Lamentations 5:1-22

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2017-09-11 11:30.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

The people of Jerusalem appear to be the ones represented as speaking. They petitioned YHWH to “remember” or to take note of what had happened to them and to look at or give attention to and see their “reproach [“reproaches” (5QLamᵅ)].” The “reproach” could refer to the insult directed against them as a conquered people or to the humiliated state in which they found themselves. (5:1)

Strangers took possession of the land inheritance of the people, and foreigners took their homes. (5:2) Their plight was comparable to that of orphans without a father to protect and care for them and that of children with suffering widows as their mothers. (5:3; see the Notes section.) For water to drink, the people had to weigh out silver as the purchase price. Likely this was an exorbitant amount. The people also had to pay for the wood they needed to burn, either to cook food or to keep warm. (5:4; see the Notes section.)

There is considerable uncertainty about the meaning of the initial phrase of the Hebrew text and that of the Septuagint in verse 5. Literally, the phrase may be rendered, “We are [or were] pursued upon our neck.” According to the Targum, the people were loaded down upon the bone of their necks at the time they were taken into exile. Modern translations vary in the meanings they convey. “The yoke is on our necks; we are harassed.” (REB) “With a yoke on our necks, we are driven.” (NAB, revised edition) “We are terribly mistreated.” (CEV) “Those who pursue us are at our heels.” (NLT) “We are hotly pursued.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) On account of the suffering the people had to endure, they were exhausted. There was no rest or respite for them. (5:5)

The people are represented as having “given the hand to Egypt and to Asshur [Assyria] to get sufficient bread.” This giving of the “hand” apparently refers to forming alliances with Egypt and Assyria. The leaders of the people regarded these alliances as necessary for their survival as a nation. To them, it was as essential as being in possession of an ample supply of “bread” or food. According to the Septuagint rendering, Egypt and Assour (Assyria) are represented as giving the “hand.” (5:6)

The people maintained that their “fathers” or ancestors were the ones who had sinned but had died without being punished for their wrongs. The then-living generation felt that they personally were the ones who had to bear or experience the consequences from the iniquities of their forefathers. (5:7)

As a defeated people, Israelites from the kingdom of Judah came to be ruled over by “servants,” and there was no one to rescue them “from their hand,” power, or control. These “servants” probably were the servants or officials of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon. (5:8)

People risked their “soul” or life just to get their bread on account of the “sword of the wilderness.” This reference to the “sword” could apply to the “sword” of fierce nomadic tribes in the wilderness who might attack anyone trying to get food. A number of modern translations represent the threat as coming from a source other than the sword. “We must bring in our food from the wilderness at the risk of our lives in the scorching heat.” (REB) “We risk our lives just to get bread, exposed to the desert heat.” (NAB, revised edition) (5:9)

“Hunger pangs” or a state of starvation made the skin feel hot like a furnace. The Septuagint rendering suggests that hunger caused the skin to become dark or black as does an oven. A number of modern translations convey this basic meaning in their renderings. “Our skins are blackened as in a furnace by the ravages of starvation.” (REB) “The famine has blackened our skin as though baked in an oven.” (NLT) (5:10)

Married women in Zion or Jerusalem were “humbled” or raped, and so were virgins “in the cities of Judah,” including Jerusalem. (5:11)

One of the atrocities princes of the kingdom of Judah suffered was being hanged by their hand. Babylonian warriors also showed no respect for the “faces” or the persons of elders, apparently not sparing them from brutal treatment. (5:12)

Young men appear to have been burdened with the weight of millstones, and boys stumbled on account of the loads of wood they had to bear. Regarding millstones, modern translations vary in the meaning they convey. “Young men must carry millstones.” (Tanakh [JPS, 1985 edition]) “Young men carry millstones.” (NAB, revised edition) “Our young men are forced to grind grain like slaves.” (TEV) “Young men are led away to work at millstones.” (NLT) “Young men toil, grinding at the mill.” (REB) “Young men are forced to do the work of slaves.” (CEV) The Septuagint says that “chosen ones took up weeping.” (5:13)

Elders handled legal cases in the open areas at the city gates, but they were no longer there at the conquered cities. There also were no young men (chosen ones [LXX]) playing musical instruments. (5:14)

Joy had ceased from the “heart” or inmost self of the people, and joyous “dancing” had been turned into “mourning” or great sadness. (5:15)

The falling of the “crown of the head” could refer to losing dignity or honor. Another possible significance is that it signified the end of the joyous occasions when people placed garlands on their heads. Woe or calamity had befallen the people, for they had sinned seriously. (5:16)

In view of the calamities that had befallen the people, their “heart” became sick. In their inner selves they experienced a weak condition like that of a person afflicted with serious illness. Their eyes grew dim, probably because of repeated weeping. According to the Targum, the devastation of the temple occasioned the weakness of heart. (5:17)

Mount Zion had been devastated, reduced into an uninhabited place through which foxes or jackals passed. (5:18)

The calamitous fall of Jerusalem stood in marked contrast with the permanent state of YHWH’s glory or majesty. He remains in the position of exalted Sovereign as if seated on a throne for all time to come. His throne endures for generation after generation. (5:19) This gave rise to the rhetorical question whether he would forget his people for all time to come, abandoning them for “length of days” or for a time that seemed to have no end. (5:20)

The people are represented as appealing to YHWH to turn them back to him or to restore them so that they might be turned back to him as his approved people. In the Targum, the turning back is represented as a return in total repentance. The people wanted their “days” to be renewed as they had been long ago when they enjoyed YHWH’s favor and blessing. (5:21)

The lament concludes with the sad thought that YHWH had rejected his people and been exceedingly angry with them, evidently on account of their lawless ways. The Targum avoids concluding the lament in this way, repeating the wording of verse 21 regarding restoration. (5:22)


A Dead Sea Scroll (5QLamᵅ), in verse 3, says that the “mothers” had “no daughters” and were “widows.”

In verse 4, the Septuagint does not include the phrase about water. It reads, “Since our days, our wood came by barter” or at a price.