Lamentations 2 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Lamentations 2
Pulpit Commentary
How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger!
Verse 1. - 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 (Psalm 132:7), or perhaps the temple as containing the ark (1 Chronicles 28:2; Psalm 99:5).
The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strong holds of the daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof.
Verse 2. - 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 Psalm 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.
He hath cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy, and he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about.
Verse 3. - 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 He hath drawn back his right hand; i.e. he hath withdrawn his assistance in war.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.
He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire.
Verse 4. - The beginning of the verse seems slightly out of order (see the Septuagint). 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;" Psalm 78:67, "the tent of Joseph."
The Lord was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strong holds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation.
Verse 5. - 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.
And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the LORD hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.
Verse 6. - Violently taken away; rather, violently treated; i.e. broken up. His tabarnacle; rather, his booth. "Tent" and "dwelling" are interchangeable expressions (see ver. 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 Psalm 27:5; Psalm 31:20; Psalm 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 Psalm 80:12, 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. Psalm 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 Psalm 74:3. It is the temple which is meant, and the term is borrowed from the famous phrase, ohel mo'edh (Exodus 27:21; comp. 25:22).
The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, he hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have made a noise in the house of the LORD, as in the day of a solemn feast.
Verse 7. - Her palaces; i.e. those of the daughter of Zion, especially "high buildings" (this is the true meaning of 'armon) of the temple. They have made a noise, etc. Comp. Psalm 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 beth, 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).
The LORD hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he hath stretched out a line, he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying: therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together.
Verse 8. - 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.
Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars: her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from the LORD.
Verse 9. - 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.
The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground, and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground.
Verse 10. - They have cast up dust, etc. A sign of mourning (Joshua 7:6; 2 Samuel 13:19; Job 2:12).
Mine eyes do fail with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city.
Verse 11. - 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.
They say to their mothers, Where is corn and wine? when they swooned as the wounded in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out into their mothers' bosom.
Verse 12. - 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; Psalm or. 40)
What thing shall I take to witness for thee? what thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? for thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?
Verse 13. - 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 have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment.
Verse 14. - Thy prophets. Jeremiah constantly inveighs against the fallacious, immoral preaching of the great mass of his prophetic contemporaries (comp. Jeremiah 6:13, 14; Jeremiah 14:13-15; Jeremiah 23:14-40). 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, 14; Jeremiah 23:31, 32 (see the Exposition on these passages). Causes of banishment. So Jeremiah (Jeremiah 27:10; comp. 15), "They prophesy a lie unto you, to remove you far from your land."
All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying, Is this the city that men call The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth?
Verse 15. - Clap... hiss... wag their heads. Gestures of malicious joy (Job 27:23) or contempt (Jeremiah 19:8; Psalm 22:7). The perfection of beauty; literally, the perfect in beauty. The same phrase is used in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 27:3; 28:12) of Tyro, and a similar one in Psalm 1:2 of Zion.
All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee: they hiss and gnash the teeth: they say, We have swallowed her up: certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it.
Verses 16, 17. - On the transposition of the initial letters in these verses, see Introduction. Verse 16. - Have opened their mouth against thee. As against the innocent sufferer of Psalm 22. (ver. 13). Gnash the teeth. In token of rage, as Psalm 35:16; Psalm 37:12. We have seen it (comp. Psalm 35:21).
The LORD hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in the days of old: he hath thrown down, and hath not pitied: and he hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee, he hath set up the horn of thine adversaries.
Verse 17. - 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. ver. 3), and "honour" or "dignity" (comp. 1 Samuel 2:1). The figure is too natural to need explanation.
Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease.
Verse 18. - Their heart cried unto the Lord, etc. "Their heart" can only mean "the heart of the people of Jerusalem." For the expression, comp. Psalm 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 ver. 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.
Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street.
Verse 19. - 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" (Psalm 22:14), partly to "Pour out your heart before him" (Psalm 62:8). In the top of every street; rather, at every street corner (and so Lamentations 4:1).
Behold, O LORD, and consider to whom thou hast done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, and children of a span long? shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord?
Verse 20. - 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, 29. Of a span long; rather, borne in the hands. The word is derived from the verb renders to swaddle" in ver. 22 (see note).
The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword; thou hast slain them in the day of thine anger; thou hast killed, and not pitied.
Thou hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the day of the LORD'S anger none escaped nor remained: those that I have swaddled and brought up hath mine enemy consumed.
Verse 22. - 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.

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