Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach.
CHAPTER (ELEGY) 5
La 5:1-22. Epiphonema, or a Closing Recapitulation of the Calamities Treated in the Previous Elegies.
1. (Ps 89:50, 51).
Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.
2. Our inheritance—"Thine inheritance" (Ps 79:1). The land given of old to us by Thy gift.
We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows.
3. fatherless—Our whole land is full of orphans [Calvin]. Or, "we are fatherless," being abandoned by Thee our "Father" (Jer 3:19), [Grotius].
We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us.
4. water for money—The Jews were compelled to pay the enemy for the water of their own cisterns after the overthrow of Jerusalem; or rather, it refers to their sojourn in Babylon; they had to pay tax for access to the rivers and fountains. Thus, "our" means the water which we need, the commonest necessary of life.
our wood—In Judea each one could get wood without pay; in Babylon, "our wood," the wood we need, must be paid for.
Our necks are under persecution: we labour, and have no rest.
5. Literally, "On our necks we are persecuted"; that is, Men tread on our necks (Ps 66:12; Isa 51:23; compare Jos 10:24). The extremest oppression. The foe not merely galled the Jews face, back, and sides, but their neck. A just retribution, as they had been stiff in neck against the yoke of God (2Ch 30:8, Margin; Ne 9:29; Isa 48:4).
We have given the hand to the Egyptians, and to the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread.
6. given … hand to—in token of submission (see on Jer 50:15).
to … Egyptians—at the death of Josiah (2Ch 36:3, 4).
Assyrians—that is, the Chaldeans who occupied the empire which Assyria had held. So Jer 2:18.
to be satisfied with bread—(De 28:48).
Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.
7. (Jer 31:29).
borne their iniquities—that is, the punishment of them. The accumulated sins of our fathers from age to age, as well as our own, are visited on us. They say this as a plea why God should pity them (compare Eze 18:2, &c.).
Servants have ruled over us: there is none that doth deliver us out of their hand.
8. Servants … ruled … us—Servants under the Chaldean governors ruled the Jews (Ne 5:15). Israel, once a "kingdom of priests" (Ex 19:6), is become like Canaan, "a servant of servants," according to the curse (Ge 9:25). The Chaldeans were designed to be "servants" of Shem, being descended from Ham (Ge 9:26). Now through the Jews' sin, their positions are reversed.
We gat our bread with the peril of our lives because of the sword of the wilderness.
9. We gat our bread with … peril—that is, those of us left in the city after its capture by the Chaldeans.
because of … sword of … wilderness—because of the liability to attack by the robber Arabs of the wilderness, through which the Jews had to pass to get "bread" from Egypt (compare La 5:6).
Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.
10. As an oven is scorched with too much fire, so our skin with the hot blast of famine (Margin, rightly, "storms," like the hot simoom). Hunger dries up the pores so that the skin becomes like as if it were scorched by the sun (Job 30:30; Ps 119:83).
They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah.
11. So in just retribution Babylon itself should fare in the end. Jerusalem shall for the last time suffer these woes before her final restoration (Zec 14:2).
Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured.
12. hanged … by their hand—a piece of wanton cruelty invented by the Chaldeans. Grotius translates, "Princes were hung by the hand of the enemy"; hanging was a usual mode of execution (Ge 40:19).
elders—officials (La 4:16).
They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.
13. young men … grind—The work of the lowest female slave was laid on young men (Jud 16:21; Job 31:10).
children fell under … wood—Mere children had to bear burdens of wood so heavy that they sank beneath them.
The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their musick.
14. Aged men in the East meet in the open space round the gate to decide judicial trials and to hold social converse (Job 29:7, 8).
The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.
The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned!
16. The crown—all our glory, the kingdom and the priesthood (Job 19:9; Ps 89:39, 44).
For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim.
17. (La 1:22; 2:11).
Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.
18. foxes—They frequent desolate places where they can freely and fearlessly roam.
Thou, O LORD, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.
19. (Ps 102:12). The perpetuity of God's rule over human affairs, however He may seem to let His people be oppressed for a time, is their ground of hope of restoration.
Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?
20. for ever—that is, for "so long a time."
Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.
21. (Ps 80:3; Jer 31:18). "Restore us to favor with Thee, and so we shall be restored to our old position" [Grotius]. Jeremiah is not speaking of spiritual conversion, but of that outward turning whereby God receives men into His fatherly favor, manifested in bestowing prosperity [Calvin]. Still, as Israel is a type of the Church, temporal goods typify spiritual blessings; and so the sinner may use this prayer for God to convert him.
But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.
22. Rather, "Unless haply Thou hast utterly rejected us, and art beyond measure wroth against us," that is, Unless Thou art implacable, which is impossible, hear our prayer [Calvin]. Or, as Margin, "For wouldest Thou utterly reject us?" &c.—No; that cannot be. The Jews, in this book, and in Isaiah and Malachi, to avoid the ill-omen of a mournful closing sentence, repeat the verse immediately preceding the last [Calvin].