Lamentations 1:18 Putting Words in Her Mouth
Halley, Bible Handbook, p.286, entitles this “A Funeral Dirge Over the Desolation of Jerusalem.” It is an acrostic poem. Chapters one, two and four are structured exactly alike with each of their 22 verses starting with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, Aleph, Beth, Gimel, etc. just like the section of the 119th Psalm. Chapter three is alphabetic, but there are three verses per letter so making 66 in all. Chapter five is not in alphabetic order.
Halley tells us that this book does not come after Jeremiah in the Hebrew O.T. but is rather included with other “writings” on a separate scroll for reading on special feast days. This is always read in synagogues on the 9th day of the 4th month remembering the destruction of Jerusalem (Jer.52:6).
From the end of verse 9 with the words “O, LORD behold my affliction,” the lament is spoken in the first person as if the city of Jerusalem is giving it rather than the prophet. Later when again the city is ravished, this time by Titus in A.D. 70 a coin was minted that represented Judah as a female sitting under a palm tree with the inscription “Judea capta” reminiscent of her Babylonian captivity as well.
Since the words from her lips are actually from Jeremiah, they truthfully bespeak the blame of her situation to be her own. It was due to her sins which were grievous (v.8) that she is removed and “for the multitude of her transgressions” she has been afflicted (v.5).
Sin is always paid for in the coin of captivity. As Paul said “know ye not that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey;...?” Know this all ye who pass by.
Thankfully those reading this have said the words that Jeremiah puts in the mouth of this fallen woman. “I have rebelled and found that every way I turned there was judgement. Mine heart is turned within me, I am become vile.” If only Israel would repent with words like these. But instead it is rather the case “abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death” (v.19).
Lamentations 2:15 The Perfection of Beauty
More realistically the emphasis shifts from the use of the first person pronouns used in chapter one to the third person in chapter two and focuses on “the daughter of Zion” the object of the Lord’s anger.
It may be instructive to note a few structural features in this chapter. The term “daughter” is found eleven times which is over half the number of times it is used in the whole book. For some reason the proper name of God, “Adonoy” an emphatic form of “adon” which means controller or sovereign is used seven times in this chapter and five times in chapter one (14 in the whole book) translated “Lord.” The word is found in Jeremiah’s prophecy but always as a part of the compound name for God, “Adonai Jehovah.” In a book where such attention is given to structure it would seem that there must have been a reason for this switch. Of course the word “LORD” is also used which is the salvation name of Jehovah. (Note the use and disuse of large case letters.)
The first verse seems to set the tone for the whole chapter. The Lord (no salvation emphasis here) has sovereignly cast down from her lofty position, the beautiful daughter of Zion and even as His footstool is she despised in this day of His anger.
Just look at the powerful verbs used in the first few verses that seem like a relentless barrage. Swallowed up, thrown down, polluted, cut off, drawn back, burned, poured out His fury, violently taken away, despised, abhorred, cast off. See how often the word “destroyed” is used.
Would you believe the “daughter” of Zion and the “apple” of his eye are the same Hebrew words? According to the translators you could say “apple of Zion” and “daughter of his eye” but you wouldn’t.
For now the Church is the “perfection of beauty” and the “joy of all the earth” as far as the LORD our Savior is concerned and some day those that hiss and wag their head will have to acknowledge it (v.15). After we are gone the natural branches will be graffed (grafted) back into the vine (Romans 11:24).
Lamentations 3:23 New Every Morning
If you have checked the Septuagint you will have noted that I have misled you slightly. While it is generally true that each Hebrew letter embraces three verses of our English Bible and this chapter averages out that way, there are a few exceptions. For example, the third Hebrew letter Gimel, in its first appearance in this chapter, contains only verse eight “Yea though I cry and shout, he shuts out my prayer.”
On the other hand, our favorite verses in this chapter,( 22-24), fall exactly under HETH which is the 8th letter and incidently, standing alone, means terror according to Strong. (JFB does a good job of grouping the verses but uses the numeral 13 twice). All of this is extremely irrelevant I am sure!
In this acrostic poem we see Jeremiah going from a long recitation of his personal woes where he continually uses the first person pronoun “I”, “me”, “my”, to a section where he addresses his attention to the plight of others, first as a certain third person “a man” (26, 27 etc.) and then in a plural form “us”, “we”,( 40-47), returning at the end to his personal sufferings (55), “I”, “me”, etc. Noting this switching of pronouns helps a bit as we make our way through this lengthy lament. To me, I have to say that knowing the effort being made to construct it mechanically tends to lessen the seriousness of the occasion.
Jeremiah was wrong to blame God the way he did just as Job was wrong (16:11-17). His imprecatory outburst is just as wrong as was David’s but we are glad he included a few positive thoughts. I like verses 57 and 58. Verse 40 is good advice. It is a good thing that he realized that God’s mercies are new every morning and that His faithfulness is really great. I doubt that if he had not been moved to stick the thoughts in verses 22 and 23 into this chapter this book would seldom be quoted.
Lamentations 4:22 The Punishment of Thine Iniquity
Finally in this chapter Jeremiah stops talking about himself and stops putting words in Judah’s mouth which kings, priests and prophets would not agree with and gives us the real reason for lamenting. As is often the case, the women, youths and the babies are the ones who must suffer for the sins of the fathers (v.13; see also 5:7).
Verse four tells us why there should be cause for weeping. For 18 months Jerusalem was besieged (II Kings 25:2) and by the end of that time conditions must have been unbelievably severe to say the least. It was worse there than in Sodom we are told because their overthrow was “in a moment” (v.6). The prophet says that those who were slain by the sword were better off than those who died from hunger. Women ate their own children as prophesied by Moses in Deut.28:57.
One should read the account of Josephus of the siege of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., which lasted much less than a year, to get a sense of what terrible conditions must have prevailed. “The terraces were full of women and children who had collapsed from hunger, the alleys were piled high with the bodies of the aged. The misery was unspeakable. The best of friends fought each other over the most miserable trifles.” He tells of a lady of a wealthy family who was forced to surrender to the mob some meat she was eating. It turned out to be her own infant exactly as Deuteronomy foretold and as this chapter records (v.10).
If such is disgusting and makes for difficult reading, it might be well to remember it is recorded in God’s Word and we must think of what conditions would be should our food supply to the supermarkets be cut off for a few weeks. God’s people were forced to eat their leather belts, their shoes and their leather coats.
“The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion” and it is reason enough to be the sole cause of his weeping (3:48).
Lamentations 5:16 The Crown is Fallen
As we have already pointed out, this chapter is not done as an acrostic like the others and frankly it seems to come more from someone’s heart rather than a product of their ingenuity. I say someone’s because I question its authorship along perhaps with the whole book especially if it must stand or fall as a unit. I think a case can be made that this chapter, at least, was not written by Jeremiah. Let us see why.
There are several Bible books whose authors are in question or are unknown, Hebrews being a classic example. I confess that I do not know the critical arguments for Jeremiah’s authorship but they are probably quite persuasive since his name is writ large in the heading. Halley takes it for granted in the Bible Handbook.
Consider this, however, since it was given to Jeremiah by Jehovah to make known the facts of the 70 years of captivity, why then would he make such ridiculous statements such as: “There is none that doth deliver us out of their hand” (v.8) or as in v.20 “Wherefore dost thou forget us forever and forsake us so long time?” or finally as in v.22 “But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us”?
These do not sound to me like the words of a man of faith. It had been the prophet’s peculiar ministry to prepare the people for God’s disciplinary hand in using the Babylonians against Judah as his entire book testifies. These words in today’s chapter sound like someone speaking who is totally unfamiliar with that concept. Go read again Jeremiah 44 and see if it sounds like the same person. Perhaps the thorough student of Jeremiah can find matching examples. Please point this out if you see them.
This is not to say there are not good thoughts in this chapter. V.7 and v.16 are excellent verses to remind us of man’s fall. Psalm 8:5 speaks of the crown man received in creation and II Tim.4:8 the crown of righteousness. Our destiny in God’s eternal plan is for us to reign with Christ forever and ever. The “fallen crown” depicts the state of fallen man.