He has bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary…
If God is tormenting His people in fierce anger, it must be because He is their enemy — so the sad-hearted patriot reasons. First, we have the earthly side of the process. The daughter of Zion is covered with a cloud — a metaphor more striking in the brilliant East than in our habitually sombre climate. There it would suggest unwonted gloom — the loss of the customary light of heaven, rare distress, and excessive melancholy. But there is more than gloom. A mere cloud may lift, and discover everything unaltered by the passing shadow. The distress that has fallen on Jerusalem is not thus superficial and transient. She herself has suffered a fatal fall. The Language is now varied; instead of "the daughter of Zion" we have "the beauty of Israel." The use of the larger title, Israel, is not a little significant. It shows that the elegist is alive to the idea of the fundamental unity of his race, a unity which could not be destroyed by centuries of intertribal warfare. It has been suggested with probability that by the expression "the beauty of Israel" the elegist intended to indicate the temple. This magnificent pile of buildings, crowning one of the hills of Jerusalem, and shining with gold in "barbaric splendour," was the central object of beauty among all the people who revered the worship it enshrined. Its situation would naturally suggest the language here employed. Still keeping in mind the temple, the poet tells us that God has forgotten His footstool. He seems to be thinking of the mercy seat over the ark, the spot at which God was thought to show Himself propitious to Israel on the great day of atonement, and which was looked upon as the very centre of the Divine presence. No miracle intervenes to punish the heathen for their sacrilege. Yes, surely God must have forgotten His footstool! So it seems to the sorrowful Jew, perplexed at the impunity with which this crime has been committed. But the mischief is not confined to the central shrine. It has extended to remote country regions and simple rustic folk. The shepherd's hut has shared the fate of the temple of the Lord. All the habitations of Jacob — a phrase which in the original points to country cottages — have been swallowed up. The holiest is not spared on account of its sanctity, neither is the lowliest on account of its obscurity. The calamity extends to all districts, to all things, to all classes. If the shepherd's cot is contrasted with the temple and the ark because of its simplicity, the fortress may be contrasted with this defenceless hut because of its strength. Yet even the strongholds have been thrown down. More than this, the action of the Jews' army has been paralysed by the God who had been its strength and support in the glorious olden time. It is as though the right hand of the warrior had been seized from behind and drawn back at the moment when it was raised to strike a blow for deliverance. The consequence is that the flower of the army, "all that were pleasant to the eye," are slain. Israel herself is swallowed up, while her palaces and fortresses are demolished. The climax of this mystery of Divine destruction is reached when God destroys His own temple. The elegist returns to the dreadful subject as though fascinated by the terror of it. According to the strict translation of the original, God is mid to have violently taken away His tabernacle "as a garden." At the siege of a city the fruit gardens that encircle it are the first victims of the destroyer's axe. Lying out beyond the walls they are entirely unprotected, while the impediments they offer to the movements of troops and instruments of war induce the commander to order their early demolition. Thus Titus had the trees cleared from the Mount of Olives, so that one of the first incidents in the Roman siege of Jerusalem must have been the destruction of the Garden of Gethsemane. Now the poet compares the ease with which the great, massive temple — itself a powerful fortress, and enclosed within the city wails — was demolished, with the simple process of scouring the outlying gardens. The deeper thought that God rejects His sanctuary because His people have first rejected Him is not brought forward just now. Yet this solution of the mystery is prepared by a contemplation of the utter failure of the old ritual of atonement. Evidently that is not always effective, for here it has broken down entirely; then can it ever be inherently efficacious? It cannot be enough to trust to a sanctuary and ceremonies which God Himself destroys. The first thing to be noticed in this unhestitating ascription to God of positive enmity is the striking evidence it contains of faith in the Divine power, presence, and activity. The victorious army of the Babylonians filled the field as completely in the old time as that of the Germans in the modern event. Yet the poet simply ignores its existence. He passes it with sublime indifference, his mind filled with the thought of the unseen Power behind. He knows that the action of the true God is supreme in everything that happens, whether the event be favourable or unfavourable to His people. Perhaps it is only owing to the dreary materialism of current thought that we should be less likely to discover an indication of the enmity of God in some huge national calamity. Still, although this idea of the elegist is a fruit of his unshaken faith in the universal sway of God, it startles and shocks us, and we shrink from it almost as though it contained some blasphemous suggestion. Is the elegist only expressing his own feelings? Have we a right to affirm that there can be no objective truth in the awful idea of the enmity of God? In the first place, we have no warrant for asserting that God will never act in direct and intentional opposition to any of His creatures. There is one obvious occasion when He certainly does this. The man who resists the laws of nature finds those laws working against him. The laws of nature are, as Kingsley said, but the ways of God. If they are opposing a man, God is opposing that man. But God does not confine His action to the realm of physical processes. His providence works through the whole course of events in the world's history. What we see evidently operating in nature we may infer to be equally active in less visible regions. Then, if we believe in a God who rules and works in the world, we cannot suppose that His activity is confined to aiding what is good. It is unreasonable to imagine that He stands aside in passive negligence of evil. And if He concerns Himself to thwart evil, what is this but manifesting Himself as the enemy of the evil-doer? It may be contended, on the other side, that there is a world of difference between antagonistic actions and unfriendly feelings, and that the former by no means imply the latter. Still, for the time being, the opposition is a reality, and a reality which to all intents and purposes is one of enmity, since it resists, frustrates, hurts. Nor is this all. We have no reason to deny that God can have real anger. We must believe that Jesus Christ was as truly revealing the Father when He was moved with indignation as when He was moved with compassion. His mission was a war against all evil, and therefore, though not waged with carnal weapons, a war against evil men. The Jewish authorities were perfectly right in perceiving this fact. They persecuted Him as their enemy; and He was their enemy. This statement is no contradiction to the gracious truth that He desired to save all men, and therefore even these men. If God's enmity to any soul were eternal, it would conflict with His love. But if He is at the present time actively opposing a man, and if He is doing this in anger, in the wrath of righteousness against sin, it is only quibbling with words to deny that for the time being He is a very real enemy to that man.
(W. P. Adeney, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire.
WEB: He has bent his bow like an enemy, he has stood with his right hand as an adversary, Has killed all that were pleasant to the eye: In the tent of the daughter of Zion he has poured out his wrath like fire.