Lamentations 1
Pulpit 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!
Verse 1. - How. The characteristic introductory word of an elegy (comp. Isaiah 1:21; Isaiah 14:4, 12), and adopted by the early Jewish divines as the title of the Book of Lamentations. It is repeated at the opening of ch. 2 and ch. 4. Sit solitary. Jerusalem is poetically personified and distinguished from the persons who accidentally compose her population. She is "solitary," not as having retired into solitude, but as deserted by her inhabitants (same word as in first clause of Isaiah 27:10). How is she become as a widow! etc. Rather, She is become a widow that was great among the nations; a princess among the provinces, she is become a vassal. The alteration greatly conduces to the effect of the verse, which consists of three parallel lines, like almost all the rest of the chapter. We are not to press the phrase, "a widow," as if some. earthly or heavenly husband were alluded to; it is a kind of symbol of desolation and misery (comp. Isaiah 47:8). "The provinces" at once suggests the period of the writer, who must have been a subject of the Babylonian empire. The term is also frequently used of the countries under the Persian rule (e.g. Esther 1:1, 22), and in Ezra 2:1 and Nehemiah 7:6 is used of Judah itself. Here, however, the "provinces," like the "nations," must be the countries formerly subject to David and Solomon (comp. Ecclesiastes 2:8).
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.
Verse 2. - In the night. Not only by day, but even in the season of rest and unconsciousness. Her lovers... her friends; i.e. the neighbouring peoples, with which Judah had formed alliances, such as Egypt (Jeremiah 2:36), Edom, Moab, Ammon, Tyre and Sidon (Jeremiah 27:3). This is a favourite phrase of Jeremiah's (comp. Jeremiah 3:1; Jeremiah 4:30; Jeremiah 22:20, 22; Jeremiah 30:14), but also of Hosea (Hosea 2:5, 7, 10, 12, 13; Hosea 8:9) and Ezekiel (Ezekiel 16:33, 36, 37; 23:5, 9, 22). The national God was conceived of as the Husband of the nation; and the prophets retained this idea and elevated it, just as they did circumcision and many other Eastern traditions.
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.
Verse 3. - Is gone into captivity because of affliction; rather, is gone into exile, etc. The poet is not thinking of the deportation of the captives, but of those Jews who sought refuge for themselves in foreign lands (comp. Jeremiah 40:11). An objection has been raised to this view that the number of fugitive Jews would not be large enough to warrant their being called "Judah." But we might almost as well object on a similar ground to the application of the term "Judah" to the Jews who were carried to Babylon. The truth may, perhaps, be that, after the fall of Jerusalem, the Jewish nation became split up into three parts:

(1) the Jews who succeeded in escaping into Egypt or elsewhere;

(2) those who were carried captive;

(3) the mass of the common people, who remained on their native soil, Keil, however, retains the view of the Authorized Version, only substituting "out of" for "because of." "Out of" the misery into which the Jews had been brought by the invasions of Necho and Nebuchadnezzar they passed into the new misery of captivity. Among the heathen; rather, among the nations. Between the straits. The phrase is peculiar, and reminds us of Psalm 118:5, "Out of the strait I called unto thee." "A strait," or narrow place, clearly means adversity, just as "a large place" (Psalm 118:5) means prosperity.
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.
Verse 4. - The ways of Zion do mourn. The reads leading to Jerusalem, usually so thronged with pilgrims, are desolate and "mourn" (comp. ch. 2:8 and Isaiah 3:26; Isaiah 14:31). All her gates are desolate. No one goes in or out of Jerusalem, and there is no concourse of citizens in the shady recess of the gates. The virgins are afflicted. So Zephaniah 3:18. The sorrow was on account of the cessation of the festival, in the music of which they took a leading part (comp. Psalm 68:25).
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.
Verse 5. - Are the chief; rather, are become the head. Comp. Deuteronomy 28:44, where, as a part of the curse of Israel's rebellion, it is foretold that "he [the stranger] shall become the head, and thou shalt become the tail." Before the enemy. Like a herd of cattle.
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.
Verse 6. - Beauty; rather, glory. Like harts that find no pasture; and therefore have no strength left to flee. An allusion to the attempted flight of Zedekiah and his companions (Jeremiah 39:4, 5).
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.
Verse 7. - Remembered; rather, remembereth. Miseries. The Hebrew is difficult, and perhaps means wanderings. At her sabbaths; rather, at her extinguishment. The word has nothing to do with the sabbaths; indeed, a reference to these would have been rather misplaced; it was no subject of wonder to the Babylonians that the Jews celebrated a weekly day of rest, as they had one of their own (sabattu).
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.
Verse 8. - Therefore she is removed; rather, she is become an abomination (literally, an impurity; comp. Leviticus 15:19). The poet leaves out the preliminary clause, "therefore she is grievously punished." It was the humiliation of Jerusalem, rather than her sin, which brought upon her the contempt of her neighbours. The destruction of a city is often compared to the ill treatment of a defenceless woman (Isaiah 47:3; Nahum 3:5).
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.
Verse 9. - She remembereth not, etc.; rather, she thought not upon, etc. An allusion to Isaiah 47:7. O Lord, behold, etc. This is the language in which the "sigh" (ver. 8) finds expression.
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.
Verse 10. - Her pleasant things; or, her precious things; that is, the treasures of the palaces of Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:19), and still more those of the temple (2 Chronicles 36:10); comp. Isaiah 64:11). For she hath seen; rather, yea, she hath seen. The heathen entered, etc. In Deuteronomy 23:3 only the Ammonites and Moabites are excluded from religious privileges; but in Ezekiel 44:9 the prohibition is extended to all foreigners.
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.
Verse 11. - All her people sigh, etc. The sufferings of Jerusalem did not come to an end at the capture of the city. Some think that this verse relates solely to the miserable survivors. This is possible; at any rate, it includes the contemporaries of the writer. "Sigh" and "seek" are participles in the Hebrew. To relieve the soul; literally, to bring back the soul. The "soul," i.e. the principle of life, is conceived of as having for a time deserted the fainting frame. See, O Lord, etc. Another piteous cry of Jerusalem, preparing the way for the second half of the elegy.
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.
Verses 12-22. - The same subject; Jerusalem the speaker. Verse 12. - Is it nothing to you? The Hebrew is very difficult, and the translation therefore insecure. Keil, however, adopts a rendering very near that of the Authorized Version "(Cometh it) not unto you?" i.e. "Do ye not heed it?" Ewald supposes the phrase to be abbreviated from "Do I not call unto you?" (comp. Proverbs 8:4); but this would be a very harsh construction. The Septuagint has Οἱ πρὸς ὑμᾶς; the Targum, "I adjure you;" the Vulgate, O vos; - all apparently pronouncing lu instead of lo. At any rate, the object of the words is to heighten the force of the appeal which follows.
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.
Verse 13. - Three figures - fire, a net, sickness, for the calamities which have come upon Jerusalem. From above; i.e. from heaven. Spread a net for my feet, as though I were a wild beast (comp. Jeremiah 18:22). Turned me back. The consequence of being entangled in the net was that he could go no further, but fell into the hands of his pursuers.
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.
Verse 14. - Is bound...are wreathed. The transgressions of Jerusalem are likened to a heavy yoke. So numerous are they that they are said to be "wreathed," or twisted together, like ropes. Into their hands. The Hebrew has simply "into hands;" following a suggestion of the Septuagint. Budde would read, "Into the hands of adversaries."
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.
Verse 15. - Hath trodden under foot; rather, hath rejected; i.e. hath punished. Comp. Psalm 119:118, 119, where "thou rejectest [same verb as here] all them that wander from thy statutes" is followed by "thou puttest away all the ungodly of the earth like dross," Hath called an assembly; rather, hath proclaimed a festival. When Jehovah summons the instruments of his vengeance, the prophets describe it as the "proclaiming a festival." The Persians or Chaldeans, as the case may be, obey the summons with a holy glee, and destroy the enemies of the true God (comp. Isaiah 13:3). Hath trodden, etc.; rather, hath trodden the winepress for (i.e. to the ruin of) the virgin daughter of Zion. The poet. carries on the figure of the festival. It is a vintage which is to be celebrated, such a vintage as is described in Isaiah 63:3 (comp. Joel 3:13). The choicest youth of Judah are to be cut off like grapes from the vine. "Virgin daughter" is a frequent figure to express inviolate security (so Jeremiah 14:17).
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.
Verse 16. - For these things, etc. After the reflections of vers. 13-15, the poet gives vent anew to his bitter grief. Mine eye, mine eye. A repetition quite in Jeremiah's manner; comp. Jeremiah 4:19; Jeremiah 6:14 (repeated Jeremiah 8:11); Jeremiah 22:29; 23:25. The Septuagint and Vulgate, however, have "mine eye" only once. Relieve my soul (see on ver. 11).
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.
Verse 17. - Again the poet passes into the tone of reflection, thus relieving the strain upon the feelings of the reader. Spreadeth forth her hands. The gesture of supplication and entreaty (comp. Psalm 28:2; Psalm 63:4; Isaiah 65:2). That his adversaries, etc.; rather, those who are about him are his adversaries. The neighbouring peoples, who ought to be sympathetic and friendly, gloat over the spectacle of his calamities. They both hate and (comp. ver. 8) despise the fallen city.
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.
Verse 18. - People; render, peoples.
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.
Verse 19. - For my lovers; render, to my lovers (see on ver. 2).
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.
Verse 20. - My bowels. The vital parts, especially the heart, as the seat of the affections, like σπλάγχνα. Are troubled; literally, are made to boil. So Job 30:27, "My bowels boil" (a different word, however). Is turned; or, turns itself; i.e. palpitates violently. At home there is as death. So Jeremiah 9:21, "For death is come up into our windows, and is entered into our palaces." By "death," when distinguished, as here, from "the sword," pestilence is meant; so e.g. in Jeremiah 15:2; Jeremiah 43:11. But the poet says here, not that "there is death," but merely "as death," i.e. a mild form of pestilence, not the famine typhus itself. Or, perhaps, he means "every form of death" (Virgil's "plurima mortis imago").
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.
Verse 21. - Thou wilt bring. The Hebrew has, "Thou hast brought;" it is the perfect of prophetic certitude, which represents an event certainly foreseen as if it had already taken place. Ewald, however, takes this to be the precative, a variety of the perfect which certainly exists in Arabic, but has not been quite satisfactorily shown to exist in Hebrew (see Driver, 'Hebrew Tenses,' § 20 [13]. The day that thou hast called; i.e. foretold by the prophets (comp. Jeremiah 25:17-26). But very probably we should read, with the Septuagint," Thou wilt bring the day; thou wilt call the fit time."
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.
Verse 22. - For my sighs are many. This is not mentioned as the reason why God should punish Jerusalem's enemies; we ought rather to understand, either from ver. 20, "Behold, my distress;" or simply, "Deliver me."

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