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WHAT THE LORD HAD DONE TO ZION
"This chapter is all taken up with God. In Lamentations 2:1-12, all the woes are bemoaned as being God's work, and His alone; and Lamentations 2:13-17 give a short resume of this; Lamentations 2:18f urges the city to cry to God for help; and, in Lamentations 2:20-22, she does so." "The main point of this chapter is that it was God Himself who destroyed the people and their city; and the writer seldom strays very far from that main point."
Significantly, the details of this chapter could hardly have been provided by any other than an eyewitness of the destruction, which points squarely to Jeremiah as the author, as traditionally accepted. Green also noticed this: "The tone of it places this chapter very near the year 587 B.C. when the tragedy occurred. In fact, it appears to be an eyewitness account of that tragedy." The chapter has been subdivided variously by different scholars; but we shall follow this outline: (1) a graphic picture of the divine visitation (Lamentations 2:1-10); (2) details regarding the distress and despair of the people (Lamentations 2:11-17); and (3) the prayer of the people to God for help (Lamentations 2:18-22). "This prayer is different from the one in the previous chapter, "Because the element of imprecation is missing from it."
GRAPHIC PICTURE OF THE DIVINE VISITATION UPON JUDAH
"Now hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion
with a cloud in his anger!
He hath cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel,
And hath not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger.
The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob,
and hath not pitied:
He hath thrown down in his wrath
the strongholds of the daughter of Judah;
He hath brought them down to the ground;
he hath profaned the kingdom and the princes thereof.
He hath cut off in fierce anger all the horn of Israel;
He hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy:
And he hath burned up Jacob like a flaming fire,
which devoureth round about.
He hath bent his bow like an enemy,
he hath stood with his right hand as an adversary,
and hath slain all that were pleasant to the eye:
In the tent of the daughter of Zion
he hath poured out his wrath like fire.
The Lord is become as an enemy, he hath swallowed up Israel;
He hath swallowed up all her palaces,
he hath destroyed all his strongholds;
And he hath multiplied in the daughter of Judah
mourning and lamentation.
And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle,
as if it were of a garden;
he hath destroyed his place of assembly:
Jehovah hath caused solemn assembly and sabbath
to be forgotten in Zion,
And hath despised in the indignation of his anger
the king and the priest.
The Lord hath cast off his altar,
he hath abhorred his sanctuary;
He hath given up into the hand of the enemy
the walls of her palaces:
They have made a noise in the house of Jehovah,
as in the day of a solemn assembly.
Jehovah hath purposed to destroy
the wall of the daughter of Zion;
He hath stretched out the line,
he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying:
And he hath made the rampart and the wall to lament;
they languish together.
Her gates are sunk into the ground;
he hath destroyed and broken her bars:
Her king and her princes are among the nations
where the law is not;
Yea, her prophets find no vision from Jehovah.
The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground;
they keep silence;
They cast up dust upon their heads;
they have girded themselves with sackcloth:
The virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground."
The word "anger" occurs three times in this paragraph and the word "wrath" is found twice. Of all the attributes of God which appear in his word, none is more generally neglected and denied than this very one, namely, that the fierce anger of God will ultimately rage against human wickedness, as exhibited in these verses.
The God of American Pulpits today is generally extolled as a namby-pamby, an old fuddy duddy, somewhat like an over-indulgent old grandfather, too lazy, indifferent or unconcerned to do anything whatever, no matter what crimes of blood and lust roar like a tornado under his very nose. The Bible does not support such an image of God!
Yes, He is a God who loves mankind, who gave His Son upon the Cross for human redemption. He is a God of mercy, forgiveness, grace and forbearance, but when any man or any nation has fully demonstrated final rejection of God's love and their rebellion against His eternal law, that wonderful, loving, forgiving God will at last appear in His character as the enemy of that man or that nation.
The background of all these terrible things that happened to Jacob is the almost unbelievable wickedness of the Chosen People. A major part of the Old Testament is little more than a brief summary of that wickedness:
"The Lord hath covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger" (Lamentations 2:1). During the exodus, God had shielded the Chosen People with a cloud, the dark side of which confronted Egypt; but now it is the remnant of Israel that faces the ugly side of the cloud! Throughout this chapter there appears the screaming fact that it is God Himself who has brought all of the evil upon His sinful people. "That was the wormwood and the gall in their terrible affliction."
"Cast down from heaven unto the earth" (Lamentations 2:2). What a change there was from the glory of Solomon to the very bottom of the social ladder. Israel at this point had become the slaves of the Gentiles.
"He hath thrown down ... the strongholds ... of Judah" (Lamentations 2:3). But was it not Babylon that did that? No! It was God who did it; Babylon was merely God's instrument.
"He hath cut off all the horn of Israel" (Lamentations 2:3). The horn was a well-known symbol of power. Cheyne noted that a better rendition would be "every horn." "It referred to all the strongholds, especially the fortresses." We especially liked Hiller's blunt rendition, "God lopped off the horns of Israel." Or, as we might paraphrase it: "God dehorned His sinful people."
"He hath burned up Jacob like a flaming fire" (Lamentations 2:3). The conception that God's anger is like a terrible fire is not merely an Old Testament metaphor. "To the wicked God, at any time, may become a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29; Deuteronomy 4:24)."
"God, in these verses, is represented as a furious warrior, who with irresistible power destroyed everything that Judah had trusted in. They had stopped trusting in God, and instead were relying on might (Lamentations 2:2), palaces (Lamentations 2:5), strongholds (Lamentations 2:5), the physical Temple (Lamentations 2:6)." All these were destroyed.
"He hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden" (Lamentations 2:6). Solomon's temple was not God's tabernacle to begin with, but Solomon's corrupted replacement of it. Nevertheless the Jews had trusted in it as their security and salvation. The wonder expressed here is that God removed it and destroyed it so easily, "as if of a garden." "God removed his Temple as easily as a farmer removes a vintage booth (a tiny arbor), which had served its purpose, from a garden." In summer time, one may often see such little shelters near orchards and gardens, where the sellers of fruits, etc, could be sheltered from the sun.
This terrible destruction of the Temple sends the Bible student back to the very origin of it in the mind of David; and the undeniable fact that David and his son Solomon were wrong in the building of it. (See 2 Samuel 7).
"They have made a noise in the house of Jehovah, as in the day of a solemn assembly" (Lamentations 2:7). This `noise,' however was different. It was the boisterous, profane and obscene cries of the Chaldean soldiers screaming and shouting their delight as they looted and destroyed the marvelous treasures of the Temple. It was a horrible contrast with the sweet songs of the Temple virgins and the solemn liturgies of the priesthood.
"The triumphant shouts of the enemy bore some resemblance to the sounds on a solemn feast day, but O how sad a contrast it was"!
"God purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion" (Lamentations 2:8). "Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian armies are here ignored! The capture of Jerusalem, far from being God's defeat, was a victory for his righteousness. See Isaiah 42:24ff. God's judicial displeasure against iniquity is a grim reality indeed for those who render themselves liable to receive it."
"Her king and her princes are among the nations where the law is not" (Lamentations 2:9). The ridiculous rendition of the Revised Standard Version (RSV) reads, "The law is no more," being not only a false translation but an outright falsehood also. The Law of Moses never ceased, until the Son of God nailed it to the cross. And, as the Lord said, "Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished" (Matthew 5:18). The tragedy of this crooked mistake in the RSV is that it is used by radical critics as, "Notable evidence that the Torah was not regarded (when Lamentations was written) as a thing given through Moses in the far-off past." Thoughtful scholars will not be deceived by this tragic rendition in the Revised Standard Version. We thank God that the Anchor Bible gave us another acceptable translation of this passage; "The king and the princes are among the heathen (where) there is no instruction." With regard to the word "where" which the translators have supplied in the ASV, and which this writer supplied in the Anchor Bible, it does not occur in the KJV, where it was considered unnecessary, because the word Gentiles stands adjacent to and in front of the words there is no law, plainly indicating that it was among them, the Gentiles, that God's Law was not. There was never, in the long history of Israel after Sinai a single hour in which the Law of Moses did not exist.
"The elders ... sit upon the ground ... the virgins hang down their heads" (Lamentations 2:10). "The elders open not their mouth in the gate as usual ... overwhelmed with grief ... in token of great grief, as did the friends of Job, they sit upon the ground and keep silent."
REGARDING THE DISTRESS AND DESPAIR OF THE PEOPLE
"Mine eyes do fail with tears, my heart is troubled;
My liver is poured out upon the earth,
because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
Because the young children and the sucklings
do swoon in the streets of the city,
They say to their mothers, Where is grain and wine?
When they swoon as the wounded in the streets of the city,
When their soul is poured out into their mother's bosom.
What shall I testify unto thee?
What shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem?
What shall I compare to thee, that I may comfort thee,
O virgin daughter of Zion?
For thy breach is like the sea: who can heal thee?
Thy prophets have seen for thee false and foolish visions;
And they have not uncovered thine iniquity,
to bring back thy captivity,
But have seen for thee false oracles and causes of banishment.
All that pass by clap their hands at thee;
They hiss and wag their head at the daughter of
Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men called The perfection of beauty,
The joy of the whole earth?
All thine enemies have opened their mouth wide against thee;
They hiss and gnash the teeth;
they say, We have swallowed her up;
Certainly this is the day we looked for;
we have found, we have seen it.
Jehovah hath done that which he purposed;
he hath fulfilled his word that he commanded in the days of old;
He hath thrown down and hath not pitied:
And he hath caused the enemy to rejoice over thee;
he hath exalted the horn of thine adversaries."
"My eyes do fail with tears ... my heart is troubled ... the children swoon in the streets ... or their soul is poured out in their mother's bosom" (Lamentations 2:11-12). This is one of the saddest pictures in the literature of mankind. Children crying for bread, fainting from hunger in the streets, dying at their mother's breasts from starvation! This is evidently the account of an eyewitness who had watched these things occur during that horrible siege that ended in the destruction of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25).
"The breach is great like the sea; who can heal thee?" (Lamentations 2:13). "This simply means `there is no end to it'" The thoughtless may ask, "Why does God allow terrible things like this to happen"? But God has given men the freedom of their will, and not even the power of God can avoid the sorrows that result when men stubbornly do things contrary to God's commandments. Suffering of the innocent, in many circumstances, is a corollary of this. If a drunken driver guides his auto off a precipice, the innocent passengers also perish. Zedekiah, a wicked king, violated his oath which he swore in God's name to be loyal to Nebuchadnezzar; and when he violated it, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed him, acting as God's tool in the terrible destruction; but countless innocent persons were also the victims of terrible suffering and death. "It is monstrous to charge the providence of God with the consequence of actions which God has forbidden (W. F. Adeney)."
"Thy prophets have seen for thee false and foolish visions" (Lamentations 2:14). There were prolific numbers of these false prophets in Israel, Jezebel sustained several hundred of them at one time (1 Kings 18:19). They pretended to have messages from God, but they were unprincipled liars, who merely prophesied what they knew their rulers wanted to hear. These false prophets did not preach against sin. We cannot leave this without noting that much of the preaching today smooths over the dreadful results of violating God's commandments.
It was the religious failure which lay at the bottom of Israel's trouble. Jerusalem had become worse than Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezekiel 16). The Temple itself had become a center of idolatry, and the women of Judah were worshipping the vile goddess of the Assyrians in the precincts of the Temple itself. (See a detailed account of all this in Vol. III (Ezekiel) of my commentary on the Major Prophets, pp. 87-91.)
He hath fulfilled his word that he hath commanded in the days of old (Lamentations 2:17). Israel should not have been surprised at the destruction of their nation. Moses had prophesied exactly what would happen to them if they forsook the Lord in Deuteronomy 28:52f; and, as Cheyne noted, "The sacred narrator here very likely alludes to that very passage in these words."
THE PEOPLE PRAY TO GOD FOR HELP
"Their heart cried unto the Lord:
O wall of the daughter of Zion,
let tears run down like a river day and night;
Give thyself no respite;
let not the apple of thine eye cease.
Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the watches;
Pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord:
Lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children,
that faint for hunger at the head of every street."
Duff considered these verses as a plea by the narrator in which, "He urges the city to cry to God for help." However, the words, "Their heart cried unto the Lord," which stand at the head of the passage seem to identify all of this as the actual prayer of the people. However it may be, here is the divine answer to the question of, "What shall we do when total disaster, shame, sorrow and humiliation have overwhelmed us"? The answer: "Pray to God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength."
"O Wall ..." (Lamentations 2:18). "The wall is here apostrophized as a human mourner (Isaiah 14:31)."
"The night ..." (Lamentations 2:19). "The night was mentioned as either a time of undisturbed reflection, or as itself a symbol of suffering and sorrow."
THE PEOPLE'S CRY TO GOD FOR HELP
"See, O Jehovah, and behold to whom thou hast done thus!
Shall the women eat their fruit,
the children that are dandled in the hands?
Shall the priest and the people be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?
The youth and the old man lie on the ground in the streets;
My virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword:
Thou hast slain them in the day of thine anger;
thou hast slaughtered, and not pitied.
Thou hast called, as in the day of a solemn assembly,
my terrors on every side;
And there was none that escaped or remained
in the day of Jehovah's anger:
Those that I dandled and brought up hath mine enemy consumed."
This heart-breaking prayer does not request any specific thing as God's response; it merely pleads for God's attention and consideration of this terrible plight of his people.
"Behold to whom thou hast done thus" (Lamentations 2:20). This does not spell out what was in the minds of the people. They are pleading: "Look God, we are the children of Abraham, through whom Thou hast promised blessings to all mankind! We are the people you rescued from Egypt! We are those to whom you gave the land of Canaan! We are thy Chosen People! Just look at us now!
"Shall the women eat their fruit" (Lamentations 2:20)? Such a terrible thing had actually happened in Israel's history (2 Kings 6:28-29). "The fruit here is the children."
Matthew Henry's words regarding this prayer are priceless:
"Prayer is a salve for very sore, even the sorest, a remedy for every malady, even the most grievous. And our business in prayer is not to prescribe, but to subscribe to the wisdom and will of God; to refer our case to Him and to leave it with Him. Lord, behold and consider, and thy will be done."
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Lamentations 2". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24