Lamentations 4:9
They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field.
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(9) For want of . . .—The italics indicate the difficulty of the sentence. Literally the clause stands, from the fruits of the field, and it has been explained by some as referring to those that died in battle, stricken through while yet there were fruits, i.e., not doomed to perish slowly from hunger. The construction of Psalm 109:24, however, “faileth of fatness”—i.e., for want of fatness—gives a sufficient support to the Authorised version.

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.Their visage ... - Their form (their whole person, see 1 Samuel 28:14)... as in the margin. See Job 30:30.

It is withered, it is become like a stick - Or, It has become dry like a piece of wood.

9. The speedy death by the sword is better than the lingering death by famine.

pine away—literally, "flow out"; referring to the flow of blood. This expression, and "stricken through," are drawn from death by "the sword."

want of … fruits—The words in italics have to be supplied in the original (Ge 18:28; Ps 109:24).


During the siege many were killed by the enemies’ sword, many more perished by famine; the prophet saith the condition of those who perished by the sword was much better than the condition of those who perished by famine, because they had a quicker death, and were sooner despatched and put out of their pain; whereas they who perished by hunger died a miserable, lingering death, gradually pining away, because they wanted corn and herbs, the fruits of the field, to uphold their souls in life.

They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger,.... Not that they are better with respect to their state after death, but with respect to their manner of dying. They that were slain by the sword of the Chaldeans, as many were, either upon the walls, or in sallies out against the enemy, these felt less pain, and had less terror of mind in dying, than those did who perished by famine; they died a lingering death, as it were by inches, and were in continual pain of body and uneasiness of mind:

for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field: that is, those that died by famine gradually wasted or "flowed" away, their fluid parts by degrees went off; and though they were not run through with the sword, they were stabbed by famine, and were so distressed in body and mind as if a sword had pierced them; not having the fruits of the field, the corn and the wine, to support nature, and keep them alive. Jarchi's note is,

"they that were slain with hunger were inflated at the smell of the fruits of the field, when the enemies were roasting their flesh upon the grass without the wall; the smell entered into those that swelled by famine, and their bellies burst, and their excrements flowed out; and this is the death worse than that of being slain with the sword.''

And to this agrees the Targum,

"more happy are they that are slain with the sword than they that are slain with famine; for they that are slain with the sword flowed when their bellies were burst, by that which they ate of the fruits of the field; and those that were inflated with famine, their bellies burst through "want" of food.''

Most interpreters refer this clause to those that died of famine: but Gussetius (z) interprets it of those that were killed with the sword; and renders and paraphrases the words thus, "for they being stabbed, sent out"; by the open wounds, "a flux, which arose from the fruits of the field"; their food and nourishment being yet in their belly and veins, and so did not pine away through penury and famine; and their misery was short and light, in comparison of others: and so Abendana.

(z) Comment. Ebr. p. 225.

They that are slain with the sword are better than they that are slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for lack of the {f} fruits of the field.

(f) For lack of food they pine away and consume.

9. The two modes of death experienced in the siege are contrasted.

pine away] lit. as mg. flow away.

stricken through] See on Jeremiah 37:10, where (mg.) “thrust through” is the same word in the Heb. As the expression seems scarcely applicable to those dying of hunger, the Heb. text is somewhat suspicious, but no obviously satisfactory emendation has been suggested.

Verse 9.-The miserable condition just now described maintains a sad pre-eminence even when compared with the fate of the slain in battle. And why! For these pine away (literally, melt away)This pining away with hunger is much more horrible than a speedy death by the sword. שׁהם, "for they" equals qui ipsi; יזוּבוּ, prop. flow away, i.e., pine away as those pierced through (מדקּרים, cf. Jeremiah 37:10; Jeremiah 51:4). 'מתּנוּבות שׁ does not mean "of the fruits," but מן is a brief expression for "because there are no fruits," i.e., from want of the produce of the field; cf. בּשׂרי , "my flesh wastes away from oil," i.e., because there is a want of oil, Psalm 109:24. There was thus no need for the conjecture מתּלאבות, "from burning glow," from drought, which has been proposed by Ewald in order to obtain the following sense, after supplying כּ: "as if melting away through the drought of the field, emaciated by the glowing heat of the sun." The free rendering of the Vulgate, consumpti a sterilitate terrae, gives no support to the conjecture.
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