Open as PDF
The prophet begins with lamenting the dismal reverse of fortune that befell his country, confessing at the same time that her calamities were the just consequence of her sins, Lamentations 1:1-6. Jerusalem herself is then personified and brought forward to continue the sad complaint, and to solicit the mercy of God, vv. 7-22.
In all copies of the Septuagint, whether of the Roman or Alexandrian editions, the following words are found as a part of the text: Και εγενετο μετα το αιχμαλωτισθηναι τον Ισραηλ, και Ιερουσαλημ ερημωθηναι, εκαθισεν Ιερεμιας κλαιων, και εθρηνησεν τον θρηνον τουτον επι Ιερουσαλημ, και ειπεν· - And it came to pass after Israel had been carried away captive, and Jerusalem was become desolate, that Jeremiah sat weeping: and he lamented with this lamentation over Jerusalem; and he said.”
The Vulgate has the same, with some variations: - “Et factum est, postquam in captivitatem redactus est Israel, et Jerusalem deserta est, sedit Jeremias propheta fiens, et planxit lamentations hac inJerusalem, et amaro animo suspirans et ejulans, digit.” The translation of this, as given in the first translation of the Bible into English, may be found at the end of Jeremiah, taken from an ancient MS. in my own possession.
I subjoin another taken from the first Printed edition of the English Bible, that by Coverdale, 1535. “And it came to passe, (after Israel was brought into captyvitie, and Jerusalem destroyed); that Jeremy the prophet sat weeping, mournynge, and makinge his mone in Jerusalem; so that with an hevy herte he sighed and sobbed, sayenge.”
Matthew‘s Bible, printed in 1549, refines upon this: “It happened after Israell was brought into captyvite, and Jerusalem destroyed, that Jeremy the prophet sate wepyng, and sorrowfully bewayled Jerusalem; and syghynge and hewlynge with an hevy and wooful hert, sayde.”
Becke‘s Bible of the same date, and Cardmarden‘s of 1566, have the same, with a trifling change in the orthography.
On this Becke and others have the following note: - “These words are read in the lxx. interpreters: but not in the Hebrue.”
All these show that it was the ancient opinion that the Book of Lamentations was composed, not over the death of Josiah, but on account of the desolations of Israel and Jerusalem.
The Arabic copies the Septuagint. The Syriac does not acknowledge it; and the Chaldee has these words only: “Jeremiah the great priest and prophet said.”
How doth the city sit solitary - Sitting down, with the elbow on the knee, and the head supported by the hand, without any company, unless an oppressor near, - all these were signs of mourning and distress. The coin struck by Vespasian on the capture of Jerusalem, on the obverse of which there is a palm-tree, the emblem of Judea, and under it a woman, the emblem of Jerusalem, sitting, leaning as before described, with the legend Judea capta, illustrates this expression as well as that in Isaiah 47:1. See the note on Isaiah 3:26 (note), where the subject is farther explained.
Become as a widow - Having lost her king. Cities are commonly described as the mothers of their inhabitants, the kings as husbands, and the princes as children. When therefore they are bereaved of these, they are represented as widows, and childless.
The Hindoo widow, as well as the Jewish, is considered the most destitute and wretched of all human beings. She has her hair cut short, throws off all ornaments, eats the coarsest food, fasts often, and is all but an outcast in the family of her late husband.
Is she become tributary! - Having no longer the political form of a nation; and the remnant that is left paying tribute to a foreign and heathen conqueror.
Among all her lovers - Her allies; her friends, instead of helping her, have helped her enemies. Several who sought her friendship when she was in prosperity, in the time of David and Solomon, are now among her enemies.
Between the straits - She has been brought into such difficulties, that it was impossible for her to escape. Has this any reference to the circumstances in which Zedekiah and the princes of Judah endeavored to escape from Jerusalem, by the way of the gates between the two walls? Jeremiah 52:7.
The ways of Zion do mourn - A fine prosopopoeia. The ways in which the people trod coming to the sacred solemnities, being now no longer frequented, are represented as shedding tears; and the gates themselves partake of the general distress. All poets of eminence among the Greeks and Romans have recourse to this image. So Moschus, in his Epitaph on Bion, ver. 1-3: -
Αιλινα μοι στροναχειτε ναπαι, και Δωριον ὑδωρ
Και ποταμοι κλαιοιτε τον ἱμεροεντα Βιωνα.
Νυν φυτα μοι μυρεσθε, και αλσεα νυν γοαοισθε, κ. τ. λ.
“Ye winds, with grief your waving summits bow,
Ye Dorian fountains, murmur as ye flow;
From weeping urns your copious sorrows shed,
And bid the rivers mourn for Bion dead.
Ye shady groves, in robes of sable hue,
Bewail, ye plants, in pearly drops of dew;
Ye drooping flowers, diffuse a languid breath,
And die with sorrow, at sweet Bion‘s death.”
So Virgil, Aen. vii., ver. 759: -
Te nemus Anguitiae, vitrea te Fucinus unda
Te liquidi flevere lacus.
“For thee, wide echoing, sighed th‘ Anguitian woods;
For thee, in murmurs, wept thy native floods.”
And more particularly on the death of Daphnis, Eclog. 5 ver. 24: -
Non ulli pastos illis egere diebus Frigida,
Daphni, boves ad flumina: nulla neque amnem
Libavit quadrupes, nec graminis attigit herbam.
Daphni, tuum Poenos etiam ingemuisse leones
Interitum, montesque feri, sylvaeque loquuntur.
“The swains forgot their sheep, nor near the brink
Of running waters brought their herds to drink:
The thirsty cattle of themselves abstained
From water, and their grassy fare disdained.
The death of Daphnis woods and hills deplore;
The Libyan lions hear, and hearing roar.”
Her adversaries are the chief - They have now supreme dominion over the whole land.
Did mock at her Sabbaths - משבתה (mishbatteha). Some contend that Sabbaths are not intended here. The Septuagint has κατοικεσια αυτης , “her habitation;” the Chaldee, על טובהא (al tubaha), “her good things;” the Syriac, (al toboroh), “her breach.” The Vulgate and Arabic agree with the Hebrew. Some of my oldest MSS. have the word in the plural number, משבתיה (mishbatteyha), “her Sabbaths.” A multitude of Kennicott‘s MSS. have the same reading. The Jews were despised by the heathen for keeping the Sabbath. Juvenal mocks them on that account: -
- cui septima quaeque fuit lux
Ignava et partem vitae non attigit ullam.
“To whom every seventh day was a blank,
and formed not any part of their life.”
St. Augustine represents Seneca as doing the same: -
Inutiliter id eos facere affirmans, quod septimani ferme partem aetatis suae perdent vacando, et multa in tempore urgentia non agendo laedantur.
“That they lost the seventh part of their life in keeping their Sabbaths; and injured themselves by abstaining from the performance of many necessary things in such times.”
He did not consider that the Roman calendar and customs gave them many more idle days than God had prescribed in Sabbaths to the Jews. The Sabbath is a most wise and beneficent ordinance.
She remembereth not her last end - 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. - Blayney.
They have given their pleasant things - Jerusalem is compared to a woman brought into great straits, who parts with her jewels and trinkets in order to purchase by them the necessaries of life.
Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? - The desolations and distress brought upon this city and its inhabitants had scarcely any parallel. Excessive abuse of God‘s accumulated mercies calls for singular and exemplary punishment.
The yoke of my transgressions - I am now tied and bound by the chain of my sins; and it is so wreathed, so doubled and twisted round me, that I cannot free myself. A fine representation of the miseries of a penitent soul, which feels that nothing but the pitifulness of God‘s mercy can loose it.
Called an assembly - The Chaldean army, composed of various nations, which God commissioned to destroy Jerusalem.
Zion spreadeth forth her hands - Extending the hands is the form in supplication.
Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman - To whom none dared to approach, either to help or comfort, because of the law, Leviticus 15:19-27.
I called for my lovers - My allies; the Egyptians and others.
Abroad the sword bereaveth - War is through the country; and at home death; the pestilence and famine rage in the city; calamity in every shape is fallen upon me.
Virgil represents the calamities of Troy under the same image: -
- Nec soli poenas dant sanguine Teucri:
Quondam etiam victis redit in praecordia virtus;
Victoresque cadunt Danai. Crudelis ubique
Luctus, ubique Pavor, et plurima mortis imago.
Aeneid. lib. 2:366.
“Not only Trojans fall; but, in their turn,
The vanquished triumph, and the victors mourn.
Ours take new courage from despair and night;
Confused the fortune is, confused the fight.
All parts resound with tumults, plaints, and fears;
And grisly death in sundry shapes appears.”
So Milton -
“ - Despair
Tended the sick, busiest from couch to couch;
And over them triumphant Death his dart Shook.”
Par. Lost, B. 11:489.
Jeremiah, Jeremiah 9:21, uses the same image: -
Death is come up into our windows:
He hath entered our palaces,
To cut off the infants without,
And the young men in our streets.
So Silius Italicus, II. 548: -
Mors graditur, vasto pandens cava guttura rletu,
Casuroque inhians populo.
“Death stalks along, and opens his hideous
throat to gulp down the people.”
They have heard that I sigh - My affliction is public enough; but no one comes to comfort me.
They are glad that thou hast done it - On the contrary, they exult in my misery; and they see that Thou hast done what they were incapable of performing.
Thou wilt bring the day that thou hast called, and they shall be like unto me - Babylon shall be visited in her turn; and thy judgments poured out upon her shall equal her state with my own. See the last six chapters of the preceding prophecy for the accomplishment of this prediction.
Let all their wickedness come before thee - That is, Thou wilt call their crimes also into remembrance; and thou wilt do unto them by siege, sword, famine, and captivity, what thou hast done to me. Though thy judgments, because of thy long-suffering, are slow; yet, because of thy righteousness, they are sure.
For my sighs are many - My desolations continue; and my heart is faint - my political and physical strength almost totally destroyed.
Imprecations in the sacred writings are generally to be understood as declarative of the evils they indicate; or, that such evils will take place. No prophet of God ever wished desolation on those against whom he was directed to prophesy.