Lamentations 4:1-11

It is impossible to view this sorrowful plaint of the prophet as
merely historical. Nothing which had ever occurred in the way of
disaster or humiliation at all approached the picture of desolation
here described. The Spirit of prophecy is therefore forecasting the
horrible abyss that awaited the beloved but guilty people.

"How the gold is become dim! the most fine gold is changed! The
sacred stones are thrown down at the top of every street! The precious
sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how they are esteemed as earthen
pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter." Who could say that God
screened or spared the iniquity of Israel? The most exalted in rank,
dignity, and office were those who made their affliction most
conspicuous. Could the most obdurate conscience in Jerusalem doubt
whose hand had inflicted such reverses, whatever the instrument

Hence the prophet, as he is growingly solemn in his glances at the
uttermost distress, so is he calm but the more complete in setting it
forth. It is as it were the evil all out, the leper white from head to
feet, whose very extremity assures of God's opportunity to interfere
both for the Jew and against the adversaries more especially such as
ought to pity Jerusalem in the day of her calamity.

That the Chaldean foe should be bitter in reproach and cruel in
punishment was not wonderful; but alas! the chosen nation's cup was not
full of the indignity they must drink till they were the bitterest, out
of sheer want and woe, against their own kin. "Even the dragons [or
jackals] draw out the breast, they suckle their young: the daughter of
my people [is] cruel like the ostriches in the wilderness." It is of
the last bird we read in Job 39:14-17, "which leaveth her eggs in the
earth, and warmeth them in the dust, and forgetteth that the foot may
crush them, or that the wild beast way break them. She is hardened
against her young ones, as though they were not hers: her labour is in
vain without fear; because God hath deprived her of wisdom, neither
hath he imparted to her understanding."

The sense seems to me certain, though one may not say indisputable,
seeing that so sensible a commentator as Calvin contrives to extract a
different meaning. He understands the clause to mean that the daughter
of the people had come to a savage or cruel one; and hence that whelps
of serpents were more kindly dealt with than the Jews. The people had
to do with nothing but cruelty, there being no one to succour them in
their miseries. Thus the force would be, not that the people are
accused of cruelty in not nourishing their children, but that they were
given up to the most relentless of enemies. But I see no force in his
reasoning which appears to be founded on unacquaintance with the Hebrew
idiom, the masculine gender being used for emphasis where formally we
might have expected the feminine, as not infrequently happens. Hence
there is no real ground for going on with the allusion to the ostrich,
as if the prophet meant that the Jews were so destitute of every help
that they were banished into solitary places beyond the sight of men.

The true meaning is far more expressive and sets forth the awful
state of the Jews, when not enemies only but those who should have been
their own tenderest protectors were destitute of feelings found in the
fiercest brutes, and only comparable for heartlessness to creatures of
the most exceptional hardness and folly. Such were the mothers of Salem
in the outpouring of Jeremiah's grief.

Accordingly in verse 1 he pursues the case. "The tongue of the
suckling cleaveth to its palate for thirst; infants ask bread - none
breaketh [it] for them." Such was the pitiable state of children from
the tenderest days upward. Was it any better with their elders? "They
that fed daintily perish in the streets; they who were brought up on
scarlet embrace dung hills." (Ver. 5.) Parents and other adults were
famishing and dying of hunger, and this gladly as it were on the
dunghill instead of the splendid couches on which they used to recline
when weary of pleasure itself.

Next the prophet draws out the proof that the vengeance under which
the people were worse than that of Sodom, especially in this, that the
notorious city of the plain was overwhelmed in a sudden blow of
destruction, whereas that of Jerusalem was prolonged and most varied
agony. "For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people
is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown
as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her." (Verse 6.) The "hands" of
man added to the soreness of the Jewish chastening: Sodom was dealt
with by God without any human intervention. Compare the feeling of
David when he brought to the verge of ruin the people whom God had
entrusted him to feed. (2 Sam. 24:13, 14.)

Nor does any consecration to God avail to shelter: so complete the
ruin, so unsparing the vengeance let loose on every class and every
soul. "Her Nazarites were brighter than snow, they were whiter than
milk; they were more ruddy in body than rubies (or coral), their
cutting (shape) of sapphire. Their aspect is darker than dusk, they are
not known in the streets; their skin cleaveth to their bones, it is
dried up like a stick." Nothing availed in presence of these searching
desolating judgments. The blessing which was once so marked on those
separated was now utterly and manifestly fled, yea, wretchedness as
under His ban had taken its place. And so truly was it so, that he
proceeds to show how but a choice of ills awaited the Jew, a violent
death or a life yet more horrible. "Happier the slain with the sword
than the slain with hunger; because these pine away pierced through for
the fruits of the field,"* i.e., for the want of them. For it is very
forced to take it as Calvin does, pierced through by the fruits of the
earth, as if the productions of the earth became swords.

So obliterated were all traces of compassion or even natural feeling
that, as we are next told, "the hands of pitiful women boiled their
children; they became their food in the destruction of the daughter of
my people." (Ver. 10.) Nothing could account for such barbarity but
that which he adds immediately after (ver. 11): "Jehovah hath spent his
fury; be hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in
Zion which hath devoured her foundations." What can be more thorough
than to devour foundations? So it was declared of God against Jerusalem
for their heinous sins. Impossible to escape His hand stretched out
against His own: how deep their sin and vain to deny it!