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In this chapter are reckoned up the various calamities and distresses of the Jews in Babylon, which the Lord is desired to remember and consider, ( Lamentations 5:1-16); their great concern for the desolation of the temple in particular is expressed, ( Lamentations 5:17,18); and the chapter is concluded with a prayer that God would show favour to them, and turn them to him, and renew their prosperity as of old, though he had rejected them, and been wroth with them, ( Lamentations 5:19-22).
Ver. 1 . Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us , etc.] This chapter is called, in some Greek copies, and in the Vulgate Latin, Syriac, and Arabic versions, “the prayer of Jeremiah”. Cocceius interprets the whole of the state of the Christian church after the last destruction of Jerusalem; and of what happened to the disciples of Christ in the first times of the Gospel; and of what Christians have endured under antichrist down to the present times: but it is best to understand it of the Jews in Babylon; representing their sorrowful case, as represented by the prophet; entreating that the Lord would remember the affliction they were under, and deliver them out of it, that which he had determined should come upon them. So the Targum, “remember, O Lord, what was decreed should be unto us;” and what he had long threatened should come upon them; and which they had reason to fear would come, though they put away the evil day far from them; but now it was come, and it lay heavy upon them; and therefore they desire it might be taken off: consider, and behold our reproach : cast upon them by their enemies; and the rather the Lord is entreated to look upon and consider that, since his name was concerned in it, and it was for his sake, and because of the true religion they professed; also the disgrace they were in, being carried into a foreign country for their sins; and so were in contempt by all the nations around.
Ver. 2 . Our inheritance is turned to strangers , etc.] The land of Canaan in general, which was given to Abraham and his seed to be their inheritance; and their field, and vineyards in particular, which came to them by inheritance from their fathers, were now in the hands of the Chaldeans, strangers to God, and aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, as all Gentiles were, ( Ephesians 2:12); our houses to aliens ; which they had built or purchased, or their fathers had left them, were now inhabited by those of another country.
Ver. 3 . We are orphans and fatherless , etc.] In every sense; in a natural sense, their fathers having been cut off by the sword, famine, or pestilence; in a civil sense, their king being taken from them; and in a religious sense, God having forsaken them for their sins: our mothers [are] as widows ; either really so, their husbands being dead; or were as if they had no husbands, they not being able to provide for them, protect and deferred them. The Targum adds, “whose husbands are gone to the cities of the sea, and it is doubtful whether they are alive.”
Some understand this politically, of their cities being desolate and defenceless.
Ver. 4. We have drunken our water for money , etc.] They who in their own land, which was a land of brooks of water, of fountains and depths, had wells of water of their own, and water freely and in abundance, now were obliged to pay for it, for drink, and other uses: our wood is sold unto us ; or, “comes to us by a price” f137 ; and a dear one; in their own land they could have wood out of the forest, for cutting down and bringing home; but now they were forced to give a large price for it.
Ver. 5 . Our necks [are] under persecution , etc.] A yoke of hard servitude and bondage was put upon their necks, as Jarchi interprets it; which they were forced to submit unto: or, “upon our necks we are pursued” f138 ; or, “suffer persecution”: which Aben Ezra explains thus, in connection with the ( Lamentations 5:4); if we carry water or wood upon our necks, the enemy pursues us; that is, to take it away from us. The Targum relates a fable here, that when Nebuchadnezzar saw the ungodly rulers of the children of Israel, who went empty, he ordered to sow up the books of the law, and make bags or wallets of them, and fill them with the stones on the banks of the Euphrates, and loaded them on their necks: we labour, [and] have no rest ; night nor day, nor even on sabbath days; obliged to work continually till they were weary; and, when they were, were not allowed time to rest themselves, like their forefathers in Egypt.
Ver. 6. We have given our hand [to] the Egyptians , etc.] Either by way of supplication, to beg bread of them; or by way of covenant and agreement; or to testify subjection to them, in order to be supplied with food: many of the Jews went into Egypt upon the taking of the city, ( Jeremiah 43:5-7); [and to] the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread ; among whom many of the captives were dispersed; since from hence they are said to be returned, as well as from Egypt, ( Isaiah 11:16).
Ver. 7 . Our fathers have sinned, [and are] not , etc.] In the world, as the Targum adds; they were in being, but not on earth; they were departed from hence, and gone into another world; and so were free from the miseries and calamities their children were attended with, and therefore more happy: and we have borne their iniquities ; the punishment of them, or chastisement for them: this is not said by way of complaint, much less as charging God with injustice, in punishing them for their fathers’ sins, or to excuse theirs; for they were ready to own that they had consented to them, and were guilty of the same; but to obtain mercy and pity at the hands of God.
Ver. 8 . Servants have ruled over us , etc.] The Targum is, “the sons of Ham, who were given to be servants to the sons of Shem, they have ruled over us;” referring to the prophecy of Noah, ( Genesis 9:26,27); or such as had been tributary to the Jews, as the Edomites; so Aben Ezra; the Babylon, an, are meant; and not the nobles and principal inhabitants only, but even their servants, had power and authority over the Jews and they were at their beck and command; which made their servitude the more disagreeable and intolerable: [there is] none that doth deliver [us] out of their hand ; out of the hand of these servants.
Ver. 9 . We gat our bread [with the peril of] our lives , etc.] This seems to refer to the time of the siege when they privately went out of the city to get in some provision, but went in danger of their lives: because of the sword of the wilderness : or, “of the plain” f139 ; because of the, word of the Chaldean army, which lay in the plain about Jerusalem into whose hand there was danger of falling, and of being cut to pieces.
Ver. 10 . Our skin was black like an oven, because of the terrible famine .] Or “terrors [and horrors of] famine”; which are very dreadful and distressing: or, “the storms of famine”; (see Psalm 11:6 119:53); or, “burning winds” f140 ; such as are frequent in Africa and Asia; to which the famine is compared that was in Jerusalem, at the siege of it, both by the Chaldeans and Romans; and as an oven, furnace, or chimney becomes black by the smoke of the fire burnt in it, or under it; so the skins of the Jews became black through these burning winds and storms, or burnings of famine; (see Lamentations 4:8). So Jarchi says the word has the signification of “burning”; for famine as it were burns up the bodies of men when most vehement.
Ver. 11. They ravished the women in Zion , etc.] Or “humbled” them f141 ; an euphemism; the women that were married to men in Zion, as the Targum; and if this wickedness was committed in the holy mountain of Zion, it was still more abominable and afflicting, and to be complained of; and if by the servants before mentioned, as Aben Ezra interprets it, it is another aggravating circumstance of it; for this was done not in Babylon when captives there; but at the taking of the city of Jerusalem, and by the common soldiers, as is too often practised: [and] the maids in the cities of Judah ; in all parts of the country, where the Chaldean army ravaged, there they ravished the maids. The Targum is, “the women that were married to men in Zion were humbled by strangers; (the Targum in the king of Spain’s Bible is, by the Romans;) and virgins in the cities of Judah by the Chaldeans;” suggesting that this account has reference to both destructions of the city, and the concomitants and consequences thereof.
Ver. 12. Princes are hanged up by their hand , etc.] According to some, as Aben Ezra observes, by the hand of the servants before mentioned; however, by the hand of the Chaldeans or Babylonians; (see Jeremiah 52:10). Some understand it of their own hands, as if they laid violent hands upon themselves, not being able to bear the hardships and disgrace they were subjected to but I should rather think this is to be understood of hanging them, not by the neck, but by the hand, could any instance be given of such a kind of punishment so early used, and by this people; which has been in other nations, and in more modern times: the faces of elders were not honoured ; no reverence or respect were shown to elders in age or office, or on account of either; but were treated with rudeness and contempt.
Ver. 13 . They took the young men to grind , etc.] In the mill, which was laborious service; and which persons were sometimes put to, by way of punishment; and was the punishment of servants; (see Judges 16:21).
Some render it, “the young men bore the grist” f142 ; carried the corn, the meal ground, from place to place. The Targum is, “the young men carried the millstones;” and so Jarchi, they put millstones upon their shoulders, and burdens so as to weary them. Ben Melech, from their Rabbins, relates, that there were no millstones in Babylon; wherefore the Chaldeans put them upon the young men of Israel, to carry them thither. The Vulgate Latin version is, “they abused the young men in an unchaste manner;” suggesting something obscene intended by grinding; (see Job 31:10); but the context will not admit of such a sense: and the children fell under the wood ; such loads of wood were laid upon them, that they could not bear them, but fell under them. Aben Ezra understands it of moving the wood of the mill, of turning the wooden handle of it; or the wooden post, the rider or runner, by which the upper millstone was turned: this their strength was not equal to, and so failed.
The Targum interprets it of a wooden gibbet, or gallows; some wooden engine seems to be had in view, used as a punishment, which was put upon their necks, something like a pillory; which they were not able to stand up under, but fell.
Ver. 14 . The elders have ceased from the gate , etc.] Of the sanhedrim, or court of judicature, as the Targum; from the gate of the city, where they used to sit and try causes; but now there was nothing of this kind done: the young men from their music ; vocal and instrumental; the latter is more particularly specified, though both may be intended; neither were any more heard; their harps were hung upon the willows on the banks of Euphrates, which ran through the city of Babylon, ( <19D701> Psalm 137:1,2).
Ver. 15 . The joy of our heart is ceased , etc.] ward joy was gone, as well as the external signs of it: it “sabbatized” f143 , as it may be rendered; alluding perhaps to the cordial joy expressed formerly on their sabbaths and other festivals, now not observed; at least, not with that joy, inward and outward, they formerly were: our dance is turned into mourning ; which also was used at their solemn feasts, as well as at their common diversions, ( Judges 21:21); but now no more of that; but, instead of it, mourning at the calamities they were oppressed with; and at the remembrance of mercies and privileges, civil and religious, they were deprived of.
Ver. 16. The crown is fallen [from] our head , etc.] Or, “the crown of our head is fallen” f144 ; all their honour and glory as a nation were gone; the glory of their kingdom and priesthood, to both which a crown or mitre belonged; the glory of church and state. Aben Ezra interprets it of the temple, the place of the divine Majesty. Sanctius thinks there is an allusion to the crowns they wore upon their heads at their feasts and festivals; and so the words have a close connection with what goes before: woe unto us that we have sinned ! which had brought all these evils upon them: this is not to be considered as an imprecation or denunciation of misery; but as a commiseration of their case; calling upon others to it, and particularly God himself, to have mercy upon them; for, alas for them! they had sinned, and justly deserved what was come upon them; and therefore throw themselves at the feet of mercy, and implore divine compassion.
Ver. 17. For this our heart is faint , etc.] Our spirits sink; we are ready to swoon and die away; either for this, that we have sinned; because of our sins, they are so many, so great, and so aggravated; or for those distresses and calamities they have brought upon us before mentioned; or for the desolation of Zion, more especially, after expressed; and so the Targum, “for this house of the sanctuary, which is desolate, our heart is weak:” for these [things] our eyes are dim ; or “darkened” almost blinded with weeping; can scarcely see out of them; or as persons in a swoon; for dimness of sight usually attends faintness of spirit.
Ver. 18. Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate , etc.] Meaning either the city of Jerusalem in general, or the temple in particular, which both lay in ruins: but the latter gave the truly godly the greatest concern; that the seat of divine Majesty should be in such a condition; that the public exercises of religion should cease, and there be no more opportunities of waiting upon God, and worshipping him as heretofore; their civil interest, and the loss of that did not so much affect them as the interest of religion, and what that suffered: the foxes walk upon it : as they do in desolate places, shunning the company of men; but here they walked in common, and as freely as in the woods and deserts: this was fulfilled in the destruction of the second temple, as well as the first. R. Akiba and his companions were walking together; they saw a fox come out of the holy of holies; they wept, but he laughed or rejoiced; they wept, that in the place where the stranger that drew near should die, now foxes walked upon it; he laughed or rejoiced, because, as this prophecy was fulfilled, so would others that predicted good things.
Ver. 19. Thou, O Lord, remainest for ever , etc.] The same in his nature and perfections; in his grace and goodness; in his power and faithfulness; in his purposes and promises; though all things else change, are fickle and inconstant, he changes not, but abides the same, without any variableness or shallow of turning; whatever revolutions there are in the world, or alterations in the course of Providence, yet he remains firm and unalterable in his counsel and covenant; though all material things are subject to decay, and even his own sanctuary lay in ruins, yet he himself continued just as he ever was. The eternity and unchangeableness of God are of great use and comfort to his people in times of distress, and to be regarded and observed: thy throne from generation to generation ; though his throne on earth, in Jerusalem, in the temple, was thrown down, yet his throne in heaven remained unshaken; there he sits, and reigns, and rules, and overrules all things here below to his own glory and the good of his people; and this is the saints’ comfort in the worst of times, that Zion’s King reigns; he has reigned, and will reign, throughout all generations. The Targum is, “the house of thine habitation in the high heavens; the throne of thy glory to the generations of generations?”
Ver. 20 . Wherefore dost thou, forget us for ever , etc.] Since thou art firm, constant, and unchangeable, and thy love and covenant the same. God seems to forget his people when he afflicts them, or suffers them to be oppressed, and does not arise immediately for their help; which being deferred some time, looks like an eternity to them, or they fear it will ever be so; at least this they say to express their eager desire after his gracious presence, and to show how much they prize it: [and] forsake us so long time ? or, “to length of days” f147 ? so long as the seventy years’ captivity; which to be forsaken of God, or to seem to be forsaken of him, was with them a long time.
Ver. 21 . Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned , etc.] This prayer expresses the sense they had of their backslidings from God, and distance from him; of their inability to turn themselves to the Lord, or convert themselves; and of their need of divine grace, and of the efficacy of that to effect it; (see Jeremiah 31:18); for this is to be understood not only of returning them to their own land, and to the external worship of God in it; but of turning them to the Lord by true and perfect repentance, as the Targum; of the conversion of their hearts and the reformation of their lives: renew our days as of old ; for good, as the Targum adds. The request is, that their good days might be renewed; that they might enjoy the same peace and prosperity, and all good things in their own land, as they had done in days and years past: first they pray for repentance; then restoration.
Ver. 22 . But thou hast utterly rejected us , etc.] That looks as if they had no hope, and were in despair of having their petitions granted; since God had entirely rejected them from being his people, and would never more have mercy on them; but the words may be rendered, “though thou hast in rejecting rejected us” f148 ; or else, “unless thou hast utterly rejected us” f149 ; or rather by an interrogation, “for wilt thou utterly reject”, or “despise us?” surely thou wilt not; such is thy grace and goodness: thou art very wroth against us ; thou hast been, and still continuest to be: or, “wilt thou be exceeding wroth against us?” or continue thy wrath to extremity, and for ever? thou wait not; it is not consistent with, thy mercy and grace, truth and faithfulness; and so it is an argument of faith in prayer, and not an expression of despondency; though the Jews, because they would not have the book end in what is sorrowful and distressing, repeat the foregoing verse; and the like method they take at the end of Ecclesiastes, and the prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi, as Jarchi observes.