Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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!II.
(1) How hath the Lord . . .—The second dirge follows the pattern of the first, opening with a description of the sufferings of Jerusalem, (Lamentations 2:1-10), and closing with a dramatic soliloquy spoken as by the daughter of Zion (Lamentations 2:11-22).
The image that floats before the poet’s mind is that of a dark thunder-cloud breaking into a tempest, which overthrows the “beauty of Israel,” sc. the Temple (Isaiah 64:11), or, as in 2Samuel 1:19, the heroes who defended it. The footstool is, as in 1Chronicles 28:2; Psalm 99:5, the ark of the covenant, which was involved in the destruction of the Temple. The “Lord” is, as before, Adonai, not Jehovah.
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) The habitations of Jacob . . .—The term is used primarily for the dwellings of shepherds, and it accordingly stands here for the open unwalled villages as contrasted with the fortified towns that are here mentioned.
He hath polluted the kingdom.—See Psalm 89:39. The term involves the thought that it had been a consecrated thing. It had become unclean, first through the sins, and then through the defeat and degradation, of its rulers.
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) All the horn of Israel . . .—The horn, as elsewhere (1Samuel 2:1; Psalm 92:10; Psalm 112:9), is the symbol of strength, aggressive or defensive, and may therefore stand here for every element of strength, warriors, rulers, fortresses.
He burned against Jacob.—Better, And He kindled a burning; i.e., was as one who applies the torch.
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) He stood with his right hand . . .—The point of the phrase is that the “right hand,” the natural symbol of divine power, which had been of old stretched forth to protect, was now seen shooting the arrows and wielding the sword of vengeance.
Slew all that were pleasant . . .—Better, “Destroyed ail that was pleasant,” the destruction including not only warriors and youths, but everything dear and precious.
The tabernacle . . .—Not the Temple, but the city itself as the habitation of the people, who are collectively represented as “the daughter of Zion.”
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 . . .—The change of gender is remarkable, probably rising from the fact that the writer thought of the “palaces” in connection with the “daughters of Zion,” and of the “strong holds” in connection with the land or people. A like combination is found in Hosea 8:14.
Mourning and lamentation.—The two Hebrew nouns are formed from the same root, and have an assonance like “the sorrow and sighing” of Isaiah 35:10.
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) He hath violently taken away his tabernacle . . .—The noun represents a “booth” or “shed,” like those erected in the Feast of Tabernacles. Jehovah is represented as laying waste that “tabernacle,” i.e., His own temple, as a man might remove a temporary shed from an orchard or garden.
His places of the assembly.—The noun is the same as that rendered “solemn feasts” in the next clause. The destruction involved the non-observance of all such feasts, as well as of the sabbath. “King and priest,” the two representatives of the nation’s life (Jeremiah 33:21), were alike, as it seemed, rejected.
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) Hath cast off . . . hath abhorred.—The two verbs are used in a like context in Psalm 89:38.
His sanctuary.—The word points to the Holy of Holies, and “the walls of her palaces” are therefore those of the Temple rather than of the city.
They have made a noise.—The shouts of the enemies in their triumph, perhaps even the shouts of their worship, had taken the place of the hallelujahs of the “solemn feast.”
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) He hath stretched out a line.—The phrase implies (See Notes on 2Kings 21:13; Isaiah 34:11; Amos 7:7) the systematic thoroughness of the work of destruction.
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 . . .—The picture of ruin is completed. The gates are broken, and hidden by heaps of rubbish as if they had been buried in the earth; they cannot be closed, for the bars are gone. King and princes are captives to the Chaldæans. The Law was practically repealed, for the conditions of its observance were absent, and prophecy had become a thing of the past. The outward desolation was but the shadow of that of the nation’s spiritual life.
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) The elders of the daughter of Zion . . .—The despondency of the people is indicated by the outward signs of woe. Instead of taking counsel for the emergency, the elders sit, like Job’s friends (Job 2:11-13), as if the evil were inevitable. The maidens, who had once joined with timbrels and dances in festive processions, walk to and fro with downcast eyes.
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 liver is poured upon the earth . . .—The phrase is not found elsewhere, but admits of an easy explanation. The “liver,” like the “heart” and the “bowels,” is thought of as the centre of all intense emotions, both of joy or sorrow (Proverbs 7:23). As such it is represented as giving way without restraint (comp. Lamentations 2:19), under the pressure of the horror caused by the calamities which the next words paint, by the starving children who fainted for hunger in the streets of the city.
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) They say . . .—The words seem to paint what was actually passing before the writer’s eye, but may be the vivid present which represents the past. The children cried for food, and their mothers had none to give them. They were like wounded men at their last gasp, and breathed out their life as they clung in their despair to their mothers’ breasts.
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) What thing shall I take to witness . . .—Practically the question is the same as that which follows, and implies that there was no parallel to the sufferings of Zion in the history of the past. Had there been, and had it been surmounted, it might have been cited in evidence, and some consolation might have been derived from it. As it was there was no such parallel, no such witness. Her “breach,” i.e., her ruin, was illimitable as the ocean, and therefore irremediable.
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) Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things.—The words are eminently characteristic of Jeremiah, whose whole life had been spent in conflict with the false prophets (Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 5:13; Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 8:10; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 28:9, and elsewhere), who spoke smooth things, and prophesied deceit. They did not call men to repent of their iniquity.
False burdens.—The noun is used, as in Jeremiah 23:33, with a touch of irony, as being that in which the false prophets delighted. What they uttered, however, as a vision of God, did not tend to restoration, but was itself a “cause of banishment,” and tended to perpetuate and aggravate the miseries of exile.
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) All that pass by.—The triumphant exultation of the enemies of Zion came to add bitterness to her sorrows. They reminded her of what she had been in the past, and contrasted it with her present desolation.
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) All thine enemies.—The exultation of the enemies is expressed by every feature in the physiognomy of malignant hate, the wide mouth, the hissing, the gnashing of the teeth. They exult, as in half-broken utterances, in the thought that they have brought about the misery at which they mock. It is what they had long looked for; they had at last seen it.
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) The Lord hath done . . .—The writer points, in opposition to the boasts of the enemies, to the true author of the misery of the people. In that thought, terrible as it might at first seem, there was an element of hope. It was better to fall into the hands of God than into those of men (2Samuel 24:14). The suffering came as a chastisement for past transgressions, and might therefore be mitigated by repentance. The Destroyer was also the Healer, and would answer the prayers of those who called on Him.
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 heart.—The possessive pronoun does not refer to any immediate antecedent, but points, with a wild abruptness, to the mourners of Zion. Yet more boldly their cry is an appeal to the “wall” of Zion (comp. Lamentations 2:8, and Isaiah 14:31), to take up its lamentation, as though it were a human mourner.
Like a river.—Better, like a torrent.
The apple of thine eye.—Literally, “the daughter,” as in the English phrase, the “pupil” of the eye.
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) In the beginning of the watches—i.e., of each watch, so that the lamentation was continued throughout the night.
Lift up thy hands.—The wall is still addressed in its character as a mourner, beholding the children dying of hunger and lifting up her hands as in despairing supplication for them.
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) To whom thou hast done this—i.e., not to a heathen nation, but to the people whom Jehovah Himself had chosen.
Shall the women eat their fruit.—Atrocities of this nature had been predicted in Leviticus 26:26; Deuteronomy 28:57; Jeremiah 19:9. They were, indeed, the natural incidents of a besieged city reduced to starvation, as in the case of Samaria (2Kings 6:28), and the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans (Jos., B. J. v. 12), and had been witnessed, as the words show, in that by the Chaldæans. (Comp., as to the famine, Ezekiel 4:16-17; Ezekiel 5:16.)
Shall the priest . . .—Stress is laid on this as being the next element of horror. The very Holy of Holies was profaned with the blood of the priests and prophets of Jehovah.
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.(21) The young and the old . . .—The thoughts of the mourner turn from the massacre in the sanctuary to the slaughter which did its dread work in every corner of the city.
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 . . .—Better, Thou hast summoned, as for a solemn feast-day. (Comp. Lamentations 1:15.) In “terrors round about” we have a characteristic phrase of Jeremiah’s (Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3; Jeremiah 20:10). The LXX., followed by some commentators, gives the rendering, “Thou hast summoned . . . my villages,” but on no sufficient grounds.