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Deeper Commentary

Lamentations 1:1 How the city sits solitary, that was full of people!- Jeremiah was Judah's representative; that is a key to understanding Lamentations. As Jerusalem sat alone, or "solitary", so had he and so did he. Earlier, Jeremiah is rebuked for his attitude of resenting that he "sat alone" and had kept away from the "assembly" of the rejoicers (Jer. 15:17,19); and so we are to assume that he said these things in resentment that he had had to stand alone amongst men. He resented how he "sat alone" (Lam. 3:28); yet this is the very term used of how Jerusalem was to "sit alone [solitary]" (Lam. 1:1). He was her representative, and yet he seems to have resented that. He was after all being representative of those who had hated him and tried to kill him. As Jeremiah wrongly lamented his own 'sitting alone', so he ought to have perceived that he should not have lamented Jerusalem's likewise. The book of Lamentations reveals Jeremiah, an undoubted man of God, in his lowest moments, as Jerusalem was at her lowest moment; just as the book of Job reveals Job at times. And yet the whole book is made up of five carefully structured acrostic laments, with each verse beginning with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The chapters only vary in length because the verses have different lengths. So Lamentations is not simply the pouring out of random emotional grief. It has been written up, under inspiration, and the acrostic structure was presumably to help assist memorization of it. And yet so much of it is negative, and reveals Jeremiah charging God wrongfully and contradicting statements from God revealed in the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah's momentary lapse of faith was representative of that of his people after the fall of Jerusalem. But the idea is that the book progresses through the stages of grief and anger to genuine repentance and desire for restoration; and Jeremiah invites Judah to follow his example as their representative.

I suggest that the reason the book was inspired and was designed to be memorized was that it comes to a climax in Lam. 5:16-21. And the point is that there we have here a total confession of sin, and appeal for God to turn them to Himself (Lam. 5:21) and restore His relationship and Kingdom with Judah as before (Lam. 5:21). But the path there was a jagged graph; see on Lam. 3:40. Throughout the book of Jeremiah, and often in Ezekiel, I have made the point that so much hinged upon whether Judah repented after Jerusalem fell. If they did, then the new covenant would have been accepted by them, and the promises of the restored Kingdom would have come true. They generally did not repent, but it was Jeremiah's heartfelt desire that they did, following his own example. And so he wished them to identify with his feelings of anger with God, his struggle with God, his confusion... and thereby to be led to this conclusion of the matter in repentance and desperate appeal for restoration. But it seems Judah got caught up in the early stages of grief, never moved on from them, and failed to follow through to this confession of sin and appeal for restoration which we have in Lam. 5. The last verse of the book (Lam. 5:22) appears starkly out of context with the immediately preceding verses, with their appeal for restoration and confession of sin: "But You have utterly rejected us; You are very angry against us". I suggest this is purposeful, because this is as it were Judah's response to the book and the appeal to repent and appeal for restoration. They remained caught up in their grief and refused to repent and return to God because they considered He had removed Himself too far from them. And so the great prophetic potentials for a repentant Judah, described in such detail in the book of Jeremiah, didn't then come about; although the prophecies are reapplied and rescheduled to fulfilment in the last days.

Jeremiah was commanded not to make lamentation for the punishment of his people (Jer. 16:5). But he did, and God inspired the record of them in Lamentations, and because they are inspired words, He spoke through those words to all subsequent generations, wishing His people to work through their grief about the fall of Jerusalem as Jeremiah did; going through all the stages, even of anger with God, to come to the confession of sin and earnest desire for the restoration of the Kingdom with which the book concludes. Even within Jeremiah, what begins as Jeremiah's cry from the heart often merges into God's- Jeremiah begins lamenting in Jer. 8:18, and then we find Yahweh becomes the speaker in Jer. 8:19. Jeremiah's conflicted emotions can be read as his having a too positive view of Israel, and his book of lamentations could therefore be read as a statement of protest at God's judgments. But it could also be that Jeremiah was so in tune with God's thinking that these struggles at the amount of suffering brought upon Judah were also God's. The struggles within Jeremiah would therefore reflect God's changes of mind and feeling about judging His people were endlessly "kindled together", just as they were reflected in Hosea's oscillations of feeling concerning Gomer; see on Hos. 11:8.

She has become a widow, she who was once great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a tributary!- The idea of God being destroyed in the destruction of His people (see on Jer. 6:26) may be the basis of the descriptions of Zion as being left widowed (Lam. 1:1; Is. 54:1-8). We ask the question- if she was a widow, who died? Her husband, God, was as it were dead. The very idea of the death of God is awful and obnoxious. But this was and is the depth of God’s feelings at His peoples’ destruction. But it could be that here we have Jeremiah in the utter depth of depression, feeling his God was dead. Earlier, in his own prophecies, he had spoken forth God's perspective; that Judah had been as a whore, never really loving Him and endlessly going off with other men (the surrounding nations and their idols), and thereby they forsook Yahweh and broke the marriage covenant. But here Jeremiah feels that Israel are a forsaken widow whose husband has died. He describes her as a gracious princess; when actually God through himself had described her repeatedly as a whore. And so the Lamentations begin with Jeremiah at rock bottom, as were all Judah. He felt God was dead. But we see him progress onwards from that, through the various stages of grief, to the begging for forgiveness and restoration at the very end of the book.

Lamentations 1:2 She weeps bitterly in the night, and her tears are on her cheeks-
The phrase is only used in Num. 14:1, of Israel weeping all night when they were told they were not to enter the promised land because of their lack of faith. And this was their fault, not God's.

Among all her lovers she has none to comfort her: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her; they are become her enemies- This is one of many cases of self-justification in Lamentations (Lam. 1:2,19; Lam. 2:14; 4:13; 5:7), which contradicts the prophetic position, whereby blame is placed upon Judah, whereas now Jeremiah laments the situation as if Judah is being hard done by. In this case, for having lovers at all, in her unfaithfulness to Yahweh (Ez. 16,23 etc.).

Lamentations 1:3 Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction-
The same word is used of Jeremiah's affliction (Lam. 3:1,19); he was setting himself up as Judah's representative in the hope they too would pass through his pattern of depression, the stages of grief, and then repentance and begging for the restoration of the Kingdom which we find at the end in Lam. 5:16-21. See on Lam. 1:1.


And because of great servitude- This was the exaggeration of depression. For Judah were not abused in Babylon, nor were they put to slave labour as they were in Egypt; rather did they prosper so much that most didn't want to return at the restoration. They preferred life in Babylon. Jeremiah had himself explained that because they had served idols, therefore they were to serve Babylon (s.w. Jer.  25:6,11). Their "servitude" was therefore but the extension of their own choices. He had himself urged Zedekiah and the people to willingly serve the Babylonians in recognition of their own sins (s.w. Jer. 40:9); it was their refusal to do so that had resulted in their servitude in exile. As we all do in depression, Jeremiah was unbalanced here, focusing upon one aspect of a situation which he had himself recognized as absolutely legitimate.

She dwells among the nations, she finds no rest- This was written therefore at the end of Jeremiah's life when the exile was established, as he faced his own death in Egypt. He too as Israel's representative (:1) dwelt among the nations. But again his depression leads to exaggeration; there is no evidence that the Jews were moved around the Babylonian empire, making them find no rest. He himself had urged them to build houses in Babylon and settle down there. Being restless was a result of breaking the covenant (s.w. Dt. 28:65) which Jeremiah had repeatedly accused them of doing. They were suffering far less than their iniquities deserved. They refused to repent and in that sense they had no rest to their souls. If they had accepted the yoke of Babylon, then they could have rested in their own land (s.w. Jer. 27:11).

All her persecutors overtook her within the narrows- This alludes to the overtaking of Zedekiah as he fled Jerusalem; he was representative of his people. But as Jeremiah well knew, in another part of his brain, Zedekiah's shameful flight and capture was completely his fault for not responding to Jeremiah's pleas to him.

Lamentations 1:4 The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn assembly-
This again is a very positive take on the gatherings held in the temple. Ezekiel was shown in vision how the priests and elders were solemnly worshipping idols within the temple. And so God said that He "hated" their "solemn assemblies" (s.w. Is. 1:14). Yet in depression, Jeremiah laments that these "solemn assemblies" were no more (Lam. 1:4; 2:6). It was in fact better that none came to them.


All her gates are desolate, her priests do sigh: her virgins are afflicted, and she herself is in bitterness- See on :13. The "ways of Zion" were "desolate" because the curse for breaking the covenant was that Israel's "ways" would be "desolate" (Lev. 26:22 s.w.). Jeremiah multiple times used the word for "desolate" as the judgment which was to come; because "they [Judah] have made it desolate... the whole land is [will be] made desolate" (Jer. 12:11). But now he faces the reality of what he had so often preached, he finds it unbearable. For "afflicted", see on :12.

Lamentations 1:5 Her adversaries are become the head, her enemies prosper; for Yahweh has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her young children are gone into captivity before the adversary-
These terms are all allusive to the curses for breaking the covenant (Dt. 28:44); Judah could have been the head of her adversaries had she been obedient to the covenant (Dt. 28:13). And Jeremiah recognizes this, on one hand, and yet laments that the curses have come true.

Lamentations 1:6 From the daughter of Zion all her majesty is departed: her princes are become like harts that find no pasture-
It was these very princes who had persecuted Jeremiah and sought to kill him (Jer. 37:15; 38:4,25,27) as they did other prophets (Jer. 26:21). It is to Jeremiah's spiritual credit that he did not rejoice at all in the fall of his enemies but rather shared God's broken heart for the lost and the evil.

They are gone without strength before the pursuer- Another allusion to the princes fleeing Jerusalem with Zedekiah, only to be pursued, overtaken and slain. And Jeremiah finds this tragic and grieves for it. Only a heart with true love in it could come to these feelings.


Lamentations 1:7 Jerusalem remembers in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that were from the days of old. When her people fell into the hand of the adversary, no one helped her; the adversaries saw her, they mocked at her desolations- The lack of help from Egypt and the nations to whom Judah had prostituted herself was quite clearly because Judah ought to have trusted in Yahweh and not them. So many times Jeremiah had predicted that Jerusalem would be mocked by her. We learn from this that it is one thing to preach a message, but quite another to actually see it come true. Jeremiah's ministry had begun with the warning that his prophetic words would have within them the power of great destruction, and he had been promised Divine psychological strengthening for his ministry. But he seems not to have wanted to make use of that.

Lamentations 1:8 Jerusalem has grievously sinned; therefore she has become as an unclean thing; all who honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yes, she sighs, and turns backward-
She turned backward in shame, but her nakedness was apparent. Jeremiah had used this very figure, with the crudest of language, in Jer. 13:22,23 (see notes there). Jerusalem had been a whore and was to be judged as one, naked before her lovers. But now it actually happened... Jeremiah balked at the seriousness of sin, and how judgment really does come for sin.

Lamentations 1:9 Her filthiness was in her skirts; she didn’t remember her latter end; therefore is she come down wonderfully; she has no comforter: see, Yahweh, my affliction; for the enemy has magnified himself-
As noted on Jer. 13:22,23, Judah had behaved as the worst harlot, with no thought to her future. And now that future had come. On one hand, Jeremiah saw perfectly that the situation was because of their sin; and yet he struggled with seeing the judgments actually come. And he asks Yahweh to see his affliction. Again, this reflects his love for his people, that he should feel afflicted for those who had refused to hear his message. And yet he feels there is "no comforter", despite surely being aware of Isaiah's prophecy that Yahweh would comfort Zion at the restoration (s.w. Is. 51:3,12 "I, even I, am He that comforts you"; Is. 66:13 "so will I comfort you"; Is. 40:1; 49:13; 52:9). "Comfort" is the same word as "repent"; and God had said that He would repent (s.w.) if Judah repented (Jer. 18:8; 26:3). The real problem was that Judah had not repented, and Jeremiah refused to factor that into his feelings; see on Lam. 2:13.

Lamentations 1:10 The adversary has spread out his hand on all her pleasant things-
This is the language of rape, the rapist spreading out his hand upon the victim. See on :8,9,10.

For she has seen that the nations are entered into her sanctuary, concerning whom You commanded that they should not enter into Your assembly- Jeremiah sees this as tragic, and yet he was fully aware that Judah had placed Gentile idols in Yahweh's holy place (Jer. 32:34).

Lamentations 1:11 All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for food to refresh the soul: look, Yahweh, and see; for I am become abject-
Their "pleasant things" in :10 refer to their private parts. Jeremiah appears to excuse their prostitution by saying they did it because they were hungry. And yet his own prophecies had clarified that they were unlike whores who sold their bodies for money, but they even paid men to sleep with them. His feeling so abject was partly because of his refusal to face up to how sinful Judah had really been. But he reasons with all the obsessiveness of depression that they had prostituted themselves just to refresh (s.w. return or repent) their soul. Quite clearly they could do this through repentance and not sin. But he was utterly taken up with lamenting the judgments which had come and chose not (at this stage) to consider that all this was because of their sins.  

Lamentations 1:12 Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look, and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow, which is brought on me-
The extent to which Jeremiah’s heart bled for his people is reflected in Jer. 9:1-3. He wished he had more moisture in his body, so that he could weep both day and night for Judah- and yet he goes on to describe them as proceeding from evil to evil in an ever downward spiral, shooting lies everywhere… Everyone is special, nobody is like anyone else. This is how God sees His children, and we should reflect this perspective. It is this which will make us arrestingly different from the people with whom we daily walk. We will cry out with Jeremiah: “Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?”, unmoved and lost as they are in their own petty issues (Lam. 1:12). Everyone is special, nobody is like anyone else. This is how God sees His children, and we should reflect this perspective. It is this which will make us arrestingly different from the people with whom we daily walk. 

With which Yahweh has afflicted me in the day of His fierce anger- The same word for how the people were "afflicted" (:4,5). Jeremiah was to be representative of Judah (see on :1).

Lamentations 1:13 From on high has He sent fire into my bones, and it prevails against them-
Jeremiah parallels "me" and "them". He felt the burning of Jerusalem was a burning of his very bones. Such was his identity with a sinful people; see on :1. And such was his spirituality that there is never a hint of satisfaction in seeing those who had rejected and persecuted him getting their totally just deserts.

He has spread a net for my feet, He has turned me back- We sense here an anger with God, as if God had set a trap for him into which he had innocently fallen; and he says this in the midst of very strong identification with his people. It's as if he like the Jews of Ez. 18 felt that God had deceived him and his people. And yet Jeremiah had so clearly warned them of the judgment to come. It was hardly a trap for the unsuspecting and uninformed. Such anger with God was expressed by Job, and yet at the end of the book God says that Job only spoke what was right about Him. It's as if God accepted the cranky words of depression, and saw the anger with Himself as just part of the grieving process. The important thing was to move through the process stage by stage. And the end point in this grief was repentance and zeal for restoration (Lam. 5:16-21). Jeremiah's path was intended to be that of all the people whom he represented.

He has made me desolate and faint all the day- The physical "desolation" of the land would be matched by the internal, psychological desolation of the priests (s.w. "astonished"; Jer. 4:9). Jeremiah felt the same as the other priests; he was desolated / astonished (s.w.) at the desolation of Jerusalem (Lam. 1:4,13). We can read this as meaning that he as the righteous totally identified with the wicked; or that he was too identified with the wicked priests, and felt like them when instead he should have perceived that this was exactly the astonishment of the priests which he had prophesied in Jer. 4:9.

Lamentations 1:14 The yoke of my transgressions is bound by His hand; they are knit together, they have come up on my neck; He has made my strength to fail: the Lord has delivered me into their hands, against whom I am not able to stand-
The anger with God of :13 now starts to mellow as increasingly Jeremiah recognizes his personal sins. He doesn't yet repent in so many words, but he does recognize his sins. This was the path Judah and the exiles were intended to likewise take, coming like Jeremiah to recognize that they had no strength; and that somehow, God was in all this- for "the Lord has delivered me into their hands".

Lamentations 1:15 The Lord has set at nothing all my mighty men in the midst of me; He has called a solemn assembly against me to crush my young men: the Lord has trodden as in a wine press the virgin daughter of Judah-
Instead of feeling that God was dead (see on :1), Jeremiah now accepts that God has done the judgments, He had trodden the wine press. "My young men" may mean that his own personal male children had been killed in the invasion (also implied in :16). But it could be that he considered the young men of Judah as his children.

Lamentations 1:16 For these things I weep; my eye, my eye runs down with water-
In Ez. 24:23 Judah is commanded not to weep but to lament beyond tears and all external mourning; they would mourn internally for their sins (s.w. Ez. 33:10). We wonder why Jeremiah wrote Lamentations, which appears to be a record of his external mourning. Whilst the book was inspired by God, at times Jeremiah there appears to be lamenting in a way inappropriate. He 'wept' (Lam. 1:16), whereas in Ez. 24:23 Judah were told not to externally weep. He did not take on board the idea that there was to be no mourning or weeping externally, but rather deep internal recognition of their sins. It seems the Jews were not obedient to Ezekiel's command not to externally weep but to internally mourn their own sinfulness; the same word for "weep" is used of how they did weep by the rivers of Babylon (Ps. 137:1).

Because the comforter who should refresh my soul is far from me- He feels there is "no comforter", when he implies there ought to have been. That comforter was God. Yet he says this despite surely being aware of Isaiah's prophecy that Yahweh would comfort Zion at the restoration (s.w. Is. 51:3,12 "I, even I, am He that comforts you"; Is. 66:13 "so will I comfort you"; Is. 40:1; 49:13; 52:9). "Comfort" is the same word as "repent"; and God had said that He would repent (s.w.) if Judah repented (Jer. 18:8; 26:3). The real problem was that Judah had not repented. And yet Jeremiah appears to blame God for not being present as comforter. This all sets us up for the climax of the book in Lam. 5:16-21, when Jeremiah confesses sin and looks for restoration. And there are plenty of moments before then in the Lamentations when he comes closer and closer to that final realization, which for us too is the end point of the path of every depression and struggle with God.

My children are desolate, because the enemy has prevailed- Perhaps Jeremiah's children were literally killed. Or maybe even in his depression and anger with God, he still manifested God; God's children were his children. But in that case, the enemy as it were prevailed [Heb. 'was stronger'] over God, whereas finally at the restoration, God shall prevail over His enemies (Is. 42:13 s.w.).

Lamentations 1:17 Zion spreads forth her hands; there is none to comfort her- As explained on :16, God was there to comfort- if they repented. But in the obsession of his depression, Jeremiah focused on just one part of the picture. There was none to comfort her; but that was because she would not repent and accept His comfort.

Yahweh has commanded concerning Jacob, that those who are around him should be his adversaries- Jeremiah appears here to be slipping back into the common mindset, that a nation's god would support them and save them always. But Yahweh had a huge moral dimension to Him, which the pagan gods didn't. He called for enemies to come upon His people.

Jerusalem is among them as an unclean thing- And therefore, the implication is, Yahweh was not protecting them. But so often Jeremiah had previously lamented the unclean state of Jerusalem.

Lamentations 1:18 Yahweh is righteous; for I have rebelled against His commandment: please hear, all you peoples, and see my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity-
 This rebellion could refer to the words previously recorded in this lament, but they could also be a reference to Jeremiah's historical failure at the time of Jer. 15. In Jer. 15:15, Jeremiah asks for vengeance on his persecutors, and in Jer. 15:18 accuses God of deceiving him. God’s response is to ask him to repent of this, so that he can resume his prophetic work: “If you [Jeremiah] return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me [prophetic language]. If you utter what is precious, and not what is base, you shall be as my mouth” (Jer. 15:19). Perhaps Jeremiah had this incident in mind when he commented: “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word” (Lam. 1:18). This indicates that at least in Jeremiah’s case, he was not irresistibly carried along by the Spirit in some kind of ecstasy, having no option but to speak God’s word. His speaking of God’s word required that he shared the essentially loving and gracious spirit / disposition of his God. I have argued on :1 that the Lamentations are a path through depression and the various stages of grief; beginning with Jeremiah's statement in :1 that God was effectively dead, the Lamentations progress to the final repentance and wholehearted plea for the restoration in Lam. 5:16-21. But there are points during the 'journey' when Jeremiah does repent, and this is an example. But he quickly moves on from his confession of sin to lament again the present reality- that the young people had gone into exile.

Lamentations 1:19 I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and my elders gave up the spirit in the city, while they sought themselves food to refresh their souls-
Jeremiah laments the situation as if Judah is being hard done by. Judah should never have had lovers, for this was unfaithfulness to Yahweh as Jeremiah himself has earlier made clear. This is one of many cases of self-justification in Lamentations (Lam. 1:2,19; Lam. 2:14; 4:13; 5:7), which contradicts the prophetic position, whereby blame is placed upon Judah. The priests and elders had been condemned by Jeremiah for their extreme wickedness, and their death in the city by famine had been explicitly predicted by Jeremiah. The reason of course was because they had sinned so badly and impenitently. So Jeremiah's confession of sin in :18 is soon drowned out, within his mind, by the sheer pain of the punishment for it, which he still feels to be unfair. And this is how repentance seems to go in practice; rarely is it just a momentary confession. There are waves and cycles to it, whereby we return time and again to our own self-justification and sense that the punishment for sin is disproportionate. This is the significance of the book ending with the confession of sin in Lam. 5:16-21 which is not then followed by another cycle of complaint at God's judgments of sin.

Lamentations 1:20 See, Yahweh; for I am in distress; my heart is troubled; my heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled: abroad the sword bereaves, at home there is as death-
Jeremiah seemed to imagine that all the exiles were taken away to be slaughtered. That was true of some of the elders, but the exile generally was not to death camps. But clearly whilst these things were not totally true for him, he felt so totally identified with his condemned people that he speaks exactly as he imagined they felt.

Lamentations 1:21 They have heard that I sigh; there is none to comfort me; all my enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that You have done it: You will bring the day that You have proclaimed, and they shall be like me-
Here we have Jeremiah totally absorbed with the feelings of the exiles, absolutely united with them in representation. Again we note the complaint that there is no comforter, when in fact there was- if they would repent and accept God's comfort. Is. 40:1,2 speaks a message of comfort to the exiles: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God”. But [in full allusion to this prophecy], the exiles were like Rachael who refused to be comforted over her loss (Jer. 31:15); they claimed they found “none to comfort” (Lam. 1:2,16,17,21). But they were like Rachel who refused to be comforted, although the verses previous to that in Jer. 31 invite Israel to be not like Rachel but as the young woman who takes a tambourine and goes forth rejoicing in what God could do for her in restoring her. But they were willfully refusing the comfort of God’s repeated word of hope and restoration. They didn’t grasp the plain teaching of the prophetic word because they didn’t want to- it demanded too much of them, and a giving up of the comfortable Babylon life. Hence Is. 43:19 laments: “I am doing a new thing: now it springs forth [in the decree to return to Zion?], do you not perceive it?”. And do we "not perceive it?" time and again in our own lives, as to the potentials God is opening up?


Lamentations 1:22 Let all their wickedness come before You; do to them, as You have done to me for all my transgressions: for my sighs are many, and my heart is faint
- Jeremiah's heart was "faint within me" both before (Jer. 8:18) and after (Lam. 1:22) the destruction of Jerusalem. He was so sure that the prophetic word would be fulfilled, that he even felt as if it had come true before it did. It was the heart of Judah which was faint (Is. 1:5), and Jeremiah identified totally with their feelings in sorrow with them. He eagerly asks God to judge the Babylonian confederacy for their sins. Yet there are many chapters in Jeremiah where he had prophesied that this would indeed happen, although as noted there, there was always an appeal and hope for their repentance. But Jeremiah is still at the stage of anger, with God and with any perceived instrument He had used.