Lamentations 4:3
Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.
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(3) Even the sea monsters . . .—Better, jackals. The Authorised Version is intended apparently to apply to cetaceous mammals; elsewhere (Jeremiah 14:6) the word is rendered “dragons.” “Jackals,” it may be noted, are combined with “owls” or ostriches,” as they are here, in Job 30:29; Isaiah 13:21. A like reference to the seeming want of maternal instinct in the ostrich is found in Job 39:16. The comparison was obviously suggested by facts like those referred to in Lamentations 2:20.

Lamentations 4:3-5. Even the sea-monsters draw out the breast — The very dragons have drawn out the breast: so Blaney. Even these fierce and destructive animals are not so unnatural as to neglect the care of their young ones; whereas the women of Jerusalem have been reduced to that miserable necessity as to disregard their children, as the ostrich does her eggs. The tongue of the sucking child, &c. — Such was the scarcity of food, that the women had not nourishment sufficient to produce milk to enable them to give suck to their infants, and when the children begged for bread the parents had none to give them. They that did feed delicately embrace dunghills — Lie down on dunghills, and seek about them in hopes to pick up something to eat.

4:1-12 What a change is here! Sin tarnishes the beauty of the most exalted powers and the most excellent gifts; but that gold, tried in the fire, which Christ bestows, never will be taken from us; its outward appearance may be dimmed, but its real value can never be changed. The horrors of the siege and destruction of Jerusalem are again described. Beholding the sad consequences of sin in the church of old, let us seriously consider to what the same causes may justly bring down the church now. But, Lord, though we have gone from thee in rebellion, yet turn to us, and turn our hearts to thee, that we may fear thy name. Come to us, bless us with awakening, converting, renewing, confirming grace.Sea monsters - Rather, jackals.

Their young ones - "Their" whelps. The term is applied only to the young of dogs, lions, and the like.

3. sea monsters … breast—Whales and other cetaceous monsters are mammalian. Even they suckle their young; but the Jewish women in the siege, so desperate was their misery, ate theirs (La 4:10; La 2:20). Others translate, "jackals."

ostriches—see on [1013]Job 39:14; [1014]Job 39:16, on their forsaking their young.


The learned author of our English Annotations well observeth, that whatever creature is here intended by the word translated sea-monsters, yet our translation is not proper, the text speaking of creatures of God’s making, monsters properly signifying such as have something beyond their natural bulk and proportion. What creatures are signified by the Hebrew term, whether sea-calves, or dragons, or serpents, or whales, is very hard to say, the Hebrew word signifying some creatures, occurring so rarely as it is not easy to determine the species, from the word used to express it. He certainly speaks of some brute beasts, and those that are most savage. He saith there are none such but by a natural instinct feed and nourish their young ones; but the Jewish women were become cruel to their children, either forced to appear so, having through the famine no milk to give them, nor any thing to relieve them, or were indeed so, killing them to make food for themselves, as Lamentations 2:20.

Like the ostriches in the wilderness; like ostriches, that lay their eggs and leave them in the sand, and are hardened against their young ones, as Job 39:14-16. Some think a kind of owls are intended, which for want of meat eat up their young ones, as the Jewish women now did. See Lamentations 4:10.

Even the sea monsters draw out the breast,.... Which some interpret of dragons; others of seals, or sea calves; but it is best to understand it of whales, as the word is rendered in Genesis 1:21; and elsewhere: and Bochart (d) has proved, out of various writers, that these have breasts and milk; but that their breasts, or however their paps, are not manifest, but are hid as in cases, and must be drawn out: and so Jarchi observes that they draw their breasts out of a case, for their breasts have a covering, which they uncover: so Ben Melech. Aristotle (e) says, that whales, as the dolphin, sea calf, and balaena, have breasts or paps, and milk, which he makes to be certain species of the whale; and each of these, he elsewhere says, have milk, and suckle their young: the dolphin and sturgeon, he observes (f) have milk, and are sucked; and so the sea calf, he says (g), lets out milk as a sheep, and has two breasts, and is sucked by its young, as four footed beasts are. Agreeably to which Aelianus (h) relates, that the female dolphins have paps like women, and suckle their young, with great plenty of milk; and the balaena, he says (i), is a creature like a dolphin, and has milk. And Pliny, speaking of the dolphins, observes (k), that they bring forth their "whelps", and so the young of this creature are called here in the next clause in the Hebrew text (l), and nourish them with their breasts, as the balaena; and of the sea calves the same writer says (m) they feed their young with their paps; but the paps of these creatures are not manifest, as those of four footed beasts, as Aristotle observes; but are like two channels or pipes, out of which the milk flows, and the young are suckled;

they give suck to their young ones; as they do, when they are hungry; which is mentioned, as an aggravation of the case of the Jewish women, with respect to their behaviour towards their children, by reason of the famine, during the siege of Jerusalem; which here, and in the following verses, is described in the sad effects of it; and which had a further accomplishment at the destruction of the same city by the Romans: now, though the monsters suckled their young when hungry, yet these women did not suckle theirs;

the daughter of my people is become cruel; or, is "unto a cruel one" (n): that is, is changed unto a cruel one, or is like unto one, and behaves as such, though of force and necessity: the meaning is, that the Jewish women, though before tenderhearted mothers, yet, by reason of the famine, having no milk in their breasts, could give none to their children, and so acted as if they were cruel to them; nay, in fact, instead of feeding them, they fed upon them, Lamentations 4:10;

like the ostriches in the wilderness; which lay their eggs, and leave them in places easily to be crushed and broken; and when they have any young ones, they are hardened against them, as if they were none of theirs, Job 39:13; and this seemed now to be the case of these women; or, "like the owls", as the word is sometimes rendered; and which also leave their eggs, and for want of food will eat their young, as those women did. So Ben Melech says, it is a bird which dwells in the wilderness, and causes a voice of hooping to be heard.

(d) Hierozoic. l. 1. c. 7. p. 46. (e) Hist. Animal. l. 3. c. 20. (f) Ib. l. 6. c. 12. (g) lbid. (h) Hist. de Animal. 1. 10. c. 8. (i) Ib. l. 5. c. 4. (k) Nat. Hist. l. 9. c. 8. (l) "catulos suos", Pagninus, Montanus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Cocceius. (m) Nat. Hist. l. 9. c. 13. (n) "in crudelem", Montanus; "sub. mutata fuit", Piscator; "similis est crudeli", Munster.

Even the sea monsters {c} draw out the breast, they nurse their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the {d} ostriches in the wilderness.

(c) Though the dragons are cruel, yet they pity their young, and nourish them, which Jerusalem does not do.

(d) The women forsake their children as the ostrich does her eggs, Job 39:17.

3. the jackals] See on Jeremiah 9:11; Jeremiah 51:34.

like the ostriches in the wilderness] Cp. C.B. (Davidson) on Job 39:15 f. for “the popular belief that the ostrich did not brood but left her eggs to be hatched in the sun.… The belief is not sustained by observation, except to this extent, that the bird does not brood till her complement of eggs (thirty in number) be laid, and that during the earlier part of incubation she often leaves the nest by day to go in search of food. It is also said that she lays a number of eggs outside the nest, which are not incubated but serve as food for the poults when they are hatched.”

Verse 3. - The sea monsters; rather, the jackals (tannin, the Aramaic form of the plural for tannim). Cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness. So in Job (Job 39:14-16) it is said of the ostrich that she "leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers." The description is literally true, if we add a detail not mentioned by the sacred poet. The eggs destined for hatching are deposited in a nest hole scratched in the sand, but there are other eggs laid, not in the sand, but near it, to all appearance forsaken. These eggs, however, are not exposed in simple stupidity, though they do often fall victims to violence. "They are intended for the nourishment of the newly hatched young ones, which in barren districts would at first find difficulty in procuring food" (Houghton, 'Natural History of the Ancients,' p. 198). Lamentations 4:3This disregard or rejection of the citizens of Zion is evidence in Lamentations 4:3 and onwards by many examples, beginning with children, ascending to adults (3-5), and ending with princes. The starvation to death of the children (Lamentations 4:3, Lamentations 4:4) is mentioned first; and the frightful misery that has befallen Jerusalem is vividly set forth, by a comparison of the way in which wild animals act towards their young with the behaviour of the mothers of Jerusalem towards their children. Even jackals (תּנּין for תּנּים, see on Jeremiah 9:10) give their breasts to their young ones to suck. חלצוּ , extrahunt mammam equals they present their breast. As Junius has remarked, the expression is taken a mulieribus lactantibus, quae laxata veste mammam lactanti praebent; hence also we are not, for the sake of this expression, to understand תּנּין as meaning cetus (Bochart and Ngelsbach), regarding which animal Bochart remarks (Hieroz. iii. p. 777, ed. Rosenmller), ceti papillas non esseἐπιφανεῖς, quippe in mammis receptae tanquam in vaginis conduntur. Rosenm@fcller has already rejected this meaning as minus apta for the present passage. From the combination of jackals and ostriches as inhabiting desert places (Isaiah 13:21.; Job 30:29), we have no hesitation in fixing on "jackals" as the meaning here. "The daughter of my people" (cf. Lamentations 2:11) here means the inhabitants of Zion or Jerusalem. לאכזר, "has become cruel." The Kethib כי ענים instead of כּיענים (Qeri) may possibly have arisen from a purely accidental separation of the letters of the word in a MS, a reading which was afterwards painfully retained by the scribes. But in many codices noted by Kennicott and De Rossi, as well as in several old editions, the word is found correctly joined, without any marginal note. יענים means ostriches, usually בּת יענה ("daughter of crying," or according to Gesenius, in his Thesaurus, and Ewald, following the Syriac, "the daughter of gluttony"), the female ostrich. The comparison with these animals is to be understood in accordance with Job 39:16 : "she (the female ostrich) treats her young ones harshly, as if they were not her own." This popular belief is founded on the fact that the animal lays her eggs in the ground, - after having done no more than slightly scratching up the soil, - and partly also, when the nest is full, on the surface of the ground; she then leaves them to be hatched, in course of time, by the heat of the sun: the eggs may thus be easily broken, see on Job 39:14-16.
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