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Lamentations 4:1 How the gold has become dim! The most pure gold has changed! The stones of the sanctuary are poured out at the head of every street- Gold by its nature is supposed not to tarnish; the precious stones in the sanctuary (presumably referring to those in the breastplate) were likewise supposed to be valued by their very nature, and not just poured out at the head of every street. The idea is that what was thought to have been inviolate, the temple, had been violated. The precious stones are parallel with the precious sons of Zion (:2), who were perishing at the head of every street (Lam. 2:19). The false prophets had taught that Jerusalem would not fall because God would never give up Zion. And it seems Jeremiah now laments that indeed the apparently inviolate had been violated. Again he appears to be identifying too strongly, or in an inappropriate manner, with his sinful people. For he was overlooking the fact that "at the head of every street" there had been idols (Ez. 16:24,31) and little sanctuaries for them. And now their children were perishing in those very same places. The appeal needed to be for repentance, but instead Jeremiah is still focusing totally upon the tragedy before him and lamenting it; without  considering the bigger picture as to why it was happening.

Lamentations 4:2 The precious sons of Zion-
There is a connection with how earlier God had told Jeremiah He would reject him, unless he brought out the precious from among the base (see on Jer. 15:19). And this he apparently failed to do, and so he laments it. See on :1.


Comparable to fine gold, how are they now esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!- "Potter" translates the same word Jeremiah has used of how God as the potter or former has formed Israel in order to do His work (Jer. 18:2-6,11; 19:1,11; 33:2). According to Jeremiah's own parables, those who didn't respond to the potter's hands were to be broken. But now Jeremiah seems to object to this happening to Israel.

Lamentations 4:3 Even the jackals draw out the breast, they nurse their young ones: the daughter of my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness-
The idea is that the mothers had become apparently cruel and uncaring for their children, because the famine and thirst had led to them being unable to provide breast milk for their own children. Jeremiah seems to imply that this is an untenable situation for God to tolerate, since even the wild animals are able to feed their young. Again, as explained on :1, in his depression he is focusing upon just one aspect of a complex picture; and willfully overlooking the fact that these same women had sacrificed their children to Baal, and were the very ones who stubbornly claimed that worshipping the queen of heaven was preferable to Yahweh worship (see on Jer. 7:18; 44:17).

Lamentations 4:4 The tongue of the nursing child clings to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaks it to them-
See on :3. 'Breaking bread' or 'eating bread' is simply an idiom for sharing in a meal (Is. 58:7; Jer. 16:7; Lam. 4:4; Ez. 17:7; 24:17; Hos. 9:4; Dt. 26:14; Job 42:11). 'Bread' is used for any food, just as 'salt' is used in the same way in Arabic. The way the Lord broke His bread with sinners, with anyone, is therefore evidence enough that the 'breaking of bread' is inclusive and not exclusive.

Lamentations 4:5 Those who fed delicately are desolate in the streets: those who were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills-
Jeremiah seemed to find it especially tragic that the royal family [once "in scarlet", the colour of royalty] and the formerly wealthy were so desolate. But these were the very classes whom he had singled out for particular condemnation in his earlier prophecies. Now those prophecies had come true, he seems to almost resent it. We notice the connection with Job losing his wealth and sitting in dunghills- he was representative of Judah, and it seems his story was rewritten under inspiration during the exile to make it relevant for them. But his captivity was turned when he repented without reservation; and that is the critical factor Jeremiah only fully accepts at the end of Lamentations.

Lamentations 4:6 For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands were laid on her-
The idea is that Sodom perished in an instant and not at the hands of cruel people. Jeremiah laments this- as if implying that he considered Jerusalem's sin to have been less than Sodom's, but her punishment was greater. And yet Ez. 16:48, which was a contemporary prophecy which Jeremiah likely knew, states clearly that Judah sinned far more than Sodom. Jeremiah had commented in Jer. 23:14 that God considered Jerusalem as Sodom. But now he appears quite out of step with God's assessment; because he simply will not adequately factor in Judah's sin and need for penitence.

Lamentations 4:7 Her nobles were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk; they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was as of sapphire-
Yet it was the nobles whom Jeremiah had singled out for particular condemnation. They were not at all snow white in God's eyes; that could only come through repentance (Is 1:18). But Jeremiah likes to think they were like this despite their impenitence. AV and some manuscripts read "Nazirites". In this case, Jeremiah would be alluding to the idea that those who kept the Nazirite vow experienced great blessing in their health and bodily appearance; and Jeremiah laments that this is now not the case. And yet Daniel and his friends appeared more healthy than the other Jews because they refused to eat food and drink wine that had been part of idol worship; whereas it seems that Jerusalem and its religious classes at Jeremiah's time were almost wholly given over to idolatry. Jeremiah's path from thinking God was effectively dead (see on Jer. 1:1) to the total repentance at the end of Lam. 5 was not a smooth journey; it was a jagged graph. In Lam. 3:40-42 (see notes there) he has come to a very limited idea of the need for repentance, but now he has slipped back to being out of step with God because of his depressive insistence upon seeing only the immediate issues which were before his eyes, i.e. the suffering in judgment of God's people.

Lamentations 4:8 Their appearance is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin clings to their bones; it is withered, it has become like a stick-
See on :7. This appears to speak of the situation during the famine which occurred during the siege- and this death by famine had been predicted by Jeremiah. This implies that Jeremiah was having these thoughts during the siege; for he speaks of the nobles suffering like this (:7), and it was they who were either slain or carried into exile once the city fell. So Lamentations provides us with another perspective upon the Jeremiah we meet in the book of Jeremiah, who appears to bravely speak God's word and adopt His perspective. The reality is that at the same time, he was deeply struggling with the words he was teaching, and more than questioning some of it.

Lamentations 4:9 Those who are killed with the sword are better than those who are killed with hunger; for these pine away, stricken through, for want of the fruits of the field-
The present tenses suggest Jeremiah was composing this lamentation as he observed (or heard about in prison) the effects of the famine during the siege; see on :8. "The fruits of the field" would only be restored once Judah repented and entered a new covenant with God (s.w. Ez. 36:30). But Jeremiah appears to think that they had a right to those fruits anyway, without that repentance.

Lamentations 4:10 The hands of the pitiful women have boiled their own children; they were their food in the destruction of the daughter of my people-
Jeremiah earlier had had much to say in condemnation of the women of Jerusalem, who had offered their own children to the idols, and who both before and after the siege insisted on worshipping the queen of heaven in preference to Yahweh (see on Jer. 7:18; 44:17).

Lamentations 4:11 Yahweh has accomplished His wrath, He has poured out His fierce anger; He has kindled a fire in Zion, which has devoured its foundations-
The complaint that the foundations had been destroyed, when fire would typically only burn the edges and surface of a city wall, suggests Jeremiah is at a low ebb of faith that there could ever be restoration.

Both Yahweh and Israel are described as kindling the fire of judgment; He responded to what they had done (Jer. 11:16; 15:14; Lam. 4:11 cp. Jer. 17:4). Likewise as they had kindled fire on their roofs in offering sacrifices to Baal, so Yahweh through the Babylonians would set fire to those same houses (Jer. 32:29). Thus Israel were the ones who had kindled the fire of Yahweh's condemnation (Jer. 17:4).

Lamentations 4:12 The kings of the land didn’t believe, neither all the inhabitants of the world, that the adversary and the enemy would enter into the gates of Jerusalem-
The fortifications of Jerusalem were apparently legendary; and indeed it took the might of Babylon 18 months to breach them. But the great prophetic theme is that all human strength is to be brought down by Divine judgment. We note that the eretz, the land promised to Abraham, is effectively "the world" from the perspective of the prophets. The prophets have little to say about the rest of the planet- including Russia and the Anglo-Saxon world.

Lamentations 4:13 It is because of the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her-
As often noted, Jeremiah's path is a jagged graph- through depression to the final confession of sin without reservation at the end of Lamentations. Having been very insistent so far in this chapter that Jerusalem is suffering unfairly, and the suffering of her priests and leadership is particularly tragic, Jeremiah now does bluntly recognize that all this has happened because of their sins. They had tried to shed his blood, and had succeeded in killing other prophets. They had shed the blood of children and other animal sacrifices- and the false prophets and priests who taught their false words were directly responsible for this. 

And yet perhaps even these words of Jeremiah somewhat contradict the prophetic position, whereby blame was placed upon all Judah, every part of society; whereas now Jeremiah laments the situation as if Judah is being hard done by, suffering for the sins of the leadership. The blame is being unfairly placed by him just upon the priests and prophets; whereas Jeremiah himself has earlier stated that all Judah must carry the blame (see on Jer. 17:20; 22:2; 25:5; 37:2).

Lamentations 4:14 They wander as blind men in the streets, they are polluted with blood, so that men can’t touch their garments-
The tenses are unclear in the Lamentations because Jeremiah has brought together various feelings that he had at different times- before, during (:14,17,18) and after the siege (:19) and exile (:18,20). LXX has "her watchmen staggered in the streets"; the watchmen were the prophets of:13. The reference is to the descriptions of blindness as a punishment for breaking the covenant (Dt. 28:18; Jer. 23:12; Is. 29:9). They were polluted with blood already because of their attempted murder of Jeremiah and actual murder of other prophets, as well as those they sacrificed to the idols. Now, they are portrayed as wandering the streets covered in blood. That may have been literally the case, but they were covered in blood anyway in God's eyes. And this made them unclean.


Lamentations 4:15 Depart! they cried to them, Unclean! Depart, depart, don’t touch! When they fled away and wandered, men said among the nations, They shall not live here any more-
Translated this way, the paradox is developed that they who were now so covered in blood that nobody would touch them for fear of being made unclean (:14)- were the very ones who had condemned others as ritually unclean and had ordered them to get far away from them. Remember it is the priests who are being addressed here (:13). As they had driven away others for being unclean (when they themselves were unclean and covered with blood guilt), so now they were being driven away from their land as unclean. As Jeremiah so often demonstrates in his prophecy, condemnation was articulated in language which showed it to be but a continuation of attitudes and positions the condemned had already adopted in their lives.

Lamentations 4:16 The anger of Yahweh has scattered them; He will no more regard them-
Not regarding them, not having them in His sight, means that He would permanently end relationship with them. But as noted on Lam. 4:15, this was but a reflection of how they had not regarded Him (s.w. Is. 5:12; 22:11). And yet by lamenting that Yahweh would not again have relationship with them, Jeremiah was overlooking the prophecies of restoration which he himself had given. His depression was such that at this point, he focuses only upon the present pain and will not look wider.

They didn’t respect the persons of the priests, they didn’t favour the elders- The "they" appears to refer to the Babylonian soldiers. But Jeremiah has given reason after reason as to why the priests and elders were not worthy of any respect and deserved only condemnation. But now he laments that, identifying so strongly with Israel again, after in :15 beginning to accept that they were suffering only what they themselves had in essence done in their days of opportunity. He sees their guilt- and then slips back to simply lamenting the situation as it was at that moment.

Lamentations 4:17 Our eyes still fail, looking in vain for our help-
LXX "While we yet lived our eyes failed, while we looked in vain for our help". This may appear to contradict Jeremiah's feelings explained on Lam. 3:22,23,39, that to simply be alive is to know that God's grace continues to us, and finally His "help" shall be articulated to us, even if not in terms of immediate salvation. And again Jeremiah seems to be implying that they were looking to God for help "in vain". This is the mentality noted on Lam. 3:44, considering that God would not answer prayer. But Jeremiah was missing the point- that it wasn't simply prayer for immediate rescue which was required, but rather the prayer of repentance for forgiveness.


In our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save- A reference to Egypt, trust in whom was a large reason for their rejection by Yahweh. But Jeremiah appears to be writing here at the time of the siege or even after it, when Egypt was already no longer a viable help, having been crushed at the battle of Carchemish. And yet even then it would appear from Ez. 29:16 that they still vainly looked to Egypt for help, and the survivors of the siege fled there despite being warned not to. The attraction of trusting human strength rather than Yahweh was so great. Instead of watching or looking to Egypt they should have looked to and waited upon Yahweh.

Lamentations 4:18 They hunt our steps, so that we can’t go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end has come-
The tenses are unclear in the Lamentations because Jeremiah has brought together various feelings that he had at different times- before, during and after the siege and exile. See on :14.

Jer. 16:16  suggests a total regathering of all who were in captivity as a result of fishers and "hunters" provoking the people to return to a restored kingdom. This didn't happen because the exiles preferred the soft life in Persia. The effort made wasn't responded to. Indeed Jeremiah later laments that the people were "hunted" after Jerusalem fell (s.w. Lam. 3:52; 4:18). He ought to have realized that the exiles were to be hunted back to the restored kingdom- if they responded. But in his depression, he focused only upon the negative, the glass half empty rather than half full.

Lamentations 4:19 Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles of the sky: they chased us on the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness-
A reference to the Babylonian cavalry, and particularly of their pursuit and capture of Zedekiah as representative of all Judah. As noted on :14, Jeremiah now seems to be writing from some time after the fall of Jerusalem. He has edited his thoughts together in these Lamentations. He was not pursued nor chased; but he so identified with his people that he felt as if he had been.

Lamentations 4:20 The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of Yahweh, was taken in their pits; of whom we said, Under His shadow we shall live among the nations-
This sounds a far too positive take upon Zedekiah, whose demise was directly due to refusing to listen to Jeremiah's words from God, and his impenitence. But instead of accepting that, Jeremiah seems to now think his demise to be so tragic. The way Zedekiah is described as "the prince" in Ez. 12:12 lays the basis for the later prophecies about "the prince" in Ez. 40-48. Had the exiles returned and rebuilt and operated the temple system as required there, another individual called "the prince" would have arisen. Perhaps the blind, repentant Zedekiah could have returned from exile and become the prince figure; this would then solve the otherwise strange prophecy of  Is. 42:19, that the restored community would have had a blind leader. Likewise the exiles could have lived under the shadow of a great leader in exile (Lam. 4:20), fulfilling the prophecies of Messiah as a great tree. But none of those involved lived up to their potential.

Lamentations 4:21 Rejoice and be glad, daughter of Edom that dwells in the land of Uz: the cup shall pass through to you also; you shall be drunken, and shall make yourself naked-
As Edom rejoiced against Jerusalem in the day of her destruction (Ps. 137:7), so she is bidden sarcastically to rejoice because she would again be judged with Jerusalem's judgment. Edom is noted as dwelling in Uz to point up the connection with Job; the whole book of Job was rewritten and reapplied to the drama of the exile, and it involved people from the land of Uz [the friends] being rebuked and finally having the imputed righteousness of Job revealed to them.

Lamentations 4:22 The punishment of your iniquity is accomplished, daughter of Zion; He will no more carry you away into captivity: He will visit your iniquity, daughter of Edom; He will uncover your sins-
But Zion was carried into captivity by God again, not least under the Romans, as well as by Antiochus, and she will be again in the last days. What was potentially possible was that Judah repented, returned both to God and Zion, and the Kingdom of God would have been reestablished in Israel- never again to be destroyed. That was the potential, but their lack of repentance precluded it. So Jeremiah's statement here appears to be his desperate hope that Zion's judgment had ended and now there would be restoration. But again, he refuses to factor in the aspect of their repentance.