Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Lamentations 1:1-22. The miseries of Jerusalem
The general subject running through this first chapter may be thus subdivided. Lamentations 1:1-11 lament the sufferings which Jerusalem is now undergoing, while twice in the course of this portion (Lamentations 1:9; Lamentations 1:11) the city itself breaks out into a wail of distress, and thus leads up to the second division of the chapter, Lamentations 1:12-22, where Jerusalem is (except in Lamentations 1:17) the speaker. In that second part also, her suffering is from time to time (Lamentations 1:14, etc.) spoken of as the consequence of sin. The constantly recurring thoughts are, the desertion of the city by its allies, the privations of the inhabitants, and the overbearing conduct of the conquerors. See Intr. ch. 3 § 2.
We are reminded of the figure on the medal struck by Titus, to commemorate his capture of Jerusalem (a.d. 70), a woman weeping beneath a palm-tree with the inscription below, Judaea capta. “Is it too much to imagine that some Greek artist attached to the court of Vespasian may have borrowed the idea of the coin from the Septuagint version?” Adeney, Canticles and Lam. (Expositor’s Bible), p. 99. (See Intr. p. 326.)
How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!1. How] The Heb. (’Ekhâh), which occurs also at the commencement of chs. 2 and 4, as well as in Lamentations 1:2 of the latter, and may well have been a word introductory to funeral dirges, has supplied the Hebrew name for this Book, the custom of naming the Books of the Bible by the first word being a common one with the Jews.
sit solitary] as emptied by the departure of the captives, and deserted by her friends, and by God Himself. Cp. this fate as foretold for her in Isaiah 3:26.
a widow] The meaning here is not, as might be suggested by such passages as Jeremiah 2:2, that Jehovah was her Husband and has now been lost. The point is that her condition resembles that of a widow inasmuch as she is exposed to penury and oppression in the absence of any to protect her. Cp. the boast of Babylon in Isaiah 47:8.
provinces] This name is used in one passage (1 Kings 20:14-19) of the Israelitish districts, apparently those referred to in 1 Kings 4:7, and afterwards frequently of satrapies of the Persian empire (Esther 1:1, etc.), and is used in the singular of Judaea itself in Ezra 2:1; Ezra 5:8; Neh. 1:30, Nehemiah 7:6, Nehemiah 11:3. Here apparently it is simply equivalent to countries, nations.
tributary] a vassal. The original word implies bond-service. Cp. Jdg 1:3, R.V. mg., and for an account of the Heb. word Driver’s Heb. Text of Samuel, p. 267.
1, 2. Löhr points out as special characteristics of this ch. the writer’s yearning for revenge, and also his full recognition of the sin of his own time as well as of earlier generations. Lamentations 1:1 for metrical considerations should be arranged in three approximately equal lines; “she … nations” forming the second part of the second line.
She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.2. in the night] The time of natural silence and darkness is made a part of the picture in order to heighten the effect. The absence of the distractions of the day intensifies the sense of bereavement.
her lovers (cp. Lamentations 1:19) … her friends] the neighbouring states, with whom in the sunshine of prosperity she was on friendly terms (cp. Jeremiah 4:30; Jeremiah 30:14). Such were Chaldaeans, Syrians, Moabites, Ammonites (2 Kings 24:2), Edomites (Psalm 137:7), Tyrians (Ezekiel 26:3), Egyptians (Ezekiel 17:17; Ezekiel 29:6 ff.). For these last cp. Lamentations 4:17; Jeremiah 37:5; for Edom Lamentations 4:21 f.; and for Ammon, Jeremiah 40:14; Ezekiel 25:3-7.
her friends … enemies] In the original there is a figure of paronomasia (’ohăbçha, ’oyĕbîm).
Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.3. is gone into captivity because of affliction] The better rendering is, is gone into exile (so mg.) because of affliction, i.e. the long sufferings of the Jews at the hands of Egypt and Chaldaea had induced many of them to go voluntarily to dwell in other lands. That this frequently took place we gather from Jeremiah 40:11. This is better than the alternative rendering (taken) out of affliction (into Babylon), as this would be a lightening of the picture hardly in consonance with the purpose of the writer. If, however, this latter be the sense, the word “servitude” will be illustrated by the “hard service” inflicted on exiles in Babylon according to Isaiah 14:3.
within the straits] distresses, oppression. The Jews have been hemmed in and harassed by their foes.
The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness.4. The ways of Zion do mourn] The approaches to Jerusalem are meant. They are desolate, without the usual throng of those coming up to the feasts.
For the thought of inanimate objects as sympathising with human affairs cp.
“Call it not vain—they do not err,
Who say, that, when the Poet dies,
Mute Nature mourns her worshipper,
And celebrates his obsequies.”
Lay of the Last Minstrel, Canto V.
All her gates are desolate] See on Jeremiah 14:2.
her priests do sigh] in the absence of sacrifices, their livelihood has disappeared.
Her virgins are afflicted] They are mentioned as taking part in religious ceremonies. See Exodus 15:20; Jdg 21:21; Psalm 68:25; Jeremiah 31:13. It is clear from this passage that when the poem was written, there was no attempt at worship on the Temple site, though it may have continued for a while after the destruction of the city (see on Jeremiah 41:5).
Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the LORD hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy.5. are become the head] There may be a reference to Deuteronomy 28:13; Deuteronomy 28:44.
prosper] lit. are at peace. Cp. Jeremiah 12:1 (“are … at ease”).
for the multitude, etc.] The acknowledgement that Israel’s calamities were the requital for her sin recurs frequently in this poem (Lamentations 1:8; Lamentations 1:18; Lamentations 1:20; Lamentations 1:22).
before the adversary] either driven like a flock of cattle on the occasion of the actual deportation, or possibly (as the writer may be dealing with a time many years subsequent) sold by their parents owing to their extreme penury.
And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed: her princes are become like harts that find no pasture, and they are gone without strength before the pursuer.6. majesty] mg. less well, beauty. Exhaustion from hunger and fatigue has taken the place of dignity and wealth.
Her princes are become like harts] The most natural reference is to the flight and capture of Zedekiah and his princes, Jeremiah 39:4 f. Cp. Jeremiah 52:10. The LXX and Vulg. for “harts” read (with different vowel punctuation) rams, a word used elsewhere (e.g. Exodus 15:15; see mg.) for leaders. But the figure needs an animal which is hunted. Budde therefore accepts the Targ. “stags.”
Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old, when her people fell into the hand of the enemy, and none did help her: the adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths.7. The v. should, like the rest, be tripartite, whereas as it stands it has four lines. Löhr and others (probably rightly) consider “All her … old” as a gloss. We should then omit the “in” of the first clause.
miseries] The original word is a rare one (cp. Lamentations 3:19), and probably means wanderings (as mg.).
desolations] mg. (more literally) ceasings. The original word occurs here only. Its apparent connexion with the root whence “sabbath” comes was the cause of the rendering in the Vulg. followed by A.V.
Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward.8. is become (mg. is removed) as an unclean thing] Targ. has become a wanderer, but the text is doubtless right.
8, 9. These vv. in figurative language describe the Jewish people, as having brought upon itself through sin and consequent national humiliation the contempt of all its neighbours, while it is painfully conscious of its own ignominy (cp. Lamentations 4:21). The first two lines of Lamentations 1:9 are metrically irregular. Budde’s emendation (which, however, Löhr considers too drastic) is to take from Lamentations 1:8 the clause “she is … thing” (omitting “therefore”) and place it after “skirts,” thus making “She remembered not … wonderfully” to form the second portion of the tripartite arrangement, and omitting accordingly “she hath no comforter” (which would thus become hypermetrical) as an insertion suggested by Lamentations 1:2; Lamentations 1:17, or 21. Observe the sudden change of person in the last line of Lamentations 1:9.
Her filthiness is in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O LORD, behold my affliction: for the enemy hath magnified himself.9. is she come down wonderfully] Cp. Isaiah 47:1.
The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into thy congregation.10. pleasant] lit. desirable, precious, with special reference to the Temple treasures (2 Chronicles 36:10; Jeremiah 52:19; 2 Kings 25:15). For the whole v. cp. Isaiah 64:10 f.; also Psalms 74, 79.
the heathen are entered into her sanctuary] Those who were forbidden, at any rate as nations, ever to enter into a religious covenant with Israel (e.g. Ammonites and Moabites, Deuteronomy 23:3 f., cp. Ezekiel 44:9), as part of the invading host have entered the very Holy of Holies for plunder. No worse humiliation could befall a Jew than this.
All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul: see, O LORD, and consider; for I am become vile.11. The people have already given up their most valuable possessions, that they had hitherto hoarded, for bread. There is therefore nothing now between them and starvation.
meat] food. Cp. note on “oblations,” Jeremiah 17:26.
vile] See on Jeremiah 15:19.
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.12. Is it nothing to you] This rendering is precarious. Löhr considers the original commencement of the v. to be irrevocably lost. The lit. rendering of MT. is “not to you, etc.” So the Syr., while the LXX fail to give any clear indication of their Heb. text. The Heb. letter (Lamed) which commences the v. is written small, apparently as an indication that a corruption is suspected. Budde’s translation (obtained by a slight difference in the punctuation of the first word in MT.), viz. “O ye that pass by, look on me and see,” is perhaps the best.
12–22. See introductory note. Zion, as at the end of the previous v., now speaks.
From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate and faint all the day.13. Zion likens herself to one whose inmost parts are being consumed, as with flame. Cp. Jeremiah 20:9; Job 30:30; Psalm 102:3.
it prevaileth against] it subdueth, or, in the sense of the cognate root in Syriac, chastiseth.
He hath spread a net for my feet] Cp. Jeremiah 50:24; Ezekiel 12:13; Job 18:8 ff.
13–15. Notice the accumulation of figures under which the destruction of the city is represented, fiery rain, toils of a net, a blocking of the way, a yoke laid on the neck, a sacrificial banquet, the treading of grapes in a winepress.
The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.14. is bound] The manifold sins of the people are likened to a complication of cords, attaching a yoke to the neck of a beast of burden, and keeping it secure in its place. Cp. note on “bands and bars” of Jeremiah 27:2. The Heb. verb, however, occurs here only, and the reading may be corrupt. The LXX (and so Vulg.), by the slightest possible change in reading the Heb. verb (involving only the transference of a diacritical mark), render “watch has been kept over mine iniquities,” obtaining the latter part of their rendering by taking the word pointed in MT. to mean yoke (‘ol) as though it were the preposition upon (‘al). We must then, for the sake of metrical division, take “by his hand” in connexion with “they are knit together,” and, as this leaves the next line (in the MT.) too short, Budde there inserts “a yoke” before “upon,” rendering, “They have come up as a yoke upon my neck; they have made my strength to fail.”
The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men in the midst of me: he hath called an assembly against me to crush my young men: the Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a winepress.15. hath called a solemn assembly] or, sacrificial banquet. Cp. Jeremiah 46:10; Isaiah 34:6; Ezekiel 39:17 ff.; Zephaniah 1:7 f. The festival is not for Israel but for the enemy, and that which is to be celebrated, the overthrow of the flower of the Jewish army.
hath trodden, etc.] hath trodden the winepress of the virgin daughter of Judah. For treading the winepress, as a phrase to express the wrath of God, cp. Isaiah 63:3; Joel 3:13; Revelation 14:19; Revelation 19:15, and for the virgin (daughter), Jeremiah 14:17; Jeremiah 18:13 (where see note), Jeremiah 31:4. The expression is used to indicate inviolate security, and Zion (the speaker) here identifies it with the people of Judah collectively.
For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed.16. For these things] The particulars rehearsed in the last three vv. open again the floodgates of tears.
mine eye, mine eye] This repetition spoils the metre, and arises in all probability from a copyist’s error.
mine eye runneth down with water] See Lamentations 3:48, and cp. the phrase “to weep one’s eyes out.”
Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her: the LORD hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries should be round about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them.17. Here the poet speaks, while Zion resumes her lament from Lamentations 1:18 to the end of the ch.
spreadeth forth her hands] in fruitless supplication. For the phrase itself cp. Exodus 9:29; 1 Kings 8:38, etc. The Targ., however, takes the expression to indicate a gesture of pain.
Jerusalem is, etc.] They look on her with loathing, as though ceremonially defiled.
The LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.18. I have rebelled against his commandment] See on Lamentations 1:5. The Targ. strangely explains the v. as having reference to Josiah’s defeat and death at Megiddo (b.c. 608).
I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls.19. my lovers] See on Lamentations 1:2.
meat to refresh their souls] See on Lamentations 1:11. The LXX add (but unnecessarily, and with injury to the metre), and found it not.
Behold, O LORD; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled; mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled: abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death.20. With description of her distress Zion combines prayer, appealing to Jehovah for redress.
my bowels] See on Jeremiah 31:20.
are troubled] lit. are in a ferment.
is turned] cannot rest, is violently agitated.
at home there is as death] As violent death is imminent for those who stir abroad, so even those who remain within are like to die of pestilence. See Jeremiah 9:21, and for note on this special sense of death Jeremiah 15:2. The “as” (in Heb. a consonantal prefix) is hard to interpret and should perhaps be omitted.
They have heard that I sigh: there is none to comfort me: all mine enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that thou hast done it: thou wilt bring the day that thou hast called, and they shall be like unto me.21. The second and third lines are metrically irregular, as failing to fulfil the conditions of the “limping rhythm” of the Ḳinah. (See Intr. p. 321 f.) Löhr accordingly transposes “They are glad … done it” and “Thou wilt bring … proclaimed.”
They have heard] This verb has perhaps been assimilated to the “have heard” of the next line. If so, by a very slight change in MT., we get an imperative, Hear thou. Cp. the imperative “Behold” at the commencement of Lamentations 1:20.
Thou wilt bring] lit. Thou hast brought (a prophetic perfect). The day here spoken of is the day of retribution for Judah’s enemies. Cp. Jeremiah 25:17-26, in which passage Jerusalem and the neighbouring nations are all united in the same figure, as drinking in common of the cup of God’s wrath. For the use of “day” in the sense of destined time Greenup quotes Chaucer, Channones Yemannes Tale, II. I5 f.
The arrangement of the second and third lines of the v. in MT. is metrically irregular. Löhr is probably right in transposing two clauses, and thus reading,
“All mine enemies have heard of my trouble, thou hast brought the day that thou didst proclaim;
They are glad that thou hast done it, let them be like unto me.”
He thus makes “the day” to be that of Judah’s fall as foretold by the prophets, and makes the last clause expressive of a wish. It has also been suggested that for “Thou wilt bring” we should read the imperative, Bring thou.
Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint.22. For my sighs are many] The connexion is, I have had my punishment. Do thou then proceed to inflict upon them their share. For the sentiment, as contrasted with N.T. teaching, cp. Jeremiah 18:20 ff.