Lamentations 1:1
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!
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
I.

(1) How doth the city . . .—The poem of twenty-two verses divides itself into two symmetrical halves, (1) Lamentations 1:1-11, in which the prophet laments over Jerusalem; and (2) Lamentations 1:12-22, more dramatic in its form, in which the daughter of Zion bewails her own miseries. Each verse is divided into three lines, each line beginning, in the Hebrew, with the same letter. The opening picture reminds us of the well-known Judœa capta, a woman sitting under a palm-tree, on the Roman medals struck after the destruction of Jerusalem.

How is she become.—Better, making one sentence instead of two, She is become a widow that was great among the nations, and so with the clause that follows.

Provinces.—The word, used in Esther 1:1; Esther 1:22, and elsewhere, of the countries subject to Persia and Assyria and so in Ezra 2:1; Nehemiah 7:6, of Judah itself, here indicates the neighbouring countries that had once, as in the reign of Hezekiah, been subject to Judah. “Tributary,” as used here, implies, as in Joshua 16:10, personal servitude, rather than the money payment, for which, at a later period, as in Esther 10:1, it was commuted.

Lamentations 1:1. How doth the city sit solitary — The short history of the desolations of the Jewish nation, contained in the fifty-second chapter of Jeremiah, formerly stood as a preface to the Lamentations; but, instead of it, the Greek and Latin copies have a short introduction, which may be thus translated: “And it came to pass after that Israel had been carried away captive, and Jerusalem was become desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and said,” How, &c. The book being undoubtedly poetical, as a specimen of the kind of poetry which it contains, the reader is here presented with Blaney’s translation of the first stanza.

“How does she sit solitary, the city that was full of people! She is become as a widow, that was great among the nations! She that was sovereign over provinces, is become tributary!”

Jerusalem is here represented as a weeping female, sitting solitary on the ground without any attendant or comforter, the multitude of her inhabitants being dispersed or destroyed. It is remarkable, that in times similar to this, that is, in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, a coin was struck, on which Judea is represented under the image of a woman sitting in tears beneath a palm-tree. How is she become as a widow! &c. — Cities are commonly described as the mothers of their inhabitants, and their kings and princes as their husbands: so, when they are bereaved of these, they are said to be widows and childless. Thus Jerusalem, having lost her king and people, and being forsaken of her God, who was in a peculiar sense a husband to her, is here represented as sitting alone in that pensive melancholy condition. She that was great among the nations, &c. — The kings of Judah, in their flourishing state, extended their conquests over the Philistines, Edomites, and other neighbouring countries; and by thus enlarging their dominions, greatly advanced the power of the metropolis of their kingdom. But now, being under subjection to the king of Babylon, and forced to pay tribute to him, she was made no more account of than any other city under the same yoke: see Calmet and Lowth.

1:1-11 The prophet sometimes speaks in his own person; at other times Jerusalem, as a distressed female, is the speaker, or some of the Jews. The description shows the miseries of the Jewish nation. Jerusalem became a captive and a slave, by reason of the greatness of her sins; and had no rest from suffering. If we allow sin, our greatest adversary, to have dominion over us, justly will other enemies also be suffered to have dominion. The people endured the extremities of famine and distress. In this sad condition Jerusalem acknowledged her sin, and entreated the Lord to look upon her case. This is the only way to make ourselves easy under our burdens; for it is the just anger of the Lord for man's transgressions, that has filled the earth with sorrows, lamentations, sickness, and death.In these two verses is the same sad image as appears in the well-known medal of Titus, struck to celebrate his triumph over Jerusalem. A woman sits weeping beneath a palm-tree, and below is the legend "Judaea capta."

Translate Lamentations 1:1 :

How sitteth solitary the city that was full of people:

She is become as a widow that was great among the nations:

A princess among provinces she is become a vassal.

Tributary - In the sense of personal labor Joshua 16:10.

THE LAMENTATIONS OF JEREMIAH Commentary by A. R. Faussett

INTRODUCTION

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

La 1:1-22.

Aleph.

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.

Beth.Jeremiah lamenteth the former excellency and present misery of Jerusalem for her sin, Lam 1:1-11. She complaineth of her grief, Lam 1:12-17; confesseth God's judgments to be righteous; and prayeth unto him, Lam 1:18-22.

The interrogative particle

how, once expressed and twice more understood in this verse, doth not so much inquire the cause or reason of the effect, as express admiration or lamentation. The prophet admires the miserable state of the city, which was full of people beyond the proportion of other cities, and now was solitary, so thin of people that scarce any could be seen in her streets. She that had a king, or rather a god, that was a husband to her, now was forsaken of God, her king taken from her, and she like a poor widow. She that was like a princess amongst the nations, that sometimes (as in David's time) had the Moabites, Ammonites, &c. tributaries to her, was now a tributary herself.

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people!.... These are the words of Jeremiah; so the Targum introduces them,

"Jeremiah the prophet and high priest said;''

and began thus, "how"; not inquiring the reasons of this distress and ruin; but as amazed and astonished at it; and commiserating the sad case of the city of Jerusalem, which a little time ago was exceeding populous; had thousands of inhabitants in it; besides those that came from other parts to see it, or trade with it: and especially when the king of Babylon had invaded the land, which drove vast numbers to Jerusalem for safety; and which was the case afterwards when besieged by the Romans; at which time, as Josephus (f) relates, there were eleven hundred thousand persons; and very probably a like number was in it before the destruction of it by the Chaldeans, who all perished through famine, pestilence, and the sword; or were carried captive; or made their escape; so that the city, as was foretold it should, came to be without any inhabitant; and therefore is represented as "sitting", which is the posture of mourners; and as "solitary", or "alone" (g), like a menstruous woman in her separation, to which it is compared, Lamentations 1:17; or as a leper removed from the society of men; so the Targum,

"as a man that has the plague of leprosy on his flesh, that dwells alone;''

or rather as a woman deprived of her husband and children; as follows:

how is she become as a widow! her king, that was her head and husband, being taken from her, and carried captive; and God, who was the husband also of the Jewish people, having departed from them, and so left in a state of widowhood. Jarchi (h) observes, that it is not said a widow simply, but as a widow, because her husband would return again; and therefore only during this state of captivity she was like one; but Broughton takes the "caph" not to be a note of similitude, but of reality; and renders it, "she is become a very widow". Vespasian, when he had conquered Judea, struck a medal, on one side of which was a woman sitting under a palm tree in a plaintive and pensive posture, with this inscription, "Judea Capta", as Grotius observes:

she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary! that ruled over many nations, having subdued them, and to whom they paid tribute, as the Philistines, Moabites, Syrians, and Edomites, in the times of David and Solomon; but since obliged to pay tribute herself, first to Pharaohnecho, king of Egypt; then to the king of Babylon in the times of Jehoiakim; and last of all in the times of Zedekiah; so the Targum,

"she that was great among the people, and ruled over the provinces that paid tribute to her, returns to be depressed; and after this to give tribute to them.''

(f) De Bello Jud. l. 6. c. 9. sect. 3.((g) "sola", V. L. Montanus. (h) E Talmud Bab. Sanhedrin. fol. 104. 1. & Taanith, fol. 20. 1.

How doth {a} the city sit desolate, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, {b} and princess among the provinces, how is she become a slave!

(a) The prophet wonders at the great judgment of God, seeing Jerusalem, which was so strong and so full of people, to be now destroyed and desolate.

(b) Who had chief rule over many provinces and countries.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
1. How] The Heb. (’Ekhâh), which occurs also at the commencement of chs. 2 and 4, as well as in Lamentations 1:2 of the latter, and may well have been a word introductory to funeral dirges, has supplied the Hebrew name for this Book, the custom of naming the Books of the Bible by the first word being a common one with the Jews.

sit solitary] as emptied by the departure of the captives, and deserted by her friends, and by God Himself. Cp. this fate as foretold for her in Isaiah 3:26.

a widow] The meaning here is not, as might be suggested by such passages as Jeremiah 2:2, that Jehovah was her Husband and has now been lost. The point is that her condition resembles that of a widow inasmuch as she is exposed to penury and oppression in the absence of any to protect her. Cp. the boast of Babylon in Isaiah 47:8.

provinces] This name is used in one passage (1 Kings 20:14-19) of the Israelitish districts, apparently those referred to in 1 Kings 4:7, and afterwards frequently of satrapies of the Persian empire (Esther 1:1, etc.), and is used in the singular of Judaea itself in Ezra 2:1; Ezra 5:8; Neh. 1:30, Nehemiah 7:6, Nehemiah 11:3. Here apparently it is simply equivalent to countries, nations.

tributary] a vassal. The original word implies bond-service. Cp. Jdg 1:3, R.V. mg., and for an account of the Heb. word Driver’s Heb. Text of Samuel, p. 267.

1, 2. Löhr points out as special characteristics of this ch. the writer’s yearning for revenge, and also his full recognition of the sin of his own time as well as of earlier generations. Lamentations 1:1 for metrical considerations should be arranged in three approximately equal lines; “she … nations” forming the second part of the second line.

Verse 1. - How. The characteristic introductory word of an elegy (comp. Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 14:4, 12), and adopted by the early Jewish divines as the title of the Book of Lamentations. It is repeated at the opening of ch. 2 and ch. 4. Sit solitary. Jerusalem is poetically personified and distinguished from the persons who accidentally compose her population. She is "solitary," not as having retired into solitude, but as deserted by her inhabitants (same word as in first clause of Isaiah 27:10). How is she become as a widow! etc. Rather, She is become a widow that was great among the nations; a princess among the provinces, she is become a vassal. The alteration greatly conduces to the effect of the verse, which consists of three parallel lines, like almost all the rest of the chapter. We are not to press the phrase, "a widow," as if some. earthly or heavenly husband were alluded to; it is a kind of symbol of desolation and misery (comp. Isaiah 47:8). "The provinces" at once suggests the period of the writer, who must have been a subject of the Babylonian empire. The term is also frequently used of the countries under the Persian rule (e.g. Esther 1:1, 22), and in Ezra 2:1 and Nehemiah 7:6 is used of Judah itself. Here, however, the "provinces," like the "nations," must be the countries formerly subject to David and Solomon (comp. Ecclesiastes 2:8). Lamentations 1:1Doleful consideration and description of the dishonour that has befallen Jerusalem. In these verses the prophet, in the name of the godly, pours out his heart before the Lord. The dreadful turn that things have taken is briefly declared in Lamentations 1:1 in two clauses, which set forth the fall of Jerusalem from its former glory into the depths of disgrace and misery, in such a way that the verse contains the subject unfolded in the description that follows. We have deviated from the Masoretic pointing, and arranged the verse into three members, as in the succeeding verses, which nearly throughout form tristichs, and have been divided into two halves by means of the Athnach; but we agree with the remark of Gerlach, "that, according to the sense, היתה למס and not היתה כּאלמנה is the proper antithesis to רבּתי בגּוים." איכה is here, as in Lamentations 2:1; Lamentations 4:1-2, an expression of complaint mingled with astonishment; so in Jeremiah 48:17; Isaiah 1:21. "She sits solitary" (cf. Jeremiah 15:17) is intensified by "she has become like a widow." Her sitting alone is a token of deep sorrow (cf. Nehemiah 1:4), and, as applied to a city, is a figure of desolation; cf. Isaiah 27:10. Here, however, the former reference is the main one; for Jerusalem is personified as a woman, and, with regard to its numerous population, is viewed as the mother of a great multitude of children. רבּתי is a form of the construct state, lengthened by Yod compaginis, found thrice in this verse, and also in Isaiah 1:21, elegiac composition; such forms are used, in general, only in poetry that preserves and affects the antique style, and reproduces its peculiar ring.

(Note: On the different views regarding the origin and meaning of this Yod compaginis, cf. Fr. W. M. Philippi, Wesen u. Ursprung des Status constr. im Hebr. S. 96ff. This writer (S. 152ff.) takes it to be the remnant of a primitive Semitic noun-inflexion, which has been preserved only in a number of composite proper names of ancient origin e.g., מלכּיחדק, etc.]; in the words אב, אח, and חם, in which it has become fused with the third radical into a long vowel; and elsewhere only between two words standing in the construct relation see Ges. 90; Ewald, 211.)

According to the twofold meaning of רב (Much and Great), רבּתי in the first clause designates the multiplicity, multitude of the population; in the second, the greatness or dignity of the position that Jerusalem assumed among the nations, corresponding to the שׂרתי במּדינות, "a princess among the provinces." מדינה, from דּין (properly, the circuit of judgment or jurisdiction), is the technical expression for the provinces of the empires in Asia (cf. Esther 1:1, Esther 1:22, etc.), and hence, after the exile, was sued of Judah, Ezra 2:1; Nehemiah 7:6, and in 1 Kings 20:17 of the districts in the kingdom of Israel. Here, however, המּדינות are not the circuits or districts of Judah (Thenius), but the provinces of the heathen nations rendered subject to the kingdom of Israel under David and Solomon (corresponding to הגּויים), as in Ecclesiastes 2:8. Jerusalem was formerly a princess among the provinces, during the flourishing period of the Jewish kingdom under David and Solomon. The writer keeps this time before his mind, in order to depict the contrast between the past and present. The city that once ruled over nations and provinces has now become but dependent on others. מס (the derivation of which is disputed) does not mean soccage or tribute, but the one who gives soccage service, a soccager; see on Exodus 1:11 and 1 Kings 4:6. The words, "The princess has become a soccager," signify nothing more than, "She who once ruled over peoples and countries has now fallen into abject servitude," and are not (with Thenius) to be held as "referring to the fact that the remnant that has been left behind, or those also of the former inhabitants of the city who have returned home, have been set to harder labour by the conquerors." When we find the same writer inferring from this, that these words presuppose a state of matters in which the country round Jerusalem has been for some time previously under the oppression of Chaldean officers, and moreover holding the opinion that the words "how she sits..." could only have been written by one who had for a considerable period been looking on Jerusalem in its desolate condition, we can only wonder at such an utter want of power to understand poetic language.

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