Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, June 16th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
Lamentations 1

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

Verses 1-22

Shall we turn now in our Bibles to the book of Lamentations.

The book of Lamentations in the Hebrew Bible does not appear in the same place that it appears in our Bibles. In the Hebrew Bible it appears with a group of books: Esther, and Ruth, Job, and Ezra. It was written by Jeremiah, and that is why in our Bibles they inserted it after the book of Jeremiah, because it is almost sort of an epilogue to the book of Jeremiah, in that it follows the destruction of the city of Jerusalem.

There is on the site of Golgotha a cave that is called Jeremiah's Grotto. This cave known as Jeremiah's Grotto comprises a part of the face of the skull; hence the name Golgotha. Because as you look at the cliff, with these caves that are there in the cliff, they take the appearance of a skull. One of these caves is called Jeremiah's Grotto. It is interesting that from those caves there on the site of Golgotha, you have a tremendous view of the city of Jerusalem, for Golgotha is actually the top of what was once Mount Moriah. And it looks down over the city of Jerusalem.

Tradition declares that Jeremiah sat in this grotto when he wrote the book of Lamentations, and there he wept and cried over the desolation of the city of Jerusalem as he saw its ruins, as he saw the walls destroyed, as he saw the buildings leveled. And from this vantage, he wrote this book.

In the Septuagint, which is a translation of the scriptures into Greek that was done by seventy Hebrew scholars about 200 B.C., they prefaced the book of Lamentations with these words, "And it came to pass, that after Israel had been carried away captive, and Jerusalem made desolate, Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented this lament over Jerusalem and said, 'How doth the city sit solitary.'" So, they have that as a prologue to the book of Lamentations, and it was picked up and put in the Vulgate.

The book of Lamentations is a favorite style of Hebrew poetry in four of the chapters. They are as known as an acrostic, and they were written in order to facilitate the memorization, in that you'll notice that in the first three chapters there are twenty two verses in each chapter. In the original Hebrew poetry, these twenty two verses were actually twenty two lines of the poem, and each line began with a succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet. So the first line began with Aleph, and then with Beth, and then with Gimel, and then with Daleth, and on through the Hebrew alphabet, each line with the succeeding letter of the Hebrew alphabet in the first three chapters...in the first two chapters.

In the third chapter, you'll notice that there are sixty six verses. The first three lines begin with Aleph, the next three with Beth, the next three with Gimel. And so it was in triplets, actually, thus the sixty six verses. The fourth chapter, again each line beginning with the succeeding letter of the Greek alphabet. And even though the fifth chapter has twenty two verses, it is not in an acrostic. It doesn't follow this same pattern of each line beginning with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. But they would often write their poems that way in order to help you in memorizing the poem, because you knew that the next line began with the next letter of the alphabet in succeeding order.

This is a funeral dirge. It is a lament of Jeremiah over Jerusalem after the destruction. And the book of Lamentations is read each year in the synagogue on the fourth day of the ninth month. So, around August the fourth, this particular lament or book is read in the Jewish synagogues as they commemorate the anniversary of the destruction of Solomon's temple in 586 B.C.

With that as a background, let us go into the first chapter, as Jeremiah declares,

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 the princess among the providences, how is she become a tributary! ( Lamentations 1:1 )

The city is empty. It is now sitting solitary. The inhabitants have either been slain or carried away captive. There is a weird silence over this once prosperous, beautiful city, as it lies there now in rubble.

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 ( Lamentations 1:2 ).

Jerusalem was once as a princess. Actually, tribute was paid to Solomon and to his kingdom, but now Jerusalem has become a tributary paying tribute to others. Those that she trusted in, Egypt and others have now become her enemies.

Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwells among the heathen, she finds no rest: in all of her persecutors overtook her between the straits. The ways [or the paths] on the way to Zion do mourn, because none come to her solemn feasts ( Lamentations 1:3-4 ):

It must be a weird, awesome feeling to look over the ruins of a once great and prosperous city. Can you imagine, say sitting on Mount Wilson and overlooking the Los Angeles basin and nobody living there? No freeways jammed with cars. No industries belching out their smoke, just everything with a deathly silence. Imagine how you would feel, you know, having seen all of the activities and all, that go on in that great basin, and suddenly to look at it and see the whole thing silent and empty. It must be an awesome kind of a feeling to see such a thing.

That's what Jeremiah... he had grown up in this city. He had seen the streets full of people. He had watched the worshippers at the temple and all. He had seen the pilgrims gather for their feasts, but now it's all silent. Now it's empty and the ways or the paths on the way to Jerusalem are mourning because no one is coming to the solemn feasts anymore.

all of her gates are desolate ( Lamentations 1:4 ):

The gates of Jerusalem are interesting places because there is always so many people passing in and out of the gates. A lot of times in Jerusalem just... if you don't have anything to do, it's interesting just to go at the gates of the city and just watch the people come and go through the gates. They're always just bustling with activity, and now it's silent. The gates are desolate.

her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, she is in bitterness. Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper, for the LORD hath afflicted her ( Lamentations 1:4-5 )

And then he gives the reason:

for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy. And from the daughter of Zion all of her beauty is departed: her princes are become like harts that find no pasture, they are gone without strength before the pursuer. Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and her miseries all of 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. Jerusalem has grievously sinned; therefore she is removed ( Lamentations 1:5-8 ):

Again, not blaming God, which is so often our mistake when calamity comes. "Why did God allow this to happen to us?" But recognizing that the blame was upon the people because of their transgression and because they had grievously sinned against God. "Therefore she is removed."

all that honored her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sighed, and turned backward. Her filthiness is in her skirts; she remembered not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O LORD, behold my affliction: for the enemy has magnified himself. The adversary has spread out his hand upon all of her pleasant things: for she has seen the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into thy congregation ( Lamentations 1:8-10 ).

And so the heathen came right into the temple, into the Holy of Holies and they destroyed the temple of God. A stranger wasn't to come within the sanctuary, and yet they have seen them come in and destroy it.

All of 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 ( Lamentations 1:11 ).

They spent all of their money, actually, and given all of their treasures for bread.

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. From above hath he set fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: and he hath made me desolate and faint all the day. 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. 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 a winepress. For these things I weep ( Lamentations 1:12-16 );

Thus, the lamentation, the weeping of Jeremiah as he sees the destruction that has come, the mighty men destroyed, the virgins ravished by the enemy, the young men crushed and the young girls trodden. "For these things I weep."

my eye runs down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed. Zion spread 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. The LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandments: hear, I pray you, all the people, and behold my sorrow, my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity ( Lamentations 1:16-18 ).

And so he sort of personifies Jerusalem, and lets Jerusalem cry out declaring the righteousness of God in judgment, "The Lord is righteous." For they were guilty of having rebelled against God. The Lord is always righteous in judgment, and yet it seems that that is an area where we always want to fault God. And we always hear sort of insinuations that God is unrighteous in judgment. "How can a God of love condemn a man to hell?" You know, and you've heard the rest of it. And the idea is that God is not really righteous when He judges. But that's one thing you can be certain of, and that is the righteousness of God in judgment.

In the book of Revelation, as God is bringing His judgment upon the earth, there are voices that come from the altar saying, "Holy and true art Thy judgments, oh Lord." And then in one place where God turns the fresh water upon the earth to blood, there are voices that declare, "Oh, that's great. They shed the blood of Your saints so You've given them blood to drink," and testifying of the properness of that particular judgment that God brings upon the earth at that time.

But God will judge. God has declared He will judge. And thus you can be sure that God is going to judge this world. God is going to judge the wicked. But God, when He judges the wicked, will be absolutely righteous in His judgment. People may complain about it now, but when God makes His judgment there can be no complaint, for the Lord is righteous. They had rebelled against the Lord. They rebelled against His commandment.

He said,

I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and my elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls ( Lamentations 1:19 ).

They died of starvation while they were looking for food.

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. They have heard that I sigh: there is none to comfort me: all my enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that you have done it: and thou will bring the day that thou has called, and they shall be like unto me. Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou has done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint ( Lamentations 1:20-22 ). "

Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Lamentations 1". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/lamentations-1.html. 2014.
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