Lamentations 1:1-22

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Formerly, Jerusalem had been a city with many inhabitants. As a depopulated place, however, the city was like a woman sitting all alone in a state of misery (alone like a man afflicted with leprosy [Targum]). “Among nations,” or among the cities of other nations, Jerusalem had been “great” or significant with a sizable population but had been reduced to a state like that of a lone widow without any children. She had enjoyed the position of a princess, never having to perform menial labor like a servant. The inhabitants of Jerusalem had been free people. As captives, however, they were forced to perform hard labor. Therefore, Jerusalem personified as a woman is described as having come to be for compulsory toil (having to pay tribute [LXX]). (1:1)

In her pathetic condition of ruin, Jerusalem is portrayed as weeping during the night like a woman for whom there is no respite from distress through sleep. Tears are never absent from her cheeks. “Among all her lovers,” or the former allies to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem looked for aid, there was no one that provided comfort. All the “companions” or “friends” (the former allies) proved to be disloyal or treacherous. Peoples that were previously on peaceful terms with Jerusalem became enemies. They did nothing to help, sided with the attackers, or took advantage of the vulnerable condition that a military campaign against Jerusalem had created. (1:2)

After having experienced “affliction” (“humiliation” [LXX]) and much toil or abundant servitude, “Judah” (or the people of the kingdom of Judah) went into exile. After the death of King Josiah in battle with the Egyptian troops under the command of Pharaoh Neco (Nechoh, Necho), the people suffered from the burden of foreign domination — first Egyptian and then Babylonian control and the devastation of war. Additionally, the oppressive rule of King Jehoiakim, the son of Josiah, led to more suffering for the people. (2 Kings 23:29-35; 24:7-25:11) The Targum indicates that the people of Judah went into exile because they afflicted orphans and widows and enslaved their brothers, fellow Isaelites, without granting them freedom after the completion of six years of servitude. In view of the exile subsequent to the conquest of Jerusalem, the city is portrayed as dwelling “among the nations.” This is because it was “among the nations” that the survivors of the Babylonian military campaign came to reside. As captives who were subject to their conquerors, the people had no place to rest and be at peace. Therefore, Jerusalem is referred to as finding no resting place. All who pursued Jerusalem with hostile intent overtook her in straits or narrow places, suggesting that there was no avenue of escape. According to the Septuagint, the pursuers overtook her “in the midst of her oppressors.” (1:3)

The “ways” or roads leading to Zion or Jerusalem are portrayed in a state of “mourning,” deserted because no one was heading for the city to be at the temple for the festivals. All the gates of Jerusalem had been reduced to rubble. Priests who had served at the temple could only sigh or groan on account of the devastation. Virgins of Jerusalem were grieving. The previous mention of the priests may suggest that the virgins rendered service at the temple. (Compare Exodus 38:8; 1 Samuel 2:22.) Another possible reason for the reference to virgins is that they had contributed to the joyous feature of festivals with singing, playing percussion instruments, and dancing. According to the Septuagint rendering, the virgins were being “led away,” apparently into exile. Jerusalem personified (as representing the survivors of the Babylonian conquest) was embittered. (1:4)

The enemies of Jerusalem had “become the head,” having gained the ascendency and control over those who survived the military campaign against the city. These enemies were the ones who prospered. YHWH permitted this calamity to befall Jerusalem. Therefore, he is the one represented as causing the grief that she (as representing her inhabitants) experienced because of the “multitude of her transgressions” (or the many sins that the people committed). “Her children” (or the surviving residents of the city [her “little children” [LXX]) went away as captives “before the face” of the foe or the “oppressor” (LXX), before the triumphant Babylonian military force. (1:5)

The splendor or dignity that the “daughter of Zion” or Jerusalem once enjoyed as a thriving, unconquered city had vanished. Her “princes” (“rulers” [LXX]), in their weak and helpless condition, were like “stags” (“rams” [LXX]) that could “find no pasturage” and so were without needed nourishment. They fled but had no strength before (literally, “before the face of”) their pursuer. Escape was impossible. (1:6)

In the “days” or the time of her “affliction” and her wandering as would persons who had become homeless or been driven away from their land, Jerusalem personified “remembered all her desirable things.” These were the good things that the inhabitants of the prosperous city had enjoyed in former days. The Targum says that Jerusalem remembered the time she was surrounded by fortified cities and strong unwalled towns, rebelling and ruling over all the earth or lands beyond the tribal borders. During the reign of David’s son Solomon, the strong position over other kingdoms that then existed does fit the wording of the Targum. (1 Kings 10:23-28) According to the Septuagint rendering, Jerusalem remembered the “days of her humiliation and her deportation.” A Dead Sea scroll of Lamentations (4QLam [4Q111]) reads, “Remember, YHWH, all our pains that were from days of old.” The thriving state of the past had ended. The people of Jerusalem “fell into the hand” or power of a foe, the military force under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, and there was no helper to defend Jerusalem and prevent the capture of the city. Enemies “saw her” in the helpless state, and they laughed derisively over her downfall [“all her breakdowns” (4QLam [4Q111])]. (1:7; see the Notes section.)

The people of the kingdom of Judah had been unfaithful to YHWH, engaging in idolatrous practices and conducting themselves contrary to his commands. Their serious sin is attributed to Jerusalem personified and is given as the reason that she became something abhorrent, impure, or filthy. All who honored her previously or treated Jerusalem and her people respectfully despised her as worthless. They saw her “nakedness” or the exposed, shameful condition of a devastated city. In view of what had taken place, Jerusalem personified is portrayed as groaning and turning backward or away in shame. (1:8; see the Notes section.)

The “uncleanness” or impurity of Jerusalem was “in her skirts.” This appears to allude to the defilement from menstruation but, in this case, represents the pollution resulting from sin. In the Septuagint, the uncleanness is associated with the “feet” and thus is more closely linked to menstruation. The people did not consider what the consequences from their lawless actions would be. Therefore, Jerusalem personified is said not to have given any thought to her end or about how matters could eventually turn out for her. The debasement she experienced was extraordinary, astonishing, or unbelievable, “and” (4QLam [4Q111]) there was no comforter for her (or the surviving people) at the time of her downfall. In view of what had taken place, Jerusalem personified is portrayed as pleading with YHWH to see her affliction, for the enemy had become great over her, gaining the ascendancy through military triumph. The petition for the affliction to be seen was an implied appeal for mercy. (1:9; see the Notes section.)

The enemy “stretched out his hand over all” the “desirable things” of Jerusalem, with the intent of seizing everything of value. Jerusalem personified saw “nations,” or the warriors from various nations in the conquering military force, enter the sanctuary or temple. According to YHWH’s commands, people from the nations were not permitted to enter his “congregation” in the holy precincts. (1:10; compare Deuteronomy 23:3 and see the Notes section.)

All the surviving people of Jerusalem groaned on account of their great distress. They searched for “bread” or something to eat, willingly parting with desirable or precious things for food so as to “revive their soul” or themselves, to gain a little strength in their famished state. Jerusalem personified is portrayed as petitioning YHWH to see and look upon her circumstances. She had become like a worthless woman, dishonored or despised. (1:11; see the Notes section.)

Those passing by Jerusalem were asked whether what had befallen the city and its inhabitants was as “nothing” to them — something to be ignored as of no significance or concern. They were requested to focus on the devastated site, to “look and see” whether a pain or sorrow existed like the severe pain or sorrow that she experienced. This great sorrow was what YHWH had brought upon Jerusalem or permitted to befall her “in the day of his burning [or fierce] anger.” According to the Septuagint, he humbled Jerusalem “in the day of the wrath of his fury.” (1:12; see the Notes section.)

Although YHWH used the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar to punish his disobedient people, his permitting them to act in this capacity is attributed to him, and the suffering of his people is depicted as befalling Jerusalem personified. He sent “fire from on high” into the “bones” (“strong cities” [Targum]) of Jerusalem, bringing great pain and ruin to her entire frame. For her “feet,” he spread out a net to trap her like an animal to be killed for food. YHWH “turned her back,” possibly meaning that he turned her back in shame or did not help her to mount a successful defense. He deprived her of everything, making her into a desolate or abandoned woman. “All day long” she was “ill” or in pain, never experiencing any relief from suffering. The ancient scroll 4QLam (4Q111) says that YHWH made her “desolate all day and ill.” (1:13)

Transgressions are the initial focus on what Jerusalem personified is represented as saying. The wording of the Hebrew text is somewhat obscure, and the verse could be literally rendered, “It is bound — a yoke of my transgressions; in his hand, they are intertwined. They have come up upon my neck. He has caused my strength to fail. The Lord [YHWH in 4QLam (4Q111)] gave me into the hands of those against whom I cannot rise up.” For the initial phrase, another possible reading has been suggested. “Watch is kept upon my transgressions.” The basic thought appears to be that YHWH either bound the transgressions together so that they formed a heavy yoke on the neck of Jerusalem personified or that he watched for the transgressions and then intertwined or bound them together to form a heavy yoke on the neck of Jerusalem personified. In view of the many transgressions of the people, YHWH permitted their enemies to triumph over them, withdrawing his help from them and thus leaving them as a people without any strength to resist their enemies. According to the Targum, the yoke of Jerusalem’s rebellion was heavy in God’s hands, and he caused the intertwined acts of rebellion to climb like the tendrils of a vine upon the neck of Jerusalem. The Septuagint indicates that God was watchful of the impieties of Jerusalem and that, by the hands of Jerusalem, these impieties were joined together. This rendering suggests that Jerusalem personified was responsible for placing the heavy burden of her impieties on her own neck. Modern translations contain a variety of renderings. “The yoke of my offenses is bound fast, lashed tight by His hand; imposed upon my neck, it saps my strength; the Lord has delivered me into the hands of those I cannot withstand.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “My sins were bound like a yoke tied fast by his own hand; set upon my neck, it caused my strength to fail. The LORD abandoned me to my sins, and in their grip I could not stand.” (REB) “You have tied my sins around my neck, and they weigh so heavily that my strength is gone. You have put me in the power of enemies too strong for me.” (CEV) “He has watched out for my offences, with his hand he enmeshes me, his yoke is on my neck, he has deprived me of strength. The Lord has put me into clutches which I am helpless to resist.” (NJB) “He took note of all my sins and tied them all together; he hung them around my neck, and I grew weak beneath the weight. The Lord gave me to my foes, and I was helpless against them.” (TEV) The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible renders the text of 4QLam (4Q111) as follows: “It was bound about my transgressions by his hand; his yoke is secured upon [my] n[eck;] he has made my strength fail. The LORD has delivered me into the hand of him against whom I am not able to stand.” (The expression “my neck” is only partially preserved, and this is the reason for the brackets. “LORD” is the rendering for YHWH (the divine name that is in the text of the scroll.) (1:14)

The “mighty ones” (“perishing ones” [4QLam (4Q111)] the “Lord” threw aside from the midst of Jerusalem were the warriors. They were unable to mount a successful defense of the city. The meeting that he called against Jerusalem was a gathering of troops that would break “young men” to pieces. These young men may have been part of the defending force. “[As in a] winepress, the Lord [YHWH (4QLam [4Q111]) did tread the virgin daughter of Judah.” By means of enemy troops, YHWH trampled the people of Judah as if they were grapes in a winepress. In the Targum, this is interpreted to mean that men of the nations defiled the virgins of the house of Judah, causing the blood of their virginity to flow like the juice from a winepress when a man treads the grapes. (1:15)

Over the calamity and great suffering that had befallen the people, Jerusalem personified wept “like a woman.” She is represented as saying, “My eyes, my eyes flow with water.” Her many tears were like streams of water running down both cheeks. In her state of pain and misery, no one comforted her, the situation being as if any source of comfort was too far away. There was no one who revived the “soul” of Jerusalem personified, engendering any hope in her that would have brought relief and strengthened and enlivened her. The “sons” or people of Jerusalem had become “desolate” or been crushed like a city that is devastated by war. The enemy had “become strong” or triumphed. The Targum represents the intense pain as that of women. Ruthless warriors smashed their infants and, by ripping pregnant women open, destroyed the unborn. (1:16; see the Notes section.)

“Zion [Jerusalem personified] stretched out her hands,” apparently as an appeal for help, but there was no one to “comfort her” (“among all her lovers. You, YHWH, are righteous” [4QLam (4Q111)]). The Targum portrays Zion as spreading out her hands in anguish like a woman in labor and screaming, but no one speaks comfortingly to her. YHWH is represented as having given the command “against Jacob” (the Israelites who were the descendants of Jacob) for those “surrounding” him to be “his foes.” Among them, Jerusalem had become an “abhorrent thing” — something that they would treat with the utmost contempt. According to the Septuagint, Jerusalem would be as one “sitting apart” (like a woman in an unclean state from menstruation) among these oppressors or enemies. The Targum expresses the thought similarly, but interprets the command of YHWH differently. It says that the command was for the house of Jacob to keep the “commandments and Torah” but that the people transgressed. (1:17)

Although the suffering YHWH permitted the people to experience was severe, Jerusalem personified acknowledged that it was not unjust. YHWH is “righteous,” and it was against “his mouth” or the commands that proceeded from his mouth that Jerusalem (representing the people) had rebelled, refusing to do his will. Nevertheless, the punishment was extremely distressing. Therefore, Jerusalem personified is quoted as calling upon all other peoples to see her “pain,” including the loss of the future generation. Virgins or maidens and young men had been taken into captivity. (1:18; see the Notes section.)

The former “lovers” or allies of Jerusalem deceived her, not coming to her aid when the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar came. In the city, priests and elders died, apparently from starvation. This appears to be indicated with the reference to their looking for something to eat so that they might revive, refresh, or strengthen their “souls” or that they might preserve themselves alive. According to the Septuagint, they found no food. (1:19)

Jerusalem personified appealed to YHWH to see the distress in which she found herself. In view of all that had befallen the people, her “innards” were in ferment, indicating that her very being was in a state of great upheaval, unrest, and anguish. Within her, her “heart” had been “overturned. The “heart” or inner self was in turmoil and dread. Jerusalem personified (or the people) experienced great suffering because of having rebelled against YHWH or, according to the Septuagint, embittered him. “Outside” or in the street, the sword the enemy force wielded led to the bereavement of children. “Inside the house,” the situation was “like death,” with starvation and pestilence or infectious disease claiming victims. (1:20)

Although people of other nations had heard the groaning of Jerusalem personified (the people whom she represented), the groaning like that of a woman in severe pain, there was no one among them to provide comfort. Enemies heard about the calamity that had befallen her, and they gave way to malicious rejoicing. YHWH had permitted this to happen. Therefore, Jerusalem personified is quoted as saying, “You caused” or acted, and this is followed by the implied petition for him to bring the “day” of reckoning that he had proclaimed regarding the enemies by means of his prophets so that these enemies might become just like her in a state of distress and misery. (1:21)

The plea of Jerusalem personified was for the badness of her enemies to come before YHWH or for him to notice it and then to deal with them in the same severe manner as he had dealt with her on account of all her “transgressions” (or all the sins of the people). In the Septuagint, the petition is for God to glean the enemies (like a gleaner would gather every grape that remained on the vines after the main harvest) as he had gleaned Jerusalem (or the people) for all her sins. The consequence for Jerusalem personified had been that her “groans” were many, and her “heart” or inmost self was “ill” or in a miserable and sorrowful condition. (1:22)


The wording of verse 7 in 4QLam (4Q111) is shorter for the concluding part than it is in the Masoretic Text. After saying that none helped, the text continues, “her foes laughed over all her breakdowns.”

In verse 8, a Dead Sea scroll of Lamentations (4QLam [4Q111]) does not contain the Hebrew word that may mean “something abhorrent” (nidáh) but has a form of nud and may here be rendered “one who laments” or “one who bemoans” herself (“Jerusalem has become one who laments”). The reading of the Targum suggests that nud was read as nohd (“wanderer” [Jerusalem “has become a wanderer”]). Additionally, in 4QLam (4Q111), the Hebrew verb for “despise” does not include the suffix for the pronoun “her.”

In verse 9, the Septuagint does not refer to an extraordinary downfall for Jerusalem, but the wording is obscure. It could be variously worded. “She brought down lofty things.” “She lowered pretensions” “He brought down pretensions.” Perhaps the thought is that the enemy brought down the haughtiness Jerusalem displayed prior to her downfall.

For the concluding part of verse 10 and the beginning of verse 11 in 4QLam (4Q111), the copyist appears to have erroneously omitted text. This has resulted in a reading that does not fit the context (“they should not bring her precious things as food to revive her soul”).

In verse 12, the partially preserved concluding words of 4QLam (4Q111) differ somewhat from the Masoretic Text, indicating that YHWH “frightened” Jerusalem in the “day of his anger.”

In 4QLam (4Q111), the words of verse 16 follow the text of verse 17. Also the wording differs somewhat from the Masoretic Text. “For these things, my eyes weep; my tears descend [flow down my cheeks].”

The initial aleph of the word for “lord” is preserved in the fragmentary part of verse 18 in 4QLam (4Q111). This indicates that the divine name (YHWH) is not in this text, although it is in the Masoretic Text.