Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
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.
CHAPTER (ELEGY) 4
La 4:1-22. The Sad Capture of Jerusalem, the Hope of Restoration, and the Retribution Awaiting Idumea for Joining Babylon against Judea.
1. gold—the splendid adornment of the temple [Calvin] (La 1:10; 1Ki 6:22; Jer 52:19); or, the principal men of Judea [Grotius] (La 4:2).
stones of … sanctuary—the gems on the breastplate of the high priest; or, metaphorically, the priests and Levites.
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. comparable to … gold—(Job 28:16, 19).
earthen pitchers—(Isa 30:14; Jer 19:11).
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. sea monsters … breast—Whales and other cetaceous monsters are mammalian. Even they suckle their young; but the Jewish women in the siege, so desperate was their misery, ate theirs (La 4:10; La 2:20). Others translate, "jackals."
ostriches—see on Job 39:14; Job 39:16, on their forsaking their young.
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.
4. thirst—The mothers have no milk to give through the famine.
They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.
5. delicately—on dainties.
are desolate—or, "perish."
in scarlet embrace dunghills—Instead of the scarlet couches on which the grandees were nursed, they must lie on dunghills.
embrace—They who once shrank sensitively from any soil, gladly cling close to heaps of filth as their only resting-place. Compare "embrace the rock" (Job 24:8).
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. greater than … Sodom—(Mt 11:23). No prophets had been sent to Sodom, as there had been to Judea; therefore the punishment of the latter was heavier than that of the former.
overthrown … in a moment—whereas the Jews had to endure the protracted and manifold hardships of a siege.
no hands stayed on her—No hostile force, as the Chaldeans in the case of Jerusalem, continually pressed on her before her overthrow. Jeremiah thus shows the greater severity of Jerusalem's punishment than that of Sodom.
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. Nazarites—literally, "separated ones" (Nu 6:2). They were held once in the highest estimation, but now they are degraded. God's blessing formerly caused their body not to be the less fair and ruddy for their abstinence from strong drink. Compare the similar case of Daniel, &c. (Da 1:8-15). Also David (1Sa 16:12; 17:42). Type of Messiah (So 5:10).
rubies—Gesenius translates, "corals," from a Hebrew root, "to divide into branches," from the branching form of corals.
polishing—They were like exquisitely cut and polished sapphires. The "sapphires" may represent the blue veins of a healthy person.
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 … coal—or, "than blackness" itself (Joe 2:6; Na 2:10).
like a stick—as withered as a dry stick.
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 speedy death by the sword is better than the lingering death by famine.
pine away—literally, "flow out"; referring to the flow of blood. This expression, and "stricken through," are drawn from death by "the sword."
want of … fruits—The words in italics have to be supplied in the original (Ge 18:28; Ps 109:24).
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. (La 2:20; De 28:56, 57).
pitiful—naturally at other times compassionate (Isa 49:15). Josephus describes the unnatural act as it took place in the siege under Titus.
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. fire … devoured … foundations—(De 32:22; Jer 21:14). A most rare event. Fire usually consumes only the surface; but this reached even to the foundation, cutting off all hope of restoration.
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. Jerusalem was so fortified that all thought it impregnable. It therefore could only have been the hand of God, not the force of man, which overthrew it.
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. prophets—the false prophets (Jer 23:11, 21). Supply the sense thus: "For the sins … these calamities have befallen her."
shed the blood of the just—(Mt 23:31, 37). This received its full fulfilment in the slaying of Messiah and the Jews' consequent dispersion (Jas 5:6).
They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.
14. blind—with mental aberration.
polluted … with blood—both with blood of one another mutually shed (for example, Jer 2:34), and with their blood shed by the enemy [Glassius].
not touch … garments—as being defiled with blood (Nu 19:16).
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. They … them—"They," that is, "men" (La 4:14). Even the very Gentiles, regarded as unclean by the Jews, who were ordered most religiously to avoid all defilements, cried unto the latter, "depart," as being unclean: so universal was the defilement of the city by blood.
wandered—As the false prophets and their followers had "wandered" blind with infatuated and idolatrous crime in the city (La 4:14), so they must now "wander" among the heathen in blind consternation with calamity.
they said—that is, the Gentiles said: it was said among the heathen, "The Jews shall no more sojourn in their own land" [Grotius]; or, wheresoever they go in their wandering exile, "they shall not stay long" [Ludovicus De Dieu], (De 28:65).
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. Ain and Pe are here transposed (La 4:16, 17), as in La 2:16, 17; 3:46-51.
anger—literally, "face"; it is the countenance which, by its expression, manifests anger (Ps 34:16). Gesenius translates, "the person of Jehovah"; Jehovah present; Jehovah Himself (Ex 33:14; 2Sa 17:11).
divided—dispersed the Jews.
they respected not … priests—This is the language of the Gentiles. "The Jews have no hope of a return: for they respected not even good priests" (2Ch 24:19-22) [Grotius]. Maurer explains it, "They (the victorious foe) regard not the (Jewish) priests when imploring their pity" (La 5:12). The evident antithesis to "As for us" (La 4:17) and the language of "the heathen" at the close of La 4:15, of which La 4:16 is the continuation, favor the former view.
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. As for us—This translation forms the best antithesis to the language of the heathen (La 4:15, 16). Calvin translates, "While as yet we stood as a state, our eyes failed," &c.
watched for a nation that could not save us—Egypt (2Ki 24:7; Isa 30:7; Jer 37:5-11).
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—the Chaldeans.
cannot go—without danger.
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. The last times just before the taking of the city. There was no place of escape; the foe intercepted those wishing to escape from the famine-stricken city, "on the mountains and in the wilderness."
swifter … than … eagles—the Chaldean cavalry (Jer 4:13).
pursued—literally, "to be hot"; then, "to pursue hotly" (Ge 31:36). Thus they pursued and overtook Zedekiah (Jer 52:8, 9).
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. breath … anointed of … Lord—our king, with whose life ours was bound up. The original reference seems to have been to Josiah (2Ch 35:25), killed in battle with Pharaoh-necho; but the language is here applied to Zedekiah, who, though worthless, was still lineal representative of David, and type of Messiah, the "Anointed." Viewed personally the language is too favorable to apply to him.
live among the heathen—Under him we hoped to live securely, even in spite of the surrounding heathen nations [Grotius].
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—at our calamities (Ps 137:7). This is a prophecy that Edom should exult over the fall of Jerusalem. At the same time it is implied, Edom's joy shall be short-lived. Ironically she is told, Rejoice while thou mayest (Ec 11:9).
cup—for this image of the confounding effects of God's wrath, see Jer 13:12; 25:15, 16, 21; as to Edom, Jer 49:7-22.
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. (Isa 40:2). Thou hast been punished enough: the end of thy punishment is at hand.
no more carry thee … into captivity—that is, by the Chaldeans. The Romans carried them away subsequently. The full accomplishment of this prophecy must therefore refer to the Jews' final restoration.
discover—By the severity of His punishments on thee, God shall let men see how great was thy sin (Jer 49:10). God "covers" sin when He forgives it (Ps 32:1, 5). He "discovers," or "reveals," it, when He punishes it (Job 20:27). Jer 49:10 shows that Margin is wrong, "carry captive" (this rendering is as in Na 2:7; compare "discovered," Margin).