Lamentations 4 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

Lamentations 4
Pulpit Commentary
How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.
Verse 1. - How is the gold become dim!... the stones of the sanctuary, etc. "Alas for the sad sights of the capture of Jerusalem! The most fine gold has lost its brilliance now that the fire of Nebuzar-adan (2 Kings 25:9) has passed over it, and the precious stones, consecrated to Jehovah, have been cast out into the open street!" Not that the latter part of this description can have corresponded to literal fact. None of the hallowed jewels would have been treated with such indifference. The expression must be as figurative as the parallel one, "to cast pearls before swine," in Matthew 7:6. The precious stones are the "sons of Zion," who are compared to "fine gold" in ver. 2, precisely as they are in Zechariah 9:16 (comp. ver. 13," Thy sons, O Zion") to "the stones of a crown." They are called "stones of the sanctuary," in allusion, perhaps, to the precious stones employed in the decoration of the temple according to 1 Chronicles 29:2 and 2 Chronicles 3:6. But we may also translate hallowed stones, which better suits the figurative use of the phrase. Those, however, who adopt the literal interpretation, explain "the stones of the sanctuary" of the hewn stones of the fabric of the temple, which are described as "costly" in 1 Kings 5:17. But how can even a poet have represented the enemy as carrying these stones out and throwing them down in the street? On the other hand, in an earlier lamentation we are expressly told that the young children "fainted for hunger in the top of every street" (Lamentations 2:19).
The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!
Verse 2. - The precious sons of Zion; i.e. not merely the nobility, but the people of Judah in general. It is needless (as the literal interpreters of ver. 1 are compelled to do) to alter b'ne (sons) into batte (houses) or abne (stones). The comparison of men to potters' vessels is familiar to the Hebrew writers (comp. Isaiah 22:24; Isaiah 45:9).
Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.
Verse 3. - The sea monsters; rather, the jackals (tannin, the Aramaic form of the plural for tannim). Cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness. So in Job (Job 39:14-16) it is said of the ostrich that she "leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust, and forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones, as though they were not hers." The description is literally true, if we add a detail not mentioned by the sacred poet. The eggs destined for hatching are deposited in a nest hole scratched in the sand, but there are other eggs laid, not in the sand, but near it, to all appearance forsaken. These eggs, however, are not exposed in simple stupidity, though they do often fall victims to violence. "They are intended for the nourishment of the newly hatched young ones, which in barren districts would at first find difficulty in procuring food" (Houghton, 'Natural History of the Ancients,' p. 198).
The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.
Verse 4. - Breaketh it unto them. The Jewish bread, consisting of round or oval cakes (comp. 1 Kings 19:6).
They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.
Verse 5. - They that did feed delicately, etc. i.e. luxuriously. The rendering has been disputed, but without sufficient ground. "They that did eat at dainties," i.e. pink at their dainty food, is forced. The Aramaic mark of the accusative need not surprise us in Lamentations (comp. Jeremiah 40:2). Brought up in scarlet; rather, borne upon scarlet; i.e. resting upon scarlet-covered couches. The poet speaks of adults, not of children.
For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.
Verse 6. - The punishment of the iniquity... the punishment of the sin. This is a possible rendering (see Genesis 4:13; Zechariah 14:19), but the renderings, "the iniquity," "the sin? are preferable, and yield a finer meaning, viz. that the punishment having been so severe, the guilt must have been in proportion. And no hands stayed on her. To make the picture of sudden destruction more vivid, the poet alludes to the ordinary circumstances of the capture of a city, the "hands" of a fierce soldiery ever "whirling" a destroying sword. Comp. "the swinging of the hand of Jehovah Sabaoth, which he swingeth against it" (Isaiah 19:16).
Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:
Verse 7. - Her Nazarites; rather, her eminent ones (just as Joseph is called n'zir ekhav,"eminent among his brethren"). The rendering of the Authorized Version is lexically possible, but is intrinsically improbable. The Nazarites constituted too small a portion of the Jewish people to receive so prominent a place in the elegy. Rubies; rather, corals. Their polishing was of sapphire; literally, their shape was (like) a sapphire. But the point in which the sapphire is compared to the bodies of the princes is evidently not the outline of its form, but its gleaming brilliant appearance; so that the Authorized Version is substantially correct.
Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.
Verse 8. - Their visage is blacker than a coal; rather, their appearance is darker than blackness - one of the hyperboles which seem to indicate that the poem was not written at the very moment of the calamity described (comp. Job 30:30). Not known in the streets. Another point of contact with the Book of Job (Job 2:12). Their skin, etc. Again we must compare the lamentations of Job (Job 19:20; Job 30:30). Psalm 102:5 may also be quoted; for the second half of the verse is toe short unless we insert "to my skin" before "to my flesh."
They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field.
Verse 9.-The miserable condition just now described maintains a sad pre-eminence even when compared with the fate of the slain in battle. And why! For these pine away (literally, melt away)Lamentations 4:10
The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.
Verse 10. - The pitiful women. Strange contrast between the compassionate nature of woman (comp. Isaiah 49:15) and the dread horrors of this moral as well as physical catastrophe (comp. note on Lamentations 2:20).
The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.
Verse 11. - Hath accomplished means here, not "hath finished," but "hath poured out in full measure," as in the song of Moses Jehovah declares that he will "spend his arrows upon them" - the Hebrew verb is the same as here (Deuteronomy 32:23). To show the completeness of Zion's ruin it is compared to a fire which hath devoured the (very) foundations thereof.
The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.
Verse 12. - The kings of the earth, etc. And yet Jerusalem had been taken twice before its capture by Nebuchadnezzar (see 1 Kings 14:26; 2 Kings 14:131. How is the language of the second part to be accounted for? It will help us to an answer if we observe that the later Jews seem to have acquired an exorbitant confidence in their national future ever since the Book of Deuteronomy had become as it were canonical in the reign of Josiah. "The temple of Jehovah" was ever in their mouths (Jeremiah 7:9), and the strong outward regard paid to the directions of the Law seemed to them to justify their believing in the fulfilment of its promises. And, in fact, the grand deliverance of Jerusalem in the reign of Hezekiah might, even without this misunderstanding of Deuteronomy, have inspired a firm faith in the security of Jerusalem. A sacred poet had already, on the occasion of that deliverance, declared of the holy city that "God upholdeth the same forever" (Psalm 48:8), and also (in vers. 4, 5) used the same hyperbole as the author of this lamentation to express the wide reaching interest felt in the fortunes of Jerusalem.
For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her,
Verse 13. - For the sins of her prophets, etc. Instead of connecting this verse by a comma with the following, we should rather view it as a unit in itself, and understand at the beginning, "All this hath happened" The sins of the prophets and priests are mentioned together by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 6:13; Jeremiah 23:11), as well as by Isaiah (Isaiah 28:7). But we are nowhere else told that the spiritual leaders of the people, in these closing years of the Jewish state, were guilty of shedding innocent blood, unless this is to be inferred from the incident related in Jeremiah 26:7, etc.
They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.
Verse 14. - They; i.e. the prophets and priests. Wandered as blind men. The leaders of the people are blinded by ignorance, for they know not the only true way of averting calamity, and by passion, for they have not that "eye" of the soul (Matthew 6:22, 23) which alone enables a man to see the good and the right course for himself individually, The" wandering," or, rather, "staggering" (comp. Psalm 107:27, Authorized Version), however, may also refer to the panic stricken condition of those self. deceived deceivers when overtaken by God's punishment; comp. "wine of reeling" (Authorized Version, "astonishment"), Psalm 60:3; also the prophecies in Deuteronomy 28:28, 29; Jeremiah 23:12. The doubt is whether "have wandered" refers to some period before the final catastrophe, or to the consternation produced by that awful surprise. The latter view seems the more probable. They have polluted themselves, etc. Their acts of violence have been continued to the very end of their term of power. Their garments are still stained with blood when the summons to depart into exile reaches them.
They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there.
Verse 15. - They cried unto them, etc. As they leave the city they are pursued by the maledictions of those whom they have oppressed. It is unclean. The cry with which the leper was directed to warn off passengers, lest they should become infected (Leviticus 13:45). There may be an allusion to this, but, though commonly accepted, the view is not certain, as the" leper" in the present case is not the person who raises the cry, but those who meet him. When they fled away and wandered. The clause is difficult. If the text is correct, Keil's explanation may perhaps pass, "When they fled away, (there) also they wandered," alluding to the "wandering" ascribed to them with a somewhat different shade of meaning in the preceding verso. In any case there ought to be a fuller stop than a comma after "touch not," which words close the first of the two parallel lines of which the verse consists. But very probably "when" (Hebrew, ki) is an intrusion, and we should begin the second line thus: "They fled, they also wandered about." They said among the heathen, etc. Even in their place of exile they found no rest (comp. Deuteronomy 28:65). This is better than understanding "the heathen" (literally, the nations) to mean "the Chaldean army," and the place of sojourn prohibited to be Jerusalem.
The anger of the LORD hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders.
Verse 16. - Hath divided them; i.e. hath scattered them, like "l will divide them in Jacob" (Genesis 49:7).
As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.
Verse 17. - As for us, our eyes, etc.; rather (correcting the reading of the first word), Our eyes were still wasting away (as we looked) for our help in vain. To the very last the Jews leaned on "that broken reed," Egypt (Isaiah 36:6); how vain that hope would be Jeremiah had already told them (Jeremiah 37:7, 8). In our watching; i.e. earnestly and continually; or, on our watchtower.
They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.
Verse 18. - They hunt our steps, etc. Realistic attempts to explain this line have not been wanting, but seem unsuccessful. The Chaldeans were either within the city or without. If within, they would not need literally to "hunt the steps" of the Jews; if without, they had not war engines adequate to shooting the inhabitants at some distance. Probably the expressions are metaphorical; they are similar to those used in Lamentations 3:52, immediately after which we meet with such a purely poetical phrase as, "They have cut off my life in the pit [Authorized Version, 'dungeon'], and cast a stone upon me" (see note on Lamentations 3:52-56).
Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.
Verse 19. - Swifter than the eagles of the heaven. Jeremiah, or his imitator, repeats the figure which occurs in Jeremiah 4:13. There is probably no special reference to the circumstances of the capture of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 39:4, 5); the escape of many fugitives would be similarly cut off.
The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.
Verse 20. - The breath of our nostrils. The theocratic king was the direct representative of the people with Jehovah, and to him the promises of 2 Samuel 7. were conveyed. He was also, in a sense, the representative of Jehovah with the people. His throne was "the throne of Jehovah" (1 Chronicles 29:23). A similar conception of the king was generally prevalent in antiquity. Most of all among the Egyptians; but, even in imperial Rome, we find Seneca ('De Clementia,' 1:4, quoted by Archbishop Seeker, in Blayney) declaring, "Ille (Princeps) est spiritus vitalis, quem haec tot millia (civium) trahunt." For the Jewish, or Old Testament, conception, see Psalm 28:8, where (as the Septuagint shows) "his people" and "his anointed" are used almost synonymously. Was taken in their pits. A figure from hunting (comp. Lamentations 1:13; Psalm 7:15). The fate of Zedekiah is referred to. Among the heathen; better, among the nations. The rendering of the Authorized Version suggests that the Jews hoped to preserve at least a qualified independence under their own king, even after their captivity.
Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked.
Verse 21. - Rejoice and be glad. An ironical address to Edom, who is bidden to enjoy her malicious triumph, but warned that it will be but short lived. How ungenerously the Edomites behaved at the fall of Jerusalem we are repeatedly told (see on Jeremiah 49:7). In the land of Uz. As to the situation of Uz, see on Jeremiah 25:20. The cup; one of Jeremiah's images (see Jeremiah 25:15).
The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.
Verse 22. - The punishment of thine iniquity or, thy guilt (see on ver. 6). The prophet speaks with the confidence of faith, and sees the guilt wiped away, and the danger of a future captivity removed by the purification which the Jewish national character has undergone. He will discover thy sins. God is said to "cover over" sins when he remits their punishment, and to "discover" them when he punishes them (comp. Job 20:27, 28).

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