Matthew Poole's Commentary
How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.Zion bewaileth her misery, confesseth her sins, Lamentations 4:1-6. Miseries of the chief ones; women who killed and dressed their own children, Lamentations 4:7-12. The sin of the false prophets and priests; their vain hope, Lamentations 4:13-19. Their king taken prisoner, Lamentations 4:20. Edom is threatened, and Zion comforted, Lamentations 4:21,22.
Though some take
gold here metaphorically, as signifying the most precious things, yet the most and best interpreters take it in its native sense, for the gold which adorned the temple either in its ceiling or in its vessels; the house of the Lord being burnt by Nebuzar-adan, Jeremiah 52:13, the gold in and about the temple must needs be discoloured.
How! is here a note of admiration.
Are poured out in the top of every street; that is, are tumbled down and scattered in the head of every street about the city.
The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!Either the nobles and great men, or the priests, or the good men amongst the Jews, that for their intrinsic worth and value may be compared to gold, are looked upon no better than earthen vessels, the workmanship of an ordinary potter. God carrying Jeremiah down to the potter’s house, Jeremiah 18:2 19:1, had taught them that they were no more in his hand; he now proveth it by his providence, they were indeed made so, and as miserably and irreparably broken in pieces.
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.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.
The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.As the fatness of the mother’s milk makes it instead of bread and flesh to the sucking child, so the moisture of it makes it to be as drink to allay its heat; the children wanting this moisture, their mouths were hot and dry. It was a time of famine; the little children, understanding not-the case of the city, were importunate for something to eat, but none had enough for himself, much less for others. See Lamentations 2:12,13.
They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.This judgment reached not only to the common people, but to persons of the highest rank and order, whose misery was now so much the greater, because so contrary to their former splendid state and way of living. They were wont to fare deliciously; now they wanted bread to eat, and were desolate in the streets. They were wont to eat upon scarlet carpets, or to lodge upon scarlet beds and conches; now they searched for their meat upon, or were glad to lie upon, dunghills.
For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.The word translated
punishment signifies also iniquity, as was said in the notes on Lamentations 3:39. The sins of the Jews are compared to the sins of Sodom, Isaiah 3:9 Ezekiel 16:46,48,49; hence their rulers are called rulers of Sodom, Isaiah 1:10; either their sins were specifically the same (as they were) as to many sins, Ezekiel 16:49, or they were of an equal magnitude and provocative nature. The prophet here complains that they were punished like Sodom, Amos 4:11; yea, and their punishment was greater, because more lingering and gradual, whereas Sodom was overthrown in a moment, and that by no human hands that abode upon her, causing her a continued torment, as there did upon the Jews. David said, It is better to fall into the immediate hand of God than into the hands of men.
Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:By
Nazarites in this place the most and best interpreters do not understand persons who were of the religious order of Nazarites, the laws of which order are to be read Numbers 6, and of whom we read Amos 2:11,12, for here is a beauty described (under several metaphors) which could never agree to them; but persons that were nobly and ingenuously bred; the word Nezer signifying a crown, or ensign of honour, 2 Samuel 1:10 2 Kings 11:12. The name Nazarite was given to persons splendid for their breeding and education, or honour and dignity; it is given to Joseph, Genesis 49:26, we translate it separate from his brethren, Deu 33:16; so Nahum 3:17. Her Nazarites in this place signifieth her separated ones, who either in respect of birth, education, estate, places of magistracy, or the like, were distinguished from the rest of the people. He expresseth their former splendid estate by the metaphors of snow, milk, rubies, and sapphires.
Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.They that in the prosperity of the city were fair, plump, and ruddy, look now black for want of fit nourishment, and through sorrow and grief; insomuch that those who before knew them by their countenances, garbs, and habits, did not now know them. And by reason of the famine (for he speaketh with relation to the famine during the siege) they are almost starved, their skin is withered and hard, and even sticketh to their bones.
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.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.
The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.This was according to what God had threatened in case of disobedience, Deu 28:57, and a thing which hath often happened in sieges, 2 Kings 6:29. Such things did happen in the last destruction of Jerusalem, as we read in Josephus; and though we read of no such thing happening in the siege of it by Nebuchadnezzar, yet that there were some such sad instances appears from this text.
The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.An unusual fire, which burns up not only the roof and superstructure, but the foundations, leaving no bottom for hopes of being restored. See Deu 32:22.
The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.Jerusalem was so naturally and artificially fortified, and so favoured by God, and taken notice of as a place which the Lord cared for, and watched over, that it could not have entered into the thoughts of any of those that were enemies to it, that they should ever have been able to make themselves masters of it.
For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her,Not for their sins alone who were the false prophets and Baal’s priests, but for their sins in an eminent degree; they were the ringleaders, either encouraging the people to the wickednesses they committed, or not restraining them, and denouncing the wrath of God against them. So though they were the corrupt magistrates that had shed the innocent blood, yet the priests and prophets became guilty of it, either encouraging the magistrates to it, or soothing them up in their bloody courses, or by burning the children that were burnt in the valley of Hinnom. The ecclesiastical men were a great cause of the first and last destruction of Jerusalem, and so they are of most other places that come to ruin, through their neglect of their duty, or encouraging others in their wicked courses; which both showeth us how great a blessing to a people a godly, conscientious ministry is, and how great a plague and curse a ministry is which is otherwise. See Jeremiah 5:31 23:21.
They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.A variety of interpreters hath made this text much more difficult than it is. Certainly nothing can appear more reasonable than to interpret the pronoun in the front of the verse relatively, and to fetch the antecedent from the former verse. They, that is, the prophets and the priests, wandered up and down the streets like blind men, being spiritually blind, polluting themselves with blood, either the blood of the children which they slew, or the just men mentioned Lamentations 4:13, the slaughter of whom they either encouraged, or at least did not discourage; so as one could not touch a prophet or a priest but he must be legally polluted, and there were so many of them, that men could not walk in the streets but that he must touch some of them. Some thinking the discourse of the priests done with interpret they of the blind men in the city who could not walk up and down the streets without touching the bodies of some that were slain. Others interpret the words of the common people, who, during the siege, could no more avoid touching bodies slain, and so polluting themselves with blood, than blind men could; so as they abhorred to touch their own garments. The first sense to me seemeth most natural and easy.
They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there.The various application of the pronoun they by interpreters makes them aa much divided in the sense of this as of the former verse. Either the Jews that made conscience of keeping to the law against touching dead bodies cried to the other Jews to leave the city as themselves did, the city being now so full of dead bodies that they could not stay in it without polluting themselves; or the priests called to them to that purpose; or their enemies spake in that language to them. For their enemies had resolved they should not stay in Jerusalem.
The anger of the LORD hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders.These words seem to be the language of their enemies triumphing over them, as discerning that their God was provoked against them, and would have no more regard or respect unto them; and that they had misused his prophets, which agreeth with 2 Chronicles 36:16. But others rather think these latter words (if not the former also) are the prophet’s words, expressive of the cause of their miseries, viz. the Lord’s anger, who had divided them, &c., and the effect of it, their enemies having no regard to the most grave and venerable persons amongst them.
As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.That is, in expectation of the Egyptians, whom they waited for to raise the siege; it was a long time before they came, and When they did come, they could do them no service at all, Jeremiah 37:5,7,8.
They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.The Chaldeans employed in the siege are so close upon us, that we cannot stir a foot about our businesses, nor look out at our doors, nor walk safely in the streets; we are ruined, there is an end of our civil state; our period is come, and the time of our prosperity is elapsed.
Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.Our enemies who pursued us to destroy us were very swift in their pursuit of us, (As swift as an eagle, was a proverbial expression,) we could no where be safe: if we sought refuge in the mountains, they followed us thither; if we fled from them into the wilderness, they laid wait for us there.
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.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.
Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked.The Edomites were descended from Esau the elder brother of Jacob, and dwelled in a part of Arabia that obtained the name of Uz, probably from Uz the son of Dishan, who descended from Seir, Genesis 36:20,28: they, out of their old hatred to the Jews, rejoiced at their ruin, as we learn from the prophecy of Obadiah, who upon this account was sent to prophesy against them: the prophet here ironically saith,
Rejoice, in the same sense as, Ecclesiastes 11:9, Solomon bids the young man rejoice. But their joy should be but for a little time, for God was dealing out the cup of his fury to more than the Jewish nation, and amongst others to the Edomites; and they should be filled. and intoxicated with it, and make themselves naked, as drunken men sometimes do in their debauches.
The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.O Judea, thy punishment is past, but the punishment of Edom is yet to come. The Jews were to abide many years in captivity, but they were now suffering their last punishment from the Chaldeans, they were only for some years to continue in that state of captives.
He will no more carry thee into captivity; after thy term of captivity shall be expired, thou shalt not for thy old sins suffer any more punishment. Not that their present captivity should be all their punishment in case they went on in sinful courses, as they did in rejecting Christ, and causing him to be crucified; for those new wickednesses after many years they were destroyed by the Romans; but the prophet hints that there should at present, or for their past sins, no more wrath be poured out upon them, nor would God ever detain them in this captivity. But for the Edomites, their punishment was yet wholly to come, God was yet beginning to punish them, and would do it, discovering their sins. As the pardon of sin is in Scripture set out under the notion of covering it, Psalm 32:1, so the punishment of sin may be expressed by
discovering it, Job 20:27; but the learned author of the English Annotations conceiveth the Hebrew may be better read, he will discover thee for thy sins, because of the particle lu set before thy sins (though our translation taketh no notice of it). He will discover upon thy sins; and so it answereth Jeremiah 49:10, (as he conceiveth,) I have made Esau bare, I have uncovered his secret places, and he shall not be able to hide himself.