The last chapter differs from all before in that the alphabetic
series drops, though there are evidently twenty-two verses as in other
cases, with the modification we have seen in chapter 3 and its
triplets. Internally also the elegy approaches more to the character of
a prayer as well as a compressed summing up of the sorrows detailed
Hence, says the prophet, "Remember, O Jehovah, what hath happened to
us; behold, and look on our reproach. Our inheritance is turned over to
strangers, our houses to aliens." (Ver. 1, 2.) It was not merely a
human or natural feeling of their loss and degradation. We must bear in
mind that Israel had the land of their possession from Jehovah. No
doubt they expelled or subjugated the Canaanites. According to men they
held by right of conquest. But a deeper fact lay underneath the
successes of Joshua. Strength was given from God to put down the most
corrupt race then on the face of the earth who had intruded into a land
which He had from the first destined and given by promise to the
fathers. For when the most High divided to the nations their
inheritance, when He separated the sons of man, He set the bounds of
the tribes according to the number of the sons of Israel. Alas! they
took the blessing not as promises by faith on the ground of God's
grace, but under the condition of their own fidelity to the law - a
condition necessarily fatal to the sinner. Hence the disasters, and
finally ruin, which Jeremiah here groans out to God. But the title, in
which Moses (Deut. 32: 8) had thus declared His purpose as to His
people, is to be noted; for it is His millennial name more specially
than any other, and hence that by which Melchizedek is characterized,
who typifies the day of blessing after the victory is won over the
assailing and previously triumphant kings of the Gentiles. Thus there
is assured hope in the end for the scattered and peeled people of God.
Meanwhile how bitter the sight of their inheritance transferred to the
foreigners, their houses to strangers!
"We are orphans and without a father, our mothers [are] as widows."
(Ver. 3.) Even this did not convey a vivid enough picture of their
desolation. The common possession of all, the freest uses of their
land, belonged to hard masters. "Our water have we drunk for money; our
wood cometh for a price. On our necks [i.e. with a yoke on them] are we
persecuted; we toil and have no rest." (Ver. 4, 5.) What slaves so
abject? And this Jeremiah who did not go to Babylon stayed long enough
to see, and feel, and spread in sorrow before God. "To Egypt we gave
the hand and to Asshur to be satisfied with bread." (Ver. 6.) But
neither could effectually help, still less could either resist the king
of Babylon; and this because of Israel's sins which had so long called
for an avenger. "Our fathers sinned [and are] not; and we bear their
iniquities." (Ver. 7.) This, we know, was become a proverbial complaint
about this time. (Ezek. 18.) But God tried them on their own ground,
with precisely the same result of ruin because of their evil. For if
fathers and children are alike sinful, the punishment is due whether
for those or for these: come it must if God judges. How much better
then to repent than to repine and murmur, only aggravating the evil and
ensuring vengeance on such accumulating rebellion against God!
"Slaves rule over us: no one delivereth us out of their hand. With
our lives* we bring in our bread because of the sword of the
wilderness. Our skins* glow like an oven because of the hot blasts of
famine. Women have they ravished in Zion, virgins in the cities of
Judah. Princes were hung up by their hand; the faces of elders they
honoured not. Young men they took to the mill, and boys fell under the
wood. Aged men have ceased from the gate, young men from their song.
The joy of our heart hath ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.
The crown of our head is fallen: woe now unto us, for we have sinned!
Because of this our heart is faint; for these our eyes are dim; because
of the mount of Zion which is desolate, foxes walk about on it." (Ver.
8-18.) Such is the dismal state so pathetically described by a heart
crushed under grief which could not exaggerate the prostration of God's
ancient people. Sex, age, condition, place - nothing spared, and
nothing sacred. Every word carries weight, not a particular which is
not an intolerable burden. How overwhelming for the heart which justly
* The plural is given by many excellent MSS.; probably softened into the singular by the rest.
Thus mournfully had Jeremiah's warnings been executed. As Shiloh had
been profaned, so now the place of Jehovah's choice, the mount Zion
that he loved. The outward indefectibility of His dwelling on earth is
but the fond dream of the men whose unrighteousness, holding the truth
in unrighteousness, will surely bring on its judgment from the enemy
under the righteous dealing of God.
What then is the resource of the faithful? Never the perpetuity of
what is visible, never the first man, but the Second. "Thou, O Jehovah,
remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation." (Ver.
19.) Hence the righteous cry with the assurance that His ears are open,
even though He tarry and justly rebuke sin especially in those that
bear His name, in whom He will be sanctified by His judgments till they
by grace sanctify Him in their hearts.
God however will have His blows felt; and faith does feel and gather
blessing even in the grief, while it looks onward to the day. The
foolish pass on and are punished, harden themselves and perish in
unbelief. "Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever? - forsake us for a
length of days?" (Ver. 20.) But there is no despair, though the way was
then dark before the true light shone; for the heart pleads, "Turn thou
us unto thee, O Jehovah, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of
old. For certainly thou hast utterly rejected us, thou hast been
exceedingly wroth with us." (Ver. 21, 22.) To own our own sins and
God's judgment is the constant effect of the Spirit's work in the
heart, the sure pledge of coming and better blessing in store for us
from the God of all grace.