Lamentations 1:20
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.
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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"). Lamentations 1:20Since neither comfort nor advice is to be found with men, Jerusalem makes her complaint of need to God the Lord. "See, Jahveh, that I am distressed. My bowels glow." חמרמרוּ, the passive enhancing form, from חמר, is found, besides, only in Lamentations 2:11, where the clause before us is repeated, and in Job 16:16, where it is used of the countenance, and can only mean to be glowing red; it is scarcely legitimate to derive it from חמר, Arab. h[mr, to be made red, and must rather be referred to Arab. chmr, to ferment, rise into froth; for even in Psalm 55:9 חמר does not mean to be red, but to rise into froth. מעים, "bowels," are the nobler portions of the internal organs of the body, the seat of the affections; cf. Delitzsch's Biblical Psychology (Clark's translation), p. 314ff. "My heart has turned within me" is an expression used in Hosea 11:8 to designate the feeling of compassion; but here it indicates the most severe internal pain, which becomes thus agonizing through the consciousness of its being deserved on account of resistance to God. מרו for מרה, like בּכו ekil, Jeremiah 22:10; Jeremiah 30:19, etc. Both forms occur together in other verbs also; cf. Olshausen, Gram. 245, h [Ewald, 238, e; Gesen., 75, Rem. 2]. But the judgment also is fearful; for "without (מחוּץ, foris, i.e., in the streets and the open country) the sword renders childless," through the slaughter of the troops; "within (בּבּית, in the houses) כּמּות, like death." It is difficult to account for the use of כּ; for neither the כ of comparison nor the so-called כveritatis affords a suitable meaning; and the transposition of the words into sicut mors intus (Rosenm׬ller, after Lצwe and Wolfsohn) is an arbitrary change. Death, mentioned in connection with the sword, does not mean death in general, but special forms of death through maladies and plagues, as in Jeremiah 15:2; Jeremiah 18:21, not merely the fever of hunger, Jeremiah 14:18; on the other hand, cf. Ezekiel 7:15, "the sword without, pestilence and hunger within." But the difficulty connected with כּמּות is not thereby removed. The verb שׁכּל belongs to both clauses; but "the sword" cannot also be the subject of the second clause, of which the nominative must be כּמּות, "all that is like death," i.e., everything besides the sword that kills, all other causes of death, - pestilences, famine, etc. כּ is used as in כּמראה, Daniel 10:18. That this is the meaning is shown by a comparison of the present passage with Deuteronomy 32:25, which must have been before the writer's mind, so that he took the words of the first clause, viz., "without, the sword bereaves," almost as they stood, but changed וּמחדרים into בּבּית כּמּות, - thus preferring "what is like death," instead of "terror," to describe the cause of destruction. Calvin long ago hit the sense in his paraphrase multae mortes, and the accompanying explanation: utitur nota similitudinis, quasi diceret: nihil domi occurrere nisi mortale (more correctly mortiferum). Much light is thrown on the expression by the parallel adduced by Kalkschmidt from Aeneid, ii. 368, 369: crudelis ubique Luctus, ubique pavor, et plurima mortis imago.

From speaking of friends, a transition is made in Lamentations 1:21 to enemies. Regarding the explanation of Rosenmller, audiverunt quidem amici mei, a me implorati Lamentations 1:19, quod gemens ego...imo sunt omnes hostes mei, Thenius observes that it introduces too much. This remark is still more applicable to his own interpretation: "People (certainly) hear how I sigh, (yet) I have no comforter." The antithesis introduced by the insertion of "yet" destroys the simplicity of arrangement among the clauses, although C. B. Michaelis and Gerlach also explain the passage in the same manner. The subject of the words, "they have heard," in the first clause, is not the friends who are said in Lamentations 1:19 to have been called upon for help, nor those designated in the second clause of Lamentations 1:21 as "all mine enemies," but persons unnamed, who are only characterized in the second clause as enemies, because they rejoice over the calamity which they have heard of as having befallen Jerusalem. The first clause forms the medium of transition from the faithless friends (Lamentations 1:19) to the open enemies (Lamentations 1:21); hence the subject is left undefined, so that one may think of friends and enemies. The foes rejoice that God has brought the evil on her. The words 'הבאת וגו, which follow, cannot also be dependent on כּי ("that Thou hast brought the day which Thou hast announced"), inasmuch as the last clause, "and they shall be like me," does not harmonize with them. Indeed, Ngelsbach and Gerlach, who assume that this is the connection of the clause "Thou hast brought," etc., take 'ויהיוּ כ adversatively: "but they shall be like me." If, however, "they shall be," etc., were intended to form an antithesis to "all mine enemies have heard," etc., the former clause would be introduced by והם. The mere change of tense is insufficient to prove the point. It must further be borne in mind, that in such a case there would be introduced by the words "and they shall be," etc., a new series of ideas, the second great division of the prayer; but this is opposed by the arrangement of the clauses. The second portion of the prayer cannot be attached to the end of the verse. The new series of thoughts begins rather with "Thou hast brought," which the Syriac has rendered by the imperative, venire fac. Similarly Luther translates: "then (therefore) let the day come." C. B. Michaelis, Rosenmller, Pareau, etc., also take the words optatively, referring to the Arabic idiom, according to which a wish is expressed in a vivid manner by the perfect. This optative use of the perfect certainly cannot be shown to exist in the Hebrew; but perhaps it may be employed to mark what is viewed as certain to follow, in which case the Germans use the present. The use of the perfect shows that the occurrence expected is regarded as so certain to happen, that it is represented as if it had already taken place. The perfects in Lamentations 3:56-61 are taken in this sense by nearly all expositors. Similarly we take the clause now before us to mean, "Thou bringest on the day which Thou hast proclaimed (announced)," i.e., the day of judgment on the nations, Jeremiah 25, "so that they become like me," i.e., so that the foes who rejoice over my misfortune suffer the same fate as myself. "The day [which] Thou hast proclaimed" has been to specifically rendered in the Vulgate, adduxisti diem consolationis, probably with a reference of the proclamation to Isaiah 40:2. - After this expression of certainty regarding the coming of a day of punishment for her enemies, there follows, Lamentations 1:22, the request that all the evil they have done to Jerusalem may come before the face of God, in order that He may punish it (cf. Psalm 109:15 with Lamentations 1:14), - do to them as He has done to Jerusalem, because of her transgressions. The clause which assigns the reason ("for many are my sighs," etc.) does not refer to that which immediately precedes; for neither the request that retribution should be taken, nor the confession of guilt ("for all my transgressions"), can be accounted fore by pointing to the deep misery of Jerusalem, inasmuch as her sighing and sickness are not brought on her by her enemies, but are the result of the sufferings ordained by God regarding her. The words contain the ground of the request that God would look on the misery (Lamentations 1:20), and show to the wretched one the compassion which men refuse her. לבּי is exactly the same expression as that in Jeremiah 8:18; cf. also Isaiah 1:5. The reason thus given for making the entreaty forms an abrupt termination, and with these words the sound of lamentation dies away.

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