Lamentations 4:1-22

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2017-09-11 11:19.

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The “gold” that once shown brightly became dim or lost its luster, as the gold on the temple became part of the rubble. In the Targum, the gold is specifically identified as that of the temple. On account of the destruction of the temple, the gold could be viewed as having been changed. According to the Septuagint, the change affected the “silver.” The “holy stones,” once a part of the temple precincts, were “poured out” or strewn at the “head of all the streets.” (4:1)

The “precious sons of Zion” probably were the choice young men of Jerusalem. They were highly valued like fine gold, but they came to be treated or regarded like common vessels — earthenware jars that the “hands of a potter” had fashioned. This suggests that the enemy warriors did not consider them as worth preserving. (4:2)

Like other mammals, female jackals care for and suckle their young. During the distressing circumstances that the siege and conquest of Jerusalem created, the people did not exhibit the kind of care that was common among jackals. They became cruel even to infants, not caring for their needs. The cruelty of Jeremiah’s people is likened to that of “ostriches in the wilderness.” This cruelty of ostriches could relate to the manner in which they deal with their offspring. Observations of ostriches in Kenya revealed that female birds without a permanent mate and a nest do not care for any chicks that may hatch from eggs they lay in the nests of other ostriches. Even permanently paired ostriches do not necessarily look after their own offspring. Another ostrich pair with their own chicks will round up chicks from other nests, thereafter functioning as escorts and guardians of more than 100 chicks. Most of these chicks will not reach maturity. In one documented case, only 16 chicks were alive from among 152 that had hatched in the previous year. (4:3)

Infants were so thirsty that the tongue adhered to the roof of the mouth. Children pleaded for bread or food, but no one gave them anything. This suggests that infants and young children were left to die from hunger and thirst. (4:4)

Persons who never lacked food but ate delicacies or enjoyed the very best fare wasted away in the streets from starvation. Individuals who were brought up in “purple” or were richly attired with costly garments came to “embrace ash heaps,” either sitting or lying on piles of rubbish. Modern translations have variously rendered the thought about embracing ash heaps. “Those who grew up in luxury now sit on trash heaps.” (CEV) “Those nurtured in purple now lie on ash heaps.” (NIV) “Those brought up in purple garments now grovel on refuse heaps.” (REB) “Those who once wore the finest clothes now search the garbage dumps for food.” (NLT) “Those raised in luxury are pawing through garbage for food.” (TEV) (4:5)

The “guilt” (“lawlessness” [LXX]) of Jeremiah’s own people (literally, the “daughter of my people”) was greater than the “sin [lawlessness (LXX)] of Sodom,” a city that was overthrown “in a moment,” and “no hands” turned to Sodom to render aid (literally, “whirled about on it”). In this context, “guilt” and “sin” often have been interpretively rendered to mean the punishment for guilt or sin. “The penalty inflicted on my people is worse than the punishment of Sodom, which suffered overthrow in a moment, and no hands were wrung.” (REB) “My people have been punished even more than the inhabitants of Sodom, which met a sudden downfall at the hands of God.” (TEV) “My nation was punished worse than the people of Sodom, whose city was destroyed in a flash without the help of human hands.” (CEV) “The punishment of the daughter of my people surpassed the penalty of Sodom, which was overthrown in an instant with no hand laid on it.” (NAB, revised edition) (4:6)

The form of the Hebrew word nazír has here been understood to designate either Nazarites, men who took a Nazarite vow, or princes. According to the Septuagint, the reference is to Nazarites. The men are portrayed in glowing terms — “purer [or brighter] than snow, whiter than milk” Their bodies were more ruddy than coral, “their cut” (polish or appearance) “like sapphire.” They were strikingly handsome and in the best of health. (4:7) On account of the deplorable conditions of siege and conquest, however, their appearance changed drastically. Famished, they looked “darker than soot.” When seen in the streets, the men were unrecognizable. Their bones could be seen under their shriveled skin that had become as dry as a tree in a time of severe drought. (4:8)

It was preferable for one to be slain with the sword quickly than for one to suffer over a prolonged period until finally dying from starvation. In the case of those starving, their life “flowed” away as though pierced from lack of food — the “produce of the field.” (4:9)

The “hands” of compassionate women, suffering from extreme hunger, boiled their own children for food. According to the Targum, these women had been merciful to the poor. During the period of “breakdown of the daughter of [Jeremiah’s] people,” or the time Jerusalem was besieged and then conquered, the children of compassionate women became food for them. (4:10)

Jerusalem was destroyed because of the serious sins of the people. YHWH permitted this to happen in expression of his rage. He “poured out his burning [or fierce] anger,” setting Zion or Jerusalem ablaze and consuming the foundations of the city. (4:11)

“Kings of the earth” or rulers of other lands and all the inhabitants of these lands apparently thought that well-fortified Jerusalem would not be captured and, therefore, that the foe or the enemy would not enter the “gates of Jerusalem.” In the Targum, the foe is identified as “wicked Nebuchadnezzar” the king of Babylon, and the enemy as “Nebuzaradan” the captain of the guard. (4:12)

Prophets and priests should have been exposing the sins of the people and urging them to repent. The prophets of falsehood and the priests, however, failed in this regard and made themselves guilty of injustices and lawlessness. As a consequence, acts of injustice became widespread, with the blood of righteous ones being shed. (4:13)

It appears that those who had shed innocent blood wandered dazed and confused “like blind men” moving about “through the streets.” Others would not even touch their garments, for these men were polluted with blood. In the Targum, the reference is to persons who were literally blind and stained with the blood of the victims of war because they could not see the slain. According to the Septuagint, “watchmen” came to be “shaken in the exits,” were “polluted with blood,” and inadvertently touched their garments. A number of modern translations are more explicit in their renderings than is the Hebrew text. “Her leaders wandered through the streets like blind men, so stained with blood that no one would touch them.” (TEV) “Yes, her prophets and priests were covered with blood; no one would come near them, as they wandered from street to street.” (CEV) “They wandered blindly through the streets, so defiled by blood that no one dared touch them.” (NLT) (4:14)

It appears that those who saw the men who had polluted themselves with blood treated them like lepers. They cried out, “Away! Unclean [They are unclean (5QLamᵅ)]! … Away! Away! Touch not!” The defiled men became fugitives and wanderers among the nations. No one wanted them to remain in their territory. (4:15)

By means of the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar, the “face of YHWH” (or the person of YHWH) scattered the people and ceased to look upon them or have any regard for them. Wherever they ended up being, priests were not granted any consideration (literally, “they did not lift up the face of priests”) and elders were shown no favor, kindness, or compassion. (4:16)

While people were still alive, their eyes failed as they looked in vain for help. The nation to which they looked for assistance was Egypt (Jeremiah 37:5-8), but no deliverance came from the Egyptian military force. In the Septuagint, there is no mention of the nation. (4:17)

The ones who “hunted” the “steps” of the people or who pursued them evidently were enemy warriors. In view of the danger of being caught, the people could not walk in the squares or the streets. According to the Septuagint, the people hunted for their “little ones” or children so that they would not be walking in the squares. The people considered their situation as being hopeless. They are represented as saying, “Our end drew near. Our days were fulfilled [or our time was up], for our end has come.” (4:18) Their pursuers were swifter than the “eagles [or vultures] of the heavens [birds of prey that were flying and ready to pounce on prey].” There was no place where the people could be safe from the enemy. Warriors pursued them in mountains terrain and laid in wait for them in the wilderness. (4:19)

The “anointed one of YHWH” was the king, the one upon whom the people depended as their leader in time of war. (Compare 1 Samuel 8:19, 20.) He is referred to as the “breath of our nostrils” or the man who was regarded as the very life of the nation, but he had been caught in the “pits” or traps of the enemy. The people had thought that they would live “among the nations” under the protective “shadow” of their king. Zedekiah was the monarch at the time the troops under the command of King Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem. In the Targum, Zedekiah is not identified as the “anointed one of YHWH.” It refers to King Josiah as the one who was caught in the snare of Egypt. (4:20)

One of the regions Edomites apparently occupied was the “land of Uz,” and “daughter [or people] of Edom” and “land of Uz” appear to be used as parallel designations. The Edomites seized the opportunity to engage in looting after the capture of cities in the kingdom of Judah and then after the capture of the capital Jerusalem. (Compare Obadiah 13.) Their profiting from the suffering of the people of Judah would have provided the occasion for them to “rejoice and be glad.” This rejoicing, however, would be temporary, for the “cup” or bitter potion of conquest and devastation would also pass to them. They would be reduced to the humiliated and shameful state of an intoxicated man who exposes himself. (4:21; see the Notes section.)

The “guilt” (or punishment for the guilt [“lawlessness” (LXX)]) of the “daughter [or people] of Zion” had come to its end. As to future exile, the Hebrew text could be understood to indicate that YHWH would not cause the people to continue in exile or to go into exile again or that no one would again carry them into exile. These meanings are reflected in the renderings of modern translations. “Your punishment is completed, daughter Zion, the Lord will not prolong your exile.” (NAB, revised edition) “Your wickedness is atoned for, daughter of Zion, he will never banish you again.” (NJB) “The punishment for your sin, daughter of Zion, is now complete, and never again will you be carried into exile.” (REB) The time would come when YHWH would “visit” or give attention to the “iniquity” (“lawlessness” [LXX]) of the “daughter of Edom,” uncovering her “sins” or revealing the full extent of her corrupt ways that merited punishment. (4:22; see the Notes section.)


In verse 21, the Septuagint does not refer to the “land of Uz,” but identifies the “daughter of Idumea” as living “in the land.”

The comment on verse 22 in the Targum of Lamentations indicates that the congregation of Zion would be liberated by the “hands of the King Messiah and the High Priest Elijah,” and thereafter God would no longer exile the people.