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Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Lamentations 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ lamentations-2.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Lamentations 2". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
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Chapter 2. A Lament Over What Has Happened To Jerusalem Due To The Lord’s Anger.
This chapter also divides up into sections. In the first 9 verses the prophet describes in forceful detail what ‘the Sovereign Lord’ (adonai) has done against Jerusalem and Judah, and he follows this up in Lamentations 2:10-12 with a picture of Jerusalem’s inhabitants (elders, virgins, young children) revealing how all this has affected them (they keep silence and mourn, they hang their heads, the children complain of hunger). Then in Lamentations 2:13-19 he addresses the inhabitants of Jerusalem directly, outlining what has come upon them and calling on them to seek to YHWH for help, finishing it all off in Lamentations 2:20-22 with a direct appeal to YHWH to see what the situation is.
Note the emphasis in the first six verses on the wrath, fury and anger of the Lord/YHWH (specifically drawn attention to in Lamentations 2:1 (twice), 2, 3, 4, 6), something again emphasised in the final verse (Lamentations 2:22). His people had defied Him and disregarded His loving covenant for too long. They had rejected the pleas of His prophets. And there comes a time when even God’s patience is at an end and He becomes relentless. The results of that anger were plain to see in the ruined Temple, the destroyed city, and the relatively empty and devastated land. (It should, however, be noted from the human point of view that it was not YHWH Himself Who had done this, but the Babylonian contingents. God works through history and the sinfulness of man. He had simply withdrawn His hand of protection because of His antipathy towards His people’s sin, letting men loose in their viciousness - see Lamentations 2:3).
Once again we see a variation between ‘Sovereign Lord’ (adonai) and YHWH. In Lamentations 2:1-5 it is the Sovereign Lord Who has acted against Jerusalem and Judah/Israel in a variety of ways, whilst in Lamentations 2:6 it is YHWH Who has caused the solemn gathering of the people and the sabbath to be ‘forgotten’, that is, not maintained because of Judah’s condition. In Lamentations 2:7 it is the Sovereign Lord Who has cast off her altar and sanctuary, whilst in Lamentations 2:8 it is YHWH Who has purposed to destroy the walls of Zion and has given the prophets no vision. From that point there is then no mention of either until Lamentations 2:17 where it is YHWH Who has devised against Jerusalem and thrown her down, causing her enemies to rejoice and exalting them, whilst it is to the Sovereign Lord that the prayers of the women for their hungry children are addressed and are to be addressed (Lamentations 2:18-19). On the other hand the Prophet’s appeal for God to consider the situation being prayed about is addressed to YHWH (Lamentations 2:20), whilst in the same verse reference is made to ‘the sanctuary of the Lord’. It is clear that the names are being used interchangeably. The final reference is to ‘the day of YHWH’s anger’ in Lamentations 2:22.
Interesting also are the names used of Judah/Jerusalem in the first few verses. It is ‘the daughter of Zion’ (Lamentations 2:1; Lamentations 2:4; Lamentations 2:8; Lamentations 2:10), ‘Israel’ (Lamentations 2:1; Lamentations 2:3; Lamentations 2:5), ‘Jacob’ (Lamentations 2:2-3), ‘the daughter of Judah’ (Lamentations 2:5), ‘Zion’ (Lamentations 2:6).
The Lord’s Anger Is Revealed In The Destruction Of Jerusalem (Lamentations 2:1-9 ).
In these verses we have a description of how in His ‘anger’ (antipathy towards sin) the Lord has brought destruction on Judah and Jerusalem both politically and religiously. He is seen as the cause of the Babylonian activity. It is a reminder to us that behind what often seems to be the meaningless flow of history God is at work.
(Aleph) How has the Lord covered the daughter of Zion,
With a cloud in his anger!
He has cast down from heaven to the earth,
The beauty of Israel,
And has not remembered his footstool,
In the day of his anger.
In the first five verses of this chapter all the activity is seen as that of ‘the Sovereign Lord’ acting against those who were once His people. In this first verse a threefold activity is depicted. The Sovereign Lord has:
· Covered the Daughter of Zion with a cloud in His anger.
· Cast down from Heaven to earth the Beauty of Israel.
· Not remembered His Footstool in the day of His anger.
Many commentators have seen all three of these activities as referring to Jerusalem or Israel; the daughter of Zion covered with a storm-cloud, the beauty of Israel cast down from Heaven to earth, His footstool not remembered by the Lord. But a glance at the following verses throws this interpretation into doubt, for they demonstrate that it is the prophet’s usual practise in this lament to speak of three different, if parallel things, not the same thing three times. Thus we must view this interpretation with suspicion.
The first statement is clear. The Sovereign Lord has, in His anger, covered the daughter of Zion (Jerusalem) with a storm-cloud. This is the very opposite to the way in which, in earlier days, YHWH had manifested Himself in a cloud. That had been protective, indicating His presence with them. Now the swirling storm-cloud is seen to be one of judgment and fierce anger.
He has ‘cast down the Beauty of Israel from Heaven to earth’. This phrase is descriptive of a fall from high honour, even from god-likeness, as we see by its use of the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14:1, and of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:14; Ezekiel 28:17. But to what does ‘the Beauty of Israel refer? The concept of beauty is elsewhere:
· 1). Referred to the Temple (Psalms 96:6; Isaiah 60:7; Isaiah 64:11).
· 2). Referred to Israel/Judah’s royal house (compare2 Samuel 1:19; 2 Samuel 1:19; Zechariah 12:7).
· 3). Referred to Jerusalem itself (Isaiah 52:1). See Lamentations 2:15. Compare in this regard how Babylon is called "the beauty of the splendour of the Chaldeans" in Isaiah 13:19.
If we take it as 3) it would certainly fit in as a parallel to ‘the daughter of Zion’, but, as we have already suggested, in this lament the prophet does not tend to use such exact parallels. Thus we would rather expect the daughter of Zion, the beauty of Israel, and the Footstool to refer to three different things.
Considering 2). reference to Judah’s king as ‘the Beauty of Israel’ (as in 2 Samuel 1:19; Zechariah 12:7) and being cast down from Heaven to earth would certainly tie in with the parallel of the King of Babylon who made exalted claims about his status and was also to be cast from Heaven to earth (Isaiah 14:12-15), and it is quite possible that Zedekiah may have been aping the Babylonian New Year ritual in which this was enacted. Reference to the king may also be seen as a good parallel to the Ark, if we take the Ark as His footstool, something specifically stated in 1 Chronicles 28:2, for both the King and the Ark represented YHWH’s kingship. Furthermore a star falling from Heaven could certainly be seen as signifying a bad end for a ruler (for star = ruler compare Numbers 24:17; Daniel 8:10). And certainly the king was seen by Jerusalem and the prophet in an exalted sense, being described in terms of ‘YHWH’s Anointed’, the very breath of their nostrils (Lamentations 4:20), making clear his importance in their eyes. As the Davidic king and the Anointed of YHWH, the one on whom Israel’s hopes rested, he could well be described as the beauty of Israel. In contrast it is difficult to see either the Temple or Jerusalem as being cast down from Heaven to earth (unless we see the idea as metaphorical of their splendour being cast down from Heaven, but there is no example of this elsewhere). What is also significant is that the king and his princes, and their fate, are stressed in the immediately following verses (see Lamentations 2:2; Lamentations 2:6) demonstrating that they were in the prophet’s mind as he wrote. It would appear to us therefore that the Beauty of Israel was the Davidic king, whose status was beautiful, but who was brought low by the Lord.
It was the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH that was mainly seen as YHWH’s footstool (1 Chronicles 28:2; compare Psalms 99:5). This was presumably because it was seen as the place where YHWH manifested Himself on earth, as He sat on His throne in Heaven whilst His feet rested on the ark. Though hidden behind the curtain in the tabernacle/temple the Ark was the means by which, through their high priest, Israel felt that they could directly meet with God. And that ark was now to be ‘not remembered’ by Him, something apparent when it was either destroyed or carried off to Babylon. It had become simply a treasure and would no longer be able to fulfil its function. What had been sacred for so long was now to be seen as irrelevant.
If we accept these suggestions we see the verse as indicating that Jerusalem had been covered by His storm-cloud, as His anger rested on it; the membership of the Davidic royal house had been cast from Heaven to earth (removed from its high status and profaned - Lamentations 2:2), because it had been disobedient to YHWH and could therefore no longer represent Him; and the Ark had become ‘not remembered’ because it had been carried off (or destroyed) and could no longer function.
It is, of course, possible, to see all three ideas as referring to the same thing, either Jerusalem itself (Isaiah 52:1), or the Temple, seen equally as ‘the daughter of Zion’, ‘the Beauty of Israel’ (see Isaiah 64:11) and ‘His Footstool’ (Psalms 132:7; Isaiah 60:13), but the references are not specific and Psalms 132:7 could equally apply to the ark, whilst the ‘casting down to earth’ makes this interpretation questionable. Given the prophet’s usual practise of speaking of three different but similar things, as explained above, this interpretation would seem to be very unlikely.
(Beth) The Lord has swallowed up and has not pitied,
All the habitations of Jacob,
He has thrown down in his wrath,
The strongholds of the daughter of Judah,
He has brought them down to the ground,
He has profaned the kingdom, and its princes.
Note here an example of what we have said above. The prophet refers to ‘the habitations of Jacob’ (the noun indicates rude habitations like those of a shepherd), ‘the strongholds of the daughter of Judah’ (referring to substantial cities), and ‘the kingdom and its princes’.
The word for ‘habitations’ is mainly used for the habitations of shepherds. Thus it would appear that what are initially seen as swallowed up by the invaders are the smaller towns and villages which were not ‘built up’ and were without walls, thus being easy targets. The larger towns and cities are covered by the idea of ‘strongholds’. They have been thrown down in His wrath. Indeed they have been brought down to the ground.
And at the same time ‘the kingdom, and its princes’ have been ‘profaned’, that is, have been rendered or treated as unclean and defiled, being treated as though they were an ordinary kingdom and ordinary princes and not YHWH’s chosen. In the case of the princes they have also been slain by the swords of profane men. There is a recognition here of the fact that the princes were seen to have had a special recognition by God as being His anointed princes, and this was especially so of the king who was YHWH’s Anointed (Lamentations 4:20). But that special recognition had not prevented the Lord from allowing them to be profaned by foreign swords or by equally foreign instruments for blinding.
The word for ‘kingdom’ could equally be translated ‘kingship’ on the basis of 2Sa 3:10 ; 2 Samuel 7:12-13; 2 Samuel 7:16. Note how in 2 Samuel 7:0 it parallels the idea of the throne of David. This would support the idea that in Lamentations 2:1 ‘the beauty of Israel’ was the Davidic house and throne.
(Gimel) He has cut off in fierce anger,
All the horn of Israel,
He has drawn back his right hand,
From before the enemy,
And he has burned up Jacob like a flaming fire,
Which devours round about.
Here the prophet makes clear how God accomplishes His work. He allows the evil of man free rein, withdrawing His protection from His people (drawing back His right hand). By this means He has cut off ‘all the horn of Israel’. The horn was the symbol of an animal’s power and strength, and when men wished to render it ‘harmless’ they cut off its horn. This was what YHWH had metaphorically done to Israel. Note the mention of ‘Israel’. The prophet saw Judah as representing Israel, and indeed it did so, for it contained a mixture of the ‘twelve tribes’, many of whom had fled or migrated from the north.
And the consequence was that ‘Jacob’ (Abraham’s grandson was called both Jacob and Israel) had literally been ‘burned up like a flaming fire’, as the fierce invaders had set light to its towns and cities. But the thought is wider than that of just literal fire. The prophet sees the ability of fire to eat up everything as the symbol of total destruction.
(Daleth) He has bent his bow like an enemy,
He has stood with his right hand,
And he has slain like an adversary,
All who were pleasant to the eye,
In the tent of the daughter of Zion,
He has poured out his wrath like fire.
The Lord is seen as being like an archer who picks off the enemy one by one, and a swordsman who slays with his right hand, in this case ‘all who were pleasant to the eye’ in Judah. This may refer to Judah’s young men and women in their prime, or it may refer to the royal house and the aristocracy. Or indeed to both. For His wrath is like a fire that devours all before it.
It would be possible to render this as ‘He has destroyed like an adversary all that was pleasant to the eye’, referring to the noble buildings, the treasures, and especially the Temple with its treasures. But the translation above fits the context better.
(He) The Lord is become as an enemy,
He has swallowed up Israel,
He has swallowed up all her palaces,
He has destroyed his strongholds,
And he has multiplied in the daughter of Judah,
Mourning and lamentation.
Woe betide the nation or the individual to whom the Lord becomes ‘as an enemy’. And that is what had happened to Jerusalem and Judah because of their disdain for His covenant and their love of false religion. In the city that He had set apart for Himself as a witness to the world, they had profaned His Name, and despised His covenant, giving a false message to the world. The result was that He had become their enemy and had swallowed them up, along with their palaces and their strongholds, and had filled the whole place with mourning, weeping and lamentation.
(Waw) And he has violently taken away his tabernacle as if it were of a garden,
He has destroyed his place of assembly,
YHWH has caused solemn assembly and sabbath,
To be forgotten in Zion,
And has despised in the indignation of his anger,
The king and the priest.
YHWH had done the unthinkable. Judah had been so sure that He would not allow His Temple to be destroyed (Jeremiah 7:2 ff), but that is precisely what He had done. Judah had maintained the trappings of Yahwism, but their hearts had been set on other things. Now they were to see that their sacred Temple meant nothing to God if it was not filled with true worshippers. God does not honour buildings, or sites. He honours people. But not if they dishonour Him. And that is what Judah had constantly done.
And so YHWH had removed from them the trappings of their religion which they still considered as so important. He had violently taken away their Temple which was, in their eyes, His dwellingplace (tabernacle) with the same casualness as a man would remove a temporary shed from his garden when it had lost its usefulness. In those days ‘buildings’ erected in gardens were of a temporary and makeshift nature. He had destroyed the very place in which men had gathered to worship at their festivals. And the result was that the festivals and the sabbath were now ‘forgotten in Zion’. They were simply unobserved.
Furthermore He had dealt severely with ‘the king and the priest’. He has ‘despised them’, ignoring any demands that they might have thought that they had on Him. Note the assumption that the king had an important part to play in worship (as Ezekiel 44:3; Ezekiel 45:17; Ezekiel 45:22-25; Ezekiel 46:12 brings out of the then future king, however we interpret it). As the Davidic heir he was the ‘priest after the order of Melchizedek’ (Psalms 110:4) and acted as intercessor on behalf of his people (compare 1 Kings 8:22-53; 2 Kings 19:20; 2 Samuel 8:18). What was forbidden to him was to perform the priestly office in offering sacrifices and incense, and entering the Holy Place. Thus both king and priest were necessary in worship.
So the whole point of this verse is that YHWH Himself has eradicated all the places and people involved nominally in worshipping Him. They had proved false, and instead of glorying in them He had therefore despised them and rooted them out. God wants no false or nominal religion.
(Zayin) The Lord has cast off his altar,
He has abhorred his sanctuary,
He has given up into the hand of the enemy,
The walls of her palaces,
They have made a noise in the house of YHWH,
As in the day of a solemn assembly.
Indeed the very altar had been cast off by Him, and He had abhorred His sanctuary, the two most sacred things in Jerusalem. He had wanted nothing to do with either and had handed them over to the enemy. The language is very forceful and emphasises the fact that even the holiest of things are nothing unless those who use and frequent them are genuine worshippers.
And at the same time He had handed over the walls of her palaces. The enemy had even been allowed to come into the house of YHWH, their voices ringing out with a similar noise to that heard at a solemn assembly, but instead of cries of worship it was the with the sound of their victory and their gloating over the treasures that they found.
(Cheth) YHWH has purposed to destroy,
The wall of the daughter of Zion,
He has stretched out the line,
He has not withdrawn his hand from destroying,
And he has made the rampart and wall to lament,
They languish together.
The catalogue continues. YHWH Himself has purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion. Jerusalem’s walls were to be levelled to the ground. YHWH had even measured them up in readiness, demonstrating the thoroughness with which He was carrying out His purpose. Both rampart and wall would be destroyed. They would lament and languish together. The thoroughness with which this was done by the Babylonians has been evidence in excavations in Jerusalem.
(Teth) Her gates are sunk into the ground,
He has destroyed and broken her bars,
Her king and her princes are among the nations,
Where the law is not.
Yes, her prophets do not find,
Vision from YHWH.
Finally He has dealt with the gates of Jerusalem. Her gates are sunk into the ground, buried in the rubble, and the bars which fastened them have been destroyed and broken. The city is defenceless. And meanwhile her king and nobles (the princes were dead) are scattered among the nations where His Law is not revered, and her prophets are silenced without any vision from YHWH. They have lost both the rule of the Law and the illumination of prophecy.
Of course the Law was being revered by those of the Dispersion who still held even more firmly to it, but it was only among themselves. It was ignored by outsiders.
The Sad State Of The People Of Jerusalem (Lamentations 2:10-12 ).
The prophet now describes in retrospect the sad state of the people of Jerusalem during and after the terrible siege. The elders were in mourning, the virgins hung their heads to the ground, the young children and babes collapsed with hunger crying out, ‘where is our food?’ Compare also Lamentations 2:19; Lamentations 4:4-5. (Later we will learn that some mothers were even eating their own children - Lamentations 2:20; Lamentations 4:10). It moved the prophet to anguish.
(Yod) The elders of the daughter of Zion,
Sit on the ground, they keep silence,
They have cast up dust on their heads,
They have girded themselves with sackcloth,
The virgins of Jerusalem,
Hang down their heads to the ground.
The elders were the leaders and the old men, those who were the most respected by society, and to whom the people looked for guidance. But now they had nothing to say or offer. They sat in silence, covered their heads with ashes and put on sackcloth (both signs of deep mourning).
The virgins are mentioned as being the most joyous of people, with their timbrels and dances, full of expectancy for the future. But now all that they could do was hang their heads to the ground. This may have been because they had been raped by the invaders, or simply due to the fact that they now had no expectations.
Alternately we may see the elders at the top and the virgins at the bottom as inclusive of all the people (elders, men, women, young men, virgins).
(Kaph) My eyes fail with tears,
My heart is troubled,
My liver is poured on the earth,
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
Because the young children and the babes,
Swoon in the streets of the city.
What the prophet saw moved him to anguish. His eyes failed with tears, his heart (mind) was troubled, his liver (probably seen as the centre of pain or of emotion) was poured forth on the earth. And why? Because he was witnessing the destruction of ‘the daughter of my people’, in other words either Jerusalem (Jeremiah 14:17), or the people of Jerusalem. And because he was seeing young children and babes fainting with hunger in the streets of the city.
The phrase ‘daughter of my people’ is Isaianic (Isaiah 22:4), and regularly repeated by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:11; Jeremiah 6:14 and often). Its meaning appears to vary between indicating the people as a whole and indicating Jerusalem.
(Lamed) 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 mothers’ bosom.
The prophet draws a sad picture of the children crying out to their mothers for food, puzzled as why she cannot feed them as they faint from hunger in the streets and cling tightly to their mothers’ breasts. The picture is a piteous one, the fruit of man’s inhumanity.
The Prophet Addresses Jerusalem Recognising That That Her Unique State Is Such That He Can Offer No Comfort Because All Is Against Her (Lamentations 2:13-17 ).
The prophet sees the people of Jerusalem as being in a state never before experienced and as being unhealable. This is because their prophets are offering them foolishness, passers-by are looking at, and exclaiming in amazement at, what has happened to them, and their enemies are gloating over them, viewing what has happened to them as a triumph.
(Mem) What shall I testify to you?
What shall I liken to you, O daughter of Jerusalem?
What shall I compare to you?
That I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion?
For your breach is great like the sea,
Who can heal you?
The prophet can think of no comparison that he can draw on so that he can comfort the people of Jerusalem. He does not know how to speak to them and advise them. Such is the situation that he does not know what to say. Never before had they found themselves so bereft. He sees them as unhealable. Their ‘breach’ being great like the sea indicates a gaping wound (compare Isaiah 30:26; Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 10:19), which is seemingly unhealable. But the word is regularly translated as ‘destruction’, and that is favoured by many.
(Nun) Your prophets have seen for you,
False and foolish visions,
And they have not uncovered your iniquity,
To bring back your captivity,
But have seen for you false oracles,
And causes of banishment.
Their dilemma was partly due to their prophets who had seen for them false and foolish visions which had resulted in their banishment (Jeremiah 2:8; Jeremiah 5:13; Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 27:9-10; Jeremiah 28:1-4; Jeremiah 28:10-11; etc). Jeremiah had regularly had to counteract them. They had failed to uncover the iniquity of the people which alone could have prevented their captivity, and could even have once more restored them to their land. This was why they were in the state that they were..
(Samek) All who pass by,
Clap their hands at you,
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?”
Indeed their state was such that passers-by marvelled and demonstrated by their actions their feelings at what had happened to Jerusalem They clapped their hands in glee, hissed in derision, and wagged their heads in amazement, asking each other (and Jerusalem), “Is this the city that men called The perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?” For ‘the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth’ compare Psalms 48:2; Psalms 50:2, speaking of Zion. See also Isaiah 13:19 of Babylon; Ezekiel 27:3 of Tyre. The city had been beautiful to behold. But now it was a heap of ruins.
(Pe) All of your enemies,
Have opened their mouth wide against you.
They hiss and gnash the teeth,
They say, ‘We have swallowed her up.
Certainly this is the day which we looked for,
We have found, we have seen it.’
Finally their open enemies had opened their mouths against them, hissed and gnashed their teeth, all indications of their hatred. And as they did so they had gloated, declaring that they had swallowed her up, and rejoicing because it was the day that they had looked for, the day which they had at last found so that they could see Jerusalem’s demise.
(Ayin) YHWH has done what he purposed,
He has fulfilled his word which he commanded in the days of old,
He has thrown down,
And he has not pitied,
And he has caused the enemy to rejoice over you,
He has exalted the horn of your adversaries.
But it is now emphasised that it was not really the enemy who had done this. It was YHWH Who had accomplished a purpose determined long before. It was He Who had thrown them down. And He had not pitied them. He it was Who had caused their enemies to rejoice over them, and had given those enemies strength by making their horns victorious.
Yet in this lay hope. If it was YHWH Who had done it, YHWH could reverse it if only they sought Him in repentance.
The People Cry To The Sovereign Lord. They Call On The Wall Of Jerusalem To Weep For Jerusalem and Its Inhabitants And On YHWH To Consider What He Has Done (Lamentations 2:18-22 ).
The change between Lamentations 2:17 and Lamentations 2:18 is abrupt. But the acrostic confirms that they are united. Lamentations 2:18 begins with a heading defining what is happening, ‘their heart cried to the Sovereign Lord’, and this is followed immediately by the people’s plea to the wall of the daughter of Zion not to refrain from crying out on their behalf and especially on behalf of the starving children. This is a retrospective plea made as if the wall were still standing with the siege continuing.
(Tsade) Their heart cried to the Lord,
This forms a heading to what follows. But the cry that it speaks of is indirect, addressed rather to the wall of Jerusalem, inviting it to plead on their behalf,
O Wall of the daughter of Zion,
Let tears run down like a river,
Day and night,
Give yourself no respite,
Do not let the apple of your eye cease.
The wall was, of course, the place where the watchmen stood as they watched over the city day and night (see Lamentations 2:19). The thought is therefore that the watchmen should plead on behalf of the city continuously. They are called on to weep copiously with their tears running down like a river, and to do it day and night giving themselves no respite, their pupils never being allowed to dry.
Alternately the heading could be, ‘Their heart cried to the Lord, the Wall of the daughter of Zion’, thus seeing YHWH as the city’s protective wall. But in view of the mention of the watches in Lamentations 2:19 the first option is the more probable.
(Qoph) Arise, cry out in the night,
At the beginning of the watches,
Pour out your heart like water,
Before the face of the Lord,
Lift up your hands towards him for the life of your young children,
Who faint for hunger at the head of every street.
The watchmen are called on to arise and cry in the night, and to do it also at the beginning of the watches, pouring out their heart like water before the face of the Lord, and lifting up their hands (the usual attitude of prayer) for the life of their young children who, at the head of every street, were fainting with hunger.
(Resh) See, O YHWH,
And behold to whom you have done thus!
Shall the women eat their fruit,
The children who are dandled in the hands?
Shall the priest and the prophet,
Be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?
They are to call on YHWH to consider what He is doing. Does He really want the mothers to eat the very children that they have nurtured? (Note that this was something God had warned them about in the curses in Leviticus 26:26; Deuteronomy 28:57. Now it was happening) Does He really want the priest and the prophet to be slain in His sanctuary?
The two things described were the greatest horrors that the prophet could think of, mothers eating their own children, and the desecration of the Temple by the slaughter in it of YHWH’s priests and prophets, who were, of course, seen as holy. we must recognise, however, that both mothers, and priest and prophets, had brought it on themselves by their behaviour to observe the covenant.
(Shin) The youth and the old man,
Lie on the ground in the streets,
My virgins and my young men,
Are fallen by the sword.
You have slain them in the day of your anger,
You have slaughtered, and not pitied.
But the cry is unavailing. Both youth and old man lie dead in the streets. The virgins and young men of the city lie slain by the sword. For YHWH has slain them in the day of His anger, and shown no pity. He has allowed the invaders free rein. It is a reminder to all that one day God’s patience will run out.
(Tau) You have summoned (called), as in the day of a solemn assembly,
My terrors on every side,
And there was none who escaped or remained,
In the day of YHWH’s anger,
Those who I have dandled and brought up,
Have my enemy consumed.
For it is YHWH Himself Who, as though He was calling them to a festival, has summoned the terrors that have come upon them, so that none have escaped or remained. It is the day of His anger, something which is the theme of the lament. The contrast between the normal summons to a joyful feast, and the summoning of ‘terrors on every side’ is striking.
‘My terrors on every side’ is a typical Jeremaic description (Jeremiah 6:25; Jeremiah 20:3; Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 46:25; Jeremiah 49:29), the ‘my’ referring to Jerusalem. And Jerusalem goes on to complain because those whom it had dandled on its knees had been consumed by its enemy. Note how the chapter which commenced with a series of references to YHWH’s anger now ends on the same note. The whole chapter is expressing the fact of YHWH’s anger against Jerusalem, and against His people, because of their extremes of idolatry and continuing disobedience of His commandments.