Lamentations 2:1-22

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“In his anger,” YHWH beclouded the “daughter of Zion,” surrounding the city of Jerusalem with gloom. From “heaven to earth,” he threw down the “beauty,” splendor, or glory of Israel — the dignified standing that Israel had once enjoyed as an unconquered and free people. The debasement was comparable to a fall from the sky above to the land below. YHWH did not “remember” his “footstool” (“temple” [Targum]), giving no consideration to it as an object to be spared from ruin in the “day of his anger” or at the time for expressing his anger against his wayward people. (2:1)

In his use of the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, the “Lord swallowed down” his people. He showed no compassion for them, giving no consideration to the “habitations of Jacob” or the places where the descendants of Jacob resided. “In his wrath,” YHWH tore down the “strongholds of the daughter of Judah” or all the fortified places of the people in the kingdom of Judah. Through military defeat, the people and the kingdom had been made low, brought down to the ground. YHWH had permitted this to happen. Therefore, the act was attributed to him, as was the defiling or dishonoring of the kingdom (“king” [LXX]) and its princes, rulers, or high officials. (2:2)

The expression “horn of Israel” may be understood to designate the “strength” of Israel, and the Targum refers to the “glory of Israel,” which glory or magnificence could include the power Israel possessed. YHWH’s cutting down “every horn of Israel” would mean that the kingdom of Judah was deprived of all power that could have successfully defended the realm. The “right hand” was the one commonly used to provide help and support. YHWH withdrew “his right hand in the face of the foe,” indicating that he abandoned his people to the enemy. In view of the humiliating fall of the kingdom of Judah and the capital Jerusalem, YHWH is represented as having caused burning in Jacob (the land in which the descendants of Jacob lived) “like a flaming fire” that consumed “all around” or everything in its path. (2:3)

To tread the bow means to string the bow, placing one foot in the middle of the bow and then attaching the loose end of the string to the other end of the bow. YHWH is represented as doing this like an enemy or like one who readies the bow for use to attack. His position with the right hand apparently applies to the position for shooting arrows as would an enemy warrior. According to the Targum, he stood prepared at the right hand of Nebuchadnezzar and helped him. By means of the Babylonian troops, YHWH killed “all the desirable ones of the eye.” These “desirable ones” could refer to the handsome young men. The Targum identifies the “desirable ones” or “desirable things” as young men and everything that was beautiful to behold. Into the “tent of the daughter of Zion,” or the place where the people of Zion or Jerusalem resided, YHWH poured out his wrath like a fire that brought ruin to the people and their residences. (2:4)

To his disobedient people, the “Lord” became “like an enemy,” “swallowing” or destroying Israel and all its citadels. He reduced all its strongholds to ruin. What he permitted to happen through the agency of the warriors under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar caused “mourning and lamentation” or wailing to abound for the “daughter of Judah” or the people in the realm of the kingdom of Judah. The Septuagint rendering could be understood to indicate that God caused an increase in the number of the ones who were humiliated and humbled. (2:5)

YHWH’s “booth” apparently designates his temple in Jerusalem, and the Targum is specific in referring to it as the temple. He treated it like a temporary shelter in a garden that is neglected and allowed to fall into disrepair and to collapse. According to the Septuagint, “he spread out [ripped apart (based on another reading)] his dwelling place like a grapevine.” Modern translations vary in their rendering of the Hebrew text. “He laid waste his booth like a garden.” (NAB, revised edition) “He stripped his tabernacle as if it were a garden.” (REB) “He shattered his temple like a hut in a garden.” (CEV) “He has broken down his Temple as though it were merely a garden shelter.” (NLT) YHWH’s bringing “his festival” to ruin appears to mean his laying waste to the temple, the place where the annual festivals were observed. By allowing his temple to be destroyed, YHWH caused the observance of “festival and sabbath” to be forgotten. In expression of his anger for the transgression of his commands, YHWH showed no regard for “king and priest” (“king and priest and ruler” [LXX]). (2:6)

The “Lord spurned his altar,” for the destruction of the temple brought an end to the offerings placed on the altar. He “abhorred” (“trampled” [Targum]; “shook off” [LXX]) “his sanctuary.” The expression “walls of her fortresses” probably means the walls of Jerusalem, which would have included the walls surrounding the temple complex. These “walls” God delivered into the “hand of the enemy,” allowing the attacking warriors to destroy them. Then, “in the house of YHWH,” the warriors let their voice or loud shouts be heard like the sound from a large crowd on the “day of a festival.” (2:7; see the Notes section.)

YHWH determined to reduce the “wall of the daughter [or city] of Zion” to ruins. In this context, his stretching out the “measuring line” may be understood to refer to his establishing the extent of the destruction. He did not turn back “his hand from swallowing up,” not changing his resolve to destroy or demolish everything according to his previous determination. The ruin of “rampart and wall” would have presented a sad spectacle. Therefore, YHWH is the one represented as causing “rampart and wall” to lament or mourn. Reduced to rubble, “together they became weak,” ceasing to function for a defensive purpose. (2:8)

The “gates” of Jerusalem sank down into the “earth,” becoming level with the ground. A number of modern translations explicitly convey this basic significance. “The gates lie buried in rubble.” (TEV) “Zion’s gates have fallen facedown on the ground.” (CEV) According to the Targum, this happened because idolatrous people slaughtered a pig and applied its blood over the gates. (Compare Isaiah 65:4; 66:3, 17.) With the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, YHWH destroyed and broke to pieces the “bars” of Jerusalem, apparently the bars that secured the gates. The “king and princes among the nations” at that time were King Jehoiachin and members of the royal household or high officials who had been taken into exile about eleven years before the destruction of Jerusalem. In the Targum, there being no “law” (or Torah) is interpreted to mean that this exile occurred because the commands of the Torah were not obeyed. The prophets, apparently the ones to whom the people listened, received no vision from YHWH to provide sound guidance. (2:9)

In a state of humiliation, the “elders of the daughter of Zion” or of the city of Jerusalem sat on the ground. Helpless, they remained silent. In their grief and misery, they placed dust on their heads and girded themselves with sackcloth (a coarse cloth made from goat’s hair) over their bare loins. Sorrowful,“virgins of Jerusalem” bowed low, with their heads touching the ground. (2:10)

Jeremiah (based on ancient sources identifying him as the composer of the laments) expressed himself graphically about his sorrow. He had shed so many tears that he felt as though his eyes had been spent, with no more tears being left. His “innards” were (“heart” was [LXX]) in ferment, or in a state of intense emotional arousal. The sickening and sorrowful sensation seemed to him as if his “liver” or bile (“glory” [LXX]) had been poured out on account of the “crushing of the daughter of [his] people” or his own people. It was extremely distressing to him to witness little children and babies fainting or dying in the city squares from lack of nourishment. (2:11)

Children asked their mothers, “Where are food and drink [literally, grain and wine]?” This was because they, like a mortally wounded warrior, were fainting away or at the point of dying from thirst and hunger in the city squares. Their “soul” was “poured out into the bosom of their mothers,” or their life ebbed away while their mothers held them in their arms. (2:12)

Addressing the “daughter of Jerusalem” or the “virgin daughter of Zion” (the city that had not previously been humiliated to the utmost degree like a virgin that is violated), Jeremiah asked what he could say (literally, “testify”) to her, to what might he compare her in her condition of grief and misery, and what example he could use to comfort her. He recognized that there was nothing he could say. The breakdown of Jerusalem was as “great,” vast, or deep as the sea. The answer to the rhetorical question (“Who can heal you?”) was that no one could restore Jerusalem from her complete overthrow, for it was just too great. According to the Septuagint, the “cup” of her crushing had been enlarged, indicating that the quantity of the bitter potion she had to drink had been greatly increased. The Targum refers to her breakdown as being like the breaking of waves of the Mediterranean Sea during the season of severe storms. (2:13; see 2:11.)

Prophets who had no revelation from YHWH envisioned only worthless and deceptive things. They did not expose the iniquity of Jerusalem, or that of the inhabitants of the city and the rest of the people in the kingdom of Judah, and said nothing that would have moved the people to repent and thus to be spared from going into captivity. All that the false prophets envisioned or made known were worthless and misleading declarations that lulled people into a false sense of security. (2:14)

Passersby “clapped their hands” as a gesture of derision directed against desolated Jerusalem. In expression of contempt and mockery, they “whistled” or hissed and wagged their heads. Tauntingly, they said, “Is this the city that was called perfection of beauty [crown of glory (LXX)], the joy of all the earth [or land]?” According to the Targum, these mockers referred to Jerusalem in terms the “fathers” or ancestors and ancient “elders” spoke of the city. The perfection and joy apparently related to the dignified standing Jerusalem had as the location of YHWH’s temple, his representative place of dwelling. (2:15)

Foes of Jerusalem opened their mouths wide to express their hatred, contempt, and mockery. They “whistled” or “hissed” derisively and gnashed their teeth in expression of their hostility. Their intent was to “swallow” Jerusalem, bringing the city to total ruin. They are quoted as saying gleefully, “Ah, this is the day for which we longed. We have found [what we wanted or waited for].” We have seen [what we desired].” (2:16)

In permitting Jerusalem to be destroyed, YHWH did what he purposed and fulfilled his word, “what he commanded [or appointed] from days” long previously (or decreed would happen if his people unrepentantly proved to be unfaithful to him) did take place. He “brought down,” crushed, or demolished, using the agency of his choosing to bring about the destruction of Jerusalem, causing the foe to rejoice over the city and elevating the “horn” or power of the enemies. (2:17; see the Notes section.)

The “heart” or inmost self of the people is represented as crying out to YHWH. This cry concerns the “wall of the daughter of Zion,” apparently the wall that had been reduced to rubble and that had become a sad sight. The wall is personified as a woman and called upon to weep “day and night,” letting tears stream down like a torrent. There was to be no respite, with the “pupil” (literally, “daughter”) of her “eye” being given no rest or not being permitted to be quiet or to stop weeping. (2:18; see the Notes section.)

Here either the “wall” or more likely Jerusalem represents the people and is told to rise and cry out or lament during the night “at the beginning [literally, head] of the watches.” This could mean at the start of each of the three approximate four-hour watches, starting at sundown. The words “pour out your heart like water before the face [or the presence] of the Lord” may be understood to mean making a full and open expression from the inmost self as if completely emptying oneself, holding nothing back, as if pouring out all the water from a vessel. The Targum refers to this as pouring out the corruption of the heart or the inmost self and repenting. Probably Jerusalem personified is called upon to raise her palms in an attitude of prayer for the “soul” or life of her children or for the residents and the rest of the people in the realm of the kingdom of Judah. The reason for this plea was because the people were “fainting away” or were at the point of dying from starvation “at the head of all the streets.” (2:19)

The petition directed to YHWH is for him to “see” and to “look” at or to consider the severe manner in which he had dealt with the people of Jerusalem and the rest of the kingdom of Judah. Driven by extreme hunger, women ate their own children. The plea included the question whether this should continue to take place and whether “priest and prophet” should be “slain in the sanctuary of the Lord.” (2:20)

Youths and old men were lying on the ground in the streets, probably as they had been killed or were about to die. The Targum refers to them as having formerly reclined on woolen pillows and “ivory couches” (or couches with ivory inlays). Virgins and young men perished as victims of the sword of warfare. YHWH permitted this to occur. Therefore, he is the one who is represented as doing the killing “in the day of [his] anger” and slaughtering without any compassion. (22:21)

It appears that YHWH is represented as inviting “terrors” to come upon Jerusalem (or the people) from every side. No one escaped or survived “on the day of the anger of YHWH” or at the time he expressed his anger against the wayward people. He permitted the enemy (the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar) to destroy all whom Jerusalem personified had “dandled and reared.” The Septuagint rendering may mean that God prevailed and increased the number of all his enemies. (22:22)


The rendering “abhorred” in verse 7 is a lexical meaning that is derived from the context, but the actual meaning of the Hebrew word is uncertain. Modern translations have variously rendered it (“abandoned” [REB], “deserted” [TEV], “despises” [NLT], “spurned” [NAB, revised edition], “come to loathe” [NJB], “disowned” [NRSV]).

The Targum is more specific than the Hebrew text in verse 17 in identifying what YHWH commanded. It refers to “Moses the prophet” as the one who received the command that, if the Israelites did not observe the commandments of the Lord, he would punish them.

For verse 18, numerous modern translations render the text on the basis of an emendation, and do not start the verse with the words, “Their heart cried out to YHWH.” They represent the “wall” or “walls” of Zion or Jerusalem as crying out. “Cry aloud to the Lord! O wall of daughter Zion! Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite!” (NRSV) “Cry aloud before the Lord, O walls of beautiful Jerusalem! Let your tears flow like a river day and night. Give yourselves no rest; give your eyes no relief.” (NLT) “Cry out to the Lord from your heart, wall of daughter Zion! Let your tears flow like a torrent day and night; give yourself no rest, no relief for your eyes.” (NAB, revised edition) “O Jerusalem, let your very walls cry out to the Lord! Let your tears flow like rivers night and day; wear yourself out with weeping and grief!” (TEV) “Cry then to the Lord, rampart of the daughter of Zion; let your tears flow like a torrent, day and night; allow yourself no respite, give your eyes no rest!” (NJB)