It is evident that Jeremiah was the author of the Lamentations which bear his name. The book was not written till after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans. May we be led to consider sin as the cause of all our calamities, and under trials exercise submission, repentance, faith, and prayer, with the hope of promised deliverance through God's mercy.
The miserable state of Jerusalem, the just consequences of its sins. (1-11) Jerusalem represented as a captive female, lamenting, and seeking the mercy of God. (12-22)
Verses 1-11 The prophet sometimes speaks in his own person; at other times Jerusalem, as a distressed female, is the speaker, or some of the Jews. The description shows the miseries of the Jewish nation. Jerusalem became a captive and a slave, by reason of the greatness of her sins; and had no rest from suffering. If we allow sin, our greatest adversary, to have dominion over us, justly will other enemies also be suffered to have dominion. The people endured the extremities of famine and distress. In this sad condition Jerusalem acknowledged her sin, and entreated the Lord to look upon her case. This is the only way to make ourselves easy under our burdens; for it is the just anger of the Lord for man's transgressions, that has filled the earth with sorrows, lamentations, sickness, and death.
Verses 12-22 Jerusalem, sitting dejected on the ground, calls on those that passed by, to consider whether her example did not concern them. Her outward sufferings were great, but her inward sufferings were harder to bear, through the sense of guilt. Sorrow for sin must be great sorrow, and must affect the soul. Here we see the evil of sin, and may take warning to flee from the wrath to come. Whatever may be learned from the sufferings of Jerusalem, far more may be learned from the sufferings of Christ. Does he not from the cross speak to every one of us? Does he not say, Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Let all our sorrows lead us to the cross of Christ, lead us to mark his example, and cheerfully to follow him.
CHAPTER (ELEGY) 1
Lamentations 1:1-22 .
1. how is she . . . widow! she that was great, &c.--English Version is according to the accents. But the members of each sentence are better balanced in antithesis, thus, "how is she that was great among the nations become as a widow! (how) she who was princess among the provinces (that is, she who ruled over the surrounding provinces from the Nile to the Euphrates, Genesis 15:18 , 1 Kings 4:21 , 2 Chronicles 9:26 , Ezra 4:20 ) become tributary!" [MAURER].
sit--on the ground; the posture of mourners ( Lamentations 2:10 , Ezra 9:3 ). The coin struck on the taking of Jerusalem by Titus, representing Judea as a female sitting solitary under a palm tree, with the inscription, Judæa Capta, singularly corresponds to the image here; the language therefore must be prophetical of her state subsequent to Titus, as well as referring retrospectively to her Babylonian captivity.
2. in the night--even in the night, the period of rest and oblivion of griefs ( Job 7:3 ).
lovers . . . friends--the heathen states allied to Judah, and their idols. The idols whom she "loved" ( Jeremiah 2:20-25 ) could not comfort her. Her former allies would not: nay, some "treacherously" joined her enemies against her ( 2 Kings 24:2 2 Kings 24:7 , Psalms 137:7 ).
3. ( Jeremiah 52:27 ).
because of great servitude--that is, in a state "of great servitude," endured from the Chaldeans. "Because" is made by VATABLUS indicative of the cause of her captivity; namely, her having "afflicted" and unjustly brought into "servitude" the manumitted bond-servants ( Jeremiah 34:8-22 ). MAURER explains it, "Judah has left her land (not literally 'gone into captivity') because of the yoke imposed on it by Nebuchadnezzar."
no rest--( Deuteronomy 28:64 Deuteronomy 28:65 ).
overtook her between . . . straits--image from robbers, who in the East intercept travellers at the narrow passes in hilly regions.
4. feasts--the passover, pentecost (or the feast of weeks), and the feast of tabernacles.
gates--once the place of concourse.
5. the chief--rule her ( Deuteronomy 28:43 Deuteronomy 28:44 ).
adversaries . . . prosper; for the Lord--All the foes' attempts would have failed, had not God delivered His people into their hands ( Jeremiah 30:15 ).
6. beauty . . . departed--her temple, throne, and priesthood.
harts that find no pasture--an animal timid and fleet, especially when seeking and not able to "find pasture."
7. remembered--rather, "remembers," now, in her afflicted state. In the days of her prosperity she did not appreciate, as she ought, the favors of God to her. Now, awakening out of her past lethargy, she feels from what high privileges she has fallen.
when her people fell, &c.--that is, after which days of prosperity "her people fell."
mock at her sabbaths--The heathen used to mock at the Jews' Sabbath, as showing their idleness, and term them Sabbatarians [MARTIAL, 4.4]. Now, said they ironically, ye may keep a continuous Sabbath. So God appointed the length of the captivity (seventy years) to be exactly that of the sum of the Sabbaths in the four hundred ninety years in which the land was denied its Sabbaths ( Leviticus 26:33-35 ). MAURER translates it "ruin." But English Version better expresses the point of their "mocking," namely, their involuntary "Sabbaths," that is, the cessation of all national movements. A fourth line is added in this stanza, whereas in all the others there are but three. So in Lamentations 2:19 .
8. ( 1 Kings 8:46 ).
is removed--as a woman separated from the congregation of God for legal impurity, which is a type of moral impurity. So Lamentations 1:17 , Leviticus 12:2 , 15:19 , &c.
her nakedness--They have treated her as contumeliously as courtesans from whom their clothes are stripped.
turneth backward--as modest women do from shame, that is, she is cast down from all hope of restoration [CALVIN].
9. Continuation of the image in Lamentations 1:8 . Her ignominy and misery cannot be concealed but are apparent to all, as if a woman were suffering under such a flow as to reach the end of her skirts.
remembereth not . . . last end--( Deuteronomy 32:29 , Isaiah 47:7 ). She forgot how fatal must be the end of her iniquity. Or, as the words following imply: She, in despair, cannot lift herself up to lay hold of God's promises as to her "latter end" [CALVIN].
wonderfully--Hebrew, "wonders," that is, with amazing dejection.
O Lord, behold--Judah here breaks in, speaking for herself.
for the enemy hath magnified himself--What might seem ground for despair, the elated insulting of the enemy, is rather ground for good hope.
10. for--surely she hath seen, &c.
heathen . . . command . . . not enter . . . congregation--for instance, the Ammonites and Moabites ( Deuteronomy 23:3 , Nehemiah 13:1 Nehemiah 13:2 ). If the heathen, as such, were not allowed to enter the sanctuary for worship, much less were they allowed to enter in order to rob and destroy.
11. ( Jeremiah 37:21 , 38:9 , 52:6 ).
given . . . pleasant things for meat--( 2 Kings 6:25 , Job 2:4 ).
relieve . . . soul--literally, "to cause the soul or life to return."
for I am become vile--Her sins and consequent sorrows are made the plea in craving God's mercy. Compare the like plea in Psalms 25:11 .
12. The pathetic appeal of Jerusalem, not only to her neighbors, but even to the strangers "passing by," as her sorrow is such as should excite the compassion even of those unconnected with her. She here prefigures Christ, whom the language is prophetically made to suit, more than Jerusalem. Compare Israel, that is, Messiah, Isaiah 49:3 . Compare with "pass by," Matthew 27:39 , 15:29 . As to Jerusalem, Daniel 9:12 . MAURER, from the Arabic idiom, translates, "do not go off on your way," that is, stop, whoever ye are that pass by. English Version is simpler.
13. bones--a fire which not only consumes the skin and flesh, but penetrates even to my "bones" (that is, my vital powers).
prevaileth against--not as ROSENMULLER, "He (Jehovah) hath broken them"; a sense not in the Hebrew.
net--( Ezekiel 12:13 ); image from hunting wild beasts. He has so entangled me in His judgments that I cannot escape.
turned me back--so that I cannot go forward and get free from His meshes.
14. yoke . . . is bound by his hand--( Deuteronomy 28:48 ). Metaphor from husbandmen, who, after they have bound the yoke to the neck of oxen, hold the rein firmly twisted round the hand. Thus the translation will be, "in His hand." Or else, "the yoke of my transgressions" (that is, of punishment for my transgressions) is held so fast fixed on me "by" God, that there is no loosening of it; thus English Version, "by His hand."
wreathed--My sins are like the withes entwined about the neck to fasten the yoke to.
into their hands, from whom--into the hands of those, from whom, &c. MAURER translates, "before whom I am not able \ to stand."
15. trodden, &c.--MAURER, from Syriac root, translates, "cast away"; so 2 Kings 23:27 . But Psalms 119:118 , supports English Version.
in . . . midst of me--They fell not on the battlefield, but in the heart of the city; a sign of the divine wrath.
assembly--the collected forces of Babylon; a very different "assembly" from the solemn ones which once met at Jerusalem on the great feasts. The Hebrew means, literally, such a solemn "assembly" or feast (compare Lamentations 2:22 ).
trodden . . . virgin . . . in a wine-press--hath forced her blood to burst forth, as the red wine from the grapes trodden in the press ( Isaiah 63:3 , Revelation 14:19 Revelation 14:20 , 19:15 ).
16. ( Jeremiah 13:17 , 14:17 ). Jerusalem is the speaker.
mine eye, mine eye--so Lamentations 4:18 , "our end . . . our end"; repetition for emphasis.
17. Like a woman in labor-throes ( Jeremiah 4:31 ).
menstruous woman--held unclean, and shunned by all; separated from her husband and from the temple (compare Lamentations 1:8 , Leviticus 14:19 , &c.).
18. The sure sign of repentance; justifying God, condemning herself ( Nehemiah 9:33 , Psalms 51:4 , Daniel 9:7-14 ).
his commandment--literally, "mouth"; His word in the mouth of the prophets.
19. lovers--( Lamentations 1:2 , Jeremiah 30:14 ).
elders--in dignity, not merely age.
sought . . . meat--Their dignity did not exempt them from having to go and seek bread ( Lamentations 1:11 ).
20. bowels . . . troubled--( Job 30:27;,Isa 16:11 Job 30:27;,Isa 16:11 , Jeremiah 4:19 , 31:20 ). Extreme mental distress affects the bowels and the whole internal frame.
heart . . . turned--( Hosea 11:8 ); is agitated or fluttered.
abroad . . . sword . . . at home . . . as death--( Deuteronomy 32:25 , Ezekiel 7:15 ). The "as" does not modify, but intensifies. "Abroad the sword bereaveth, at home as it were death itself" (personified), in the form of famine and pestilence ( 2 Kings 25:3 , Jeremiah 14:18 , 52:6 ). So Habakkuk 2:5 , "as death" [MICHAELIS].
21. they are glad that thou hast done it--because they thought that therefore Judah is irretrievably ruined ( Jeremiah 40:3 ).
the day . . . called--(but) thou wilt bring on them the day of calamity which thou hast announced, namely, by the prophets ( Jeremiah 50:1-46 , 48:27 ).
like . . . me--in calamities ( Psalms 137:8 Psalms 137:9 , Jeremiah 51:25 , &c.).
22. Such prayers against foes are lawful, if the foe be an enemy of God, and if our concern be not for our own personal feeling, but for the glory of God and the welfare of His people.
come before thee--so Revelation 16:19 , "Babylon came in remembrance before God" (compare Psalms 109:15 ).