Lamentations 1:1
How does 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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(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.



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.


La 1:1-22.


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.

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). The account given regarding the arrest of the chief officers of the temple and of the city, and concerning their transportation to Riblah, where Nebuchadnezzar caused them to be executed, agrees with 2 Kings 25:18-21, except in some unimportant variations, which, however, do not alter the sense; the explanation has been already given in the commentary on that passage. In 2 Kings, the account of the appointment of Gedaliah as the governor of Judah, together with that of his assassination by Ishmael, which follows the narrative just referred to, is here omitted, because the matter has bee already more fully stated in the passage Jeremiah 40:7 on to Jeremiah 43:7, and had no close connection with the object of the present chapter. Instead of this, there follows here, in Jeremiah 52:28-30 (as a continuation of the remark made, Jeremiah 52:27, "Thus was Judah carried away captive out of his own land"), a calculation of the number of the Jews taken to Babylon at the three deportations: in the seventh year of Nebuchadnezzar, 3023 Jews; in the eighteenth year, 832 souls from Jerusalem; and in the twenty-third year, 745 souls, - in all, 4600 persons. The correctness of these data is vouched for by the exactness of the separate numbers, and the agreement of the sum with the individual items. In other respects, however, they present various difficulties. There is, first, the chronological discrepancy that the second deportation is here placed in the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar, in contradiction with Jeremiah 52:12, according to which, the deportation after the taking of Jerusalem occurred in the nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar; and 832 souls could not well be carried out of Jerusalem during the siege. This difference can be settled only by assuming that this list of deportations was derived from another source than the preceding notice regarding the destruction of Jerusalem, in which the years of Nebuchadnezzar's reign were reckoned in some other way than elsewhere in Jeremiah and in the books of Kings, probably from the date of the actual commencement of his reign, which followed a year after he first appeared in Judah, from which his reign is dated elsewhere; see Comm. on Daniel at Daniel 1:1. According to this mode of computation, the seventh year would correspond to the eighth of the common reckoning, and be the year in which Jehoiachin was carried away to Babylon, together with a large number of the people. But this does not agree with 3023, which is given as the number of those who were carried away; for, at that time, according to 2 Kings 24:14, 2 Kings 24:16, as many as 10,000 Jews, or, according to another view of these verses, even 18,000, were carried away to Babylon. This difference does not permit of being explained in any way. Ewald (History of the People of Israel, iii. p. 738) accordingly assumes that in Jeremiah 52:28, after שׁבע, the word עשׂרה has been omitted, as in 2 Chronicles 36:9, where the age of Jehoiachin is given; hence he thinks that, instead of "in the seventh," we must read "in the seventeenth year of Nebuchadnezzar." On such a view, the reference would be to a deportation which took place under Zedekiah, a year before the capture, or during the time of the siege of Jerusalem, and that, too, out of the country districts of Judah in contrast with Jerusalem, Jeremiah 52:29. This supposition is favoured not merely by the small number of those who are said to have been carried away, but also by the context of the narrative, inasmuch as, in what precedes, it is only the capture of Jerusalem and the deportation of the people in Zedekiah's time that is treated of. Ngelsbach has objected to this supposition, that it was not likely the great mass of the people would be carried away during the war, at a time when the approach of the Egyptian army (cf. Jeremiah 37:5) was an object of dread. But the objection does not weaken the supposition, since the former rests on two presuppositions that are quite erroneous: viz., first, that the deportation took place before the defeat of the auxiliary army from Egypt, where as it may have followed that event; and secondly, that the Chaldeans, by keeping the hostile Jews in the country, might have been able to get some assistance against the Egyptian army, whereas, by removing the hostile population of Judah, they would but diminish the number of the enemies with which they had to contend. We therefore regard this conjecture as highly probable, because it is the means of settling all difficulties, and because we can thereby account for the small number of those who were carried away in the deportations during and after the destruction of Jerusalem.

Regarding the third deportation, which was effected by Nebuzaradan (Jeremiah 52:30) in the twenty-third, or, according to another reckoning, in the twenty-fourth year of Nebuchadnezzar, i.e., in the fifth year after the destruction of Jerusalem, we have no other information; for the statement of Josephus, Antt. x. 9. 7, that Nebuchadnezzar made war upon the Ammonites and Moabites in that year, has not been placed beyond a doubt, and is probably a mere inference from this verse, taken in connection with the prophecies in Jeremiah 48 and 49. Yet there is nothing improbable in the statement, viewed by itself. For it must be borne in mind that, after the appointment of Gedaliah as governor, and the departure of the Chaldean hosts, many Jews, who had fled during the war, returned into the country. Hence, in spite of the fact that, after the murder of Gedaliah, a multitude of Jews, fearing the vengeance of the Chaldeans, fled to Egypt, many may have still remained in the country; and many other fugitives may not have returned till afterwards, and given occasion to the Chaldeans for removing other 745 disturbers of the peace to Babylon, four or five years after Jerusalem had been laid in ashes. This deportation may have taken place on the occasion of the subjugation of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Idumeans, or during the war with the Phoenicians, possibly because they had rendered assistance to these nations against the Chaldeans. These verses thus contain nothing to justify the assumption of M. von Niebuhr (Gesch. Assyr. und Babels, S. 58, note) and Ngelsbach, that they are a gloss. The paucity of those who were carried away is not to be attributed to a desire on the part of the writer of this inserted portion to represent the calamity as not so very terrible after all; nor is it due to the substitution of the number of the Levites for that of the entire people, - two wholly arbitrary assumptions: it is completely explained by a consideration of the historical circumstances. The best of the population of Judah had already been carried away, and Zedekiah and his counsellors must have said to themselves, when they rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, that the latter would not spare this time; thus they must have defended themselves to the utmost, as is shown by the very fact that the siege of Jerusalem lasted eighteen months. In this manner, war, pestilence, and famine carried off a great number of the population of Jerusalem; so that, of men who were able-bodied and fit for war, and who could be carried into exile, not more than 4600 fell into the hands of the Chaldeans. During the war, also, many had concealed themselves in inaccessible places, while the lowest of the people were left behind in the country to cultivate the fields. Still more strange might appear the circumstance that the sum-total of those who were carried away to Babylon, viz., 10,000 with Jehoiachin, and 4600 under Zedekiah, - 14, 600 in all, - is evidently disproportionate to the number of those who returned to Jerusalem and Judah under Zerubbabel, which number is given in Ezra 2:64 at 42, 360, exclusive of men and maid servants. For this reason, Graf is of opinion that still later deportations may have taken place, of which no mention is made anywhere. This assumption, however, has little probability. On the other hand, we must consider these points: (1.) In the accounts given of those who were carried away, only full-grown and independent persons of the male sex are reckoned, while, along with fathers, both their wives and their children went into exile. (2.) Even so early as the first capture of Jerusalem in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, a number of prisoners of war, perhaps not inconsiderable, came to Babylon; these might unite with the thousands of their brethren who were carried thither at a later period. (3.) When the exiles had settled down in Babylon, and there found not only a means of livelihood, but even in many instances, as is clear from several intimations, attained to opulence as citizens, many, even of those who had been left in the country, may have gone to Babylon, in the hope of finding there greater prosperity than in Judah, now laid waste and depopulated by war. (4.) From the time when the 10,000 were carried away with Jehoiachin, in the year 599 b.c., till the return under Zerubbabel, 536 b.c., 63 years, i.e., nearly two generations, had passed, during which the exiles might largely increase in numbers. If we take all these elements into consideration, then, in the simple fact that the number of those who returned amounts to nearly three times the numbers of those given as having been carried away under Jehoiachin and Zedekiah, we cannot find such a difficulty as entitles us to doubt the correctness of the numbers handed down to us.

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