object. What is that object? It may be to punish sin; then let us search out the sin and repent of it, It may be to wean us from earth; then let us cease from the idolatry of carnal things. It may be to teach us our weakness; then let us learn humility in our trouble. It may be to train us in patience and faith and spirituality; then let these graces have their perfect work.
II. THE TROUBLE IS FOURFOLD. It is various in form, touching one in one way and another most in a different way. But for each it is complex.
1. It burns as fire. At once it is felt to be fierce, poignant, and consuming. Thus does God seek to burn the chaff out of us.
2. It catches our feet like a net. God arrests the headlong career of folly with the net of trouble. It flings the heedless man to the ground, entangles his feet, and vexes his feelings. But it saves him from rushing on to his ruin. We may thank God for the distresses which stop our course when that runs in a wrong direction.
3. It gives us pain and faintness like a sickness. Thus are we humbled and subdued. The faintness of heart that sorrow brings is the best remedy for headstrong self-will and pride.
4. It burdens like a yoke. The transgressions bound and wreathed by the hand of God press upon the neck of the guilty. Several points in the image of a yoke may be observed.
(1) It is a weight oppressing and wearying;
(2) it is a constraint, hindering free action and imposing irksome conditions of motion;
(3) it is connected with other impediments;
(4) it presses very close upon our person;
(5) it is carried about with us wherever we go, burdening us in all scenes and all circumstances; and
(6) it is so "bound" and" wreathed" that it cannot be shaken off. Nevertheless, this trouble is sent for our good. It will be removed in due time if we repent and seek the grace of God in Christ. After it has gone, the relief from the distress of it will heighten the enjoyment of forgiveness.
The righteousness of God confessed.
I. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD AS A FACT.
1. What it is. In its fulness and breadth it is the goodness of God, his sinlessness, his pure and holy character. But it has characteristics of more special importance. Righteousness in God is conformity with truth, justice, and honour. It means that God has no subtle double dealing, but acts in perfect integrity. He moves in straight lines. Further, it means that God is fair to all, doing, if not the same thing to each, which would often be unjust, that which is fitting forevery one. It also includes God's regard for the standard of right in his government, his care to make his creatures righteous, and his determination to check all unrighteousness.
2. Why we are to believe in it. It is declared most forcibly by those who know God best. Sceptical strangers may doubt it; but they who have entered into the presence of God, whether in holiness or in inspiration, alike agree in testifying to the righteousness of God. The deeper our Christian experience the more shall we be brought to admit this great truth.
II. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD HIDDEN UNDER A CLOUD. There are times when it is hard to say from our hearts, "The Lord is righteous." Doubts and difficulties should be boldly faced, for God cares for no lip service of unbelieving flatterers.
1. Trouble darkens our vision of the righteousness of God. We fail to see the object of the storm while the darkness of it lowers over us. It seems to be greater than it is, and more than just, because we cannot take a fair view of it.
2. Our own trouble seems to be out of proportion to that of other people. We feel the full weight of our own burden; our neighbour's burden is seen at a distance, and then only seen, not felt. In her grief Jerusalem feels that she is visited with a strange pre-eminence of sorrow. Never was sorrow equal to hers (see Lamentations 1:12). This appears to be unjust.
3. Our trouble looks more than we deserve. So we think till we see our sin. To the impenitent God must often seem unjust.
4. God has many purposes in sorrow that are unknown to us. Therefore we fail to see the justice of the blow. But part of the discipline of trouble depends on our ignorance of its end. If we knew whither it was leading us we should not be led. Darkness is necessary for the training of faith.
III. THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF GOD CONFESSED. This is grand! In the midst of wailing and weeping Jerusalem confesses that the hand that dealt the blow was right.
1. Faith is requisite for this confession. The righteousness cannot be seen; it is still shrouded in darkness. But faith holds to it. Thus we must use in the darkness the knowledge which we have won in the light.
2. Penitence is also necessary for this confession. When we confess our guilt we are ready to confess God's righteousness, but not till then. Even Job had to abhor himself and repent in dust and ashes in order to see the righteousness of God (Job 42:6).
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
Lamentations 1:1, Lamentations 1:2
The contrasts of adversity.
The keynote of this strain of sorrow, this poetical and pathetic dirge, is struck in the opening words of the composition. The heart of the prophet laments over the captured and ruined city. How natural that the present should recall the past! Jerusalem, now in the hands of the Chaldeans, was once, in the days of David and of Solomon, the scene of glory and the seat of empire, the joy of the whole earth. So much the sadder is the contrast, the deeper the fall, the bitterer the cup of woe..
I. THE ONCE POPULOUS CITY IS SOLITARY. Not the walls, the streets, the palaces, the temples, but the inhabitants, are the true strength and glory of a city. Formerly Jerusalem was thronged with citizens who took pride in her majesty, of sojourners who came to gaze with wonder and admiration upon her splendours. Now her population has been reduced by famine, by exile, by war; and silence is in her streets.
II. THE CITY ONCE A PRINCESS IS TRIBUTARY. The time was when other cities acknowledged her sway, paid her their tribute, sent her of their produce and of the labour of their sons. Now she is reduced to subjection, yields her treasure to the foe, and the toil of her children is for the profit of the alien.
III. THE CITY THAT ONCE WAS JOYFUL WEEPS. Mirth and music have given place to mourning, lamentation, and woe. No longer are the sound of the viol and the harp, the voice of the bridegroom and the bride, heard in her dwellings. They resound with the cries of grief and anguish. She weepeth in the night, and her tears are on her cheek.
IV. THE CITY ONCE THE SPOUSE OF THE LORD IS WIDOWED. To Jerusalem it had been said, "Thy Maker is thy Husband!" But because of her unfaithfulness and apostasy the Lord has forsaken her; she is become as a widow, unprotected, deserted, solitary, and comfortless.
V. THE CITY ONCE RICH IN ALLIES AND HELPERS IS UNFRIENDED. Not only is she feeble within, she is friendless without. In prosperous days neighbouring nations sought her good will and alliance, and were forward with their offers of friendship and of help. All this is of the past; those who vowed faithfulness have proved treacherous, and have became the enemies of Judaea in the extremity of her desolation, forsaking, and woe.—T.
The decline of national religion.
Nowhere has the great truth of the close dependence of national prosperity upon national religion been more plainly and emphatically taught than in the writings of the Hebrew prophets. Their spiritual insight detected the true cause of national degradation. Whoever looks below the surface may see that the decline and fall of nations may usually be traced to spiritual causes, to the loss of any hold upon eternal principles of righteousness and piety.
I. THE OPEN SYMPTOMS OF THE DECLINE OF A NATION'S RELIGION. Those here mentioned are in circumstances and colour local and temporary; they were determined, as a matter of course, by what was peculiar to the religion of the country and of the day.
1. The roads of Zion are forsaken. There is no concourse upon the roads leading up to the metropolis, as was the case in the days of Judah's prosperity.
2. The gates are deserted and unentered. There was a time when the busy population passed to and fro, when the people gathered together at the gates to discuss the news of the day, the affairs of the city, when the royal processions passed in splendour through the gates leading to the country. It is now so no longer.
3. The festivals are unfrequented. Formerly, when the great and sacred national feasts were being held, multitudes of Israelites attended these holy and welcome assemblies to share in the pious mirth, the cheering reminiscences, the fraternal fellowship, distinctive of such solemn and joyous occasions. But now there are none to celebrate the mercies of Jehovah, none to fulfil the sacred rites. To the religious heart the change is not only afflicting, it is crushing.
4. The ministers of religion are left to mourn. The priests who are left, if permitted to fulfil their office, do so under the most depressing influences; and no longer are there virgins to rejoice in the dance. The picture is painted in the darkest, saddest colours. We feel, as we enter into the prophet's lamentations, how dreary and hopeless is the state of that nation which God gives over to its foes.
II. THE CAUSE OF THE DECLINE OF A NATION'S RELIGION. This ever begins in spiritual unfaithfulness and defections. The external observances of religion may be kept up for a season, but this may be only from custom and tradition. The body does not at once decay when the spirit has forsaken it. To forget God, to deny his Word, to break his laws, to forsake his mercy seat,—such are the steps by which a nation's decline is most surely commenced, by which a nation's ruin is most surely anticipated.
III. THE REMEDY FOR THE DECLINE OF A NATION'S RELIGION.
3. Prayer for pardon and acceptance.
4. Resolution to obey the Lord, and again to reverence what is holy and to do what is right.
5. The union of all classes, rulers and subjects, priests and people, old and young, in a national reformation.—T.
The recollection of the past may be the occasion of the highest joy or of the profoundest sorrow. To remember former happiness is one of the great pleasures of human life, if that happiness did but lead on to its own continuance and increase. The first beginnings of a delightful friendship, the first steps of a distinguished career, are remembered by the prosperous and happy with satisfaction and joy. It is otherwise with the memory of a morning of brightness which soon clouded, and which was followed by storms and darkness. In the text the anguish of Jerusalem is pictured as intensified by the recollection of bygone felicity.
I. THE PRESENT CALAMITY EXCITES BY CONTRAST THE RECOLLECTION OF PROSPEROUS TIMES.
1. Affliction, homelessness, and misery are the present lot of Jerusalem. The city is in the hands of the enemy. The people have no longer a home which they can cling to, but face the prospect of exile, destitution, and vacancy.
2. Helplessness. In times of prosperity neighbours were eager to offer aid which was not needed; in these times of adversity no friendly proffer of help is beard.
3. Mockery. The Jews are a people from the first separated from surrounding nations by their laws, their customs, their religious observances. As an intensely religious people, they have ever set their hearts upon their revelation, upon the God of their fathers and his ordinances. Consequently they are most easily and most deeply wounded in their religious susceptibilities. Strange that a nation condemned to defeat and capture for its unfaithfulness to Jehovah should yet observe the appointed sabbaths, and keenly feel the ridicule and the contempt incurred by such observance! Her adversaries mocked her sabbaths.
II. THE RECOLLECTION OF PROSPEROUS TIMES ENHANCES THE ANGUISH OF PRESENT ADVERSITY. Time has been when Jerusalem, her monarch, citizens, and surrounding population have enjoyed peace, plenty, respect from other nations, liberty of worship, and joyful solemnities. The force of contrast makes the memory of such time bitter and distressing. Their "crown of sorrow is remembering happier things."
APPLICATION. Let present privileges and prosperity be so used that the memory of them may never occasion bitter regret and misery.—T.
Spoliation and profanation.
The presence of a foreign foe in its capital has always been regarded, and is still regarded, as among the heaviest calamities that can befall a nation. In our own times, a neighbouring nation has been required to endure this humiliation and indignity, shocking its patriotism and its pride. We can understand how bitter must have been the anguish of the Jews when the Chaldean hosts patrolled their city, quartered themselves upon its inhabitants, appropriated its wealth, and violated the sanctity of its temple.
I. THE POSSESSIONS OF THE JEWS WERE FORCIBLY APPROPRIATED BY THEIR ADVERSARIES. The greed of the conqueror has ever been the theme of satire and reproach. Voe victis! "Woe to the conquered!" is an old proverb, founded upon an older propensity of human nature in its military condition. The pleasant and desirable things of a city are the spoil of the conqueror. It was so when the Chaldeans entered Jerusalem, sacked the city, and laid their hands upon whatever pleased their fancy.
II. THE HOLY HOUSE OF JERUSALEM WAS SACRILEGIOUSLY ABUSED BY THE HEATHEN CONQUERORS. The temples of their gods are always the object of a nation's reverence and sometimes of affection. But the Jews had especial reason for venerating their sanctuary; it was the scene of their sacrifices and offerings, the depository of their oracles, the spot where the Shechinah glory was displayed. The more sacred portion of the edifice was reserved for the priests; even the devout Jews were not suffered to enter these consecrated precincts. What, then, must have been the disgust, the horror, with which the pious contemporaries of Jeremiah, and especially the prophet himself, witnessed the profanation of the sanctuary, as the Chaldean soldiers polluted it with their heathen presence and speech! Their feelings were injured in the most susceptible part of their nature.
APPLICATION. Retribution is not an accident; neither is it the mere outworking of natural laws. There is Divine providence superintending it; it has a meaning, for it witnesses to human responsibility and sin; it has a purpose, for it summons to repentance and newness of life.—T.
The prophecy here rises into poetry. The captured and afflicted city is personified. Like a woman bereaved and desolate and lonely, bewailing her misfortunes, and pouring out the anguish of her heart, Jerusalem sits in her solitary desolation and contempt, and calls upon bystanders to remark her sad condition, and to offer their sympathy to unequalled anguish..
I. THE CONSCIOUSNESS SORROW, DESOLATION, AND SHAME. How extreme is the distress and humiliation here depicted is apparent from the fact that this language has been attributed to our Divine Saviour when hanging upon the cross of Calvary. If a city never endured sorrow like that of Jerusalem, certainly no human being ever experienced agonies so piercing as those which the Captain of our salvation willingly bore for our sake when he gave his life a ransom for many.
"All ye that pass by,
To the Saviour draw nigh;
To you is it nothing that Jesus should die?
For sins not his own
He died to atone;
Was pain or was sorrow like his ever known?"
II. THE ADMISSION THAT AFFLICTION IS OF DIVINE APPOINTMENT, THAT IT IS CHASTISEMENT. When Jerusalem came to herself she could not fail to recognize a Divine hand in the miseries which befell her. The scourge was the army of the Chaldeans, but the hand was the righteous and retributive hand of the Eternal. It is too common for those who are in trouble to murmur against Providence, to exclaim against the injustice of providential appointments. Yet true wisdom points out that the path of submission and resignation is the right path. When once the mind is brought to acknowledge, "It is the Lord!" there is a prospect of spiritual improvement.
III. THE CRY FOR SYMPATHY. By a striking figure of speech, Jerusalem is presented as calling upon surrounding nations for interest and compassion. "Is it nothing to you? ... Behold, and see!" Human sympathy is welcome in seasons of sorrow, Yet true help and deliverance must be from God, and from God alone, It is better to call upon the Lord than to call upon man; for he is both ready to sympathize and mighty to save.—T.
The Lord is righteous
In nothing is the distinction more marked between religions of human origin and device and the religion which is the revelation of infinite Wisdom and Truth, than in the views they respectively afford of the moral character and attributes of Deity. Whilst the heathen freely attribute to their gods qualities which are detestable in man, the Scriptures represent the Supreme as perfectly righteous. The acknowledgment here made by Jeremiah was made by Moses, by Nehemiah, by Daniel, and indeed is virtually, if not verbally, made by the writer of every book of the Old Testament. And the new covenant is based upon the revelation of a righteous Ruler and Father.
I. GOD IS RIGHTEOUS IN HIS CHARACTER. It is certainly no progress, but a retrogression towards ignorance and barbarism, to represent the supreme Intelligence as destitute of moral attributes, exercised in the fulfilment of wise and benevolent purposes. Affliction and anguish sometimes obscure men's judgment of the character and the dealings of God. It was not so with Jeremiah, who, in lamenting the troubles of his nation and of himself, did not distort the representation he gave to his countrymen of the attributes of the Most High.
II. GOD IS RIGHTEOUS IN HIS LAW. The theocratic government of the Hebrews was based upon the just character and the holy Law of the eternal King. To some minds the reflection might have seemed inappropriate and unwelcome in the depth of disaster. But a true prophet, a true religious teacher, feels bound to set forth the fact that the rule under which men live as individuals and as communities is a righteous rule; the justice of the Law abides although that Law be broken, and although its penalties be incurred and endured.
III. GOD IS RIGHTEOUS IN HIS RETRIBUTION. This is probably the thought most prominent in the text. The fate of Jerusalem was a hard fate, a lamentable fate, but it was not an unjust fate. The people reaped as they had sown. An onlooker might readily have acknowledged this, but it was a merit in a sufferer so to do. For the chastened to confess the justice of their chastisement is a proof that already the chastening is not in vain.—T.
The cry of the contrite.
Trouble, when it leads to an inquiry into its cause, when it prompts to submission and to repentance, proves a means of grace. The cry of suffering and distress may have no moral significance; the cry of contrition and of supplication is a sign of spiritual impression, and is a step towards spiritual recovery.
I. THE OCCASION OF AFFLICTION AND CONTRITION. This is here specified, and the reality and severity are manifest. Within, i.e. in the homes and streets of the city, there is dearth; without, i.e. in the field, there is destruction by the sword. Thus in two strokes national calamity and disaster are depicted.
II. THE TOKENS OF AFFLICTION AND CONTRITION. Man's bodily nature is expressive of his spiritual state. Severe suffering and distress display themselves in organic, physical disturbance: The prophet feels in his bodily frame the disturbing effects of the trials he has undergone, the lively sympathy he has experienced.
III. THE CONFESSION TO WHICH AFFLICTION AND CONTRITION LEAD. Identifying the nation with himself, the prophet exclaims, "I have grievously rebelled." There is candour and justice, there is submissiveness, there is spiritual discernment, in this outspoken acknowledgment. No excuse, no extenuation, no complaint, is here, but a plain confession of ill desert. Rebels against a rightful authority, against a just, forbearing Sovereign, what could the Jews expect but such humiliation as they actually experienced? "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive,"
IV. THE CRY OF AFFLICTION AND OF CONTRITION.
1. It is a cry unto the Lord. Judah had looked for earthly friends and helpers, and had learned by bitter experience the vanity of such expectations. And now Judah sought the Lord whom by sin and rebellion she had offended.
2. It is an entreaty for Divine regard and consideration. What had happened was indeed by permission of Heaven. But the regard implored was one of sympathy, commiseration, and kindness.
3. It is a cry for deliverance. It is dictated by the assurance that he and only he who wounded can heal and comfort and restore.—T.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
Widowhood-the emblem of loneliness.
I. THE FORCE OF THE EMBLEM. Another emblem might have been used. Or the statement as to loneliness might have been left in its simplicity without any comparison at all. Why, then, this particular emblem? Because it sets forth the separation between two parties to a peculiar connection—a connection intended to have all the permanence which anything in this earth can have. Of the husband and wife it is to be said that "they twain have become one flesh," and when the wife becomes a widow she is left in a peculiar and irremediable loneliness, even though she be in the midst of kindred, neighbours, and friends. So also we may say that the inhabitants of Jerusalem, together with the place itself, its site, its houses, its streets, had become one great whole. The children of Israel wandered through the wilderness for forty years, but when at last they left it, it would not have been suitable to say that the wilderness had become as a widow.
II. A VIEW THUS SUGGESTED AS TO THE CAUSE OF SEPARATION. One kind of loneliness had come as a terrible visitation because another kind of loneliness had not been sought as an imperative condition of security. Had not Balaam said, "The people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations" (Numbers 23:9)? Israel was to dwell in safety alone. What could be expected if the people mixed again so recklessly with these from whom they had been separated by a course of Divine marvels? It may also be noticed that Jerusalem would not have been left as a widow if the people of Jerusalem and the country altogether had had in them the spirit which prompted to deal wisely and compassionately with every widow. The widow had been carefully provided for by Mosaic enactments, e.g. in the solemn feasts and in the time of harvest. Yet in the first chapter of Isaiah's prophecies we find him denouncing the princes of the once faithful city because the cause of the widow did not come unto them.
III. A GROUND OF HOPE. Widowhood is evidently a state on which the loving God looks down with infinite tenderness and desire to help. Jerusalem became as a widow, yet the separation was not forever. Her exiled inhabitants returned. Yet this was a small matter compared with the greater truths taught alike by the separation and the restoration. Things nearest and dearest to us may have to be taken away for a time, but all that belongs to our real welfare and to our complete relation to even the whole universe will come back in due time. We must not mistake eclipse for destruction.—Y.
Nights of weeping explained.
Nights of weeping and constant tears upon the cheeks. Thus the metaphor is kept up with which this first song of lamentation begins. The sensitiveness of the woman nature helps to bring out the prostration of Jerusalem. It is not only that her condition is lamentable, but she herself, in all the feelings of her heart, is a prey to the keenest anguish. People do not always see their own sad state as others see it. There is either a shallowness of nature or something has happened to deaden the sensibilities. But in this verse we have both the mention of tears and of most sufficient causes for tears.
I. FIRST CAUSE: WANT OF SYMPATHY AND SOLACE. Jerusalem has no comforters. Not even Job's comforters. For, though Job's comforters were sufficiently irritating and mistook blisters for salves, yet comfort was their errand. Bad as Job's state was, it would have been worse still if in his time of sore trouble he had been left quite alone, especially if professed friends had not come near him. But here the widowed Jerusalem has no comforter; and yet she had had many lovers, many who had been drawn irresistibly by the charm of her attractions. Jerusalem was proud of these attractions, and yet they did not belong to the essence of her existence. The attractions perished, and with the perishing of them the lovers whom they drew became cold. The attractions perished, but Jerusalem herself remained with all her needs, and yet with none to minister. Where do we mean to look for comforters when our hour of deepest trouble comes? Many to whom we may look will be able to do nothing for us; some to whom we may look will not try to do anything: happy then shall we be if we have reason to say, "In the multitude of my thoughts within me, thy comforts delight my soul" (Psalms 94:19).
II. SECOND CAUSE: FRIENDS HAVE BECOME ENEMIES. When the attractions of Jerusalem faded away, not only did the lovers depart, but they had to seek new satisfactions elsewhere, and for many selfish reasons they would act in sympathy with the conquerors of Jerusalem. When she was a strong city, it suited surrounding peoples to be friendly; but when she became desolate and the whole land was lost, then it seemed the interest of these peoples to be hostile to Jerusalem. Indeed, their connection with Jerusalem was really hostile even when they meant friendship. Their open and strenuous hostility from the first would have been a better thing. Professed friends, without meaning it, may so mislead as to do more harm than the bitterest enemy could ever do. The real friend is he who, for the sake of truth and of the highest interests, is not afraid to be reckoned for the time an enemy.—Y.
Zion forsaken as a religious centre.
I. THE PECULIAR GLORY OF ZION IN THE PAST. The ways of Zion mourned, now, but the very fact that such a thing should be said showed that they had once been filled with rejoicing. The gates had been crowded with worshippers from every district of the land. Zion was glorified as the site of the temple, and the temple was glorified as holding within its imposing walls the ark of the covenant. Zion was the city of solemnities. Things were done there not according to will worship or mere immemorial tradition, but according to Jehovah's definite instructions given in the wilderness through Moses centuries before. Praise continually waited for God in Zion. Jehovah loved the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. There was no day without its morning and evening sacrifice, and every sabbath and new moon brought their peculiar additions. Nor must we forget the Feast of the Passover, of the first fruits, of the Pentecost, and the great feast of the seventh month. If as nothing more than times of mirth and relaxation, these would play a large part in the life of the people, and true prophets and whosoever among the priests had deep reverence for God would get much strength out of these services, finding in them, according to the measure of their faith, zeal, and diligence, constant means of grace.
II. THE PECULIAR HUMILIATION OF ZION IN THE PRESENT. The thought of Zion probably carried to the Israelite more associations than did the thought of any other place, The great periodic assemblies at Zion manifested the history, the privileges, the strength, the unity, of the nation. There may have been intervals of comparative neglect, but we know that in the time of Hezekiah there was a great keeping of the Passover. Thus, so far as outward observances were concerned, the machinery of Divine service must have been in good working order. But it is also very evident that the nation at large got no real good out of the numerous and elaborate rites which Jehovah had commanded. We may quote words of Hosed which, while they show the prominent position occupied by Zion in the national life, also explain the reason why God brought such desolation to Zion. "I will also cause all her mirth to cease, her feast days, her new moons, and her sabbaths, and all her solemn feasts" (Hosea 2:11). Religion had been turned into mere merry making. The house of prayer became a house of revelling. Jehovah had declared emphatically by his prophets that offerings had no value detached from righteousness and mercy. What wonder, then, that from condemning words he should advance to condemning deeds? Forsaken Zion itself spoke as if with a prophetic voice. It was when they remembered Zion that the exiles in Babylon wept, and when their masters wanted from them a song of Zion they could only reply that it was not possible to sing Jehovah's song in a strange land. There is warning in all this desolation of Zion as to how great discernment is needed to make sure that the elements of our worship are acceptable to God, edifying to ourselves, and not merely for self-pleasure.
III. We must not forget that BRIGHTER DAYS ARE PROPHESIED FOR ZION. The same old Zion was again crowded, but of this we must not make too much. Jesus himself had to say that the rebuilt house of his Father had become a house of merchandise and even a den of thieves, There is the ideal Zion, part of the heavenly Jerusalem, where the holiest service will be the highest joy, where our religion will no longer be imperrilled by formality, superstition, or superficiality.—Y.
The real need of the soul made manifest.
I. REAL NEED CAN ONLY BE MADE MANIFEST BY PRACTICAL EXPERIENCE. The greatest need of the natural life is bread, taking the word "bread" as representative of all food. Clothing and Shelter, while they may indeed be reckoned as needs, are not needs after the same imperative fashion as food; and every one, however easily his dally bread comes to him, will assent to this same general truth that food is the great need of natural life. But he will only really feel this in such circumstances as are indicated in this verse. For a long while throe people of Jerusalem had .found bread lying to their hands when they were hungry. They could buy it and have abundance of pleasant things beside. The feeling of their hearts was that they could not do without these pleasant things, and when at last they gave them up to keep body and soul together, it must have been with terrible pain they made the surrender. And what is true of bread for the natural life's also true of the Bread coming down from heaven for the spiritual life. Christians, living in the midst of all manner of pleasant things of this world, with no lack of money to buy them and faculty to enjoy them, try to feel at the same time that more than all pleasant things are the grace, the life, the wisdom, the everflowing fulness of the Spirit, which come from Christ. But all the testimony of believers proves that the pleasant things need to be withdrawn before it can be apprehended that Christ is emphatically the Bread. It is when we lose relish of nature's best contributions to our happiness that Christ comes forward, confident as ever in his power to satisfy us.
II. THE VALUE OF TREASURES CAN ONLY BE KNOWN BY WHAT THE OWNER IS WILLING TO DO TO RETAIN THEM. All the pleasant things belonging to the community were already gone. The Sanctuary had been desecrated and pillaged. Much private property had doubtless gone. But some the owners would be able to hide—jewels and such like wealth as went into small compass. Among these pleasant things would be family heirlooms, loving gifts, possessions with respect to which the receiver had said to the giver, "I will keep this thing till I die." But now the great pressure comes, and one pleasant thing after another goes for a few handfuls of corn. The soul is threatening to depart from the body and it must be turned back; "for what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?" And now notice that there are treasures of the heart, such treasures as come from faith in Christ and fidelity to him, which are not given up even to preserve natural life. Multitudes have gone willingly to death that thereby they might testify to the truth as it is in Jesus. They have laid firm hold of his own word, Whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it (Matthew 16:25).—Y.
The observation of suffering.
I. A SEEMINGLY UNREASONABLE COMPLAINT. "Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?" So speaks Jerusalem, personified under the guise of the weeping widow, with the tears on her cheeks and the beauty faded, deprived of all her pleasant things, and left in solitude so far as her familiar supports and consolations are concerned. She sits, as it were, by the highway, and the crowd passes on, taking no notice. Why, indeed, should it take notice? The spectacle of a conquered nation and a pillaged capital was not a rare thing. The nations asked to sympathize had been through the same experience themselves. We are all prompted to say, "Surely no trouble has been like our trouble;" and yet, as our observation of human affairs enlarges, we see how human nature, in every individual instance, is made to know its extraordinary capacity for suffering. Nevertheless, the piteous appeal here is not a baseless one. The trouble of the children of Israel had not come upon them after the manner of a common nation. They were peculiar in constitution, privileges, and biscay. If only there had been eyes to see it, there was something very significant to demand attention. But the thing to be seen did not lie on the surface, nor was it to be discovered save by faculties specially illuminated. The downfall and the sufferings of Israel, as they are to be seen both in the Scriptures and subsequent history, belong to the things that are to be spiritually discerned. Therefore this complaint; while superficially it may be called unreasonable, is yet reasonable enough, if we only consider the position and mission of Israel, and the work which, even in her degradation, she has done for the world.
II. THE NEED THERE IS TO MARK JEHOVAH'S SURE VISITATIONS ON THE DISOBEDIENT. This is the critical element in the appeal that widow like Jerusalem makes to the passers by: "Look at me as the greatest illustration of the certainty with which Jehovah punishes those who rebel against him." We must, of course, beware of the conclusion that suffering always means punishment; but where we can see that it is punishment we must mark it as such, so that we ourselves may be admonished and may also mare effectually admonish others. Here was a nation that in obedience might have rested confidently and happily in Jehovah's promise. The power behind that promise was more than all the armies of the great empires round about. But when the power was withdrawn it meant not merely suffering; the withdrawing had in it the nature of a judicial, solemn sentence from Jehovah himself.—Y.
The acknowledgment that suffering is deserved.
I. THE CLEAR RECOGNITION ON THE PART OF THOSE VISITED THAT THE SUFFERING WAS OF JEHOVAH'S BRINGING. Secondary causes were prominent, but behind them was a Divine cause most important to be perceived in all the intensity of its working. Those who desolated Jerusalem did so from the worst of motives, motives always to be condemned; and these motives, keenly inspiring as they were, would have ended in nothing save for the weakness in which Israel had been left by its apostasy from God. When we are suffering for our sin and folly it is good if we can recognize that the suffering is of God's producing. Because that which God produces God can remove in the hour of repentance. Whereas what man produces he may not be able to put right again, even when he is so disposed.
II. A REASON IS GIVEN FOR DECLARING JEHOVAH RIGHTEOUS. He has done righteously to those who have rebelled against his commandments. God has made us so that we can distinguish between the right and the wrong. We need ever to be on our guard against saying that a thing is right because God does it. What is admitted here is that it is a right thing for God to inflict chastisement on the disobedient. The greater the disobedience the severer must be the chastisement. The commandment of God was always a right thing in itself; and the prophets had again and again illustrated the righteousness of particular commandments and the evident miseries that flowed from neglecting them. Recollect that this great blow upon Israel came after many lesser ones. It was not as if Israel could plead that the commandments were dubious or the warnings scanty.
III. It must not be forgotten that JEHOVAH'S RIGHTEOUSNESS IS EQUALLY SHOWN IN HIS TREATMENT OF THE OBEDIENT. It is of the greatest importance to recollect this, because unfortunately the disobedient are more noticeable than the obedient, and the treatment of the disobedient, by consequence, more noticeable than the treatment of the obedient. The spirit of our life determines, by a most fixed law, the way in which God will treat us. It is perfectly impossible for the disobedient to escape suffering. But it is equally impossible for the obedient to lose their reward. Joy and blessedness, the exquisite peace and rapture of holiness, must come to them by the very nature of things.—Y.
A wicked gladness.
I. THE WRONG FEELING WITH REGARD TO SUFFERING FOR SIN. People are here represented as rejoicing over the sufferings of others. Not that they take delight in suffering as suffering, but those who suffered were their enemies. Those now suffering had once inflicted suffering on others. They had been a source of danger, provoking jealousy, and producing humiliation. Hence, when Israel fell into all this solitude and misery, other peoples not only failed to pity, but even positively rejoiced. This was just what might be expected, and even if some of the heathen nations said, "This serves Israel right for neglecting Jehovah," it was certainly nothing more than the simple truth. The wrong thing was the exultant feeling, the gladness of heart over all this suffering. There is no fear but what we shall sympathize with tile suffering of the innocent, the pain coming from some accident or disease; but when it is an evil doer who suffers, then we are only too easily betrayed into language expressing gladness of heart. And we should never be glad with respect to any suffering whatever. Let it be remembered, too, that gladness is only one out of several possible wrong attitudes with respect to suffering. If while others are suffering for their sins we allow ourselves to get into any of these wrong attitudes with respect to them, then our unchristian state of mind may prove a very serious obstacle in the way of their repentance and amendment. The censuring, lecturing spirit must be guarded against, and also the spirit that looks down as from a position of superior goodness. We must restore others in a spirit of meekness, considering ourselves, lest we also be tempted.
II. THE RIGHT FEELING WITH REGARD TO SUFFERING FOR SIN. The absence of the wrong feeling can only be secured by the presence of the right one. If selfish gladness, the gladness springing from envy and jealousy, is to be kept out, it must be by constantly cultivating pity for all suffering. Pity is to be the very first feeling with which all suffering is contemplated. Pity must, indeed, be well under control, and never allowed to open the way for a greater suffering by taking away a lesser one, but it must always be the prevailing feeling. Then also we must take care to rejoice with the rejoicing. It increases the happiness of others to know that we are glad because of their happiness Our work as Christians is only part done in removing the evil; our thoughts are to be chiefly fixed on producing and establishing the good with all its fruits so pleasant to the spiritual eye, so pleasant to the taste of the inner man. The enemies of Israel saw Israel fallen, and rejoiced that Jehovah had done this. When we see the fallen lifted up and walking along in the strength of Christ, let us rejoice exceedingly because of what the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has done. It is worth all our efforts to keep out of our hearts mean satisfaction because of the disappointments and confusion of others.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Lamentations 1". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 14 / Ordinary 19