Lamentations 1:20
Behold, O LORD; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled; my heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled: abroad the sword bereaves, at home there is as death.
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(20) Behold, O Lord . . .—Deserted by men, the mourner appeals to Jehovah. “Bowels” and “heart” are used almost as synonymous for the deepest emotions of the soul. The word for “troubled,” elsewhere (Psalm 75:8) used of colour, might, perhaps, be better rendered inflamed.

At home there is as death.—The “as” seems inserted to give the emphasis of the undefined. It is not death pure and simple that makes each home tremble, but the “plurima mortis imago” (Virg. Aen. ii. 369), the starvation, disease, exhaustion, which all were deadly, i.e. deathlike, in their working.

Lamentations 1:20. Behold, O Lord, for I am in distress — Take cognizance of my case, and use such means for my relief as thou pleasest. It is a matter of comfort to us, that the troubles which oppress our spirits are perfectly known to God, and that his eye is continually upon them. Abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death — Thus was Moses’s prediction, Deuteronomy 32:25, fulfilled, The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also, with the man of gray hairs. Virgil describes a similar scene, when he says,

“ — — Crudelis ubique Luctus, ubique pavor, et plurima mortis imago.” ÆN. 2:368.

“All parts resound with tumults, plaints, and fears; And grisly death in sundry shapes appears.” DRYDEN.

By death, in this clause, the pestilence is meant, as in Jeremiah 15:2, where see the note: death acting, as it were, in propria persona, in its own proper person, and not by the instrumentality of another, as when a person is slain by the sword. So our great poet, in his description of a lazar-house,

“ — — — — — — — — — — Despair

‘Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch; And over them triumphant death his dart Shook — — — — — — .”

PARADISE LOST, book 11. 50:489, &c.

Instead of, At home there is as death, Lowth proposes reading, there is certain death, observing, that the particle of similitude in the Scriptures sometimes implies a strong affirmation, as John 1:14, We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, meaning such a glory as could belong to none but the Son of God.1:12-22 Jerusalem, sitting dejected on the ground, calls on those that passed by, to consider whether her example did not concern them. Her outward sufferings were great, but her inward sufferings were harder to bear, through the sense of guilt. Sorrow for sin must be great sorrow, and must affect the soul. Here we see the evil of sin, and may take warning to flee from the wrath to come. Whatever may be learned from the sufferings of Jerusalem, far more may be learned from the sufferings of Christ. Does he not from the cross speak to every one of us? Does he not say, Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Let all our sorrows lead us to the cross of Christ, lead us to mark his example, and cheerfully to follow him.Troubled - Or, inflamed with sorrow.

Turned within me - Agitated violently.

At home there is as death - i. e. "in the house" there are pale pining forms, wasting with hunger, and presenting the appearance of 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].


The petition is of the same nature as before, a petition for mercy, as the product of that pity and compassion which extreme misery begets in good souls, (and is ascribed unto God, though found in him in a much more perfect degree, Psalm 78:38 86:15 111:4) through the eyes affecting the heart. The argument the prophet useth is drawn from the misery this people was now in, which he expresseth metaphorically, telling us their bowels were troubled, their heart turned, signifying the more inward disturbance of their mind; or more plainly, and that both generally, saying they were in distress, and more particularly by the great judgments of the sword and famine, the sword in the field, the famine in the city; unless the sword alone be meant both without and within the gates of the city. In all this the church justifieth God, confessing this was but the righteous product of her sin, by which, she having formerly subjected herself to God, had grievously rebelled; for as all men are born subjects to God, so by their sins they are become rebels; so it is a great aggravation of men’s rebellion against the Lord, when they have formerly taken an oath of fealty to the Lord, and, as Moses said, avouched the Lord as their God. Behold, O Lord, for I am in distress,.... Thus she turns from one to another; sometimes she addresses strangers, people that pass by; sometimes she calls to her lovers; and at other times to God, which is best of all, to have pity and compassion on her in her distress; and from whom it may be most expected, who is a God of grace and mercy:

my bowels are troubled; as the sea, agitated by winds, which casts up mire and dirt; or as any waters, moved by anything whatsoever, become thick and muddy; or like wine in fermentation; so the word (l), in the Arabic language, signifies, expressive of great disturbance, confusion, and uneasiness:

mine heart is turned within me; has no rest nor peace:

for I have grievously rebelled; against God and his word; her sins were greatly aggravated, and these lay heavy on her mind and conscience, and greatly distressed her:

abroad the sword bereaveth; this, and what follows in the next clause, describe the state and condition of the Jews, while the city was besieged; without it, the sword of the Chaldeans bereaved mothers of their children, and children of their parents, and left them desolate:

at home there is as death; within the city, and in the houses of it, the famine raged, which was as death, and worse than immediate death; it was a lingering one: or, "in the house was certain death" (m); for the "caph" here is not a mere note of similitude, but of certainty and reality; to abide at home was sure and certain death, nothing else could be expected. The Targum is

"within the famine kills like the destroying angel that is appointed over death;''

see Hebrews 2:14; and Jarchi interprets it of the fear of demons and noxious spirits, and the angels of death.

(l) "fermentavit, commiscuit, alteravit, turbavique mentem", Castel. col. 1294. (m) "in domo mors ipsa", Munster; "plane mors"; Junius & Tremellius.

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. With description of her distress Zion combines prayer, appealing to Jehovah for redress.

my bowels] See on Jeremiah 31:20.

are troubled] lit. are in a ferment.

is turned] cannot rest, is violently agitated.

at home there is as death] As violent death is imminent for those who stir abroad, so even those who remain within are like to die of pestilence. See Jeremiah 9:21, and for note on this special sense of death Jeremiah 15:2. The “as” (in Heb. a consonantal prefix) is hard to interpret and should perhaps be omitted.Verse 20. - My bowels. The vital parts, especially the heart, as the seat of the affections, like σπλάγχνα. Are troubled; literally, are made to boil. So Job 30:27, "My bowels boil" (a different word, however). Is turned; or, turns itself; i.e. palpitates violently. At home there is as death. So Jeremiah 9:21, "For death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces." By "death," when distinguished, as here, from "the sword," pestilence is meant; so e.g. in Jeremiah 15:2; Jeremiah 43:11. But the poet says here, not that "there is death," but merely "as death," i.e. a mild form of pestilence, not the famine typhus itself. Or, perhaps, he means "every form of death" (Virgil's "plurima mortis imago"). In Lamentations 1:13-15, the misfortunes that have befallen Jerusalem are enumerated in a series of images. "Out from the height (i.e., down from heaven) hath He sent fire into my bones;" ויּרדּנּהּ is rendered by Luther, "and let it have the mastery" (Ger. und dasselbige walten lassen). Thenius explains this as being correct, and accordingly seeks to point the word ויּרדּנּהּ, while Ewald takes רדה to be cognate with רתח, and translates it "made them red-hot;" and Rosenmller, following N. G. Schrder, attributes to רדה, from the Arabic, the meaning collisit, percussit lapide. All these explanations are not only far-fetched and incapable of lexical vindication, but also unnecessary. The change of vowels, so as to make it the Hiphil, is opposed by the fact that רדה, in the Hiphil, does not mean to cause to manage, rule, but to read down, subdue (Isaiah 41:2). In Kal, it means to tread, tread down, and rule, as in Jeremiah 5:31, where Gesenius and Deitrich erroneously assume the meaning of "striding, going," and accordingly render this passage, "it stalks through them." The lexically substantiated meaning, "subdue, rule, govern, (or, more generally,) overpower," is quite sufficient for the present passage, since רדה is construed not merely with בּ, but also with the accusative: the subject is אשׁ, which is also construed as a masc. in Jeremiah 48:45; and the suffix ־נּה may either be taken as a neuter, or referred to "my bones," without compelling us to explain it as meaning unumquodque os (Rosenmller, etc.). The bones are regarded as bodily organs in which the pain is most felt, and are not to be explained away allegorically to mean urbes meas munitas (Chaldee). While fire from above penetrated the bones, God from beneath placed nets for the feet which thus were caught. On this figure, cf. Jeremiah 50:24; Hosea 7:12, etc. The consequence of this was that "He turned me back," ita ut progredi pedemque extricare non possem, sed capta detinerer (C. B. Michaelis), - not, "he threw me down backwards," i.e., made me fall heavily (Thenius). "He hath made me desolate" (שׁוממה), - not obstupescentem, perturbatam, desperatam (Rosenmller); the same word is applied to Tamar, 2 Samuel 13:20, as one whose happiness in life has been destroyed. "The whole day (i.e., constantly, uninterruptedly) sick," or ill. The city is regarded as a person whose happiness in life has been destroyed, and whose health has been broken. This miserable condition is represented in Lamentations 1:14, under another figure, as a yoke laid by God on this people for their sins. נשׂקד, ἅπ. λεγ., is explained by Kimchi as נקשׁר או נתחבר, compactum vel colligatum, according to which שׂקד would be allied to עקד. This explanation suits the context; on the other hand, neither the interpretation based on the Talmudic סקד, punxit, stimulavit, which is given by Raschi and Aben Ezra, nor the interpretations of the lxx, Syriac, and Vulgate, which are founded on the reading נשׁקד, harmonize with על, which must be retained, as is shown by the words עלוּ על־צוּארי. Ewald supposes that שׂקד was the technical expression for the harnessing on of the yoke. "The yoke of my transgressions" (not "of my chastisements," as Gesenius, Rosenmller, and Ewald think) means the yoke formed of the sins. The notion of punishment is not contained in פּשׁעי, but in the imposition of the yoke upon the neck, by which the misdeeds of sinful Jerusalem are laid on her, as a heavy, depressing burden which she must bear. These sins become interwoven or intertwine themselves (ישׂתּרגוּ), after the manner of intertwined vine-tendrils (שׂריגים, Genesis 40:10; cf. remarks on Job 40:17), as the Chaldee paraphrase well shows; and, through this interweaving, form the yoke that has come on the neck of the sinful city. Veluti ex contortis funibus aut complicatis lignis jugum quoddam construitur, ita h. l. praevaricationis tanquam materia insupportabilis jugi considerantur (C. B. Michaelis). עלה is used of the imposition of the yoke, as in Numbers 19:2; 1 Samuel 6:7. The effect of the imposition of this yoke is: "it hath made my strength to stumble (fail)." Pareau, Thenius, Vaihinger, and Ngelsbach assume God as the subject of the verb הכשׁיל; but this neither accords with the current of the description, nor with the emphatic mention of the subject אדני in the clause succeeding this. Inasmuch as, in the first member of the verse, God is not the subject, but the address takes a passive turn, it is only the leading word על that can be the subject of הכשׁיל: the yoke of sins which, twined together, have come on the neck, has made the strength stumble, i.e., broken it. This effect of the yoke of sins is stated, in the last member, in simple and unfigurative speech: "the Lord hath given me into the hands of those whom I cannot withstand," i.e., before whom I cannot maintain my ground. On the construction בּידי לא אוּכל, cf. Ewald, 333, b; Gesenius, 116, 3. קוּם is here viewed in the sense of standing fast, maintaining ground, as in Psalm 18:39; and, construed with the accusative, it signifies, to withstand any one; its meaning is not surgere, which Thenius, following the Vulgate, would prefer: the construction here requires the active meaning of the verb.
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