Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Lamentations 2:1-22. God’s judgements upon the city. Lamentation. Supplication
This ch., together with ch. 4, stands on a higher level of poetic merit than ch. 1, and the writer is almost certainly shewn by the graphic character of his language to have been an eye-witness of the wretchedness which he paints in vivid colours. As Pe. says, “It is less made up of generalities, and deals far more with concrete realities” than did the previous ch. It is an acrostic, like chs. 1, 3, 4, and is of triple character (see Intr. p. 321). The comparatively early date which we may assign to its composition (c. b.c. 580, see Intr. p. 326) fits in with its linguistic affinities to Ezekiel. Another marked feature of this ch. is its coincidences in language and thought with Psalms 74. Cp. Lamentations 2:2 “he hath thrown … to the ground” with Lamentations 2:7 in the Ps.; Lamentations 2:3 “he hath drawn back his right hand” with Lamentations 2:11; Lamentations 2:3-4 “he hath burned up, etc.” with Lamentations 2:1 (“Why doth thine anger smoke, etc.”); Lamentations 2:6 “he hath destroyed his place of assembly” with Lamentations 2:8; ib. “he hath caused solemn assembly and sabbath to be forgotten in Zion” with Lamentations 2:9; Lamentations 2:7 “they have made a noise, etc.” with Lamentations 2:4; Lamentations 2:9 “her prophets find no vision from the Lord” with Lamentations 2:9.
The ch. may be subdivided as follows. Lamentations 2:1-10 describe in detail the punishment sent upon Jerusalem by reason of Jehovah’s anger, 11–17 bewail the same together with the cruelty of the lookers on, 18, 19 call upon the city to address herself to God, and 20–22 give us the supplication which she accordingly offers. In this ch. we have not simply a renewed setting forth of miseries, but rather the same viewed now more in the light of a judgement sent from God, and therefore as the consequences of sin. It has close affinity as to subject matter with Jeremiah 14:15-18.
How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger!1. How] See on ch. Lamentations 1:1.
the beauty of Israel] possibly the Temple, as in Isaiah 64:2, or Jerusalem, but more naturally the illustrious ones of the nation (cp. “thy glory” in 2 Samuel 1:19), or even Israel as a whole, once high in the favour of Jehovah.
his footstool] here again the Temple (cp. Ezekiel 43:7 and perhaps Psalm 99:5) may be meant, or the Ark, which is actually called God’s “footstool” in 1 Chronicles 28:2 and probably in Psalm 132:7.
The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strong holds of the daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof.2. Löhr restores the triple metre by some condensation and transposition.
habitations] The word is that which is used for the dwellings and pasture grounds of shepherds, and thus refers to the country parts of Judaea, as opposed to the fortresses, “strong holds,” that follow.
hath profaned] By their fall the king’s princes have been deprived of that sanctity which has hitherto been their character. For the discussion of the origin of this conception of sanctity as pertaining to kings and in a somewhat less degree to all others of royal blood Pe. refers to Frazer’s Golden Bough, pt. 1. ‘The Magic Art and the Evolution of Kings’ (1911).
He hath cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy, and he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about.3. Jehovah has (a) cut off the mighty ones of Israel, (b) withdrawn His own protection from His people, (c) taken the offensive against them.
all the horn] mg. every horn, the horn being the symbol of power.
burned up Jacob] He has carried destruction into the heart of the nation.
He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire.4. Jehovah is likened to an archer (cp. Job 16:13), aiming His bow with deadly effect against the goodliest of the people. The metre is incomplete, a part of the third line having apparently been lost. We should (with Löhr) read as the second line, “And hath slain … daughter of Zion.”
with his right hand] that which has hitherto been the symbol of His help.
The Lord was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation.5. her palaces … his strong holds] In “her” Jeremiah was thinking of the city, in “his” of the people at large; hence the change in the gender of the pronouns.
mourning and lamentation] groaning and moaning, or better (as Cheyne) moaning and bemoaning. The original words are substantives from the same root, and occur again (there also in combination) only in Isaiah 29:2.
And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the LORD hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.6. And he hath violently … of a garden] The expression is obscure. The natural sense of the Eng. would be that He has taken away His tabernacle (the Temple) out of Jerusalem as unconcernedly as a pleasure booth might be removed from a garden (cp. Job 27:18). But as a garden is a better rendering of the Heb., and so we get the thought that the Temple was destroyed and broken up with as much ease as a garden that had failed to please its owner. The fact that the LXX has as a vine (Heb. gephen) while the Heb. as it stands has gan, a garden, has led to the conjecture (so de Hoop Scheffer) that gannab, a thief, was the original reading. On this hypothesis the MT. might easily have been altered, if considered as an indecorous comparison, into one of the other two words. If we accept Scheffer’s view we must understand that Jehovah has broken through the hedge (see mg.) which protected Zion, as a thief would make his way through a hedge in order to steal property which it protected. Secrecy rather than violence, however, is what we associate with theft (cp. Jeremiah 49:9), and so far the comparison is inappropriate.
place of assembly] The same word in the Heb. as that which is immediately afterwards rendered solemn assembly (mg. appointed feast) which is its usual sense, although the former one occurs Psalm 64:8. The occurrence of the same word in somewhat different senses in two consecutive clauses is suspicious, but no very satisfactory emendation has been suggested.
the king] associated here with the priest by virtue of his theocratic character. Cp. Lamentations 4:20.
The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, he hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have made a noise in the house of the LORD, as in the day of a solemn feast.7. her palaces] As this word is nowhere else applied to the Temple, it seems best (though parallelism of clauses suggests otherwise) to give the expression its natural sense, as in Lamentations 2:5. Although the text seems to have suffered some corruption, no correction that can claim to be self-evident has appeared.
a noise] the exultant uproar of the enemy’s triumphant soldiery is likened to the tumultuous character belonging to primitive Semitic and other cults. See W. R. Smith (Religion of the Semites, 1894, p. 261), who deduces from this v. that “even at Jerusalem the worship must have been boisterous indeed.” The Targ. identifies it with the sound made in praying at the passover. The v. implies that the writer is of an age to be familiar with pre-exilic worship.
The LORD hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he hath stretched out a line, he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying: therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together.8. stretched out the line] i.e. marked for destruction. Cp. 2 Kings 21:13; Isaiah 34:2; Amos 7:7 ff.
destroying] lit. as mg. swallowing up.
they languish together] For the personification of rampart and wall cp. Lamentations 2:18 and Jeremiah 14:2.
8, 9. The walls were broken down and the gates removed (2 Kings 25:10; Jeremiah 52:14) to preclude rebellion. Cp. Ezra 4:12 ff.
Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars: her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the LORD.9. Her gates, etc.] The Targ. preserves a tradition that the enemy slew a pig and sprinkled the blood over them.
destroyed and broken] One of the verbs must be struck out for the sake of metre.
Her king … from the Lord] We should (correcting the Mass. punctuation) read the latter part of the second line as an independent clause, “the law is not.” Three classes are spoken of, all of whom circumstances exclude from their proper functions, (i) the king and princes are in exile, (ii) so are the priests, (iii) the prophets in captivity have no message. Cp. Psalm 74:9, Ezekiel 7:26 f. We must therefore (correcting the Mass. punctuation) read the latter part of the second line, there is no priestly direction. See on Jeremiah 18:18.
The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.10. In this and the two following vv. we have the picture of the state of things in Jerusalem after the king, etc. (Lamentations 2:9) had been carried into exile. The half-starving people are left behind in their sufferings.
They have cast up dust upon their heads] Cp. 2 Samuel 13:19; Job 2:12.
sackcloth] Cp. Nehemiah 9:1.
Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.11. my bowels are troubled] See on ch. Lamentations 1:20.
My liver is poured upon the earth] The liver seems to have been looked upon, as were the rest of the vitals, as the seat of the emotions, and hence the expression in the text merely denotes strong and painful excitement. Cp. pouring out the heart, Lamentations 2:19, Psalm 62:8; cp. Job 16:13.
destruction] mg. breach. See on Jeremiah 4:20; Jeremiah 17:18.
11–17. Lament over Zion’s exposure to the mockery of her enemies.
They say to their mothers, Where is corn and wine? when they swooned as the wounded in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out into their mothers' bosom.12. corn and wine] Omit “and wine,” not only from the nature of the case, and for the sake of correct metre, but because the Heb. word is not that elsewhere used in combination with “corn.”
their soul is poured out, etc.] They swoon as the unhappy mother clasps them in her arms.
What thing shall I take to witness for thee? what thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? for thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?13. shall I testify unto thee] or, as mg. take to witness for thee. If the MT. be right, we can only explain it as meaning, Of what shall I assure thee? But it is better, specially in view of the parallel clause, to read with an inconsiderable change in the original (’e‘ĕrôk for ’ă‘îdçk), for “testify” compare.
great like the sea] without measure.
who can heal thee?] Cp. Jeremiah 30:12 f.
Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment.14. The thought that the false prophets are worthy of condemnation for buoying the people up with vain hopes is distinctly in Jeremiah’s manner (cp. Ezekiel 12:24; Ezekiel 13:6 f., Ezekiel 22:28). It is true that we here wholly lack the vehement rebukes which he administered to the people and the priests for their disloyalty to Jehovah. But it is not necessarily fatal to the prophet’s authorship that the writer bestows unqualified pity on his fellow-countrymen. We can hardly look for invective in a sorrowful lament.
foolishness] i.e. what is meaningless, worthless.
discovered] uncovered, revealed (to thee), a sense now obsolete. Cp.
“Go, draw aside the curtains, and discover
The several caskets to this noble prince.”
Merch. of Ven. Act II. Sc. 7.
to bring again thy captivity] See on Jeremiah 29:14.
burdens (better as mg. oracles) of vanity] i.e. false oracles. See on Jeremiah 23:33 ff.
causes of banishment] or (less well) mg. things to draw thee aside, i.e. from Jehovah to idols. The Heb. word for “banishment” is not elsewhere found. It here points to the consequences which followed the teaching of the false prophets. Cp. Jeremiah 27:10; Jeremiah 27:15.
All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?15. They hiss and wag their head] expressions denoting amazement mixed with contempt. Cp. Jeremiah 18:16; 2 Kings 19:21; Job 27:23; Psalm 22:7; Zephaniah 2:15.
that men called] These words (as Löhr, following J. D. Michaelis, points out) should for metrical reasons be omitted.
The perfection of beauty, the joy etc.] Cp. for both phrases Psalm 48:2, and for the former one Psalm 50:2 and (of Tyre) Ezekiel 27:3; Ezekiel 28:13. They were possibly current phrases used by Psalmists and this writer independently.
All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee: they hiss and gnash the teeth: they say, We have swallowed her up: certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it.16. For the inverted order of the initial letters in the Heb. of this and the next v., see Intr., p. 321.
All thine enemies … against thee] almost identical with Lamentations 3:46. Löhr refers for the expression to Psalm 22:13; Psalm 35:21.
gnash the teeth] in fierce hatred. Cp. Psalm 35:16; Psalm 37:12. For a parallel to the last words of this v., see Psalm 35:21.
The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in the days of old: he hath thrown down, and hath not pitied: and he hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee, he hath set up the horn of thine adversaries.17. fulfilled] mg. finished. Cp. the same Heb. verb in Isaiah 10:12 “perform.”
in the days of old] That which had happened was in fulfilment of the warnings of Leviticus 26:14 ff., Deuteronomy 28:15, as well as of the prophets.
He hath exalted the horn of thine adversaries] See on Lamentations 2:3, and cp. 1 Samuel 2:1; 1 Samuel 2:10; also Psalm 89:42.
Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease.18. “Their” has no antecedent, and the beginning of the v. is evidently corrupt in its harsh combination of assertion and exhortation, although the corruption, supported as it is by LXX and Syr. (so Vulg.), must be of long standing. The best emendation seems to be that of Ewald, who has the imperative Cry (ẓa‘ăḳi) for “cried” (ẓâ‘aḳ). We may continue with thy heart, or by a more drastic change, with thy voice. In any case “Zion” will end the first of the three lines. For the personification of “wall” see on Lamentations 2:8. While this application of metaphor goes far beyond Western habits of thought, we must yet recognise the power of the memories clinging to old walls, e.g. in Chester, in Venice, etc. See Adeney, op. cit. p. 172.
apple] pupil. Cp. Deuteronomy 32:10; Psalm 17:8.
Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.19. The v. consists of four lines. Ewald and Budde (followed by Löhr) conclude independently that the last is a gloss suggested by Lamentations 2:12.
at the beginning of the watches] i.e. of each watch. In New Testament times the Jews had adopted the Roman division of the night into four watches of three hours each (see Matthew 14:25; Mark 13:35). Up to that time the division was threefold, each consisting of four hours. Cp. Exodus 14:24; Psalm 63:6, etc. The watchman’s cry would rouse the sleeper to realise afresh the miseries of the situation.
Pour out thine heart like water] Cp. Lamentations 2:11.
Lift up thy hands] in supplication.
Behold, O LORD, and consider to whom thou hast done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, and children of a span long? shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?20. Here begins the prayer made in response to the prophet’s exhortation. The questions are rhetorical and mean (although the verbs are in the future), Wilt thou look with unconcern at the things which have been done? For the state of things (foretold Jeremiah 19:9; Deuteronomy 28:53) cp. 2 Kings 6:25-30.
behold, to whom thou hast done thus] viz. Thy chosen ones of old.
that are dandled in the hands] The thought of maternal tenderness in the forms in which it would ordinarily be displayed towards children of that age heightens the effect of the picture.
The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword; thou hast slain them in the day of thine anger; thou hast killed, and not pitied.
Thou hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the day of the LORD'S anger none escaped nor remained: those that I have swaddled and brought up hath mine enemy consumed.22. Thou hast called, as in the day of a solemn assembly, my terrors on every side] i.e. Jehovah has summoned for my destruction the sword, famine, and pestilence. For the comparison with a solemn assembly cp. Lamentations 2:7, Lamentations 1:15. The LXX (and similarly Targ.) render instead of “terrors” (from a similar Heb. root) neighbouring villages (so Löhr), which, if this be the sense, are spoken of as sharing in Jerusalem’s calamities. The former view, however, is preferable, both as harmonizing better with the thought expressed in the last line, and as having probable reference to Jeremiah’s favourite expression (see on Jeremiah 6:25).