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ZION'S JUDGMENT IS OF GOD. LAMENTATIONS AND SUPPLICATIONS.
Hath the Lord covered; rather, doth … cover. The daughter of Zion; i.e. Jerusalem. Cast down from heaven. Here and in Matthew 11:28 we have a parallel to Isaiah 14:12, where the King of Babylon is compared to a bright star. "Cast down" whither? Into the "pit" or dungeon of Hades (Isaiah 14:15). The beauty of Israel; i.e. Jerusalem, exactly as Babylon is called "the proud beauty [or, 'ornament'] of Chaldea" (Isaiah 13:19). His footstool; i.e. the ark (Psalms 132:7), or perhaps the temple as containing the ark (1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalms 99:5).
Habitations; rather, pastures; The word properly means the settlements of shepherds in green, grassy spots, but here designates the country parts in general, distinguished from the "strongholds" of Judah. Hath polluted. So Psalms 89:39, "Thou hast profaned [same word as here] his crown [by casting it] to the ground." The wearer of a crown was regarded in the East as nearer to divinity than ordinary mortals; in some countries, indeed, e.g. in Egypt, almost as an incarnation of the deity. To discrown him was to "pollute" or "profane" him.
All the horn; rather, every horn; i.e. all the means of defence, especially the fortresses. He hath drawn back his right hand; i.e. he hath withdrawn his assistance in war. He burned against; rather, he burned up.
The beginning of the verse seems slightly out of order. And slew all that were pleasant, etc. The correct rendering is, And slew all that was pleasant to the eye: in the tent of the daughter of Zion he poured out his fury like fire. The Authorized Version (following the Targum) seems to have thought that the youth of the population alone was intended. But, though Ewald also adopts this view, it seems to limit unduly the meaning of the poet. By "tent" we should probably understand "dwelling," as Jeremiah 4:5, and often; Isaiah 16:5, "the tent of David;" Psalms 78:67, "the tent of Joseph."
Was as an enemy: he hath swallowed, etc. The threefold division of the verse is, unfortunately, concealed in the Authorized Version, owing to the arbitrary stopping. The grouping suggested by the Massoretic text is—
"The Lord is become an enemy, he hath swallowed up Israel;
He hath swallowed up all her palaces, he hath destroyed all his strongholds;
And hath increased in the daughter of Judah moaning and bemoaning."
The change of gender in the second line is easily explicable. In the first case the poet is thinking of the city; in the second, of the people of Israel. The rendering "moaning and bemoaning" is designed to reproduce, to some extent, the Hebrew phrase, in which two words, derived from the same root, and almost exactly the same, are placed side by side, to give a more intense expression to the idea.
Violently taken away; rather, violently treated; i.e. broken up. His tabarnacle; rather, his booth. "Tent" and "dwelling" are interchangeable expressions (see Lamentations 2:4); and in the Psalms "booth" is used as a special poetic synonym for tent when God's earthly dwelling place, the sanctuary of the temple, is spoken of (so Psalms 27:5; Psalms 31:20; Psalms 76:2). The Authorized Version, indeed, presumes an allusion to the proper meaning of the Hebrew word, as if the poet compared the sanctuary of Jehovah to a pleasure booth in a garden. It is, however, more natural to continue, as a garden, the sense of which will be clear from Psalms 80:12, Psalms 80:13. The Septuagint has, instead, "as a vine"—a reading which differs from the Massoretic by having one letter more (kaggefen instead of kaggan). This ancient reading is adopted by Ewald, and harmonizes well with Isaiah 5:1, etc.; Jeremiah 2:21 (comp. Psalms 80:8); but the received text gives a very good sense. "Garden" in the Bible means, of course, a plantation of trees rather than a flower garden. His places of the assembly; rather, his place of meeting (with God). The word occurs in the same sense in Psalms 74:3. It is the temple which is meant, and the term is borrowed from the famous phrase, ōhel mō‛ēdh (Exodus 27:21; comp. Exodus 25:22).
Her palaces; i.e. those of the daughter of Zion, especially "high buildings'' (this is the true meaning of 'armōn) of the temple. They have made a noise, etc. Comp. Psalms 74:3, "Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy place of meeting." The passages are parallel, though, whether the calamities referred to are the same in both, cannot a priori be determined. The shouts of triumph of the foe are likened to the festal shouts of the temple worshippers (comp. Isaiah 30:29; Amos 5:24).
He hath stretched out a line. It is the "line of desolation" mentioned in Isaiah (Isaiah 34:11; comp. Amos 7:7; 2 Kings 21:13). Such is the unsparing rigour of Jehovah's judgments.
Are sunk into the ground; i.e. are broken down and buried in the dust. The Law is no more. The observance of the Law being rendered impossible by the destruction of the temple. Comp. this and the next clause with Ezekiel 7:26.
They have cast up dust, etc. A sign of mourning (Joshua 7:6; 2 Samuel 13:19; Job 2:12).
My bowels are troubled (see on Lamentations 1:20). My liver is poured upon the earth. A violent emotion being supposed to occasion a copious discharge of bile. The daughter of my people. A poetic expression for Zion or Judah.
Corn. Either in the sense of parched corn (comp. Leviticus 23:14; 1 Samuel 17:17; Proverbs 27:22) or a poetic expression for "bread" (comp. Exodus 16:4; Psalms 105:40)
What thing shall I take to witness for thee? rather, What shall I testify unto thee? The nature, of the testifying may be gathered from the following words. It would be a comfort to Zion to know that her misfortune was not unparalleled: solamen miseris socios habuisse malorum. The expression is odd, however, and, comparing Isaiah 40:18, A. Krochmal has suggested, What shall I compare? The correction is easy. Equal; i.e. compare (comp. Isaiah 46:5)
Thy prophets. Jeremiah constantly inveighs against the fallacious, immoral preaching of the great mass of his prophetic contemporaries (comp. Jeremiah 6:13, Jeremiah 6:14; Jeremiah 14:13-24.14.15; Jeremiah 23:14-24.23.40). Have seen vain and foolish things; i.e. have announced "visions" (prophecies) of an unreal and irrational tenor. Comp. Jeremiah 23:13, where the same word here paraphrased as "irrational" (literally, insipid) occurs. Discovered; i.e. disclosed. To turn away thy captivity. The Captivity, then, might have been "turned away," if the other prophets had, like Jeremiah, disclosed the true spiritual state of the people, and moved them to repentance. False burdens. Suggestive references to these false prophecies occur in Jeremiah 14:13, Jeremiah 14:14; Jeremiah 23:31, Jeremiah 23:32 (see the Exposition on these passages). Causes of banishment. So Jeremiah, "They prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land."
Clap … hiss … wag their heads. Gestures of malicious joy (Job 27:23) or contempt (Jeremiah 19:8; Psalms 22:7). The perfection of beauty; literally, the perfect in beauty. The same phrase is used in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:3; Ezekiel 28:12) of Tyre, and a similar one in Psalms 1:2 of Zion.
Lamentations 2:16, Lamentations 2:17
On the transposition of the initial letters in these verses, see Introduction.
Have opened their mouth against thee. As against the innocent sufferer of Psalms 22:1-19.22.31. (Psalms 22:13). Gnash the teeth. In token of rage, as Psalms 35:16; Psalms 37:12. We have seen it (comp. Psalms 35:21).
His word that he had commanded, etc. "Commanded," i.e. given in charge to. Comp. Zechariah 1:6, My words and my statutes, which I commanded my servants the prophets." Zechariah continues, in language which illustrates the foregoing words of this verse, "Did they not take hold of [overtake] your fathers;" where the persons spoken of as "your fathers" are the same as those who are represented by the speaker of the elegy. "In the days of old;" alluding, perhaps, to such passages as Deuteronomy 28:52, etc. The horn of thine adversaries. "Horn" has a twofold meaning—"strength" or "defence" (comp. Deuteronomy 28:3), and "honour" or "dignity". The figure is too natural to need explanation.
Their heart cried unto the Lord, etc. "Their heart" can only mean "the heart of the people of Jerusalem." For the expression, comp. Psalms 84:2, "My heart and my flesh cry aloud to the living God." To avoid the rather startling prosopopoeia in the next clause, Thenius supposes a corruption in the group of letters rendered "wall," and attaches the corrected word to the first clause, rendering thus: "Their heart crieth unto the Lord in vain; O daughter of Zion, let tears run down," etc. Another resource, which also involves an emendation, is that of Ewald, "Cry with all thy heart, O wall of the daughter of Zion." O wall, etc. The prosepopoeia is surprising, but is only a degree more striking than that of Psalms 84:8 and Lamentations 1:4. In Isaiah 14:31 we find an equally strong one, "Howl, O gate." Most probably, however, there is something wrong in the text; the following verses seem to refer to the daughter of Zion. Bickell reads thus: "Cry aloud unto the Lord, O virgin daughter of Zion." Like a river; rather, like a torrent. Give thyself no rest. The word rendered "rest" means properly the stiffness produced by cold.
In the beginning of the watches. This would seem to be most naturally explained as referring to the first watch of the night. When most are wrapped in their first and sweetest sleep, the daughter of Zion is to "arise and cry." Others explain, "at the beginning of each of the night watches;" i.e. all the night through. Previously to the Roman times, the Jews had divided the night into three watches (comp. Judges 3:19). Pour out thine heart like water; i.e. give free course to thy complaint, shedding tears meanwhile. The expression is parallel partly to phrases like "I am poured out like water" (Psalms 22:14), partly to "Pour out your heart before him" (Psalms 62:8). In the top of every street; rather, at every street corner (and so Lamentations 4:1).
To whom thou hast done this; viz. to Israel, the chosen people. And children; rather, (even) children. The children are the "fruit" referred to. Comp. the warnings in Leviticus 26:26; Deuteronomy 28:56; and especially Jeremiah 19:9; also the historical incident in 2 Kings 6:28, 2 Kings 6:29. Of a span long; rather, borne in the hands. The word is derived from the verb renders to swaddle'' in 2 Kings 6:22 (see note).
Thou hast called as in a solemn day. The passage is illustrated by Lamentations 1:15, according to which the instruments of Jehovah's vengeance are "summoned" by him to a festival when starting for the holy war. My terrors round about. Almost identical with one of the characteristic phrases of Jeremiah's prophecies, "fear [or rather, 'terror'] on every side" (see on Jeremiah 6:25). Have swaddled; rather, have borne upon the hands.
God not remembering his footstool.
The ark was regarded as God's footstool; and the temple in which the ark was kept was also sometimes called the footstool of God. When the temple was destroyed and the ark stolen, or broken, or lost, it looked as though God had forgotten his footstool. The symbolism of the ark and the ritual connected with it give a peculiar significance to this fact.
I. GOD NO LONGER REMEMBERS THE PLACE WHERE HIS PRESENCE WAS MOST FULLY MANIFESTED. The Holy Land, Jerusalem, the temple, the holy of holies, the ark,—these are the sacred places, of increasing sanctity as the circle narrows, till the very footstool where God touches earth is reached.
1. The presence of God in our midst is no guarantee against the natural consequences of our misdeeds. On the contrary, if he is with us to protect in times of simple distress, he is with us as Judge to condemn when we fail and contract guilt.
2. The presence of God at one time is no guarantee of its permanence. The footstool may be God's no longer if it prove unworthy of him. The Church which was once the temple of the Holy Spirit may become deserted by its heavenly Guest. That we enjoy the communion of God now is no reason for being confident that we shall not lose that privilege through unbelief or other sin.
3. We cannot assume that God will never reject us because he has once made use of us. The footstool may be supposed to have been used by God as of some service to him. Nevertheless it was discarded. If the servant of God proved unfaithful, his Master's livery will not save him. He will be discharged and disgraced.
II. GOD NO LONGER REMEMBERS HIS MERCY SEAT. The footstool of God's peculiarly manifested presence was also his mercy seat.. There the assurance of atonement was confirmed when the high priest entered with sacrificial blood and intercession. Yet even the mercy seat can be forgotten in the day of God's anger. We trust that in wrath he will remember mercy. But there are clouds of anger too black for us to see the mercy that shines behind them.
1. The mercy which is in the heart of God is not to be regarded as nullifying his wrath. It is so represented by some who take one-sided views of the Divine character. But the All-merciful can be a consuming fire.
2. If God has once been merciful to us we may not conclude that he can never be angry with us. On the contrary, if we sin against light and love we provoke the greater wrath. The very fact that the footstool was privileged to be a mercy seat will aggravate the wrath which must be poured upon it when it is disgraced.
III. GOD NO LONGER REMEMBERS THE PLACE OF PRAYER, At the footstool of God the suppliant kneels pleading for deliverance, But his prayer is unheard. God may refuse to hearken to prayer. Where he is wont to stoop and listen to cry and sigh of burdened souls he may be regardless.
1. Impenitence will lead to God's disregarding our prayer.
2. When wrath is necessary, the mere cry for escape must be unheard.
3. When chastisement is for our good, mercy itself will refuse to listen to the prayer for deliverance. The surgeon must disregard the cries of his patient. He must harden himself to save the sufferer.
Lamentations 2:4, Lamentations 2:5
The Lord as an enemy.
I. THE LORD MAY BECOME TO US AS AN ENEMY. We must not suppose the relations of God to those who forsake him to be purely negative. He cannot simply leave them to their own devices. He is a King who must needs maintain order and restrain and punish rebellion, a Judge who cannot permit law to be trampled underfoot with impunity, a Father who cannot abandon his children, but must chastise them in their wrong doing just because he is so closely related to them. Let it be well understood, then, that, in opposing ourselves to God, we run counter to a power, a will, an active authority. We provoke the anger of God. We do not simply strike ourselves against the stone, we cause the stone to fall upon us and grind us to powder.
II. NOTHING CAN BE MORE TERRIBLE THAN FOR THE LORD TO BECOME TO US AS AN ENEMY. The very thought of God as an enemy should strike terror into one who finds it is a fact.
1. God is almighty. It is at once apparent that the war must end in defeat for the rebel
2. God is just. Then he must be in the right with the great controversy. We must be fighting on the wrong side when we are fighting against God.
3. God is gracious. How fearful must be the wrong doing that provokes so kind a God to enmity!
4. God is our Father. Our Father become as our enemy! The unnatural situation proclaims its own horror. The nearness of God and his love to us make the fire of his wrath the more fierce. The wrath of the "Lamb" is more awful than the raging of him who goes about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour.
III. GOD DOES NOT BECOME TO US AS AN ENEMY UNTIL WE HAVE PROVED OURSELVES TO BE ENEMIES TO HIM. He has no wish to quarrel with us. He is changeless in his constancy of righteousness and love. It is we who break the peace. The declaration of war between heaven and earth is always issued by the lower world. It is not necessary, however, that our enmity should be overt in order that God may be seen as an enemy. Secret alienation of heart, quiet neglect of God's will, self-willed indifference to God, will constitute enmity. The fact that the enmity begins on our side will take away all excuse suggested by our feebleness in comparison with the greatness of God.
IV. THOUGH GOD MAY BECOME TO US AS AN ENEMY, HE WILL NOT REALLY BE AN ENEMY. He may act like an enemy, but he will not act in enmity. He will never hate the creature that he has made. His apparent enmity is very fearful because it results in actions of anger and punishment. Still behind all is the pitying heart of Divine love. God pities most when he strikes hardest.
V. THROUGH THE ATONEMENT OF CHRIST GOD CEASES TO BE TO US AS AN ENEMY. Christ is our Propitiation. By the sacrifice of himself he makes peace. And he does not simply influence our hearts in reconciling us to God. There is a Godward aspect of the atonement. This is not to induce God to love us, since the love of God precedes and originates the very mission of Christ. But in the mysterious counsels of Divine wisdom the atonement of Christ is rendered necessary for the cessation of God's inimical action (1 John 2:1, 1 John 2:2).
Lamentations 2:6, Lamentations 2:7
The rejected altar.
In the first elegy we read how the feasts are neglected by the people (Lamentations 1:4). Now we see that God himself has broken them up and cast off his altar. Thus we advance a stage in understanding the deplorable condition of Jerusalem. At first the human side only is seen and the visible facts are lamented over. Then the Divine side is discerned and the terrible cause of the cessation of the solemn festivals revealed. It is not simply that the people cease to present themselves before the altar. God has abandoned and rejected all the temple services.
I. HOW GOD REJECTS THE ALTAR, We must bear in mind that the altar belongs to God and that all the ordinances of worship are his. Religion is not merely human and subjective. It relates to God and it goes out of the human world reaching up to the Divine. There is scope, therefore, for God's action in it. He may refuse his action. He may not hear the prayers, nor accept the offerings, nor employ the services, nor succour the needs of the worshipper. Then he rejects the altar. This is represented as being done with violence, destruction, and a Divine abhorrence. The desolation wrought by Babylon is traced up to the hand of God. So when our religious privileges are broken up by earthly means we should inquire whether God's displeasure is behind the calamity. It is not necessarily. But it may be.
II. WHY GOD REJECTS THE ALTAR.
1. Because the worship is insincere. If we practise the forms of devotion without the heart of it our hypocrisy will only insult God.
2. Because the worshipper is corrupt. Thus was it with the Jews in Isaiah's time. God says, "Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth …when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood" (Isaiah 1:14,Isaiah 1:15). So David says, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me" (Psalms 66:18).
3. Because the offering is unworthy. The Israelite was to bring his best to God. No blemished sacrifice would be accepted. If we give less than the best in our power we make an unworthy offering. If only spare time and superfluous money are offered to God, how can we expect him to receive such mean and niggardly service? He will have our brightest hours, our richest devotion, our hearts and lives and all, or he will take nothing.
III. WITH WHAT RESULTS GOD REJECTS THE ALTAR. When once the altar is rejected by God all sacrifice and service are vain. It matters little that the enemy throw down the stones of it. If it remains intact it is worthless. We may have full assemblies of people and rich and elaborate services and all the pomp and ceremony of worship; and it will be for nothing if God reject the worship. We think too little of this Divine side of religion. We are too much inclined to rest in the decorum and grace of becoming human forms of worship. Let it be known that the one end of worship is to reach God. If he is met by the soul, it matters little what means be used in worship. If he refuses to accept us, the form of worship is a mockery and a delusion,
Lamentations 2:9 (last clause)
I. THE TEACHING AND VISION OF PROPHETIC TRUTH CONSTITUTE AN IMPORTANT ELEMENT IN RELIGIOUS LIFE. The writer laments the loss of teaching and vision as abnormal and disastrous. The vision of the prophets was not simply nor chiefly concerned with the distant future and recondite counsels of providence. It dealt with present facts and unveiled their true character. It guided in the present; and with regard to the uncertainties of the very near future. The humbler office of teaching was associated with it. The prophet, a seer of visions in private and on special occasions, was a teacher among his fellow men and under ordinary circumstances. It is important to see how essential the knowledge of truth is to a healthy spiritual life. Without it devotion becomes superstition. Religion is based on revelation. The school precedes the workshop. Teaching must prepare the way for service.
II. THERE ARE TIMES WHEN TEACHING AND VISION CEASE. The two may not fail exactly at the same time. But the stream will not flow long after the fountain is dried. The teaching that is continued after all inspiration has died out will be arid, formal, lifeless, unreal. Ideas will take place of facts, and words of ideas. Now, the vision, which is the starting point of all knowledge of truth, is intermittent. There have been ages fertile in prophecy and there have been barren ages. In the days preceding the ministry of Samuel "the Word of the Lord was rare, and there was no vision scattered abroad" (1 Samuel 3:1). After the roll of the Old Testament was complete, prophecy ceased. It revived in the apostolic age. Spiritual insight and Divine knowledge have been intermittent since then, sleeping in the dark ages, flashing out in the days of St. Bernard, dried up by the dreariness of scholasticism, swelling out in fresh energy with the Reformation, withering again at the end of the seventeenth century, and brightening once more from the close of the eighteenth. What shall be the next turn?
III. THE ABUSE OF PROPHETIC VISION AND TEACHING LEADS TO THE CESSATION OF THEM. The prophets prophesied falsely (Lamentations 2:14). They preached peace when there was no peace (Jeremiah 23:17). As a penalty for their treason to their sacred trust of truth they lost the gift of spiritual vision. Disloyalty to truth warps our perceptions of truth. False living hinders true thinking. There is nothing which so deadens and blinds the spiritual faculties as indifference to truth. Beginning with telling a conscious lie, a man comes at last to accept falsehood without knowing it.
IV. THE REJECTION OF PROPHETIC VISION AND TEACHING ALSO LEADS TO THE CESSATION OF THEM. The people were as guilty as their teachers. They refused to hear truth and asked for pleasant words. They declined to obey the truth which they had heard. The penalty of disobedience to Divine truth will be the loss of that truth. If we refuse to go as the vision of God in our souls directs, that vision will fade out, leaving us no light of heaven, but only gloom or false lights of earth.
The vision of falsehood and folly.
Visions from the Lord have ceased (Lamentations 2:9). But the prophets continue to see visions of earthly limitation or even of diabolical delusion. These visions are false and foolish. Better have none than such.
I. PROPHECY IN ITS CORRUPTION SEES THE FALSE AND FOOLISH IN PLACE OF THE TRUE AND WORTHY.
1. The mission of prophecy is to see and declare wisdom and reality. The attractiveness of the teaching is a snare if the matter of it is vain. People naturally favour the pleasant utterance of pleasant things. Doctrines are sometimes chosen because they are liked rather than because they are known to be sound, or the style and language of the preacher are more heeded than the substance of his message. But, if we were in earnest, ugly truths would always be accepted in preference to specious falsehoods.
2. The corruption of prophecy substitutes falsehood and folly for truth and wisdom. This may be experienced unconsciously. The teacher may not know that he has fallen. It is not only that his tongue utters lies, his eye sees no truth. His vision is distorted and he knows it not. He is not aware that he sees men as trees walking. Nor does he know that his folly is not wisdom. The failing of spiritual vision and decay of wisdom are the more calamitous because they are unconscious. They are a sort of spiritual insanity.
3. The evil of the corruption of prophecy is in the widespread delusion and degradation that it produces. "Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee." The prophet is a teacher as well as a seer. When the teacher errs the scholars are misled.
II. THE FAILURE TO DISCOVER INIQUITY IS A PROOF THAT A PROPHET'S VISION IS FALSE AND FOOLISH.
1. A prophet is required to see human as well as Divine truth. It needs inspiration to read the secrets of the heart as much as to discover the mysteries of the unseen heavens or of the distant future. A prophet should be a discerner of spirits. If he cannot read the signs of the times he is a failure.
2. The failure to see iniquity is one especial evidence of perverted prophetic vision. The physician is first of all called upon to discover his patient's disease. If he cannot detect this the rest of his work is of little use. Prophets may dream of the millennium and discourse of the celestial spheres; but so long as they are blind to the sins that men around them are perishing in, their primary mission must fail. Now, it needs a Divine inspiration rightly to see iniquity. Conventionality of thought leads to a complacent satisfaction with the normal state of the world, We must be out of it and above it to observe how it has fallen. The preacher who cannot see the sins of his age is worse than useless. He is a deluding flatterer. The individual man who is blind to his own sin has not the first ray of spiritual light which may guide him aright.
III. THE FALSE AND FOOLISH VISION OF PROPHECY DOES NOT RESTORE PROSPERITY, BUT ON THE CONTRARY IT DIRECTLY LEADS TO RUIN. By vainly promising pleasant things it brings disastrous ones. The false prophets opposed Jeremiah and said the Captivity would not come. By that very falsehood they helped to hasten it. Had they preached repentance and warned of wrath, the doom might have been averted. None prepare souls for ruin more certainly than smooth speaking flattering optimists. When danger is near, the warning prophet may be the deliverer of his hearers. If the preacher fail to produce conviction of sin he cannot lead to salvation in Christ. So long as men do not see their lost condition they are in danger of their soul's ruin. To them a pleasant religion is a fatal religion. A Jeremiah, a John the Baptist, and a John Knox are the best friends of their generation.
The triumph of the foe.
I. THE TRIUMPH OF THE FOE OVER JERUSALEM. Strangers mock with scorn and derision, enemies vent their rage with hissing, gnashing of teeth, and a spiteful satisfaction that the day they have locked for has come. Why should these cruel feelings be roused against the prostrate city? Her previous condition must have provoked them.
1. Great prosperity. This excites envy in the less prosperous, and envy soon sours into hatred. Jealous and selfish natures have a positive pleasure in seeing the loss of special privileges in the more favoured, although that loss may bring no advantage to themselves.
2. High pretensions. Jerusalem claimed to be especially favoured and blessed by God. She looked down with scorn on her neighbours. Such an attitude was galling to them and led to an outburst of delight when the proud city lay grovelling in the dust. Contempt provokes enmity. No calamity receives less pity than the downfall of pride.
3. Reserved isolation. Jerusalem kept herself apart from other cities. She felt that she had a peculiar vocation. Such exclusiveness would excite dislike. The unsocial are unpitied. It may be that the separation is inevitable or conscientious. Still, it incurs not the least aversion.
II. THE TRIUMPH OF THE FOE OVER THE CHURCH. The fall of Jerusalem was the fall of the Church. The enemies of the Eternal rejoiced in the destruction of his temple and the scattering of his people. There are always adversaries on the look out for disaster in the Church of Christ. The evil spirit of the world is vexed and shamed by the standing rebuke of a pure Church. Corrupt men see in her an example contrasting with their own conduct and thereby condemning it. Thus there arise dislike and enmity. The shame of the Church is a relief to this worldly opposition. There have been times when the Name of God has been insulted through this evil pleasure of the wicked in the shame that the sin and failure of his people have brought upon his cause. Here is a motive for preserving the sanctity of the Christian Church. The loss of it will not merely involve suffering to the Church herself; it will encourage the foes of Christ by giving them the elation of victory, and it will dishonour his Name by making his work appear to fail.
III. THE TRIUMPH OF THE FOE OVER A SOUL. There are spiritual enemies watching forevery slip that a soul may make, enemies that are confounded by its growing purity and faithfulness, but rendered insolent and jubilant by its fall. Whenever we sin we afford a triumph to the evil one. We think that we are pleasing ourselves. But there must be some mistake or our sin would not give so much satisfaction to our enemy. The laugh of Mephistopheles should have been a warning to Faust. Perhaps the most stinging smart of future retribution will be the devilish glee with which the miserable lost soul will be welcomed into the place of darkness.
Ruin from God.
In the fifteenth and sixteenth verses we find strangers and enemies indulging in unseemly jubilation over the fall of Jerusalem. Now, we see—what they do not see—that the cause of that fall was the direct action of God. This fact aggravates the dismay and wretchedness of the suffering city, for it signifies that her own King and Friend has brought about her ruin—not outsiders and antagonists. God himself has handed her over to the contempt and derision of the world. At the same time, the sight of God's hand. in the calamity reveals the folly of the world's triumph. How shallow and ignorant that appears to be directly the veil which covers the awful action of God is lifted! Man's spite and malice sink into insignificance before the awful wrath of God, as the growling of beasts of the forest is drowned in the dread roar of thunder. The triumph of man is also shown to be misplaced. Man has not done the deed. He is but a spectator. This is a dread work of God. Let human passion be hushed before the solemn sight.
I. GOD BRINGS RUIN. This is a terrible statement. Looking at the particulars of the action itself, we see only the more of its horrors as we observe:
1. God does it deliberately. He devises it—plans, considers, and calmly executes the ruin.
2. God does it in fulfilment of his Word. "In the days of old" the rain is threatened. The storm is long in brewing. An ancient promise makes the coming of it certain.
3. God does it by authority. He "had commanded" it. With all the authority and power of divinity over innumerable agents bending in perfect compliance to his will, God executes his solemn threat.
4. He does it destructively. He throws down. This shows violence and hurt.
5. He does it, to all human appearance, pitilessly. There is nothing visible that might mitigate the blow. No acts of mercy are seen to alleviate the misery.
6. He does it to the satisfaction of enemies. "He hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee," etc. This is the most sure sign that the ruin is complete.
II. THE FACT THAT GOD BRINGS RUIN IS NOT INCONSISTENT WITH HIS CHARACTER. It appears to be so, for it represents the Creator as a destroyer, and the God of love as a God of enmity. The difficulty should be examined. Then some light may break upon it.
1. The goodness of God makes him the enemy of all evil. He would cease to be good if he became universally complacent. As a righteous Judge he must condemn sin; even the Son of man, the Saviour of the world, had a mission of destruction. He came with fan to winnow out the chaff, and fire to burn it; he came to destroy the works of the devil.
2. God makes external ruin that he may produce internal salvation. He destroys the city that he may save the citizens. Jerusalem is overthrown in order that the Jews, through this chastisement, may be delivered from the ruin of their souls. So God breaks up a man's home and wrecks his hopes and flings him on the ash heap of misery, in a merciful design to urge him to repentance and so to save the man himself.
3. God is more concerned with the goodness than with the pleasure of his creature. He certainly does not show the mild benevolence that characterizes some sanguine philanthropists. A safe house and abundance of bread are not the greatest things to be preserved, because pleasure and comfort are not the first requisites of the soul. Pain and loss may be blessings if they lead to purity and obedience. It is well for this life's pleasure to be ruined if thereby the soul is saved for life eternal.
A cry to God in the night watches.
A fearful picture! Jerusalem is besieged. Famine is becoming fatal. Young children are seen fainting for hunger at the top of every street. The hearts of their parents are rent with anguish, as the little ones beg piteously of their mothers for food and drink (Lamentations 2:12), and none can be had, so that they swoon for very weakness. Suddenly a new turn is taken. The citizens have sunk down in sullen despair. Night has come like a cloak to cover the scenes of misery and death. Then a voice rings through the darkness, "Arise, cry out." This voice bids all hearers pour out their hearts in prayer to God.
I. THE CRY IS TO GOD. Hitherto we have had nothing but doleful lamentations. The language has been that of hopeless grief and bitter reset. No relief has been found or even sought. But there is one refuge in the direst trouble, and now that refuge is remembered. When we can do nothing else we can cry to God, for he is near though hidden from view, and merciful though striking in wrath, and able to save though no way of escape seems possible. It needs some rousing of the soul thus to seek God. We must "Arise." Spiritual lethargy is the worst consequence of sorrow. Let us beware lest our troubles paralyze our prayers. Prayer implies spiritual wakefulness.
II. THE CRY IS IN THE NIGHT.
1. The time when trouble seems most hopeless. It is in the night that the mourner weeps his most bitter tears.
2. The time of reflection. In lonely night watches the troubled soul has time for thought, and thought is then pain.
3. The time of earthly darkness. Then, perhaps, the spirit may feel most closely the nearness of the Father of spirits. The cry is to be in the beginning of the watches—either at the first watch or at the opening of each of the three watches. Let prayer come first. Let us not waste time in lamenting before we seek relief from God.
III. THE CRY IS HEARTFELT AND CONFIDENTIAL. "Pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord."
1. It comes from the heart. All real prayer must be the outcome of true and deep feelings.
2. It is a full and free confidence in God. The heart is poured out like water. This is in itself a relief. God expects our complete confidence and will hear prayer only when we give it to him.
3. It is no more than the pouring out of the heart before God. There is no definite request. Perhaps it is difficult to know how to ask for relief. Perhaps the grief is too overwhelming for any such thoughts of aid to be entertained. But it is enough that the whole trouble is poured out before God and left with him. Prayer is too often a dictating to God. It should be more of a simple confidence in God. It would be better if there were more confession and confidence, and less exact petition and definition of what God is to do in order to please us. We are to pour out our hearts and leave all with him. Then he will do the best for us.
4. In deep trouble heartfelt prayer is wrung out of the sufferer. Then he must be real. Sorrow melts the stony heart which has held itself in proud reserve, and thus it pours out itself like water. We have the example of Christ, whose agony passed into prayer, to urge us to find the relief of confiding fully in God.
HOMILIES BY J.R. THOMSON
The anger of the Lord.
Men have fallen into two opposite extremes of opinion and of feeling with regard to the anger of the Lord. There have been times when they have been wont to attribute to the Eternal the passions of imperfect men, when they have represented the holy God as moved by the storms of indignation, as subject to the impulses of caprice and the instigations of cruelty. But in our own days the tendency is the contrary to this; men picture God as all amiability and forbearance, as regarding the sinful and guilty with indifference, or at all events without any emotion of displeasure. Scripture warrants neither of these extremes.
I. THERE ARE OCCASIONS WHEN GOD IS ANGRY WITH EVEN THE OBJECTS OF HIS SPECIAL FAVOUR. Jerusalem was the "daughter of Zion;" the temple was "the beauty of Israel;" the ark was God's "footstool." But as even human love is not necessarily or justly blind to the faults of those beloved, so the Lord is displeased with those whom he has endowed with peculiar privileges and blessings, when they are unmindful of his mercies and disobedient to his laws. "As many as I love," says the Divine Head of the Church, "I rebuke and chasten."
II. FROM THE HEARTS OF THE DISOBEDIENT GOD HIDES HIMSELF AS IN A CLOUD. When the sun is concealed behind a cloud, nature is chill, dull, and gloomy. The Lord is the Sun in whose light his. people find joy and peace; when he hides his face they are troubled, for no longer is it the case that they look unto him and are lightened. The heart and conscience of those who have offended God are overcast with spiritual gloom and unhappiness. So Israel found it; and there are none who have known the blessedness of God's fellowship and favour who can bear without distress the withdrawal of the heavenly light.
III. UPON THE HEADS OF THE REBELLIOUS GOD HURLS THE BOLT OF HIS DISPLEASURE. The tempest long lowered over the doomed city; at last it broke in fury, and Jerusalem became a prey to the spoiler and was cast down to the ground. The prophet clearly saw, what in an age of ease and luxury men are prone to forget, that there is a righteous Ruler from whose authority and retributive power no state and no soul can escape. "God is angry with the wicked every day" Yet in the midst of wrath he remembers mercy, and the penalties he inflicts answer their purpose if they lead to submission and to sincere repentance.—T.
Lamentations 2:6, Lamentations 2:7
Retribution in Church and state.
There are occasions when it is well to ponder seriously the calamities which befall a nation, to lay them to heart, to inquire into their causes, and to seek earnestly and prayerfully the way of deliverance, the means of remedy. "They that lack time to mourn lack time to mend."
I. IT IS WELL TO LOOK THROUGH NATIONAL DISASTERS TO THE PROVIDENTIAL RULE WHICH ALONE FULLY EXPLAINS THEM. The ruin which overtook Jerusalem and Judah was wrought by the armies of the Chaldeans. But the inspired prophet saw in the Assyrian hosts the ministers of Divine justice. The sufferings of the Jews were not accidental; they were a chastening, a discipline, appointed by the Lord of hosts, the King of kings. The Eternal had a controversy with his people. They had not listened to his Word, and therefore he spoke to them in thunder.
II. THE POLITICAL AND ECCLESIASTICAL AUTHORITIES OF A NATION ARE ALIKE RESPONSIBLE FOR NATIONAL SINS. The kings and chiefs had sought their own honour and ease and prosperity, The priests and prophets had discharged their offices in a manner perfunctory and formal. Under their natural and appointed leaders the nation had erred, had lapsed into idolatry, into sensuality, into practical unbelief. Rulers had not ruled in equity; teachers had not taught with faithfulness and fearlessness. Like king, like subjects; like priest, like people. All were to blame, but those were most culpable whose responsibility was greatest.
III. CHURCH AND STATE ALIKE ENDURE THE PENALTIES OF TRANSGRESSION AND DISOBEDIENCE.
1. The picture of desolation, as regards the religious life of the people, is a very dark and dreary picture. The religious celebrations and festivals fall into neglect; the very sabbath is all but forgotten; the sacrifices cease to be offered upon the altar; the sanctuary is no longer the scene of sacred solemnities; the priests are despised.
2. The case is equally distressing as regards the political situation. The walls of the palaces are either broken down, or, instead of housing the princes of the land, afford quarters to the troops of the enemy. The royal family are consigned to humiliation and to scorn. And the temple and the city resound no longer With the praises of Jehovah, but with the brutal shouts of the Chaldean soldiery.—T.
Law and prophecy suspended.
Judah was professedly and actually a theocracy. The form of government was a monarchy, but the true Ruler was Jehovah. Spiritual disobedience and rebellion were Judah's offences; and it was the natural outcome of perseverance in these that the Lord should withdraw his favour, and leave his people to eat of the bitter fruit of their own misguided planting. And it was one consequence of the Divine displeasure that the highest privileges Jehovah had bestowed, the most sacred and precious tokens of his presence, should be for a season withdrawn. It is the climax, as Jeremiah conceives it, of Judah's misfortunes, that "the Law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the Lord."
I. THIS TEMPORARY PRIVATION WAS OF LOCAL AND NATIONAL PRIVILEGES. It was so far as the Law was Jewish, that it ceased to be observed in Jerusalem. When the city was in the possession of heathen troops, when the temple was in ruins, when the priesthood was in disgrace, there was no possibility of observing the ordinances which the Law prescribed. The sacrifices and festivals came to an end. There were none to observe them and none to minister. And it was so far as the prophet was a functionary of the time and place, that he ceased to utter the mind of the Eternal. There were prophets of the Captivity; but Jerusalem, the true home of this noble class of religious teachers, knew their voice no more. For them was no vision which they might see in the ecstasy of inspiration, and depict in glowing colours before the imagination of the attentive multitude.
II. THE ETERNAL LAW OF RIGHTEOUSNESS, THE EVER-LIVING WITNESS OF SPIRITUAL PROPHECY, CAN NEVER CEASE. The words, the commandments and prohibitions, the outward ordinances, might pass away for a season of Divine displeasure, might be absorbed in the fuller revelation of the gospel. But the principles of the moral law, .the obligations of unchanging righteousness, can never cease; for they are the expression of the mind and will of him whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. The vision may no longer be granted to the seer of Jerusalem; the city may stone her prophets or the Lord himself remove them. But every purified eye shall through all time behold God's glory, and the ear that is open to truth and love shall not cease to recognize the still, small voice of Heaven.—T.
The spirit of the prophet deserves our warm admiration. Jerusalem, its king and its citizens, had treated him with injustice and indignities. But in the day when his predictions were fulfilled and the city was overwhelmed by disaster and humiliation, so far from boasting over her, Jeremiah regarded her state with profoundest pity. Observe in this verse—
I. THE AFFECTIONATE AND ADMIRING LANGUAGE BY WHICH THE PROPHET DESIGNATES THE AFFLICTED CITY. Not a word of insult or of contempt, but, on the contrary, language evincing the deepest, the fondest interest. The population that had so despised his prophecy and had treated him so ill is here personified in language apparently more appropriate to times of prosperity. Jeremiah bewails the state of the daughter of Jerusalem, the virgin daughter of Zion.
II. THE TENDER COMMISERATION OF THE PROPHET WITH THE CITY'S WOES.
1. He pronounces the sorrows of Jerusalem unequalled. It is a common mode of expressing sympathy to assure the afflicted that others have the same griefs and trials to endure. No such consolation is offered here; the prophet looks around in vain for a case so distressing. The breach is "great like the sea." This is either a figure drawn from the vastness of the ocean, with which the great woe of Judah is compared; or it depicts the enemy as rushing in upon Jerusalem, as the sea in its fury makes a breach in the wall of a low lying territory, and, sweeping the defences away by irresistible force, creates a desolation, so that a waste of waters is beheld where villages and fruitful fields once smiled in peace and plenty.
2. He pronounces the sorrows of Jerusalem irremediable. A mortal wound has been inflicted, which no leechcraft can heal. If Jerusalem is again to flourish it must be by a revival from the dead. For nothing now can save her.
1. The captive city is a picture of the desolation and misery to which (sooner or later) sin will surely bring all those who submit themselves to it.
2. The commiseration shown by the prophet is an example of the state of mind with which the pious should contemplate the ravages of sin and the wretchedness of sinful men.
3. The gospel forbids despondency over even the most utter debasement and humiliation of man. "There is balm in Gilead; there is a Physician there."—T.
The glory and the shame of Jerusalem.
Contrast with misery escaped heightens the joy of the rescued and the happy; and, on the other hand, contrast with bygone prosperity adds to the wretchedness of those who are fallen from high estate.
I. THE BEAUTY AND RENOWN OF JERUSALEM IN ITS PROSPERITY. Into these many elements entered.
1. Its situation was superb. Nature pointed out the heights of Zion for a metropolis. Especially when beheld from the brow of Olivet the city impresses every traveller with admiration.
2. Its history and memorable associations. Won by the valour of David, adorned by the magnificence of Solomon, the home of heroes and of saints, this city possessed a fascination with which few cities of the earth could compare.
3. Its sacred edifice ranked alone, far above all the temples of the ancient world. Not that its architecture was commanding or beautiful in the highest degree; but. that its erection, its dedication, the presence of the Eternal, all lent an interest and a sacredness to the peerless building.
4. Its sacrifices and festivals, which were attended by hundreds of thousands of worshippers, were altogether unique.
II. THE DISGRACE OF JERUSALEM. This appears:
1. From its ruinous and almost uninhabitable condition,
2. From the slaughter or dispersion of its citizens.
3. From its degradation from its proud position as the metropolis of a nation.
4. From the hatred, scorn, and insults of its triumphant enemies.
APPLICATION. There is a day of visitation which it behoves every child of privilege and mercy to use aright. To neglect that day is surely to entail a bitter overtaking by the night of calamity and destruction.—T.
Lamentations 2:18, Lamentations 2:19
The entreaty of anguish.
This surely is one of those passages which justify the title of this book; these utterances are "lamentations" indeed; never did human sorrow make of language anything more resembling a wail than this.
I. THE SOULS FROM WHICH TEARFUL ENTEATIES ARISE The true language of passion—this utterance is lacking in coherence. The heart of the people cries aloud; the very walls of the city are invoked in their desolation to call upon the Lord. Clearly the distress is that of the inhabitants of the wretched city, of those survivors whose fate is sadder than that of those who fell by the sword.
II. THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT OCCASION THE ENTREATY.
1. Personal want, suffering, and distress.
2. The spectacle of the woes of others, especially of children. Literature has no more agonizing picture than this of the young children fainting and dying of hunger in every street.
III. THE BEING TO WHOM THE SUPPLICATIONS OF THE ANGUISHED ARE ADDRESSED. In such circumstances vain is the help of man. Upon whom shall Jerusalem call but upon the Lord, the King of the city, the great Patron and Protector of the chosen nation, who has forsaken even his own people because they have forgotten him, and in whose favour alone is hope of salvation?
IV. THE CHARACTER OF THE ENTREATY URGED.
1. It is sorrowful, accompanied by many tears, flowing like a river and pausing not.
2. Earnest, as appears from the description—heart, eyes, and hands all uniting in the appeal with imploring prayer.
3. Continuous; for not only by day, but through the night watches, supplications ascend unto heaven, invoking compassion and aid.—T.
How truly human is this language! How real was the eternal Lord to him who could shape his entreaty thus! As if to urge a plea for pity, the prophet implores him who has been offended by the nation's sins, who has suffered the nation's misery and apparent ruin, to consider; to remember who Judah is, and to have mercy,
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES THAT CALL FOR CONSIDERATION.
1. Famine and the inhuman conduct to which famine sometimes leads.
2. Death by the sword,
3. The privation of those religious offices which are the centre and inspiration of the nation's life.
4. The common suffering of all classes; prophet and priest, children and old men, virgins and youth, are alike overtaken by want, by wounds, by death.
II. THE GROUNDS UPON WHICH CONSIDERATION IS BEGGED FOR.
1. The main appeal is to Divine pity and benevolence.
2. The former mercies shown to Judah seem to be brought implicitly forward in this language. Israel has been chosen by God himself, favoured with privileges, delivered, protected, and blessed in a thousand ways. Will God cast off those in whom he has taken an interest so deep, for whom he has done so great things?
III. THE HOPE WITH WHICH CONSIDERATION IS ASKED. Hitherto the regard of God in recent events has been a regard of displeasure and of censure. But if the attitude of the stricken be no longer one of defiance, but of submission, it may be that the Lord will turn him again, will be favourable unto his afflicted people, will restore them to former prosperity, enriched with the precious lessons of their adverse experience.—T.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The manifestation of Jehovah's wrath with Israel.
It will be noticed that the words "anger" and "wrath" occur again and again in these first three verses. Figure is heaped upon figure in order to bring out the practical effects of this anger. We need not pursue these figures into detail; each of them speaks for itself. Let us rather notice—
I. HOW THEY INDICATE THE EXTENT OF PAST FAVOUR. The very fact that, in order to show the character of Jehovah's anger, such strong figurative expressions are possible proves that in former days there had been many indications of his complacency with Israel. Not that Israel had been really better in the past than in the present, but she had to be dealt with in a long suffering way, and the long suffering of Jehovah is a quality which shows itself by abundance of most positive favours. God looked upon Israel according to the bright possibilities of excellence that lie in human nature. Israel did sink very low, but that was because she had the capacity of rising very high. Thus God heaped upon Israel favours, as if to show that he would not entertain any doubt as to her willingness to respond to his requests. And so the black anger cloud resting on Israel's present looks blacker still when contrasted with the Divine brightness and clearness of Israel's past. God has cast down the beauty of Israel, and that casting is as from heaven to earth. That which God has not remembered in the day of his anger is something which he had reckoned useful to himself, even as the footstool is useful to the king seated on his throne. Thus the extent of present anger measures the extent of past favour.
II. HOW THESE FIGURES INDICATE THE REALITY OF JEHOVAH'S WRATH. The very heaping up of these strong figures should make us feel very deeply that God's wrath is not itself a figure. God's anger is not to be reduced to a mere anthropomorphism. We are misled in this matter, because human anger is never seen without selfish and degrading elements. An angry man, in all his excitement and violence, is a pitiable sight, but nevertheless it is possible for a man to be angry and sin not. The man who cannot understand the reality of God's anger will never comprehend the ideal of humanity. The sensitive musician would laugh to scorn any one who told him that, while he was pleased with harmony, he should not be disturbed by discord. Again and again Jesus was really and righteously angry, showing in this, not least, how he was partaker of the Divine nature. When we are m wrong ways and God is consequently against us, his opposition and displeasure must be shown in ways that cannot be mistaken.—Y.
Jehovah reckoned as an enemy.
I. HOW FAR WAS THERE REALITY UNDER THIS APPEARANCE OF ENMITY? God might look like an enemy, but it did not therefore follow that he was one. But even if Jehovah behaved himself like an enemy, it must also be asked whether there was not a necessity that he should do so. If Israel had to say, "Jehovah acts as an enemy towards us," Jehovah had to say, "My people act as an enemy towards me." These people had now for a long time been travelling in the wrong way, and it was in the very nature of things that the more they advanced the morn opposition should multiply and become intensified. God not only appeared to be an enemy, but in certain respects he really was an enemy. He hated the evil that had risen to such a height among those whom he had taken for his own. Our love for evil is ever the measure of his hate of it; and the more determined we are to cling to it, the more his hostility will appear. God himself always keeps in the same path of law and righteousness and order. When we, according to our measure, follow in his footsteps, then real opposition there cannot be; but the moment we think fit to become a law to ourselves and do what is right in our own eyes, then inevitably he must oppose us.
II. THIS ENMITY WAS LARGELY IN APPEARANCE ONLY. When Israel said that Jehovah was as an enemy, they got their idea of enmity from the hostile proceedings of individuals and communities. But God cannot be the enemy of any man as men are enemies one to another. His motives are different and so are the results of all his opposition. One man forming hostile plans against another acts from malicious motives, or at all events from selfish ones. There is no basis of reason in what he does. He is not hostile to the lower in order that he may show himself friendly to the higher. Besides, we must not look merely at outward manifestations of enmity. There may be the deepest enmity and greatest power of inflicting injury where outwardly all looks harmless. Those who profess to be our friends and whom we reckon to be our friends may yet inflict worse injuries than all avowed enemies taken together. God is the true Friend of every man, however he may be thought at times to put on the appearance of an enemy.—Y.
The prophetic office suspended.
There is something of a climax about this statement that the prophets find no vision from Jehovah. Jeremiah has already spoken of God destroying the outward resources and defences of Jerusalem. Next, he mentions the exile of the king and the chief men, and then, as if to hint that it was a still greater calamity, he tells us how the prophet had no longer anything to see or to say. He did well to magnify his own office; for no office could be more important than that of the man whom God chose to communicate needed messages to his fellow men. Observe—
I. THE NATURE OF THE PROPHETIC OFFICE AS HERE INDICATED. A prophet was one who had a vision from the Lord. He was no prophet unless he could truly preface his address with "Thus saith the Lord." And must there not be something of this kind still? With respect to Divine things, what can any of us say that shall have power and blessing in it unless as we speak of what God has made us see? The prophetic office has ceased, but who can doubt that there must be some permanent reality corresponding with it? and therefore we should ever be on the look out for men who have had visions from the Lord. All advances in the interpretation of Scripture truth must come by revelation from on high. Otherwise the most diligent searching ends in nothing but pedantry and verbosity.
II. NOTICE THE DEPRIVATION HERE SPOKEN OF. What does it mean? How is it to be looked upon as part of Jerusalem's punitive visitation? The reply to this is that the institution of prophecy was part of the honour which Jehovah had put upon his people. The people could say that God was constantly raising up amongst them those whom he chose for a medium of communication. However unwilling they might be to listen to the real prophets, and however they persecuted them, still the fact remained that men like Jeremiah were rising again and again. For all we can tell, those whose written prophecies remain may have been a most minute portion numerically of the total company of the prophets. Now, if all at once the prophetic voice ceased or came at long intervals and with few words, this must have been most significant to those who had power to notice. It meant that God had little or nothing to say to the people. That he had communications with every individual willing to put himself in a right attitude there can be no doubt. Prophets who received nothing to give as a message would at the same time receive all they needed for their own edification and comfort, and now there is an abiding vision for all. God's communications to us are not after the "sundry times and divers manners" mode referred to at the beginning of the Epistle to the Hebrews. The Spirit of God revealing the uplifted Christ makes every one of us a prophet to himself.—Y.
The silence of the elders.
I. THEIR FORMER SPEECH. They are said to keep silence now; this, of course, suggests that silence had not been their former habit. Old men have a peculiar fight to speak, are often expected to speak, and can always plead that years have given them experience and many opportunities of observation, and with respect to these particular elders here it is not difficult to imagine what the topics and the manner of their former speech might be. For instance, imagine younger men going to them and asking what their opinion was as to the predictions of Jeremiah. They would not all have the same opinion, but many, it is to be feared, would make very light of what he said. Nor is it likely that they spoke of him in a very considerate way. The elders of Israel were, according to a national custom, largely the teachers of history. It was their business to tell their sons and their son's sons the great things that had been done in the days of old. And we know how easy it is to remember only success and forget disaster. Jeremiah coming in with his denunciations and threatenings would exasperate the elders not least. The chances are that again and again they had given advice at the foundation of which lay their unbelief in Jeremiah. Besides this, they would be advisers in general, and in particular matters would often be right enough. Thus when they cast discredit on a prophet of Jehovah others would take up their words as words of authority and soberness.
II. THEIR PRESENT SILENCE. They neither speak of their own accord nor do they answer when addressed. They keep silence. It is the silence of grief, humiliation, wounded pride, and shame. The only thing they could say, if they did speak, would be to confess in the amplest manner their sins, their blunders, their egregious self-confidence. But in truth their very silence spoke as if with loudest voice. It was as if they said, "We abdicate any fight we have had to advise and lead. We admit to the full our responsibility in having done so much to bring disaster on the people." Old age is not necessary to bring wisdom and insight into the problems of life. Jeremiah, who had gone out to prophesy when little better than a lad, was right, and old men with an egotistical and absorbed confidence in their own opinions were wrong. If we would avoid being stricken with a shameful silence in our old age, it must be by listening obediently in earlier years to far other voices than those which come kern the promptings of the natural man.—Y.
The suffering of the children.
It must be noticed how the mention of the children follows on the mention of the elders. There is suffering at each extreme of life, and hence we are to infer that there is suffering all between. The eiders suffer in their way and the children and the sucklings suffer in theirs. The elders are bowed down with confusion, shame, and disappointment. The children know nothing of this, but they are tormented with the pangs of hunger; and what a pathetic touch is that which represents them as breathing out their little lives into the bosom of their mothers! The sins of the parents are being visited upon the children. It has often been represented as a monstrous iniquity that things should be put in such a light, but is it not an undeniable fact that the little ones suffer what they would not suffer if progenitors always did what was right? These children were not clamouring for dainties and luxuries. Corn and wine, the common food, the pleasant grape juice, what they had been used to and what all at once they began to miss. What is here said is a strong admonition to us to consider how the innocent and unsuspecting may be affected by our unrighteousness. All our conduct must affect others, and it may affect those who cannot lift a hand to avert ill consequences. The sufferings of children and infants, the immense mortality among them,—these are things awful to contemplate; and yet nothing can be more certain than that the clearing away of prejudice and ignorance and hurtful habits founded on bare tradition would bring into child life that abundance of joy which a loving Creator of human nature meant children to attain. But even with all the suffering there are compensations. These hunger-stricken children cried for bread, and getting none they poured out their lives into their mothers' bosoms; but they had no self-reproach. Remorse did not add another degree of agony to starvation. The suffering which touches the conscience is the worst, and the little ones escape it altogether.—Y.
The share of the prophets in ruining Jerusalem.
I. WHAT THE PROPHET OUGHT TO BE. The prophet of those times was a man bound to say things having depth and substance in them. And though the prophet has ceased, so far as formal office is concerned, yet there are still Divine things to be seen, and, when seen, spoken about by those qualified to speak. There are the deep things of God to be penetrated and explored by those willing to receive the insight. The Holy Spirit of God, offered so abundantly through Christ, is a Spirit of prophecy to all who have it. They need no formal prophet, inasmuch as they have a word, living and piercing, to all who take a right relation towards it. God means us to be occupied with serious, substantial matters, so large and deep and fruitful that we shall never outgrow our interest in them. The heart of man in its meditating power was made for great themes. The heart can never be filled with mere trifles. That is good advice given to preachers of the gospel to speak most on the greatest themes, such as are set forth again and again in the Scriptures, and, whether these things be preached about or not, every individual Christian should think about them. For while we cannot secure the topics of preachers, the topics of our own thoughts depend upon ourselves. It is just those who concern themselves a great deal about dogmas who are also most interested in the details of life and conduct.
II. WHAT THE PROPHET MAY SINK TO BE. These prophets felt bound to magnify their office and say something. They ought to have spoken the truth; but for this they lacked inclination and perhaps courage. The next best thing would have been to remain silent; but then where would the prophet reputation have been? and, more serious question still with some, what would have become of the prophet emoluments? Hence we have here the double iniquity that the false was spoken and the true conceded. The prophets could only get credit for their falsehoods by a careful concealment of the truth. They had, as it were, to paste on truth a conspicuous label, proclaiming far and wide, "This is a lie." This verse suggests how they had the common experience of one lie leading on to another. The true prophet said that the burden Israel had to bear and the exile into which it had to go arose from its iniquities. Whereas the false, or rather the unfaithful prophet, having set iniquity as the cause of trouble altogether on one side, could only go on inventing explanations which explained nothing. Ezekiel 13:1-26.13.23. is a chapter which may very profitably be read in connection with this verse. The great lesson is to search for truth no matter with what toil, and keep it no matter at what cost.—Y.
The completeness of Jehovah's visitation.
I. THE COMPARISON BY WHICH THIS IS SET FORTH. "Thou hast called as in a solemn day." At certain periods there were vast commanded gatherings of the people to Jerusalem. They came from far and wide and from all parts of the compass, and so, as they converged upon Jerusalem, they might be justly said to encircle it. And encircling it, they did so with a definite purpose. They were as far as possible from being a mere promiscuous crowd, in which each one could come and go at his own sweet will. At the centre of the circle stood Jehovah, giving the commandment to each which brought them all together. And we may infer from the use of the comparison here that the commandment must have been generally complied with. It was, indeed, a commandment not very hard to obey, requiring as it did mere outwardness of obedience. People living in quiet country places would be glad of the reason for occasional visits to Jerusalem. Well would it have been if the people had tried to carry their obedience a little further! if, when the solemn assemblies had gathered together, there had been in them the right spirit! A gathering of bodies is not so hard, but a gathering of hearts in complete union and sympathy, perfectly responsive to the will of God, who shall secure that?
II. THE ASSEMBLY OF TERRORS AT GOD'S COMMAND. God called together the people, and they came; but when they came, instead of attending to God's will, they pursued their own. But now God is represented as calling together all the agents that can inflict pain upon man and cause him terror; and they come with one consent, folding Israel round with an environment which cannot be escaped. There is no ultimate escape for the selfish, sinful man. He may get the evil day put off; he may find gate after gate opening, as he thinks, to let him away from trouble and pain; but in truth he is only going deeper and deeper into the corner where he will be completely shut up. God can surround us with providences and protections if we are willing to trust him. No other power can surround us with causes of terror. Our own hearts may imagine a menacing circle, but it only exists in imagination. If we seek the Lord he will bear us and deliver us from all our fears (Psalms 34:4). But no one can deliver us from God's just wrath with all who are unrighteous. That God who breaks the circle with which his enemies seek to enclose his friends, also makes a circle in which those enemies must themselves be effectually enclosed.—Y.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Lamentations 2". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent