Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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!
THE LAMENTATIONS OF JEREMIAH Commentary by A. R. Faussett
In the Hebrew Bible these Elegies of Jeremiah, five in number, are placed among the Chetuvim, or "Holy Writings" ("the Psalms," &c., Lu 24:44), between Ruth and Ecclesiastes. But though in classification of compositions it belongs to the Chetuvim, it probably followed the prophecies of Jeremiah originally. For thus alone can we account for the prophetical books being enumerated by Josephus [Against Apion, 1.1.8] as thirteen: he must have reckoned Jeremiah and Lamentations as one book, as also Judges and Ruth, the two books of Samuel, &c., Ezra and Nehemiah. The Lamentations naturally follow the book which sets forth the circumstances forming the subject of the Elegies. Similar lamentations occur in 2Sa 1:19, &c.; 3:33. The Jews read it in their synagogues on the ninth of the month Ab, which is a fast for the destruction of their holy city. As in 2Ch 35:25, "lamentations" are said to have been "written" by Jeremiah on the death of Josiah, besides it having been made "an ordinance in Israel" that "singing women" should "speak" of that king in lamentations; Josephus [Antiquities, 10.5.1], Jerome, &c., thought that they are contained in the present collection. But plainly the subject here is the overthrow of the Jewish city and people, as the Septuagint expressly states in an introductory verse to their version. The probability is that there is embodied in these Lamentations much of the language of Jeremiah's original Elegy on Josiah, as 2Ch 35:25 states; but it is now applied to the more universal calamity of the whole state, of which Josiah's sad death was the forerunner. Thus La 4:20, originally applied to Josiah, was "written," in its subsequent reference, not so much of him, as of the throne of Judah in general, the last representative of which, Zedekiah, had just been carried away. The language, which is true of good Josiah, is too strong in favor of Zedekiah, except when viewed as representative of the crown in general. It was natural to embody the language of the Elegy on Josiah in the more general lamentations, as his death was the presage of the last disaster that overthrew the throne and state.
The title more frequently given by the Jews to these Elegies is, "How" (Hebrew, Eechah), from the first word, as the Pentateuch is similarly called by the first Hebrew word of Ge 1:1. The Septuagint calls it "Lamentations," from which we derive the name. It refers not merely to the events which occurred at the capture of the city, but to the sufferings of the citizens (the penalty of national sin) from the very beginning of the siege; and perhaps from before it, under Manasseh and Josiah (2Ch 33:11; 35:20-25); under Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah (2Ch 36:3, 4, 6, 7, 10, 11, &c.). Lowth says, "Every letter is written with a tear, every word the sound of a broken heart." The style is midway between the simple elevation of prophetic writing and the loftier rhythm of Moses, David, and Habakkuk. Terse conciseness marks the Hebrew original, notwithstanding Jeremiah's diffuseness in his other writings. The Elegies are grouped in stanzas as they arose in his mind, without any artificial system of arrangement as to the thoughts. The five Elegies are acrostic: each is divided into twenty-two stanzas or verses. In the first three Elegies the stanzas consist of triplets of lines (excepting La 1:7; 2:19, which contain each four lines) each beginning with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in regular order (twenty-two in number). In three instances (La 2:16, 17; 3:46-51; 4:16, 17) two letters are transposed. In the third Elegy, each line of the three forming every stanza begins with the same letter. The stanzas in the fourth and fifth Elegies consist of two lines each. The fifth Elegy, though having twenty-two stanzas (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet), just as the first four, yet is not alphabetical; and its lines are shorter than those of the others, which are longer than are found in other Hebrew poems, and contain twelve syllables, marked by a cæsura about the middle, dividing them into two somewhat unequal parts. The alphabetical arrangement was adopted originally to assist the memory. Grotius thinks the reason for the inversion of two of the Hebrew letters in La 2:16, 17; 3:46-51; 4:16, 17, is that the Chaldeans, like the Arabians, used a different order from the Hebrews; in the first Elegy, Jeremiah speaks as a Hebrew, in the following ones, as one subject to the Chaldeans. This is doubtful.
CHAPTER (ELEGY) 1
1. how is she … widow! she that was great, &c.—English Version is according to the accents. But the members of each sentence are better balanced in antithesis, thus, "how is she that was great among the nations become as a widow! (how) she who was princess among the provinces (that is, she who ruled over the surrounding provinces from the Nile to the Euphrates, Ge 15:18; 1Ki 4:21; 2Ch 9:26; Ezr 4:20) become tributary!" [Maurer].
sit—on the ground; the posture of mourners (La 2:10; Ezr 9:3). The coin struck on the taking of Jerusalem by Titus, representing Judea as a female sitting solitary under a palm tree, with the inscription, Judæa Capta, singularly corresponds to the image here; the language therefore must be prophetical of her state subsequent to Titus, as well as referring retrospectively to her Babylonian captivity.
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—even in the night, the period of rest and oblivion of griefs (Job 7:3).
lovers … friends—the heathen states allied to Judah, and their idols. The idols whom she "loved" (Jer 2:20-25) could not comfort her. Her former allies would not: nay, some "treacherously" joined her enemies against her (2Ki 24:2, 7; Ps 137:7).
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. (Jer 52:27).
because of great servitude—that is, in a state "of great servitude," endured from the Chaldeans. "Because" is made by Vatablus indicative of the cause of her captivity; namely, her having "afflicted" and unjustly brought into "servitude" the manumitted bond-servants (Jer 34:8-22). Maurer explains it, "Judah has left her land (not literally 'gone into captivity') because of the yoke imposed on it by Nebuchadnezzar."
no rest—(De 28:64, 65).
overtook her between … straits—image from robbers, who in the East intercept travellers at the narrow passes in hilly regions.
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. feasts—the passover, pentecost (or the feast of weeks), and the feast of tabernacles.
gates—once the place of concourse.
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. the chief—rule her (De 28:43, 44).
adversaries … prosper; for the Lord—All the foes' attempts would have failed, had not God delivered His people into their hands (Jer 30:15).
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. beauty … departed—her temple, throne, and priesthood.
harts that find no pasture—an animal timid and fleet, especially when seeking and not able to "find pasture."
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. remembered—rather, "remembers," now, in her afflicted state. In the days of her prosperity she did not appreciate, as she ought, the favors of God to her. Now, awakening out of her past lethargy, she feels from what high privileges she has fallen.
when her people fell, &c.—that is, after which days of prosperity "her people fell."
mock at her sabbaths—The heathen used to mock at the Jews' Sabbath, as showing their idleness, and term them Sabbatarians [Martial, 4.4]. Now, said they ironically, ye may keep a continuous Sabbath. So God appointed the length of the captivity (seventy years) to be exactly that of the sum of the Sabbaths in the four hundred ninety years in which the land was denied its Sabbaths (Le 26:33-35). Maurer translates it "ruin." But English Version better expresses the point of their "mocking," namely, their involuntary "Sabbaths," that is, the cessation of all national movements. A fourth line is added in this stanza, whereas in all the others there are but three. So in La 2:19.
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. (1Ki 8:46).
is removed—as a woman separated from the congregation of God for legal impurity, which is a type of moral impurity. So La 1:17; Le 12:2; 15:19, &c.
her nakedness—They have treated her as contumeliously as courtesans from whom their clothes are stripped.
turneth backward—as modest women do from shame, that is, she is cast down from all hope of restoration [Calvin].
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. Continuation of the image in La 1:8. Her ignominy and misery cannot be concealed but are apparent to all, as if a woman were suffering under such a flow as to reach the end of her skirts.
remembereth not … last end—(De 32:29; Isa 47:7). She forgot how fatal must be the end of her iniquity. Or, as the words following imply: She, in despair, cannot lift herself up to lay hold of God's promises as to her "latter end" [Calvin].
wonderfully—Hebrew, "wonders," that is, with amazing dejection.
O Lord, behold—Judah here breaks in, speaking for herself.
for the enemy hath magnified himself—What might seem ground for despair, the elated insulting of the enemy, is rather ground for good hope.
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. for—surely she hath seen, &c.
heathen … command … not enter … congregation—for instance, the Ammonites and Moabites (De 23:3; Ne 13:1, 2). If the heathen, as such, were not allowed to enter the sanctuary for worship, much less were they allowed to enter in order to rob and destroy.
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. (Jer 37:21; 38:9; 52:6).
given … pleasant things for meat—(2Ki 6:25; Job 2:4).
relieve … soul—literally, "to cause the soul or life to return."
for I am become vile—Her sins and consequent sorrows are made the plea in craving God's mercy. Compare the like plea in Ps 25:11.
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. The pathetic appeal of Jerusalem, not only to her neighbors, but even to the strangers "passing by," as her sorrow is such as should excite the compassion even of those unconnected with her. She here prefigures Christ, whom the language is prophetically made to suit, more than Jerusalem. Compare Israel, that is, Messiah, Isa 49:3. Compare with "pass by," Mt 27:39; Mr 15:29. As to Jerusalem, Da 9:12. M AURER, from the Arabic idiom, translates, "do not go off on your way," that is, stop, whoever ye are that pass by. English Version is simpler.
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. bones—a fire which not only consumes the skin and flesh, but penetrates even to my "bones" (that is, my vital powers).
prevaileth against—not as Rosenmuller, "He (Jehovah) hath broken them"; a sense not in the Hebrew.
net—(Eze 12:13); image from hunting wild beasts. He has so entangled me in His judgments that I cannot escape.
turned me back—so that I cannot go forward and get free from His meshes.
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. yoke … is bound by his hand—(De 28:48). Metaphor from husbandmen, who, after they have bound the yoke to the neck of oxen, hold the rein firmly twisted round the hand. Thus the translation will be, "in His hand." Or else, "the yoke of my transgressions" (that is, of punishment for my transgressions) is held so fast fixed on me "by" God, that there is no loosening of it; thus English Version, "by His hand."
wreathed—My sins are like the withes entwined about the neck to fasten the yoke to.
into their hands, from whom—into the hands of those, from whom, &c. Maurer translates, "before whom I am not able to stand."
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. trodden, &c.—Maurer, from Syriac root, translates, "cast away"; so 2Ki 23:27. But Ps 119:118, supports English Version.
in … midst of me—They fell not on the battlefield, but in the heart of the city; a sign of the divine wrath.
assembly—the collected forces of Babylon; a very different "assembly" from the solemn ones which once met at Jerusalem on the great feasts. The Hebrew means, literally, such a solemn "assembly" or feast (compare La 2:22).
trodden … virgin … in a wine-press—hath forced her blood to burst forth, as the red wine from the grapes trodden in the press (Isa 63:3; Re 14:19, 20; 19:15).
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. (Jer 13:17; 14:17). Jerusalem is the speaker.
mine eye, mine eye—so La 4:18, "our end … our end"; repetition for emphasis.
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. Like a woman in labor-throes (Jer 4:31).
menstruous woman—held unclean, and shunned by all; separated from her husband and from the temple (compare La 1:8; Le 14:19, &c.).
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. The sure sign of repentance; justifying God, condemning herself (Ne 9:33; Ps 51:4; Da 9:7-14).
his commandment—literally, "mouth"; His word in the mouth of the prophets.
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. lovers—(La 1:2; Jer 30:14).
elders—in dignity, not merely age.
sought … meat—Their dignity did not exempt them from having to go and seek bread (La 1:11).
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. bowels … troubled—(Job 30:27; Isa 16:11; Jer 4:19; 31:20). Extreme mental distress affects the bowels and the whole internal frame.
heart … turned—(Ho 11:8); is agitated or fluttered.
abroad … sword … at home … as death—(De 32:25; Eze 7:15). The "as" does not modify, but intensifies. "Abroad the sword bereaveth, at home as it were death itself" (personified), in the form of famine and pestilence (2Ki 25:3; Jer 14:18; 52:6). So Hab 2:5, "as death" [Michaelis].
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. they are glad that thou hast done it—because they thought that therefore Judah is irretrievably ruined (Jer 40:3).
the day … called—(but) thou wilt bring on them the day of calamity which thou hast announced, namely, by the prophets (Jer 50:1-46; 48:27).
like … me—in calamities (Ps 137:8, 9; Jer 51:25, &c.).
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. Such prayers against foes are lawful, if the foe be an enemy of God, and if our concern be not for our own personal feeling, but for the glory of God and the welfare of His people.
come before thee—so Re 16:19, "Babylon came in remembrance before God" (compare Ps 109:15).