Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Lamentations 4

Verses 1-22

Lamentations 4. The Fourth Lament.—This has less literary finish than Lamentations 4:3, and it has also less spiritual value. It lacks much of the saints whom one seems to see in Lamentations 4:1, and we miss the love of worship that appears to be breathed in 2. The keenest pang felt in this fourth chant is in behalf of the suffering king of Judah. If we are right in thinking that it dates from about 60 B.C., then we may say that it was penned by a Sadducee, some strong supporter of the Maccabean, or new "David" dynasty. Hence we may explain the bitter spite which at the close it flings at the Edomites, or Idumeans, the Herods who displaced the Maccabeans, having got their power by base trafficking with the Romans. In versification the chant is of its own sort. It is in pentameters, as in Lamentations 4:1, Lamentations 4:2, and Lamentations 4:3; but the stanzas have only two lines each, while the others had always three. It is an alphabetic acrostic, as before; and while the characteristic letter stands at the beginning of the first line only, yet in the second or Beth stanza, with a Beth as initial of its first line, the initial of the second line is an Aleph, and the initial of the second line of the third or Gimel stanza is a Beth. The scholastic writer seems to have been trying to invent a new feature: he does not, however, persist in it very far. Again, the Pe stanza (Lamentations 4:16) is set before the Ayin (Lamentations 4:17) as in chs. 2 and 3: perhaps it was the same writer that composed all three, and the order of these letters may have been a dialectical peculiarity of his home region.

The chant is one long wail for Zion, with a short parenthesis (Lamentations 4:13-16) laying the blame of all the woes upon prophets and such priests as are of the prophetic party. This would agree with the theory of authorship by a Sadducee or courtier, for these Sadducees disliked the prophets. The song bewails one class of the people after another: in Lamentations 4:1-4, mothers are starving, and are deserting their children as the ostrich deserts its eggs; in Lamentations 4:5 f. the ruin of the nobles has been more sudden and awful than that of Sodom, where there was not time to writhe the hands before death silenced all; Lamentations 4:7-10, the princes, once all beauty, are now all defaced. It were better to be stabbed to death than to starve. In Lamentations 4:10 the second reference to mothers who are eating their children may mean that even princesses are doing this. Then Lamentations 4:11 f. laments Yahweh's fury and His act of bringing enemies into Zion, as too strange a thing for anyone in all the world to believe. The parenthesis (Lamentations 4:13-16) blaming prophets and priests, looks on these as moral lepers, filthy beyond any pity: it is some comfort that it is Yahweh Himself who sends them wandering out and away as pariahs. In Lamentations 4:16 is an interesting use of "the Face of Yahweh" (mg.) as a substitute for "Yahweh" Himself: this was very common in the later days.

Lamentations 4:17-20 recounts the sorry tale of the expected help, which never came. Just so was Aristobulus treated by the Romans. The song tells how the desired cohorts became the most cruel destroyers: "they have spied our every footstep, and, swifter than eagles, they have hunted us into the mountains." This seems like an allusion to the Roman standards. And "These, these," cries the singer, "drove our dearest one, our hope, our King, the Anointed of Yahweh out into the Idumean wilds to be caught in their snares." Just thus does Josephus tell us that Aristobulus trusted Edom for protection: but there he was trapped, for Edom was in league with his foes (see Josephus, Ant. xiv. 1-3). The use of the word "Anointed" for the king of Judah suggests a late date: the term is scarcely used in the earlier literature. In late Pss. it becomes very common. Note also that the writer would probably avoid using the word "king," lest the Roman rulers should be jealous of such a seeming aim at setting up an independent royalty. A fierce curse on Edom (i.e. Idumea) closes the Lament; and this is sharpened to the utmost by the claim that the sin of Judah shall be altogether forgotten, when it is seen contrasted with the sad baseness of Idumea. In Lamentations 4:21 there is a word too many: omit "the land of," rather than (with LXX) "Uz."

Ere we leave the chant, let us notice that the customary translations in AV, RV, etc., miss the fine shadings which Heb. writers could put into their verb-forms: so Lamentations 4:1 should be "How is gold going to grow dim? Even fine gold shall be dimmed!" The writer was expecting worse things than he had yet seen.

Lamentations 4:9 should run, "Well off were those who were stabbed with the sword: better off than those stabbed by hunger. For they were going to pine away, riddled through and through." On the other hand, events that are actually past are meant in Lamentations 4:22, "Thy waywardness is complete (done with), O Judah; but He has now also looked in on thy waywardness, O Edom; He has uncovered whatever hid thy faults."

Finally, this singer (a Hasmonean courtier, shall we say?) or this Sadducee is scarcely a saint; nor is he quite one of the ordinary people. He has a deep sorrow for the governmental troubles of Judah; and, having seen much past evil, he fears that much more is to come. He clings to the old faith that David shall never lack a true successor to sit upon his throne. He hungers for this token of Yahweh's promised, trysted Presence: he expects it in spite of all the woe. He too is waiting for the Consolation of Israel. But would he trust Him who came?

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Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Lamentations 4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". 1919.