The Agora
The Lamentations of Jeremiah

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Chapter 1 (Verse by Verse)

Verse 1:

"How doth the city sit solitary ('deserted' -- NIV),
that was full of people"; Compare Isa 3:8.

Well-known among students of ancient history is a medal struck by a Greek artist of the Roman Court to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and Vespasian in 70 AD It is called "Judea Capta" ("Judah Subjected"), and it depicts a powerful soldier standing triumphantly over a helpless woman, who sits destitute upon the ground. How did this come about? Let us ask ourselves and learn the answer well. It came about because Judah neglected its true strength -- the Lord their God.

What do we naturally think of when we hear the words "many people"? Ideas that come to mind are a party, or a market place -- people milling around, laughing, joking and empty of serious thoughts. This is how Isaiah pictured this same city, Jerusalem -- "full of stirs, a tumultuous city, a joyous city" (Isa 22:2); a city, in fact, thoroughly opposed to the Divine will, and heedless of her impending punishment:

"And in that day did the Lord GOD of hosts call to weeping, and to mourning, and to baldness, and to girding with sackcloth: And behold (instead) joy and gladness, slaying oxen, and killing sheep, eating flesh, and drinking wine: let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we shall die" (Isa 22:12,13).
To those who thought in their hearts, "Peace and safety", came instead sudden destruction (1Th 5:3) by the wrath of God: "I will make your cities waste... desolation", He had threatened through His prophet Moses (Lev 26:14-16, 31-35). But the people had continued to delight themselves in every imaginable form of wickedness until it was too late (Note the summary of Nebuchadnezzar's destructions in Jer 52:12-23 -- and remember that he was merely God's "servant" -- Jer 25:9 -- to perform this).

"As a widow": The city of Jerusalem had lost her husband, her lord and her protector (Jer 2:2). All of the pains associated with widowhood were hers -- an absence of her "husband's" favor and protection; sorrow and grief; a pitiful feeling of helplessness (Isa 54:6; Hos 3:3, 4).

Again, let us remember why such things came upon Jerusalem:

"Behold, for your iniquities have ye sold yourselves (ie, into slavery), and for your transgressions is your mother put away" (Isa 50:1). "Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you" (Isa 59:2).
"She that was great among the nations": Israel, in its beginning as a kingdom, was lavishly praised by Hiram of Tyre ("this great people" -- 1Ki 5:7) and the queen of Sheba, who saw Solomon's wealth (1Ki 10). The united kingdom of Solomon's time must have been very nearly unsurpassed in commerce and power. And the kingdom of Judah continued to prosper at times in the years following the division of the kingdom.

"Princess among the provinces": Especially in the times of David, Solomon, and Hezekiah, neighbouring countries served Jerusalem and Judah (1Ki 4:21; 1Ch 9:26; 32:23).

"How is she become tributary": We are perhaps too accustomed to viewing Judah, during the period of the kings, as having much less majesty and authority than she actually had. Only when we realize what a magnificent position she once occupied, can such a phrase as this have its proper effect upon us. Just as God brought the splendour of Egypt and Babylon to the dust, so was He able to humble Judah. The word "tributary" refers to personal servitude (the same word as in Josh 16:10; 17:13). Compare Lam 5:8,13, 16. The princess had become a "slave" (NIV), a "vassal" (RSV).

Verse 2:

"She weepeth sore in the night":

The Hebrew is most expressive: "Weeping she weepeth". Her one occupation is weeping. The night is a darkness in the Jewish "heavens", or ruling places. For 2500 years, Jerusalem has been trodden down. And she will continue to be so "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). "Night" such as we see it in the world around us is assuredly a time of weeping and sorrow -- for the natural Jews, who must battle ceaselessly with their many enemies.

For the saints as well, it is a time of mourning, for the bridegroom is still away (Luke 5:35). But the night in which we weep is a time for watching as well:

"Watchman, what of the night?" (Isa 21:11).
As followers of Christ, we must not allow the "night" to lull us into slumber:

"We are not of the night, nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober" (1Th 5:5, 6).
"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning" (Psa 30:5). Joy will come to us if we are truly looking for and earnestly desiring the day of our Lord's return. "Arise, cry out in the night" (Lam 2:19).

"I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem,
which shall never hold their peace day nor night;
Ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence,
and give Him no rest, till He establish,
and till He make Jerusalem a praise in the earth" (Isa 62:6,7).
The night around is dark indeed. How are we using our time? Are we searching fruitlessly for pleasure in the dark shadows of the night? Or are we behaving ourselves as "children of the light" -- soon to dawn over all the earth? "Behold, the bridegroom cometh" (Mat 25:6).

"Her tears are on her cheeks": The cheek is used scripturally as a symbol of persecution and submission -- "Turn the other cheek" (Mat 5:39). For Abraham's natural seed today, the persecution is endured involuntarily. For us, Abraham's true seed and heirs according to the promise, submission must be given freely, lovingly. For we know that whatever we might endure now is merely God's schooling for our future:

"We glory in tribulations also..." (Rom 5:3).
"Among all her lovers...": Solomon inadvertently planted the seeds which led to Judah's prostitution among the nations. He loved many strange women (1Ki 11). And these indiscretions led in short order to idol worship in the land and his very condoning of it. Furthermore, it led to political alliances of convenience with Gentile nations, rather than a single-minded faith and trust in God.

Later Judah trusted upon Egypt (Jer 2:36; Isa 30:7; 36:6), Babylon (Isa 39:3, 4) and Edom and Mob. Her alliances with such peoples is painfully reminiscent of the great whore, "with whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication" (Rev 17:2).

"All her friends have dealt treacherously with her,
they are become her enemies": All her flirtations were of no avail. As Ezekiel prophesied,

"Therefore, O Aholibah (or Jerusalem, v 8), thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will raise up thy lovers against thee..." (Ezek 23:22).
None of Judah's former friends came to her aid. Edom (Lam 4:21, 22; Oba 1:11, 12; Psa 137:7) and Ammon (Ezek 25:3, 6; Jer 40:14), who should have helped Judah, rejected even their ties of kinship and turned against her.

The Jews had rejected the strong arm of God, and they had chosen instead to lean on the friendly surrounding nations. These remained friendly only as long as it was advantageous to their own interests. When the Babylonians threatened, Jerusalem learned the lesson of Pro 19:6,7:

"Many will intreat the favour of the prince:
and every man is a friend to him that giveth gifts.
All the brethren of the poor do hate him:
(For Judah was 'poor' in faith and thus poor in strength)--

how much more do his friends go far from him?
he pursueth them with words, yet they are wanting to him."
Let us learn this lesson well: No amount of preparation or planning or building of barns -- or diplomacy -- can take the place of trust in God. Riches will be lost or spent, youth and strength will evaporate, friends will desert us when most needed, and -- at last -- life itself will be taken from us. Our only deliverance, then, is found in the words of Paul:

"For our conversation (or our life, our treasure, and our hope) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ..." (Phi 3:20).
Verse 3:

"Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction,
and because of great servitude": Whether this phrase refers to Judah's sins (afflicting the innocent -- Jer 2:34), Judah's punishments (ie, v 2), or both, is not completely certain.

Any of these would be appropriate.

"She dwelleth among the heathen": When God maintained Israel as a separate nation, she was constantly straining at His bonds to return to the practice of the heathen nations around her. This was notably true for Moses' generation, which had just left Egypt. At last Israel's wish was realized -- in a much different way than expected: her eminence was taken away, her people "perished among the heathen", and they that were left alive "pined away in their iniquity in their enemies' land" (Lev 26:36-39).

"She findeth no rest": "And among these nations thou shalt find no ease, neither shall the sole of thy foot have rest... And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee..." (Deut 28:65, 66).

"Her persecutors ('pursuers' -- RSV) overtook her between the straits": The idea is that Israel, as a wanderer by God's decree, finds herself trapped by thieves in a narrow pass, with no escape in sight. Perhaps this is a reference to the capture of Zedekiah and his captains, as they tried to escape from Jerusalem "between the two walls" (Jer 52:7; cp Lam 4:18, 19).

Verse 4:

"The ways of Zion do mourn": The roads leading to Jerusalem were empty, since none came to the solemn feasts (2:6). But contrast this picture of desolation with the prophecy of Isaiah concerning the future kingdom:

"And an highway shall be there, and a way, and
it shall be called The way of holiness... And
the ransomed of the LORD shall return" (Isa 35:8, 10).
All the land was to mourn:

"The earth mourneth, and fadeth away...
because they have transgressed the laws..." (Isa 24:4, 5).
Jeremiah had promised the same punishment -- in Jer 9:11 and 33:10-12. But again, the desolation is contrasted with the future blessedness of the same "ways of Zion":

"Again, in this place, which is desolate without man and without beast... shall be an habitation of shepherds causing their flocks to lie down... (when) the Branch of righteousness shall grow up" (Jer 33:12, 15).
The "ways of Zion" mourned because of the wickedness of their inhabitants. But they will rejoice when Christ as king turns ungodliness from Jacob, and Israel leads the nations up to Jerusalem (Rom 11:26, Zec 8:22-3).

"None come to the solemn feasts": The three annual feasts, which all the men of Israel were to attend -- the Passover, Pentecost (the firstfruits), and the Feast of Tabernacles. But these, of course, ceased with the captivity:

"He hath violently taken away His tabernacle...
he hath destroyed His places of the assembly...
The LORD hath caused the solemn feasts...
to be forgotten in Zion" (2:6).
"All her gates are desolate": Compare Jer 14:2. In eastern cities in Biblical times, the gates of a city were the main places of commerce -- as well as of legal and social activities (5:14; Ruth 4:1; Job 29:7; Pro 31:23). They would be especially alive during the various feasts.

"Her priests sigh": The priests, supposedly the spiritual leaders of Judah, are condemned in 4:13-16, for their grievous iniquity. Perhaps they "sigh" because of the famine (vv 11, 12, 18-20).

"Sigh": The Hebrew word for "sigh" appears also in vv 8, 11 and 21.

"Her virgins are afflicted": Compare 5:11, 13. The RSV follows the LXX in amending the text to read "... have been dragged away". The virgins are mentioned as playing upon instruments on certain times of joyful celebration (Exo 15:20; Jer 31:13; Psa 68:25).

Verse 5:

"Her adversaries are the chief,
her enemies prosper": This is just as Moses had warned the children of Israel, that if they disobeyed God,

"The stranger that is within thee shall get up above thee very high; and
thou shalt come down very low...
He shall be the head, and thou shall be the tail" (Deut 28:43, 44).
"Her children are gone into captivity before the enemy": The "children of Zion" were carried away by Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 52:28-30), but these same children, called the "children of Rachel", "shall come again from the land of the enemy" (Jer 31:16) in the last days.

Verse 6:

"And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed": The priestly garments of Aaron and his sons were given them "for glory and for beauty" (Exo 28:2). The beauty which they represented was the beauty of righteousness and holiness. This type of beauty had departed from the promiscuous daughter of Zion; she no longer maintained the "ornament of a meek and a quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1Pe 3:4).

The inner beauty had departed. Therefore it was left for God next to remove the external beauty, which had been meant to signify the righteousness of the Jews: the temple, the throne, the priesthood, and the religious services all departed.

The greatest beauty which the Jews possessed was God's personal presence in their midst:

"Cry out and shout, thou inhabitant of Zion:
for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee" (Isa 12:6).

"God is known in her palaces for a refuge" (Psa 48:3).
This, sadly, was also taken away at the time of the captivity. The glory of Yahweh departed in successive stages -- from the sanctuary, and then from the city, until it came to the Mount of Olives on the east of Jerusalem, from whence it disappeared (Ezek 9:5; 10:4; 11:22, 23).

We must note again, as we have before, that God will restore what He has taken away. The same glory of God will return, in a time of much greater happiness than the time of its removal. In the last days, "his feet shall stand upon the Mount of Olives" (Zec 14:4). The glorious company of saints, led by Christ, will approach the city (Isa 63:1; Song 3:6, 7). This is what Ezekiel is referring to when he speaks in Ezek 43:2, 5:

"The glory of the God of Israel came from
the way of the east ('the sun's rising' -- Rev 16:12)...
and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house."
"Her princes are become like harts that find no pasture": David, in Psa 42:1, presents a picture of a hart panting after water in a dry and thirsty land. This is the picture intended here. The land of Israel has figuratively become a desert: the "water of life", the true knowledge and fear of God, has vanished.

Also, the hart symbolizes timidity and meekness. The strong princes of Judah have become no better than cowards -- who flee from their enemies, as did Zedekiah (2Ki 25:5; Jer 39:5). Those who once walked with great dignity and authority now run like hungry and frightened deer, not even looking behind to their children who depended upon them (Jer 47:3).

Verse 7:

"In the days of her affliction and of her miseries
Jerusalem remembered all her pleasant things
that she had in the days of old,
when her people fell into the hand of the enemy,
and none did help her:
the adversaries saw her,
and did mock at her sabbaths": See 2:15-17:

"All that pass by clap their hands at thee...
Is this the city that men call The perfection
of beauty. The joy of the whole earth?...
He hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee..."
At this time, the sabbaths had no religious services. The service which has always set the Jews apart from surrounding peoples, more than any other, is the commemoration of the Sabbath. Thus the cessation of this was the target of much scorn. But, of course, this curtailment was the work of God -- as is explained in Jer 25:8, 11. Judah had not observed her sabbaths as she should have, when she had the chance. Therefore, God forced her to observe the sabbath rest for 70 years:

"Therefore thus saith the LORD of hosts, Because ye have not heard My words... this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years."
Verse 8:

"Jerusalem hath grievously sinned,
therefore she is removed": Jerusalem -- or the nation of Judah -- is presented here as a woman, a wicked adulteress, who has forsaken Yahweh her true husband (Isa 54:5; Hos 2:2) and who has sinned among her many lovers (v 2).

Thus, Judah is likened to a woman legally and ceremonially "unclean" (NIV) under the Law (vv 9, 17; Lev 12:2; 15:19), who is to be separated from the people.

The marginal rendering of this passage offers a different idea, though related to this: "She is become a wandering". Jeremiah used the same phrase in Jer 34:17, where the Jews' future dispersion is meant:

"I will make you to be removed into all the kingdoms of the earth."
"All that honoured her despise her,
because they have seen her nakedness": Exposure of one's body was, to the Hebrews, a terrible disgrace -- a shame they felt much more deeply than most modern peoples would. Stripping was thus part of the punishment meted out to a prostitute (Ezek 16:35-39; 23:29), and it is used, metaphorically, of the punishment of nations (Isa 47:2, 3; Lam 4:21; Nah. 3:5).

Israel's glorious garments of holiness (cp Aaron's garments, in Exo 28) were removed, leaving her -- as the Laodiceans -- "poor and blind and naked" (Rev 3:17). The Jews had forgotten their own clothing -- the guilt was their own:

"Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire?
Yet my people have forgotten Me days without number" (Jer 2:32).
The lessons for us from Israel's experiences are well worth noting: our conduct is always obvious to the aliens around us, and they judge all Christadelphians by us. Furthermore, they judge God by our example. We are God's representatives to the world, and as such we bear a tremendous responsibility. If we live our faith honestly, letting our light shine before men, then the Gentiles will glorify God because of us (1Pe 3:1). But if we are seen to be less than we proclaim to be, we will have the opposite effect on our friends and neighbors.

Also, we must take steps to cover the "nakedness" of our sins. We have done this first in baptism, by "putting on Christ", "putting on the new man of righteousness and true holiness" (Eph 4:24). Then we must continually strive to keep our garments pure and spotless, looking to God for forgiveness when we fail, so that we will be properly dressed when we are called to appear at the marriage feast.

Verse 9:

"Her filthiness is in her skirts": This filthiness is, first of all, the same as the legal impurity of v 8 (cp Jer 13:27), the defilement of her spiritual adulteries. But also it is the blood of her victims:

"Also in thy skirts is found the blood of the souls of the poor innocents..." (Jer 2:34).
In this persecution of the innocent (Mat 23:34, 35), including Christ, Jerusalem bears a close resemblance to the other "holy city" (so-called), "Babylon the Great" and her hideous system:

"And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus" (Rev 17:6; 18:24).
"She remembereth not her last end": "She took no thought of her doom" (RSV). That is, she did not remember what God had threatened would be her end -- the desolation she is experiencing here. God had pleaded incessantly for her to change her ways, but to no avail (Deut 32:29; Isa 65:2). Again, Jerusalem is comparable to "Babylon" of the Apocalypse, in her stubbornness:

"And thou saidst, I shall be a lady forever: so that thou didst not lay these things to thy heart, neither didst remember the latter end of it" (Isa 47:7; cp Rev 18:7).
"Therefore she came down wonderfully": The verb "yarad" (to come down) is used of the humiliation of persons in Ezek 30:6 and Isa 47:1. Why was Israel humbled? "Because their tongue and their doings are against the LORD" (Isa 3:8). This was just as God had said, in Jer 13:17,18.

Verse 10:

"The adversary hath spread out his hand
upon all her pleasant things": Called "precious" (RSV) or "desirable things" (margin). See note v 6 ("All her beauty is departed"). This includes the vessels of the temple, called "goodly vessels" (or "vessels of desire" -- mg) in 2Ch 36:10, 19. Some of these vessels were brought to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar; the others were destroyed when God's house was burned. Jeremiah himself had predicted these things (Jer 15:13; 20:5).

"For she hath seen that the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom Thou didst command that they should not enter into Thy congregation": Compare Deut 23:3,4. In her life, the daughter of Zion had ignored the intents of such commands as these and had mingled freely with aliens and set up their gods in Yahweh's house (eg, 2Ki 21:7). She thus brought these punishments upon herself.

Verse 11:

"All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat
to relieve the soul": Again, the reference is to the famines of a besieged city, Jerusalem (see Jer 37:21; 38:9; 52:6). To make things worse Jeremiah prophesied of a dearth (Jer 14:1-6).

"Pleasant things": Same word as v 10.

"I am become vile": "I am despised" (RSV, NIV). Here is the beginning of Israel's recognition of her guilt, to be seen more fully in v 18 and in ch.2. The narrative is interrupted by an outburst of the voice of the personified city -- a desperate cry from one overcome by grief and despair.

Verse 12:

"Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?
behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me,
wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of His fierce anger":

Compare 2:15. The fallen daughter of Zion speaks a challenging message to the mockers who pass by. This scene demonstrates the utter indifference of the Gentiles to the plight of the Jews, and often their hostility (Psa 89:41).

This is really a condemnation of the Gentiles, because of their complete lack of understanding of the "hope of Israel" (Acts 28:20). "Hath God cast away His people, whom He foreknew?" (Rom 11:1) The unenlightened Gentile would answer, "Yes!" -- and thus dismiss Paul's words to the Roman brethren:

"Blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved... for this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Rom 11:25-27).
It is true that the Lord has afflicted Israel. But it is also true that "Salvation is (still) of the Jews" (John 4:22). In the last days, God plans to correct her and teach her His truth and place her in the most eminent position among the mortal nations of Christ's kingdom, as the "first dominion" (Mic 4:8). Then ten men shall take hold of the skirt of a Jew; to go with him to worship his God (Zec 8:20-23).

"To crush my young men": Compare 3:34; 5:13.

"As in a winepress": Another common symbol of God's judgments (Isa 63:2, 3; Rev 14:19; 19:15; Joel 3:13). This figure implies a ripeness for punishment. It is a vivid, even a gruesome symbol -- the blood squeezed out of bodies like juice squeezed out of grapes.

This figure of speech implies also that those to be punished belong to God -- that He is the Owner of the vineyard, so to speak, and that He is the Master of all (4:4; 17:4; 21:12). The fire from above is the "consuming fire" (Heb 12:29) of God's judgment, the fiery two-edged sword of God's word -- to divide soul from spirit, to try and perfect men, and to discern the thoughts and intents of the heart (1Pe 1:7; Heb 4:12, 13). The wicked cannot stand such a searching fire, and it prevails against them. But a righteous remnant survives this "fire in their bones" (Jer 20:9, for example), and emerges more fit for God's use.

"He hath spread a net for my feet": A figure of speech found also in Ezek 12:13; Hos 7:12 and Jer 50:24. But the Jews made their own trap; they could not blame God for any unjust actions. They caught themselves in the net of their own sins. This is pictured in Pro 1:16-18:

"For their feet run to evil,
and make haste to shed blood.
Surely in vain the net is spread
in the sight of any bird.
And they lay wait for their own blood:
they lurk privily for their own lives."
And also in Pro 5:22:

"His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself,
and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins."
"He hath turned me back": He hath confused them (cp Psa 35:4; 70:2, 3; Isa 42:17), giving them over to a reprobate mind (Rom 1:28), sending upon them strong delusion (2Th 2:11), because they never appreciated the privilege they had once possessed.

"He hath made me desolate": See v 1 and Isa 3:26. A picture of utter, hopeless misery -- "There is none to comfort her". The same word is used of Tamar after her humiliation by Amnon (2Sa 13:20).

Verse 14:

"The yoke of my transgressions": This represents, first of all, Israel's burden of sin, pressing down heavily upon its shoulders. The "yoke" was slavery, from which the children of Israel had been freed in Moses' day (Lev 26:13) -- just as we are freed from the yoke of slavery to sin at baptism.

But another "yoke" was waiting for them in Jeremiah's time: Babylon's "yoke of iron" (Deut 28:48; Jer 28:14). This yoke was the work of God's "servant" Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 25:9), and it was to be accepted humbly as a chastening from God (Jer 37:8-12). But the Jews fought against receiving the yoke, and thus the hand of God became firmer and firmer upon them.

For us, the saints, there is the lesson here to submit ourselves meekly to our Father and His chastening (Heb 12:5, 6, 11) -- to seek to learn the lessons He might teach us. For this reason, the same symbol of the yoke is used particularly in relation to us:

"It is good for a man that he bear the yoke
in his youth" (Lam 3:27).
And Jesus tells us:

"Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls" (Mat 11:29).
"They are wreathed": ie, "twisted together" or "entwined", speaking of the strength of the cords of the yoke.

"From whom I am not able to rise up": "They that trust in their wealth, and boast themselves in the multitude of their riches; None of them can by any means redeem his brother, nor give to God a ransom for him..." (Psa 49:6, 7). For those among the Jews who might learn the lesson from their condition: "My (ie God's) strength is made perfect in weakness... Therefore I (Paul) take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in persecutions... for when I am weak, then am I strong" (2Co 12:9, 10).

Verse 15:

"The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men in the midst of me": God fought against Jerusalem (2:5, 7). Judah's "heroes" were captured in the midst of the city (2Ki 24:14-16) or else they fled in fear (25:4).

"An assembly against me...": A solemn assembly called by God, as a feast (Lev 23:4). The enemies of Israel are called to witness and partake of the sacrifice of Israel herself, upon her own altar -- Jerusalem:

"Woe to Ariel, to Ariel (sig. 'God's altar'), the city where David
dwelt... And I will camp against thee round about, and will lay siege
against thee... the multitude of all the nations that fight against
Ariel..." (Isa 29:1, 3, 7).
Other passages also represent Yahweh's judgment upon Israel and other nations as sacrificial feasts (Zep 1:7, 8; Jer 46:10; Ezek 39:17-20; Isa 34:6).

"To crush my young men": Compare 3:34; 5:13.

"As in a winepress": Another common symbol of God's judgments (Isa 63:2, 3; Rev 14:19; 19:15; Joel 3:13). This figure implies a ripeness for punishment. It is a vivid, even a gruesome symbol -- the blood squeezed out of bodies like juice squeezed out of grapes.

This figure of speech implies also that those to be punished belong to God -- that He is the Owner of the vineyard, so to speak, and that He is the Master of all flesh, and that He has the right to tread them down. Jeremiah amplifies this in Jer 14:17 by saying that the virgin daughter of his people is "trodden down" by sword and famine.

In Lam 1:15, Israel is trodden down "as in a winepress" by God. In 4:21, 22, "the daughter of Edom" is marked out to receive retribution (as a "cup") for her part in this treading-down of Israel. And, finally, in Isa 63:2, 3 the particulars are given: Edom's "cup" is produced from the treading of the winepress by the One who is "mighty to save" His people Israel!

Verse 16:

"For these things I weep": See more in 3:48, 49.

"My children": See 5:13.

"Desolate": See 1:13.

Verse 17:

"Zion spreadeth forth her hands":

  1. Zion spreads her hands in prayer to God (cp Exo 9:29; 1Ki 8:22, 38). But her efforts are made useless by her many sins and her unchanged attitude (Isa 1:15-17).
  2. Or perhaps Zion spreads forth her hands merely in lament and travail -- with no thought of prayer, as Jeremiah prophesied in Jer 4:31.
"Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman": Legal defilement (see vv 8, 9; Lev 15: 19-27), but also a type of moral and spiritual defilement, an "unclean" state (Lam 4:15). See also Ezekiel 36:17:

"When the house of Israel dwelt in their own land, they defiled it by
their own way and by their own doings: their way was before me as the
uncleanness of a removed woman."
But even in the depths of their filthiness, the Jews will be offered the promise of being cleansed and healed by God:

"For I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put My spirit within you, and cause you to walk in My statutes, and ye shall keep My judgments, and do them" (Ezek 36:24-27).
"In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness" (Zec 13:1).
Verse 18:

"The Lord is righteous;
for I have rebelled against His commandment": Literally, "His mouth" (same word as in Job 39:27; Pro 8:29). God is inherently good (Rom 1:17; Mat 19:17; Rev 16:5-7; 19:2; Psa 129:4). Man is inherently evil (Jer 17:9; Eccl 8:11; 1Co 2:11; Mat 15:18-19). These two facts are cardinal points of the Bible's teaching.

Israel is more responsible to God than the other nations: "You only have I known..." (Amos 3:2); "He sheweth his word unto Jacob..." (Psa 147:19). Thus Israel has sorer punishment from God (see 4:16). Again, the lesson is very strongly outlined for us, as we see these punishments upon Jerusalem in 590 BC (and 70 AD). Just as the Jews at Mount Sinai, we have trembled before God and promised to do whatsoever He has commanded. Shall we meet the same fate as they did, and as their descendants did at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and Titus? "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Heb 2:3) For us, who know God's laws and commands, there awaits the sorer punishment of the "many stripes".

"Hear, I pray you, all people": Again, it is stressed that the lesson of Jerusalem's fall is for all people who seek to serve God (cp v 12). These things happened for "our admonition" (1Co 10:11).

"Behold my sorrow": Or "suffering" (RSV, NIV).

Verse 19:

"My lovers": See notes on v 2.

"My priests and my elders": The ones to whom the Jews looked for spiritual leadership and direction were the most deeply mired in iniquity. They bound heavy (and unnecessary) burdens, and grievous to be borne, and laid them upon the shoulders of their followers; but they themselves made no effort to carry them (Mat 23:4). The blind leading the blind, all fell into the ditch. See more in v 4; 2:20; 4:7-9; 5:12.

"While they sought their meat to relieve their souls": See notes, v 11.

Verse 20:

"Abroad the sword bereaveth": Those who tried to flee for protection, possibly in Egypt, met certain death (Jer 9:21, 22; 14:18; Ezek 7:15). They could not escape God.

"At home there is as death": Famine, pestilence for those who remained and tried to resist Nebuchadnezzar (v 11; Jer 9:21; 2Ki 25:3), for they were resisting God.

Verse 21:

"There is none to comfort me": The seventh, and final, time that this thought is expressed (vv 2, 3, 7, 9, 16, 17, 21), for in the next chapter a remnant in Zion begins to realize that their help and comfort will surely come, from God (2:18, 19).

"They shall be like unto me": This is the fearful but wonderful promise, spoken of more fully in 4:21, 22 in connection with "Edom", a symbol of all Israel's enemies who rejoice at the misfortunes of the "hope of Israel". It was literally Edom who said of Jerusalem, "Rase it, rase it, even to the foundations thereof..." (Psa 137:7). From the time it turned against its former friends, Edom travelled slowly downward in esteem and power among the nations, becoming subservient to Babylon and Rome, losing its former territory and being forced to dwell among the Jews, and at last being annihilated by the Roman conquerors. In contrast to the nations of Mob and Ammon, Edom is the scene of "perpetual desolations". Her fate, with no chance for repentance, stands as a type of all the "Edoms" at the present time who will remain unchanged in their hostility toward Israel. "For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen" (Oba 1:15). "I will curse him that curseth thee" (Gen 12:3). See also Joel 3:19; Zec 12:2, 3; Jer 25:29.

Verse 22:

"Let all their wickedness come before Thee": As great Babylon will come into remembrance before God, "to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath" (Rev 16:19). The souls of them who are slain cry with a loud voice, "How long?" (Rev 6:10). But God is patient: it may appear that retribution will never come, but it is certain:

"For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry" (Hab 2:3).
"For my sighs are many, and my heart is faint": But then, all hands will faint, and every man's heart will melt, when the day of the Lord is at hand upon "Babylon" and her allies (Isa 13:6-8).

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