New American Bible Revised Edition

* [1:1–22] In this poem the poet first takes on the persona of an observer describing Jerusalem’s abject state after the destruction wrought by the Babylonian army (vv. 1–11a); but the detached tone gives way to a more impassioned appeal when the city itself—personified as the grieving widow and mother Zion—abruptly intrudes upon this description (vv. 9c, 11c–16, 18–22) to demand that God look squarely at her misery.

* [1:2] Lovers: language of love was typically used to describe the relationship between treaty partners, thus here it connotes Judah’s allies (see v. 19).

* [1:9] Zion breaks in on the poet’s description in v. 9c, albeit briefly, to demand that the Lord face squarely her misery. She takes up the lament in a more sustained fashion in v. 11c.

* [2:1–22] This chapter continues to move between the voice of the poet (vv. 1–20) and that of personified Zion (vv. 20–22). The persona of the poet, first portrayed in chap. 1 as a detached observer recounting both the desolation as well as the sins of the city, becomes in this chapter an advocate for Zion in her appeal to the Lord and never once mentions her sins.

* [2:1] The glory of Israel: the Temple. His footstool: the ark of the covenant (1 Chr 28:2; Ps 99:5; 132:7); or again, the Temple (Ez 43:7).

* [2:3] Horn: a symbol of power and strength; cf. v. 17; 1 Sm 2:1, 10; Ps 89:18, 25; 92:11; 112:9.

* [2:6] Booth…shrine: synonyms for the Temple; cf. Ps 27:5; 74:4, 8. The term for “shrine” in Hebrew (mo‘ed) figures prominently in the pentateuchal expression “tent of meeting” (’ohel mo‘ed).

* [2:8] The measuring line: normally used for building, here employed ironically as an instrument of destruction; cf. Is 34:11; 2 Kgs 21:13.

* [2:10] They cast dust: as a sign of mourning; cf. Jos 7:6; Jb 2:12; Ez 27:30.

* [2:11] My eyes are spent with tears, my stomach churns: the poet appropriates the emotional language used by Zion in 1:16 and 1:20 to express a progressively stronger commitment to her cause. After describing the systematic dismantling of the city in vv. 5–9, the poet turns to the plight of the inhabitants in vv. 10–12. It is the description of children dying in the streets that finally brings about the poet’s emotional breakdown, even as it did for Zion in 1:16.

* [2:13] To what can I compare you…?: the author calls attention to the poetic task: to find language that speaks adequately of the atrocities and incomparable suffering experienced by Zion, and thus to attempt to offer comfort.

* [2:19] The poet urges Zion to appeal to the Lord once more on behalf of her dying children. The image of Zion’s children effectively condenses the metaphorical sense of all residents of the city (young and old alike) into the more poignant picture of actual children at the point of death. It was precisely this image, no doubt well known to survivors of besieged cities, that led to the emotional breakdown of both Zion (1:16) and the poet (2:11). The hope is that the Lord will be similarly affected by such a poignant image and respond with mercy.

* [2:20] Must women eat their own offspring: extreme famine in a besieged city sometimes led to cannibalism; this becomes a stereotypical way of expressing the nearly unthinkable horrors of war; cf. Lam 4:10; Dt 28:53; 2 Kgs 6:28–29; Bar 2:3; Ez 5:10.

* [3:1–66] This chapter is focused less on the destruction of Jerusalem than are chaps. 1 and 2 and more on the suffering of an individual. The identity of the individual is never given, and one probably should not search for a specific identification of the speaker. The figure of the representative sufferer makes concrete the pain of the people in a way similar to the personification of Zion as a woman in chaps. 1 and 2. Indeed, in vv. 40–48 the individual voice gives way to a communal voice, returning in vv. 49–66 to the individual sufferer.

* [3:21–24] In the midst of a description of suffering, the speaker offers this brief but compelling statement of hope in God’s ultimate mercy. It is a hard-won and precarious hope, nearly submerged by the volume and intensity of the surrounding lament, but it is hope nonetheless.

* [3:29] To put one’s mouth in the dust: a sign of humiliation and submission; cf. v. 16; Ps 72:9.

* [3:40–66] The plural voice in this lament suggests that a communal lament begins here; it then continues in the singular voice in vv. 55–66.

* [3:48–51] These verses are more appropriate on the lips of the poet, who speaks of “my city” (v. 51). Daughters of my city: here as elsewhere “daughter” may refer to villages dependent on a larger city.

* [4:1–22] This chapter returns to the focus of chaps. 1 and 2, namely the horrors of a siege. Unlike chaps. 1 and 2, however, the character of personified Zion never interrupts the voice of the poet to protest her abject state. As a result, the emotion of the poem is less intense, while at the same time seeming more grim on account of its lack of petition to the Lord.

* [4:1–2] Jewels: lit., “holy stones.” These precious things designate the children who are abandoned, starving, and killed in the siege of Jerusalem (cf. Zec 9:16). Another explanation is that these are the stones of the destroyed Temple.

* [4:3] Cruel as the ostrich: see note on Jb 39:14–16. Jerusalem, in her distress, has abandoned her children.

* [4:5] Crimson: a sign of luxury. Tyrian purple, a red-purple or blue-purple dye produced from shellfish, was very expensive and the only colorfast dye in the ancient Near East. Thus purple or crimson cloth was available only to the wealthy.

* [4:17] A nation: probably Egypt, which failed to give effective aid against Babylon.

* [4:20] Our very lifebreath: lit., “the breath of our nostrils,” that is, the king. This expression occurs in Egyptian texts of the late second millennium B.C., and may have survived as a royal epithet in the Jerusalem court. After the disaster of 598 B.C. (2 Kgs 24:1–17), Jerusalem could have hoped to live in peace amidst her neighbors; but they (vv. 21–22) as well as Babylon turned against her to ensure her total devastation in 587 B.C.

* [4:21] Rejoice: the address is sarcastic, since Edom (where Uz may have been located) ravaged the land after the fall of Jerusalem (cf. Ps 137).

* [5:6] Extended a hand: that is, made an alliance. In its state of abjection, Judah was forced to depend on the major powers to the west and the east for subsistence.

* [5:8] Servants: the Hebrew word for “servant” is also the word used for an official of relatively high status (servant of the ruler; cf. 2 Kgs 25:24, where the term is used to refer to Babylonian rulers over occupied Jerusalem); the author doubtless intends the double meaning here.

* [5:14] The gate: a place of assembly, where city decisions were made and judgment given by the elders and other community leaders; see note on Ru 4:1.

* [5:20–22] Unlike most of the laments found in the Book of Psalms, the Book of Lamentations never moves from lament to thanksgiving. It ends with this question still unanswered by God: “Why have you utterly forgotten us?”

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Scripture texts, prefaces, introductions, footnotes and cross references used in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC All Rights Reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

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