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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
This final chapter Lamentations 5 consists of the same number of verses as there are letters in the Hebrew alphabet, but they no longer begin with the letters in regular order. Strict care is shown in the form and arrangement of the poem, each verse being compressed into a very brief compass, consisting of two members which answer to one another both in idea and expression. It is mainly occupied with the recapitulation of sufferings Lamentations 5:2-18, and finally closes with earnest prayer.
1Remember, O LORD, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach.
What is come upon us - literally, "what" has happened "to us:" our national disgrace.
2Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.
Turned - "transferred." The inheritance was the land of Canaan Leviticus 20:24.
Aliens - Or, "foreigners:" i. e. the Chaldaeans upon their conquest of the country.
3We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows.
Our mothers are as widows - The particle "as" suggests that the whole verse is metaphorical. Our distress and desolation is comparable only to that of fatherless orphans or wives just bereaved of their husbands.
4We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us.
Better as in the margin cometh to us for price. The rendering of the the King James Version spoils the carefully studied rhythm of the original. The bitterness of the complaint lies in this, that it was their own property which they had to buy.
5Our necks are under persecution: we labour, and have no rest.
Our necks ... - i. e. we were pursued so actively that our enemies seemed to be leaning over our necks ready to seize us.
We labor - We were wearied, "there was no rest for us:" being chased incessantly.
6We have given the hand to the Egyptians, and to the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread.
"To give the hand" means to submit oneself. Absolutely it was Babylon that had just destroyed their national existence, but Jeremiah means that all feelings of patriotism were crushed, and the sole care that remained was the desire for personal preservation. To secure this the people would readily have submitted to the yoke either of Egypt or Assyria, the great powers from which in their past history they had so often suffered.
7Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.
And are not; and we ... - Or, they are not; "we have borne their iniquities." Our fathers who began this national apostasy died before the hour of punishment.
8Servants have ruled over us: there is none that doth deliver us out of their hand.
Servants - i. e. Slaves. A terrible degradation to a high-spirited Jew.
9We gat our bread with the peril of our lives because of the sword of the wilderness.
We gat - Or, We get "our bread at the peril of our lives." This verse apparently refers to those who were left in the land, and who in gathering in such fruits as remained, were exposed to incursions of the Bedouin, here called "the sword of the desert."
10Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.
Our skin ... - Or, is fiery red like an oven because of the fever-blast "of famine."
11They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah.
They ravished - They humbled.
12Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured.
Laid the yoke - The yoke in the Bible is an emblem of slavery or bondage Leviticus 26:13; Deuteronomy 28:48; of afflictions and crosses Lamentations 3:27; of punishment for sin Lamentations 1:14; of God's commandments Matthew 11:29-30. Here it refers to the bondage and affliction which they experienced in Babylon.
Lamentations 5:12After the princes had been put to death their bodies were hung up by the hand to expose them to public contumely. Old age, again, no more availed to shield men from shameful treatment than the high rank of the princes. Such treatment of conquered enemies was not uncommon in ancient warfare.
13They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.
They took the young men to grind - Or, "The young men" have borne the mill, a menial and laborious task usually performed by slaves (compare Isaiah 47:2).
The children fell under the wood - Or, lads have stumbled under burdens of wood. By lads are meant youths up to the age of military service; another form of menial labor.
14The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their musick.
The gate - The gate was the place for public gatherings, for conversation, and the music of stringed instruments.
15The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.
16The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned!
Literally, "The crown of our head is fallen," i. e. what was our chief ornament and dignity is lost; the independence of the nation, and all that gave them rank and honor.
17For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim.
Is faint ... - Or, has become "faint" - have become "dim." "For this," i. e. for the loss of our crown etc.
18Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.
The foxes - Or, jackals. As these animals live among ruins, and shun the presence of man, it shows that Zion is laid waste and deserted.
19Thou, O LORD, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.
Remainest - Or, reignest. The earthly sanctuary is in ruins, but the heavenly throne in unchangeable glory.
20Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?
21Turn thou us unto thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.
22But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.
Literally, "Unless thou hast utterly rejected us," unless "thou art very wroth against us." This is stated as a virtual impossibility. God's anger can be but temporary Psalm 30:5, and therefore the very supposition is an indirect expression of hope.
This verse speaks of the possibility of an utter rejection through God's wrath. Therefore, to remove so painful a thought, and to make the book more suited for public reading, Lamentations 5:21 is repeated in many manuscripts intended for use in the synagogue. The same rule is observed in the synagogue with the two last verses of Ecclesiastes, Isaiah, and Malachi.