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IV. THE ANGER OF YAHWEH (THE FOURTH LAMENT) CH. 4
The fourth lament is similar to the second one, in that: they both describe God’s judgment of Jerusalem and Judah.
"The lamentation over the terrible calamity that has befallen Jerusalem is distinguished in this poem from the lamentations in chap. i. and ii., not merely by the fact that in it the fate of the several classes of the population is contemplated, but chiefly by the circumstances that the calamity is set forth as a well-merited punishment by God for the grievous sins of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. This consideration forms the chief feature in the whole poem, from the beginning to the end of which there predominates the hope that Zion will not perish, but that the appointed punishment will terminate, and then fall on their now triumphant enemies." [Note: Keil, 2:430-31.]
This lament resumes the characteristic "How" introduction (cf. Lamentations 1:1; Lamentations 2:1). The gold and precious stones that had decorated the temple no longer served that function. Jeremiah compared the precious inhabitants of Jerusalem (cf. Exodus 19:5-6) to gold and gems. They now lay in the streets of the city defiled and dead.
"For those who esteemed themselves as high-quality gold, the kind of experience which reduced them to the level of base metal in the opinion of their enemies was of harrowing psychological and spiritual proportions." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., p. 232.]
1. The first description of siege conditions 4:1-6
A. Conditions during the siege 4:1-11
This section of the poem consists of two parallel parts (Lamentations 4:1-11). The Judahites had become despised (Lamentations 4:1-2; Lamentations 4:7-8), and both children and adults (everyone) suffered (Lamentations 4:3-5; Lamentations 4:9-10). This calamity was the result of Yahweh’s punishment for sin (Lamentations 4:6; Lamentations 4:11).
The enemy had regarded the citizens of Jerusalem, who were more valuable to it than gold, as worth nothing more than earthenware pots. The Chaldeans had smashed many of them. Earthenware pottery was of such little value in the ancient Near East, that people would not repair it but simply replace it.
The horrors of the siege of Jerusalem had turned the once-compassionate women of Judah into selfish creatures unwilling to give of themselves for the welfare of their young. Like ostriches that do not care for their offspring (cf. Job 39:14-18), these women had abandoned and even eaten their children. They behaved worse than loathsome jackals, which nurse their young.
Infants in Jerusalem during the siege did not have enough to drink or eat because their parents were looking out for their own needs first (cf. Lamentations 2:11-12; Lamentations 2:19).
The rich people who were accustomed to eating delicacies had to try to survive by finding anything at all to eat in the streets. The royal and wealthy among the people resorted to ash heaps, probably because they were sick (cf. Job 2:8).
Jerusalem’s sin, and her prolonged punishment, were greater than Sodom’s, which God overthrew quickly. No one came to Jerusalem’s aid during the siege.
Some of the residents had dedicated themselves to the Lord and were of the highest quality of people. However, even they had become victims of the siege, and had suffered terribly along with the ordinary citizens. Their fine complexions and healthy bodies had become black and shriveled.
2. The second description of siege conditions 4:7-11
Some had died in battle, but others had starved to death. Those who had died by the sword were more fortunate because a swift death is better than a gradual one.
Previously compassionate women boiled their own children and ate them to sustain their lives during the rigors of the siege (cf. Lamentations 2:20; 2 Kings 6:25-29; Jeremiah 19:9).
Yahweh had executed His wrath by punishing Jerusalem (cf. Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 2:2-4; Lamentations 2:6; Lamentations 3:1). Like a fire, His anger burned among His people (Lamentations 2:3). Ironically, He consumed the city with fire.
The overthrow of Jerusalem had surprised the leaders and people of other nations. Invaders had forced their way into it in the past (cf. 1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Kings 14:13-14; 2 Chronicles 21:16-17), but the citizens had rebuilt and strengthened its defenses (2 Chronicles 32:2-5; 2 Chronicles 33:14). In Jeremiah’s day it appeared impregnable, especially to the people of Jerusalem (cf. 2 Samuel 5:6-8).
"Jerusalem’s fall in 586 B.C. exposed their false assurance and illustrates a theological truth of Scripture: Sinful and rebellious people, even if outwardly associated with the covenant community and the promises of God, should not presume on His protection." [Note: Chisholm, p. 361.]
B. Causes of the siege 4:12-20
Jerusalem’s overthrow had come because her religious leaders, represented by the priests and the false prophets, had perverted justice and forsaken the Lord’s covenant. They had even put people to death who did not deserve it.
Some of these spiritually blind leaders had apparently lost their physical eyesight during the siege and had to wander in the streets blind. They had shed innocent blood, and now blood stained their garments. Instead of being resources for the people under siege, they had become individuals to avoid because of their uncleanness.
Like lepers, they warned others to stay away from them (cf. Leviticus 13:45-46). They wandered away from their own people, and even the pagans did not want them living among them (cf. Deuteronomy 28:65-66). In Scripture, leprosy often illustrates the ravages of sin and death.
"As the false prophets and their followers had ’wandered’ blind with infatuated and idolatrous crime in the city (Lamentations 4:14), so they must now ’wander’ among the heathen in blind consternation with calamity." [Note: Jemieson, et al., p. 666.]
Yahweh had scattered these leaders because He had no regard for them. They had also failed to honor those who should have received honor in Judah, people like the priests and the elders of the people.
The Jerusalemites had looked for help to appear and save them, but none came either from man or from God. Their expectation that another nation might come to their aid, such as Egypt, proved vain (cf. Jeremiah 37:7).
Judah’s allies proved to be her enemies. The residents of Jerusalem could not even walk the streets of their city because the danger was so great during the siege. They knew that their end was near.
Judah’s enemies swiftly pursued the Jews around the countryside as well, not allowing any of them to escape. They chased them wherever they sought to hide, on the mountains or in the wilderness, like an eagle pursuing its prey.
The enemy even captured the Davidic king, Zedekiah, who was as the very breath of life to the Judahites. The Judeans had evidently hoped to live under his authority in captivity, but now he was blind and in prison (Jeremiah 52:7-11).
This section gives three causes for the siege: the sins of the priests and prophets (Lamentations 4:13-16), reliance on foreign alliances (Lamentations 4:17-19), and the capture of Zedekiah (Lamentations 4:20).
The Edomites, related to the Judahites, were rejoicing over Judah’s destruction (cf. Psalms 137:7; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35), but the same fate was sure to overtake them (Deuteronomy 30:7). They would have to drink the cup of Yahweh’s judgment and would lose their self-control and self-respect.
"After the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar allotted the rural areas of Judah to the Edomites as a reward for their political neutrality, and as a recognition of the active help which they had provided for Chaldean military units during the final days of the campaign (cf. Ezekiel 25:12-14; Obadiah 1:11-14)." [Note: Harrison, Jeremiah and . . ., pp. 237-38.]
The land of Uz, Job’s country, was either a part of, near, or another name for Edom (cf. Job 1:1).
C. Hope following the siege 4:21-22
Jerusalem’s punishment had reached its end; the exile would not last forever. But God would still punish Edom for her sins.
"Chapter 4 does not end with a prayer, as do the preceding chapters, but it is followed by a prayer-all of chapter 5." [Note: Jensen, p. 136.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Lamentations 4". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Epiphany