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THE PUNISHMENT OF NATIONAL SIN
In this second elegy the poet has his attention fixed on something that is beyond Chaldean and Jew. He sees, what the eyes of the world do not see, that the hand of the invisible Governor of all nations is directing both oppressor and oppressed, and is at work to show that no force and no victory, no disaster and no shame, were aimless happenings. He is to be regarded as the real agent in producing the various events referred to. His righteous judgments are not deferred to a future state: they are issued in this life against all unrighteousness of men, and from Him alone can relief and instruction be obtained. So throughout the song is heard the refrain that the Lord Jehovah is supreme over all the forces of the world, and over all that those forces seem to accomplish. In face of the great Babylonian power, boastful of its victories and material grandeur, deeming itself at liberty to harry, enslave, kill for its own selfish interests; in face of his ruined city and desecrated Temple, of starving children and slaughtered chiefs, the writer holds up the fact that these are not independent potentates fixing their own terms; that they are but messengers of the Lord, who doeth according to His will, in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, and who is preparing ways for the triumph of His free mercy and unstained holiness. “This Hebrew was saved from the terrible conclusion that the selfish, cruel force, which in his day carried all before it, was the highest power in life, simply by believing righteousness to be more exalted still.” (Smith). Every nerve may tingle with pain, everything dear may be cut down, every step onward may seem to add another misery, but God’s righteous and loving will shall make all things work together for “the far-off divine” eventualities towards “which the whole creation” is impelled.
Two principal divisions mark off the poem. The first, Lamentations 2:1-10, describes the palpable effects of the subjugation on things and persons. Ascribing these to the Lord, he passes, in the second section, to mournful utterances over the obvious desolations—harping, as grief is prone to do, on the same note—and concludes with a call for prayer to the Lord, and the form which that prayer would take in such dire straits.
(א) Lamentations 2:1. The poet sees nature as if it were in commotion. A storm-cloud piles up over Jerusalem, shrouding with its gloom even the most commanding summit. But it is not the swirls of an inanimate force which he perceives, nor yet the rush of human passion in an army of cruel men, it is the Supreme Ruler who hath His way in the whirlwind, and the storm of anger and strife, and the clouds of disaster are the dust of His fect. How doth the Lord in His anger; anger is the acting quality which impresses its aspect on the writer’s mind, as is shown by his frequent references to it—twice here, and in Lamentations 2:3; Lamentations 2:6; Lamentations 2:21-22, cf. Lamentations 2:2 : cover with a cloud the daughter of Zion. Under this expression, and the similar ones which follow, daughter of Judah, daughter of Jerusalem, is included inhabitants of all classes; no principle but that of poetic license apparently regulating the employment of either name. The storm-cloud has swept across the land which was called the glory of all lands, and He has cast down from heaven those arrow-like lightnings which have scathed, discomfited, and overthrown unto the earth the glory of Israel. The election of Israel to be the covenant people of the living God had given it a position as high above that of all other peoples as the heavens are higher than the earth, and this position was represented by a visible shrine—the Temple. It was the holy and beautiful house where our fathers praised Thee, and now it was burned up with fire. Nor did He recall any past manifestations of His presence to stay His hand from working: He has not remembered His footstool; the footstool of our God is closely associated with the ark of the covenant (1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalms 99:1; Psalms 99:5). The Cherubim stood over the cover of the ark, the mercy-seat, and as God sitteth between the Cherubim, His feet would be on the ark, yet He let this holiest of holy things be destroyed in the day of His anger—the day which broke amid the sounds of Divine justice going to punish evil—the great day of Jehovah, which Zephaniah predicted … a day of wrath … a day of wasteness and desolation … a day of clouds and thick darkness. The poet “could not have better expressed to the people the heinousness of their sins than by laying before them this fact, that God remembered not His footstool in the day of His anger” (Calvin).
(ב) Lamentations 2:2. Faint adumbrations of the concomitants of a storm still flit across the field of vision. As a sweeping torrent the Lord has swallowed up, and has not spared, all the habitations of Jacob, including all sorts of country residences, and pasture-lands where men like Jacob may dwell in tents and feed flocks; all unfortified and unprotected places, as distinguished from fortresses in following parallel line: He has thrown down in His wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; the whole military power has gone under, also the governing power he has cast to the earth, thus making them lick the dust and be trod upon by passers-by; He has profaned the kingdom, the royal house, and its princes: similarly it is said (Psalms 89:39), Thou hast profaned His crown [casting it] to the ground—the crown of His anointed, whom he had cast off and rejected (Psalms 89:38). The tenor of Bible-teaching is to the effect that men by sin affect the materials which they use, and so not only the sinners themselves, but their dwellings, their goods, their plots of ground, their munitions, their governments, are scourged by the wrath of God, in order to purify them from the pollution which has been infiltrated into them by human guilt.
(נ) Lamentations 2:3. Three forms of disaster are specified. He has cut off in fierce anger every horn of Israel: the horn being used as a symbol of strength or power, then all that was regarded as a strength to the life of Israel, whether warlike men or arsenals of offensive and defensive weapons, has perished. Power of resistance is removed. He has drawn back His right hand from the face of the enemy; He does not pluck it out of His bosom to help His people, and to impede and rout the foes in their attacks. Aid is withheld. And He has burned in Jacob like a blazing fire, devouring round about: His anger, as it were, kindled a conflagration which has consumed all it touched. Consequent on strength gone and help refused, there is blank devastation.
(ד) Lamentations 2:4. If a human enemy has wreaked his vengeance on Israel, the Lord Himself has turned to be their enemy, and fought against them as an armed man. He has bent His bow as an enemy standing, [as to] His right hand, as an adversary. This ambiguous phrase seems to convey the idea that the Lord, like a man of war, had taken a hostile attitude and operation, so that He has slain all that was pleasant to the eye, everything esteemed was deprived of their qualities to please. On the tent of the daughter of Zion He has poured out as fire His fury. Jerusalem as the dwelling-place of its inhabitants has been searched and scorched with the spirit of justice and spirit of burning.
The preceding highly metaphorical expressions are suggestive; they show that the poet saw, what the men of his day, what the men of later days have failed to see aright, that the course of human life is aglow with the devouring fire of the holiness of God. The light of Israel is for a fire and his Holy One for a flame. Jews might have felt that the Chaldeans and others had made their land as a desolate wilderness; we might feel that, when we are worsted in “the struggle for life,” our “environment” has been unfavourable to us. Our eyes are holden, and we do not perceive that the righteousness of God is the grand factor in all defeats, all crashes, all panics, all losses; using bad things, as fuel is used, to produce a fierce heat which shall eat away all that is burnable. Not only on the other side of death is the unquenchable fire scorching sin; that fire is kindled and burning here and now. No screen can ward off the indignation of the just and holy Lord; the ashes of ruined fortunes, reputations, impurities, self-seekings, prove that the breath of the Lord has kindled a fire to run through human society as intense, as overwhelming as a stream of liquid lava. For our God is a consuming fire.
(ה) Lamentations 2:5. Hostilities were continued in other methods. The Lord has become as an enemy, has swallowed up Israel; the national is submerged. This is indicated by material evidence; He has swallowed up all her palaces, the great houses of the daughter of Zion; He has destroyed all His strongholds, the fortified places which had been garrisoned by the people, and He has multiplied in the daughter of Judah moaning and bemoaning. Two words, which are derived from the same Hebrew root, and similar in sound, express the manifold and intense sorrows which had been experienced.
THE FIERCENESS OF THE DIVINE ANGER
How weird and sad is the lonely wail of the night-wind! How depressing the monotony of the sobbing sea! How heart-rending the ceaseless moan of the helpless sufferer! All the varying cadences of melancholy seem gathered up and interpreted in the sorrowful monody of the tender-hearted prophet. It is still the voice of lamentation that we hear: the strain, like the theme, is the same. From his elevated rocky grotto Jeremiah overlooked the ruined city, and it seemed impossible for him to turn away his gaze from the scene of destruction that fascinated while it distressed him. In this chapter he describes, with vivid realism, the harrowing circumstances connected with the siege and taking of the city. By a lofty flight of prophetic imagination he descries the awful form of the Almighty hovering over Jerusalem, wreaking vengeance on the obstinate and rebellious citizens. In this paragraph we learn that the fierceness of the Divine anger—
I. Is a terrifying reality. “The Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down the beauty of Israel” (Lamentations 2:1). The darkening cloud that portends the approaching storm fills the stoutest heart with alarm, and all nature cowers with fear under the crash of the dreadful thunder. The prophet sees the Divine anger settling upon Jerusalem like a dark thunder-cloud, and breaking in a tempest, by which the Temple is levelled to the ground. It is not the cloud that led the Israelites from bondage to freedom, but a cloud of wrath sent to punish for the aggravated abuse of that freedom. The cloud no longer guides and protects; it is now charged with the thunderbolt of retribution. The anger of God is all the more terrible when manifested towards those who once enjoyed His favour and compassion.
II. Is irresistible in its destructiveness (Lamentations 2:1-5). The beauty of Israel is deformed, her pride humbled, her strength paralysed, her city reduced to ashes, and her strongholds and inhabitants are remorselessly swept away. Nothing can withstand the Divine power, and when that power is exerted in anger, it makes short work of the most formidable opposition. Storm, earthquake, fire, war, and all the forces of the universe, obey the bidding of the Divine Word. The enemies of God will be completely overthrown by the fierceness of His anger (Exodus 15:7; Psalms 2:2-5; Psalms 21:8-10; Psalms 79:6; Isaiah 10:6; Jeremiah 10:25; Nahum 1:2; 1 Thessalonians 2:16).
III. Intensifies the misery of its victims. “He hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation” (Lamentations 2:5). When our miseries come upon us from our enemies, we are not surprised; it is what we expected. When we can trace them as the direct result of our own folly and sin, we know they are deserved, and we strengthen ourselves to endure them as philosophically as we can; but when the truth dawns upon us that God is against us, and it is His hand that smites us, we are startled at the discovery, and our distress is unspeakably increased. It is a bitter ingredient in the sufferings of the disobedient to know that he has provoked the anger of the God of love. The suffering Christ turns away for us the fierceness of the Divine anger.
1. Persistency in wrong-doing rouses the Divine anger.
2. When the Divine anger is manifested, it works terrible havoc.
3. Timely repentance averts the worst consequences of the Divine anger.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 2:1-2. The storm of the Divine wrath: I. Overshadows the city whose sins call for vengeance. “How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger” (Lamentations 2:1). II. Shatters the sanctuary where worship has been profaned. “Cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger” (Lamentations 2:1). III. Destroys the homesteads and fortresses of a rebellious people. “The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob. He hath thrown down in his wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah” (Lamentations 2:2). IV. Dishonours the government that ignores the claims of righteousness. “He hath polluted (profaned, made it common or unclean) the kingdom and the princes thereof” (Lamentations 2:2).
Lamentations 2:3. The defences of a nation: I. Exposed to the ravages of the enemy when the Divine protection is withdrawn. “He hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy.” II. Deprived of their strength when assailed by the Divine anger. “He hath cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel. III. Utterly destroyed by the wrath evoked by national sins. “He burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about.”
Lamentations 2:4-5. Jehovah as an enemy: I. Formidable to all who obstinately resist him. “He hath bent his bow like an enemy. He stood with his right hand as an adversary” (Lamentations 2:4). II. Works terrible destruction. “Slew all that were pleasant to the eye. He poured out his fury like fire. He hath swallowed up Israel” (Lamentations 2:4-5). III. Means augmented distress to those he punishes. “He hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation” (Lamentations 2:5).
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Neglect incurs wrath. As the mariner takes the first wind to sail, the merchant the first opportunity of buying and selling, and the husbandman the first opportunity of sowing and reaping, so should young men take the present season, the present day, which is their day, to be good towards the Lord, to seek Him and serve Him, and not to put off the present season, for they know not what another day, another hour, another moment may bring forth. That door of grace that is open to-day may be shut to-morrow; that golden sceptre of mercy that is held forth in the Gospel this day may be taken in the next day; that love, that this hour is upon the bare knee, entreating and beseeching young men to break off their sins by repentance, to return to the Lord, to lay hold on His strength and be at peace with Him, may the next hour be turned into wrath.—Brooks.
—Plutarch writes of Hannibal, that when he could have taken Rome he would not, and when he would have taken Rome he could not. Many in their youthful days, when they might have mercy, Christ, pardon, peace, heaven, will not; and when old age comes on they cannot, they may not. God seems to say, as Theseus once said, “Go and tell Creon, Theseus offers thee a gracious offer. Yet I am pleased to be friends if thou wilt submit—this is my first message; but if this offer prevail not, look for me to be up in arms.”
—Whatever account you have to settle with God, settle it now. There are two “nows” in Scripture which should never be separated. One stands out in the brightest rays, the other retires into deep shadows. “Now is the accepted time.” “Now they are hid from Thine eyes.”—Vaughan.
Judgment a surprise. There are sometimes some sad awakenings from sleep in this world. It is very sad to dream by night of vanished joys, to revisit old scenes and dwell once more among the unforgotten forms of our loved and lost; to see in the dreamland the old familiar look, and to hear the well-remembered tones of a voice long hushed and still, and then to awake with the morning light to the aching sense of our loneliness again. It were very sad for the poor criminal to wake from sweet dreams of other and happier days—days of innocence, hope, and peace, when kind friends and a happy home and an honoured or unstained name were his; to wake in his cell on the morning of his execution to the horrible recollection that all is gone for ever, and that to-day he must die a felon’s death. But inconceivably more awful than any awakening which earthly daybreak has ever brought shall be the awakening of the self-deluded soul when it is roused in horror and surprise from the dream of life to meet Almighty God in judgment!—J. Caird.
Temporary storms. It is a dark and cloudy day for you. A storm has burst upon you; but you remember how, after the storm, the bow is set in the cloud for all who look above to the Hand that smites them. The storm has come, and now we must look up and wait and watch in prayer and faith for the rainbow of promise and comfort.—Ministering Children.
Prolonged misery. When water takes its first leap from the top, it is cool, collected, uninteresting, mathematical; but it is when it finds that it has got into a scrape, and has further to go than it thought for, that its character comes out; it is then that it begins to writhe and twist, and sweep out zone after zone in wilder stretchings as it falls, and to send down the rocket-like, lance-pointed, whizzing shafts at its sides, sounding for the bottom.—Ruskin.
There is mercy in every storm. Every stroke of the rod is but the muffled voice of love; every billow bears on its bosom, and every tempest on its wing, some new and rich blessing from the better land. If the Lord were to roll the Red Sea before us and marshal the Egyptians behind us, and thus, hemming us in on every side, should yet bid us advance, it would be the duty and the privilege of faith instantly to obey, believing that, ere our feet touched the water, God in our extremity would divide the sea and take us dryshod over it. If for a moment we leave the path, difficulties throng around us, troubles multiply, the smallest trials become heavy crosses, the heart will sicken at disappointment, the Spirit be grieved, and God disappointed.—Winslow.
Goodness a nation’s defence. Abijah’s goodness was towards the Lord; his goodness faced the Lord; it looked towards the glory of the Lord. It is recorded of the Catanenses that they made a stately monument to two sons who took their aged parents upon their backs and carried them through the fire when their father’s house was all in a flame. These young men were good towards their parents; but what is this to Abijah’s goodness towards the Lord? He was good in the house of Jeroboam, who made all Israel to sin; yet Abijah, as the fishes which live in the salt sea are fresh, so, though he lived in a sea of wickedness, he retained his goodness towards the Lord. They say roses grow the sweeter when planted by garlic. They are sweet and rare Christians indeed who hold their goodness and grow in goodness where wickedness sits on the throne. To be wheat among tares, corn among chaff, and roses among thorns, is excellent. To be a Jonathan in Saul’s court, an Obadiah in Ahab’s court, an Obedmelech in Zedekiah’s court, and an Abijah in Jeroboam’s court, is a wonder, a miracle. To be a Lot in Sodom, an Abraham in Chaldea, a Daniel in Babylon, a Nehemiah in Damascus, and a Job in the land of Uz, is to be a saint among devils. The poets affirm that Venus never appeared so beautiful as when she sat by black Vulcan’s side. Gracious souls shine most clear when they are set by black-conditioned people. Stephen’s face never shone so angelically, so gloriously in the church where all were virtuous, as before the council where all were very vicious and malicious. So Abijah was a bright star, a shining sun in Jeroboam’s court, which for profaneness and wickedness was a very hell.
—A substantial fence has been erected enclosing the relic of the Covenanter’s stone on the summit of Duns Law. On this historic spot the standard of the Covenanting army under General Leslie was planted, and on the stone a copy of the National League and Covenant signed by the resolute leaders on the 6th June 1639. At one time the stone was prominently seen, but it is now so much reduced by the chipping and hacking of Vandalic visitors as to be scarcely visible above the green sward. Scotland has good reason to be proud of the brave exploits of its ancestors, who, whatever their failings, were men of earnest purpose, and fought for those principles of right and justice which helped to make possible the national life of to-day. The records and memorials of their deeds should be a constant stimulus to imitate their noblest qualities. “Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set.”—The Scottish Pulpit.
Satan an enemy: but what of Jehovah? Satan is the enemy of every saint, and he is an indefatigable enemy. He never tires in his temptations to ensnare souls to destroy them. He “walketh about seeking whom he may devour.” This denotes his main object is to ruin the souls of men, and that he does it in a deliberate, calm, systematic way. He walks about observing times, places, circumstances, characters—all with a view to devour. He does as a lion, to whom he is compared. Observe his gentle tread, his fiery, searching eye, his subtle plans, his secret ambushes, his hidden schemes, his concealed name, nature, and character; and when he spies one of whom he can take advantage, see how the lion-nature is developed in the rush, the pounce, the seizure, the tearing, the destruction. But what must it be to the sinner to find an enemy in Jehovah?
(ו) Lamentations 2:6. The dwelling-place of Jehovah on Mount Zion, which He claims as His own possession, with all its appointed services, has shared in the tribulations. He has treated violently, as a garden, His booth. The references in Lamentations 2:6-7 being to the methods of Divine worship, the reference here will be to the Temple. He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which He placed among men, and instead of this, in Salem was His tabernacle=booth, but it also had come to be only a temporary habitation for the mighty God: that which He had sanctified had been profaned by the inroads of unsanctified men. As a booth in a vineyard is dismantled when the vintage is ingathered, so the stately Temple was contumeliously broken down. The Septuagint reading, He tore up His tabernacle as a vine, harmonises with the idea of the Hebrew phrase, viz., that the House of the Lord was laid waste. Consequent on this, He has destroyed his [place of] solemn assembly, where He met with His people and blessed them; following this came awful manifestations of indifference even to the helps to serving the Lord. The covenant God Jehovah has caused to be forgotten in Zion solemn assembly and sabbath; the annual and weekly services were no longer in the minds of His professed people. The old ritual was unavailable. Communion with one another and communion with God through established religious forms were altogether in abeyance. They had to be taught that that which decayeth and waxeth aged is to be replaced by a new covenant in which the service of men, and the service of God would not be by ordered rules, but by love in the spirit. The persons also who had been officially prominent in Temple-services were swept off the stage; He has despised, set no store by, in the vehemence of His anger, king and priest. The priesthood was indispensable to the Temple-worship till there ariseth another Priest, made not after the law of a carnal commandment, but after the power of an endless life. The connection of royalty with the Temple is thus explained by Oehler: “The Israelitish kingdom especially in David and Solomon, bears a certain sacerdotal character, inasmuch as the king at the head of the people and in their name, pays homage to God and brings back again to the people the blessings of God.” This, however, is defective in statement. What was done by the king was not done in any priestly capacity, but as being the chief member of the sacerdotal people. They were a kingdom of priests unto Jehovah. Besides, it was done as representative of the Davidic monarchy, with which the building and continuance of services in the house of the Lord were closely linked (Jeremiah 33:21). Viewed in this light, the lamentation is, that Jehovah has rejected both the royal family of David and the Levitical priesthood.
(ז) Lamentations 2:7. There has been entire desecration of the holy places. The Lord has cast off his altar, the appointed erection on which burnt-offerings and sacrifices were presented to Him, and which should come up with acceptance there. There was no standing for such action now. He had abandoned it—its fires were quenched and cold: he has abhorred his sanctuary, the whole enclosure of the holy places. But there all is not still; He has put into the hand of her enemy the walls of her palaces, the crowning buildings of Mount Zion have been delivered up to hostile people, and they have given voice in the house of the Lord; a victorious multitude made within the glory-hallowed precincts such a jubilant noise as [in] a day of a solemn assembly, but the clamour was the clamour of ruthless conquerors, not of rejoicing worshippers.
(ח) Lamentations 2:8. Jeremiah relates (Jeremiah 52:14) that all the army of the Chaldeans, that were with the captain of the guard, brake down all the walls of Jerusalem round about. This was from no mere chance of warfare, no shrewd decision of the commander of the invaders; it was from the predetermination of the God of Israel. Jehovah has purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion. It was carried out according as He incited or restrained the agents of its accomplishment; he has stretched out the [measuring] line, and until His limitations were reached he has not withdrawn his hand from overthrowing. Every division of the fortifications has suffered, and he has made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languish together. All calamities have their methods and boundaries fixed by the All-wise. They do not form a chaos, brought about by natural forces or human power. They are in an exact order, and proceed to a verge which He has appointed. They are pregnant with gigantic issues.
(ט) Lamentations 2:9. Traces of the best constructed part of the wall have disappeared, covered with debris. Her gates have sunk into the earth; the very means of fastening them are in fragments; he has destroyed and broken her bars. Like that had befallen the political and religious barriers which separated her from other peoples. Her king and princes are among the nations, swept away into exile. With the removal of civil authorities self-seeking and anarchy had supervened. God’s rule of life, which required Temple and altar for its material symbol, exists no more for the people; there is no law. Still more sad, the proofs of the Lord’s guidance had been withheld; even her prophets find no vision from Jehovah to bring help and comfort. There might be prophets, but they received no burden of the Lord. He will put aside for a time His means of grace, if they cease to answer Divine ends.
THE WRECK OF RELIGIOUS ORDINANCES
I. The Temple is completely demolished (Lamentations 2:6-8). In a city where there are many temples the destruction of one creates only a temporary inconvenience. Jerusalem, and indeed the Jewish nation, had but one temple, and it had the special distinction of being the only temple in the world dedicated to the worship of Jehovah. It was always in the past, and is to this day, reverently referred to as the Temple. It was idolised by the Jew, and was regarded as beyond the reach of possible injury. It was encircled with the rampart of Omnipotence. When menaced by the enemy, the people rallied round the sacred fane, prepared to sacrifice everything in its defence. Here they made their last stand, and fought with the fury of fanatics. But their zeal, bravery, and strategy were all in vain. In their blind infatuation they saw not that the only invincible defence, the presence of Jehovah, was withdrawn. The Temple was doomed, and was reduced to ruin with the same reckless indifference as a man would tear down a temporary shelter in his garden (Lamentations 2:6). The gates, walls, palaces, altar, sanctuary, were abandoned to utter destruction (Lamentations 2:7-9). The wreckage of such a temple was not only a metropolitan, but a national calamity. Everything was gone when the Temple was gone.
II. The religious services, formerly observed with uninterrupted regularity, are now utterly neglected. “The Lord hath caused the solemn feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion” (Lamentations 2:6). The annual and the weekly festivals are no longer observed. “There is an intensive force in its being no longer Adonai, but Jehovah, who lets them pass into oblivion. He had once instituted them for His own honour, now He lets them lie forgotten.” When religion is neglected, all days are alike; there is nothing to mark off Sabbath-days from week-days, sacred days from common days. Life is reduced to the dead level of dull monotony, and the days drag on in the weary routine of comfortless and aimless labour.
“He liveth long who liveth well—
All else is being flung away;
He liveth longest who can tell
Of true things truly done each day.”
Intellectual pursuits and activity are a poor substitute for genuine religion. Education not founded on religion is only a varnish. Abolish the Sabbath and the decay of religion begins. A poet calls the Sabbath “Heaven once a week.” Day of rest, of days the best.
III. The principal worshippers are in exile. “Her king and her princes are among the Gentiles” (Lamentations 2:9). The prophet has been principally occupied with the buildings of the city and Temple. Now he turns to the people, and beginning with their temporary rulers, he laments the sad fate of the king and princes who, no longer seen taking their part in the Temple service, were, like many of their people, captives in the hands of the heathen. With the best external aids it is difficult to maintain the spirituality of worship; but that difficulty is increased when all external accessories are withdrawn, and man is placed in the midst of irreligious heathenism. If he does not strive to propagate what religion he has, he will lose it. To love and worship God we must know Him, and this we cannot do till He graciously reveals Himself. The astronomer seeking to observe a star, can do nothing till he directs his telescope towards the star. The dim light of evening is with him, and by it he sets the telescope and guides it to the proper point in the heavens. But when he has pointed it to the star, the light of the star streams into the telescope, lighting it up with a new and brighter illumination. The soul of man is a telescope by which he is seeking to see and know God. The general illumination of the heart is in the world. All pagans have it. But when man has adjusted the lenses of the soul, God flashes down it, and produces an image of Himself in the poor earthly tube.
IV. The Law and the Prophets are discredited. “The law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the Lord” (Lamentations 2:9). The Jewish law, the Torah, came to an end when it had no longer a local habitation. Its enactments were essentially those, not of a catholic, but of a national religion, and the restoration of the nation with a material temple was indispensable to its continued existence. It was only when elevated to be a catholic religion by being made spiritual that it could do without ark, temple, and a separate people (Jeremiah 3:16; Jeremiah 31:31-34). With the Torah the special gift of prophecy also ceased, since both were peculiar to the theocracy; but it was not till the establishment of Christianity that they were finally withdrawn, or rather merged in higher developments of grace. Jeremiah now laments over the temporary removal of Judah’s special privileges before they had accomplished their office. At the return from exile they were for the time restored.—Speaker’s Comm.
It is a grave calamity to church or nation to be deprived of men of insight and inspiration. These men give direction and character to the best work we are capable of doing. Much of the work of the world is done in a perfunctory manner—done to get through with it, done to get it off one’s mind, done to secure the return which it promises. It is done without enthusiasm, originality, or contagious zeal. The men who give their work character, distinction, perfection, are the men whose spirit is behind their hands, giving them a new dexterity. There is no kind of work, from the merest routine to the highest creative activity, which does not receive all that gives it quality from the spirit in which it is done or fashioned. The highest and best work is done when the soul receives its “vision from the Lord” and is animated by His inspiration.
1. Religion seeks practical expression in worship and service.
2. The loss of religious ordinances is a national calamity.
3. The abuse of religious opportunities is punished by their withdrawal.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 2:6. “He hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden; He hath destroyed His places of the assembly.” The earthly temple:
1. Is but a temporary structure, however elaborately built.
2. Is desecrated when a false worship is offered.
3. When defiled, is suddenly destroyed, as a man may tear down in a few moments a fragile hut erected for his temporary pleasure in a garden.
4. Its destruction suggests reflections on man’s unfaithfulness and God’s anger.
—Perverted worship: I. Involves the loss of stated privileges. “The Lord hath caused the solemn feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion.” II. Rouses the Divine displeasure. “The indignation of His anger.” III. Entails regal and ecclesiastical dishonour. “And hath despised the king and the priest.”
Lamentations 2:7. A despised sanctuary: I. Its holiest places rejected with disdain by an offended Deity. “The Lord hath cut off his altar; he hath abhorred his sanctuary.” II. Completely abandoned to destruction. “He hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces.” III. The wild shouts of its destroyers a strange contrast to the exultant joy of former worshippers. “They have made a noise in the house of the Lord, as in the day of a solemn feast.”
Lamentations 2:8. The implacable destroyer: I. Works in harmony with a fixed determination. “The Lord hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion.” II. Carries out his purpose with systematic thoroughness. “He hath stretched out a line; he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying.” III. Lays the strongest defences in lamentable ruin. “Therefore he hath made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together.”
Lamentations 2:9. National ruin complete: I. When all public buildings are destroyed. “Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars.” II. When the rulers are in exile. “Her king and her princes are among the Gentiles.” III. When religious ordinances are suspended. “The law is no more.” IV. When religious teachers are deprived of Divine inspiration. “Her prophets also find no vision from the Lord.”
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Undercurrents cause wrecks. A ship was stranded on the island of Sanda, in the Orkneys. It was a mystery to the captain how the vessel got there. Being foggy at the time, he carefully consulted his chart, and both he and the mate worked up the position, their reckonings exactly agreeing as to latitude, but differing slightly in longitude. The captain had navigated the ship for ten years without any misfortune. He attributed the accident to the force of an undercurrent which carried him unknowingly out of his course, and learnt afterwards from fishermen in the locality that a current was frequently felt in that sea as far as sixty miles from land. The sea of life is intersected with dangerous undercurrents, and the watchful student will be careful to watch their tendency and strength. While on the fringe of the current, it is comparatively easy to escape, but if we drift into the midst of the irresistible swirl, we shall be hurried on to inevitable disaster. You have seen the tiny 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 persistent rapidity and accumulative force, that the panting engine is at length completely strangled, and, utterly exhausted, lies buried fathoms deep beneath the crystal mound.—The Scottish Pulpit.
Ordinances help religious life. Grace is like a spark in wet wood, that needs continual blowing. Would you have and keep up ardent desires? Do as they that would keep in the fire; cherish the sparks and blow them up to a flame. There is no man lives under the means of grace and under the discoveries of God and religion but has his good moods and lively motions. The waters are stirred many times; take hold of this advantage. Strengthen the things that remain and are ready to die, and blow up these sparks into a flame. God has left us enkindling means—prayer, meditation, and the Word. Observe where the bellows blow hardest, and ply that course. The more supernatural things are, there needs more diligence to preserve them. A strange plant needs more care than a native of the soil. Worldly desires, like a nettle, breed of their own accord, but spiritual desires need a great deal of cultivating.—Manton.
—The Christian is compared to a merchantman who trades for rich pearls; he is to go to ordinances as the merchant sails from port to port, not to see places, but to take in his lading, some here, some there. A Christian should be as much ashamed to return empty from his traffic with ordinances as the merchant to come home without his lading. But, alas! how little is this looked after by many that pass for great professors, who are like some idle persons, that come to the market not to buy provision and carry home what they want, but to gaze and look upon what is there to be sold, to no purpose! O my brethren, take heed of this!—Gurnall.
The earthly temple and perverted worship. There is a great difference between religiousness and religion. Man is a religious animal, he must and will worship something. But the religion which the Bible teaches is a total change of the heart, and of the aim and purpose of life.—Calthrop.
—Believers are in danger of seduction into the sin and falsehood of the world. The world threatens believers not only with its enmity, but evermore with its temptations. Believers must be warned to shun the idols the world worships, and they are warned against love to the world, because love in that way very easily gets associated with sinful lusts, which are common in the world. In false prophecy it is shown that the devil, who was a murderer and liar from the beginning, threatens the Church, not only with the deadly enmity of the world, but also with its soul-destroying lies. We cannot show brotherly love to false teachers without running the risk of making ourselves partakers in their sins.—Weiss.
—Means—the table of the Lord, the pulpit, the pages of the Bible, the family altar, the closet oratory—are of no value unless as putting us in communication with the Spirit of God, and used as the kite which the philosopher sends up to draw down the lightnings of the skies, or the bucket which the cottager sends down to draw up water from the well. Then, powerless as they are in themselves, they become the blessed and mighty instrument of spiritual good; the sails that catch the wind and impel the vessel on; the concave mirror that, placed before the Sun of Righteousness, gathers His beams into its burning focus to warm the coldest and melt the hardest heart; eagle-wings to raise our souls to heaven; conduits, like the pipes that bring water to our city from these Pentland Hills, to convey streams of grace, peace, and purity from their fountain in heaven to our souls on earth.—Guthrie.
A despised sanctuary. Those that turn their backs on God’s ordinances and, in rebellion to His commandments, live in sins against conscience, can they wonder that He hides His face from them when they turn their backs on Him? When we sin, we turn our backs upon God and our face to the devil, the world, and pleasure; and can men wonder that God suffers them to melt and pine away? Let us do as the flowers do, turn themselves to the sun. Let us turn ourselves to God in meditation and prayer, striving and wrestling with Him. Look to Him, eye Him in His ordinances and promises, and have communion with Him all the ways we can. Let our souls open and shut with Him. When He hides His face, let us droop as the flowers do till the sun comes again. So, when we have not daily comfort of the Spirit in peace of conscience, let us never rest seeking God’s face in His ordinances and by prayer, and that will cheer a drooping soul as the sunbeams do the flagging flowers.—Sibbes.
Retribution implacable. Fatalism and Atheism are preached constantly amidst the plaudits of ignorant Englishmen. How many politicians deem the matter a thing of the slightest consequence! Hume would never have set cities on fire, beheaded or hacked to pieces human beings, least of all the refined, the noble, the educated; but he must be reckoned among those who sneeringly scattered smouldering embers and bequeathed to others death by the inevitable conflagration. Seldom has the logic of events been more complete than in the great French Revolution.—Bampton Lecture.
—What a diabolical invention was the “Virgin’s Kiss,” once used by the fathers of the Inquisition! The victim was pushed forward to kiss the image, when, lo! its arms embraced him in a deadly embrace, piercing his body with a hundred hidden knives. The tempting pleasures of sin offer to the unwary just such a virgin’s kiss. The sinful joys of the flesh lead, even in this world, to results most terrible, while in the world to come the daggers of remorse and despair will cut and wound beyond all remedy.—Spurgeon.
—Crime and punishment grow out of one stem. Punishment is a fruit that unsuspected ripens within the flower of the pleasure that concealed it.—Emerson.
National ruin. The whole history of Christianity shows that she is in far greater danger of being corrupted by the alliance of power than of being crushed by its opposition. Those who thrust temporal sovereignty upon her treat her as her prototypes treated her Author. They bow the knee, and spit upon her; they cry, “Hail!” and smite her on the cheek; they put a sceptre in her hand, but it is a fragile reed; they crown her, but it is with thorns; they cover with purple the wounds which their own hands have inflicted, and inscribe magnificent letters over the cross on which they have fixed her, to perish in ignominy and pain.—Macaulay.
—Human society reposes on religion. Civilisation without it would be like the lights that play in the northern sky—a momentary flash on the face of darkness ere it again settled into eternal night. Wit and wisdom, sublime poetry and lofty philosophy, cannot save a nation, else ancient Greece had never perished. Valour, law, ambition, cannot preserve a people, else Rome had still been mistress of the world. The nation that loses faith in God and man loses not only its most precious jewel, but its most unifying and conserving force; has before it a
“Stygian cave forlorn
Where brooding Darkness spreads his jealous wings,
And the night-raven sings.”
(י) Lamentations 2:10. Two classes, who were exponents of the intelligence and joy of the people, prostrated like the rest, are no longer capable of acting their parts. They sit on the ground, are silent, the elders of the daughter of Zion; they exhibit other profound tokens of overwhelming sufferings. “Small griefs are eloquent—great ones are dumb.” Also among the ruins they hang down their heads to the ground, the virgins of Jerusalem; the song, the timbrel, the dance, have all been abandoned as vain things.
The retrospect of the poet, which had brought before him one sad scene after another in the destruction of the Jewish state, and the desperate lot of various classes of its people, produced a turmoil of emotions in himself, and appeals to men and God to join in his lamentations.
I. Too deep for words. “The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground and keep silence.” A graphic description of sympathy and sorrow. The judges and magistrates, accustomed to occupy with dignity the judgment-seats, the thrones of the house of David, and to discourse eloquently on important points of law, now sit dejectedly upon the ground, without uttering a word. It was thus that the friends of the afflicted Job silently expressed their sympathy (Job 2:13). There is a moment in the swing of a great sorrow when speech seems impossible—when words, if spoken, would grate upon the ear as a harsh intrusion. We prefer to be left alone and undisturbed till the pressure of the trial is relieved. We are distraught, stunned, and want time to come to ourselves. The most delicate and effectual way in which our kindest friends can help us is to be silent. No words can express our sorrow. Small griefs are eloquent enough, but great ones are dumb.
II. Expressed in abject humiliation. “They have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth.” They are stripped of their robes of state, and all their judicial dignities and prestige. They have lost their offices and their wealth. Greatness and prosperity are exchanged for sackcloth and ashes. The loss of worldly goods brings sorrow to many. An old Latin proverb says, “Genuine are the tears shed over lost property.” Those who have boasted most about their possessions, and carried their heads high in times of plenty, feel most keenly the humiliating straits of poverty. But how crushing is the humiliation when we realise we have lost all—our wealth, our friends, our national status, our religion, our God! Such a woe is voiceless indeed.
III. Overwhelms the soul with conscious shame. “The virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.” Time was when the haughty daughters of Zion courted public admiration as they tripped mincingly along the streets of Jerusalem, decked in richest apparel, and their every movement musical with tinkling ornaments (Isaiah 3:16); but now their pride is humbled, and they are bowed to the earth with conscious shame. And yet it is from this broken and dejected condition we trace the beginning of better things. It is on crushed grain that man is fed; it is by bruised plants that he is restored to health. It was by broken pitchers that Gideon triumphed; on broken pieces of the ship that Paul and his companions were saved. It was by the bruised and torn bodies of the saints that the truth was made to triumph. When we examine the process of moral reform in nations and individuals, we observe how effectually God has used many broken things in the rebuilding of a shattered character—broken earthly hopes, broken bodily health, broken fortunes, broken hearts. “A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” (Psalms 51:17; Psalms 34:18).
1. The greatest sorrow is speechless.
2. A sense of sin is a sense of personal helplessness.
3. The grace of God can change the greatest woe into hope and gladness.
ILLUSTRATIONS. The loneliness of woe. You are tried alone, alone you must pass into the desert, alone you must be sifted by the world; there are moments, known only to a man’s own self, when he sits by the poisoned springs of existence, “yearning for a morrow which shall free him from the strife.” Let life be a life of faith; do not go timorously about inquiring what others think, what others believe, and what others say. God is near you. Throw yourself fearlessly on Him. Trembling mortal! there is an unknown might within your soul which will wake when you command it. Every son of man who would attain the true end of his being must be baptized with fire.—F. W. Robertson.
Dejection and despair. The more sin and corruption grow, and the man becomes fully conscious of it, the more does dejection grow also, and this changes at last into despair, which is a state of entire hopelessness, where all possibilities have vanished, all gates and ways are closed to a man. There is a despair for a hard fate, and it not seldom happens that a man, in consequence of a single severe stroke, makes a sudden leap from his natural state of security into a state of despair, be it that he has lost a beloved human being or his means, or in any other misfortune. Against this form of despair even heathenism had a remedy—resignation, submission to the inevitable. But the deepest despair is when a man gives up hope, not merely for this or that which he called his own, but for himself as a moral being. There is one sustaining and saving power—faith in God. Despair may and should become the transition to salvation, if the man only despairs of himself, but does not give up his God. In the expression of entire inability, of deepest helplessness—“O wretched man that I am”—there is latent a hope of redemption, the hope that what is impossible with man is possible with God.—Martensen.
The ravages of suffering. After the relief of the city of Paris, the strain and fatigue through which M.—had gone told seriously upon his health. He could not forget the horrors he had witnessed. His face began to look worn. His hair became greyer. He looked depressed. His usual cheerful and buoyant energy disappeared, and he became listless, self-absorbed, and melancholy.
Depression. Just before George Moore’s entrance into his palatial house in Cumberland, his wife died. This brought an almost intolerable sense of loneliness. One day, going to see an intimate friend, he said, “How blessed is he amidst his lovely family! I wonder whether he has a coffin in any cupboard.”
Solitude oppressive. When Thomas, the missionary to India, reached Calcutta, he was oppressed with a sense of loneliness. He put an advertisement in the newspapers asking if there was another Christian in the country, and begging for an interview. But there was no answer!
(כ) Lamentations 2:11. So exasperating is his misery that he feels as if organic parts of his body were dismembered. My eyes fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the ground—an effect of terrible grief, showing how body and soul are sympathetic with each other over the breach of the daughter of my people. This shattered condition was replete with the harrowing details of suffering, as when the young children and the sucklings faint in the streets of the city.
(ל) Lamentations 2:12. His ears heard their piteous cravings, while to their mothers they are saying, Where is corn and wine, solid and liquid nourishment. Even when listening, his eyes saw the older children faint as the wounded in the streets of the city, and infants in arms poured their souls into their mother’s bosom, which could supply no aliment.
THE UTTER EXHAUSTION OF GRIEF
I. Because of the hopelessness of the desolation endured. “For the destruction of the daughter of my people” (Lamentations 2:11). The desolation is complete. Everything is destroyed—Temple, home, army, nation, wealth, food, and the very capacity to rouse themselves from the torpor of despair. When the light of hope is quenched it is impossible to put forth effort. Paralysis is destruction.
II. Because of the heart-rending spectacle of little children fainting in the streets and dying in their mothers’ arms, while they vainly moan for food. “Because the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets. They say to their mothers, ‘Where is corn and wine?’ when their soul was poured out into their mother’s bosom” (Lamentations 2:11-12). The harrowing details here given are the most affecting that have yet been depicted by the graphic and versatile pen of the prophet. The cry—an oft-repeated cry, as the tense means—of the children for food, which the mothers were powerless to supply, only added to the tortures they already suffered. So completely prostrate were they with their misery, that they saw their children die with indifference, and could not conceal an unnatural relief when they heard their last sob. Excessive grief blunts the edge of the finest natural instincts.
III. Because all the powers for expressing emotion are completely spent. “Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth” (Lamentations 2:11). Jeremiah employs the terms in ordinary use, and as they were popularly understood. As the heart was regarded by the Jews as the seat of the intellect, so the liver, as the chief of the large viscera classed together under the name of bowels, was supposed to be the seat of the emotions. By the pouring out, therefore, of the liver upon the ground was meant that his feelings had entirely given way under the acuteness of his sorrow, and he could no longer restrain them.—Speaker’s Comm. The agony of grief was passed. It was quelled by sheer exhaustion. He wept till he could weep no more. He grieved till he was incapable of feeling his grief. A tearless sorrow is the most dangerous, and the most difficult to cure.
1. There is a limit to the greatest human sorrow.
2. There is a moment in the experience of the sufferer when death itself is welcome.
3. The greatest sorrow is a painful testimony to the desolating power of sin.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Grief prostrating. Late in the afternoon of a summer day I entered a quiet graveyard where slept one of my dearest friends. It occupied the brow of a hill, which, with many a knoll and graceful undulation, sloped to the green meadow, watered by a winding stream, now catching, at its repeated curves, the rays of the setting sun. On the left was a pleasant wood, where the sturdy pine and fruit-bearing beech concealed narrow paths to cool caves and mossy banks. White birches and the trembling aspen, with the sweet-scented willow, grew upon the right, and from beyond rose the curling smoke from the cottage-houses. A robin sang its song of love and praise, a sparrow passed me bearing food to its little progeny, and the chirp of the merry grasshopper mingled with the hum of hundreds of flitting insects. But for this peace-breathing scene I had no greeting. The wild storm, thunder, rain, and darkness had been more welcome. Yielding utterly to my grief, I threw myself upon the sod, and took no heed of time. There came over me a sense of utter and hopeless desolation; an agony like that of death turned to bitterness the blessings of my lot.
—Grief is a flower as delicate and prompt to fade as happiness. Still it does not wholly die. Like the magic rose, dried and unrecognisable, a warm air breathed on it will suffice to renew its bloom.—De Gasparin.
Misery makes indelible impressions. The rapidity with which ideas grow old in our memories is in a direct ratio to the squares of their importance. Their apparent age runs up miraculously, like the value of diamonds, as they increase in magnitude. A great calamity, for instance, is as old as the trilobites an hour after it has happened. It stains backward through all the leaves we have turned over in the book of life before its blot of tears or of blood is dry on the page we are turning. Did you ever happen to see that most soft-spoken and velvet-handed steam-engine at the Mint? The smooth piston slides backwards and forwards as a lady might slip her delicate finger in and out of a ring. The engine lays one of its fingers calmly but firmly upon a bit of metal; it is a coin now, and will remember that touch, and tell a new race about it, when the date upon it is crusted over with twenty centuries. So it is that a great silent-movingsilent-moving an hour or a moment—as sharp an impression as if it had taken half a lifetime to engrave it.—Holmes.
Distress exhausting. Distress is trouble of a mental kind, tending to despair. Tribulation may be described as the “fighting without,” whilst distress may be described as the “fears within.” That kind of trouble is indicated which comes upon a wrestler when his antagonist has succeeded in throwing him after a long struggle, has got his foot on him, is holding him down, and all seems to be up with him. Before, when wrestling, he was troubled, now he is distressed. Thus we see that the afflictions contemplated by the terms tribulation and distress are no light ones; and it is little wonder that, under the strain of such untoward circumstances of outward and inward trouble, the Christian should lose heart and fear the worst.
Grief excessively indulged. Ebenezer Adams, an eminent member of the Society of Friends, on visiting a lady of rank, whom he found, six months after the death of her husband, seated on a sofa covered with black cloth and in all the dignity of woe, approached her with great solemnity, and gently taking her by the hand, thus addressed her: “So, friend, I see, then, thou hast not yet forgiven God Almighty.” This reproof had so great an effect on the lady, that she immediately laid aside her violent grief, and again entered on the discharge of the duties of life.
The cure of excessive sorrow. A pale mourner stood bending over the tomb, and his tears fell fast and often. As he raised his humid eyes to heaven, he cried, “My brother! O my brother.” A sage passed that way and said, “For whom dost thou mourn?” “One,” replied he, “whom I did not sufficiently love while living, but whose inestimable worth I now feel.” “What wouldst thou do if he were restored to thee?” The mourner replied that he would never offend him by an unkind word, but would take every occasion to show his friendship, if he could but come back to his fond embrace. “Then, waste not thy time in useless grief,” said the sage; “but if thou hast friends, go and cherish the living, remembering that they will one day be dead also.”
—Like the passengers through the tunnelled Alps from the dark, cold, stifling air, emerging on the broad light-flooded plains of Lombardy, it is often by a way which they know not, gloomy and underground, that the convoy is carried which God’s Spirit is bringing to the wealthy place; and your present grief you will have no reason to regret if it introduce you to God’s friendship and to joys which do not perish in the using. Affliction is God’s message.—Hamilton.
(מ) Lamentations 2:13. He is ready, as a servant of the All-merciful and All-wise, to speak on His behalf, so as to alleviate the clamant wretchedness; but he feels unable. What shall I testify to thee? No message is given to him from the Most High, and no resemblance to her condition is perceptible on the broad surface of past or present human life. What liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? The case is unparalleled, and there are no lessons applicable. What shall I compare to thee and comfort thee [with], O virgin daughter of Zion? For great is thy breach like the sea. Who will heal thee? Ruin had extended as far as to the horizon of the people’s existence, and to the deep springs of thought. True, there had not been wanting men who professed to be commissioned by Jehovah to declare that all would be well. They healed the hurt—the word here translated breach—of the daughter of my people lightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.
I. Is incomparable with any ordinary calamity. “What thing shall I take to witness for thee? What thing shall I liken to thee? What shall I equal to thee?” Great as may be our distress, it is some comfort, slight though it be, to know there are others more or less unfortunate. But in this case, the prophet has no message from Jehovah to afflicted Judah, nor can he offer the ordinary human consolation of saying that others have had equal or worse sorrow to bear. The lamentable condition of Jerusalem was unparalleled; there had been nothing like it. No city had been so highly privileged with Divine honours: no city had been so signally punished. “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow” (chap. Lamentations 1:12). Jeremiah had exhausted all his powers of description. Desperate indeed must be the state of Judah when such a master of similes had to confess his inability to coin an adequate comparison.
II. Is measureless as the illimitable ocean. “For thy breach is great like the sea.” In his extremity to find some comparison, the prophet mentions the sea, which, on account of its vast dimensions, its illimitable depth and breadth, could alone furnish a fitting emblem of the magnitude of the devastation effected by the Chaldeans. The indefiniteness of the figure thus used reveals at once the straits to which the writer was reduced, and the utter ruin in which Judah was overwhelmed. Thou hast a flood of afflictions, a sea of troubles, an ocean of miseries.
III. Is beyond the power of human consolation and repair. “What shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? who can heal thee?” Human words fail; human help is powerless. There is no comfort in man, or in any number of men. If there is to be any relief or restoration, it must come from God. He alone can change ruin into prosperity, misery into joy, darkness into light. A traveller in Madeira set off one morning to climb the summit of a lofty mountain to gaze upon the distant scene and enjoy the balmy air. He had a guide, and they had with difficulty ascended some two thousand feet, when a thick mist was seen descending upon them, obscuring the heavens. The traveller thought there was no hope left but to retrace their steps or be lost. But as the cloud came nearer and darkness enveloped them, the guide stepped on before, penetrating the mist, calling out every now and then, “Press on, master, press on; there’s light beyond!” They did press on, and in a few minutes, emerging from the thick mist, found themselves gazing upon a scene of transcendent beauty. Above, the sky was bright and cloudless; below, the almost level cloud through which they had passed was silvered with the rays of the sun, like a field of untrodden snow. In the darkest experiences, if we will but listen, we may hear the voice of our Divine Guide exclaiming, “Press on, press on; there is light beyond!”
1. Great indeed is the calamity that baffles human ingenuity to describe.
2. The nation is utterly undone when smitten by the hand of God.
3. God alone can repair the damage His righteous anger has inflicted.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Drifting to ruin. Two or three miles above the falls of Niagara an Indian canoe was one day observed floating quietly along, with its paddle on its side. At first it was supposed to be empty. No one could imagine a man would expose himself to such well-known danger; but a turn of the current revealed an Indian lying asleep at the bottom. The spectators were shocked, and shouted to rouse him, but in vain. It seemed more like death than sleep which held him. All hope of rescue was gone, and they hurried along the shore in alarm to see the end. It soon came, for the torrent was now rolling so rapidly that they could scarcely keep pace with the object of their interest. At length the roar of the water, which had been hitherto almost buried within the high banks below, by a sudden change of the wind broke upon them with double violence. This dreadful noise, with which the Indian ear was so familiar, did at last arouse him. He was seen to start up and snatch his paddle. But it was too late. The same dinning sound which had roused him from insensibility told him at the same time that it was in vain to seek safety now by paddling, nor indeed had he time to try. Upright as he stood he was swept over the awful precipice, and the boat and its occupant were seen no more.
Ruin and responsibility. Julian the Apostate had for his coat of arms on his escutcheon an eagle struck through the heart with a shaft feathered from her own wing, with the motto, “Our death flies to us with our own feathers, and our wings pierce us to the very heart.” The moral is, that if a man receives injury, he alone has caused it, and is alone to blame.
Unutterable ruin. Every man feels, and not strangely, that there never were such experiences of life as his own. No joy was ever like our joy, no sorrow ever like our sorrow. Indeed, there is a kind of indignation excited in us when one likens our grief to his own. The soul is jealous of its experiences, and does not like pride to be humbled by the thought that they are common. For though we know that the world groans and travails in pain, and has done so for ages, yet a groan heard by our ear is a very different thing from a groan uttered by our mouth. The sorrows of other men seem to us like clouds of rain that empty themselves in the distance, and whose long-travelling thunder comes to us mellowed and subdued; but our own troubles are like a storm bursting right overhead and sending down its bolts upon us with direct plunge.—Beecher.
Ruin the punishment for sin. Fearful it is to consider that sin does not only drive us into calamity, but it makes us also impatient, and embitters our spirit in the sufferance: it cries aloud for vengeance, and so torments men before the time with such fearful outcries and horrid alarms, that their hell begins before the fire is kindled. It hinders our prayers, and consequently makes us hopeless and helpless. It perpetually affrights the conscience, unless by its frequent stripes it brings a callousness and an insensible damnation upon it. It makes us lose all that Christ purchased for us—all the blessings of His providence, the comforts of His Spirit, the aids of His grace, the light of His countenance, the hopes of His glory.—Jeremy Taylor.
—The pain, the disappointment, the dissatisfaction that wait on an evil course, show that the soul was not made to be the instrument of sin, but its lofty avenger. The desolated affections, the haggard countenance, the pallid and sunken cheek, the sighings of grief, proclaim that these are ruins indeed; but they proclaim that something noble has fallen into ruin, proclaim it by signs mournful yet venerable, like the desolation of an ancient temple, like its broken walls and fallen columns, and the hollow sounds of decay that sink down heavily among its deserted recesses.—Dewey.
Helpless ruin appeals to our sympathy. Helplessness appealing to our pity begets affection. In one of the cottages of my country parish dwelt a poor idiot child, horrible to all eyes but her parents, and so helpless that, though older than sisters just blooming into womanhood, she lay, unable either to walk or speak, a burden on her mother’s lap almost the whole day long—a heavy handful to one who had the cares of a family, and was the wife of a hard-working man, and a most painful contrast to the very roses that flung their bright clusters over the cottage window, as well as to the lark that, pleased with a grassy turf, carolled within its cage. Death, in most instances an unwelcome visitor, came at length—to her and to their relief. Relief! so I thought; and when the father came with an invitation to the funeral, so I said. Though not roughly, but inadvertently spoken, the word jarred on a tender chord; and I was more than ever taught how helplessness begets affection in the very measure and proportion of itself, when he burst into a fit of sorrow, and, speaking of his beautiful boys and blooming girls, said, “If it had been God’s will, I would have parted with any of them rather than her.”—Guthrie.
No hope but in God. The ninth capital in the Ducal Palace at Venice is decorated with figures of the eight virtues—Faith, Hope, Charity, Justice, Temperance, Prudence, Humility, and Fortitude. The virtues of the fourteenth century are somewhat hard-featured, with vivid and living expression, and plain everyday clothes of the time. Charity has her lap full of apples, and is giving one to a little child, who stretches his arm for it across a gap in the leafage of the capital. Fortitude tears open a lion’s jaws; Faith lays her hand on her breast as she beholds the cross; and Hope is praying, while above is a hand seen emerging from sunbeams—the hand of God, and the inscription above is Spes optima in Deo. This design is rudely imitated by the fifteenth century workmen: the virtues have lost their hard features and living expression; they have now all got Roman noses, and have had their hair curled. Their actions and emblems are, however, preserved until we come to Hope—she is still praising, but she is praising to the sun only: the hand of God is gone!—Ruskin.
(נ) Lamentations 2:14. The Book of Jeremiah contains ample evidence as to who those miserable comforters were. It shows that, during the period just preceding the overthrow of Judæa, there were a number of persons who were accustomed glibly to say, The burden of Jehovah, but who were mere pretenders to divine visions, who gave chaff and not wheat. The reason lay in the character of the people, that formed its own instruments in politics and religion. If a people prefer to have sensational statesmen, such statesmen will appear. If prophets prophecy falsely, it is because the people love to have it so. They say unto the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits. They got what they wanted. Thy prophets have seen for thee, and the result is vanity and foolishness, unreal and unreasonable things. They did not make known the will of God so as to expose the evil ways and doings of the people, and prepare for amendment. They have not uncovered thine iniquity to turn away thy captivity. Instead of that, their boasted visions tended to produce burdens of vanity and causes of banishment. They prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land, and that I should drive you out.
I. Are self-deluded. “Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee.” Thy prophets—they were certainly not God’s prophets. Their authority was self-assumed, and they ingratiated themselves into the favour of the people by prophesying only what was agreeable to their hearers. They indulged so lavishly in lies and deceit, that they almost persuaded themselves that what they uttered was truth. But they were deluded, and their delusion was self-induced. An inveterate habit of lying vitiates the moral sense; it becomes difficult to appreciate what is true. A lie poisons the atmosphere wherever it circulates. It has no legs and cannot stand, but it has wings and can fly far and wide.
II. Have no insight into the real cause of national calamities, and their teaching is powerless to prevent them. “They have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity.” The Syriac renders the words thus: They have not disclosed to thee thy sins, that so thou mightest repent, and I might have turned away thy captivity. They were so demoralised by the habitual practice of falsehood, that they were incompetent to judge the cause and drift of the national troubles. They could not see that disobedience to God was at the root of the general distress; or, if they did, they saw so little evil in it, or danger from it, that they did not deem it necessary to alarm the people by any words of warning. Had they been able to read the signs of the times and to act with promptness and fidelity in urging the people to repentance, Israel’s chastisement might have been averted. When responsible leaders are unfaithful, and abuse their trust by deceiving others, the misguided nation rushes on to its doom.
III. Invent messages full of deceit. “But have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment.” The word burdens does not mean here prophecies of a minatory character, for evidently the false prophets assured the people of prosperity and deliverance. The word is used in a contemptuous sense. The burdens, so different from the Divine message laid as a burden on the conscience of the genuine prophet, were, in this case, mere pretence, false, empty, and utterly inadequate to remove “the causes of banishment.” The false prophets, in their attempt to account for the captivity, invented any cause but the real one—the apostasy of the people. Deceit produces darker shades of deceit. One lie must be quickly thatched with another, or it will soon rain through. The way of falsehood is tortuous. A deaf and dumb boy being asked, “What is truth?” replied by thrusting his finger forward in a straight line. When asked, “What is falsehood?” he made a zigzag motion with his finger. The result of false teaching is disintegration, banishment, a driving out. Every lie, great or small, is the brink of a precipice, the depth of which nothing but Omniscience can fathom. The poet Campbell calls it, “The torrent’s smoothness, ere it dash below.”
1. The true prophet receives his commission directly from God.
2. While the prophet is faithful to his Divine calling he is preserved from error.
3. The false prophet deceives himself as well as others.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—A false prophet.
“The bigot theologian, in minute
Distinctions skilled, and doctrines unreduced
To practice; in debate how loud! how long!
How dexterous! in Christian love, how cold!
His vain conceits were orthodox alone.
The immutable and heavenly truth revealed
By God was nought to him; he had an art,
A kind of hellish charm, that made the lips
Of truth speak falsehood; to his liking turned
The meaning of the text; made trifles seem
The marrow of salvation;
Proved still his reasoning best, and his belief,
Though propped on fancies wild as madmen’s dreams,
Most rational, most Scriptural, most sound;
With mortal heresy denouncing all
Who in his arguments could see no force.
He proved all creeds false but his own, and found
At last his own most false—most false, because
He spent his time to prove all others so.”
False doctrine. A man holding false and pernicious doctrines preached at a village chapel, and endeavoured to convince a large congregation that there is no punishment after death. At the close of the discourse he informed the people he would preach there again in four weeks, if they wished. A respectable merchant rose and said, “Sir, if your doctrine is true, we do not need you; and if it is false, we do not want you.”
False teaching dangerous when mixed with truth. Falsehood is never so successful as when she baits, her hook with truth. No opinions so fatally mislead us as those that are not wholly wrong, as no watches so effectually deceive the wearer as those that are sometimes right.—Colton.
—Error is never so dangerous as when it is the alloy of truth. Pure error would be rejected; but error mixed with truth makes use of the truth as a pioneer for it, and gets introduction where otherwise it would have none. Poison is never so dangerous as when mixed up with food; error is never so likely to do mischief as when it comes to us under the pretensions and patronage of that which is true.—Cumming.
Faith in falsehood disastrous.—When the English army under Harold, and the Norman under William the Conqueror, were set in array for that fearful conflict which decided the fate of the two armies and the political destinies of Great Britain, William, perceiving that he could not by a fair attack move the solid columns of the English ranks, had recourse to a false movement in order to gain the victory. He gave orders that one flank of his army should feign to be flying from the field in disorder. The officers of the English army believed the falsehood, pursued them, and were cut off. A second time a false movement was made in another part of the field. The English again believed, pursued, and were cut off. By these movements the fortunes of the day were determined. Although the English had the evidence of their senses, yet they were led to believe a falsehood. They acted in view of it. The consequence was the destruction of a great part of their army, and the establishment of the Norman power in England. It is an incontrovertible fact that the whole heathen world, ancient and modern, have believed in and worshipped unholy beings as gods. In consequence of believing falsehood concerning the character of God, all heathendom at the present hour is filled with ignorance, impurity, and crime.—J. B. Walker.
“I scorn this hated scene
Of masking and disguise,
Where men on men still gleam
With falseness in their eyes:
Where all is counterfeit,
And truth hath never say;
Where hearts themselves do cheat,
Concealing hope’s decay.”—Motherwell.
(ם) Lamentations 2:15. Casual strangers on their travels felt glad at sight of desolated Jerusalem. They clap their hands at thee, all who pass by the way, and add scorn to gladness; they hiss and wag their head. They use sarcasm, Is this the city which they called the perfection of beauty, a joy to the whole earth? So the glorying of the Jews is turned into a reproach and shame.
(פ) Lamentations 2:16. A similar but wider view is presented than in the preceding verse. Not strangers, but all thine enemies, filled with mockery and exultation, have opened their mouth against thee. There is testimony in the Psalms as to how Orientals can belch out with their mouth. Abrupt utterances follow, and intimate how excited and impassioned they were. We have swallowed up. Hah! this is the day which we have expected, have found, have seen. Now at length we see what we sought, get what we wanted.
(ע) Lamentations 2:17. Whatever are the calamities suffered, whatever the taunts to which the people are exposed in their ruined condition, they have not come from the onslaught of ruthless foes, but from God, their own God. That was the final fact of the catastrophe which had overwhelmed them. It is not the generalisations, called “laws,” which make history what it is, but the will of “the living Lord.” He controls all existences, and His methods with them are always definite and consistent. Not one faileth. Jehovah has done that which he purposed; he has fulfilled his word which he commanded from the days of old. Compare Leviticus 26:14 ff; Deuteronomy 28:15 ff. He keeps His word. His order has been faithfully carried out in the overthrow of Jerusalem, and, giving entire power to boasting destroyers, he has exalted the horn of thine adversaries.
THE HEARTLESS TRIUMPH OF THE SCORNER
I. Expressed in aggravated taunts (Lamentations 2:15). The conquerors heap insult upon insult on the fallen city. They employ all the familiar signs expressive of contempt and derision. They clap their hands, they hiss, they wag their heads, and with a scornful curl of the lip they ask, “Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth?” Jerusalem had acquired a world-wide renown. It was the pride of the Jew, the dread of its subject tribes, the envy of surrounding nations. No city had been so signally honoured of Heaven; and now that it was prone in the dust, its foes united in a wild chorus of fiendish jubilation. How vividly does this verse remind us of the scene around the cross of the world’s Redeemer! (Matthew 27:39-44; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 23:35-37). It is heartless and wicked to make sport of the miseries of others, and is a cruel aggravation of those miseries. The triumph of the wicked is short. Their hollow-ringing laughter is as “the crackling of thorns under a pot.” Their taunts and gibes fall back upon themselves. Our unkind words come home to roost.
II. Savagely exults in the havoc that has been ardently desired (Lamentations 2:16). The intensity of the enemy’s exultation is shown by the heaping up of unconnected words, with each of which its own proper object must be supplied. We have found what we sought, have seen what we looked for; our hopes and longings are all fulfilled.—Speaker’s Commentary. The enemies of Zion eagerly watched for her downfall, they earnestly desired it, they maliciously helped to bring it about; and now it had come, their maddened hilarity and scorn knew no bounds. The truly brave never exult over the defeat of their worst foes. They have often been known to weep over the devastation they have themselves created. It is inhuman to chuckle over the sufferings of others. It is a depth of demoralisation reached only by the cowardly and craven-hearted.
III. The fulfilment of Divine threatenings against national unfaithfulness (Lamentations 2:17). The ruin of Jerusalem, over which her adversaries so savagely rejoiced, was no accidental or unforeseen event. It was the fulfilment of the Divine purpose, of which Israel had been so often forewarned from the days of old. It was distinctly foretold that if Israel forsook Jehovah and lapsed into idolatry, they would be punished with all the miseries of a siege, ending in national overthrow (Leviticus 26:14-39; Deuteronomy 28:15-68). The contemptuous scorn of their enemies emphasised their punishment, and testified to the exactness with which the Divine threatenings against disobedience had been fulfilled. The Divine word, whether in threat or promise, never fails. God is unchangeably faithful both in mercy and in judgment.
1. The wicked ever gloat over the downfall of the good.
2. The gibes of the scorner are a bitter ingredient in the punishment of the unfaithful.
3. The taunts of the wicked have no power to injure the truly righteous.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
16. The world’s treatment of its suffering Redeemer:
1. A wild tempest of unreasoning scorn, hatred, and exultation.
2. A mournful evidence of the intense acrimony of sin.
3. Does not prevent the unselfish working out of its sublime redemption.
Lamentations 2:17. The Divine threatenings of judgment: I. Unaffected by the lapse of time. “He hath fulfilled His word that He had commanded in the days of old.” II. Are carried out with relentless certainty. “He hath thrown down and hath not pitied.” III. Always finds agents willing to execute them. “He hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee; He hath set up the horn of thine adversaries.”
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Triumph premature. During the reign of Henry VIII., the Pope, angry at the English monarch’s resistance, called a council in Rome, at which it was resolved that the Emperor of Germany should invade England, and that Henry should be deposed. So rejoiced was the Papal party, that they illuminated Rome; cannons were fired, bonfires lighted, and great bodies of men paraded the streets shouting, “The Empire and Spain.” Already, in their eager expectation, England was a second Netherlands, a captured province under the regency of Catherine or Mary. How bitterly these expectations were overthrown history too well declares.
Scorn, not to be dreaded.
“Ridicule is a weak weapon when levelled at a strong mind;
But common men are cowards, and dread an empty laugh.
Betray mean terror of ridicule, thou shalt find fools enough to mock thee;
But answer thou their laughter with contempt,
And the scoffers will lick thy feet.”
A scoffer non-plussed. On a certain occasion, in the presence of a vast and brilliant assemblage, a person more noted for his self-esteem than for his learning was speaking against the Christian religion in terms of the severest scorn and derision. The celebrated Dr. Belknap, overhearing the orator, stepped up to him and asked, “Well, sir, have you found a religion that is better?” The scoffer, considerably abashed by this unlooked-for question, was forced to acknowledge that thus far he had not. “Well,” responded the Doctor, “when you have, let me know, and I will join you in adopting it.” The rebuke was as wise as it was just.
Sarcasm destroys friendship. Life is full of paradoxes. There are some slight causes which will destroy the strongest friendship. Great causes will not always impair it. A sarcastic and disparaging speech made by a friend concerning his friend in his absence, and repeated by some mischief-maker, will invariably disturb friendship; while an angry altercation, or some injury to person or to property, will often leave friendship unharmed. When alienation begins, it increases at a very rapid rate. The rust spot multiplies apace. The mildew spreads quickly. The rift in the lute becomes longer and longer.—S. Martin.
The Redeemer’s sufferings unique. Did Christ then merely suffer as any other man has done? Suffering is a question of nature. The educated man suffers more than the uneducated man; the poet probably suffers more than the mathematician; the commanding officer suffers more in a defeat than the common soldier. The more life the more suffering, the billows of sorrow being in proportion to the volume of our manhood. Now Jesus Christ was not merely a man. He was man, and by the very compass of His manhood He suffered more than any mortal can endure. The storm may pass as fiercely over the shallow lake as over the Atlantic, but by its very volume the latter is more terribly shaken. No other man had come with Christ’s ideas; in no other man was the element of self so entirely abnegated; no other man had offered such opposition to diabolical rule. All these circumstances combine to render Christ’s sufferings unique, yet not one of them puts Christ so far away as to prevent us finding in His suffering unfailing solace and strength.—Dr. Parker.
Divine punishment certain. Those who made light of the invitation to the supper mentioned in the Gospel were shut out. The sceptical Pilate ended a miserable, hopeless life by suicide. The rich man went on living splendidly, giving banquets, pampering his body, until one day he died and was buried, and awoke in torment to know its reality at last. The people in Noah’s days lived securely and indifferent, “until the flood came and took them all away.” On the inhabitants of Sodom the sun was shining when Lot went out of the city; but the same day it rained fire and brimstone, and destroyed them all.
(צ) Lamentations 2:18. Their heart cried unto the Lord. The cry is not to the God in covenant with Israel, but to the ruler over all nations and all matter. Yet the pronoun their cannot refer to the persons last spoken of. The adversaries were not likely to change their vaunts into profound sympathy. It is appropriate to suppose that there was a part, at any rate, of the downtrodden who would tell their heart-aches to the only Helper, and could not subdue the longing to see all things around them express the tokens of keenest sorrow. O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a torrent day and night. Bold appeals to inanimate objects for signs of interest in human affairs are not strange to prophets of Israel, and the call upon the shattered wall of Jerusalem seems grounded on the idea that it was regarded as a mother embracing in its arms the city with its blighted hopes. It was not to be stemmed and have respite; let not the pupil [Heb. daughter] of the eye cease from shedding tears.
(ק) Lamentations 2:19. Sleep is to be interrupted in order to weep. Arise, cry loud in the night, and as its hours pass on, rouse up at the beginning of the watches into which the night is divided. Hearts that cried are to cast away all reserve before the Lord. They will have gone a long way towards receiving help when they recognise that He who “is strong to smite is also strong to save.” They will take the attitude of prayer, Lift up thy hands to Him, and the first matter to request will be the life of thy young children, whose sad case is again mentioned, faint for hunger at the top of every street. Dying and dead little ones at every turn. A sight for the Creator to consider.
A CALL TO PRAYER
I. Addressed to a city suffering the miseries of a desolating siege. “Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion!” (Lamentations 2:18). It sounds strange thus to appeal to the wall of Zion—to pray so passionately that tears may run down like a river. But this is quite after the manner of Jeremiah and other sacred writers (comp. Lamentations 2:8; Isaiah 14:31; Jeremiah 22:29; Habakkuk 2:11; Luke 19:40). Carried away with an outburst of sorrow, “the prophet suddenly addresses the wall, which had so long been their shelter and defence, and bids it, as the representative of the people who had dwelt secure under its protection, to shed floods of tears on their behalf. Broken up by the enemy, it could be their guardian no longer, but by its ruins it might still cry unto the Lord in their behalf.” However great may be our distress, it is always wise to promptly obey the summons to pray. Prayer brings moral strength and brightens the hope of rescue.
II. To be mingled with much weeping. “Let tears run down like a river day and night; give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease” (Lamentations 2:18). Like a river, a brook, or torrent, rushing along furiously at one time and afterwards dried up. In the nature of things weeping cannot be incessant. Like a torrent, it gushes out in floods of tears, and, though ceasing at intervals, it is in this instance to be often repeated. Reasons for frequent weeping will be found in the prolonged continuance of the misery. Suffering is apt to stupify and harden, if the heart is not softened with tears. Prayer is the more genuine when accompanied with godly sorrow.
III. To be expressed with loud cries throughout the night-watches. “Arise, cry out in the night; in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord” (Lamentations 2:19). At the beginning of each night-watch means all the night through. There are crises in life, times of trouble and peril, when the time usually devoted to sleep may be fitly employed in earnest, agonising prayer. Such a time had come in the history of Judah; such a time comes to most. There is a pathetic tenderness of sorrow in the night-moanings and cries of the soul, and it is then we are often conscious of the special nearness of Divine help.
“Hours spent with pain and Thee
Lost hours have never seemed;
No! those are lost which but might be
From earth for heaven redeemed.
For weeping, wakeful eyes
Instinctive look above,
And catch, through openings in the skies,
Thy beams, unslumbering Love!”
IV. To be offered especially on behalf of perishing children. “Lift up thy hands towards Him for the life of thy young children that faint for hunger at the top of every street” (Lamentations 2:19). Among the most heart-rending miseries of the siege was the spectacle of little children prostrate in the streets slowly dying of starvation. You cannot enter a street in any part of the city but this sad sight meets the eye. The lifting up of the hands is not only the attitude and symbol of prayer, but indicates earnestness in supplication. The sufferings of helpless children appeal to the hardest heart, and when it is impossible to render any other help, we are called upon to pray for them. When our children are in extremity, so are we. Prayer is the only refuge, apart from which there is nothing but wretchedness and despair.
1. Our daily necessities are a constant call to prayer.
2. Misery finds relief in prayer.
3. The young should ever be the subject of earnest prayer.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 2:19. A night of prayer:
1. Necessary in circumstances of special peril.
2. Often characterised by intense earnestness.
3. Familiar to many an anxious mother pleading for the salvation of her child.
—Watch-Night service. I. It is never too soon to pray. There is no reason why you should delay to the morning light. “In the beginning of the night-watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord.” How many young persons imagine that religion is a thing for age, or at least for maturity! They do not want their young shoulders galled with an early burden; they do not think it is true that “it is good for a man to bear the yoke in his youth;” and they forget that that “yoke is easy” and that “burden is light.” God hears children. He called Samuel when he was but a child. We have had our Josiahs, we have had our Timothys; we have seen those in early youth brought to the Saviour. Young man, it is not too soon. II. It is not too late to cry to the Lord. If the sun be set and the watches of the night have commenced their round, the mercy-seat is open. No shop is open so late as the House of Mercy. The devil has two tricks with men. Sometimes he puts their clock a little backward, and says, “Stop! there is time enough yet;” and when that does not answer, he turns the hands on, and cries out, “Too late! too late!” Within another fifteen minutes another year shall have come; but if the Spirit of God calls you this year, He will not call you too late in the year. If to the last second you should live, if God the Holy Ghost calls you then, He will not have called you too late. The darkness of night is gathering; it is coming on, and you are near death. Arise, sleeper, arise! Thou art now taking the last nap of death. III. We cannot pray too vehemently. “Cry out in the night.” God loves earnest prayers. He loves impetuous prayers, vehement prayers. Let a man preach, if he dare, coldly and slowly, but never let him pray so. Those who cry with weak voices, who do not cry aloud, must not expect to get a blessing. When you go to Mercy’s gate, do not give a gentle tap like a lady, do not give a single knock like a beggar, but take the knocker and rap hard till the very door seems to shake. Rap with all your might, and recollect that God loveth those who knock hard at Mercy’s gate. IV. We cannot pray too simply. “Pour out your hearts before Him.” Not pour out your fine words, not pour out your beautiful periods, but pour out your hearts. “I dare not,” says one; “there is black stuff in my heart.” Out with it, then; it is better out than in. “I cannot pray as I could wish,” says another; “my crying out is a feeble one.” When you pour out water, it does not make much noise. So you can “pour out your heart like water,” and it will run away, and you can scarcely know it. There is many a prayer uttered in a garret, down in a cellar or in some lonely place where the cobbler sits mending his shoes beneath a window, which the world does not hear, but the Lord hears it. Pour out your heart like water by confessing your sins, by begging the Lord to have mercy on you for Christ’s sake. And when it is all poured out, He will come and fill it again. Listen for one moment to the ticking of that clock. It is the beating of the pulse of eternity; it is the footstep of death pursuing you. Time is precious, and when we have little of it, it is more precious. You will soon enter another year. This year will have gone in a few seconds. Where will the next year be spent?—C. H. Spurgeon.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—A mute summons to prayer. Venice may well call upon us to note with reverence, that of all the towers which are still seen rising like a branchless forest from her islands, there is but one whose office was other than that of summoning to prayer, and that one was a watch-tower only.——Ruskin.
Tearful intercession irresistible. Miss Gratz—supposed to have been the original of Rebecca in “Ivanhoe”—was nursing her grandfather in his last illness. Calling her to him one day, he said, “What can I do for you, my dear child?” Turning upon him her beautiful eyes filled with tears, she said in a tone of earnest entreaty, “Grandfather, forgive Aunt Shinah.” This was a daughter who had been long estranged because of her marriage with a Gentile. The old man sought his grand-daughter’s hand, pressed it, and, after a silence, said in a broken voice, “Send for her.” In due course the lady came, received her father’s forgiveness and blessing, and when, a few days later, he breathed his last, the arms of his long-estranged child were about him, while Rebecca Gratz sat silently at his side.
Prayer necessary for service. Bees suffer sadly from famine during the dry years which occasionally occur in the southern and middle portions of California. If the rainfall amounts only to three or four inches, instead of from twelve to twenty, as in ordinary seasons, then sheep and cattle die in thousands, and so do these small winged cattle, unless they are carefully fed or removed to other pastures. No flowers, no honey; no rain, no food. They who teach others must themselves feed on the truths they declare. Failure to commune with God will give the poverty-stroke to our endeavours to bless man.
Sorrow drives men to prayer.
“ ‘There is no God,’ the foolish saith,
But none ‘There is no sorrow;’
And Nature oft the cry of faith
In bitter need will borrow:
Eyes which the preacher could not school,
By wayside graves are raised,
And lips say ‘God be pitiful,’
Who ne’er said ‘God be praised!’
Be pitiful, O God!”
“Jesus, pitying Saviour, hear me;
Draw Thou near me;
Turn Thee, Lord, in grace to me;
For Thou knowest all my sorrow;
Night and morrow
Doth my cry go up to Thee.
Peace I cannot find: O take me,
Lord, and make me
From the yoke of evil free;
Calm this longing never-sleeping,
Still my weeping,
Grant me hope once more in Thee.”
Sympathy with youth. George Moore, merchant and philanthropist, was the constant resort of young men wanting situations. If he could not provide for them in his own warehouse, he endeavoured to find situations for them amongst his friends. He took no end of trouble about this business. After his young friends had obtained employment, he continued to look after them. He took down their names and addresses in a special red book kept for the purpose, and repeatedly asked them to dine with him on Sunday afternoons. He usually requested that they should go to some church or chapel in the evening.
A mother’s prayer. After Augustine had lost faith in Manichæism, he found himself in the same situation as he was ten years before. There was the same longing after truth, but linked now with a feeling of desolation, a bitter sense of deception, and a large measure of scepticism. He was no longer at ease in Carthage, and resolved on a journey to Rome, where he ventured to hope for a more brilliant and profitable career as a rhetorician. His mother wished either to prevent his going, or to go with him. While she spent a night in the Church of the Martyr, praying and wrestling with God in tears to prevent the voyage, Augustine sailed for the coast of Italy, and his deceived mother found herself the next morning alone on the sea-shore. She had learned, however, the heavenly art of forgiving, and believing also where she could not see. In quiet resignation she returned to the city, and continued to pray for the salvation of her son. Though meaning well, she this time erred in her prayer, for the journey of Augustine was the means of his salvation. The denial of the prayer was, in fact, the answering of it. Instead of the husk, God granted rather the substance of her petition in the conversion of her son. “Therefore,” says he, “hadst Thou, O God, regard to the aim and essence of her desires, and didst not do what she then prayed for, that Thou mightest do for me what she continually implored.”—Schaff.
(ר) Lamentations 2:20. The prayer is put into words correspondent with the circumstances. See, Jehovah, and behold to whom thou hast done this, to the city called thine, to the people whom thou hast chosen to be a name and praise to thee. How shocking are the consequences! See if women eat their fruit, the children whom they carried. The last word relates to that which is spread—as infants on the knees or arms. The Revised Version translates it dandled in the hands, which, if expressing the idea, is too special. The awful incident was a punishment threatened (Deuteronomy 28:56-57; Jeremiah 19:9). See if there are slain in the sanctuary of the Lord priest and prophet. His own holy place defiled with blood. If such spectacles were common, as they were, will God not stay His hand?
(ש) Lamentations 2:21. From the massacre in the Temple to the general slaughter of all ages and both sexes is another step in the dismal recital. The youth and the old man … my virgins and choice young men, were killed. It was clear that they had to bear the anger of Jehovah—that He was not only full of compassion, but in righteousness he doth judge and make war upon evil.
(ח) Lamentations 2:22. Thou hast called as in a day of solemn assembly, summoning, as by trumpet, all kinds of terrifying agencies—men, famine, fire, sword—my terrors on every side, and there was none that escaped or remained in the day of Jehovah’s anger. Then, in motherly anguish, she laments again over the children she had carried and brought up, whom the enemy had cruelly consumed. So “the poem concludes, like the first, with deep sorrow, regarding which all attempts at comfort are quite unavailing.”
A PRAYER FOR DIVINE COMPASSION
I. Reminding Jehovah of His former favour to the sufferers. “Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom Thou hast done this” (Lamentations 2:20). The prophet seems to feel that if God would only look and recall to mind who they were who were suffering, He would surely have pity. They are not the heathen, but His own people, the seed of Abraham, whom He raised from obscurity and endowed with unexampled blessings. Their present misery was all the more painful to endure when contrasted with their former affluence and power, and would surely move the compassion of Him who had so often interposed on their behalf. It is a great help in prayer to remind God of His former loving-kindness. Every blessing we receive from God increases His interest in our welfare. Every act of disobedience is a sin against Infinite Love.
II. Uttered from the midst of appalling distress (Lamentations 2:20-21). In these verses we have a vivid description of the suffering and desolation occasioned by the siege. In the extreme exigencies of famine the most horrible cannibalism was practised: the pangs of hunger devoured maternal affection, and mothers devoured their newly-born infants. Even this had been predicted as the fruit of disobedience (Deuteronomy 28:53). How little do we appreciate the great goodness of God in providing daily food for ourselves and our children! Everywhere in the city were visible the most ghastly scenes of indiscriminate massacre—“priest and prophet, young and old, virgins and young men,” lay in promiscuous heaps of the slain. If prayer can reach heaven, it must surely be when ascending from the midst of anguish like this. The greater the distress we are in, the more urgent and importunate should be our prayers.
III. Wrung from a people terrified with startling proofs of the Divine anger. “Thou hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the day of the Lord’s anger none escaped or remained” (Lamentations 2:22). Jeremiah had often threatened the terrors of God’s wrath in the destruction of the nation, if the people persisted in idolatry; but they heeded not. They made jests of his warnings, and their earnest repetition only increased their ridicule. But when they saw Jerusalem hemmed round by the victorious Chaldeans and the utter ruin that followed, they then saw the portentous meaning of “the terrors” that had been so often threatened and so recklessly despised. The anger of the Lord became to them a solemn reality, and, overwhelmed with confusion and fear, they cry for help. Whatever impels the soul to pray is a blessing. The beginning of prayer may rise from our fears; but as we persevere, it will be actuated by nobler motives. All that prayer can do is to bring our case before God. We must then leave it there with Him, and say, “Thy will be done.”
1. The final appeal of the helpless is to God.
2. When distress induces prayer, deliverance is at hand.
3. Jehovah is graciously moved to help by human entreaty.
GERM NOTES ON THE VERSES
Lamentations 2:20. “Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom Thou hast done this.” The Divine pity:
1. Earnestly implored by a suffering people.
2. Invoked on the ground of former kindnesses, which, it is acknowledged, have been abused.
3. Is never appealed to in vain.
Lamentations 2:22. The tyranny of fear:
1. Realised when beset by a powerful enemy.
2. When the enemy is summoned and directed by One whom we have consciously offended.
3. When we are witnesses of cruelties we are powerless to prevent.
ILLUSTRATIONS.—Prayer. It is helplessness casting itself on power. It is infirmity leaning on strength, and misery wooing bliss. It is the flight of the soul to the bosom of God, and the spirit soaring upward and claiming nativity beyond the stars. It is the soaring eagle mounting upward in its flight, and with steady gaze pursuing the track till lost to all below. It is the roving wanderer looking towards his abiding-place, where are all his treasures and his gold. It is the prisoner pleading for release. It is the mariner of a dangerous sea, upon the reeling topmast, descrying the broad and quiet haven of repose. It is the soul, oppressed by earthly soarings, escaping to a broader and purer sphere, and bathing its plumes in the ethereal and eternal.—Wells.
Yearning for God.—When my blood flows like wine, when all is ease and prosperity, when the sky is blue and birds sing and flowers blossom, and my life is an anthem moving in time and tune, then this world’s joy and affection suffice. But when a change comes, when I am weary and disappointed, when the skies lower into a sombre night, when there is no song of bird, and the perfume of flowers is but their dying breath, when all is sun-setting and autumn, then I yearn for Him who sits with the summer of love in His soul, and feel that all earthly affection is but a glow-worm light compared to that which blazes with such effulgence in the heart of God.—Beecher.
Divine compassion. We often suffer more on account of other’s troubles than they themselves do in those troubles, for both love and sorrow take their measure as much from the capacity of the nature that experiences them as from the power of the externally exciting cause. How much one suffers with or for another does not depend altogether upon how much that other is suffering, but upon how much that nature which sympathises has with which to suffer. God feels with us, so that our experiences throw their waves upon the shore of His soul. He carries us so near to His heart that all our feelings which are of any moment produce their effects in some degree in His bosom. It seems very strange that the Maker of all the earth should permit Himself to be a participant in all the petty experiences that belong to any human life. No man would have dared to conceive such an idea of God, and to have believed any such thing as that, if it had not been revealed in unequivocal terms.
The compassion of Jesus. Luther said, “I would run into the arms of Christ if He stood with a drawn sword in His hands.” John Butterworth, reading this, resolved to do likewise, and found, as every venturing sinner does, no sword in the hands of Jesus, but open arms and a hearty welcome. Christ’s proclamation, for ever sounding forth to every burdened heart, is “Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” He demonstrated His marvellous compassion by dying for us. He will not now repulse the approach or disregard the cry of the needy.
The influence of fear. There is a virtuous fear, which is the effect of faith; and there is a vicious fear, which is the product of doubt. The former leads to hope, as relying on God, in whom we believe; the latter inclines to despair, as not relying on God, in whom we do not believe. Persons of the one character fear to lose God; persons of the other character fear to find Him.—Pascal.
Slavish and filial fear. There are two kinds of fear—one full of suspicious watchfulness, of anxious apprehension, of trepidation, terror, and dismay; the other such as can dwell in the same heart with confidence and love, and is but another form of reverence. Filial fear of God is a duty; slavish and servile dread of Him is a sin. Filial fear shrinks from sin; servile fear only from the smart of punishment. Filial fear keeps men from departing from the living God, servile fear drives them from Him. By filial fear men are made like the man Christ Jesus; by servile fear they may be scared from iniquity, as the wolf from the sheepfold by the shepherd’s gun; but it does no more to make them holy than the fright does to destroy the wolf’s ferocity. Filial fear animates us to avoid whatever would be offensive to our Heavenly Father, and, if the expression may be allowed, to consult His feelings and desires; but servile fear, as it springs from selfishness, causes us only to care for ourselves, and at best makes us not better, but only a little more prudent than the devil.—Bertram.
The greatest fear. When a city is compassed round about with a wall that is impregnable, it will be opened still towards heaven, and therefore cannot be out of danger if God be an enemy. For all their walls and bars, God could rain fire and brimstone upon the Sodomites out of heaven. Alexander asked the Scythians what they were most afraid of, thinking they would say of himself, who was so victorious everywhere. But they answered scoffingly they were most afraid lest heaven should fall upon them. We, indeed, need not fear anything but this only, lest the heaven should fall upon us, lest God should be our enemy.—J. Stoughton.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Lamentations 2". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17