Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
Submission under the Judgment of God, and Hope
1 How the gold becomes dim, - the fine gold changeth, -
Sacred stones are scattered about at the top of every street!
2 The dear sons of Zion, who are precious as fine gold, -
How they are esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of a potters hands!
3 [But] the daughter of my people [hath become] cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.
4 The tongue of the suckling cleaveth to his palate for thirst;
Young children ask for bread, [but] there is none breaking [it] for them.
5 Those who ate dainties [before] are desolate in the streets;
Those who were carried on scarlet embrace dunghills.
6 The iniquity of the daughter of my people became greater than the sin of Sodom,
Which was overthrown as in a moment, though no hands were laid on her.
7 Her princes were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk,
They were redder in body than corals, their form was [that of] a sapphire.
8 `Their form is darker than blackness, - they are not recognised in the streets;
Their skin adhereth closely to their bones, - it hath become dry, like wood.
9 Better are those slain with the sword than those slain with hunger;
For these pine away, pierced through from [want of] the fruits of the field.
10 The hands of women [who were once] tender-hearted, have boiled their own children;
They became food to them in the destruction of the daughter of my people.
11 Jahveh accomplished His wrath: He poured out the burning of His anger;
And kindled a fire in Zion, and it devoured her foundations.
12 Would the kinds of the earth, all the inhabitants of the world; not believe
That an adversary and an enemy would enter in at the gates of Jerusalem.
13 Because of the sins of her prophets, the iniquities of her priests,
Who shed blood of righteous ones in her midst,
14 They wander [like] blind men in the streets; they are defiled with blood,
So that [people] could not touch their clothes.
15 "Keep off! it is unclean!" they cried to them, "keep off! keep off! touch not!"
When they fled, they also wandered;
[People] say among the nations, "They must no longer sojourn [here]."
16 The face of Jahveh hath scattered them; no longer doth He look on them:
They regard not the priests, they respect not old men.
17 Still do our eyes pine away, [looking] for our help, [which is] vanity:
In our watching, we watched for a nation [that] will not help.
18 They hunt our steps, so that we cannot go in our streets;
Our end is near, our days are full, - yea, our end is come.
19 Our persecutors were swifter than the eagles of heaven;
They pursued us on the mountains, in the wilderness they laid wait for us.
20 The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of Jahveh, was caught in their pits,
[Of] whom we thought, "In His shadow we shall live among the nations."
21 Be glad and rejoice, O daughter of Edom, dwelling in the land of Uz
To thee also shall the cup pass; thou shalt be drunk, and make thyself naked.
22 Thy guilt is at an end, O daughter of Zion; He will no more carry thee captive:
He visiteth thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; He discovereth thy sins.
The lamentation over the terrible calamity that has befallen Jerusalem is distinguished in this poem from the lamentations in Lamentations 1 and 2, not merely by the fact that in it the fate of the several classes of the population is contemplated, but chiefly by the circumstance that the calamity is set forth as a well-merited punishment by God for the grievous sins of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This consideration forms the chief feature in the whole poem, from the beginning to the end of which there predominates the hope that Zion will not perish, but that the appointed punishment will terminate, and then fall on their now triumphant enemies. In this fundamental idea of the poem, compared with the first two, there is plainly an advance towards the due recognition of the suffering as a punishment; from this point it is possible to advance, not merely to the hope regarding the future, with which the poem concludes, but also the prayer for deliverance in Lamentations 5. The contents of the poem are the following: The princes and inhabitants of Zion are sunk into a terrible state of misery, because their guilt was greater than the sin of Sodom (Lamentations 4:1-11). Jerusalem has been delivered into the hands of her enemies on account of her prophets and priests, who have shed the blood of righteous ones (Lamentations 4:12-16), and because the people have placed their trust on the vain help of man (Lamentations 4:17-20). For this they must atone; for the present, however, the enemy may triumph; the guilt of the daughter of Zion will come to an end, and then the judgment will befall her enemies (Lamentations 4:21, Lamentations 4:22).
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.The misery that has come on the inhabitants of Jerusalem is a punishment for their deep guilt. The description given of this misery is divided into two strophes: for, first (Lamentations 4:1-6), the sad lot of the several classes of the population is set forth; then (Lamentations 4:7-11) a conclusion is drawn therefrom regarding the greatness of their sin.
The first strophe. Lamentations 4:1. The lamentation begins with a figurative account of the destruction of all that is precious and glorious in Israel: this is next established by the bringing forth of instances.
Lamentations 4:1, Lamentations 4:2 contain, not a complaint regarding the desolation of the sanctuary and of Zion, as Maurer, Kalkschmidt, and Thenius, with the lxx, assume, but, as is unmistakeably declared in Lamentations 4:2, a lamentation over the fearful change that has taken place in the fate of the citizens of Zion. What is stated in Lamentations 4:1 regarding the gold and the precious stones must be understood figuratively; and in the case of the "gold that has become dim," we can as little think of the blackening of the gilding in the temple fabric when it was burnt, as think of bricks (Thenius) when "the holy stones" are spoken of. The בּני ציּון (inhabitants of Zion), Lamentations 4:2, are likened to gold and sacred stones; here Thenius would arbitrarily change בּני into בּתּי (houses, palaces). This change not merely has no critical support, but is objectionable on the simple ground that there is not a single word to be found elsewhere, through all the chapter, concerning the destruction of the temple and the palaces; it is merely the fate of the men, not of the buildings, that is bewailed. "How is gold bedimmed!" יוּעם is the Hophal of עמם, to be dark, Ezekiel 28:3, and to darken, Ezekiel 31:8. The second clause, "how is fine gold changed!" expresses the same thing. שׁנא equals שׁנה, according to the Chaldaizing usage, means to change (oneself), Malachi 3:6. The growing dim and the changing refer to the colour, the loss of brilliancy; for gold does not alter in substance. B. C. Michaelis and Rosenmller are too specific when they explain that the gold represents populus Judaicus (or the potior populi Hebraei pars), qui (quae) quondam auri instar in sanctuario Dei fulgebat, and when they see in אבּני קדשׁ an allusion to the stones in the breast-plate of the high priest. Gold is generally an emblem of very worthy persons, and "holy stones" are precious stones, intended for a sacred purpose. Both expressions collectively form a figurative description of the people of Israel, as called to be a holy nation and a kingdom of priests. Analogous is the designation of the children of Israel as אבּני נזר, Zechariah 9:16 (Gerlach). השׁתּפּך, to be poured out (at all the corners of the streets), is a figurative expression, signifying disgraceful treatment, as in Lamentations 2:11. In Lamentations 4:2 follows the application of the figure to the sons (i.e., the citizens) of Zion, not merely the chief nobles of Judah (Ewald), or the princes, nor children in the narrowest sense of the word (Gerlach); for in what follows mention is made not only of children (Lamentations 4:3, Lamentations 4:4), but also of those who are grown up (Lamentations 4:5), and princes are not mentioned till Lamentations 4:7. As being members of the chosen people, all the inhabitants of Jerusalem have been held "dear," and "weighed out with gold," i.e., esteemed as of equal value with gold (cf. Job 28:16, Job 28:19); but now, when Jerusalem is destroyed, they have become regarded as earthenware pots, i.e., treated as if they were utterly worthless, as "a work of the hands of the potter," whereas Israel was a work of the hands of God, Isaiah 64:7. סלא equals סלה, cf. Job 28:16, Job 28:19 to weigh; Pual, be weighed out, as an equivalent.
The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!
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.This 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.
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.Sucking infants and little children perish from thirst and hunger; cf. Lamentations 2:11-12. פּרשׂ equals פּרס, as in Micah 3:3, to break down into pieces, break bread equals divide, Isaiah 58:7; Jeremiah 16:7. In Lamentations 4:5 it is not children, but adults, that are spoken of. למעדנּים is variously rendered, since אכל occurs nowhere else in construction with ל. Against the assumption that ל is the Aramaic sign of the object, there stands the fact that אכל is not found thus construed with ל, either in the Lamentations or elsewhere, though in Jeremiah 40:2 ל is so used. Gerlach, accordingly, would take למעדנּים adverbially, as meaning "after their heart's desire," prop. for pleasures (as to this meaning, cf. Proverbs 29:17; 1 Samuel 15:32), in contrast with אכל לשׂבע, to eat for satisfaction, Exodus 16:3; Leviticus 25:19, etc. But "for pleasure" is not an appropriate antithesis to satisfaction. Hence we prefer, with Thenius, to take אכל ל in the sense of nibbling round something, in which there is contained the notion of selection in the eating; we also take מעדנּים, as in Genesis 49:20, to mean dainties. נשׁמּוּ, to be made desolate, as in Lamentations 1:13, of the destruction of happiness in life; with בּחוּצות, to sit in a troubled or gloomy state of mind on the streets. האמנים, those who (as children) were carried on purple (תּולע for שׁני rof תּו towla`at תּולעת, cochineal, crimson), embrace (i.e., cling to) dung-heaps, seek them as places or rest.
They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace 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 greatness of their guilt is seen in this misery. The ו consecutive joined with יגדּל here marks the result, so far as this manifests itself: "thus the offence (guilt) of the daughter of my people has become greater than the sin of Sodom." Most expositors take עון and הטּאת dna here in the sense of punishment; but this meaning has not been established. The words simply mean "offence" and "sin," sometimes including their consequences, but nowhere do they mean unceremonious castigation. But when Thenius is of opinion that the context demands the meaning "punishment" (not "sin"), he has inconsiderately omitted the ו consec., and taken a wrong view of the context. הפך is the usual word employed in connection with the destruction of Sodom; cf. Genesis 19:21, Genesis 19:25; Deuteronomy 29:22, etc. 'ולא חלוּ וגו is translated by Thenius, et non torquebatur in ea manus, i.e., without any one wringing his hands. However, חוּל (to go in a circle) means to writhe with pain, but does not agree with ידים, to wring the hands. In Hosea 11:6 חוּל is used of the sword, which "circles" in the cities, i.e., cuts and kills all round in them. In like manner it is here used of the hands that went round in Sodom for the purpose of overthrowing (destroying) the city. Ngelsbach wrongly derives חלוּ from חלה, to become slack, powerless. The words, "no hands went round (were at work) in her," serve to explain the meaning of כּמו רגע, "as in a moment," without any need for the hands of men being engaged in it. By this additional remark, not merely is greater prominence given to the sudden destruction of Sodom by the hand of God; but it is also pointed out how far Jerusalem, in comparison with that judgment of God, suffers a greater punishment for her greater sins: for her destruction by the hand of man brings her more enduring torments. "Sodom's suffering at death was brief; for there were no children dying of hunger, no mothers who boiled their children" (Ngelsbach). Sodom was spared this heartrending misery, inasmuch as it was destroyed by the hand of God in an instant.
Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:The second strophe. - Lamentations 4:7, Lamentations 4:8. The picture of the misery that has befallen the princes. נזירים, princes, prop. separati, here non voto (Nazarites) sed dignitate, as Nolde appropriately remarks; see on Genesis 49:26. זכך is used, Job 15:15; Job 25:5, of the brightness of the heaven and the stars; here it is used of female beauty. Thenius would refer "pure (or bright) as snow and milk" to the white clothing, "because the Orientals have not milk-white faces." But the second member irrefragably shows that the reference is to bodily form; and for the very reason adduced by Thenius, a comparatively whiter skin than is commonly met with is esteemed more beautiful. So also does Sol 5:10, "My friend is white and red," show the high esteem in which beauty was held (Gerlach). אדם, to be reddish. עצם, "bone," for the body (pars pro toto). פּנינים, not (white) pearls, but (red) corals. "The white and the red are to be understood as mixed, and shading into one another, as our popular poetry speaks of cheeks which 'like milk and purple shine' " (Delitzsch on Job 28:18, Clark's translation). "Sapphire their form" (גּזרה, prop. cut, taille, of the shape of the body). The point of the comparison is not the colour, but the luminosity, of this precious stone. Once on a time the princes glittered so; but (Lamentations 4:8) now their form is dark as blackness, i.e., every trace of beauty and splendour has vanished. Through hunger and want their appearance is so disfigured, that they are no longer recognised in the streets (חוּצות, in contrast with "at home," in their own neighbourhood). "The skin sticks to the bones," so emaciated are they; cf. Psalm 102:4; Job 19:20. צפד, ἅπ. λεγ., to adhere firmly. The skin has become dry (יבשׁ) like wood.
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 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.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.
The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.Still more horrible was the misery of the women. In order to keep themselves from dying of hunger, mothers boiled their children for food to themselves; cf. Lamentations 2:20. By the predicate "compassionate," applied to hands, the contrast between this conduct and the nature, or the innate love, of mothers to their children, is made particularly prominent. בּרות is a noun equals בּרוּת, Psalm 69:22. On "the destruction of the daughter of my people," cf. Lamentations 2:11.
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.This fearful state of matters shows that the Lord has fully poured out His wrath upon Jerusalem and His people. כּלּה, to complete, bring to an end. The kindling of the fire in Zion, which consumed the foundations, is not to be limited to the burning of Jerusalem, but is a symbol of the complete destruction of Zion by the wrath of God; cf. Deuteronomy 32:32.
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.This judgment of wrath is a consequence of the sins of the prophets and priests (Lamentations 4:12-16), as well as of their vain trust on the help of man (Lamentations 4:17-20). Lamentations 4:12. The capture of Jerusalem by enemies (an event which none in all the world thought possible) has been brought on through the sins of the prophets and priests. The words, "the kings of the earth...did not believe that an enemy would come in at the gates of Jerusalem," are well explained by C. B. Michaelis, thus: reputando fortitudinem urbis, quae munitissima erat, tum defensorem ejus Jehovam, qui ab hostibus, ad internecionem caesis, urbem aliquoties, mirifice liberaverat, e.g., 2 Reg. 19:34. The words certainly form a somewhat overdrawn expression of deep subjective conviction; but they cannot properly be called a hyperbole, because the remark of Ngelsbach, that Jerusalem had been taken more than once before Nebuchadnezzar (1 Kings 14:26; 2 Kings 14:13.; 2 Chronicles 33:11; 2 Kings 23:33.), seems incorrect. For the occasions upon which Jerusalem was taken by Shishak and by Joash king of Israel (1 Kings 14 and 2 Kings 14) belong to those earlier times when Jerusalem was far from being so strongly fortified as it afterwards became, in the times of Uzziah, Jotham, and Manasseh (2 Chronicles 26:9; 2 Chronicles 27:3; 2 Chronicles 33:14). In 2 Chronicles 33:11, on the other hand, there is nothing said of Jerusalem being taken; and the capture by Pharaoh-Necho does not call for consideration, in so far as it forms the beginning of the catastrophe, whose commencement was thought impossible. Ewald wrongly connects Lamentations 4:13 with Lamentations 4:12 into one sentence, thus: "that an enemy would enter the gates of Jerusalem because of the sins of her prophets," etc. The meaning of these verses is thereby not merely weakened, but also misrepresented; and there is ascribed to the kings and inhabitants of the world an opinion regarding the internal evils of Jerusalem, which they neither pronounced nor could have pronounced.
Lamentations 4:12 contains an exclamation over the incredible event that has happened, and Lamentations 4:13 assigns the cause of it: the mediating and combining thought, "this incredible thing has happened," suggests itself. It has taken place on account of the sins of her prophets and priests, who have shed the blood of righteous men in Jerusalem. A historic proof of this is furnished in Jeremiah 26:7., where priests and prophets indicted Jeremiah on a capital charge, because he had announced that Jerusalem and the temple would suffer the fate of Shiloh; from this, Ngelsbach rightly concludes that, in any case, the burden of the guilt of the martyr-blood that was shed falls on the priests and prophets. Besides this, cf. the denunciations of the conduct of the priests and prophets in Jeremiah 6:13-15; Jeremiah 23:11; Jeremiah 27:10; Ezekiel 22:25. - In Lamentations 4:14, Lamentations 4:15, there is described the fate of these priests and prophets, but in such a way that Jeremiah has, throughout, mainly the priests before his mind. We may then, without further hesitation, think of the priests as the subject of נעוּ, inasmuch as they are mentioned last. Kalkschmidt wrongly combines Lamentations 4:13 and Lamentations 4:14, thus: "because of the sins of the prophets...they wander about," etc.; in this way, the Israelites would be the subject to נעוּ, and in Lamentations 4:14 the calamitas ex sacerdotum prophetarumque sceleribus profecta would be described. This, however, is contradicted, not merely by the undeniable retrospection of the expression, "they have polluted themselves with blood" (Lamentations 4:14), to the shedding of blood mentioned in Lamentations 4:13, but also by the whole contents of Lamentations 4:14, especially the impossibility of touching their clothes, which does not well apply to the people of Israel (Judah), but only to the priests defiled with blood. Utterly erroneous is the opinion of Pareau, Ewald, and Thenius, that in Lamentations 4:14-16 there is "presented a fragment from the history of the last siege of Jerusalem," - a rupture among the besieged, headed by the most eminent of the priests and prophets, who, filled with frenzy and passion against their fellow-citizens, because they would not believe in the speedy return of the exiles, became furious, and caused their opponents to be murdered. Regarding this, there is neither anything historical known, nor is there any trace of it to be discovered in these verses. The words, "prophets and priests hesitated (or wavered) like blind men on the streets, soiled with blood, so that none could touch their clothes," merely state that these men, smitten of God in consequence of their blood-guiltiness, wandered up and down in the streets of the city, going about like blind men. This description has been imitated from such passages as Deuteronomy 28:28., Jeremiah 23:12; Isaiah 29:9, where the people, and especially their leaders, are threatened, as a punishment, with blind and helpless staggering; but it is not to be referred to the time of the last siege of Jerusalem. עורים does not mean caedium perpetrandarum insatiabili cupiditate occaecati (Rosenmller), nor "as if intoxicated with blood that has been shed" (Ngelsbach), but as if struck with blindness by God, so that they could no longer walk with firm and steady step. "They are defiled with blood" is a reminiscence from Isaiah 59:3. As to the form נגאל, compounded of the Niphal and Pual, cf. Ewald, 132, b, and Delitzsch on Isaiah, l.c. בּלא יוּכלוּ, without one being able, i.e., so that one could not. As to the construction of יכול with a finite verb following, instead of the infinitive with ל, cf. Ewald, 285, c, c, and Gesenius, 142, 3, b.
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,
They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.
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."Yea, they (people) address to them the warning cry with which, according to Leviticus 13:45, lepers were obliged to warn those whom they met not to come near." Such is the language in which Gerlach has rightly stated the connection between Lamentations 4:14 and Lamentations 4:15. קראוּ למו is rendered by many, "people shouted out regarding them," de iis, because, according to Leviticus 13:45, it was the lepers who were to shout "Unclean!" to those they met; the cry therefore was not addressed to the unclean, but to those who, being clean, were not to defile themselves by touching lepers. But though this meaning may be taken from the language used (cf. Genesis 20:13; Psalm 3:3), yet here, where the call is addressed to persons, it is neither probable nor necessary. For it does not follow from the allusion to the well-known direction given to lepers, that this prescription is transferred verbatim to the present case. The call is here addressed to the priests, who are staggering towards them with blood-stained garments. These must get out of the way, and not touch those they meet. The sing. טמא .gni is accounted for by the allusion to Leviticus 13:45, and means, "Out of the way! there comes one who is unclean." The second half of the verse is variously viewed. נצוּ, as Milra, comes from נצה, which in Niphal means to wrangle, in Hiphil to stir up strife. The Vulgate, accordingly, translates jurgati quippe sunt, and Ewald still renders, "yet they quarrelled, yet they staggered." But this view is opposed by these considerations: (1.) כּי...גּם can neither introduce an antithesis, nor mean "yet...yet." (2.) In view of the shedding of blood, wrangling is a matter of too little importance to deserve mention. Luther's rendering, "because they feared and fled from them," is a mere conjecture, and finds no support whatever from the words employed. Hence Gesenius, in his Thesaurus, has rightly explained נצוּ, after נצא, Jeremiah 48:9, "to fly, flee, or take to flight." Following him, the moderns translate: "because they had fled, they also staggered about." It is better to render כּי by quum, "when they fled," sc. to other nations, not specially to the Chaldeans. נעוּ is selected with reference to what precedes, but in the general meaning of roaming restlessly about. The idea is as follows: Not merely were they shunned at home, like lepers, by their fellow-countrymen, but also, when they wished to find a place of refuge beyond their native land, they were compelled to wander about without finding rest; for they said among the nations, "They shall no longer sojourn among us." Thus the curse came on them, Deuteronomy 28:65.
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.This was the judgment of God. His face (i.e., in this connection, His angry look; cf. Leviticus 17:10; Psalm 21:10) has scattered them (חלּק as in Genesis 49:7). No longer does He (Jahveh) look on the, sc. graciously. The face of the priests is not regarded. נשׂא, πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν, to regard the person of any one, i.e., to have respect to his position, dignity, and age: the expression is here synonymous with חנן, to show favour. The subject is indefinite, but the enemy is meant. Thus the threatening in Deuteronomy 28:50 is fulfilled on them. זקנים does not mean "elders," but "old men," for the words can be referred only to the priests and prophets formerly spoken of.
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.In spite of these facts, which show that God has poured out His fury on us, and that our prophets and priests have been smitten by God for their sins, we still wait, vainly relying on the help of man. In this way, Lamentations 4:17 is attached to what precedes, - not merely to Lamentations 4:16, but also the series of thoughts developed in Lamentations 4:12-16, viz., that in the capture of Jerusalem (which nobody thought possible) there is plainly made known the judgment of God upon the sins of His people and their leaders. It is with special emphasis that עודינה stands at the beginning of the verse: "still do our eyes continue to waste away." The form עודינה (Kethib), in place of which the Qeri subtitles עודינוּ, is abnormal, since עוד does not take plural forms of the suffix in any other instance, and ־נה does not occur elsewhere as a noun-suffix. The form is evidently copied from תּכלינה, and must be third fem. pl., as distinguished from the singular suffix עודנּה, 1 Kings 1:22. The Qeri עודינוּ, which is preferred by Michaelis, Pareau, Rosenmller, and Thenius, has for its basis the idea "we still were;" this is shown by the translation ἔτι ὄντων ἡμῶν of the lxx, and cum adhuc subsisteremus of Jerome. But this view of the word, like most of the Qeris, is a useless attempt at explanation; for עודינוּ alone cannot have the meaning attributed to it. and the supplements proposed, in statu priori, or "in the city," are but arbitrary insertions into the text. The combination עודינוּ תּכלינה, which is a rare one, evidently means, "our eyes are still pining (consuming) away," so that the imperfect is used with the meaning of the participle; cf. Ewald, 306, c, Rem. 2. The combination of כלה with אל is pregnant: "they consume away (while looking out) for our help;" cf. Deuteronomy 28:28; Psalm 69:4. הבל is not an exclamation, "in vain!" (Thenius), but stands in apposition to "our help;" thus, "for our help, a help of vanity," i.e., for a vain help; cf. Ewald, 287, c. The vain help is more distinctly specified in the second member of the verse, as a looking out for a nation that will not help. צפיּה does not mean "the watch-tower" (Chald., Syr., etc.), - because "on the watch-tower" would require to be expressed by על; cf. Isaiah 21:8; 2 Chronicles 20:24, - but "watching." By the "nation that does not help," expositors, following Jeremiah 37:7, think that Egypt is intended. But the words must by no means be referred to the event there described, inasmuch as we should then be obliged to take the verbs as preterites-a course which would not accord with the interchange of the imperfect (תּכלינה) with the perfect (צפּינוּ). A strange confusion would also arise, such as is made out by Vaihinger: for we would find the prophet placing his readers, in Lamentations 4:14, in the time of the siege of Jerusalem; then, in Lamentations 4:15, into the conquered city; and in Lamentations 4:17 and Lamentations 4:18, back once more into the beleaguered city, which we again, in Lamentations 4:19, see conquered (Gerlach). According to Lamentations 4:18-20, Judah is completely in the power of the Chaldeans; hence the subject treated of in Lamentations 4:17 is the looking out for the assistance of some nation, after the enemy had already taken Jerusalem and laid it in ashes. What the prophet denounces, then, is that help is still looked for from a nation which nevertheless will not help. In this, perhaps, he may have had Egypt before his mind; for, that the Jews, even after the destruction of Jerusalem, still looked for deliverance or help from Egypt, may be inferred partly from the fact that those who were left in the country fled thither for refuge, and partly from Ezekiel 29:16. Only, the words are not to be restricted merely to this.
They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.In order to show convincingly how vain it is to expect help from man, Jeremiah, in Lamentations 4:18-20, reminds his readers of the events immediately preceding the capture of the city, which have proved that nobody - not even the king himself - could avoid falling into the hands of the Chaldeans. Gerlach has correctly given the sense of these verses thus: "They still cling to their hopes, and are nevertheless completely in the power of the enemy, from whom they cannot escape. All their movements are closely watched; it is impossible for any one to deceive himself any longer: it is all over with the nation, now that all attempts at flight have failed (Lamentations 4:19), and that the king, 'the life's breath' of the nation, has fallen into the hands of the enemy." Gerlach and Ngelsbach have already very properly set aside the strange and fanciful idea of Ewald, that in Lamentations 4:18 it is still Egypt that is regarded, and that the subject treated of is, - how Egypt, merely through fear of the Chaldeans, had at that time publicly forbidden the fugitives to go to Palestine for purposes of grace and traffic. These same writers have also refuted the arbitrary interpretation put upon 'צדוּ צעדינוּ by Thenius and Vaihinger, who imagine there is a reference to towers used in a siege, from which the besiegers could not merely perceive all that was going on within the city, but also shoot at persons who showed themselves in exposed places. In reply to this, Ngelsbach appropriately remarks that we must not judge of the siege-material of the ancients by the range of cannon. Moreover, צוּד does not mean to spy out, but to search out, pursue; and the figure is taken from the chase. The idea is simply this: The enemy (the Chaldeans) watch us in our every step, so that we can no longer move freely about. Our end is near, yea, it is already come; cf. Ezekiel 7:2-6. A proof of this is given in the capture of King Zedekiah, after he had fled in the night, Lamentations 4:19. For an elucidation of the matters contained in these verses, cf. Jeremiah 39:4., Jeremiah 52:7. The comparison of the enemy to eagles is taken from Deuteronomy 28:49, whence Jeremiah has already derived Lamentations 4:13 and Lamentations 48:40. דּלק, prop. to burn, metaph. to pursue hotly, is here (poet.) construed with acc., but elsewhere with אחרי; cf. Genesis 31:36; 1 Samuel 17:53. "On the hills and in the wilderness," i.e., on every side, even in inaccessible places. "In the wilderness" alludes to the capture of Zedekiah; cf. Jeremiah 39:5. "The breath of our nostrils" is an expression founded on Genesis 2:7, and signifying "our life's breath." Such is the designation given to the king, - not Zedekiah in special, whose capture is here spoken of, because he ex initio magnam de se spem concitaverat, fore ut post tristia Jojakimi et Jechoniae fata pacatior res publica esset (Aben Ezra, Michaelis, Vaihinger), but the theocratic king, as the anointed of the Lord, and as the one who was the bearer of God's promise, 2 Samuel 7. In elucidation of the figurative expression, Pareau has appropriately reminded is of Seneca's words (Clement. i.:4): ille (princeps) est spiritus vitalis, quem haec tot millia (civium) trahunt. "What the breath is, in relation to the life and stability of the body, such is the king in relation to the life and stability of the nation" (Gerlach). "Of whom we said (thought), Under his shadow (i.e., protection and covering) we shall live among the nations." It is not implied in these words, as Ngelsbach thinks, that "they hoped to fall in with a friendly heathen nation, and there, clustering around their king, as their protector and the pledge of a better future, spend their days in freedom, if no more," but merely that, under the protection of their king, they hoped to live even among the heathen, i.e., to be able to continue their existence, and to prosper as a nation. For, so long as there remained to them the king whom God had given, together with the promises attached to the kingdom, they might cherish the hope that the Lord would still fulfil to them these promises also. But this hope seemed to be destroyed when the king was taken prisoner, deprived of sight, and carried away to Babylon into captivity. The words "taken in their pits" are figurative, and derived from the capture of wild animals. שׁחית as in Psalm 107:20. On the figure of the shadow, cf. Judges 9:15; Ezekiel 31:17.
Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.
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.
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.However, it is not yet all over with Israel. Let the enemy triumph; the guilt of the daughter of Zion will come to an end, and then the guilt of the daughter of Edom will be punished. With this "Messianic hope," as Ewald rightly characterizes the contents of these verses, the lamentation resolves itself into joyous faith and hope regarding the future of Israel. There is no external sign to mark the transition from the depths of lamentation over the hopeless condition of Judah, to new and hopeful confidence, just as in the Psalms there is frequently a sudden change from the deepest lamentation to joyful confidence of final victory. But these transitions have their origin in the firm conviction that Israel has most assuredly been chosen as the nation with whom the Lord has made His covenant, which He cannot break. This truth has already been clearly and distinctly expressed in the threatenings and promises of the law, Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28, and is reiterated by all the prophets. The Lord will assuredly visit His ever-rebellious people with the heaviest punishments, until they come to acknowledge their sin and repent of their apostasy; but He will afterwards again take pity on the penitent remnant, gather them from among the heathen, and fulfil all His promises to them. The words "exult and rejoice" are ironical, and signify: "Rejoice as much as you please; you will not, for all that, escape the punishment for your sins." "The daughter of Edom," i.e., the people of Edom, is named as the representative of the enemies of God's people, on account of their implacable hatred against Israel; see on Jeremiah 49:7. From the designation, "dwelling in the land of Uz," it does not follow that the Edomite had at that time spread themselves widely over their original territory; for the land of Uz, according to Jeremiah 25:20, lay on the confines of Idumea. As to the form יושׁבתּי, see on Jeremiah 10:17. גּם עליך, "towards thee also (sc., as now to Judah) shall the cup pass." On this figure, cf. Jeremiah 25:15. התערה, to make oneself naked, or to become naked in consequence of drunkenness (Genesis 9:22), is a figurative expression indicative of the disgrace that will befall Edom; cf. Lamentations 1:8; Nahum 3:5. תּם עונך, "Thy guilt is ended." The perfect is prophetic. The guilt is ended when it is atoned for; the punishment for it has reached its end, or grace begins. That this will take place in the Messianic times (as was pointed out long ago in the Chaldee paraphrase, et liberaberis per manum Messiae), is not indeed implied in the word תּם, but it is a necessary product of the Messianic hope of Israel; cf, for instance, Jeremiah 50:20. To this it cannot be objected (with Gerlach), that it is inadmissible to transfer into the Messianic time also the punishment of Edom threatened in the second member: for, according to the prophetic mode of viewing things, the judgment on the heathen world falls, as a matter of course, in the Messianic age; and to refer the words to the chastisement of the Edomites by Nebuchadnezzar is against the context of both verses. "To reveal (discover) sins" means to punish them; for God uncovers the sins in order to punish them, quemadmodum Deus peccata tegere dicitur, cum eorum paenam remittit (Rosenmller); cf. Psalm 32:1, Psalm 32:5; Psalm 85:3, etc.
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.