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THE MISERIES OF JERUSALEM
EXEGETICAL NOTES.—This elegy may be divided into two chief parts. The first, Lamentations 1:1-25.1.11, exhibits the mournful condition of an unnamed city, overtaken by various calamities, with a break, at Lamentations 1:9; Lamentations 1:11, by an ejaculatory appeal to Jehovah. The second, Lamentations 1:12-25.1.22, contains a bitter complaint from the city herself, or rather from the city personified by a sufferer.
Lamentations 1:1-25.1.2 present the city as she is in sharp contrast with what she was, and as an object of deep distress, on account of her sins and their penalties. The verses have a pictorial illustration in the medal struck by the Roman Emperor Titus in commemoration of the capture of Jerusalem (A.D. 71).
(א) Lamentations 1:1. How, not in interrogation, but in surprise and pain. This particle is unnecessarily inserted twice in the Authorised Version. It is not again employed in the Hebrew of the book, except in chaps. Lamentations 2:1 and Lamentations 4:1-25.4.2, sitteth alone, in a posture of overpowering sorrow rather than of utter isolation, like Nehemiah, who, when he heard of the doleful state of Jerusalem, sat down and wept and mourned (Lamentations 1:4), the city = Jerusalem, as following verses prove. The fact that the Chaldean captain left of the poor of the people, which had nothing, in the land of Judah (Jeremiah 39:10) suggests that a few waifs and strays might be still banging round the ruined city, while the reference (chap. Lamentations 2:10) to the elders of the daughter of Zion may intimate that some of better means were also with them; that was full of people. No known criterion exists by which to estimate the population of ancient Jerusalem. An approximate guess even cannot be made from the perfunctory census taken in David’s reign. She is become as a widow, forsaken and under the reproach of widowhood, seeing that she is not in communion with the Lord, her Maker; but still she is not quite a widow; there is to be a restoration, because for a small moment have I forsaken thee … saith the Lord thy Redeemer (Isaiah 54:6); that was great among the nations, respected and powerful; a princess over the provinces. The dominion centered in Jerusalem is illustrated by the letter of Artaxerxes to his subordinates, There have been mighty kings over Jerusalem, which have ruled over all the country beyond the river; and tribute, custom, and toll was paid unto them (Ezra 4:20). This jurisdiction over dependent peoples was at its height in the reigns of David and Solomon, though after them there were also kings whose rule embraced others beside the Jews. In sad contrast she is become a vassal, generally shown by taskwork, not so often by money-payment, and expressing entire subservience.
(ב) Lamentations 1:2. Intense grief overwhelms her, She weeps bitterly in the night; no temporary oblivion comes to her; the silent hours pass with her tears on her cheeks. For her there is no comforter among all her lovers; all her friends, or neighbours, have dealt treacherously with her. The Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them (Ezekiel 23:23), were alienated from her, while Egypt, Amnion, Edom, Moab, disowned their alliance with her: they are become her enemies, and gloat over her downfall (2 Kings 24:2).
Grief for a Ruined City
There is a fine piece of statuary representing the figure of a Hebrew female in a sitting posture, the head and shoulders slightly bent forward, the hair escaping in disordered tresses from the neatly plaited fillets, the arms, carelessly crossed over each other, resting helplessly in her lap, the eyes, moistened with tears, gazing wistfully on the ground, and the face expressing in every feature the tenderest pathos of sorrow. The whole figure seems to quiver with irrepressible emotion. Every part is moulded with voluptuous grace, and is susceptible of the deepest passion, but it is the passion of an inconsolable grief! The genius of the artist has thus sought to idealise unhappy Judah weeping amid the scattered fragments of national ruin. It is a reproduction, by the art of the nineteenth century, of the same sad image that appeared on the well-known medal of Titus, struck to celebrate his triumph over Jerusalem—a woman sitting weeping beneath a palm-tree, and below is inscribed the legend Judea capta. It is startling to observe how exactly the heathen conqueror copied the poetic description by Jeremiah of the forlorn condition to which his beloved country was reduced. These words describe a pathetic picture of grief for a ruined city.
I. Because of its utter desolation. “How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people” (Lamentations 1:1) There is a tradition that Jeremiah wrote these elegies in a grotto that is still shown, situated in the face of a rocky hill on the western side of Jerusalem; and there is a freshness and versatility in the images employed, as if every time he glanced at the ruins of the ill-fated city, full in his view, he was unable to repress a new outburst of grief. He had seen Jerusalem in prosperity, its Temple thronged with worshippers, its commerce flourishing, its people content and joyous; but now all is changed; the market-place is empty, the streets silent, the princes and people in exile, and the Temple, which the Jew fondly dreamed invulnerable, was a heap of ruins. Such desolation was unparalleled in the history of the nation and in the experience of the prophet, and his heart was riven with anguish. We may read about the decay of great cities without emotion; but to witness the demolition of our own city is a different matter.
II. Because of the loss of its beloved chief. “How is she become as a widow!” (Lamentations 1:1). A city is often described as the mother of its inhabitants, the king as husband, the princes as children. When the king is gone, and not even a representative is left, the city is widowed and orphaned indeed. The condition of an Eastern widow is pitiable. Her hair is cut short, she strips off all her ornaments, eats the coarsest food, fasts often, and is all but an outcast in the family of her late husband. The image employed by the prophet would therefore be painfully suggestive to the Jewish mind.
III. Because of its humiliating subjection. “She that was great among the nations and princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary?” (Lamentations 1:1). The older meaning of the word tributary refers not to a money-payment, but to personal labour (Joshua 16:10). The city that ruled from the Nile to the Euphrates is now reduced to slavery, and the few inhabitants who are left must render bond-service to a heathen potentate. It is galling to a once proud and prosperous people to be thus humiliated. They who will not serve God faithfully must be compelled to serve their enemies.
IV. Because of its being cruelly betrayed. “Among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they have become her enemies” (Lamentations 1:2). Her allies, who made great protestations of attachment when all was prosperous, not only forsake her when adversity comes, but unite with her enemies in completing her destruction. It is a bitter irony of human professions when love turns to enmity and friendship to treachery. “A loose tooth and a fickle friend are two evils.” The sooner we are clear of them the better; but who likes the wrench? If we lose the comfort of God, we are not likely to find help in man. We can trust in no one if we cannot trust in God.
V. Is expressed with irresistible pathos. “She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks” (Lamentations 1:2). It was a fine touch of poetic genius when the prophet selected a sorrowful woman as an emblem of a disconsolate city. Woman is never so fascinating, so tender, so bewitchingly irresistible in commanding sympathy as when she is in tears! The hardest heart is melted, the sternest enemy subdued. The sorrow of Judah was overwhelming because the ruin was so unexpected and unparalleled. No city has been wept over like Jerusalem. The melancholy wail has been prolonged through the centuries, and is reproduced to-day. The Lamentations are still read yearly by the Jews to commemorate the burning of the Temple. Every Friday, Israelites young and old, of both sexes, gather at the wailing place in Jerusalem, where a few of the old stones of the Temple still remain in the wall, and, amid tears, recite these sad verses and suitable psalms, as they fervently kiss the stones. On the 9th of the month Ab, nearly our July, this dirge, composed about 600 years before Christ, is read aloud in every synagogue over the world. Weeping is not repentance; but the tears of the contrite do not flow in vain. They are noted in heaven, and God will help.
1. The ruin of a once prosperous city is a sad and suggestive spectacle.
2. The miseries of others should rouse our compassion.
3. The greatest grief finds relief in tears.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 1:1. “How doth the city sit solitary that was full of people.” A populous city.
1. A busy scene of activity, gaiety, sin, sorrow, and complicated experiences.
2. Produces a strange sensation upon the belated visitor when it is hushed in the silence of sleep.
3. Its ruin a subject of profound sorrow and suggestive reflections to one who has known it in the flood-tide of its prosperity.
—“How has she become as a widow, she that was great among the nations.” Widowhood.
1. Suggestive of loss—loss of happiness, solace, guardianship, affection.
2. Implies loneliness, dejection, sorrow.
3. A painful experience when contrasted with a former state of affluence and grandeur.
—“Princes among the provinces, how is she become tributary.” The strange reverses of fortune.
1. The ruler becomes the ruled.
2. The free are the conquered:
3. Wealth exchanged for poverty.
4. Life dependent on abject submission to those who were once our inferiors.
Lamentations 1:2. “She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks.” The pathos of tears.
1. A sublime spectacle in the ideal woman.
2. An evidence of profound sorrow.
3. Gathers its significance from the character of the calamity it bewails
4. A merciful relief to an intensely sensitive nature.
—“All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they are become her enemies.” The fickleness of human friendships. I. Genuine friends are rare. They may usually be counted on a thumb and finger; the one is the wife or husband, the other is the mother, who is father, mother, and a great deal more. There is no folly so fanatical as that which flings away a real friend. II. Friends are plentiful when we do not need their help. They depend on us more than ever we had occasion to depend on them. While we can help them, their friendship is effusive and their vows of fealty emphatic. When our power declines, so does their attachment: when our circumstances alter, so do they. They are swallow friends, fluttering merrily about us in the summertime of prosperity, but suddenly become invisible when the winter of adversity sets in. III. It is a sad proof of the perversity of human nature when a friend is transformed into an enemy. The enmity is often the more rancorous because of the intimacy of a former friendship. The secrets confided in a moment of familiarity are used against us with a studied ingenuity of irritating spitefulness. It is a painful shock to an unsophisticated youth, and leaves a wound that time cannot heal, when he discovers for the first time the base treachery of a pretended friend.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Mutual sympathy in sorrow. When Henry VII. heard of the sudden death of his son Prince Arthur at Ludlow Castle in 1502, he said, “Send some one for the Queen; let me bear this grief with her.” She came and did her best to comfort him. She then retired to her own room, was overwhelmed with sorrow, and swooned away. It was now his turn to cheer and comfort. On both sides it was, “Let me bear this grief with her,” and, “Let me bear this grief with him.” And thus in their retreat at Greenwich the King and Queen of England mourned in silence for the loss of their first-born son.
—It is the weeping cloud that blesses the earth.
Grief useless that does not lead to active help. We are sorry (for the English are a kind-hearted people) for the victims of our luxury and neglect; sorry for the thousands whom we let die every year by preventible diseases, because we are either too busy or too comfortable to save their lives; sorry for the savages whom we exterminate by no deliberate intent, but by the mere weight of our heavy footstep; sorry for the thousands who are used up yearly in certain trades in ministering to our comfort, even to our very luxuries and frivolities; sorry for the Sheffield grinders, who go to work as to certain death; sorry for the people whose lower jaws decay away in lucifermatch factories; sorry for the diseases of artificial flower-makers; sorry for the boys working in glass-houses whole days and nights on end without rest, “labouring in the very fire, and wearying themselves with weary vanity.” We are sorry for them all, as the giant is for the worm on which he treads. Alas! poor worm. But the giant must walk on. He is necessary to the universe, and the worm is not. So we are sorry, for half an hour, and glad too (for we are a kind-hearted people) to hear that charitable persons or the Government are going to do something towards alleviating these miseries. And then we return, too many of us, each to his own ambition, comforting ourselves with the thought that we did not make the world, and we are not responsible for it.—C. Kingsley.
The All-seeing God and the lonely. God sees you always. There is no moment when He does not see you, night or day, waking or sleeping, alone or in company. It is told of Linnæus, the famous naturalist, that he was greatly impressed with this thought, and that it told upon his conversation, his writings, and his conduct. He felt the importance of this so much, that he wrote over the door of his study the Latin words, Innocui vivite; Numen ad est. “Live innocently; God is here!”
Christianity relieves the miseries of great cities. Look at those noble buildings which the generosity of our fellow-countrymen have erected in all our great cities. You may truly find in them sermons in stones; sermons for rich and poor alike. They preach to the rich, these hospitals, that the sick-bed levels all alike; that they are the equals and brothers of the poor in the terrible liability to suffer. They preach to the poor that they are, through Christianity, the equals of the rich in their means and opportunities of cure. Whether the founders so intended or not, these hospitals bear direct witness for Christ. They do this, and would do it even if—which God forbid!—the name of Christ was never mentioned within their walls. That may seem a paradox, but it is none; for it is a historic fact that hospitals are the creation of Christian times and of Christian men. The heathen knew them not. In the great city of ancient Rome, as far as I have been able to discover, there was not a single hospital, not even a single charitable institution. Fearful thought! A city of a million and a half inhabitants, the centre of human civilisation, and not an hospital there! The Roman Dives paid his physician; the Roman Lazarus literally lay at his gates full of sores, till he died the death of the street dogs which licked those sores, and was carried forth to be thrust under ground awhile, till the same dogs came to quarrel over his bones. The misery and helplessness of the lower classes in the great city of the Roman Empire, till the Church of Christ arose literally with healing in its wings, cannot, I believe, be exaggerated.—C. Kingsley.
—When you hear a man praising “the good old times,” ask him how the peasantry were then sheltered and fed.
The power of tears. A young lady once visited a lunatic asylum, and was led into a room where there was but one patient, a young girl of the same age as herself. She was standing in the corner of the room, her face almost touching the wall. In stony hopelessness she stood. She neither looked nor spoke. She might have been dead but that she still stood on. It was a pathetic sight. “Will you speak to her?” asked the doctor; “we can do nothing with her. She has been thus for days; but one like yourself might move her.” The young lady stepped forward, and, with an upward cry for Divine help, laid her hand gently on the shoulder of the listless form, and with tears in her eyes spoke one sentence of yearning sympathy and compassion. The spell was broken. The poor patient turned, gazed for a moment on the face of the weeping visitor, and then burst into tears! The doctor exclaimed, “Thank God, she may now be saved!” The visitor could never recall the words she had used; but, with the voice softened with tears, they had done their work. The still and cold indifference of the patient gave way before the warmth of a pitying heart and the magic touch of a hand stretched out to help. The eloquence of tears is irresistible.
The friends of youth: Where are they?
“I sought you, friends of youth, in sun and shade,
By home and hearth; but no! ye were not there.
Where are ye gone, beloved ones, where? I said.
I listened, and an echo answered, Where?
Then silence fell around: upon a tomb
I sat me down, dismayed at death, and wept;
Over my senses fell a cloud of gloom;
They sank before the mystery, and I slept.
I slept, and then before my eyes there pressed
Faces that showed a bliss unknown before;
The loved whom I in life had once possessed
Came one by one, till all were there once more.
A light of nobler worlds was round their head;
A glow of better actions made them fair.
‘The dead are there,’ triumphantly I said;
Triumphantly the echo answered, ‘There’!”
(ג) Lamentations 1:3. Judah, the population of the whole territory, with that of Jerusalem, is taken into exile, a subjugated, impoverished remnant being left. From affliction, the same expression occurs in Exodus 3:17 and Psalms 108:4, and from much servitude, not, as might seem intimated by the Authorised Version and Revised Version, that the Jews were led into captivity because of the manumitted Hebrew servants being again subjected to bondage by their richer brethren (Jeremiah 34:8-24.34.12); not that the Jews fled as voluntary emigrants to escape the oppression of conquerors; but that, from the low depth of misery into which they had been brought by the invasions and exactions of foreign powers, from months of faction and coercion and famine, they were taken into the lower depth of being made captives. In Babylon, in the centre of old world civilisation, with its traffic and magnificence, she has not found rest. Nebuchadnezzar employed “them upon those large works of irrigation and the building of cities, for which his ambition required labourers, just where they were forced to share and contribute to Babylonian life.” Thou didst show them no mercy; upon the aged hast thou very heavily laid thy yoke (Isaiah 48:6). All her pursuers have overtaken her between the straits; they laid affliction upon her when she was already pressed in by trouble; hit her when she was down.
THE JUDGMENT OF OPPRESSION
I. The oppressor is in turn oppressed. “Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction and because of great servitude.” The prophet would probably have in view the circumstances narrated in Jeremiah 34:0, where the Jewish princes and people were threatened with captivity, because, in violation of the law, they withdrew the grant of liberty made to their servants, and reduced them to their former servitude, aggravated with increased exactions. It is an oft-repeated charge against the Jews that they robbed and oppressed their own countrymen; and the day came when they were robbed and oppressed by their powerful conquerors. It is a cruel abuse of power when it is used to injure the helpless. Every act of wrong-doing carries within it the germ of future recompense. The boomerang rebounds towards the man who threw it.
II. The judgment is constant. “She dwelleth among the heathen; she findeth no rest.” The endless and impossible tasks imposed on others are now allotted to the oppressors. There is no prospect of release—they dwell among the heathen; no prospect of abatement—they find no rest. Judgment knows nothing of pity: while the sinner remains obdurate, its mission is to punish. There is no change in the punishment until there is a moral change in the offender. Divine mercy alone can break the entail of suffering, and that can be effected only by satisfying the claims of justice.
III. The judgment cannot be evaded by flight. “All her persecutors over took her between the straits.” Zedekiah and the princes of Judah strove to escape from besieged Jerusalem, but the wary Chaldeans pursued and captured them (Jeremiah 52:7-24.52.8). The people fled to the mountain passes, but they were there confronted by the enemy, and flight was impossible. Like hunted deer, whichever way they turned, they found themselves within the toils of the invaders. The conquerors held them as in a grip of steel. The day came when the Chaldeans were similarly helpless in the hands of a superior force. Judgment perpetually dogs the heel of the oppressor, and every possible avenue of escape is carefully guarded. Oppression is the attempt of an imperious will to have its own way, and it does not answer. “Not thy will but mine be done,” changed Paradise into a desert. “Not My will but Thine be done,” changed the desert into Paradise, and made Gethsemane the gate of glory.
1. Oppression is a short-sighted policy.
2. The spoils gained by oppression are worthless.
3. The law of retribution is always at work.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 1:3. “Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction and great servitude.” A time of trouble.
1. Should induce careful self-examination.
2. Should lead us to reflect whether we have caused trouble to others.
3. Is a call to repentance and moral reform.
—“She dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest.” The changes of life.
1. Often bring us into the midst of strange, unfriendly associations.
2. Interfere with growth in personal piety.
3. Disturb the soul’s peace.
—“All her persecutors overtook her between the straits.” The spirit of persecution.
1. Instigated by hatred to the good.
2. Is vigilant and active in its cruel pursuits.
3. Takes advantage of the helplessness of its victims.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—The oppressor punished. There is an Eastern fable that a wicked and oppressive king was once kissed on either shoulder by the Evil One. Immediately there sprang therefrom two serpents, who, furious with hunger, attacked the man and strove to eat into his brain. The terrified king tried to tear them away and cast them from him, when, to his horror, he found they had become part of himself. So is it with those who yield to anger or any other evil passion. The man who tyrannises over others becomes by and by the victim of his own tyrannical temper, and all efforts to deliver himself are in vain; it has become a part of himself. Wrong-doing carries with it its own punishment. In its earlier stages we fancy it will be easy at any time to do right; but when we try, we are helpless.
The oppressor a selfish man.
“He pours no cordial in the wounds of pain;
Unlocks no prison, and unclasps no chain.
His heart is like the rock, where sun nor dew
Can rear one plant, or flower of heavenly hue.
No thought of mercy there may have its birth,
For helpless misery or suffering worth.
The end of all his life is paltry pelf,
And all his thoughts are centred on himself.
The wretch of both worlds; for so mean a sum,
First starved in this, then damned in that to come!”
A time of trouble. If God brings us into difficulties, we may be sure He will bring us out again; but no such confidence should be ours if we bring ourselves into them.
Trouble and the way out. An expedition started from Buenos Ayres to explore the Pilcomayo River, South America, with the view of establishing a water communication between the Argentine Republic and Bolivia. For the first fortnight the explorers made fair progress, but after that the navigation was difficult and slow, it being necessary to construct dams across the river below their vessel and wait till the water accumulated sufficiently to float it. At length they could proceed no farther, and remained in the same position for months. Having exhausted all their provisions, and their efforts at foraging proving unsuccessful, they daily expected the arrival of a relief party, and were daily disappointed. When they were wasting with famine and had given up all hope, they were surprised one morning by hearing a bugle blast, and knew they were saved. Only those who have been in extremity can realise how exquisite is the joy of sudden and unexpected rescue.—The Scottish Pulpit.
The changes of life. A mill-owner was obliged to dismiss several of his hands. Among them was a man whose faith and trust in God always led him to say, “The Lord will provide.” One day when he had eaten his last morsel of food, and his faith was tried to the utmost, some street-boys, opening his door, flung in a dead raven, shouting mockingly, “The Lord will provide.” He quietly took up the dead bird and tenderly stroked its plumage. Suddenly he felt something hard in the crop of the bird, and wondering what it was, he took a knife and opened it. To his amazement he found there a gold chain. He felt here was God providing for him and his family. He went straight to a jeweller, telling his story, and asked if he would buy it. The jeweller saw it to be a chain of great value, with initials on it, and said, “If you could learn the name of the owner, would you return it?” “Certainly,” replied the workman. “Well then,” said the jeweller, “it belongs to your late master.” Hearing that, the man set off without delay and put the chain into his master’s hands, who received it with great joy, as he had on missing it accused one of his servants of theft. Greatly struck with his workman’s honesty, he told him he wished him to return to his employment, as he could not part with so honest a man. In the most trying changes of life it is best to do what is right.
Persecution. A sensation was caused in Hungary by a certain Count, a large landed proprietor, giving orders that thenceforth no Protestant was to be engaged in the service of his estate, and that Protestants already employed were disqualified from any further promotion. Any officials who married Protestants were to be at once dismissed. This high-handed procedure was the more remarkable as religious toleration was recognised as a supreme political and social principle, there being already eight different Christian denominations. Persecution and bigotry are weeds difficult to eradicate, and there is no knowing into what eccentric and tyrannical forms they may develop.—The Scottish Pulpit.
God the Helper of the persecuted. Have faith, O you who suffer for the noble cause, the apostles of a truth which the world of to-day comprehends not, warriors in the sacred fight whom it yet stigmatises with the name of rebels. To-morrow victory will bless the banner of your crusade. Walk in faith and fear not. That which Christ has done, humanity may do. Believe, and you will conquer. Action is the word of God; thought alone is but His shadow. They who disjoin thought and action seek to divide Deity, and deny the Eternal unity. They who are not ready to bear witness to their faith with their blood are no true believers. From your cross of sorrow and persecution proclaim the religion of the epoch. Soon shall it receive the consecration of faith. From our cross of misery and persecution we men of exile, the representatives of heart and faith of the enslaved races, of millions of men constrained to silence, will respond to your appeal, and say to our brothers, The alliance is founded. Answer your persecutors with the formula, God and the people. They may rebel and blaspheme against it for a while, but it will be accepted and worshipped by the peoples.—Mazzini.
The spirit of persecution inexorable. A poor Anabaptist, guilty of no crime but his fellowship with a persecuted sect, had been condemned to death. He had made his escape, closely pursued by an officer of justice, across a frozen lake. It was late in the winter, and the ice had become unsound. It trembled and cracked beneath his footsteps, but he reached the shore in safety. The officer was not so fortunate. The ice gave way beneath him, and he sank into the lake uttering a cry for succour. There were none to hear him except the fugitive whom he had been hunting. Dirk Willemzoon, for so was the Anabaptist called, instinctively obeyed the dictates of a generous nature, returned, crossed the quaking and dangerous ice at the peril of his life, extended his hand to the enemy, and saved him from certain death. Unfortunately for human nature, it cannot be added that the generosity of the action was met by a corresponding heroism. The officer was desirous, it is true, of avoiding the responsibility of sacrificing the preserver of his life, but the burgomaster of Asperen sternly reminded him to remember his oath. He accordingly arrested the fugitive, who, in the month of May following, was burned to death under the most lingering tortures.—Motley’s “Dutch Republic.”
(ד) Lamentations 1:4 introduces another view personifying the religious condition: not the banished people, not the fallen city, but the dwelling-place of the Holy One of Israel is forsaken and overthrown. The ways of Zion, not the streets in Jerusalem leading up to the Temple, but the roads from all quarters of the land, which found their termini in the Holy hill, are mournful, for they are entirely deserted; being without those who go to a solemn assembly, none come to appear before the Lord in His courts at set times, as He had enjoined His worshippers to do; all her gates, which Jehovah loveth, are desolate, broken down; no one goes up to or lingers about them. The Temple has lost its sanctity and is open to all intruders. The glory has departed from it: her priests are sighing; her virgins are afflicted. “The reason why the priests and the virgins are here conjoined is that lamentation is made over the cessation of the religious feasts. The virgins are here considered as those who enlivened the national festivals by playing, singing, and dancing (Psalms 68:26; Jeremiah 31:13)” (Keil). And she is in bitterness herself, as if all was lost religiously as well as politically.
LAMENTATION OVER A FORSAKEN SANCTUARY
I. Because its thoroughfares are no longer thronged with worshippers. “The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts; all her gates are desolate.” Those were happy days when the roads leading up to Jerusalem were crowded with eager worshippers, coming to the three great annual festivals—the Passover, Pentecost, and Feast of Tabernacles. The city was jubilant in song, and full to overflowing with life and movement. Now the very roads are represented as mourning, as if they missed the tread of the pilgrims’ feet; and the gates look in vain for the travellers they had so often welcomed. “All her gates are desolate.”
It is a dispiriting spectacle to see a closed sanctuary, with weeds and grasses growing about the entrance; the more so when we have seen the same sanctuary filled with delighted worshippers. When men forsake the house of God, God forsakes it too, and it is then desolate indeed.
II. Because the office of the ministry is obsolete. “Her priests sigh”—sigh not only for want of bread, because the offerings, which were their means of livelihood, fail; but because their life-work is useless, because the people lapse into ignorance and sin, because the worship of Jehovah is neglected and dishonoured. The true minister is wholly consecrated to his sacred calling; it is the theme of his earnest prayers, his constant study, and exercises his best powers. Life to him is bereft of its holiest motive, its sweetest relish, when it is baulked of its loftiest purpose. “It is time to sigh when the priests, the Lord’s ministers, sigh.”
III. Because the training of the young is neglected. “Her virgins are afflicted.” The virgins are mentioned because they took a prominent part in all religious festivals (Jeremiah 31:13; Exodus 15:20; Psalms 68:25); and therefore special notice is taken of the educative loss to them occasioned by disused ordinances. Neglect in the religious training of the young means grave peril to the moral stamina of the community. Religion is the mightiest force in the formation of youthful character. The men and women of the future will be what the Church makes them in their younger years. It has been said—“People fancy that we cannot become wise without becoming old also; but in truth, as years accumulate, it is hard to keep as wise as we were. Man becomes, in the different stages of his life, a different being, but he cannot say that he will surely be better as he grows onwards. In certain matters he is as likely to be right in his twentieth as in his sixtieth year.” The young will carry with them through life the influences for good or evil that have been brought to bear upon them in their early days.
IV. Because the city is deprived of religious ordinances. “And she is in bitterness.” It is a beautiful and touching conception to impersonate the metropolis of Judah as a disconsolate female, troubled with the evident cessation of Divine worship and the universal neglect of religious duties. As is the Church, so will be the city; as is the state of religion, so will be the people. The glory of a city is gone when religious ordinances are abandoned. No loss should be lamented more bitterly than the loss of religion.
1. A closed temple anywhere is a pitiable sight.
2. Where religious privileges are withdrawn the people suffer.
3. Love of worship will always crowd the sanctuary.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 1:4. “Her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted.” A dispirited ministry.
1. Because the sanctuary is destroyed.
2. Because the worshippers are scattered and uncared for.
3. Because its maintenance is withdrawn.
4. Because the joyous song of the young is turned to sorrow. “Her virgins are afflicted.”
5. Because of conscious imperfections and unfaithfulness.
—“She is in bitterness.” A city in sorrow.
1. Because its reputation is dishonoured.
2. Because its resources are crippled, its people dispersed, its commerce interrupted, its institutions destroyed.
3. Because the public worship of God is abandoned.
4. Because its future seems hopeless.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Dead and dying Churches. A barque on her voyage from Hong-Kong fell in with a British ship, the “Guiding Star,” helplessly floating about with a fever-stricken crew. When found, only one member of the crew was able to work. The captain, the first mate, the steward, and a seaman had died. Five men were lying helpless, though still alive, and the boatswain had gone mad from the want of proper attention. The “Guiding Star” was towed to Batavia, where the survivors were placed under medical treatment. Are there not Churches to-day that are morally in a similar plight—drifting hospitals, officered with the dead and dying! It will be a mercy if they are spiritually rescued before they become sepulchres, entombing the hopelessly dead.—The Scottish Pulpit.
The true man superior to his surroundings.—The scientist, while admitting the influence of geographical surroundings in shaping the history and character of nations, admits that nothing would be more erroneous than to suppose that Nature alone acts in determining the conditions of life and of races. Man’s activity must be associated with Nature. A country may be prominent and fertile, and yet occupied by a race of men utterly unfit to develop its resources. After all, man is greater than Nature, and it is his lofty mission to subdue it. The energy of the Netherlands turned a swamp into a garden, while their Spanish oppressors, with inexhaustible resources in soil and mineral, sank into decay. We are apt to lay too much stress upon the operation of the law of environment, and to ignore individual responsibility. Plant within man the vital principles of Christianity, and he will soon change his environment.—The Scottish Pulpit.
Ministers not only finger-posts, but guides. There ought to be no hiatus between our declarations and our spiritual conduct. We must not only be finger-posts, but guides, “Lest having preached to others, we ourselves become castaways.”
“The love of Christ and His Apostles twelve
He taught, but first he followed it himself.”
If we are the channels of good to our fellows, it behoves us to clear away all that might impede the flowing, and defile the purity, of the stream of truth from God.
Youth needs instruction. Narcissus, a beautiful youth, though he would not love them that loved him, yet afterwards fell in love with his own shadow. Ah! how many young men in these days, who were once lovely and hopeful, are now fallen in love with their own and others’ shadows, with high, empty, airy notions, and with strange, monstrous speculations, to their own damnation. A youth deprived of instruction and left to his natural development is a pitiable object, and is menaced by many perils.
Work a remedy for misery. Nothing is more remarkable in the Apostles than their unbroken mental health. The histories of religious communities are full of instances of ecstasies and hysterical delusions; but never do we find among our Lord’s followers anything approaching to a spiritual craze. This health of theirs came in great measure from their being constantly employed about matters of which their hearts were full. The busy man has neither time nor inclination to nurse delusive fancies. Hard, honest, practical work is a panacea for many ills. Underneath a fresco of the 13th century discovered at Cortona, in Italy, is inscribed the motto, Sum misero nisi teneam ligonem—I am miserable unless I hold a spade.—The Scottish Pulpit.
The uses of suffering.
“Through long days did Anguish,
And sad nights did Pain
Forge my shield, Endurance,
Bright and free from stain.
Doubt in misty caverns,
’Mid dark horrors sought,
Till my peerless jewel,
Faith, to me she brought.
Sorrow that I wearied
Should remain so long,
Wreathed my starry glory,
The bright crown of song.
Strife, that racked my spirit
Without hope or rest,
Left the blooming flower,
Patience, in my breast.”
Love in sorrow. Always through the darkest part of every life there runs, though we may sometimes fail to see it, the golden thread of love, so that even the worst man on earth is not wholly cut off from God, since He will, by some means or other, eternally try to draw him out of death into life. We are astounded now and then to read that some cold-blooded murderer, some man guilty of a hideous crime, will ask in his last moments to see a child who loved him devotedly, and whom he also loved. We are astonished just because we do not understand the untiring heart of the Almighty Father, who in His goodness often gives to the vilest sinner the love of a pure-hearted woman or child. So true is the beautiful old Latin saying, Mergere nos patitur, sed non submergere Christus—Christ lets us sink, may be, but not drown.—Edna Lyall.
A city in sorrow. In 1576 Antwerp was stormed by the Spaniards with fire and sword. Never was there a more monstrous massacre, even in the blood-stained annals of the Netherlands. In the course of three days eight thousand human beings were murdered. The Spaniards seemed to cast off even the vizard of humanity. Hell seemed emptied of its fiends. Night fell upon the scene before the soldiers were masters of the city; but worse horrors began after the contest was ended. This army of brigands had come thither with a definite, practical purpose, for it was not blood thirst, nor lust, nor revenge which impelled them, but greediness for gold. Torture was employed to discover hidden treasure; and, after all had been given, if the sum seemed too little, the proprietors were brutally punished for their poverty or their supposed dissimulation. Women, children, and old men were killed in countless numbers, and still, through all this havoc, directly over the heads of the struggling throng, suspended in mid-air above the din and smoke of the conflict, there sounded, every half-quarter of every hour, as if in gentle mockery, from the belfry of the cathedral, the tender and melodious chimes.—Motley’s “Dutch Republic.”
(ה) Lamentations 1:5. Her adversaries are become the head, as was threatened if unfaithful to the Lord (Deuteronomy 28:44); her enemies prosper, are in peace, and rest secure, knowing that all resistance is over, so completely has she been crushed. This was brought about not by their might, but because Jehovah has afflicted her for the greatness of her transgressions; and the sufferings befall the most innocent also; her young children have gone captives, the most ominous of all her disasters, driven like a band of the enslaved in Africa, before the adversary.
(ו) Lamentations 1:6. She has not only been harried of her most precious and tender charges, also from the daughter of Zion is departed all her beauty. God Himself, whose Shechinah made Zion the perfection of beauty, no longer shined there; no longer was there a worship of Him in the beauty of holiness, and even her princes are become like harts that do not find pasture; enfeebled by the scanty diet of the close siege, they have lost vigour, and go without strength when chased before the pursuer, so as to be easily caught. This is in evident allusion to the flight and capture of the King and his men of war, within a few miles from Jerusalem, when it was besieged by the Chaldean army (2 Kings 25:3-12.25.5).
(ז) Lamentations 1:7. Again a change of aspect is presented. Already the city ruined, the people exiled, the holy mountain desecrated have been regarded. Now the poet gives the name of the city, which he shrank from pronouncing before, and uses it as a generic, all-embracing term, Jerusalem remembers, adding an item of pungency to her deep sufferings, in the days of her affliction and—a probable meaning of the following word is wanderings, as in margin of Revised Version here. In chap. Lamentations 3:19, where the same word is again employed, the margin gives outcast state as a fresh rendering. That of the Speaker’s Commentary is to be preferred—homelessness, describing the state of the Jews cast out of their homes and driven into banishment; all her pleasant things which were from the days of old. By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. “Sorrow’s crown of sorrow is remembering happier things.” When her people fell into the band of the adversary, and there is no helper to her; the adversaries see her, they sneer at her cessations (desolations in Revised Version). This last Hebrew word occurs only here. Its root means to cease, and so this derivative is applied, as by Plumptre, to “the enforced Sabbaths of untitled land, and the Sabbaths conspicuous for the absence of any religious rites.” This seems far-fetched, except as to the latter part, and this should be considered as but a portion of the Jewish customs which had been discontinued. If Romans derided the Jews for cessation from work on the seventh day of the week, Babylonians would not. They may have mocked at the faith of Israel in the supremacy of Jehovah, seeing they regarded Him as a subjugated national deity; but “it was no subject of wonder to the Babylonians that the Jews celebrated a weekly day of rest, as they had one of their own (sabbatu)”—(Cheyne).
THE TANTALISING INDIFFERENCE OF THE ENEMIES OF THE CHURCH
I. They contentedly enjoy the fruits of their conquest. “Her adversaries are the chief; her enemies prosper.” Her foes have become her masters; her enemies enjoy quiet prosperity—Geikie (Lamentations 1:5). Judea has become so utterly crushed that her conquerors revel in their spoils without fear of resistance, or any attempt at reprisals on the part of the vanquished. If we allow our vices to become our masters, we have the chagrin of seeing them rioting in indulgence while we are powerless to interpose.
II. They have no concern to know the cause of the Church’s calamities. “For the Lord hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (Lamentations 1:5). What of that? It is no concern of theirs to pry into moral causes. The invaders wish to strike a blow at imperious Egypt. Judah stands in the way, and, becoming troublesome, must be crushed. They knew not, nor did they care to know, that they were but instruments in the hands of a Higher Power to punish a nation for its sins. It was brought home to Judah that her disasters were provoked by her manifold transgressions, and it was an aggravation of her sufferings that her enemies were utterly regardless and apparently ignorant of all this. Had they understood it, they might have shown more pity.
III. They are indifferent to the sufferings they inflict. “Her children are gone into captivity. Her princes have become like harts … without strength before the pursuer” (Lamentations 1:5-25.1.6). The young children are driven before the adversary, not as a flock of lambs which follow the shepherd, but for sale as slaves. The princes are hunted down to exhaustion. In the ancient sculptures nothing is more affecting than the mournful processions so often depicted of tender women and young children driven in gangs as captives before their heartless conquerors. In olden times the treatment of prisoners of war was characterised by the most brutal cruelty. They were regarded as an encumbrance, and were often butchered wholesale to save further trouble. They were subjected to degradations from which death would have been a merciful relief.
IV. They make no allowance for the feelings of the conquered regarding their losses. “From the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed. Jerusalem remembered all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old” (Lamentations 1:6-25.1.7). In the midst of her distress Jerusalem remembered the happiness of former days, when the Temple stood out in all the beauty of its architecture, and as the symbol of holiest worship; when the throne was the centre of imperial power and magnificence; when the land was prosperous, and the people united and content. Now the Temple is shattered past recognition, the most distinguished citizens are in exile, the land is desolate, and the people plunged in misery. But all this is nothing to her enemies; they heed not what their victims have lost; they are more interested in what their conquests have gained.
V. They make sport of the Church’s utter discomfiture. “The adversaries saw her, and did mock at her Sabbaths,” her calamities, her ruined circumstances (Geikie; Henderson). The more literal meaning is her Sabbatisms. Foreigners ridiculed the custom of the Jews in ceasing from labour every seventh day, and attributed their ruin to what appeared to them a strange, fanatical practice. Oh, had those Sabbaths been as faithfully observed in spirit as they were in form, how different would have been the career of Judah! The Church is familiar with the scoffs of unbelievers. While she is true to God, they are powerless to harm. It is when she is conscious of unfaithfulness that they begin to irritate.
1. It is a hard time for the Church when her enemies triumph.
2. God is the refuge of the Church in time of trouble. He is never indifferent to her sufferings.
3. The Church should learn to make the best of prosperous times.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 1:5. “Her adversaries are the chief; her enemies prosper.” New masters:
1. Soon make evident their newly-acquired superiority.
2. Rule with severity when actuated by a spirit of enmity.
3. Enjoy without compunction the prosperity secured by the ruin of others.
—“The Lord afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions.” Sin:
1. Is a transgression of the law of God.
2. Has a tendency to multiply itself.
3. Is a prolific source of trouble.
4. Is punished by the Being against whom it is committed.
Lamentations 1:5-25.1.6. National disaster. I. Involves the suffering of innocent children. “Her children are gone into captivity before the enemy” (Lamentations 1:5). II. Quenches the splendour of its reputation. “From the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed” (Lamentations 1:6). III. Degrades and harasses its most illustrious rulers. “Her princes are become like harts that find no pasture, and they are gone without strength before the pursuer” (Lamentations 1:6).
Lamentations 1:7. Sad memories.
1. When contrasting present miseries with former joys.
2. When reflecting on the suddenness and completeness of our calamities.
3. When mingled with the heartless mockery of the authors of our misfortunes.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Lessons from the world’s treatment. Three men are my friends, He that loves me, he that hates me, and he that is indifferent to me. Who loves me teaches me tenderness; who hates me teaches me caution; who is indifferent to me teaches me self-reliance.
Loose talk leads to loose conduct. Indulgence in verbal vices soon encourages corresponding vices in conduct. Let any one talk about any mean or vile practice with familiar tone, and do you suppose, when the opportunity occurs for committing the mean or vile act, he will be as strong against it as before? It is by no means an unknown thing that men of correct lives talk themselves into sensuality, crime, and perdition. Bad language easily runs into bad deeds. Select any iniquity you please, suffer yourself to converse in its dialect, to use its slang, to speak in the character of one who relishes it, and I need not tell you how soon your moral sense will lower down to its level. Becoming intimate with it, you lose your horror of it. To be too much with bad men and in bad places is not only unwholesome to man’s morality, but unfavourable to his faith and trust in God. It is not every man who could live as Lot did in Sodom, and then be fit to go out of it under God’s convoy.—The Christian Commonwealth.
New masters: Tyranny not permanent. By the volcanic eruption among the Tonga group in 1885, a new island was formed. When it was visited a few years after, the soil below the surface was still hot, the temperature at a depth of seven feet being 100° Fahr., while at the surface it was only 74°. With the exception of two young cocoa-nut trees, which seemed not very hardy, there was no vegetation but a few bunches of grass, and a moth and small sandpiper constituted the animal population. It is thought the island will disappear in a few years, as the waves are rapidly wearing the shore-line away. Such has been the history of many a vaunted human tyranny. Its policy was inaugurated with noise and heat, and threatened to revolutionise the existing order. But when it had spent its force and cooled down, it revealed its barrenness, and, worn away with the ever-active waves of time, it at length disappeared.—The Scottish Pulpit.
Sin a poison. What poison one fang of the old serpent will throw into our moral system! Look around and see how many have been poisoned with the desire for strong drink, with lust, with avarice, with pride, with anger, with unbelief. Fiery serpents are among us, and many die of their venom. If we tolerate the least sin, it is a burning drop in the veins of the soul. One touch of the fangs of this serpent will work immeasurable sorrow, even if the soul be saved from death. It is only the power of God that keeps us from being destroyed by this viper. Had he his will, he is a spirit so malignant that no heir of heaven would survive. O God, keep Thine own! Deliver us from the evil one!—C. H. Spurgeon.
Sin defies law. A woman named Guerin, in a rage of jealousy, murdered her unfaithful husband. Going to a villa where she learnt he was living with another woman, she stood at the door and called his name. Hearing her voice, he went out to speak to her, and had scarcely crossed the threshold when she stabbed him in the abdomen. He staggered back into the house, and after a few minutes crawled to the window and said in a feeble voice, “Kiss our child, for all is over.” The recital of this incident in the court in Paris, told as a woman could tell it, and she a principal actor in the scene, and the evidence adduced that Madame Guerin had borne an irreproachable character and was an excellent mother, so moved the jury that they acquitted her without a moment’s hesitation, amid a storm of applause from the public in court. A gush of sentiment disarmed the rigour of the law and choked the voice of vengeance. One wrong does not justify another. But sin defies law and justice, and spreads confusion wherever it reigns.—The Scottish Pulpit.
Avoid the example of the bad. I would desire all young men often to remember the saying of Lactantius, “He who imitates the bad cannot be good.” Young men, in these professing times, stand between good and bad examples, as Hercules in his dream stood between virtue and vice, solicited by both. Choose you must who to follow. Oh, that you were all so wise as to follow the best! Life, heaven, happiness, eternity, hang upon it.
Sad memories. A small boat was picked up one morning on the north shore at Troon. It had the appearance of having broken away from a vessel during a great gale in the Clyde. It is a dangerous moment when a young man breaks away from the happy associations of his early life, whether in church or home. Chafing under restraint, he plunges heedlessly into the wide world in search of a larger liberty. Unaccustomed to self-control, he is swayed by every varying current, drifts out to sea, and is ultimately picked up a partial wreck on some far-off shore. Then it is that he is tormented with painful memories; he sees his folly, and laments his reckless severance from the moral restrictions of a happier time. “It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth.”—The Scottish Pulpit.
Memory and music. Music touches every key of memory, and stirs all the hidden springs of sorrow and joy. We love it for what it makes us forget, and for what it makes us remember.
Beware of melancholy. Never give way to melancholy; resist it steadily, for the habit will encroach. A lady was once given two-and-twenty recipes against melancholy. One was a bright fire, another to remember all the pleasant things said to her, another to keep a box of plums on the mantelpiece and a kettle simmering on the hob. She thought this mere trifling at the moment, but did in after life discover how true it is that these little pleasures often banish melancholy better than higher and more exalted objects, and that no means ought to be thought too trifling which can oppose it either in ourselves or others.
(ח) Lamentations 1:8. Jerusalem has sinned a sin, has broken the law of her God with determinate will, and bears the natural penalty; therefore she is become as an unclean one; not as one who has been removed (Authorised Version) as a captive from her native place, but as one set aside because of impurity. All who honoured her despise her, for they see her nakedness; her evil is laid bare; the very peoples who had respected her, and who had far less knowledge of what was right and true than she, are now alive to the real character of her procedure, and count it shamefully bad. Even Nebuzar-adan, captain of the Babylonian guard, could say, after her overthrow, Because ye have sinned against Jehovah and have not obeyed His voice, therefore this thing is come upon you (Jeremiah 40:3). There was still a sensitiveness of conscience in the ideal Jerusalem; Yea, she sighs and turns backward, moaning, as if conscious of spectators and mortified by her open shame, she is fain to screen herself, “as those in such case would do that have any shamefacedness or spark of ingenuity at all in them.”
(ט) Lamentations 1:9. Her evil is very obvious, her defilement is in her skirts, not below, but manifest on her long flowing robe; she remembers not her latter end; as she continued sinning, she paid no regard to the issue of it all, and, in consequence of this want of forethought, she is come down wonderfully, down to the lowest depth of misery, an astonishment to herself, and to all around her; there is no comforter for her. Her conviction of sin, and shame, and sorrow impels her to go to her God, and she cries, See, O Jehovah, my affliction, for the enemy doth magnify himself, the appeal is supported on two bases:
(1) Her humiliation; and,
(2) The arrogant pretensions of her foes; surely with some vague hope like that of the Psalm-writer, Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou wilt revive me; thou shalt stretch forth thine hand against the wrath of thine enemies, and thy right hand shall save me (Psalms 138:7).
(י) Lamentations 1:10. His hand the adversary stretches out upon all her pleasant things, treasures of all sorts, thus described by Isaiah (Isaiah 64:11-23.64.12), Thy holy cities are become a wilderness, Zion is become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned with fire, and all our pleasant things are laid waste. The plundering of the Temple was the most aggravating of all, for she has seen the nations enter her sanctuary, whom thou didst command that they should not enter into thine assembly; heathens, who were not admissible even into the congregation of the Lord—into religious communion with Israel—had trod the courts which were most holy to Jewish worshippers, and where only priests could legitimately go, and they had pillaged the pleasant vessels of the house of Jehovah, therewith to adorn the shrines of their idol deities.
(כ) Lamentations 1:11. In Lamentations 1:4 the priests sigh; in Lamentations 1:8 Jerusalem sighs, and here one and all, because in addition to the religious collapse, a terrible bodily hunger is universally felt, so all her people are sighing, are seeking bread. This use of participles signifies that both the past and present condition of the people is regarded by the writer. He saw that the scanty meals to which they were reduced when beleaguered by the Chaldean army had not ended after the Temple had been desecrated and despoiled; they had parted and were parting with ornaments, jewellery, every one of their valuables, merely to keep body and soul together; they give their pleasant things for food; after a close siege of eighteen months, preceded by the overrunning of the country, food-supplies must have been all but exhausted; to restore their soul, to bring back life, to those who are drawn unto death (1 Kings 17:21), and spiritually to restore the soul (Psalms 19:8). There is bread of which if any man eat he shall live for ever, given by Him who gave His flesh for the life of the world. Was there any undefinable longing for such bread in the following appeal, similar to that of Lamentations 1:9, but somewhat intensified? See, O Jehovah, and behold, for I am become despised! Would He take away her reproach? Thus a transition is made to the lamentation and supplication of Jerusalem herself in the following half of this elegy.
THE TERRIBLE HAVOC OF SIN
I. In its revolting defilement. “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned, therefore she is removed. Her filthiness is in her skirts” (Lamentations 1:8-25.1.9). The expression “grievously sinned” gives the idea of persistent continuance in wickedness. This condition is not reached all at once. It began in trifling with the first enticements to evil. The entrance to the pathway of sin is gaily decked with flowers, but they are flowers that wither as soon as they are plucked. It is over-hung with tempting fruits, but they are fruits that turn to bitter ashes between the teeth. It is sprinkled with subtle and delicious perfumes, but they are perfumes that distil the poison of the deadliest drug. The air around palpitates with strains of bewitching music, but it is music that lures its charmed victim down the dizzy slopes of irreparable ruin. The allurement may be presented in the shape of a book, a picture, or a whispered word, that suggests more of evil than it actually expresses, and the soul is blotted with a moral stain that rivers of tears cannot wash away. Every act of sin increases the defilement, and it becomes the more exposed.
II. In sinking the soul to a state of abject degradation. “Therefore she came down wonderfully; she had no comforter” (Lamentations 1:9). You have seen the little snowflakes flutter about the railway track like lovely bits of down shook from angelic wings, and you have seen with what ease the proud locomotive scatters the fleecy morsels in the early stages of the storm; but the falling atoms increase with such rapidity and accumulative force, that the panting engine is at length completely mastered, and, utterly exhausted, lies buried fathoms deep beneath the crystal drift. So in the early stages of transgression, the soul deems itself capable of throwing off every little temptation that beguiles, and, when it is too late, discovers itself so completely bound in their toils that all efforts to escape are ineffectual.
1. Sin dishonours the soul in the estimation of others. “All that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness” (Lamentations 1:8). The first step downwards is to sink in the estimation of others. Their commendation sustained us and helped us to keep up to a certain standard of conduct. Others may see the tendency of our sins before we see it ourselves. When others show their disapproval and despise us for our folly, it is time to pause and reflect.
2. Sin dishonours the soul in its own estimation. “Yea, she sigheth and turneth backward” (Lamentations 1:8). It is a lower depth when a man sinks in his own estimation, when he cannot courageously confront others, or even face up his better self. Sin saps the strength of our manhood. To be conscious of sin and ashamed of it are the first hopeful signs of repentance; but if the repentance is not prompt and genuine, the soul is in danger of becoming more thoroughly demoralised. Such a critical moment comes in most men’s lives (Psalms 73:2).
III. In rendering the soul reckless as to consequences. “She remembereth not her last end”—had not thought of the sure end of her sins (Lamentations 1:9). The down grade is steep, and every step increases the momentum of the terrible descent. One sin leads to another, and that to another in darker and deeper gradations, until the light of hope is quenched, and the helpless victim gropes about aimlessly in the ever-deepening gloom of despair. The soul is now and then haunted with the shadow of a coming reckoning day; but it seems a great way off, and may never come. The reckoning day does come.
IV. In its desecration of sacred things (Lamentations 1:10). Even the Jew was prohibited from entering the innermost sanctuary, and now the prophet laments that the heathen conquerors force their way into the holy place and plunder Jehovah’s Temple, that they may adorn with its sacred vessels the shrines of their false deities. It was desecration to enter the sanctuary, and high sacrilege to rob it of its “pleasant things.” Sin knows no respect of persons or places. It obtrudes with shameless effrontery into the holiest place, and is callous as to the havoc it works.
V. In reducing a people to distress and want. “All her people sigh; they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul” (Lamentations 1:11). Famine follows in the train of war. A siege lasting a year and a half exhausted the surrounding country, and the Chaldean army would have difficulty in supplying its own commissariat. In the hope that the present scarcity will pass away, the people dispose of the wealth and precious jewels that remain to them for the merest trifles of food. Sin is the prolific cause of war, famine, and the acutest forms of personal and national suffering. Money is valueless when it can purchase nothing in exchange—it cannot prolong the life of the starving. The best things are capable of the worst abuse. The very abuse may test the value.
VI. Compels the soul to appeal to the Divine compassion. “O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy hath magnified himself” (Lamentations 1:9). “See, O Lord, and consider, for I am become vile.” I am despised (Lamentations 1:11). It is not our vileness that can form a ground of appeal to the Divine consideration, but the abject misery into which our vileness has brought us. God does not pity our sins, but He does pity the distress they occasion, though that distress is the direct result of our obstinate violation of His laws and disregard of His repeated warnings. Suffering is a severe teacher. It is a mercy when the eyes of the sinner are at length opened, and, seeing that his sins are the cause of his trouble, he cries to God for help. Long and patiently does God wait for such a cry; and then with what gracious speed does He hasten to our rescue!
1. Sin demoralises wherever it reigns.
2. Is the occasion of unspeakable suffering.
3. Can be cured only by Divine remedies.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 1:8. “She sigheth and turneth backward.” Conscious sin:
1. A painful humiliation.
2. The first step in genuine repentance.
3. Should induce the soul to seek immediate deliverance.
Lamentations 1:9. “She remembereth not her last end.” The course of sin:
1. Delusive in its beginning.
2. Hardens the transgressor into reckless indifference.
3. Is certain to endin ruin.
—Sin an implacable foe. I. Drags down the soul to comfortless depths. “Wherefore she came down wonderfully; she had no comforter.” II. Exults over the misery of its victims. “The enemy hath magnified himself.” See how proudly the foe deals with me (Geikie). III. Convinces the soul that its only resource is in the Divine pity. “O Lord, behold my affliction.”
Lamentations 1:10. Heathenism a moral obliquity. I. Sees no sin in theft. “The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things.” II. Has no scruples in desecrating the holiest place. “The heathen entered into her sanctuary.” III. Disregards the Divine laws. “Thou didst command that they should not enter into Thy congregation.”
Lamentations 1:11. The extremities of famine. I. A sorrowful craving for food. “All her people sigh; they seek bread.” II. Desperate efforts made to retain life. “To relieve the soul”—to keep them alive. III. The dearest treasures readily sacrificed. “They have given their pleasant things for meat.”
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Sin the danger of great cities. The spiritual destitution of London is something appalling. There are 10,000 prostitutes—a procession a mile long, walking double file—all somebody’s daughters. There are 20,000 thieves—two miles more of that dread procession, and there are 100,000 uncared for children, making the procession ten miles in length. These are what John Bright called the residuum, and Dr. Chalmers the lapsed classes. In their abodes every breath is poison; they are so crowded together that morality is impossible. Such a glimpse of spiritual destitution ought to arouse the heart, not only of every Christian, but of every patriot.
Sin stupifies. Oh, how difficult it is to awake some men to a sense of danger or duty. Happening to be lounging in the market-place of a little seaport town in France, I saw with some surprise several men in a café inhaling the fumes of opium through a tobacco-pipe. By-and-by the wife of one of these men called for her husband to return home in their little market-cart. But he, being in a poisoned slumber, was unconscious of her existence, and oblivious of things about him. She lifted him up and shook him, but he would not awake till the honied-trance stupor was ended. So some of us are steeped in the opium-lethargy of sin, and will not awake. It is not that we cannot; we will not.
Sin a disease. A minister once met a man in the street who was afflicted with heart-disease, and said he could not sleep, and that the doctor could do nothing for him. “Ah!” said the minister, “the worst form of heart-disease is sin. Yet people go about with the disease; they do not know it, and they sleep quite soundly. Now, it is my business to tell them how matters stand, and to try to disturb their sleep, for I can tell them of a physician who can cure them. Have you been to Christ with your sins?” The man was silent, but went away deeply impressed.
Sin and individuality. I remember as though it were yesterday the moment when the idea of individual identity dawned upon my boyish mind. The thought appalled me, for I had been looking at a wretched little beggar-boy with a crutch, a dirty face, and miserable rags for garments, and it had just occurred to me that he was not to himself merely an unpleasant object, to be sent away out of sight with some dole of pennies or broken fragments of food, but just the I that I was to myself, as precious, as important; and I grew cold from head to foot, and felt as though I must do something to alter it all. After all these years the horror abides with me yet. I do not know whether others feel it as keenly, but it is to me worse than any ghost could be to remember the wretched people of the world—the prisoners in their cells, convicts in their chains, men doomed to die upon the gallows at dawn, women who sell their souls for bread or jewels, beggars gnawing their crusts by the roadsides, sufferers whose every breath is agony, wives whose hearts are broken by the cruelty of the husbands who were once their lovers, men who are plotting murder and men who are committing it, lepers in the cities of lepers holding out their mouldering hands for alms as strangers flee by their gates. To remember these, and many, many more, wicked or accursed, crushed beneath loads of crime and sorrow too heavy to be borne, and to know when we clasp our hands or drop a tear, and say with a shudder, as we sometimes do, “And it might have been I: that it actually is I to some one!” It is a terrible thought, and yet we should not set it aside. Surely nothing could prompt us so strongly to do all we can for those who sin or suffer.
Sin a double defect. The verb used oftenest in the New Testament, sin, means literally to miss the mark. The corresponding nouns have, of course, similar meanings. The idea conveyed is deviation from a standard at which men ought to aim, and which they ought to reach. They may miss it by going beyond, as well as by falling short. The moral idea is the same as that of omission and transgression.—The Scottish Pulpit.
The course of sin.
“We are not worst at once. The course of evil
Begins so slowly and from such slight source,
An infant’s hand might stem its breach with clay;
But let the stream get deeper, and philosophy shall strive in vain
To turn the headlong current.”
Sin a foe, but not invincible. It is said that the late Lord Ampthill, when on diplomatic service in Rome, possessed a boa-constrictor, and interested himself in watching its habits. One day the monster escaped from the box where he supposed it was asleep, quietly wound itself around his body, and began gradually to tighten its folds. His position became extremely perilous; but the consummate coolness and self-possession which had enabled him to win many a diplomatic triumph befriended him in this dangerous emergency. He remembered there was a bone in the throat of the serpent which, if he could find and break, he would save himself. He was aware that either he or the snake must perish. Not a moment must be lost in hesitation. He deliberately seized the head of the serpent, thrust his hand down its throat, and smashed the vital bone. The coils were relaxed, the victim fell dead at his feet, and he was free! So in all wickedness there is weakness, and it is a grand thing to discern the vulnerable spot, and be ready with the exact truth, fact, or promise which deals death to the foe. This insight and power are given to all who prayerfully study God’s Word.
Heathen worship a performance. Marcus Varro, the great Roman antiquarian, wrote forty-one books on the Pagan cultus. He speaks of three orders of gods—the certain gods, the uncertain gods, and the chief and select gods. Referring to the worship offered to these various deities, he arranges his material under four divisions—who perform, where they perform, when they perform, what they perform. How true it is that, apart from genuine spiritual religion, all worship, and especially heathen worship, is but a scenic, pantomimic performance!
Light for heathen darkness. The simile “dark as a coal-pit” will soon lose its meaning and become obsolete. A colliery company has abolished the miner’s lamp and lit up one of their pits with electric lamps, placed at intervals of fifteen yards apart. Indeed, the depths of earth and sea arc now to be illuminated. One of the difficulties of the deep-sea diver has been the comparative darkness in which he has had to go about his work at the bottom of the ocean. Now a French engineer has constructed a lamp, supplied with petroleum, which burns as well under water as in the open air. By an ingenious contrivance it can be lighted at the bottom of the sea, and with the aid of its friendly light the diver is enabled to discover his greatest treasures. So the earnest missionary penetrates the dark depths of heathenism, holding the lamp of Divine truth, flaming with the burning love of the world’s Redeemer, and picks up the most degraded victims of idolatry, who, penetrated and refined by the same Divine light that first found them out, shall shine with the lustre of the finest jewels.—The Scottish Pulpit.
The horrors of famine. The besieged city of Leyden was at its last gasp. Bread, malt-cake, horse-flesh, had entirely disappeared; dogs, cats, rats, and other vermin were esteemed luxuries. A small number of cows, kept as long as possible for their milk, still remained; but a few were killed from day to day, and distributed in minute proportions, hardly sufficient to support life among the famishing population. Starving wretches swarmed daily around the shambles where these cattle were slaughtered, contending for any morsel which might fall, and eagerly lapping the blood as it ran along the pavement, while the hides, chopped and boiled, were greedily devoured. Women and children all day long were seen searching gutters and dunghills for morsels of food which they disputed fiercely with the famishing dogs. The green leaves were stripped from the trees, every living herb was converted into human food, but these expedients could not avert starvation. The daily mortality was frightful—infants starved to death on the maternal breasts which famine had parched and withered, mothers dropped dead in the streets with their dead children in their arms. A disorder called the plague, naturally engendered of hardship and famine, now came, as if in kindness, to abridge the agony of the people. The pestilence stalked at noonday through the city, and the doomed inhabitants fell like grass beneath its scythe. From six to eight thousand human beings sank before this scourge alone; yet the people resolutely held out, women and men mutually encouraging each other to resist the entrance of their foreign foe—an evil more horrible than pest or famine.—Motley’s “Dutch Republic.”
Lamentations 1:12-25.1.22. These verses form the second section of the poem. The city is represented as complaining of its harassed condition, 12–16, and then as acknowledging her persistent sin in sight of her righteous Lord, who will deal out justice to all transgressors, 17–22.
(ל) Lamentations 1:12. The curtness of the opening Hebrew phrase causes doubt as to its proper explanation. Hence by some it is taken as an address to the wayfarers, and is paraphrased in words like, “I pray all you,” or “Oh, that my cry might reach all you.” By others it is taken as a question, and more reasonably; so they explain it by words like, “Does not my misery come to you?” or “Do you not observe what has befallen me?” In either case it conveys a call, as from the weeping, solitary woman, sitting on the ground, to all travellers to consider her deplorable state, and our English Versions have caught the right tone. Is it nothing to you, all ye passers by the way? Is there nothing in my condition to produce seriousness in you instead of indifference or levity? Nothing to warn you? Nothing to call forth your sympathy? Behold and see if there is sorrow like my sorrow. The feeling of a troubled present tends to make it loom before the sufferer as if there never was the like before, which is done to me whom Jehovah has afflicted in the day of the heat of his anger.
The ascription, in religious addresses, which has been often made of this verse to the sufferings of the Lord Jesus Christ, is far from commendable. In a very real sense His sorrows were unparalleled, but innocent of sin though He was, He made no attempt to call attention to Himself as peculiarly afflicted. His thought was for others’ sufferings. Weep not for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.
(מ) Lamentations 1:13. Here begin references to various events which had contributed to her unequalled sorrow. Fire, a net, sickness and a yoke are set forth. The figure presented in the last clause of the preceding verse is now more fully traced. From on high he sent fire, Upon the wicked He shall rain fire (Psalms 11:6), into my bones, where pain is supposed to be most keenly felt. She recognises that the cause, which is behind all visible causes, of her pain is in the spiritual realm, and that in the face of the Eternal Righteousness her bones must be shrivelled up; and it overpowered them. The next figure is, He spread a net for my feet; he turned me back. So entangled, she could not go away and escape capture. The third figure is sickness. He made me desolate, all the day faint. The light of her life was quenched, and she was constantly exhausted.
(נ) Lamentations 1:14. There follows a figure from agricultural pursuits. A yoke [formed] of my transgressions is bound by his hand. The Hebrew verb here is of uncertain meaning, and there is no rendering preferable to that which is given. She has made thongs or cords for the yoke with her sins; they are twisted together. Her misdoings have acted and reacted that they are knit together, so as to constitute a thraldom which cannot be thrown off; so intertwined they have come up upon my neck. A consequence of this enthralment by the knotted yoke is, it has made my strength to fail, literally to stumble, i.e., to stagger from the weakness and exhaustion incident to such a fearful yoke. The yoke of transgression is hard; the yoke of Christ is easy. The conviction is now expressed that the Divine Ruler is at work, and a new phase rises in the lamentation. The Lord has given me into the hands [of those that are against me]. I am not able to stand up. She can do nothing but yield. Consciousness of transgression paralyses body and mind. Note that it is the general, not the covenant name of her God which she utters. This title occurs fourteen times by itself in this book, while in the Prophecies of Jeremiah only along with the covenant name. The reason for this usage of Lord, and of refraining from Jehovah has yet to be found. To say that the people, in their punishment, felt the Lordship of the Deity more, and His covenant love to them less, is a statement which is not confirmed by an examination of the passages in the Lamentations where each name is found.
(ם) Lamentations 1:15. Inability to resist is associated with other fatal experiences. He has set at naught all my strong ones; not on an open battlefield, not in a struggle to hold an important post, is it that her able-bodied men are counted for nothing before the Chaldean host; losses they might have had, “the bubble reputation” attached to thém, but not when cooped up in the city, in the midst of me. He has convoked a solemn assembly against me; it is the word used of the annual and other religious festivals, as in Lamentations 1:4, and intimates that to the enemies of Jerusalem a call had been issued to gather at an appointed time and have such joy as might be found in the ability to crush my young men, those who promised to be the strength of the nation in the generation following. And, to make the overthrow complete, the maidens, who had been carefully guarded from violence, the Lord has trodden as in a wine-press the virgin daughter of Judah. The treading of the grapes in a wine-press, as illustrative of the execution of divine judgment, is not unusual in the Scriptures (Isaiah 63:5; Revelation 14:19), and signifies both suffering and good results from suffering rightly borne—
“Still hope and trust, it sang; the rod
Must fall, the wine-press must be trod.”
(ע) Lamentations 1:16. Having shown by the events how terrible her sorrow could not but be, Jerusalem reiterates her complaint with a flood of tears. Because of these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runs down with water, so great is her trouble and so unalleviated, for far from me is the comforter, the restorer of my soul. My children are become desolate, and cannot cheer me, for the enemy has prevailed.
(פ) Lamentations 1:17. The sobs of the weeper stifle her utterance. In the pause the poet himself seems to take up the word, something like the part of the chorus in Greek tragedies, and describes the state of the three personified objects—the Temple, the people, the city. He sees that Zion, representing the house of prayer for all nations, stretches out her hands, as praying in a land where no water is, but in suspense; there is no comforter for her. He sees that Jehovah, her covenant God, has commanded concerning Jacob, representing the people whom He chose for His heritage, that those round about him, the neighbouring nations, should be his adversaries. He sees that Jerusalem, representing the government and national aspirations, has become as an unclean one among them (Lamentations 1:8).
A DISTRESSED NATION
I. Utters a piteous appeal for sympathy. “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow,” &c. (Lamentations 1:12). Sorrow craves sympathy. A crumb an atom, however trifling, is eagerly seized and fondly cherished. It matters not from what source it comes. It is welcome from any casual passer-by, from anybody, from anything. The despairing find comfort in a flower as it gracefully bends towards them; in the mute sympathy of a favourite dog, as it caressingly thrusts its nose into the limp hands. It is easy to exaggerate our troubles and imagine there is no sorrow like our own; but a wider knowledge of the world’s ills helps us to correct our magnified estimate. There is only One—the world’s Redeemer—whose sufferings are unique and unparalleled.
II. Painfully conscious of the overwhelming nature of its sufferings (Lamentations 1:13-25.1.15).
1. In their fierceness. “From above hath He sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them”—subdues them (Lamentations 1:13). It is no earthly, but heavenly fire which burns in the bones of Jerusalem (Speaker’s Commentary). It is a fact well established in osteology that inflammation in the bones is not only extremely painful, but dries them up and renders them brittle and useless (Henderson).
2. All attempts to escape from them are futile. “He hath spread a net for my feet, He hath turned me back: He hath made me desolate and faint all the day” (Lamentations 1:13). Judea, like a hunted animal, endeavours to escape, but finds every outlet blocked with nets, and recoils from them in terror, and a sense of utter hopelessness and exhaustion. The only thing to flee from is sin; the only refuge to flee to is God. There is no relief from suffering till we are divested of the coils of our sin.
3. They are an unmistakable consequence of sin. “The yoke of my transgressions is bound by His hand: they are wreathed and come up upon my neck,” &c. (Lamentations 1:14). The metaphor is taken from agricultural life. As the ploughman binds the yoke with cords so knotted and twined together that they form a bunch upon the neck of the oxen impossible to shake off, so does God compel Judah to bear the punishment of her sins. The yoke thus imposed by the hand of God, and securely knotted around the neck of Judah by the entangled bonds of her own sins, bows down her strength by its weight, and makes her totter and stumble beneath it. “He hath made my strength to fall”—to stumble (Speaker’s Commentary). Sin by and by becomes an intolerable burden, and is constantly reasserting its power over us. There is a lake in Switzerland, shut in by high mountains, a solitary, lonely place, which few travellers visit, and where few care to linger, so desolate and homeless is the spot. Here, an old legend says, every night at midnight the watcher may see the ghost of Pilate come to the shore and try with piteous lamentations to wash from his hands some red stains that are upon them—the marks of the blood of Jesus. But as fast as he washes them off they reappear. So is it with all our sins, small and great.
4. They are an evidence of contemptuous and crushing defeat. “The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men in the midst of me,” &c. (Lamentations 1:15). They had not fallen gloriously in the battlefield, but remained ignominiously in the city, confessing their inability to fight. Irving once said, “With every exertion, the best of men can do but a moderate amount of good, but it seems in the power of the most contemptible individual to do incalculable mischief.” The governor-general of a Russian province was once mildly remonstrated with by his secretary regarding a high-handed proceeding, producing at the same time a paragraph from a state volume proving the illegality of the action. The angry governor seized the book and sat upon it, shouting, “Where is the law now?” He then pointed to his decorated breast, and continued in a pompous strain, “Here it is; I am the law!” and the secretary had to beat a prudent retreat. It is very humiliating to be in the grip of tyranny like this.
III. The most passionate expression of sorrow brings no relief. “For these things I weep, &c. Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her,” &c. (Lamentations 1:16-25.1.17). Spreading out the hands is a token of the deepest distress. There is no one to comfort—not God, for He is chastening; nor man, for all the neighbouring nations have become enemies (Lamentations 1:2). Tears are a sign of weakness and helplessness. To give way to grief is not the way to conquer it. God is the only refuge in distress, and His help, if sincerely sought, is not in vain. The common cry of the Breton mariner is, “My God, protect me! my bark is so small and Thy ocean so vast.”
“I am so weak, dear Lord, I cannot stand
One moment without Thee:
But oh! the tenderness of Thine enfolding;
And oh! the faithfulness of Thine upholding;
And oh! the strength of Thy right hand:
That strength is enough for me.
I am so needy, Lord, and yet I know
All fulness dwells in Thee;
And hour by hour that never-failing treasure
Supplies and fills, in overflowing measure,
My least, my greatest need; and so
Thy grace is enough for me.”
1. It is painful to witness distress we are helpless to relieve.
2. National distress is the fruit of national crime.
3. National suffering should purify the national life.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 1:12. The sufferings of the classes of the human family.
2. Unique world’s Redeemer:
1. Appeal to all in their character and purpose.
Lamentations 1:3. Aggravated by the mysterious manifestation of the Divine wrath.
4. The basis of the world’s salvation.
5. Should arrest the attention and engage the prayerful thought of the sinner.
—Is it nothing to you? I. The sufferings of Christ upon the Cross were unparalleled.
1. Because of the dignity of His person.
2. Because of the perfect innocence of His character.
3. Because there was such a conjunction of griefs.
4. Because they were voluntarily undertaken and continued in.
5. Because those for whom He died thus voluntarily were His enemies.
6. Because they were expiatory. II. The sufferings of Christ have had a deep interest in them for many.
1. Multitudes have found in them a cure for despair.
2. In others they have wrought a complete transformation of their lives.
3. Had power on men’s minds to gird them to heroic deeds.
4. Men who love the suffering Saviour become patient in their everyday sufferings.
5. They learn to hate sin by seeing the agonies by which redemption was obtained. III. What have you to do with Christ? Write down your decision whether you will have Christ or not. A poor, suffering girl, who had long loved the Saviour, under a feeling of depression, confessed to her minister that she had deceived herself, and did not love Him. The minister walked to the window and wrote on a piece of paper, “I do not love the Lord Jesus Christ,” and said, “Susan, here is a pencil. Just put your name to that.” “No, sir,” she said, “I could not sign that.” “Why not?” “I would be torn to pieces before I would sign it, sir.” “But why not sign it if it is true?” “Ah! sir,” she said, “I hope it is not true. I think I do love Him.”—C. H. Spurgeon.
—Our duty towards the Jewish people. I. The facts on which the appeal is founded. The unparalleled sorrow and sufferings of the Jewish people. Where is the nation that has been subject to such universal contempt? All mankind seems to have conspired to despise the Jews. They seem under the curse of Heaven. II. The appeal itself. “Is it nothing to you?” That the world should pass by we cannot wonder. That the heathen or Mohammedan should neglect the Jew can excite no surprise. That the mere self-loving nominal Christian should heed him not, is all natural; but that the follower of Christ should pass by may well excite astonishment. It is an error to suppose we need not care to labour among the Jews because the Gospel is a Gentile dispensation, and that the Jews are shut out until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. The Gospel is as much a Jewish dispensation as was the Law. To them it was promised; to them it was given. By them it was proclaimed to the Gentiles, and theirs it still is. Zeal for the honour of Christ should lead us to direct our first endeavours to the Jewish people.—M‘Caul.
Lamentations 1:13. Divine punishment. I. Marked try great severity. “From above hath He sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them.” II. Admits of no escape from its toils. “He hath spread a net for my feet; He hath turned me back.” III. Thoroughly subdues the sufferer. “He hath made me desolate and faint all the day.”
Lamentations 1:14. The galling tyranny of sin. I. Oppressive. “The yoke of my transgressions is bound by His hand; they are wreathed and come up upon my neck.” II. Exhausting. “He hath made my strength to fall.” III. Reduces the soul to helplessness. “The Lord hath delivered me into their hands, from whom I am not able to rise up.”
—The misery of the penitent.
1. When conscious of the burden of sin.
2. When realising his increasing helplessness. III. When abandoned to reap the consequences of his transgressions.
4. Can be relieved only by the pitifulness of the Divine mercy.
Lamentations 1:15. Inglorious defeat. I. The veteran warriors are captured in the midst of the city from which they had not courage to issue forth and defend. “The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men in the midst of me.” II. The combinations of the foe were too powerful for the bravery of the young to resist. “He hath called an assembly against me to crush my young men.” III. The defeat of the nation is abject and complete. “The Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a wine-press.”
Lamentations 1:16-25.1.17. The helplessness of despair. I. Tears and entreaties are in vain. “For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water. Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her” (Lamentations 1:16-25.1.17). II. Sin debases a people in the estimation of God and man. “Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman”—hath become a loathing—“among them” (Lamentations 1:17). III. There is no hope of escape. “My children are desolate because the enemy prevailed” (Lamentations 1:16). “The Lord hath commanded concerning Jacob that his adversaries should be round about him” (Lamentations 1:17).
ILLUSTRATIONS.—A distressed nation: the havoc of war. When the French army invaded Russia in 1812, and penetrated as far as Moscow, Count Rostopchin, the governor, thinking it more glorious to destroy the ancient capital of the Czars than suffer it to harbour and protect an enemy, caused it to be burned to the ground. The most heartrending scenes were witnessed. The people, hastily snatching up their most precious effects, fled before the flames. Others, actuated by the general feelings of nature, saved only their parents or their infants, who were closely clasped in their arms. They were followed by their other children, running as fast as their little strength would permit, and, with all the wildness of childish terror, vociferating the beloved name of mother! The old people, borne down by grief more than by age, had not sufficient power to follow their families, and expired near the houses in which they were born. No cry, no complaint was heard. Both the conqueror and the conquered were equally hardened. The fire, whose ravages could not be restrained, soon reached the finest parts of the city. The palaces were enveloped in flames. Their magnificent fronts, ornamented with bas-reliefs and statues, fell with a dreadful crash. The churches, with their steeples resplendent with gold and silver, were destroyed. The hospitals, containing more than 12,000 wounded, began to burn, and almost all the inmates perished. A few who still lingered were seen crawling half burnt amongst the smoking ruins, and others, groaning under heaps of dead bodies, endeavoured in vain to extricate themselves from the horrible destruction which surrounded them. From whatever side viewed, nothing was seen but ruin and flames. The fire raged as if it were fanned by some invisible power. The most extensive range of buildings seemed to kindle, to burn, and to disappear in an instant. The wild pillagers precipitated themselves into the midst of the flames. They waded in blood, treading on dead bodies without remorse, while the burning ruins fell on their murderous hands. The signal patriotism of sacrificing the city in order to subdue the enemy actuated all ranks.
Affliction reveals our sins. So long as leaves are on the trees and bushes, you cannot see the bird’s nests; but in the winter, when all the leaves are off, then you see them plainly. And so long as men are in prosperity and have their leaves on, they do not see what nests of sin and lust are in their hearts and lives; but when all their leaves are off, in the day of their afflictions, then they see them, and say, “I did not think I had had such nests of sins and lusts in my soul and life.”—Bridge.
Whose sorrows are like unto mine? O thou erring mortal, repine not. Our Father has some great and wise purpose in thus afflicting thee, and wilt thou dare murmur against Him when He removed the idol that He alone may reign? Pause and reflect. Examine well thy conscience, and see if there were not earthly attractions clinging to thy soul and leading thee to forget the Creator in thy love for the creature. Raise not thy feeble voice against the Most High, lest He send upon thee a still greater trial in order to teach thee submission. Behold His noble example when persecuted by a whole world. Imagine Him, the God of the universe, standing before the Jewish Sanhedrin, condemned, buffeted, spit upon! One blazing look of wrathful indignation would have annihilated that rude rabble; but, with all the beauty and grace of self-abnegation, He bowed His head and prayed, “Father, forgive them; they know not what they do.” Wouldst thou find relief for thy sufferings? Contemplate the life of Him who spake as never man spake. Follow Him through all those years of toil and suffering. Witness His deeds of mercy and love, and then—go thou and do likewise.—German Reformed Messenger.
Self-sacrifice. An extraordinary example of self-sacrifice was witnessed at Chicago. A member of the brotherhood of Knight-Templars was operated upon for cancer, and a wound nearly a foot square was left. The surgeon declared that if the patient was to recover, the wound must be covered with new human skin. At once 132 members of the brotherhood volunteered to allow a small strip of skin to be cut from their arms, so that the pieces thus obtained might be transferred to the wound of their comrade. The operation was performed. Several of the brave fellows fainted, but the majority bore the incision of the surgeon’s knife without flinching. It is inspiriting to hear of such heroic self-sacrifice. Much of the suffering of the Christian worker is vicarious; but no number of acts of suffering on behalf of others can equal the sublime sacrifice of Him who suffered and died for the whole race.—The Scottish Pulpit.
Divine punishment and pessimism. Noah was a pessimist to the antediluvian world; Moses was a pessimist to Pharaoh in Egypt; Samuel was a pessimist, and his very first prediction foretold the downfall of the aged Eli and his godless family. Jeremiah was a pessimist, constantly foretelling evil and danger; Jonah was a pessimist, who disturbed the peace of the city, crying, “Yet forty days and Nineveh shall be overthrown.” Nahum was a pessimist, crying, “Woe to the bloody city!” Micaiah was a pessimist when he foretold the overthrow of Ahab, the guilty king, who complained that he never prophesied any good of him. The Saviour was a pessimist, for He foretold the destruction of Jerusalem and the calamities that were to come upon the world. The Apostles Peter, James, John, Jude were all pessimists, for they were continually foretelling perilous times, departure from the faith, and the coming judgment upon the godless world. The great preachers and poets of the ages have been pessimists, for they were ever warning men of present evil and coming wrath, of predicted calamities and judgments overhanging the godless and profane.—Christian Repository.
Sin a slavery.
“There is a bondage which is worse to bear
Than his who breathes, by roof and floor and wall
Pent in, a tyrant’s solitary thrall:
’Tis his who walks about in the open air,
One of a nation who henceforth must wear
Their fetters in their souls.”
Discovery of the destructive work of sin. The steeple of the Church of St. Bride, London, originally built by Christopher Wren, was struck by lightning in 1764, and the upper part had to be rebuilt, when it was lowered eight feet. It was then discovered that an old hawk had inhabited the two upper circles, the open arcades of which were filled with masses of birds’ bones, chiefly those of the city pigeons upon which it had preyed. It would be well if more frequent discovery could be made of those wily hawks of society who prey with such merciless and ingenious greed upon the simple and unsuspecting. Their discovery is all the more difficult when they make the Church of Christ their hiding-place, and the clean-picked relics of their numerous victims are all the more sad to contemplate when one at length finds out that the work of plunder has been carried on under the sacred garb of religion.
The misery of the penitent; how cured. Five persons were studying what were the best means for mortifying sin. One said, to meditate on death; the second, to meditate on judgment; the third, to meditate on the joys of heaven; the fourth, to meditate on the torments of hell; the fifth, to meditate on the blood and sufferings of Christ; and certainly the last is the choicest and strongest motive of all. If ever we would cast off our despairing thoughts, we must dwell and muse much upon and apply this precious blood to our own souls; so shall sorrow and mourning flee away.—Brooks.
Remorse. Remorse may disturb the slumbers of a man who is dabbling with his first experiences of wrong; and when the pleasure has been tasted and is gone, and nothing is left of the crime but the ruin which it has wrought, then the Furies take their seats upon the midnight pillow. But the meridian of evil is for the most part left unvexed; and when a man has chosen his road, he is left alone to follow it to the end.—Froude.
Inglorious defeat—The retreat from Moscow. The annals of ancient and modern warfare, in the vast catalogue of woes which they record, do not present a parallel to the sufferings of the French on the retreat from Moscow—sufferings neither cheered by hope nor mitigated by the slightest relief. The army in its retreat had to encamp on the bare snow in the midst of the severest winter that even Russia ever experienced. The soldiers, without shoes and almost without clothes, were enfeebled by fatigue and famine. Sitting on their knapsacks, the cold buried some in a temporary, but more in an eternal sleep. Those who were able to rise from this benumbing posture, only did it to broil some slices of horse-flesh, perhaps cut from their favourite charger, or to melt a few morsels of ice. In the march it was impossible to keep them in order, as imperious hunger seduced them from their colours, and threw their columns into confusion. Many of the French women accompanied the army on foot, with shoes of stuff little calculated to defend them from the frozen snow, and clad in old robes of silk or the thinnest muslin; and they were glad to cover themselves with tattered pieces of military cloaks, torn from the dead bodies of the soldiers. The cold was so severe that men were frozen to death in the ranks, and at every step were seen the dead bodies of the soldiers stretched on the snow. Of four hundred thousand warriors who had crossed the Niemen at the opening of the campaign, scarcely twenty thousand repassed it. Such was the dreadful havoc which a Russian winter caused to the finest, best-appointed, and most powerful army that ever took the field.
Christianity addresses the despairing. Throughout all the ages which have followed Christ’s word, Christ’s message has rung in with power upon men’s lives just in proportion to their dejection and despair. One of the earliest attacks upon Christianity was the censure that it was a word to the miserable. Such indeed it is. If it is censurable to move among men when they are dispirited, when they have come to the end of a civilisation, when nothing but blank hopelessness and no remedy lies in front of them, then Christianity is censurable, Christ’s message is open to reproach. If that be a fault, it is not faultless. It stands condemned. If too you deem it blameworthy to go to the individual when he has sinned, when he has flung away his life madly, wickedly, passionately, to stand beside him, nay, to bend over him with affectionate interest, when he is lying ragged, beaten, hungry, and filthy in the far country into which he has gone, then neither Christianity nor Christ can escape your blame. They stand convicted of the crime of receiving sinners and eating with them, of laying their hands on lepers who are unclean, of seeking the society of the demented and insane.—Rev. H. Ross.
Crying to God. Several children of a family were once playing in a garden when one fell into a tank. When the father heard of it, he asked what means they thought of to rescue their brother from his perilous situation. Inquiring of the youngest, he said, “John, what did you do to rescue your brother?” The boy answered, “Father, what should I do? I am so young that I could not do anything, but I stood and cried as loud as I could.” If we cannot bring a ladder or rope, all can cry, all can plead with God.
Lamentations 1:12-25.1.22. These verses form the second section of the poem. The city is represented as complaining of its harassed condition, 12–16, and then as acknowledging her persistent sin in sight of her righteous Lord, who will deal out justice to all transgressors, 17–22.
(צ) Lamentations 1:18. During her pause the weeper has received new thoughts. Like the younger son when feeding on husks, she has come to herself so far that she is ready to own the justice of Jehovah in her sufferings. He is righteous, Jehovah, for I have disobeyed his voice, rejected the words of His mouth. Yet she sorely wants human pity, and cries to them, Hear, I pray; all ye peoples, and see my sorrow; the flower of her youth has gone into captivity.
(ק) Lamentations 1:19. She addresses Jehovah, and tells how her appeals to the friends of her prosperous days have proved futile; I called to my lovers; they have deceived me, disappointed my hopes; and not only they have failed; my priests and my elders have expired in the city, where they had been high in position, the medium between God and His worshippers, and leaders in the state, when they sought food for themselves to restore their souls, they were starving, like the common people in the closely invested city, and made a strenuous quest for some means to keep themselves alive in famine.
(ר) Lamentations 1:20. Again she refers to Jehovah as to her forlornness and aggravated sin. See, O Jehovah, for I am in distress, and this distress is felt:
(1) Internally. My bowels are troubled, my heart is turned within me; agitation and anguish excite her, even her vital parts, as it were, change their position. The reason therefor is not ascribed to man’s neglect and inhumanity to her, but,
(2) to her disregard of God, for, she confesses, I have grievously disobeyed. The penalty she undergoes is calamitous indeed; abroad the sword bereaveth, she is rendered a mourner because of slaughter in the open country and in the streets; at home is like death, as if nothing but the dead were in the houses—so overpowering was the exhaustion from starvation and diseases. This somewhat halting explanation may be compared with the free rendering of the Septuagint translator—at least there is no extant authority in the Hebrew for an equivalent reading—Outside the sword made me childless as death in the house.
(שׁ) Lamentations 1:21. A transition is made from unfaithful friends to open enemies, and they too are denounced. The sounds of her grief have echoed far off among persons unnamed, they have heard that I sigh; again the refrain of this chapter is repeated, there is no comforter for me. The frequent allusions to a personal comforter, Lamentations 1:2; Lamentations 1:9; Lamentations 1:16-25.1.17; Lamentations 1:21, are worthy of consideration, as if there was a feeling after a higher gift not yet distinctly perceived. All my enemies have heard of my evil, and understand something of the unseen influences which produced it; they rejoice that thou hast done it. From Jeremiah 40:2-24.40.3, it appears that even foes recognised that the calamitous state of the Jews proceeded from their disobedience to Jehovah, though their joy may have been more because of her fall than for the confirmation given to the truth of the Lord. Nevertheless, vengeance for their misdeeds was coming on. The Lord has announced a day of judgment on the heathen as well as on Judah, and the cup of wrath shall be drunk from; thou bringest the day thou hast announced, and they shall become like me in suffering their penalties.
(ת) Lamentations 1:22. Jerusalem further formulates the wish that the retribution due to their guilty actions should not be put aside; Let all their evil come before thee, and do unto them as thou hast done unto me, for all my transgressions. The first natural cry of those that are punished is for justice all round. “If I suffer for every wrong, make every other wrongdoer suffer equally with me!” In this desire there appears the consciousness that Jehovah must pass judgment upon every form of sin, and rightly, for He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; and also a grim expectation of revenge, under which Edom, Moab, Babylon, &c., disappeared. We may say that confession of her own transgressions should have been accompanied with sympathy and pity for other sinners; but the time for that love of enemies did not arrive for many a day. Her own sad state again moves her, For my sighs are many, and my heart is faint. So Jeremiah felt (Jeremiah 8:18). “With these words the sound of this lamentation dies away.”
THE BITTER FRUITS OF REBELLION
I. That rebellion is the violation of the law of a righteous God. “The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against His commandment” (Lamentations 1:18). “I have grievously rebelled” (Lamentations 1:20). A man may fight against God’s will and exalt his own; but he cannot fight against the law by which obedience brings peace, harmony, and joy to the soul, and disobedience brings unrest, pain, and deadness. All things in God’s universe proclaim the folly of the man who thinks to oppose his will to the Infinite. He may to some extent succeed in thwarting the Divine will; but he cannot prosper. What may seem success will turn into shame and ruin. The violation of law puts us out of harmony with God, Nature, and man.
II. That rebellion is the occasion of great national disasters.
1. The young are enslaved. “My virgins and my young men are gone into captivity” (Lamentations 1:18). There is little hope for the future of a nation when its young people are in degrading bondage. Christianity has created a just appreciation of the worth of young life. A Japanese woman once came to a Christian lady in Japan with a girl-baby which had been thrown into a ditch by its father, as thousands were, because it was “only a girl.” In begging the Christian lady to take care of the naked child, covered with mud, the poor woman said, “Please do take little baby. Your God is the only God that teaches to be good to little children.”
2. Friendships are demoralised. “I called for my lovers, but they deceived me” (Lamentations 1:19). The confusion that springs out of rebellion is a severe strain on the fidelity of professed friends. Promises made with the utmost solemnity are little regarded. One brave and truthful action tells more than a million utterances of the mouth. Genuine friendship is ever frank and true. Simplicity is not the absence of intricacy, but its solution. The true friend, however much misunderstood in a time of disorder, comes out scatheless.
3. The nation is ravaged by war, famine, and death. “Abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death” (Lamentations 1:20). “My priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls” (Lamentations 1:19). Those who should have advised and comforted the people were disabled by starvation, or were lying dead among the slain.
4. The sufferings of the people are distressingly acute. “I am in distress; my bowels are troubled; mine heart is turned within me” (Lamentations 1:20). My heart is so violently agitated that it seems to have changed its position—to be overturned. It is difficult to conceive words that could more pathetically describe the extremity of grief. Much of our trouble is intensified by forebodings as to the future. God gives us strength to bear each day’s burden as it comes. When we stagger and fall because our burden has become too heavy, it is because we have added of our own accord something of the future’s weight to that of the present.
5. The enemies gloat over the national troubles. “They have heard that I sigh; there is none to comfort me. All mine enemies have heard of my trouble. They are glad that thou hast done it” (Lamentations 1:21). It is the acme of cruelty and obduracy of heart to chuckle over the miseries of the fallen. How different is the true Christian spirit. Lord Shaftesbury earned the title of “the good Earl” by his philanthropic endeavours to raise the most depraved. A costermonger who had been a most notorious sinner was once asked, “What did his Lordship say to you that made you a reformed man?” “Oh, he didn’t say much,” was the reply. “He just sat down by my side and said, ‘Jack, we will make a man of you yet.’ ” It was the upward gravitation of Christian manhood that helped Jack, and many like him.
III. That every nation that rebels against God will be certainly punished. “Thou wilt bring the day that Thou hast called, and they shall be like unto me. Do unto them as Thou hast done unto me,” &c. (Lamentations 1:21-25.1.22). The prophet, in terms that seem dictated by a spirit of retaliation, is but expressing in prophecy what actually happened in the capture of Babylon—the destruction of the Chaldean empire and of the neighbouring states by which the Jews had been ill-used. He also expressed the general truth, so often exemplified in history, that the nations that ignore God come to nought.
1. The greatest troubles of a nation are the result of rebellion.
2. God is not indifferent to the sufferings of a nation under punishment.
3. Obedience to God is the only guarantee of national prosperity.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 1:18. “The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled against His commandment.” Divine justice:
1. Is publicly acknowledged.
2. Must punish rebellion.
3. Is ever mingled with mercy.
—“Hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow.” The voice of sorrow:
1. Has a lesson for all classes.
2. Cannot express all that is felt.
3. Excites sympathy among the most indifferent
4. Should lead to inquiry as to its cause.
—“My virgins and my young men are gone into captivity.” Young life:
1. The hope and strength of a nation.
2. Should be placed in the most favourable circumstances for development and culture.
3. Is crushed by the degradation of slavery.
Lamentations 1:19. “I called for my lovers, but they deceived me.” Human fickleness:
1. A bitter disappointment when shown by those we love, and who have professed to love us.
2. Cannot bear the strain of a great trial. Fails us when we most need help.
3. A pure, unselfish, faithful affection a rarity.
4. Should teach us to trust alone in God.
Lamentations 1:20. Sincere penitence: I. Shown in a frank and full confession of sin. “I have grievously sinned.” II. Experiences the most pungent sorrow for sin. “I am in distress: my bowels are troubled: mine heart is turned within me.” III. Appeals to God alone for mercy. “Behold, O Lord.”
Lamentations 1:21. A spirit of enmity: I. Is coldly indifferent to the troubles of others, though cognisant of them. “All mine enemies have heard of my trouble.” II. Exhibits a refinement of cruelty in rejoicing over the distresses of its victims. “They are glad thou hast done it.” III. Will meet with a day of retribution. “Thou wilt bring the day that Thou hast called, and they shall be like unto me.”
Lamentations 1:22. The punishment of Judah a type of the punishment of all unfaithful nations. I. Their sins are fully know to God. “Let all their wickedness come before Thee.” II. They will be punished according to their actual sins. “Do unto them as Thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions.” III. They shall know what it is to endure sorrow and exhaustion. “For my sighs are many, and my heart is faint.”
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Rebellion—Dead Sea fruit.—If Satan ever knows pleasure at all, it is of the foulest and most unsatisfactory kind. Dust is his meat. There is nothing satisfying in the pleasures of rebellion. He remains a disappointed, restless being. The most cunning error which he invents and sustains by philosophy is no more than dust. His whole cause, for which he has laboured these thousands of years with a horrible perseverance, will dissolve into dust, and be blown away as smoke. Still doth he feed himself on dust. Let those who are servants of Satan know assuredly that as they are living in sin they will have to eat at their father’s table and learn the emptiness of all the pleasures of sin, and the worthlessness of all the treasures of evil. Everything that sin can bring you is just so much dust—foul eating, insufficient, clogging, killing. Though you hoard up wealth, gold is nothing but dust to a dying man. Though you gain all earthly honour, it too dissolves into dust. This is the misery of that great spirit who is called the Prince of Darkness, that he must eat dust all his days. But what misery it must be to be only some poor subject in that unhallowed kingdom, and still to be doomed to the same loathsome fare! Dust shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. Note that right well; and may God deliver you from such feeding!—Spurgeon.
Fomenting rebellion, a ruinous policy. The rebellion in the Netherlands had already been an expensive matter to the crown. The Spanish army numbered more than sixty-two thousand men. Forty millions of dollars had already been sunk, and it seemed probable that it would require nearly the whole annual produce of the American mines to sustain the war. The Transatlantic gold and silver, disinterred from the depths where they had been buried for ages, were employed not to expand the current of a healthy, life-giving commerce, but to be melted into blood. The sweat and tortures of the king’s pagan subjects in the primeval forests of the New World were made subsidiary to the extermination of his Netherland people and the destruction of an ancient civilisation. To this end had Columbus discovered a hemisphere for Castile and Aragon, and the new Indies revealed their hidden treasures. The military expenses alone of the Netherlands were more than seven million dollars yearly, and the mines of the New World produced an annual average of only eleven. There was not a stiver left in the exchequer, nor the means of raising one. Such was the condition to which the unrelenting tyranny and financial experiments of Alva had reduced the country.—Motley’s “Dutch Republic.”
Sorrow does not regenerate. On a May day in the French Revolution of 1848, a wretched-looking man was seen dragging himself along by the help of a stick, fleeing from the excited and rushing crowd, till he entered a hall in the Louvre, where was an exquisite piece of sculpture, the Venus of Milos. Before this statue the man broke down, and bitter tears streamed over his face. That man was Heinrich Heine, the scoffing Israelite. This one moment disclosed a whole world of heartache. “Deepest misery, thy name is Heine!” was the passionate cry that escaped his lips. The source of this misery was the pleasure of the world. The goddess before whom he lay prostrate entwined the poet with the glowing arms of sense. He had sacrificed all to her—body, soul, conscience, reason, heart, and harp. “Once,” he groaned, “I fancied, with Hegel, I was a god; now I know I am a sick, forgotten Jew.” Sixteen years, filled with unexampled pains, followed, but it was only a transitory glance of faith to which the poet attained. On the whole, affliction only excited him to new blasphemies.—Otto Funcke.
Justice and mercy. Terror is subservient to love. As a skilful painter fills the background of his picture with his darker colours, so God introduces the black thunder-clouds of Sinai to give brighter prominence to Jesus, the Cross of Calvary, and His love to the chief of sinners.—Guthrie.
Youth. Youth and white paper take any impression. The young are the divinely-appointed heirs of the great past, and the fathers of the sublime future.
—Perhaps as the Creator looks down on this world, whose wondrous beauty beams on us more and more in proportion as our science would take it from poetry into law, He beholds nothing so beautiful as the pure heart of a simple, loving child.—Lytton.
Human fickleness a disappointment. Astronomers toll us that temporary stars attain their maximum brightness only once and for all. They burst into brilliance suddenly, come to a point, continue at that point only for a short time, and then vanish, either by exploding or by coming into collision with another body. It is difficult to see the reason for their existence at all, except to show that the steady, dependable light of the permanent star is of more service in the heavens than the flashing brilliance that dazzles only to confuse and mislead. It is dangerous to be star of any kind, whether pulpit star, political star, or social star; but to be a temporary star is the most provoking and disappointing of all.—The Scottish Pulpit.
Human fickleness and its contrast. At a trial in Anglesey the heroic devotion of a wife and the base fickleness and savagery of a husband were painfully illustrated. The prisoner saved his neck through the self-forgetful devotion of his wife, who sat at his side, pale and suffering, through the trial. If it had been known that the third bullet fired from his pistol was even then lodging in the body of his faithful wife, nothing would have saved his life. It was only after the miserable man had been convicted of murder in a minor degree that did not involve hanging that she applied to a doctor, confessed that her husband had shot her, and that the bullet was still in her hip. Who can fathom a woman’s love and devotion? It is often strangely lavished on those who deserve it least.—Ibid.
Penitence involves confession of sin. Sometimes a prisoner is advised to plead not guilty because his advocate has discovered a flaw in the indictment, or a weak place in the chain of evidence, and he may get the benefit of the doubt. Not so in the case of the sinner; there can be no doubt. The evidence is cumulative. He is caught red-handed in the act of sin. His only hope for mercy is in a full and frank confession.
How enmity is manufactured. “Right must right remain,” says the farmer, and goes to law with his neighbour about a strip of pasture-land a quarter of a yard wide, and enmity and hatred exist between the two families for whole decades, while a thousand times the value of the disputed strip is lost over it. But no matter; “Right must right remain.” Nor is it only among farmers, but among all kinds of people that such foolish and unhappy litigation takes place, just because no one chooses to give way; nay, not even to submit to the judgment of an umpire. “Right must right remain,” says A, and passionately disputes in a large party with B as to whether the train which ran two years ago to H—— in the evening was an ordinary or an express train; and this wretched stubbornness in disputing about trifles destroys the sociability of men who ought to have brought light and salt to each other. “Right must right remain,” says this respectable man. He was offended by the harsh words of another, and has now passed him coldly by for years. “He must first apologise,” he says, instead of saying, “Don’t let us please the devil by hating one another; here is my hand; we are brethren and heirs of one heaven.” No! “Right must right remain.”—Otto Funcke.
Retribution. The certainty that unrepentant wickedness will be punished may be argued—
1. From the principle of moral causation. God has established such a connection between character and condition that misery must ever spring from sin, and blessedness from virtue. Our present grows out of the past, hence our sins must find us out. What we morally sowed yesterday we reap in experience to-day, and so on for ever.
2. From the operation of moral memory. Memory recalls sins, places them before the eye of conscience, and sets the soul aflame.
3. From the declarations of Scripture. “The wicked shall not go unpunished. The wicked shall be turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God.”
4. From the history of mankind. Nations are an example—the Antediluvians, the Sodomites, the Jews. Individuals are an example.—Moses, David, Judas.—D. Thomas, D.D.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Lamentations 1". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent