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Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871)


LAMENTATIONS
OF
JEREMIAH
Commentary by A. R. FAUSSETT

[1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

INTRODUCTION

      In the Hebrew Bible these Elegies of Jeremiah, five in number, are placed among the Chetuvim, or "Holy Writings" ("the Psalms," &c., Lu 24:44), between Ruth and Ecclesiastes. But though in classification of compositions it belongs to the Chetuvim, it probably followed the prophecies of Jeremiah originally. For thus alone can we account for the prophetical books being enumerated by JOSEPHUS [Against Apion, 1.1.8] as thirteen: he must have reckoned Jeremiah and Lamentations as one book, as also Judges and Ruth, the two books of Samuel, &c., Ezra and Nehemiah. The Lamentations naturally follow the book which sets forth the circumstances forming the subject of the Elegies. Similar lamentations occur in 2Sa 1:19, &c. 2Sa 3:33. The Jews read it in their synagogues on the ninth of the month Ab, which is a fast for the destruction of their holy city. As in 2Ch 35:25, "lamentations" are said to have been "written" by Jeremiah on the death of Josiah, besides it having been made "an ordinance in Israel" that "singing women" should "speak" of that king in lamentations; JOSEPHUS [Antiquities, 10.5.1], JEROME, &c., thought that they are contained in the present collection. But plainly the subject here is the overthrow of the Jewish city and people, as the Septuagint expressly states in an introductory verse to their version. The probability is that there is embodied in these Lamentations much of the language of Jeremiah's original Elegy on Josiah, as 2Ch 35:25 states; but it is now applied to the more universal calamity of the whole state, of which Josiah's sad death was the forerunner. Thus La 4:20, originally applied to Josiah, was "written," in its subsequent reference, not so much of him, as of the throne of Judah in general, the last representative of which, Zedekiah, had just been carried away. The language, which is true of good Josiah, is too strong in favor of Zedekiah, except when viewed as representative of the crown in general. It was natural to embody the language of the Elegy on Josiah in the more general lamentations, as his death was the presage of the last disaster that overthrew the throne and state.

      The title more frequently given by the Jews to these Elegies is, "How" (Hebrew, Eechah), from the first word, as the Pentateuch is similarly called by the first Hebrew word of Ge 1:1. The Septuagint calls it "Lamentations," from which we derive the name. It refers not merely to the events which occurred at the capture of the city, but to the sufferings of the citizens (the penalty of national sin) from the very beginning of the siege; and perhaps from before it, under Manasseh and Josiah (2Ch 33:11 35:20-25); under Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, and Zedekiah (2Ch 36:3,4,6,7,10,11, &c.). LOWTH says, "Every letter is written with a tear, every word the sound of a broken heart." The style is midway between the simple elevation of prophetic writing and the loftier rhythm of Moses, David, and Habakkuk. Terse conciseness marks the Hebrew original, notwithstanding Jeremiah's diffuseness in his other writings. The Elegies are grouped in stanzas as they arose in his mind, without any artificial system of arrangement as to the thoughts. The five Elegies are acrostic: each is divided into twenty-two stanzas or verses. In the first three Elegies the stanzas consist of triplets of lines (excepting La 1:7 2:19, which contain each four lines) each beginning with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet in regular order (twenty-two in number). In three instances (La 2:16,17 3:46-51 4:16,17) two letters are transposed. In the third Elegy, each line of the three forming every stanza begins with the same letter. The stanzas in the fourth and fifth Elegies consist of two lines each. The fifth Elegy, though having twenty-two stanzas (the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet), just as the first four, yet is not alphabetical; and its lines are shorter than those of the others, which are longer than are found in other Hebrew poems, and contain twelve syllables, marked by a cæsura about the middle, dividing them into two somewhat unequal parts. The alphabetical arrangement was adopted originally to assist the memory. GROTIUS thinks the reason for the inversion of two of the Hebrew letters in La 2:16,17 3:46-51 4:16,17, is that the Chaldeans, like the Arabians, used a different order from the Hebrews; in the first Elegy, Jeremiah speaks as a Hebrew, in the following ones, as one subject to the Chaldeans. This is doubtful.

CHAPTER (ELEGY) 1

      La 1:1-22.

      Aleph.

      1. how is she . . . widow! she that was great, &c.--English Version is according to the accents. But the members of each sentence are better balanced in antithesis, thus, "how is she that was great among the nations become as a widow! (how) she who was princess among the provinces (that is, she who ruled over the surrounding provinces from the Nile to the Euphrates, Ge 15:18 1Ki 4:21 2Ch 9:26 Ezr 4:20) become tributary!" [MAURER].
      sit--on the ground; the posture of mourners (La 2:10 Ezr 9:3). The coin struck on the taking of Jerusalem by Titus, representing Judea as a female sitting solitary under a palm tree, with the inscription, Judæa Capta, singularly corresponds to the image here; the language therefore must be prophetical of her state subsequent to Titus, as well as referring retrospectively to her Babylonian captivity.

      Beth.

      2. in the night--even in the night, the period of rest and oblivion of griefs (Job 7:3).
      lovers . . . friends--the heathen states allied to Judah, and their idols. The idols whom she "loved" (Jer 2:20-25) could not comfort her. Her former allies would not: nay, some "treacherously" joined her enemies against her (2Ki 24:2,7 Ps 137:7).

      Gimel.

      3. (Jer 52:27).
      because of great servitude--that is, in a state "of great servitude," endured from the Chaldeans. "Because" is made by VATABLUS indicative of the cause of her captivity; namely, her having "afflicted" and unjustly brought into "servitude" the manumitted bond-servants (Jer 34:8-22). MAURER explains it, "Judah has left her land (not literally 'gone into captivity') because of the yoke imposed on it by Nebuchadnezzar."
      no rest--(De 28:64,65).
      overtook her between . . . straits--image from robbers, who in the East intercept travellers at the narrow passes in hilly regions.

      Daleth.

      4. feasts--the passover, pentecost (or the feast of weeks), and the feast of tabernacles.
      gates--once the place of concourse.

      He.

      5. the chief--rule her (De 28:43,44).
      adversaries . . . prosper; for the Lord--All the foes' attempts would have failed, had not God delivered His people into their hands (Jer 30:15).

      Vau.

      6. beauty . . . departed--her temple, throne, and priesthood.
      harts that find no pasture--an animal timid and fleet, especially when seeking and not able to "find pasture."

      Zain.

      7. remembered--rather, "remembers," now, in her afflicted state. In the days of her prosperity she did not appreciate, as she ought, the favors of God to her. Now, awakening out of her past lethargy, she feels from what high privileges she has fallen.
      when her people fell, &c.--that is, after which days of prosperity "her people fell."
      mock at her sabbaths--The heathen used to mock at the Jews' Sabbath, as showing their idleness, and term them Sabbatarians [MARTIAL, 4.4]. Now, said they ironically, ye may keep a continuous Sabbath. So God appointed the length of the captivity (seventy years) to be exactly that of the sum of the Sabbaths in the four hundred ninety years in which the land was denied its Sabbaths (Le 26:33-35). MAURER translates it "ruin." But English Version better expresses the point of their "mocking," namely, their involuntary "Sabbaths," that is, the cessation of all national movements. A fourth line is added in this stanza, whereas in all the others there are but three. So in La 2:19.

      Cheth.

      8. (1Ki 8:46).
      is removed--as a woman separated from the congregation of God for legal impurity, which is a type of moral impurity. So La 1:17 Le 12:2 15:19, &c.
      her nakedness--They have treated her as contumeliously as courtesans from whom their clothes are stripped.
      turneth backward--as modest women do from shame, that is, she is cast down from all hope of restoration [CALVIN].

      Teth.

      9. Continuation of the image in La 1:8. Her ignominy and misery cannot be concealed but are apparent to all, as if a woman were suffering under such a flow as to reach the end of her skirts.
      remembereth not . . . last end--(De 32:29 Isa 47:7). She forgot how fatal must be the end of her iniquity. Or, as the words following imply: She, in despair, cannot lift herself up to lay hold of God's promises as to her "latter end" [CALVIN].
      wonderfully--Hebrew, "wonders," that is, with amazing dejection.
      O Lord, behold--Judah here breaks in, speaking for herself.
      for the enemy hath magnified himself--What might seem ground for despair, the elated insulting of the enemy, is rather ground for good hope.

      Jod.

      10. for--surely she hath seen, &c.
      heathen . . . command . . . not enter . . . congregation--for instance, the Ammonites and Moabites (De 23:3 Ne 13:1,2). If the heathen, as such, were not allowed to enter the sanctuary for worship, much less were they allowed to enter in order to rob and destroy.

      Caph.

      11. (Jer 37:21 38:9 52:6).
      given . . . pleasant things for meat--(2Ki 6:25 Job 2:4).
      relieve . . . soul--literally, "to cause the soul or life to return."
      for I am become vile--Her sins and consequent sorrows are made the plea in craving God's mercy. Compare the like plea in Ps 25:11.

      Lamed.

      12. The pathetic appeal of Jerusalem, not only to her neighbors, but even to the strangers "passing by," as her sorrow is such as should excite the compassion even of those unconnected with her. She here prefigures Christ, whom the language is prophetically made to suit, more than Jerusalem. Compare Israel, that is, Messiah, Isa 49:3. Compare with "pass by," Mt 27:39 Mr 15:29. As to Jerusalem, Da 9:12. MAURER, from the Arabic idiom, translates, "do not go off on your way," that is, stop, whoever ye are that pass by. English Version is simpler.

      Mem.

      13. bones--a fire which not only consumes the skin and flesh, but penetrates even to my "bones" (that is, my vital powers).
      prevaileth against--not as ROSENMULLER, "He (Jehovah) hath broken them"; a sense not in the Hebrew.
      net--(Eze 12:13); image from hunting wild beasts. He has so entangled me in His judgments that I cannot escape.
      turned me back--so that I cannot go forward and get free from His meshes.

      Nun.

      14. yoke . . . is bound by his hand--(De 28:48). Metaphor from husbandmen, who, after they have bound the yoke to the neck of oxen, hold the rein firmly twisted round the hand. Thus the translation will be, "in His hand." Or else, "the yoke of my transgressions" (that is, of punishment for my transgressions) is held so fast fixed on me "by" God, that there is no loosening of it; thus English Version, "by His hand."
      wreathed--My sins are like the withes entwined about the neck to fasten the yoke to.
      into their hands, from whom--into the hands of those, from whom, &c. MAURER translates, "before whom I am not able \ to stand."

      Samech.

      15. trodden, &c.--MAURER, from Syriac root, translates, "cast away"; so 2Ki 23:27. But Ps 119:118, supports English Version.
      in . . . midst of me--They fell not on the battlefield, but in the heart of the city; a sign of the divine wrath.
      assembly--the collected forces of Babylon; a very different "assembly" from the solemn ones which once met at Jerusalem on the great feasts. The Hebrew means, literally, such a solemn "assembly" or feast (compare La 2:22).
      trodden . . . virgin . . . in a wine-press--hath forced her blood to burst forth, as the red wine from the grapes trodden in the press (Isa 63:3 Re 14:19,20 19:15).

      Ain.

      16. (Jer 13:17 14:17). Jerusalem is the speaker.
      mine eye, mine eye--so La 4:18, "our end . . . our end"; repetition for emphasis.

      Pe.

      17. Like a woman in labor-throes (Jer 4:31).
      menstruous woman--held unclean, and shunned by all; separated from her husband and from the temple (compare La 1:8 Le 14:19, &c.).

      Tzaddi.

      18. The sure sign of repentance; justifying God, condemning herself (Ne 9:33 Ps 51:4 Da 9:7-14).
      his commandment--literally, "mouth"; His word in the mouth of the prophets.

      Koph.

      19. lovers--(La 1:2 Jer 30:14).
      elders--in dignity, not merely age.
      sought . . . meat--Their dignity did not exempt them from having to go and seek bread (La 1:11).

      Resh.

      20. bowels . . . troubled--(Job 30:27; Isa 16:11 Jer 4:19 31:20). Extreme mental distress affects the bowels and the whole internal frame.
      heart . . . turned--(Ho 11:8); is agitated or fluttered.
      abroad . . . sword . . . at home . . . as death--(De 32:25 Eze 7:15). The "as" does not modify, but intensifies. "Abroad the sword bereaveth, at home as it were death itself" (personified), in the form of famine and pestilence (2Ki 25:3 Jer 14:18 52:6). So Hab 2:5, "as death" [MICHAELIS].

      Schin.

      21. they are glad that thou hast done it--because they thought that therefore Judah is irretrievably ruined (Jer 40:3).
      the day . . . called--(but) thou wilt bring on them the day of calamity which thou hast announced, namely, by the prophets (Jer 50:1-46 48:27).
      like . . . me--in calamities (Ps 137:8,9 Jer 51:25, &c.).

      Tau.

      22. Such prayers against foes are lawful, if the foe be an enemy of God, and if our concern be not for our own personal feeling, but for the glory of God and the welfare of His people.
      come before thee--so Re 16:19, "Babylon came in remembrance before God" (compare Ps 109:15).

CHAPTER (ELEGY) 2

      La 2:1-22.

      Aleph.

      1. How--The title of the collection repeated here, and in La 4:1.
      covered . . . with a cloud--that is, with the darkness of ignominy.
      cast down from heaven unto . . . earth--(Mt 11:23); dashed down from the highest prosperity to the lowest misery.
      beauty of Israel--the beautiful temple (Ps 29:2 74:7 96:9, Margin; Isa 60:7 64:11).
      his footstool--the ark (compare 1Ch 28:2, with Ps 99:5 132:7). They once had gloried more in the ark than in the God whose symbol it was; they now feel it was but His "footstool," yet that it had been a great glory to them that God deigned to use it as such.

      Beth.

      2. polluted--by delivering it into the hands of the profane foe. Compare Ps 89:39, "profaned . . . crown."

      Gimel.

      3. horn--worn in the East as an ornament on the forehead, and an emblem of power and majesty (1Sa 2:10 Ps 132:17; see on Jer 48:25).
      drawn back . . . fight hand--(Ps 74:11). God has withdrawn the help which He before gave them. Not as HENDERSON, "He has turned back his (Israel's) right hand" (Ps 89:43).

      Daleth.

      4. (Isa 63:10).
      stood with . . . right hand--He took His stand so as to use His right hand as an adversary. HENDERSON makes the image to be that of an archer steadying his right hand to take aim. Not only did He withdraw His help, but also took arms against Israel.
      all . . . pleasant to . . . eye--(Eze 24:25). All that were conspicuous for youth, beauty, and rank.
      in . . . tabernacle--the dwellings of Jerusalem.

      He.

      5. an enemy--(Jer 30:14).
      mourning and lamentation--There is a play of similar sounds in the original, "sorrow and sadness," to heighten the effect (Job 30:3, Hebrew; Eze 35:3, Margin).

      Vau.

      6. tabernacle--rather, "He hath violently taken away His hedge (the hedge of the place sacred to Him, Ps 80:12 89:40 Isa 5:5), as that of a garden" [MAURER]. CALVIN supports English Version, "His tabernacle (that is, temple) as (one would take away the temporary cottage or booth) of a garden." Isa 1:8 accords with this (Job 27:18).
      places of . . . assembly--the temple and synagogues (Ps 74:7,8).
      solemn feasts--(La 1:4).

      Zain.

      7. they . . . made a noise in . . . house of . . . Lord, as in . . . feast--The foe's shout of triumph in the captured temple bore a resemblance (but oh, how sad a contrast as to the occasion of it!) to the joyous thanksgivings we used to offer in the same place at our "solemn feasts" (compare La 2:22).

      Cheth.

      8. stretched . . . a line--The Easterns used a measuring-line not merely in building, but in destroying edifices (2Ki 21:13 Isa 34:11); implying here the unsparing rigidness with which He would exact punishment.

      Teth.

      9. Her gates cannot oppose the entrance of the foe into the city, for they are sunk under a mass of rubbish and earth.
      broken . . . bars--(Jer 51:30).
      her king . . . among . . . Gentiles--(De 28:36).
      law . . . no more--(2Ch 15:3). The civil and religious laws were one under the theocracy. "All the legal ordinances (prophetical as well as priestly) of the theocracy, are no more" (Ps 74:9 Eze 7:26).

      Jod.

      10. (Job 2:12,13). The "elders," by their example, would draw the others to violent grief.
      the virgins--who usually are so anxious to set off their personal appearances to advantage.

      Caph.

      11. liver is poured, &c.--that is, as the liver was thought to be the seat of the passions, "all my feelings are poured out and prostrated for," &c. The "liver," is here put for the bile ("gall," Job 16:13; "bowels," Ps 22:14) in a bladder on the surface of the liver, copiously discharged when the passions are agitated.
      swoon--through faintness from the effects of hunger.

      Lamed.

      12. as the wounded--famine being as deadly as the sword (Jer 52:6).
      soul . . . poured . . . into . . . mothers bosom--Instinctively turning to their mother's bosom, but finding no milk there, they breathe out their life as it were "into her bosom."

      Mem.

      13. What thing shall I take to witness--What can I bring forward as a witness, or instance, to prove that others have sustained as grievous ills as thou? I cannot console thee as mourners are often consoled by showing that thy lot is only what others, too, suffer. The "sea" affords the only suitable emblem of thy woes, by its boundless extent and depth (La 1:12 Da 9:12).

      Nun.

      14. Thy prophets--not God's (Jer 23:26).
      vain . . . for thee--to gratify thy appetite, not for truth, but for false things.
      not discovered thine iniquity--in opposition to God's command to the true prophets (Isa 58:1). Literally, "They have not taken off (the veil) which was on thine iniquity, so as to set it before thee."
      burdens--Their prophecies were soothing and flattering; but the result of them was heavy calamities to the people, worse than even what the prophecies of Jeremiah, which they in derision called "burdens," threatened. Hence he terms their pretended prophecies "false burdens," which proved to the Jews "causes of their banishment" [CALVIN].

      Samech.

      15. clap . . . hands--in derision (Job 27:23 34:37).
      wag . . . head--(2Ki 19:21 Ps 44:14).
      perfection of beauty . . . joy of . . . earth--(Ps 48:2 50:2). The Jews' enemies quote their very words in scorn.

      Pe.

      16, 17. For the transposition of Hebrew letters (Pe and Ain, La 2:16,17) in the order of verses, see Introduction.
      opened . . . mouth--as ravening, roaring wild beasts (Job 16:9,10 Ps 22:13). Herein Jerusalem was a type of Messiah.
      gnash . . . teeth--in vindictive malice.
      we have seen it--(Ps 35:21).

      Ain.

      17. Lord--Let not the foe exult as if it was their doing. It was "the Lord" who thus fulfilled the threats uttered by His prophets for the guilt of Judea (Le 26:16-25 De 28:36-48,53 Jer 19:9).

      Tzaddi.

      18. wall--(La 2:8). Personified. "Their heart," that is, the Jews'; while their heart is lifted up to the Lord in prayer, their speech is addressed to the "wall" (the part being put for the whole city).
      let tears, &c.--(Jer 14:17). The wall is called on to weep for its own ruin and that of the city. Compare the similar personification (La 1:4).
      apple--the pupil of the eye (Ps 17:8).

      Koph.

      19. cry . . . in . . . night--(Ps 119:147).
      beginning of . . . watches--that is, the first of the three equal divisions (four hours each) into which the ancient Jews divided the night; namely, from sunset to ten o'clock. The second was called "the middle watch" (Jud 7:19), from ten till two o'clock. The third, "the morning watch," from two to sunrise (Ex 14:24 1Sa 11:11). Afterwards, under the Romans, they had four watches (Mt 14:25 Lu 12:38).
      for . . . thy . . . children--that God, if He will not spare thee, may at least preserve "thy young children."
      top of . . . street--(Isa 51:20 Na 3:10).

      Resh.

      20. women eat . . . fruit--as threatened (Le 26:29 De 28:53,56,57 Jer 19:9).
      children . . . span long--or else, "children whom they carry in their arms" [MAURER].

      Schin.

      21. (2Ch 36:17).

      Tau.

      22. Thou hast called as in . . . solemn day . . . terrors--Thou hast summoned my enemies against me from all quarters, just as multitudes used to be convened to Jerusalem, on the solemn feast days. The objects, for which the enemies and the festal multitude respectively met, formed a sad contrast. Compare La 1:15: "called an assembly against me."

CHAPTER (ELEGY) 3

      La 3:1-66.

      Jeremiah proposes his own experience under afflictions, as an example as to how the Jews should behave under theirs, so as to have hope of a restoration; hence the change from singular to plural (La 3:22,40-47). The stanzas consist of three lines, each of which begins with the same Hebrew letter.

      Aleph.

      1-3. seen affliction--his own in the dungeon of Malchiah (Jer 38:6); that of his countrymen also in the siege. Both were types of that of Christ.

      2. darkness--calamity.
      light--prosperity.

      3. turneth . . . hand--to inflict again and again new strokes. "His hand," which once used to protect me. "Turned . . . turneth" implies repeated inflictions.

      Beth.

      4-6. (Job 16:8).

      5. builded--mounds, as against a besieged city, so as to allow none to escape (so La 3:7,9).

      6. set me--HENDERSON refers this to the custom of placing the dead in a sitting posture.
      dark places--sepulchers. As those "dead long since"; so Jeremiah and his people are consigned to oblivion (Ps 88:5,6 143:3 Eze 37:13).

      Gimel.

      7-9. hedged--(Job 3:23 Ho 2:6).
      chain--literally, "chain of brass."

      8. shutteth out--image from a door shutting out any entrance (Job 30:20). So the antitype. Christ (Ps 22:2).

      9. hewn stone--which coheres so closely as not to admit of being broken through.
      paths crooked--thwarted our plans and efforts so that none went right.

      Daleth.

      10-13. (Job 10:16 Ho 13:7,8).

      11. turned aside--made me wander out of the right way, so as to become a prey to wild beasts.
      pulled in pieces--(Ho 6:1), as a "bear" or a "lion" (La 3:10).

      12. (Job 7:20).

      He.

      13-15. arrows--literally, "sons" of His quiver (compare Job 6:4).

      14. (Jer 20:7).
      their song--(Ps 69:12). Jeremiah herein was a type of Messiah. "All my people" (Joh 1:11).

      15. wormwood--(Jer 9:15). There it is regarded as food, namely, the leaves: here as drink, namely, the juice.

      Vau.

      16-18. gravel--referring to the grit that often mixes with bread baked in ashes, as is the custom of baking in the East (Pr 20:17). We fare as hardly as those who eat such bread. The same allusion is in "Covered me with ashes," namely, as bread.

      17. Not only present, but all hope of future prosperity is removed; so much so, that I am as one who never was prosperous ("I forgat prosperity").

      18. from the Lord--that is, my hope derived from Him (Ps 31:22).

      Zain.

      19-21. This gives the reason why he gave way to the temptation to despair. The Margin, "Remember" does not suit the sense so well.
      wormwood . . . gall--(Jer 9:15).

      20. As often as my soul calls them to remembrance, it is humbled or bowed down in me.

      21. This--namely, what follows; the view of the divine character (La 3:22,23). CALVIN makes "this" refer to Jeremiah's infirmity. His very weakness (La 3:19,20) gives him hope of God interposing His strength for him (compare Ps 25:11,17 42:5,8 2Co 12:9,10).

      Cheth.

      22-24. (Mal 3:6).

      23. (Isa 33:2).

      24. (Nu 18:20 Ps 16:5 73:26 119:57 Jer 10:16). To have God for our portion is the one only foundation of hope.

      Teth.

      25-27. The repetition of "good" at the beginning of each of the three verses heightens the effect.
      wait--(Isa 30:18).

      26. quietly wait--literally, "be in silence." Compare La 3:28 and Ps 39:2,9, that is, to be patiently quiet under afflictions, resting in the will of God (Ps 37:7). So Aaron (Le 10:2,3); and Job (Job 40:4,5).

      27. yoke--of the Lord's disciplinary teaching (Ps 90:12 119:71). CALVIN interprets it, The Lord's doctrine (Mt 11:29,30), which is to be received in a docile spirit. The earlier the better; for the old are full of prejudices (Pr 8:17 Ec 12:1). Jeremiah himself received the yoke, both of doctrine and chastisement in his youth (Jer 1:6,7).

      Jod.

      28-30. The fruit of true docility and patience. He does not fight against the yoke (Jer 31:18 Ac 9:5), but accommodates himself to it.
      alone--The heathen applauded magnanimity, but they looked to display and the praise of men. The child of God, in the absence of any witness, "alone," silently submits to the will of God.
      borne it upon him--that is, because he is used to bearing it on him. Rather, "because He (the Lord, La 3:26) hath laid it on him" [VATABLUS].

      29. (Job 42:6). The mouth in the dust is the attitude of suppliant and humble submission to God's dealings as righteous and loving in design (compare Ezr 9:6 1Co 14:25).
      if so be there may be hope--This does not express doubt as to whether GOD be willing to receive the penitent, but the penitent's doubt as to himself; he whispers to himself this consolation, "Perhaps there may be hope for me."

      30. Messiah, the Antitype, fulfilled this; His practice agreeing with His precept (Isa 50:6 Mt 5:39). Many take patiently afflictions from God, but when man wrongs them, they take it impatiently. The godly bear resignedly the latter, like the former, as sent by God (Ps 17:13).

      Caph.

      31-33. True repentance is never without hope (Ps 94:14).

      32. The punishments of the godly are but for a time.

      33. He does not afflict any willingly (literally, "from His heart," that is, as if He had any pleasure in it, Eze 33:11), much less the godly (Heb 12:10).

      Lamed.

      34-36. This triplet has an infinitive in the beginning of each verse, the governing finite verb being in the end of La 3:36, "the Lord approveth not," which is to be repeated in each verse. Jeremiah here anticipates and answers the objections which the Jews might start, that it was by His connivance they were "crushed under the feet" of those who "turned aside the right of a man." God approves (literally, "seeth," Hab 1:13; so "behold," "look on," that is, look on with approval) not of such unrighteous acts; and so the Jews may look for deliverance and the punishment of their foes.

      35. before . . . face of . . . most High--Any "turning aside" of justice in court is done before the face of God, who Is present, and "regardeth," though unseen (Ec 5:8).

      36. subvert--to wrong.

      Mem.

      37-39. Who is it that can (as God, Ps 33:9) effect by a word anything, without the will of God?

      38. evil . . . good--Calamity and prosperity alike proceed from God (Job 2:10 Isa 45:7 Am 3:6).

      39. living--and so having a time yet given him by God for repentance. If sin were punished as it deserves, life itself would be forfeited by the sinner. "Complaining" (murmuring) ill becomes him who enjoys such a favor as life (Pr 19:3).
      for the punishment of his sins--Instead of blaming God for his sufferings, he ought to recognize in them God's righteousness and the just rewards of his own sin.

      Nun.

      40-42. us--Jeremiah and his fellow countrymen in their calamity.
      search--as opposed to the torpor wherewith men rest only on their outward sufferings, without attending to the cause of them (Ps 139:23,24).

      41. heart with . . . hands--the antidote to hypocrisy (Ps 86:4 1Ti 2:8).

      42. not pardoned--The Babylonian captivity had not yet ended.

      Samech.

      43-45. covered--namely, thyself (so La 3:44), so as not to see and pity our calamities, for even the most cruel in seeing a sad spectacle are moved to pity. Compare as to God "hiding His face," Ps 10:11 22:25.

      44. (La 3:8). The "cloud" is our sins, and God's wrath because of them (Isa 44:22 59:2).

      45. So the apostles were treated; but, instead of murmuring, they rejoiced at it (1Co 4:13).

      Pe.

      46-48. Pe is put before Ain (La 3:43,46), as in La 2:16,17 4:16,17. (La 2:16.)

      47. Like animals fleeing in fear, we fall into the snare laid for us.

      48. (Jer 4:19).

      Ain.

      49-51. without . . . intermission--or else, "because there is no intermission" [PISCATOR], namely, Of my miseries.

      50. Till--His prayer is not without hope, wherein it differs from the blind grief of unbelievers.
      look down, &c.--(Isa 63:15).

      51. eye affecteth mine heart--that is, causeth me grief with continual tears; or, "affecteth my life" (literally, "soul," Margin), that is, my health [GROTIUS].
      daughters of . . . city--the towns around, dependencies of Jerusalem, taken by the foe.

      Tzaddi.

      52-54. a bird--which is destitute of counsel and strength. The allusion seems to be to Pr 1:17 [CALVIN].
      without cause--(Ps 69:4 109:3,4). Type of Messiah (Joh 15:25).

      53. in . . . dungeon--(Jer 37:16).
      stone--usually put at the mouth of a dungeon to secure the prisoners (Jos 10:18 Da 6:17 Mt 27:60).

      54. Waters--not literally, for there was "no water" (Jer 38:6) in the place of Jeremiah's confinement, but emblematical of overwhelming calamities (Ps 69:2 124:4,5).
      cut off--(Isa 38:10,11). I am abandoned by God. He speaks according to carnal sense.

      Koph.

      55-57. I called out of dungeon--Thus the spirit resists the flesh, and faith spurns the temptation [CALVIN], (Ps 130:1 Jon 2:2).

      56. Thou hast heard--namely formerly (so in La 3:57,58).
      breathing . . . cry--two kinds of prayer; the sigh of a prayer silently breathed forth, and the loud, earnest cry (compare "prayer," "secret speech," Isa 26:16, Margin; with "cry aloud," Ps 55:17).

      57. Thou drewest near--with Thy help (Jas 4:8).

      Resh.

      58-60. Jeremiah cites God's gracious answers to his prayers as an encouragement to his fellow countrymen, to trust in Him.
      pleaded--(Ps 35:1 Mic 7:9).

      59. God's past deliverances and His knowledge of Judah's wrongs are made the grounds of prayer for relief.

      60. imaginations--devices (Jer 11:19).
      Their vengeance--means their malice. Jeremiah gives his conduct, when plotted against by his foes, as an example how the Jews should bring their wrongs at the hands of the Chaldeans before God.

      Schin.

      61-63. their reproach--their reproachful language against me.

      62. lips--speeches.

      63. sitting down . . . rising up--whether they sit or rise, that is, whether they be actively engaged or sedentary, and at rest "all the day" (La 3:62), I am the subject of their derisive songs (La 3:14).

      Tau.

      64-66. (Jer 11:20 2Ti 4:14).

      65. sorrow--rather, blindness or hardness; literally, "a veil" covering their heart, so that they may rush on to their own ruin (Isa 6:10 2Co 3:14,15).

      66. from under . . . heavens of . . . Lord--destroy them so that it may be seen everywhere under heaven that thou sittest above as Judge of the world.

CHAPTER (ELEGY) 4

      La 4:1-22. THE SAD CAPTURE OF JERUSALEM, THE HOPE OF RESTORATION, AND THE RETRIBUTION AWAITING IDUMEA FOR JOINING BABYLON AGAINST JUDEA.

      Aleph.

      1. gold--the splendid adornment of the temple [CALVIN] (La 1:10 1Ki 6:22 Jer 52:19); or, the principal men of Judea [GROTIUS] (La 4:2).
      stones of . . . sanctuary--the gems on the breastplate of the high priest; or, metaphorically, the priests and Levites.

      Beth.

      2. comparable to . . . gold--(Job 28:16,19).
      earthen pitchers--(Isa 30:14 Jer 19:11).

      Gimel.

      3. sea monsters . . . breast--Whales and other cetaceous monsters are mammalian. Even they suckle their young; but the Jewish women in the siege, so desperate was their misery, ate theirs (La 4:10 La 2:20). Others translate, "jackals."
      ostriches--see on Job 39:14; Job 39:16, on their forsaking their young.

      Daleth.

      4. thirst--The mothers have no milk to give through the famine.

      He.

      5. delicately--on dainties.
      are desolate--or, "perish."
      in scarlet embrace dunghills--Instead of the scarlet couches on which the grandees were nursed, they must lie on dunghills.
      embrace--They who once shrank sensitively from any soil, gladly cling close to heaps of filth as their only resting-place. Compare "embrace the rock" (Job 24:8).

      Vau.

      6. greater than . . . Sodom--(Mt 11:23). No prophets had been sent to Sodom, as there had been to Judea; therefore the punishment of the latter was heavier than that of the former.
      overthrown . . . in a moment--whereas the Jews had to endure the protracted and manifold hardships of a siege.
      no hands stayed on her--No hostile force, as the Chaldeans in the case of Jerusalem, continually pressed on her before her overthrow. Jeremiah thus shows the greater severity of Jerusalem's punishment than that of Sodom.

      Zain.

      7. Nazarites--literally, "separated ones" (Nu 6:2). They were held once in the highest estimation, but now they are degraded. God's blessing formerly caused their body not to be the less fair and ruddy for their abstinence from strong drink. Compare the similar case of Daniel, &c. (Da 1:8-15). Also David (1Sa 16:12 17:42). Type of Messiah (So 5:10).
      rubies--GESENIUS translates, "corals," from a Hebrew root, "to divide into branches," from the branching form of corals.
      polishing--They were like exquisitely cut and polished sapphires. The "sapphires" may represent the blue veins of a healthy person.

      Cheth.

      8. blacker than . . . coal--or, "than blackness" itself (Joe 2:6 Na 2:10).
      like a stick--as withered as a dry stick.

      Teth.

      9. The speedy death by the sword is better than the lingering death by famine.
      pine away--literally, "flow out"; referring to the flow of blood. This expression, and "stricken through," are drawn from death by "the sword."
      want of . . . fruits--The words in italics have to be supplied in the original (Ge 18:28 Ps 109:24).

      Jod.

      10. (La 2:20 De 28:56,57).
      pitiful--naturally at other times compassionate (Isa 49:15). JOSEPHUS describes the unnatural act as it took place in the siege under Titus.
      sodden--boiled.

      Caph.

      11. fire . . . devoured . . . foundations--(De 32:22 Jer 21:14). A most rare event. Fire usually consumes only the surface; but this reached even to the foundation, cutting off all hope of restoration.

      Lamed.

      12. Jerusalem was so fortified that all thought it impregnable. It therefore could only have been the hand of God, not the force of man, which overthrew it.

      Mem.

      13. prophets--the false prophets (Jer 23:11,21). Supply the sense thus: "For the sins . . . these calamities have befallen her."
      shed the blood of the just--(Mt 23:31,37). This received its full fulfilment in the slaying of Messiah and the Jews' consequent dispersion (Jas 5:6).

      Nun.

      14. blind--with mental aberration.
      polluted . . . with blood--both with blood of one another mutually shed (for example, Jer 2:34), and with their blood shed by the enemy [GLASSIUS].
      not touch . . . garments--as being defiled with blood (Nu 19:16).

      Samech.

      15. They . . . them--"They," that is, "men" (La 4:14). Even the very Gentiles, regarded as unclean by the Jews, who were ordered most religiously to avoid all defilements, cried unto the latter, "depart," as being unclean: so universal was the defilement of the city by blood.
      wandered--As the false prophets and their followers had "wandered" blind with infatuated and idolatrous crime in the city (La 4:14), so they must now "wander" among the heathen in blind consternation with calamity.
      they said--that is, the Gentiles said: it was said among the heathen, "The Jews shall no more sojourn in their own land" [GROTIUS]; or, wheresoever they go in their wandering exile, "they shall not stay long" [LUDOVICUS DE DIEU], (De 28:65).

      Pe.

      16. Ain and Pe are here transposed (La 4:16,17), as in La 2:16,17 3:46-51.
      anger--literally, "face"; it is the countenance which, by its expression, manifests anger (Ps 34:16). GESENIUS translates, "the person of Jehovah"; Jehovah present; Jehovah Himself (Ex 33:14 2Sa 17:11).
      divided--dispersed the Jews.
      they respected not . . . priests--This is the language of the Gentiles. "The Jews have no hope of a return: for they respected not even good priests" (2Ch 24:19-22) [GROTIUS]. MAURER explains it, "They (the victorious foe) regard not the (Jewish) priests when imploring their pity" (La 5:12). The evident antithesis to "As for us" (La 4:17) and the language of "the heathen" at the close of La 4:15, of which La 4:16 is the continuation, favor the former view.

      Ain.

      17. As for us--This translation forms the best antithesis to the language of the heathen (La 4:15,16). CALVIN translates, "While as yet we stood as a state, our eyes failed," &c.
      watched for a nation that could not save us--Egypt (2Ki 24:7 Isa 30:7 Jer 37:5-11).

      Tzaddi.

      18. They--the Chaldeans.
      cannot go--without danger.

      Koph.

      19. The last times just before the taking of the city. There was no place of escape; the foe intercepted those wishing to escape from the famine-stricken city, "on the mountains and in the wilderness."
      swifter . . . than . . . eagles--the Chaldean cavalry (Jer 4:13).
      pursued--literally, "to be hot"; then, "to pursue hotly" (Ge 31:36). Thus they pursued and overtook Zedekiah (Jer 52:8,9).

      Resh.

      20. breath . . . anointed of . . . Lord--our king, with whose life ours was bound up. The original reference seems to have been to Josiah (2Ch 35:25), killed in battle with Pharaoh-necho; but the language is here applied to Zedekiah, who, though worthless, was still lineal representative of David, and type of Messiah, the "Anointed." Viewed personally the language is too favorable to apply to him.
      live among the heathen--Under him we hoped to live securely, even in spite of the surrounding heathen nations [GROTIUS].

      Schin.

      21. Rejoice--at our calamities (Ps 137:7). This is a prophecy that Edom should exult over the fall of Jerusalem. At the same time it is implied, Edom's joy shall be short-lived. Ironically she is told, Rejoice while thou mayest (Ec 11:9).
      cup--for this image of the confounding effects of God's wrath, see Jer 13:12 25:15,16,21; as to Edom, Jer 49:7-22.

      Tau.

      22. (Isa 40:2). Thou hast been punished enough: the end of thy punishment is at hand.
      no more carry thee . . . into captivity--that is, by the Chaldeans. The Romans carried them away subsequently. The full accomplishment of this prophecy must therefore refer to the Jews' final restoration.
      discover--By the severity of His punishments on thee, God shall let men see how great was thy sin (Jer 49:10). God "covers" sin when He forgives it (Ps 32:1,5). He "discovers," or "reveals," it, when He punishes it (Job 20:27). Jer 49:10 shows that Margin is wrong, "carry captive" (this rendering is as in Na 2:7; compare "discovered," Margin).

CHAPTER (ELEGY) 5

      La 5:1-22. EPIPHONEMA, OR A CLOSING RECAPITULATION OF THE CALAMITIES TREATED IN THE PREVIOUS ELEGIES.

      1. (Ps 89:50,51).

      2. Our inheritance--"Thine inheritance" (Ps 79:1). The land given of old to us by Thy gift.

      3. fatherless--Our whole land is full of orphans [CALVIN]. Or, "we are fatherless," being abandoned by Thee our "Father" (Jer 3:19), [GROTIUS].

      4. water for money--The Jews were compelled to pay the enemy for the water of their own cisterns after the overthrow of Jerusalem; or rather, it refers to their sojourn in Babylon; they had to pay tax for access to the rivers and fountains. Thus, "our" means the water which we need, the commonest necessary of life.
      our wood--In Judea each one could get wood without pay; in Babylon, "our wood," the wood we need, must be paid for.

      5. Literally, "On our necks we are persecuted"; that is, Men tread on our necks (Ps 66:12 Isa 51:23; compare Jos 10:24). The extremest oppression. The foe not merely galled the Jews face, back, and sides, but their neck. A just retribution, as they had been stiff in neck against the yoke of God (2Ch 30:8, Margin; Ne 9:29 Isa 48:4).

      6. given . . . hand to--in token of submission (see on Jer 50:15).
      to . . . Egyptians--at the death of Josiah (2Ch 36:3,4).
      Assyrians--that is, the Chaldeans who occupied the empire which Assyria had held. So Jer 2:18.
      to be satisfied with bread--(De 28:48).

      7. (Jer 31:29).
      borne their iniquities--that is, the punishment of them. The accumulated sins of our fathers from age to age, as well as our own, are visited on us. They say this as a plea why God should pity them (compare Eze 18:2, &c.).

      8. Servants . . . ruled . . . us--Servants under the Chaldean governors ruled the Jews (Ne 5:15). Israel, once a "kingdom of priests" (Ex 19:6), is become like Canaan, "a servant of servants," according to the curse (Ge 9:25). The Chaldeans were designed to be "servants" of Shem, being descended from Ham (Ge 9:26). Now through the Jews' sin, their positions are reversed.

      9. We gat our bread with . . . peril--that is, those of us left in the city after its capture by the Chaldeans.
      because of . . . sword of . . . wilderness--because of the liability to attack by the robber Arabs of the wilderness, through which the Jews had to pass to get "bread" from Egypt (compare La 5:6).

      10. As an oven is scorched with too much fire, so our skin with the hot blast of famine (Margin, rightly, "storms," like the hot simoom). Hunger dries up the pores so that the skin becomes like as if it were scorched by the sun (Job 30:30 Ps 119:83).

      11. So in just retribution Babylon itself should fare in the end. Jerusalem shall for the last time suffer these woes before her final restoration (Zec 14:2).

      12. hanged . . . by their hand--a piece of wanton cruelty invented by the Chaldeans. GROTIUS translates, "Princes were hung by the hand of the enemy"; hanging was a usual mode of execution (Ge 40:19).
      elders--officials (La 4:16).

      13. young men . . . grind--The work of the lowest female slave was laid on young men (Jud 16:21 Job 31:10).
      children fell under . . . wood--Mere children had to bear burdens of wood so heavy that they sank beneath them.

      14. Aged men in the East meet in the open space round the gate to decide judicial trials and to hold social converse (Job 29:7,8).

      16. The crown--all our glory, the kingdom and the priesthood (Job 19:9 Ps 89:39,44).

      17. (La 1:22 2:11).

      18. foxes--They frequent desolate places where they can freely and fearlessly roam.

      19. (Ps 102:12). The perpetuity of God's rule over human affairs, however He may seem to let His people be oppressed for a time, is their ground of hope of restoration.

      20. for ever--that is, for "so long a time."

      21. (Ps 80:3 Jer 31:18). "Restore us to favor with Thee, and so we shall be restored to our old position" [GROTIUS]. Jeremiah is not speaking of spiritual conversion, but of that outward turning whereby God receives men into His fatherly favor, manifested in bestowing prosperity [CALVIN]. Still, as Israel is a type of the Church, temporal goods typify spiritual blessings; and so the sinner may use this prayer for God to convert him.

      22. Rather, "Unless haply Thou hast utterly rejected us, and art beyond measure wroth against us," that is, Unless Thou art implacable, which is impossible, hear our prayer [CALVIN]. Or, as Margin, "For wouldest Thou utterly reject us?" &c.--No; that cannot be. The Jews, in this book, and in Isaiah and Malachi, to avoid the ill-omen of a mournful closing sentence, repeat the verse immediately preceding the last [CALVIN].


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Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset and David Brown
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible (1871)

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