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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Lamentations 1

 

 

Introduction

Chapter 1. A Heart-Cry Over What Has Happened to Jerusalem.

Chapter 1 is a heart cry over what has happened to Jerusalem. It divides up into two equal sections. The first eleven verses depict the heart cry of the prophet as he looks at what has happened to Jerusalem. The next eleven verses depict the heart cry of the city itself as it contemplates what has happened to it, a passage opened with the immortal words, “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by, look and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow’ (Lamentations 1:12). In neither section is there any positive request for YHWH to respond to their cry with deliverance, and the chapter ends rather with the plea that Jerusalem’s betrayers might suffer the same fate as she has. It is thus a cry for justice against her enemies so that they might share her fate, demonstrating the blackness of her despair.

Noteworthy is the emphasis the chapter places on the fact that it is YHWH Who has brought it about. It only comes out once in the first 11 verses which are spoken by the prophet, where it is related to her sins, ‘YHWH has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgression’ (Lamentations 1:5), but it is more prominent in the second 11 verses, which are spoken by Jerusalem, both as to ‘the Sovereign Lord’ (three times in Lamentations 1:14-15) and to ‘YHWH’ (Lamentations 1:12; Lamentations 1:17). Note that the specific interference in the state of things is by ‘the Sovereign Lord’ (delivering her into the hands of their enemies, setting at nought her prime warriors, treading her in a winepress). YHWH acts less specifically (He afflicts her, He commands concerning her). Appeal is also addressed to YHWH in both sections to ‘behold’ the situation (Lamentations 1:9; Lamentations 1:11; Lamentations 1:20) demonstrating that faith is not totally dead. And in the midst of all this Jerusalem acknowledges that YHWH is truly righteous in His dealings with her, because she has rebelled against what He has commanded (Lamentations 1:18).


Verses 1-7

The Prophet Pines Over What Jerusalem Has Lost (Lamentations 1:1-7).

In these opening verses (Lamentations 1:1-7) Jerusalem is pictured by the writer in terms of how it now was, an empty city, a widow and forced-labourer (helpless people subject to the winds of fortune), one who was despised by the nations, her people in exile, her worship non-existent, ruled over by her enemies, her treasures all gone, and all because she had turned from the Lord and from His covenant, and had done it so often that in the end He had had enough.

The verses bring out a number of deliberate contrasts:

· She had been full of people, a busy thriving city, but now she was empty (Lamentations 1:1 a).

· She had been great among the nations, but now she had become a helpless and undefended widow (the most unheeded of people) grieving the loss of her husband, indeed even a forced-labourer, one of the riff-raff caught up by fate and respected by none (Lamentations 1:1 b).

· She had had many friends and lovers among her allies, who had honoured and respected her, but now they despised her and have become her enemies (Lamentations 1:2).

· She who had been at rest and well established as the capital of a nation had now been taken into captivity, scattered and dwelling among the nations, finding no rest (Lamentations 1:3).

· She who had been a thriving worship centre, was now deserted. None came to her in order to enjoy her festivals (Lamentations 1:4).

· Those who had been kept in check by her as her regional enemies, were now instead head over her (Lamentations 1:5).

· She had been full of treasures (pleasant things), but now those treasures were but a memory. They had gone (Lamentations 1:7).

We can understand from this the cry from the prophet’s heart. Jerusalem had lost everything. Whilst the city would not be literally empty, and some of the poorest of the land would still be living there amidst its ruins, she was an empty, broken-down shell. The eternal city was no more. It is a picture of a city and nation which, because it had lost its soul, had therefore now lost everything.

We cannot fail to recognise in all this what can happen to the church of Jesus Christ (and has happened through the ages) when it falls short in its witness and life and becomes superficial. Its congregations can begin to dwindle. It can lose respect. It can find itself deserted. It can lose its spiritual riches and its first love. It has happened to much of the church in England (although thankfully with many exceptions). It is happening in the US. And it all arises through disobedience and neglect, through self-praise and self-gratification, through self-satisfaction, and through an attitude that worships other things than God. It is something that can also happen in the individual. It is a picture of the consequences when the world has crept in and has gradually taken over, it is a picture of the consequences of backsliding, of a spiritually bankrupt life.

Lamentations 1:1

(Aleph) How the city sits empty (solitary),

Which was full of people!

She is become as a widow,

She who was great among the nations!

She who was a princess among the provinces

Is become a slave-labourer!

As the writer surveys what remains of Jerusalem his heart is moved to cry out. He could remember how it had once been a teeming city, full of bustle and noise, its streets filled with people. But now it was empty. Those who did still dwell there were despondent and discouraged as they crept around its ruined streets, ruled over by outsiders. It was a city which had lost its heart.

It had become like a widow, one who wept because she had lost her protector and provider, one who often lived on the edge of poverty, who was ignored by all, and was an irrelevance to all, with no one to take up her cause. Life had passed her by. (Compare the vivid picture of the enforced widowhood of Babylon found in Isaiah 47, and Israel as a widow in Isaiah 54:4-5; See also the indications of a widow’s lot in Deuteronomy 24:19-21; 1 Kings 17:9-24; Isaiah 10:2; Ezekiel 22:7). Jerusalem/Judah had once been great among the local nations, highly regarded, and looked up to as a royal city, ‘a princess’. But now it had become a forced-labourer, one set to the task force, at the beck and call of its taskmasters.

‘A princess among the provinces.’ This is looking back to the times when surrounding nations had been subject to Jerusalem in the times of Hezekiah, and earlier. Then she had been like a princess among them. The word for ‘provinces’ indicates a nation or nations subject to another nation (compare Ezra 2:1; Nehemiah 7:6; Esther 1:1; Esther 1:22)

We are reminded by this of the Ephesian church which had lost its first love and would eventually have its light of witness removed (Revelation 2:2-5), which was eventually brought down to the depths, and of the Laodicean church, which had not yet realised that it was poor and wretched, miserable, blind and naked (Revelation 3:17). The secret of the maintenance of true spirituality is eternal vigilance and remaining close to God.

Lamentations 1:2

(Beth) She weeps sore in the night,

And her tears are on her cheeks,

Among all her lovers

She has none to comfort her,

All her friends have dealt treacherously with her,

They are become her enemies.

Jerusalem in her desolation had become like a deserted lover, weeping bitterly in the night, tears running down her cheeks, her lovers no longer there to comfort her because they have treacherously entered into relationship with her enemies. She had been deserted. All the nations that she had relied on had turned from her, making terms with the Babylonians and acting against her (Psalms 137:7; Ezekiel 25:3; Ezekiel 25:6; Obadiah 1:11-14; Jeremiah 40:14). She has been left alone to face her destiny.

In the past she had looked to those others for sustenance instead of to her Lord (Hosea 2:7; Hosea 7:11; Hosea 8:9-10; Jeremiah 22:20-22; Ezekiel 23:1-48; Isaiah 30:1-3; Isaiah 31:1-3; 1 Kings 15:16-20; 2 Kings 16:5-7), and now those others had failed her and she was left bereft. Not one could be relied on. It is a reminder that we also need to beware of too much reliance on people, instead of relying on our Lord. He is the only One Who will never let us down.

Lamentations 1:3

(Gimel) Judah is gone into captivity (exile),

Because of affliction, and because of great servitude,

She dwells among the nations,

She finds no rest,

All her persecutors overtook her,

In the midst of her distress.

One of the great promises to God’s people had been that they would find rest (see Deuteronomy 12:9-10; Deuteronomy 25:19; Joshua 21:44; Joshua 23:1; 2 Samuel 7:1; 2 Samuel 7:11; 1 Kings 8:56). But from now on there would be no rest, for those who were the heart of the nation had been carried away into captivity. Some were suffering great affliction, others were facing great servitude. See the vivid picture in Deuteronomy 28:64-67. Like the Israelites who had wandered in the wilderness under Moses, they too would wander among the nations, unable to find rest (Psalms 95:11). And of those who had not gone into captivity large numbers had sought refuge in Egypt, equally becoming exiles. For them the future was just as bleak as Jeremiah makes clear. Meanwhile her own land had been invaded and settled by other neighbouring nations (e.g. the Edomites in the south) who had acted against her in her abandoned state.

It is noteworthy that later in the book ‘the daughter of Zion’ is promised that she will no more be carried into captivity once the punishment of her iniquity is accomplished (Lamentations 4:22). The book is therefore an assurance that this is only a temporary experience.

This picture of a people unable to find rest is taken up by the writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 3-4, as he warns a group of Jewish Christians of the dangers of falling back into Judaism. It is a warning to us also lest we fall back into apathy, or think that we can be ‘believers’ without making a genuine response in our lives.

Lamentations 1:4

(Daleth) The ways of Zion mourn,

Because none come to the solemn assembly,

All her gates are desolate,

Her priests sigh,

Her virgins are afflicted,

And she herself is in bitterness.

In spite of its extravagant seeking after false gods Jerusalem had taken great pride in being the centre of Yahwism, the place to which people flocked at the times of the great feasts, singing as they came. It was the place where many gathered to worship the true God. But now the roads along which they had travelled mourned because no one travelled along them, no one came for the feasts. Jerusalem’s very gates were unused and desolate, no pilgrims flocked through them. Her priests sighed, either because no one made use of their services (the context may be seen as suggesting that these are minor priests left in Jerusalem), or because having been carried off into a far country they could no longer serve. Her virgins were afflicted, and no longer took part in the festivals (virgins/young women were regularly associated with festival worship - Psalms 68:25; Judges 21:19-25 Exodus 15:20; Jeremiah 31:13) partly because there were no prospects of marriage for them as a result of the slaughter, and partly possibly because they had been repeatedly raped by the invading forces and had lost their virginity. Meanwhile the whole of Jerusalem, instead of being festive, was in deep bitterness.

Many today can look back to the past and see what once was, remembering past days of blessing which have been lost. And it is all too often because of the sin of God’s people who have failed in their responsibility, indeed, bringing it closer to home, it is because of our sin. We have only to think of past revivals to ask ourselves, why have the places in which there was once such rejoicing and worship, become places which are spiritually barren and fruitless?

Lamentations 1:5

(He) Her adversaries are become the head,

Her enemies prosper,

For YHWH has afflicted her,

For the multitude of her transgressions,

Her young children are gone into captivity,

Before the adversary.

Grievous to the prophet was the sight of Jerusalem and Judah ruled over by foreigners. Babylon now ruled them by direct rule through her appointees, stationed elsewhere than Jerusalem. Initially it was by Gedaliah, no doubt watched over by Babylonian advisers, and then by whoever replaced him. But the authority to rule had been taken away from Jerusalem.

‘Her enemies prosper.’ The neighbouring nations were no longer subject to Judah’s hand upon them, and instead prospered at her expense. And all this was because YHWH had afflicted her. It was YHWH’s doing.

And that is why her people, and even her young children, had gone into exile, either forcefully or voluntarily. (‘Before the adversary’ could indicate that they had been driven as captors, or that they had fled from their vengeance). It was because of their transgressions against the covenant with YHWH, which included the ten words/commandments. So the message is that it is YHWH Who has done it because of their disobedience to His requirements. This is the explanation of the catastrophe. This emphasis on the fact that it was YHWH Who was responsible for what had happened, and Who had brought this catastrophe on them, is a theme of the book. See Lamentations 1:12-15; Lamentations 1:17; Lamentations 2:1-8; Lamentations 2:17; Lamentations 3:1; Lamentations 3:37-38, Lam 43-45: Lamentations 4:11. It was a message that enabled a broken and disheartened people to make sense of what had happened. It enabled them to recognise that if only they would respond to Him truly they were still His people. For we must remember that however deep our sin, God will always provide us with a way back through true repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lamentations 1:6

(Waw) And from the daughter of Zion,

All her majesty is departed,

Her princes are become like harts,

Which find no pasture,

And they are gone without strength,

Before the pursuer.

For the majesty that has departed from the daughter of Zion compare Ezekiel 16:14. YHWH had made her majestic in the eyes of the nations, partly because of her unique faith and her unique God, but now that majesty has departed. Instead of standing proud among the nations her princes had become like deer without pasture which become weak and feeble, and lose their strength. ‘Before their pursuer’ suggests here a special reference to the way in which Zedekiah and his princes and advisers had fled ignominiously by night seeking to escape from those who surrounded Jerusalem. But they had lacked the strength and stamina to escape as a result of the starvation rations that they had been living on and had been overtaken at the Arabah (2 Kings 25:5; Jeremiah 39:5; Jeremiah 52:7-8).

Lamentations 1:7

(Zayin) Jerusalem remembers,

In the days of her affliction and of her miseries,

All her pleasant things,

Which were from the days of old,

When her people fell into the hand of the adversary,

And none did help her,

The adversaries saw her,

They mocked at her desolations.

The prophet pictures Jerusalem in her poverty and desolation as remembering the treasures that she had lost, the treasures which had made her such a desirable city, and especially the treasures of the Temple removed by Nebuchadrezzar (Jeremiah 52:17-23; 2 Kings 24:13). Then she had been admired and honoured. But now her treasures were gone, for she had fallen into the hands of the adversary, and none had helped her. And indeed her adversaries now saw her desolations and mocked at her. She was a laughingstock among her neighbours.


Verses 1-11

The State Of The One-time Great City Of Jerusalem Is Described (Lamentations 1:1-11).

The prophet here commences by bewailing the state of Jerusalem. He pines over what it has lost, and describes it in terms which bring out how much it has lost. From the political point of view it had lost its autonomy and was no longer semi-independently ruled, having become but part of a Babylonian province. From the religious point of view it had lost its status as the centre for the worship of YHWH.


Verses 8-11

What Jerusalem Has Become (Lamentations 1:8-11).

Having outlined what Jerusalem had lost the prophet now turns his thoughts to what she has become. She has become like a menstrual woman whose situation is visibly revealed to the world, a suggestive picture that would have brought horror to men and women alike. Menstruation was seen as something to be kept hidden and to be ashamed of. And menstruation was seen as especially horrific in Judah/Israel for it was a means by which people were rendered ritually ‘unclean’ (Leviticus 15:19 ff). Furthermore, what was worse, as a result of her failure unqualified strangers had entered into God’s holy place, stealing its treasures and rendering it unclean by their presence. One uncleanness leads to another. And meanwhile her people had had to trade their own personal treasures simply in order to obtain the food that enabled them to survive.

Lamentations 1:8

(Cheth) Jerusalem has grievously sinned,

Therefore she is become as an unclean thing,

All who honoured her despise her,

Because they have seen her nakedness,

Yes, she sighs,

And turns backward.

Note the emphasis on the fact that all this was because ‘Jerusalem has grievously sinned’. And by sin is meant breaches of the covenant, both ritual and moral. They had played havoc with God’s covenant by murder, adultery, theft, perjury and covetousness, they had wallowed in idolatry (Jeremiah 7:9; Jeremiah 17:1-2), and all this had been exposed to the world, revealing her as a religious harlot. It was because of their sin that they had become like a menstrual woman whose nakedness was revealed. This would have literally occurred at the taking of Jerusalem with the enemy soldiers taking great delight in seizing menstruating women, ripping their clothes, and exposing them to the world. But it was also true metaphorically of Jerusalem as her sins and idolatry were also revealed to the world, causing her who had once been honoured, to be despised. She had defiled the religion of YHWH. She is then depicted as sighing deeply in her misery and shame at her exposure, and desperately and hopelessly trying to hide her condition by turning her back, hoping to hide herself from prying eyes, a totally useless enterprise, but it was all that she could do. She was unable to remove her sin. Indeed her means for doing so (the Temple ritual) had been destroyed.

Lamentations 1:9

(Teth) Her filthiness was in her skirts,

She did not remember what would follow for her later (her latter end/future),

Therefore is she come down spectacularly (wonderfully),

She has no comforter,

Behold, O YHWH, my affliction,

For the enemy has magnified himself.

She had not been concerned about the fact that she was defiling herself, and so she had wallowed in her dirt, because she had failed to consider what the final result might be. She had gloried in her uncleanness. Her collapse when it came was therefore both total and spectacular, with no one to turn to for comfort. Jerusalem now lay in ruins, with no one concerned about her of all her erstwhile allies, whilst her God also seemed far away.

We live today in times when uncleanness and immorality are being openly exposed to the world with no sense of shame. We too should recognise that our nations are heading for a spectacular fall.

The picture was so awful to the prophet’s mind that he cried out to YHWH even as he wrote. For he saw the affliction of Jerusalem as his own affliction. He shared in her misery. (We do not therefore need to choose between seeing this prayer as that of the prophet or that of a stricken Jerusalem. It was both). And he sought to draw YHWH’s attention to how their enemy was magnifying himself, and that included magnifying his gods. And by it the enemy were therefore deriding YHWH (‘the God of Israel’). Let God act therefore to defend His Name. It is a reminder that we too should identify ourselves with the sins of our nations, and should weep as the prophet wept, concerned for the honour of our God.

Lamentations 1:10

(Yod) The adversary has spread out his hand,

On all her pleasant things,

For she has seen that the nations,

Are entered into her sanctuary,

Concerning whom you commanded,

That they should not enter into your assembly.

The thought of the uncleanness of the nation now reminded the writer of what he saw as the most dreadful thing of all. The picture of the defiled, menstrual woman drew his attention to an even worse situation, the defilement of God’s sanctuary that had resulted from it. As always happens the defilement had spread to God’s house. The enemy had not hesitated to spread out his hands and gather in all Jerusalem’s treasures (Jeremiah 52:17-23), and in order to do so had trespassed on both the area of the sanctuary reserved only for the priests, and on the area especially which no man could enter because the Ark of YHWH was there. Foreign feet, which should not even have been allowed to become a part of the festal gathering (assembly), had trampled God’s Holy Place, where none but the especially sanctified could enter. And they had even entered the Holiest of All. And this was due to Jerusalem’s sins. The writer was horrified at the thought.

We also need to remember that when we sin we defile God’s Name and, if it is unrepented of, we carry our sin with us into the gathering of God’s people. We do not therefore just defile ourselves, we defile God’s holy Temple, His people.

Lamentations 1:11

(Kaph) All her people sigh,

They seek bread,

They have given their pleasant things,

For food to refresh the life within them (‘to cause life to return’),

See, O YHWH, and behold,

For I am become abject.

One of the consequences of all that had happened was that the people were now in extreme poverty. They were sighing at the miseries that had come on them, and they were so desperate to obtain food for themselves and their families, that in order to obtain it they were selling off their last remaining treasured possessions, even their children (for a reminder of the shortage of food during the sieges see 2 Kings 6:25-29; Jeremiah 37:21; Jeremiah 38:9; Jeremiah 52:6, but their hapless condition would continue afterwards, for they would not be well looked after by their captors). For even the richest was poor now. They had truly become an object of pity. And pity was what the writer felt as he looked on the situation. Once again it turns him to prayer as he identifies himself with his people and calls on YHWH to see his and their abject state.

It is a reminder that we also should be aware of, and pray about, the miseries of others when they are caught up in catastrophe, entering into their experience with them.


Verses 12-19

Jerusalem Calls On The World To Behold Her Pitiable State (Lamentations 1:12-19).

Lamentations 1:12

(Lamed) Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?

Behold, and see,

If there be any sorrow like to my sorrow,

Which is brought upon me,

With which YHWH has afflicted,

In the day of his fierce anger.

In words that have moved the hearts of people in many generations Jerusalem calls on the world to pause as they pass by the ruined city and behold her sorrows and afflictions. And then he explains their cause. They are due to the fact that YHWH has afflicted them because He is severely angry with them. YHWH’s anger is not of course to be seen as like our anger. It is rather descriptive of His antipathy to sin, and His reaction against it. God’s holiness results in God’s wrath against sin. Note that this was ‘the day of His fierce anger’, one of many ‘days of YHWH’.

The words remind us of Another Who hung on a cross as our representative and substitute, bearing for us the wrath of God against sin. He too could say to those who passed by, ‘Is it nothing to you all you who pass by, behold and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow -- with which God has afflicted me in the day of His fierce anger.’ It reminds us that we can be spared the wrath of God because He bore it in our place, being made sin for us, and taking on Himself ‘the wrath of God’ (the necessity in God, because of what He is, to justly punish sin).

Lamentations 1:13

(Mem) From on high has he sent fire into my bones,

And it prevails against them,

He has spread a net for my feet,

He has turned me back,

He has made me desolate ,

And faint all the day.

Jerusalem then speaks of three ways in which YHWH has dealt with her:

· He has sent the destructive fire that had come from on high which has burned her to her very bones. That fire was figurative, descriptive of God’s wrath, but it resulted in real fires as the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, systematically burning it.

· He has ensnared them in a net spread in order to catch their feet in it. Note the implication that YHWH had intended to ensnare them, it was, however, only because they were walking in rejection of Him. And in the end it was an act of love, for He intended to restore them if and when they repented and came back to Him. The ‘turning back’ may refer to the hunter’s ploy by which he ensures that his trap is filled, turning the frightened animals back so that they are caught in his net. In other words Jerusalem was like an animal driven towards a trap, caught in the snare and awaiting its fate.

· He has made them desolate and faint. The idea is of the desolation of their hearts in the face of what has happened to them, and of the faintness that resulted from lack of food. All their sufferings are to be seen as at the hand of YHWH.

All this is a reminder to us that God is Light (1 John 1:5) as well as Love (1 John 4:8). Though He may bear long with us He will not allow sin unrepented of to go unpunished in the end.

We need not think that we are exempt. We too may be called on to experience His destructive fire, to be caught in His snare, and to end up in a state of desolation at what is happening to us, as many an individual has discovered, and as the church has often experienced through the centuries when it has been unfaithful to Him. Paradoxical though it may seem it is often a sign of His love. It is His way of bringing back to Himself those who are truly His, and yet have strayed for a while, and punishing those whose profession is merely formal.

Lamentations 1:14

(Nun) The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand,

They are knit together,

They are come up on my neck,

He has made my strength to fail,

The Lord has delivered me into their hands,

Against whom I am not able to stand.

Under the guidance of the prophets they recognise that YHWH has taken their transgressions and woven them together to make a heavy yoke on their necks, similar to the wooden yoke that oxen wore over their necks when they pulled the plough. And under that heavy yoke their strength fails, and they are not able to stand. For that heavy yoke is the victorious enemy who have come against them, against whom they have no hope. It is a cry of despair, a cry of recognition of deserved judgment, and yet it is also in the end a cry of hope. For the very reason for making this lament is the hope that God will hear and respond to their cry, as history reveals that He does. It will, however, only be through a hard and difficult path.

Note the change from ‘YHWH’ to ‘the Lord (adonai)’. It is the sovereign Judge Who is now acting.

Lamentations 1:15

(Samek) The Lord has made as nothing,

All my mighty men (warriors) in the midst of me,

He has called a solemn gathering against me,

To crush my young men,

As in a winepress the Lord has trodden,

The virgin daughter of Judah.

‘The Sovereign Lord’ continues to act. He has rendered powerless the warriors of Judah/Israel, He has made them ‘as nothing’ (to be treated with contempt), by the very size and ferocity of the forces that have come against them.

The idea of ‘calling a solemn assembly’ usually has worship and joy in mind. So the gathering here is seen by God as for a religious purpose. But the joy will be that of the conquerors, not of Judah. For here the religious purpose is the judgment of Jerusalem. It is seeing what happens as something which has religious intent and contributes to the praise of YHWH, because Judah/Israel are getting their deserts.

All who read these words would be familiar with the pits in which the grapes were placed and then trodden down by the workforce until they were squeezed dry of all their juice which would be channelled off and collected in wineskins. Here the winepress is the Lord’s, and the treaders are the Babylonians, whilst the squeezed grapes are the Judeans. The blood-red juice was a solemn reminder of the blood that had run so freely in the streets of Jerusalem. Compare the vivid picture in Isaiah 63:1-6 speaking of God’s similar judgment on Edom. See also Revelation 14:19; Revelation 19:15 where the world will experience the same.

‘The virgin daughter of Judah.’ Compare Lamentations 2:13; Isaiah 47:1 (of Babylon); Jeremiah 6:2; Jeremiah 8:11; Jeremiah 8:19; Jeremiah 14:17). The idea is of one who had once been pure, but is now helpless, and brought down to shame. The virgin has been raped.

Lamentations 1:16

(Ayin) For these things I weep,

My eye, my eye runs down with water,

Because the comforter who should refresh my soul,

Is far from me,

My children are desolate,

Because the enemy has prevailed.

The destruction of the Temple had been a shattering blow for Israel, and for their faith. Up to that point they had believed that YHWH’s hand would protect it, that somehow He would not deal so severely with His people (compare Jeremiah 7:2-14). Now they had been proved wrong, and the ruins of the Temple indicated to them that YHWH had in a sense deserted them, that He was ‘far from them’. The One Who alone could have comforted them and refreshed their souls was no longer near. Or at least that was how it appeared to them at that moment. (In their exiles the prophets would encourage them in order to demonstrate that YHWH still had a purpose for them. But that was not how they saw it at this moment).

So ‘Jerusalem’ wept copious tears, tears streaming down the faces of her people. For as they looked at the total desolation, and the victorious enemy, they were aware that they had no one to turn to. The repetition of ‘my eye’ emphasises the point. They felt utterly forsaken.

Many of us experience times in our lives when we feel that God has forsaken us because we cannot understand what is happening to us. For His ways are not our ways, and sometimes He leads us through the valley of thick darkness. But we should comfort ourselves with the thought that it is in the end so that we might be purified, as Israel was being purified.

Lamentations 1:17

(Pe) Zion spreads forth her hands,

There is none to comfort her,

YHWH has commanded concerning Jacob,

That those who are round about him should be his adversaries,

Jerusalem is among them,

As an unclean thing.

Zion is here the equivalent of Jerusalem. Here she cries out in her sad condition. The spreading forth of the hands while standing up to pray was a common method of praying. Thus here Jerusalem is depicted as calling on God to hear her in her distress. But it appears to her to be in vain. No one acts on her behalf. No one comforts her. The One Who would have been her Comforter has turned against her because of her many sins, and even her erstwhile allies have become her enemies because they now see her as ‘unclean’, deserted by the gods and by men. And Jerusalem recognises that this also is due to the hand of YHWH. It is He Who has commanded it. Here people have been brought to a full stop in order that they may face up to how much they have offended God.

There is a reminder to us here that if our trust is in the world it will always let us down in the end. And a reminder that we should treat our sin more seriously.

Lamentations 1:18

(Tsade) YHWH is righteous,

For I have rebelled against his commandment,

Hear, I pray you, all you peoples,

And behold my sorrow,

My virgins and my young men,

Are gone into captivity.

Jerusalem acknowledges the fact that what has happened has not called into question the righteousness of YHWH. Rather it has underlined it. For it has happened precisely because her people had rebelled against the commandments of the Righteous One. This was initially, of course, the prophet’s viewpoint speaking on behalf of Jerusalem, but it would gradually become a part of the thinking of the whole people as a result of the prophetic endeavours, and this lament.

Then Jerusalem calls on ‘all you peoples’ to behold her sorrow, in that the prime of her youth, her virgins and young men, have gone into captivity.

For ‘YHWH is Righteous’ compare 2 Chronicles 12:6; Isaiah 24:16 (translated ‘glory to the Righteous One’); Jeremiah 12:1. Note the return to ‘YHWH’ rather than ‘Lord’. They are recognising that He is their covenant God against Whom they have rebelled.

Lamentations 1:19

(Qoph) I called for my lovers,

They deceived me,

My priests and my elders,

Yielded up the spirit in the city,

While they sought food for themselves,

To refresh their own beings.

Jerusalem admits that she has been failed by both her allies, and by her own leadership. Her ‘lovers’ are those that she has cosied up to among the neighbouring countries. But when called on to fulfil their promises they had deceived her. Egypt, for example, on whom she had greatly relied, had made great promises, but had been unable to live up to them). And in some cases her neighbours had rather assisted her enemies (although sometimes having no alternative). Meanwhile her own leadership, the priests and elders (secular statesmen) whom she had looked up to, and on whom she had depended, had given up any effort to help the people because they had been too involved in their own self-preservation. Indeed many of them had actually perished as they searched for food.


Verses 12-22

Jerusalem Calls On The World, And Then On YHWH, To Behold Her Condition And Cries To Him For Vengeance (Lamentations 1:12-22).

This passage can be divided up into two parts, the first in which Jerusalem calls on the world to behold her pitiable state (Lamentations 1:12-19), and the second in which she calls on YHWH to do the same and to avenge her in accordance with what He has promised (Lamentations 1:20-22). The cry for retribution has in mind YHWH’s declaration of His intentions as described, for example, in Jeremiah 50:15; Jeremiah 50:29; Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:11. Initially of course it describes the prophet’s viewpoint speaking on behalf of Jerusalem, but the aim was that by participation in his thoughts through reading and reciting his words God’s wayward people too might enter into a similar experience.


Verses 20-22

Recognising The Depths Of Her Own Sin Jerusalem Calls On YHWH To Do The Same To Her Enemies Who Are Gloating Over Her As He Has Done To Her, For They Are Equally Sinful. And She Calls On Him To Avenge Her In Accordance With What He Has Promised Through Jeremiah (Lamentations 1:20-22).

It is a sign of the depths of Jerusalem’s despair that her desire is not for mercy for herself, for she apparently sees that she does not warrant it, but that YHWH will also punish those who are gloating over her and yet are just as sinful in the same way as He has her. It is clear that their gloating has bitten deep into her soul. She wants equal justice for all, not mercy.

Lamentations 1:20

(Resh) Behold, O YHWH, for I am in distress,

My heart is troubled,

My heart is turned within me,

For I have grievously rebelled (behaved obstinately).

Abroad the sword bereaves,

At home there is as death.

She calls on YHWH to behold her in her present state. But this in itself is a recognition of her confidence that YHWH will still hear her. She does not feel totally forsaken. It is a dim glimmer of light in the darkness.

But for the present she is in distress, her heart is troubled and torn within her, and she recognises the depths of her own sin. She has ‘grievously rebelled’, a verb which means ‘to behave obstinately’ (Numbers 20:10; Numbers 20:24). That is why, both at home and abroad, her people are still dying. ‘Abroad’ simply indicates that those who venture out into the streets are slain by the sword, whilst those ‘at home’ are seen as dying of disease and hunger. It brings home the nearness of the events in the prophet’s eyes.

Lamentations 1:21

(Shin) They have heard that I sigh,

There is none to comfort me,

All my enemies have heard of my trouble,

They are glad that you have done it,

You will bring the day that you have proclaimed,

And they will be like to me.

‘They’ is a general ‘they’ and includes her enemies among her neighbours. And what hurts worse than all else is that while she sighs with none to comfort her, her enemies are gloating over what has happened to her. They are glad that YHWH has done this to her. But even in her misery Jerusalem is confident that He will fulfil his prophecies against the nations in Jeremiah 46-49. He will bring the day that He has proclaimed, and in that day her enemies will find themselves in the same distressing conditions that she is suffering at the moment.

We cannot see this as an attitude to be encouraged, it is contrary to the teaching of Christ, but it was at least an indication that Jerusalem had not lost her belief in the justice and fairness of God, and that she saw all that was happening as firmly within His control. She was trusting God in the dark, believing Him to be concerned about her even in her present situation.

Lamentations 1:22

(Tau) Let all their wickedness come before you,

And do to them,

As you have done to me,

Because of all my transgressions,

For my sighs are many,

And my heart is faint.

Her prayer does, however, arise from her consciousness that her enemies are as wicked as she is. She is not calling for adversity to fall on the innocent. All are seen as equally deserving of punishment. She is now suffering because of all her transgressions, and she sees it as right that those who have sinned as much as she has should be punished in the same way. ‘Do to them as You have done to me.’ God must at least reveal Himself as fair and just.

She closes by summarising her position in the words, ‘my sighs are many and my heart is faint’. It is the cry of a burnt out shell of a city grieving over her condition whilst her sufferings are deeply imbedded in her mind, somehow clinging on to her faith in God (which is why she prays).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Lamentations 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/lamentations-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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