Zion's former Glory contrasted with her present Humiliation
In this fourth dirge the poet describes the miseries of the various classes in the sack of Jerusalem, concluding with a warning to Edom. In structure, each alphabetic v. is composed of two rather than of three sub-divisions, the ideas and phrases balancing as in ordinary Hebrew poetry. This is considered the finest poetry of the book. The mourner speaks throughout.
1-10. The terrible distress of the people and nobles.
1. How is the gold become dim] The three words used for gold, pure gold, and fine gold, in Lamentations 4:1-2, all stand metaphorically for Jerusalem's most precious possessions, particularly her inhabitants. The stones of the sanctuary] the choicest portion of Zion's citizens (Lamentations 2:19; Zechariah 9:16).
2. Earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter] The contrast is not merely one of the materials, gold and clay, but of workmanship (Jeremiah 18:1-6; Jeremiah 19:1-10).
3. The Sea monsters] RV 'the jackals' (Jeremiah 9:11). The thought is that even wild beasts suckle their young, but the women of Jerusalem are become cruel and take no heed of their children's pitiful cries. Like the ostriches] here taken as the type of cruelty and heartlessness, because they forsake their young at the least alarm (Job 39:13-17).
5. Delicately] daintily (Proverbs 29:21). Brought up in scarlet] lit. 'carried upon scarlet,' as infants. Embrace dunghills] lie upon dust heaps. The contrast is most vivid. From the highest luxury, the upper classes in Jerusalem have been reduced to the extremest poverty.
6. For the punishment of the iniquity] RV 'For the iniquity.' As in a moment] Sodom was overthrown suddenly; Jerusalem's sufferings were prolonged. Hence it is inferred that Jerusalem's sin was greater than Sodom's. Our Lord modified this ancient view of sin and punishment (Luke 13:1-5). And no hands stayed on her] RV 'and no hands were laid upon her,' i.e. Sodom's punishment was direct from God.
7. Nazarites] RV 'nobles,' probably alluding to the Rechabites, famous at that time for their purity and temperance (Jeremiah 35).
9. Better] i.e. better off. Death by the sword, prior to the siege, is pronounced preferable to being gradually wasted by famine.
For want of the fruits of the field] lit. 'from the produce of the field,' famine being more cruel than the enemy (Psalms 109:24).
10. This v. describes a gruesome scene, alluded to in Lamentations 2:20, and predicted in Jeremiah 19:9. Pitiful women] the daughters of an effete civilisation, who had been nursed in the lap of luxury.
11-16. The ignominious fate of the prophets and priests.
This section begins and ends with an account of the wrath of Jehovah.
11. Kindled a fire in Zion] poetic for the glowing of Jehovah's anger (2 Chronicles 36:19).
13. For the sins of] RV 'It is because of the sins of.' Zion's prophets were really murderers (2 Chronicles 24:21; Jeremiah 26:23).
14. They have wandered] reeled and staggered, reckless of their responsibilities as leaders.
15. They cried unto them] the people applied to them what lepers were required to declare of themselves, viz. Unclean! Unclean! (Leviticus 13:45). Theirs was spiritual leprosy. They said among the heathen] When ostracised, people abroad said, They shall tarry here no longer. They were unwelcome everywhere; fugitives and vagabonds, with the mark of Cain upon them.
16. The anger of the Lord hath divided them] lit. 'the face of Jehovah hath scattered them.'
17-20. The vain hope of escape; even the king being captured. This short section is in the first person plural.
17. RV 'Our eyes do yet fail in looking for our vain help.' Egypt or some other expected ally disappoints (Jeremiah 37:7; Isaiah 36:6).
19. Our persecutors] RV 'our pursuers.'
20. The breath of our nostrils] a rather strong expression to use of Zedekiah, yet he was Jerusalem's king, and though weak, 'the anointed of Jehovah.' Under his shadow] even as captives, they hoped to be allowed some sort of national organisation with Zedekiah as their head. The hope expressed is pathetic.
21, 22. The doom of Edom.
21. Rejoice and be glad] i.e. enjoy thy malicious but fleeting satisfaction (Jeremiah 49:7-22). Edom is typical of the church's foes today.
Uz] the territory lying SE. of Palestine, extending probably into Arabia (Jeremiah 25:20).
The cup] the symbol of divine wrath (Jeremiah 25:17).
22. The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished] lit. 'ended.' For one brief moment the curtain of gloom is lifted, and a hope—in a sense a Messianic hope—is held out to Zion (Isaiah 40:2). He will discover thy sins] i.e. he will punish thy sins; for, if to cover is to forgive, to discover must be to punish (Psalms 32:1; Psalms 85:2). Thus the poem closes with a contrast. Zion's sins shall be covered, Edom's discovered. Zion's captivity is past, Edom's yet to come. The Hebrews' debt is paid, the Edomites' is yet to be exacted.
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Dummelow, John. "Commentary on Lamentations 4". "John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Easter