Matthew Poole's Commentary
How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow! she that was great among the nations, and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!Jeremiah lamenteth the former excellency and present misery of Jerusalem for her sin, Lam 1:1-11. She complaineth of her grief, Lam 1:12-17; confesseth God's judgments to be righteous; and prayeth unto him, Lam 1:18-22.
The interrogative particle
how, once expressed and twice more understood in this verse, doth not so much inquire the cause or reason of the effect, as express admiration or lamentation. The prophet admires the miserable state of the city, which was full of people beyond the proportion of other cities, and now was solitary, so thin of people that scarce any could be seen in her streets. She that had a king, or rather a god, that was a husband to her, now was forsaken of God, her king taken from her, and she like a poor widow. She that was like a princess amongst the nations, that sometimes (as in David's time) had the Moabites, Ammonites, &c. tributaries to her, was now a tributary herself.
She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies.All her hours are hours of sadness, she doth not only mourn in the day time, but in the night also, when she should rest; her cheeks are like the grass in the morning, hanging full of drops, as if her head were a fountain of water, and her eyes rivers of tears. In her prosperity she had a great many friends that sought and courted her favour, with whom she made leagues and confederated (such were the Egyptians, Assyrians, &c.); but they were now so far from helping the Jews, that they helped their enemies, and dealt treacherously with them, becoming themselves enemies instead of assistants to them.
Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits.This is expounded as the cause why the Jews were carried into captivity, because of the servitude and oppression exercised amongst them, oppression by their rulers, and servitude more generally, keeping their servants beyond the year of jubilee, when they ought to have set them at liberty; and that this was one cause appeareth from Jeremiah 34:17: or if
because of affliction, & c. be joined to the next words, the sense is plain,
she dwelleth amongst the heathen, by reason of her low condition, and the state of servitude she is in; where she, that is, the Jews, have neither any satisfaction nor quiet in their own minds, nor are they by their enemies suffered to be at quiet any where. Those that pursued them with all violence to destroy them overtook them in places where they could not escape them, as huntsmen and others take their game by driving them into strait and narrow places.
The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness.The ways that lead to the temple have as unlovely a complexion as mourners, being overgrown, by reason that none goeth up as usually to the feasts of the passover, of tabernacles, &c. Either all the gates of Jerusalem, or the temple, or all her cities, are very thin of people, the places that use to be so full. Her priests that were wont to be so fully employed at festivals receiving the people’s oblations, and offering sacrifices, they mourn, having now nothing to do. The virgins who in those feasts were wont to play with timbrels, Psalm 68:25, they now mourn, and persons of all ages and ranks are in bitterness.
Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the LORD hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy.God hath fulfilled his threatening, Deu 28:43; the enemy is got
above us, and
we are brought very low, for the multitude of our sins, directly contrary to his promise in case of obedience, Lamentations 1:13. Not only our young and old men, but the little children, have been driven like sheep before the enemy into a miserable captivity.
And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed: her princes are become like harts that find no pasture, and they are gone without strength before the pursuer.All the inhabitants of Zion have lost their former beauty; whatsoever splendour the city had, whether from the multitude or gallantry of her inhabitants, it is all gone; her nobles are become thin and ill-favoured, like beasts almost starved, their enemies pursue them to destroy them, and they have no strength to oppose or resist them.
Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old, when her people fell into the hand of the enemy, and none did help her: the adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths.The inhabitants of Jerusalem, now that they are in affliction and misery, have time to remember their former mercies, and with how many desirable things God had once blessed them, and compare her former state before she fell into the enemies’ hands, with her present state now she is in their power. Now it is an affliction to them to hear her enemies mock at her sabbaths, which while they enjoyed they abused.
Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward.She is carried out of her own land into an enemy’s country, and made a hissing and scorn to those who before reverenced her, (in all this God is righteous, for all orders of men have grievously sinned,) because they have seen the Lord stripping her of all her blessings, and exposing her to the scorn and reproach of all men, as strumpets are exposed.
Her filthiness is in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O LORD, behold my affliction: for the enemy hath magnified himself.He persisteth in his comparison of the Jewish people, either to a sluttish, nasty woman, or to an impudent woman that is not ashamed to expose her nastiness or wickedness to the view of all.
She remembereth not her last end, therefore she came down wonderfully; that is, the Jews never considered, or would not believe, what those degrees of sin would at last bring them to, and that hath been the cause of that prodigious calamity into which God had brought them.
O Lord, behold my affliction: for the enemy hath magnified himself: the prophet turns himself to God, whom he desires to behold the affliction of this people, that is, with a pitiful, compassionate eye. It is a very usual thing in Holy Scripture to signify the acts. of the heart by the acts of the inward and outward senses, those especially of the memory, eye, and ear, because objects must be first brought in by the senses before they can affect the soul. Hence (the Scripture speaking of God after the manner of men) the servants of God desiring God to have compassion on them, show them favour, &c., desire him to behold and look upon their affliction.
The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into thy congregation.Hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things; that is, hath got them into possession. By pleasant things are here to be understood the ornaments of the temple, upon which the enemy had laid violent hands; so this phrase of
spreading out the hand is taken Isaiah 25:11. The things of the sanctuary were always pleasant things to those that feared God; possibly those that little valued them before, now looked upon them in their true notion. We seldom know our mercies till we come to be deprived of them.
The heathen entered into her sanctuary; he means the Ammonites and Moabites, whom the law concerned, Deu 23:3; some of whom probably assisted the Babylonians in the conquest of Judea.
All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul: see, O LORD, and consider; for I am become vile.He speaketh probably with reference to the siege, after which the people had scarcely any pleasant things to exchange for bread. The whole body of the people was in a sad condition; and in a land that ordinarily flowed with milk and honey, they were at loss for bread to eat, and gave any thing for something to satisfy their hunger.
See, O Lord, and consider; for I am become vile: the prophet sends up a sudden ejaculation to God, much like that Lamentations 1:9. The argument he useth is drawn from the misery the people were in, expressed under the notion of being become vile, that is, miserable or contemptible.
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.The prophet speaks in the name of the Jewish church, as a woman in misery sitting by the way-side, and calling to passengers that came by to have compassion on her, suggesting to them that her affliction was no ordinary affliction, nor the effect of a common and ordinary providence, but the effect of the Lord’s fierce anger, a most severe punishment.
From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate and faint all the day.By
fire he means a judgment as consuming and as afflictive as fire in the bones, which had consumed the strength of the Jews.
He hath spread a net for my feet; that is, God had brought them into a condition wherein they were entangled, and could not get out. The holy man owneth God as the first cause of all the evil they suffered, and entitles God to their various kinds of afflictions, both in captivity and during the siege, looking beyond the Babylonians, who were the proximate instrumental cause.
The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, and come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.Still the prophet eyeth God in all, and acknowledgeth his justice while he calls their afflictions the yoke of their transgressions, that is, which was put upon their neck, upon the same account that yokes are put about the necks of beasts that use to break hedges, &c. and bound to keep them fast. My punishments are twisted as cords, to make them more strong; I have a complication of judgments upon me, sword, famine, pestilence, captivity; they are not only prepared for my neck, but they are already put upon it. All my valiant men, the strength of my nation is broken; and I am so fallen, that I am not able to rise again.
The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men in the midst of me: he hath called an assembly against me to crush my young men: the Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a winepress.In the midst of me, may be interpreted either as pleonastical, or as denoting the place in which they lost their valiant men, viz. in the midst of the city during the siege, not in the field.
He hath called an assembly against me to crush my young men; instead of those solemn assemblies that were wont to be called together within Jerusalem by sound of trumpet for the solemn worship of God, God had called an assembly of Chaldeans as adversaries against the city, to crush the inhabitants of it.
The Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a wine-press; God had trodden upon the Jews as men use to stamp grapes in a wine-press, where they use to crush them to pieces to get out the juice, and then they throw the husks, that are good for nothing, upon the dunghills. These are but various expressions to set out the misery into which God had brought this people for their sins.
For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed.For these sore afflictions, and for my sins that have caused them, and for these impressions of Divine wrath which I discern in them, Lord! I that am thy prophet, and we that are Israelites indeed, weep, and that plentifully; having neither thee present with us as formerly to be our hope or comfort, nor any friend that will deal by us as friends sometimes do by others in swooning fits to fetch back their souls.
My children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed; either the other cities of Judah, (Jerusalem was the mother city,) or my people, my inhabitants, are wasted, destroyed, and made desolate, because the enemy hath prevailed.
Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her: the LORD hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries should be round about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them.The same in this verse is meant by Zion, Jacob, and Jerusalem, unless Zion more specially signifieth the Jews considered as a church, because of the temple built upon it. She spreadeth out her hands as in a posture of mourning, and bewailing herself; but she had none that could afford her any comfort. God had commanded concerning the Jews who were descended from Jacob, (their twelve tribes from his twelve sons,) that their enemies should encompass them. They were become loathsome and filthy even in the eyes of their enemies, like women which were separated from the congregation during their legal uncleanness.
The LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.The prophet either directeth those that feared God what they should say, or expresseth what many of them did say in the name of the rest, acknowledging both the Lord’s justice and faithfulness, because they had been disobedient to the commandments of God.
Hear, I pray you, & c.; In these words the prophet only personates a passionate woman begging pity of all because her children were taken from her.
I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls.I desired help of my allies and confederates who courted my friendship and alliance in any prosperity, but they failed mine expectation, none of them either would or could succour me. My misery was such through the famine, that not only my common people, but those of the best rank in the city, magistrates and priests, fainted as they went along the street seeking bread to satisfy their hunger.
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.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.
They have heard that I sigh: there is none to comfort me: all mine enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that thou hast done it: thou wilt bring the day that thou hast called, and they shall be like unto me.The nations contiguous to me, Egypt, &c., those that before courted me, as pretended friends, have been no strangers to my bitter afflictions, that have brought forth sighs from me; but there is none of them can or will comfort me, but give me over as in a desperate case. The Edomites, Ob 1, &c., and Moabites, and other heathen nations, with whom I have had hostility, they are glad at the great misery that hath befallen me. But thou hast declared thy pleasure for their destruction also, and hast by me proclaimed it, Jeremiah 49:1, and thou shalt in that day bring them into as sad a condition as the church of the Jews are now in. As they seldom in themselves feel those miseries which they have felt and compassionated in others; so men hardly escape their own share at last in those evils which they have rejoiced to see brought upon God’s people.
Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint.This verse is another prophetical curse or imprecation, several of which we meet with in holy writ, Psalm 109:6-9 137:8 Jeremiah 11:20 18:23, and in many other texts; which would incline us to think that our Saviour’s precept, Matthew 5:44, to pray for those that persecute us, backed by his own example, Luke 23:34, and Stephen’s; Acts 7:60, is either to be interpreted of praying for the forgiveness of their sins, (we ought to desire the eternal condemnation of none,) or to be restrained to such as are our personal enemies, not the common enemies of the church of God. Our Saviour’s precept most certainly is not to be so interpreted, but that we may lawfully pray for such evils to the implacable enemies of the church and people of God, as may restrain and weaken their hands, and put them out of a capacity of wasting the Lord’s heritage: we are only obliged by it to wish well to their souls, and to desire no evil against them out of private revenge or malice, but only out of love to God, and zeal for his glory; but for their outward prosperity in their courses of enmity we ought no more to pray than against their eternal salvation; for this were to beg of God to encourage his enemies in their enmity against him. And though Jeremiah were a greater prophet than any of us can pretend to be, and had revelations of particular future contingencies which we have not; yet every one may prophesy a ruin to the enemies of God’s church and people, and such as rejoice in their ruin; God never using a rod against his people which he doth not at last burn, nor ever countenacing inhumanity in any, but much less when it is rooted in a malice against himself, and his interest in the world.