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Jerusalem's Affliction a Punishment for her Guilt
v. 1. How is the gold become dim! How is the most fine gold changed! losing its splendor and color. The stones of the Sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street, or, "The hallowed stones are cast forth at all street corners," with utter disregard of their costliness. The two expressions together are a picture of the holy people of the Lord, consecrated to be a kingdom of priests unto the Lord.
v. 2. The precious sons of Zion, all its inhabitants, noble by virtue of the Lord's selection, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, of little or no value, the work of the hands of the potter! readily shattered in pieces for their sins.
v. 3. Even the sea monsters, the great mammalian animals of the ocean, or "the jackals of the desert," draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones, thereby giving some evidence of motherly feeling; the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness, whose want of affection for their young is referred to also Job 39:16. This point of cruelty has been reached also by the Jewish mothers, so that they have abandoned the natural feelings of motherhood.
v. 4. The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst, there being no nourishment for infants; the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them, since no one was left to distribute food, even if the supply had not been exhausted.
v. 5. They that did feed delicately, being very choicy in the selection of the viands which loaded down their tables, are desolate in the streets, without homes and without food as well; they that were brought up in scarlet, borne on couches of the finest crimson material, embrace dunghills, fortunate in finding so much as a rubbish-heap for their weary limbs.
v. 6. For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, the catastrophe coming upon the city with great suddenness, and no hands stayed on her, it was not necessary for any human hands to be active in her destruction, since the Lord Himself brought the calamity upon her. The fate of Jerusalem was more terrible than that of Sodom because her guilt was greater. Thus Sodom, for instance, was spared the slow tortures of hunger and pestilence by the suddenness of the punishment which ended her existence.
v. 7. Her Nazarites, her princes or rulers, separated from the rest of the people by virtue of the dignity of their office, were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, or "corals"; their polishing was of sapphire, beautiful in form.
v. 8. Their visage, now that the calamity has come upon them, is blacker than a coal, than blackness, or soot; they are not known in the streets, because their appearance is so dreadfully altered; their skin cleaveth to their bones, on account of the excessive loss of flesh which they had suffered; it is withered, dry and yellow; it is become like a stick, without sap and vigor.
v. 9. They that be slain with the sword are better, more fortunate, than they that be slain with hunger, because they were not obliged to suffer the agonies of a slow death; for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field. Such was the fate of the men, of the nobles of Judah and Jerusalem; far more pitiful was that of the women.
v. 10. The hands of the pitiful women, of those who were tenderhearted and merciful, from whom one might have expected a different behavior, have sodden their own children, in an abhorrent and almost unexplainable form of cannibalism; they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people, during the siege of Jerusalem. Cf Deuteronomy 28:57. Thus the extremity of the case influenced even delicate and kind-hearted women to commit such horrible crimes.
v. 11. The Lord hath accomplished His fury, fulfilling the designs of His wrath; He hath poured out His fierce anger and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof, the reference being to the total destruction of the city by the punishment of Jehovah. Thus the Lord proved Himself a holy and a jealous God, who was bound to visit the iniquity of the sinners upon them.
God's Judgment a Consequence of the Sins of the Prophets and Priests
v. 12. The kings of the earth and all the inhabitants of the world would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem. It had indeed been taken in the earlier years, by Shishak of Egypt and by Joash of Israel, 1 Kings 14; 2 Kings 14, but it had since been fortified to such an extent that it was regarded as impregnable; moreover, there was an idea prevailing among the surrounding nations that it was under the special protection of Jehovah. But the unheard-of had come to pass.
v. 13. For the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, Cf Jeremiah 23:11-21; Jeremiah 26:7-16, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her, practicing even in those days what the Lord accused them of six centuries later. Matthew 23:31-37. Because the leaders and spiritual rulers of the people had been guilty of such sins, therefore the punishment of the Lord had come upon the city.
v. 14. They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, or, "they," the priests and prophets, "reeled through the streets, defiled with the blood which they had shed," so that men could not touch their garments, for fear of contamination, of Levitical uncleanness.
v. 15. They, namely, the people of the city meeting them, cried unto them, Depart ye! It is unclean; depart, depart, touch not! thereby applying to them the call of warning used in the case of lepers, Leviticus 13:45, lest their blood-stained garments bring defilement. When they fled away and wandered, or when they had fled away and continued as fugitives in strange lands, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there, the heathen themselves being afraid of pollution and denying the exiled and fugitive priests a retreat in their midst.
v. 16. The anger of the Lord hath divided them, literally, "the countenance of Jehovah has scattered them"; He will no more regard them, no longer look upon them in mercy; they, the enemies, respected not the persons of the priests, they favored not the elders, had no compassion on them. The rank, station, and age of the priests no longer shielded them from humiliation and degradation.
v. 17. As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help, that is, the Jews, still hoping for the assistance of Egypt and other allied nations, were deeply disappointed; in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us, as was shown also by the fact that the small band of people remaining after the murder of Gedaliah fled to Egypt. But all their hopes were in vain; they found that their trust had been misplaced.
v. 18. They hunt our steps that we cannot go in our streets, that is, the Chaldeans were so vigilant in their siege that there was no chance to escape. Our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come, it seemed that their very existence as a nation was at an end. The city was taken, the bulk of its population transported to Babylon or put to the sword, and the remaining fugitives scattered among the nations.
v. 19. Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven, their pursuit having begun instantly and having been carried forward with the greatest energy; they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness, everywhere, even in the moat inaccessible places.
v. 20. The breath of our nostrils, namely, the king, who was needed for the life of the nation, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits, caught by the enemies, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen; they had hoped to live safe under his protection. But in spite of the gloomy picture there is still some hope for the future.
v. 21. Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz, on the border of the great Arabian Plain; that is, no matter if the Edomites were now exulting, the cup, namely, that of God's punishment, also shall pass through unto thee; thou shalt be drunken, with the contents of this cup, and shalt make thyself naked, be heaped with shame as a result of the Chaldean conquest. On the other hand, there is comfort for the children of the Lord.
v. 22. The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion, her guilt being removed by the mercy of Jehovah; He will no more carry thee away into captivity, not cause another sentence of banishment to be executed; He will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; He will discover thy sins, that is, uncover them for the purpose of meting out His punishment. Thus the Messianic idea is brought out, even in the midst of misery and affliction, with the same comfort of the Gospel which is ours today.
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Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on Lamentations 4". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany