Lamentations 4 – The Woe of the Daughter of Zion
A. The punishment of the Daughter of Zion.
1. (1-2) The dimmed gold of Zion.
How the gold has become dim!
How changed the fine gold!
The stones of the sanctuary are scattered
At the head of every street.
The precious sons of Zion,
Valuable as fine gold,
How they are regarded as clay pots,
The work of the hands of the potter!
a. How the gold has become dim! Jeremiah lamented the loss of the precious sons of Zion, who were valuable as fine gold. The best and the brightest were all taken from Judah and Jerusalem and only the poorest and least able left behind.
i. “Although gold does not tarnish, it does lose its shine when it is covered with dust, which is precisely what happened to the golden articles from Jerusalem’s temple. They were trampled in the city’s dusty streets, for her glory had departed.” (Ryken)
b. How they are regarded as clay pots: The generation lost to Babylon would never be as valued there as they would be in Jerusalem. They were as cheap and lowly regarded as clay pots.
2. (3-5) The cruelty of Zion’s depravation.
Even the jackals present their breasts
To nurse their young;
But the daughter of my people is cruel,
Like ostriches in the wilderness.
The tongue of the infant clings
To the roof of its mouth for thirst;
The young children ask for bread,
But no one breaks it for them.
Those who ate delicacies
Are desolate in the streets;
Those who were brought up in scarlet
Embrace ash heaps.
a. The daughter of my people is cruel: Jeremiah lamented the cruelty of those exiled and those remaining. They seemed worse than jackals, and more like ostriches in the wilderness, who were thought to be cruel to their young. Even so, the young children of Judah ask for bread, but no one breaks it for them.
i. “The pathetic scenes of young children begging in vain for food seems to have etched themselves deeply on the mind of the author, who must have witnessed the events described here and in the first two dirges.” (Harrison)
ii. “For her carelessness about her eggs, and her inattention to her young, the ostrich is proverbial.” (Clarke)
b. Those who ate delicacies are desolate in the streets: No one was safe from the judgment that came upon Jerusalem, and those once high were brought very low.
i. Those who were brought up in scarlet embrace ash heaps: “It is a pity that any child of God, washed in Christ’s blood, should bedabble his scarlet robe in the stinking guzzle of the world’s dunghill; that anyone who hath heretofore soared as an eagle should now creep on the ground as a beetle, or wallow as a swine in the mire of sensuality.” (Trapp)
3. (6) The greatness of Zion’s punishment.
The punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people
Is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom,
Which was overthrown in a moment,
With no hand to help her!
a. The punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people: Jeremiah again stated his understanding that the destruction of Jerusalem was due to the iniquity of God’s people.
b. Is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom: In Ezekiel 16:48-49, the prophet said that the sin of Jerusalem was worse than that of Sodom. Here we learn that her punishment would also be greater. One way was that it would be more prolonged and agonizing, as opposed to Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment.
i. “He thinks the punishment of Jerusalem far greater than that of Sodom. That was destroyed in a moment, while all her inhabitants were in health and strength; Jerusalem fell by the most lingering calamities; her men partly destroyed by the sword, and partly by the famine.” (Clarke)
4. (7-10) The stricken people of Zion.
Her Nazirites were brighter than snow
And whiter than milk;
They were more ruddy in body than rubies,
Like sapphire in their appearance.
Now their appearance is blacker than soot;
They go unrecognized in the streets;
Their skin clings to their bones,
It has become as dry as wood.
Those slain by the sword are better off
Than those who die of hunger;
For these pine away,
Stricken for lack of the fruits of the field.
The hands of the compassionate women
Have cooked their own children;
They became food for them
In the destruction of the daughter of my people.
a. Her Nazirites were brighter than snow: At one time, the spiritual devotion of those in Jerusalem was an adornment to the city, like sapphire in their appearance. Yet after the calamity that fell upon Jerusalem, their appearance is blacker than soot.
i. Most all commentators agree that Nazirites is not a reference to those who took the vow of a Nazirite according to Numbers 6:1-21, and instead refers to leaders or notable people.
ii. “Persons that were nobly and ingenuously bred; the word Nezer signifying a crown, or ensign of honour, 2 Samuel 1:10 2 Kings 11:12. The name Nazirite was given to persons splendid for their breeding and education, or honour and dignity; it is given to Joseph, Genesis 49:26, we translate it separate from his brethren, Deuteronomy 33:16; so Nahum 3:17. Her Nazarites in this place signifieth her separated ones, who either in respect of birth, education, estate, places of magistracy, or the like, were distinguished from the rest of the people.” (Poole)
iii. They go unrecognized in the streets: “The nobility cannot be recognized on the streets because famine has reduced all the citizens of Jerusalem to a common level of physical exhaustion.” (Harrison)
b. Those slain by the sword are better off than those who die of hunger: Jeremiah explained why Jerusalem’s agony was worse than what fell upon Sodom. Zion’s destruction came slowly with hunger so badly that the hands of the compassionate women have cooked their own children.
i. These pine away: “By a lingering death, as Drusus the Roman, to whom food being denied, he had eaten the stuffings of his bed, saith Suetonius; and our Richard II, who was tantalised and starved to death at Pomfret Castle, where his diet being served in and set before him in the wonted princely manner, he was not suffered either to taste or touch thereof.” (Trapp)
ii. Cooked their own children: “Sodden [boiled] them rather than roasted them, lest they should be discovered by the smell, and so in danger to be despoiled of them, as it happened at the last siege by the Romans.” (Trapp)
5. (11-13) The LORD’s fury against the sins of His people.
The LORD has fulfilled His fury,
He has poured out His fierce anger.
He kindled a fire in Zion,
And it has devoured its foundations.
The kings of the earth,
And all inhabitants of the world,
Would not have believed
That the adversary and the enemy
Could enter the gates of Jerusalem—
Because of the sins of her prophets
And the iniquities of her priests,
Who shed in her midst
The blood of the just.
a. The LORD has fulfilled His fury: Jeremiah thought of Jerusalem and Judah completely devastated and could see the fierce anger of God fulfilled upon Zion. It was so great that the kings of the earth would not have believed that the enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem.
b. Because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests: The doom of Zion was especially appropriate given the sins of their spiritual leaders. Among other sins, they murdered faithful prophets and people of God (who shed in her midst the blood of the just).
i. “The prophets and priests, who ought to have been proclaiming the covenant ideals in the nation, were actually the responsible agents for perpetrating much of the iniquity so characteristic of pre-exilic life.” (Harrison)
ii. “These most wretched beings, under the pretense of zeal for the true religion, persecuted the genuine prophets, priests, and people of God, and caused their blood to be shed in the midst of the city, in the most open and public manner; exactly as the murderous priests, and blood-thirsty preachers, under the reign of bloody Queen Mary, did in England.” (Clarke)
iii. “Ezekiel 22:1–12 shows that the concept of bloodshed was far wider than murder or homicide, all that cut at the roots of society or that deprived men of their land and livelihood shortened their lives and so was bloodshed. Priest and prophet contributed positively and negatively—positively by advocating or condoning such behavior, negatively by failing to condemn those who wronged their fellow men.” (Ellison)
B. The Daughter of Zion and the nations.
1. (14-17) Scattered by the face of the LORD.
They wandered blind in the streets;
They have defiled themselves with blood,
So that no one would touch their garments.
They cried out to them,
“Go away, unclean!
Go away, go away,
Do not touch us!”
When they fled and wandered,
Those among the nations said,
“They shall no longer dwell here.”
The face of the LORD scattered them;
He no longer regards them.
The people do not respect the priests
Nor show favor to the elders.
Still our eyes failed us,
Watching vainly for our help;
In our watching we watched
For a nation that could not save us.
a. They wandered blind in the streets; they have defiled themselves with blood: Jeremiah pictured the people of Jerusalem wandering blind through the streets, stepping on dead bodies and therefore defiling themselves.
b. The face of the LORD scattered them: As God scattered His people from Jerusalem, they were not welcome in other places. The nations said to these wandering refugees, “They shall no longer dwell here.”
c. The people do not respect the priests nor show favor to the elders: God did not regard His people with favor because of sins such as these. Yet, as Jeremiah told us in Lamentations 4:13, it was the sins of the priests and the prophets that invited this lack of respect.
d. We watched for a nation that could not save us: Judah’s false prophets and political leaders put their trust in Egypt to rescue them from the Babylonians. They watched vainly for help.
i. “Now we are taken back to memories of the fall of the city. There was a vain and persistent hope that the Egyptians would come to the rescue (17; Jer. 37.5-10; Ezek. 29.6,7).” (Wright)
2. (18-20) Pursued by the enemies of God’s people.
They tracked our steps
So that we could not walk in our streets.
Our end was near;
Our days were over,
For our end had come.
Our pursuers were swifter
Than the eagles of the heavens.
They pursued us on the mountains
And lay in wait for us in the wilderness.
The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD,
Was caught in their pits,
Of whom we said, “Under his shadow
We shall live among the nations.”
a. They tracked our steps so that we could not walk in our streets: When Jerusalem was finally conquered and occupied by the Babylonians, the Jewish citizens had very little freedom. They were soon prepared for exile to Babylon.
i. We could not walk in our streets: “Supposed to refer to the darts and other missiles cast from the mounds which they had raised on the outside of the walls, by which those who walked in the streets were grievously annoyed, and could not shield themselves.” (Clarke)
ii. “The tall Babylonian siege towers made it dangerous for anyone to walk in the streets within range of arrows or stones.” (Wright)
b. Our end was near; our days were over, for our end had come: Jeremiah had long prophesied that the Babylonians would conquer Jerusalem and Judah. Finally, the time had come and their days were over.
c. Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles of the heavens: The Babylonians pursued any who tried to escape. This included their king Zedekiah, who tried to escape but was captured (Jeremiah 52:5-11). The people of Jerusalem regarded Zedekiah as the anointed of the LORD, and hoped that under his shadow we shall live among the nations. The hope was bitterly disappointed.
i. “Zedekiah was a weak and treacherous individual who condoned the religious corruption and moral degeneracy of the time, and generally ignored the advice proffered by Jeremiah (Jeremiah 37:2), except on occasions of grave crisis.” (Harrison)
3. (21-22) The judgment coming to Edom.
Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom,
You who dwell in the land of Uz!
The cup shall also pass over to you
And you shall become drunk and make yourself naked.
The punishment of your iniquity is accomplished,
O daughter of Zion;
He will no longer send you into captivity.
He will punish your iniquity,
O daughter of Edom;
He will uncover your sins!
a. Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom: Jeremiah sarcastically spoke to Edom, who was happy that their neighbors Jerusalem and Judah were conquered.
i. The land of Uz: “Whether or not this territory is identical with that regarded as the homeland of Job is unknown. Since, however, Uz seems to have been consistently accessible both to Sabaean Bedouin from Arabia and Chaldean invaders from Mesopotamia (Job 1:15, 17), it would appear to have been located in the general area of Edom.” (Harrison)
b. This cup shall also pass over to you: As Edom found happiness in Zion’s misery, so they would drink the cup of judgment from the hand of the Babylonians.
i. “There is little doubt that the Edomites, who knew the routes and crossings, helped the Babylonians here, and this is why vs. 21,22 turn against Edom. Obad. 14 clearly shows what they did. So, when Zion is restored, Edom will still be kept low, and Mal. 1.2-5 records that this was fulfilled. Ultimately Edom was subdued and absorbed into Israel.” (Wright)
c. The punishment of your iniquity is accomplished: In this sense, God was finished with His great judgment against Jerusalem. The punishment of Edom was yet to come; God would soon uncover their sins.
i. “When sin is pardoned, it is said to be covered: here, God says he will not cover the sins of Edom – he will not pardon them; they shall drink the cup of wrath.” (Clarke)