Lamentations 4:20
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.
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(20) The breath of our nostrils.—The “breath of life” of Genesis 2:7. The phrase emphasises the ideal character of the king as the centre of the nation’s life. So Seneca (Clement. i. 4) speaks of a ruler as the spiritus vitalis of his people.

Of whom we said.—The words that follow point to the scheme which was rendered abortive by Zedekiah’s capture. Those who followed him had hoped to find a refuge among some friendly neighbouring nation, where they might at least have maintained the continuity of their national existence, and waited for better days.

4:13-20 Nothing ripens a people more for ruin, nor fills the measure faster, than the sins of priests and prophets. The king himself cannot escape, for Divine vengeance pursues him. Our anointed King alone is the life of our souls; we may safely live under his shadow, and rejoice in Him in the midst of our enemies, for He is the true God and eternal life.The breath of our nostrils - Zedekiah is not set before us as a vicious king, but rather as a man who had not strength enough of character to stem the evil current of his times. And now that the state was fallen he was as the very breath of life to the fugitives, who would have no rallying point without him.

In their pits - The words are metaphorical, suggesting that Zedekiah was hunted like a wild animal, and driven into the pitfall.

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].


That he calls some prince here the breath of their nostrils, that is, their life, Genesis 2:7, is out of doubt; and though some of the Jews would have it understood of Josiah, yet whoso considereth that he was not taken, but slain, and that not by the Chaldeans, but by the Egyptians twenty-three years before the city was taken, will see reason to conclude that he meaneth Zedekiah, who though a bad man, yet was a king, and of David’s line, and afforded some protection to the Jews. We promised ourselves that though the land of Judah was encompassed with pagan nations, yet through Zedekiah’s valour and good conduct in government we should live comfortably, he being a covering and refreshing to us; but, saith the prophet, he also is fallen into the enemies’ hands.

The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits,.... Or "the Messiah", or "the Christ of the Lord" (n); not Josiah, as the Targum; and so Jarchi and others; for though he was the Lord's anointed, and the life of the people, being the head of them, as every king is, especially a good one; yet he was slain, and not taken, and much less in their pits, and that not by the Chaldeans, but by the Egyptians; nor did the kingdom cease with him, or the end of the Jewish state then come, which continued some years after: but rather Zedekiah, as Aben Ezra and others, the last of the kings of Judah, with whom all agrees; he was the Lord's anointed as king, and the preserver of the lives and liberties of the people, at least as they hoped; but when the city was taken by the Chaldeans, and he fled for his life, they pursued him, and took him; he fell into their hands, their pits, snares, and nets, as was foretold he should; and which are sometimes called the net and snare of the Lord; see Ezekiel 12:13; See Gill on Lamentations 4:19. Many of the ancient Christian writers apply this to Christ; and particularly Theodoret takes it to be a direct prophecy of him and his sufferings. Vatablus, who interprets it of Josiah, makes him to be a type of Christ; as Calvin does Zedekiah, of whom he expounds the words; and the Targum, in the king of Spain's Bible, is,

"the King Messiah, who was beloved by us, as the breath of the spirit of life, which is in our nostrils.''

What is here said may be applied to Christ; he is the life of men, he gives them life and breath, and in him they live and move; their spiritual life is from him, and is maintained and preserved by him; he lives in his people, and they in him, and they cannot live without him, no more than a man without his breath: he is the Christ of God, anointed with the Holy Ghost to the offices of Prophet, Priest, and King; and from whom Christians have their holy unction and their name: he was taken, not by the Chaldeans, but by the wicked Jews; who looked upon him as a very mischievous person, as if he had been an evil beast, a beast of prey, though the pure spotless Lamb of God; and they dug pits, laid snares, and formed schemes to take him, and at last did, and with wicked hands crucified him, and slew him; though not without his own and his Father's will and knowledge, Acts 2:23;

of whom we said, under his shadow we shall live among the Heathen; in the midst of the nations round about them, unmolested by them, none daring to meddle with them; at least safe from being carried captive, as now they were. Though Jeconiah was taken and carried into Babylon, yet Zedekiah being placed upon the throne, the Jews hoped to live peaceable and quiet lives under his government, undisturbed by their neighbours; the wise and good government of a prince, and protection under it, being sometimes compared in Scripture to the shadow of a rock or tree, Isaiah 32:2; but now it was all over with them; their hope was gone, he being taken. Something like this may be observed in the disciples of Christ; they hoped he would have restored the kingdom to Israel, and they should have lived gloriously under his government; they trusted that it was he that should have redeemed Israel; but, when he was taken and crucified, their hope was in a manner gone, Luke 24:21. True believers in Christ do live peaceably, comfortably, and safely under him; they are among the Heathen, among the men of the world, liable to their reproaches, insults, and injuries; Christ is a tree, to which he is often compared, one and another, that casts a delightful, reviving, refreshing, and fructifying shadow, under which they sit with great delight, pleasure, and profit, Sol 2:3; he is a rock, the shadow of which affords rest to weary souls, and shelters from the heat of divine wrath, the fiery law of God, and darts of Satan, and persecutions of men, Isaiah 32:2; and under his government, protection, and power, they dwell safely, that sin cannot destroy them, nor Satan devour them, nor the world hurt them; here they live spiritually, and shall never die eternally, Jeremiah 23:5.

(n) , Sept. "Christus Dominus", V. L. "Christus Domini", Pagninus.

The {m} 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 nations.

(m) Our king Josiah, in whom stood our hope of God's favour and on whom depended our state and life was slain, whom he calls anointed, because he was a figure of Christ.

20. The breath of our nostrils] Pe. remarks that the phrase is an ancient one, being found in the Tell el Amarna letters (fifteenth century b.c.). Cp. Seneca (ad Neronem de Clementia, I. 4) “He (the Emperor) is the breath of life, which these many thousand (subjects) draw.” As regards its application to Zedekiah individually we are to remember that whatever may have been his personal weaknesses (and he was weak rather than vicious), he was the one on whom the whole of the people’s hopes depended for the continuance of their national life. So “the romantic enthusiasm of Cavaliers and Non-jurors for the Stuarts was not to be accounted for by the merits and attractions of the various successive sovereigns and pretenders towards whom it was directed,” Adeney, op. cit. p. 298.

Of whom we said …] The reference may very possibly be to a hope entertained by the fugitives that by escaping to the mountainous region of Moab or Ammon they might maintain in some sort their national existence under Zedekiah.

Verse 20. - The breath of our nostrils. The theocratic king was the direct representative of the people with Jehovah, and to him the promises of 2 Samuel 7. were conveyed. He was also, in a sense, the representative of Jehovah with the people. His throne was "the throne of Jehovah" (1 Chronicles 29:23). A similar conception of the king was generally prevalent in antiquity. Most of all among the Egyptians; but, even in imperial Rome, we find Seneca ('De Clementia,' 1:4, quoted by Archbishop Seeker, in Blayney) declaring, "Ille (Princeps) est spiritus vitalis, quem haec tot millia (civium) trahunt." For the Jewish, or Old Testament, conception, see Psalm 28:8, where (as the Septuagint shows) "his people" and "his anointed" are used almost synonymously. Was taken in their pits. A figure from hunting (comp. Lamentations 1:13; Psalm 7:15). The fate of Zedekiah is referred to. Among the heathen; better, among the nations. The rendering of the Authorized Version suggests that the Jews hoped to preserve at least a qualified independence under their own king, even after their captivity. Lamentations 4:20In order to show convincingly how vain it is to expect help from man, Jeremiah, in Lamentations 4:18-20, reminds his readers of the events immediately preceding the capture of the city, which have proved that nobody - not even the king himself - could avoid falling into the hands of the Chaldeans. Gerlach has correctly given the sense of these verses thus: "They still cling to their hopes, and are nevertheless completely in the power of the enemy, from whom they cannot escape. All their movements are closely watched; it is impossible for any one to deceive himself any longer: it is all over with the nation, now that all attempts at flight have failed (Lamentations 4:19), and that the king, 'the life's breath' of the nation, has fallen into the hands of the enemy." Gerlach and Ngelsbach have already very properly set aside the strange and fanciful idea of Ewald, that in Lamentations 4:18 it is still Egypt that is regarded, and that the subject treated of is, - how Egypt, merely through fear of the Chaldeans, had at that time publicly forbidden the fugitives to go to Palestine for purposes of grace and traffic. These same writers have also refuted the arbitrary interpretation put upon 'צדוּ צעדינוּ by Thenius and Vaihinger, who imagine there is a reference to towers used in a siege, from which the besiegers could not merely perceive all that was going on within the city, but also shoot at persons who showed themselves in exposed places. In reply to this, Ngelsbach appropriately remarks that we must not judge of the siege-material of the ancients by the range of cannon. Moreover, צוּד does not mean to spy out, but to search out, pursue; and the figure is taken from the chase. The idea is simply this: The enemy (the Chaldeans) watch us in our every step, so that we can no longer move freely about. Our end is near, yea, it is already come; cf. Ezekiel 7:2-6. A proof of this is given in the capture of King Zedekiah, after he had fled in the night, Lamentations 4:19. For an elucidation of the matters contained in these verses, cf. Jeremiah 39:4., Jeremiah 52:7. The comparison of the enemy to eagles is taken from Deuteronomy 28:49, whence Jeremiah has already derived Lamentations 4:13 and Lamentations 48:40. דּלק, prop. to burn, metaph. to pursue hotly, is here (poet.) construed with acc., but elsewhere with אחרי; cf. Genesis 31:36; 1 Samuel 17:53. "On the hills and in the wilderness," i.e., on every side, even in inaccessible places. "In the wilderness" alludes to the capture of Zedekiah; cf. Jeremiah 39:5. "The breath of our nostrils" is an expression founded on Genesis 2:7, and signifying "our life's breath." Such is the designation given to the king, - not Zedekiah in special, whose capture is here spoken of, because he ex initio magnam de se spem concitaverat, fore ut post tristia Jojakimi et Jechoniae fata pacatior res publica esset (Aben Ezra, Michaelis, Vaihinger), but the theocratic king, as the anointed of the Lord, and as the one who was the bearer of God's promise, 2 Samuel 7. In elucidation of the figurative expression, Pareau has appropriately reminded is of Seneca's words (Clement. i.:4): ille (princeps) est spiritus vitalis, quem haec tot millia (civium) trahunt. "What the breath is, in relation to the life and stability of the body, such is the king in relation to the life and stability of the nation" (Gerlach). "Of whom we said (thought), Under his shadow (i.e., protection and covering) we shall live among the nations." It is not implied in these words, as Ngelsbach thinks, that "they hoped to fall in with a friendly heathen nation, and there, clustering around their king, as their protector and the pledge of a better future, spend their days in freedom, if no more," but merely that, under the protection of their king, they hoped to live even among the heathen, i.e., to be able to continue their existence, and to prosper as a nation. For, so long as there remained to them the king whom God had given, together with the promises attached to the kingdom, they might cherish the hope that the Lord would still fulfil to them these promises also. But this hope seemed to be destroyed when the king was taken prisoner, deprived of sight, and carried away to Babylon into captivity. The words "taken in their pits" are figurative, and derived from the capture of wild animals. שׁחית as in Psalm 107:20. On the figure of the shadow, cf. Judges 9:15; Ezekiel 31:17.
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