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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Lamentations 1

 

 

Verse 1

Lamentations 1:1. How doth the city sit solitary — The short history of the desolations of the Jewish nation, contained in the fifty-second chapter of Jeremiah, formerly stood as a preface to the Lamentations; but, instead of it, the Greek and Latin copies have a short introduction, which may be thus translated: “And it came to pass after that Israel had been carried away captive, and Jerusalem was become desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping, and lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem, and said,” How, &c. The book being undoubtedly poetical, as a specimen of the kind of poetry which it contains, the reader is here presented with Blaney’s translation of the first stanza.

“How does she sit solitary, the city that was full of people! She is become as a widow, that was great among the nations! She that was sovereign over provinces, is become tributary!”

Jerusalem is here represented as a weeping female, sitting solitary on the ground without any attendant or comforter, the multitude of her inhabitants being dispersed or destroyed. It is remarkable, that in times similar to this, that is, in the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, a coin was struck, on which Judea is represented under the image of a woman sitting in tears beneath a palm-tree. How is she become as a widow! &c. — Cities are commonly described as the mothers of their inhabitants, and their kings and princes as their husbands: so, when they are bereaved of these, they are said to be widows and childless. Thus Jerusalem, having lost her king and people, and being forsaken of her God, who was in a peculiar sense a husband to her, is here represented as sitting alone in that pensive melancholy condition. She that was great among the nations, &c. — The kings of Judah, in their flourishing state, extended their conquests over the Philistines, Edomites, and other neighbouring countries; and by thus enlarging their dominions, greatly advanced the power of the metropolis of their kingdom. But now, being under subjection to the king of Babylon, and forced to pay tribute to him, she was made no more account of than any other city under the same yoke: see Calmet and Lowth.


Verse 2

Lamentations 1:2. She weepeth sore in the night — In the Hebrew, according to the idiom of that language, it is, Weeping she weepeth, which our old English version renders, She weepeth continually. The expression, in the night, is interpreted by some to signify her condition was so unhappy that, though oppressed with calamities, she did not dare to utter her complaints, unless secretly in the night, for fear of irritating her enemies. Among all her lovers she hath none to comfort her — Those nations that courted her alliance in the time of her prosperity, or those allies, whose friendship she courted by sinful compliances, have forsaken her in her affliction, and joined with her enemies in insulting over her. “Several of the neighbouring princes sent their ambassadors to Zedekiah, Jeremiah 27:3, &c., to engage him, as appears from the context, to join them in a confederacy against the power of the king of Babylon. But they not only universally failed, and deserted Judah in the time of need, but most of them turned against her, and took a malignant pleasure in aggravating her misfortunes.” See Blaney and the margin.


Verse 3

Lamentations 1:3. Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, &c. — Her miseries have received their finishing stroke in a total captivity among, and bondage to, heathen and infidels, because of the oppression exercised by her rulers and others, and the servitude to which they obliged their subjects and inferiors. This is the interpretation adopted by the Chaldee paraphrast, who represents the Jews as having been carried into captivity, in retaliation of their having oppressed the widows and the fatherless among them, and prolonged illegally the bondage of their brethren who had been sold for slaves. But, as the word גלה, here used, does not necessarily signify to go into captivity, but often to remove, or go into exile, whether voluntarily or by compulsion; Blaney thinks that “a voluntary migration of the Jews is here intended, many of whom, previous to the captivity, had left their country, and retired into Egypt and other parts, to avoid the oppressions and servitude that they had reason to apprehend from the Chaldeans, who had invaded, or were about to invade, their land. Either of these senses,” however, he observes, “is competent; and the interpretation according to them will be found to suit perfectly with the subsequent members of the period.” She findeth no rest — No satisfaction of mind, no settled place of abode, no remission of labour, terror, and suffering; but, deprived of all peace and comfort, is continually exposed to every insult and outrage, and to all manner of oppressions and vexations. All her persecutors — Or pursuers, rather; overtook her between the straits — That is, all her enemies have taken the opportunity of her being in a difficult and distressed condition, to oppress and injure her. The expression is metaphorical, taken from those who hunt their prey, which they are wont to drive into some strait and difficult passage, from whence it cannot escape.


Verses 4-6

Lamentations 1:4-6. The ways of Zion do mourn — The highways leading to Zion, which used to be thronged with people going to the solemn feasts before the Lord, now, as it were, mourned on account of no persons travelling in them for that purpose. All her gates are desolate — The gates of Jerusalem, or of the temple: few or none passing through them, the city and country being depopulated; and there are no longer any courts of judicature, or assemblies of people, held in her gates. Her priests sigh — Because no victims, or other oblations, are offered, the temple and altar being destroyed. Her virgins are afflicted — Her calamities afflict the young as well as the old, and persons of all ages and ranks are in bitterness. Her adversaries are the chief — Her enemies have got the advantage over her, and she is become their vassal. This was a judgment that Moses threatened to them if they proved disobedient, Deuteronomy 28:43; namely, that their enemies should be the head, and they the tail. For the Lord hath afflicted her — Hath fulfilled his threatenings, denounced in case of disobedience. For the multitude of her transgressions — The procuring, provoking cause of all her calamities: for whoever may be made the instruments, God is the author of all these troubles: it is the Lord that has afflicted her, and he has done it as a righteous judge, because of her transgressions, which have been very many as well as very great. Hence her children, her inhabitants, are gone into captivity before the enemy — Are forced into slavery by the Chaldeans, as cattle are driven in herds by them that sell them. And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed — All the glory of God’s sanctuary, and the comely order of his worship, and all the beauty of holiness. Her princes are like harts, &c. — That upon the first alarm betake themselves to flight, and make no resistance: they are become dispirited, have lost their courage, given way and fled before their enemies.


Verse 7

Lamentations 1:7. Jerusalem remembered in her affliction and misery. The word מרודים, here rendered misery, frequently signifies banishment and captivity. The LXX. render it απωσμων, rejections, or expulsions; all her pleasant things — All her former riches and glory, and the various benefits she enjoyed from God’s favour and protection, particularly the honour and happiness of having his peculiar presence in the temple, and among his people, and the manifestation he gave of his will by the prophets. Nothing is more natural than for persons, who have fallen into adversity, to recollect the advantages they had formerly possessed, and to feel an aggravation of their sufferings in proportion to the greatness of the contrast. The adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths — Not considering the excellent uses those days were designed for; namely, to give men a proper degree of relaxation from labour; leisure to attend upon the service of God, and learn the duties of religion; and to celebrate the creation of the world, that wonderful effect of infinite wisdom, power, and goodness, which can never be sufficiently extolled. The heathen writers, it must be observed, commonly ridicule the Jews’ celebration of their sabbaths as a mark of their sloth and idleness.


Verse 8-9

Lamentations 1:8-9. Jerusalem hath grievously sinned — Hebrew, חשׂא חשׂאה, in sinning hath sinned, or hath sinned sin: that is, sinned wilfully and deliberately; hath sinned that sin which of all others is the abominable thing which the Lord hates, the sin of idolatry. The sins of Jerusalem, which makes such a profession of worshipping and serving the true God, and therefore of obeying his will, and enjoys such privileges, are of all others the most grievous sins. Therefore she is removed — The greatest part of her inhabitants are either carried away captive to Babylon, or are fled for refuge and safety to some of the neighbouring nations. Blaney translates this clause, Therefore hath she been as one set apart for unclean, instead of לנידה, a word that occurs nowhere else, reading לנדה, after nineteen MSS., which signifies a woman in her state of separation. All that honoured her, despise her — She hath made herself vile, and therefore is justly vilified. Because they have seen her nakedness — Have seen her deprived of all her strength and glory. As she had defiled herself with idolatry, (called spiritual adultery in Scripture,) so God has ordered her to be exposed to shame like a common harlot. Yea, she sigheth and turneth backward — As ashamed to be seen in such a despicable condition, destitute of all those things which constituted her former glory. Her filthiness is in her skirts — She carries the marks of her sins in the greatness of her punishments. She remembereth not her last end — Reflects not on what is still further coming upon her. “The plain meaning of this,” says Blaney, “taken out of metaphor, seems to be, that although evident marks of her pollution appeared about her, and the land was defiled by her sinfulness, even to its utmost borders, she had no thought or consideration of what must be the consequence of all this at the last.” Therefore she came down wonderfully — She was brought low, and humbled in an extraordinary manner having sinned grievously, Lamentations 1:8, she was degraded and punished wonderfully. Observe, reader, grievous sins bring wondrous ruin; there are some workers of iniquity for whom is prepared a strange and uncommon punishment.


Verse 10-11

Lamentations 1:10-11. The adversary hath — Or rather, did, spread his hand upon all her pleasant things — Hebrew, מחמדיה, her desirable things, namely, her riches, and what else she most desired to preserve. She hath seen the heathen entered into her sanctuary, &c. — She saw heathen nations, whom thou hadst forbidden even to be admitted into thy congregation, (as being uncircumcised,) enter into the sanctuary farther than ever her own people themselves were permitted to go. The Chaldeans entered into the inmost part of the sanctuary, even into the holy of holies, into which none of the Jews, except the high-priest, were ever allowed to enter. All her people sigh, they seek bread — He probably refers to the time of the invasion of the country by the Chaldeans, and the siege of Jerusalem, when the whole body of the people were in a sad condition, and, in a land that ordinarily flowed with milk and honey, were at a loss for bread to eat. They have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul — They have parted with their riches and all their desirable things to purchase bread to sustain their lives. See, O Lord, and consider — This is a prayer of Jerusalem to God for relief; for I am become vile — That is, miserable and contemptible.


Verse 12

Lamentations 1:12. Is it nothing to you? &c. — The Vulgate reads this clause without an interrogation, thus: O vos omnes qui transitis per viam attendite, videte, &c. O all ye, who pass by the way, observe, see, &c. Lowth also and Blaney prefer reading it in a similar way; the former thus: O all ye that pass by; or, O! I appeal to all you that pass by: and the latter, O that among you, all ye that pass by the way, ye would look and see, &c. Our translation, however, is more agreeable to the Hebrew, and certainly more expressive and emphatical. The prophet speaks in the name of Jerusalem, or of the Jewish Church, still represented as a woman in misery, sitting by the way-side, and calling to travellers that passed by to have compassion on her, suggesting to them that hers was no ordinary affliction, nor the visitation of a common and ordinary providence, but the effect of the Lord’s fierce anger, a most severe though just chastisement. The intention of the passage is to show that the calamities brought on the Jews, as the punishment of their idolatries and other crimes, ought to be observed and maturely considered by people of all nations, that from their miseries they might learn how dangerous it was to provoke the God of Israel by such practices; which he would not overlook in any people, not even in those that stood in the nearest relation to him, but would assuredly punish them: and to signify to the Babylonians themselves in what danger they stood by despising and setting at naught this only living and true God. But the prophet does not address them by name, nor speak more pointedly, lest he should irritate them still more against his already too miserable countrymen. “These words are often quoted in speaking of our Lord’s sufferings, and they are capable of a striking accommodation thereto: but it should be recollected that this is only an accommodation, and not the real meaning of the sacred writer.” — Mr. Scott: who adds, “The address is so exquisitely pathetical, that no comment can possibly do justice to it.”


Verses 13-16

Lamentations 1:13-16. From above hath he sent fire into my bones — Calamities as consuming and as afflictive as fire in the bones. He hath spread a net for my feet — Hath brought me into a most miserable condition, in which I am so entangled that I cannot extricate myself nor escape from it. Thus the prophet teaches Jerusalem to look beyond the Babylonians, and to see the sin-avenging hand of God in her sufferings. As if he had said, It is God himself that hath sent these evils upon me; he hath stirred up my enemies against me, and they are no more than the rod of his anger. The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand, &c. — He has, as it were, gathered my iniquities and the iniquities of my people together, and made a yoke of them to put upon me, so that I am weighed down by them, and by the judgments inflicted on account of them. They are wreathed, and come up upon my neck — My punishments are twisted with my sins as cords to make them strong: I have a complication of judgments upon me, sword, famine, pestilence, captivity; and they are not only prepared for my neck, but are already put upon it. He hath made my strength to fall, &c. — All my valiant men, the strength of my nation, is broken, and I am so fallen that I am not able to rise again. The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men, &c. — The destruction which is made by war is frequently expressed by treading under foot: see note on Jeremiah 50:26. He hath called an assembly against me to crush, &c. — Instead of those solemn assemblies that were wont to be called together in the midst of me by the sound of trumpet, to celebrate my solemn feasts, God hath called an assembly of Chaldeans to lay me in ruins, and crush my people. The Lord hath trodden the daughter of Judah as in a wine-press — That people, which was formerly chosen by Jehovah, and secured against all violent attempts by his immediate and almighty protection, he has now given up to the fury of their enemies, to afflict them with such severity that their blood has been shed in the streets of Jerusalem as wine from the wine-press. For these things I weep, &c. — For these sore afflictions, and for my sins which have caused them, and for these tokens of divine wrath which I see in them I weep so plentifully, and am in such distress, that mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul — Namely, God; is far from me — Hath withdrawn himself, is departed from me in displeasure, and beholds me afar off. My children are desolate — The other cities of Judah, under Jerusalem, the mother city, or my people, are wasted, destroyed, and made desolate, because the enemy hath prevailed — And effected his purpose.


Verse 17

Lamentations 1:17. Zion spreadeth forth her hands — She extendeth her hands as a suppliant praying for relief and consolation. And there is none to comfort her — None who can, or are even inclined to do it. The Lord hath commanded, &c. — That is, it came to pass by God’s command, that the surrounding nations were the adversaries of Jacob. We meet with a similar form of expression Psalms 68:11, The Lord gave the word, great was the company of those that published it. Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman — She is become loathsome and filthy in the eyes of her former friends, like women separated from the congregation in the time of their legal uncleanness.


Verse 18-19

Lamentations 1:18-19. The Lord is righteous, for I have rebelled, &c. — He does me no wrong in dealing thus with me, nor can I charge him with any injustice. Observe, reader, whatever the troubles are which God is pleased to inflict upon us, we must own that in them he is righteous: we neither know him nor ourselves, if we do not acknowledge this. Jerusalem owns the equity of God’s actions by confessing the iniquity of her own. Hear, I pray you, all people — See note on Lamentations 1:12. My virgins and my young men are gone into captivity — Thus it is said, 2 Chronicles 36:17, that the Chaldeans had “no compassion upon young men or maidens.” I called for my lovers, but they deceived me — They proved like the brooks in summer to the thirsty traveller, Job 6:15. The Egyptians and her other allies are intended, who made court to her in her prosperity, and promised her assistance, but in the day of her adversity and necessity were alienated from her, and cast her off. Thus we are commonly deceived and disappointed in those creatures that we set our hearts upon, and put our trust in. Happy they that have made God their friend, and keep themselves in his love, for he will not deceive them! My priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city — The famine hath consumed the most honourable as well as the meaner people. While they sought their meat to relieve their souls — While they went about seeking for bread to keep them alive. The LXX. add, και ουχ ευρον, and found none, with whom the Syriac agrees. But no such words appear in the Hebrew copies, although the thing is implied, for they would not have died if they had found what they sought.


Verse 20

Lamentations 1:20. Behold, O Lord, for I am in distress — Take cognizance of my case, and use such means for my relief as thou pleasest. It is a matter of comfort to us, that the troubles which oppress our spirits are perfectly known to God, and that his eye is continually upon them. Abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death — Thus was Moses’s prediction, Deuteronomy 32:25, fulfilled, The sword without, and terror within, shall destroy both the young man and the virgin, the suckling also, with the man of gray hairs. Virgil describes a similar scene, when he says,

“ — — Crudelis ubique Luctus, ubique pavor, et plurima mortis imago.” ÆN. 2:368.

“All parts resound with tumults, plaints, and fears; And grisly death in sundry shapes appears.” DRYDEN.

By death, in this clause, the pestilence is meant, as in Jeremiah 15:2, where see the note: death acting, as it were, in propria persona, in its own proper person, and not by the instrumentality of another, as when a person is slain by the sword. So our great poet, in his description of a lazar-house,

“ — — — — — — — — — — Despair

‘Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch; And over them triumphant death his dart Shook — — — — — — .”

PARADISE LOST, book 11. 50:489, &c.

Instead of, At home there is as death, Lowth proposes reading, there is certain death, observing, that the particle of similitude in the Scriptures sometimes implies a strong affirmation, as John 1:14, We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, meaning such a glory as could belong to none but the Son of God.


Verse 21-22

Lamentations 1:21-22. They have heard that I sigh — The nations contiguous to me, Egypt and others, that before pretended to be my friends and allies, have been no strangers to my bitter afflictions, which have forced sighs from me; but there is none to comfort me — None of them can or will relieve my distress, but abandon me as in a desperate situation. They are glad that thou hast done it — They have even expressed gladness at the calamities that have befallen me; and they please themselves with the thought that thou our God, of whose favour and protection we used to boast, shouldst forsake us, and give us up as a prey to our enemies. Thou wilt bring the day that thou hast called, &c. — The day when thou wilt execute thy judgments upon the Babylonians, and our other enemies and false friends, will certainly come at the time thou hast determined for that purpose. “We have here again the like turn of phrase as in the first line of this period; for the meaning evidently is, that the enemies of Jerusalem would in the end find little cause for their triumph, since the same Almighty Being, who had caused her evil day to come, had declared that, after a while, they should also suffer the like fate. Thou that hast brought the day [of adversity upon me] hast pronounced, that they shall become even as I.” — Blaney. Let all their wickedness come before thee — Let it appear that though thou hast chastened us for our sins, our enemies have still greater ones to answer and be punished for.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Lamentations 1:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/lamentations-1.html. 1857.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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