Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. Lamentations 4:1-22. The sufferings of the people are consequent on sin
This ch. differs from the earlier ones, (a) in dwelling more on the sufferings of various classes of people, (b) in bringing out more clearly that these sufferings were the consequences of the national sin. Lamentations 4:1-10 set forth the miseries attendant on the siege, 11, 12 seem to indicate those of the capture, 13–16 point out that the prophets and priests are guilty and unclean, as though lepers, polluted as they are with innocent blood, 17–20 describe vividly the anxiety and miseries of the siege, 21, 22 declare that Edom’s triumph will be but short-lived.
The vv., acrostic as in earlier poems, consist each of two instead of three members. For the date see intr. note to ch. 2. Both chs. are thought to be by the same author, two points being brought out forcibly in each, viz. the responsibility of the leaders for the national disaster, and the sufferings of the children.
How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.1. changed] The verb in the MT. has not a pure Heb. form. By the change of a diacritic mark Löhr, following Nöldeke, gets the sense are become hateful. A somewhat greater change (the omission of a consonant) would produce the adjective old (yâshân for yishne’). In that case we should render, How is the ancient gold become dim, the most pure gold!
are poured out at the top of every street] are treated as worthless.
1, 2. gold—most pure gold—fine gold] used metaphorically for the citizens, the choicest of whom are also called the stones of the sanctuary. Cp. Zechariah 9:16 (“stones of a crown”).
The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!2. work of the hands of the potter] as helpless as the earth which is moulded by him.
Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.3. the jackals] See on Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 51:34.
like the ostriches in the wilderness] Cp. C.B. (Davidson) on Job 39:15 f. for “the popular belief that the ostrich did not brood but left her eggs to be hatched in the sun.… The belief is not sustained by observation, except to this extent, that the bird does not brood till her complement of eggs (thirty in number) be laid, and that during the earlier part of incubation she often leaves the nest by day to go in search of food. It is also said that she lays a number of eggs outside the nest, which are not incubated but serve as food for the poults when they are hatched.”
The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.
They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.5. delicately] luxuriously. Children are still the subject, and not, as has been suggested, rich persons. In the latter case we should have to render carried on scarlet (i.e. litters or couches furnished with costly stuffs of that colour), unduly forcing the sense of the Heb. verb.
desolate] See on ch. Lamentations 3:11.
embrace dunghills] for want of a better couch.
For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.6. the iniquity—the sin] rather than as mg. and A.V. the punishment of the iniquity—the punishment of the sin. There is no assertion in this part of the v. as to the comparative amount of punishment, but from the admitted fact that the sufferings of Jerusalem exceeded those of Sodom, it is inferred that the sin must have been in like proportion. Sodom perished in a moment, there were no prolonged sufferings, such as are brought about or directly administered by the hand of man.
were laid upon her] The words are susceptible of various interpretations: no hands raged (whirled) about her (Ewald), too swiftly, even for men to wring their hands (Löhr). The verb is used of a tempest in Jeremiah 23:19; Jeremiah 30:23. The mg. here suggests fell, comparing 2 Samuel 3:29.
Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:7. nobles] probably right, as in Genesis 49:26; Deuteronomy 33:16 (in which places mg. renders “princes”) as against the more frequent sense Nazirites (as mg. here).
rubies] mg. corals.
their polishing (lit. casting) was as of sapphire] Not only their bright, glowing appearance, but also their well-shaped figures suggested a carefully cut precious stone. Löhr, relying on the similarity of two Heb. consonants (g and n), by a slight change takes the word to be from the root which appears in Jeremiah 7:29 (“cut off thine hair”) and renders The locks of their hair glittered as a sapphire.
7, 8. Cp. Lamentations 4:1-2. The emaciation produced by famine and hardship is vividly pourtrayed. Cp. Job 19:20; Job 30:30.
Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.8. blacker than a coal] lit. as mg. darker than blackness.
Their skin cleaveth to their bones] Cp. Job 19:20.
They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field.9. The two modes of death experienced in the siege are contrasted.
pine away] lit. as mg. flow away.
stricken through] See on Jeremiah 37:10, where (mg.) “thrust through” is the same word in the Heb. As the expression seems scarcely applicable to those dying of hunger, the Heb. text is somewhat suspicious, but no obviously satisfactory emendation has been suggested.
The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.10. Cp. ch. Lamentations 2:20, and Jeremiah 19:9.
pitiful] (hitherto) compassionate. For this meaning, as opposed to its modern sense, pitiable, cp. Latimer, Sermons, p. 391. “Because I speak here of orphans, I shall exhort you to be pitiful unto them.”—Bible Word Book.
sodden] boiled (cp. Exodus 12:9); the participle of to seethe, for which see 2 Kings 4:38.
The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.11. hath kindled a fire] metaphorical, as in Lamentations 1:13, Lamentations 2:3.
The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.12. all the inhabitants of the world] an ordinary form of Eastern hyperbole, suggesting to their minds only the same notion as our every body, the obvious limitations being given by the sense in each case. The preaching of Isaiah, supported as it was by the overthrow of Sennacherib (2 Kings 19:34 f.), led to the belief, in spite of Jeremiah’s warnings, that Jerusalem could not be absolutely overthrown, a belief which the writer here evidently had shared. This circumstance of itself throws doubt upon Jeremiah’s authorship of this book. Jerusalem’s fortifications, in fact, had been much strengthened by Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:9), Jotham (ib. 2 Chronicles 27:3), and Manasseh (ib. 2 Chronicles 33:14).
For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her,13. the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests] Cp. Jeremiah 5:31; Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 8:10; Jeremiah 23:11 f.
They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.14. They] these prophets and priests.
wander, etc.] in perplexity and helplessness, stamped with the mark of Cain.
They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there.15. Those who met these blood-stained priests and prophets in the street abhorred them, and warned them off with the cry which the leper was himself to raise, Unclean, unclean! (Leviticus 13:45). Theirs was a moral leprosy. The v., as it stands, is too long from the metrical point of view and so probably includes one or more glosses. Moreover the Heb. for “fled away” occurs here only. By the change of a consonant we get the root rendered (R.V.) “wanderer” in Genesis 4:12. “The fate of Cain falls upon those who were guilty of his sin.” Pe.
When] perhaps as mg. Yea.
they fled away and wandered, etc.] when they fled away, then they wandered. Abroad also men would have none of them.
The anger of the LORD hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders.16. hath divided them] hath scattered them (among the nations).
they] men, as in the previous v.
elders] with LXX read prophets, which is more in harmony with the preceding context. Pe. suggests that “elders” may have been substituted through the influence of Lamentations 5:12.
As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.17. The expectation that Egypt or some other nation might come to the rescue, was cherished throughout the year and a half of the siege, and here is set forth the heart-sickness caused by this hope deferred, together with a vivid description of the last thrilling scenes before the capture of the city. That this hope was not shared by Jeremiah is shewn by Jeremiah 37:5-10. See Intr. p. 324.
do yet fail] perhaps we should translate (see last note) did fail (Heb. imperfect of graphic description) and so render the verbs that follow, we watched … they hunted … that we could not go … our end drew near … were fulfilled … was come. But the tenses in R.V. may be justifiable, as historic presents, vividly descriptive of the past.
In our watching] or, on our watch-tower.
They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.18. They hunt our steps] This expresses the danger which existed in the “streets” (lit. broad places, and therefore exposed) from the towers which were gradually advanced nearer to the walls by the besiegers. Eastern streets are too narrow to expose their occupants to the weapons of a besieging force.
Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.19. swifter than the eagles] Cp. Deuteronomy 28:49, and see on Jeremiah 4:13.
They chased us upon the mountains] The metaphor in this and the following v. is taken from hunting. The reference is either to the circumstances attendant on the capture of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 39:5 f., Jeremiah 52:8) who is referred to more distinctly in the following v., or in general to the condition of the fugitives at the taking of the city.
The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.20. The breath of our nostrils] Pe. remarks that the phrase is an ancient one, being found in the Tell el Amarna letters (fifteenth century b.c.). Cp. Seneca (ad Neronem de Clementia, I. 4) “He (the Emperor) is the breath of life, which these many thousand (subjects) draw.” As regards its application to Zedekiah individually we are to remember that whatever may have been his personal weaknesses (and he was weak rather than vicious), he was the one on whom the whole of the people’s hopes depended for the continuance of their national life. So “the romantic enthusiasm of Cavaliers and Non-jurors for the Stuarts was not to be accounted for by the merits and attractions of the various successive sovereigns and pretenders towards whom it was directed,” Adeney, op. cit. p. 298.
Of whom we said …] The reference may very possibly be to a hope entertained by the fugitives that by escaping to the mountainous region of Moab or Ammon they might maintain in some sort their national existence under Zedekiah.
Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked.21. Rejoice and be glad] Enjoy thy shortlived triumph, while thou mayest.
that dwellest in the land of Uz] See on Jeremiah 25:20.
The cup] For this, as a figure for Jehovah’s wrath, cp. Jeremiah 25:15 ff.
thou shalt be drunken, etc.] a figurative way of saying, thou shalt be exposed in the eyes of the world to the contempt which attends upon disaster (cp. Lamentations 1:8 and Habakkuk 2:15 f.).
21, 22. For the fierce vengeance which is to come on Edom cp. Jeremiah 49:7-22; Psalm 137:7; Isaiah 34 specially Lamentations 4:5-17; Ezekiel 25:12 f., 35; Obadiah 1:10-15.
The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.22. The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished] (better than mg. Thine iniquity hath an end) the prophetic perfect. Cp. Isaiah 40:1 f.
discover] uncover, lay bare. Cp. (in A.V.) Psalm 29:9; Isaiah 22:8, and (in A.V. and R.V.) Micah 1:6.