The Agora
The Lamentations of Jeremiah

Previous Index Next

Chapter 4 (Verse by Verse)

Verse 1:

"How is the gold become dim!": Gold symbolizes faith -- a tried faith in God, as gold that has passed through the fire and been purified (1Pe 1:7; Rev 3:18). Thus, gold -- or faith -- is the basis of the kingdom of God, both in the past and in the future. In Jeremiah's time, true faith had all but completely disappeared, and thus the kingdom was removed from the "daughter of Zion" (Ezek 21:25-27). The gold in short, became "dim".

"How is the most fine gold changed!": This is a reference to the deeds of Solomon and Rehoboam (see 1Ki 10:17; 14:26, 27).

"The stones of the sanctuary": "The holy stones" (RSV), perhaps the gems of the breastplate (Exo 28:17-21). This is figurative language; the literal gold and precious stones would never be discarded or ignored by the avaricious Babylonians. What was scattered about in the streets were the young children dying of hunger (see v 2 and 2:19)!

Verse 2:

"How are they esteemed as earthen pitchers": Those who might have been precious stones and fine gold instead failed to please God, and like cheap pottery they were to be broken, as in Jer 18:2-6; 19:11; and Isa 30:14 (compare 2Ti 2:12).

Verse 3:

As in Isa 1:3 and Jer 8:7, the people of Israel are compared, and that unfavorably, to animals.

"Sea monsters": By which the AV translators (so also those of the NEB) must have meant whales. But the Hebrew "tannin" may signify several different beasts -- either of the water or the land. Since these particular "tannin" give suck to their young, some mammal must be intended here. Suggestions of various translators include "jackals" (RSV, NIV, and as in Isa 13:21), "she-wolves" (Keil), and "wild dogs" (Roth.).

"The daughter of my people is become cruel": The Jews were compelled by God's mercy (Exo 34:6, 7) to show mercy to others (Mat 22:37), but they failed, becoming covetous and proud (as in 2Ti 3:2-4), "without natural affection" (Rom 1:31).

"Like the ostriches in the wilderness ('desert')": The ostriches are cannibals, eating their young (cp Job 39:13-18). See Lam 2:20 and 4:10 for the depth of the cruelty of Israel.

Even contemptible beasts of prey suckle their young, but the mothers of Israel under the pressures of the siege and famine behaved like the ostriches, notoriously indifferent toward their offspring (see Deut 58:53, 56, 57).

Verse 4:

See 1:11 and 2:11, 12.

Verse 5:

How fragile and unstable is "high society", then and now! How sad that so much time and thought and wealth is given over to the cultivation of "good taste" -- dress, furnishings, art and food -- while the "weightier matters" of truth, justice and mercy are ignored! But some day (and it will be soon) the tables will be turned!

"They that did feed delicately": "Those who feasted on dainties" (RSV). Isa 3:16-26 and Amos 6:3-7 provide the details for the same general condemnation of Israel: their sumptuous mode of life.

"Scarlet": The garments of the wealthy (2Sa 1:24), connected with sin in Isa 1:18.

"Dunghills": Better, "ash heaps" (RSV; NIV). Or "garbage" (Hillers), as though searching for food.

Verse 6:

"For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom": Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed swiftly (Gen 19:24), but the final pangs of Jerusalem were intense and drawn-out (vv 8-10). Their deeds were the same (Isa 1:9, 10; Ezek 16:46-50), but the responsibility of the Jews was far greater (Amos 3:2; Mat 11:23, 24: see the introductory notes). The lesson is for us too (Heb 2:3; Luke 12:47). We are just as responsible to God -- perhaps more so -- than were these Jews.

"That was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her": Sodom was directly destroyed by God. But Jerusalem was left to human hands -- a much worse fate, as witnessed by David's choice of God's punishment over man's punishment (2Sa 24:14) and Christ's reference to Sodom's judgment (Mat 10:15; 11:24).

Sodom was "overthrown as in a moment", yet Jude speaks of Sodom and Gomorrah "suffering the vengeance of eternal fire" (v 7). This apparent contradiction is easily explained in that the effect of the fire (ie, absolute annihilation), but not the literal flames, was indeed eternal!

Verse 7:

The former state of Israel. This refers to holiness and dedication -- Israel's former state of mind toward God. Contrast this with v 8.

"Her Nazarites": "Separated ones" (Num 6). Compare Amos 2:11, 12 and Jer 35 (the Rechabites). The entire nation had once been this way: reverent and healthy (cp David in 1Sa 16:17, Daniel in Dan 1:8-15, and Christ in Song 5:10).

"Polishing": From a Hebrew word "gazar", meaning "to divide".

Verse 8:

"Their visage is blacker than a coal": Symbolic of distress and depression (Job 30:25-31), mourning and famine (Rev 6:5, 6).

In Joel 2:6, to "gather blackness" means literally to "grow pale" (as in Nah. 2:10 also), in fear of coming judgments.

Verse 9:

Hunger and starvation, being prolonged, were worse than immediate death.

Verse 10:

The privations of the siege bring out the worst in men and women (cp 2:20; Jer 19:9; Lev 26:29; Deut 28:56; 2Ki 6:26-29). The darkness of this scene accentuates the brightness of Zechariah's "Kingdom" promise, that the streets of this very city Jerusalem will one day be full of boys and girls at play (8:5).

"Sodden": "Boiled" (RSV).

Verse 11:

"The LORD hath accomplished His fury;
He hath poured out His fierce anger,
and hath kindled a fire in Zion,
and it hath devoured the foundations thereof": Jerusalem was besieged approximately 18 months (2Ki 25:1-3). A literal fire is mentioned in 2Ch 36:19, but fire is also a common symbol of any destruction (Jer 21:14; Deut 32:22).

Verse 12:

"The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem": Wonderment, as in Deut 29:24-28; Psa 48:4-6; and Rev 18:9,10. The gates of Jerusalem had been saved by Hezekiah's faith (Isa 36 and 37), but that faith had lasted only as long as that righteous king had lived. The once-fine gold was dim, the faith was gone (v 1). Judah trusted in idols, and thus relinquished her peculiarity and became as other nations, which God destroyed by Sennacherib (2Ki 18:35). The elaborate fortifications which had been built by Uzziah, Hezekiah and Manasseh to protect Jerusalem were useless before the Babylonians.

Verse 13:

"The sins of her prophets,
and the iniquities of her priests": The "prophets" and priests, supposedly the spiritual leaders of Israel, bore the greatest burden of guilt (Hos 4:6-10; Isa 9:14-16; they caused the people to err) because of their idolatry and injustice.

"That have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her": As they almost did to Jeremiah (Jer 26:7, 23), and as they did in fact to the other prophets (2Ch 24:21; 2Ki 21:16; Mat 23:31, 37) and to Christ (Luke 23:22, 23).

Verse 14:

"They have wandered ('staggered') as blind men in the streets": They were blind leaders of the blind (Mat 15:14; 23:16), in such a pitiful condition that they did not even realize their "blindness" (cp Rev 3:17).

"They have polluted themselves with blood": They made no effort to cleanse their ways. They were ministers of God's sanctuary, which they thoughtlessly polluted (Zep 3:4), worshipping "other gods" (Jer 19:4-6), and polluting at last all the land by their idolatry (Num 35:33).

The only remedy was for God to require their blood, or deaths.

Verse 15:

"They cried unto them": The "they" are the men of v 14, who could not so much as touch the garments of the prophets and priests. See RSV.

"Depart ye... unclean... touch not": An allusion to the leprous defilement of Lev 13:45.

"They shall no more sojourn there": The type of Jew represented by the wicked priests and prophets became despised by his people and refused even by the Gentiles among whom he fled. So again with Jewry's present religious leaders (Zec 13:3-6).

Verse 16:

"The anger of the Lord hath divided them": "Scattered" (RSV).

"They respected not the persons of the priests": The "they" here are the Babylonian invaders. Even the most barbarous of the Gentiles could see the hypocrisy of the Jewish priests (5:12).

Verses 17-20: This section describes the sins of the Common People. They were deceived by their leaders, condemned for false trust and for itching ears which wanted only to hear "smooth things" (Isa 30:10).

Verse 17:

"As for us": Jeremiah speaks for the commoners, the poor of Israel, those without a shepherd whose part Christ took.

"In our watching we have watched": Rotherham has, rather descriptively, "In our Watchtower have we watched". In this verse Jeremiah is recalling actual events during the siege.

"A nation that could not save us": Egypt (Isa 36:6; Jer 37:7), was neither willing nor able to help Israel when the crunch came -- as, in the end, all Gentile nations will be unwilling or unable to help her.

Verse 18:

"They hunt our steps": See 1:13 and 3:52.

Verse 19:

"Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of heaven": Eagles are used as a symbol of Babylon in Jer 4:13 and of Rome in Deut 28:49.

"They pursued us upon the mountains": As they did Zedekiah (Jer 39:4, 5; 52:8, 9).

Verse 20:

"The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD": To whom was Jeremiah referring? Perhaps there are several answers:

  1. Josiah, the last righteous king of Judah, and a type of Christ in many ways, but who had died 608 BC (2Ch 35:25).
  2. Zedekiah, Judah's last king, and the center of their feeble hopes, although a weak and wicked man -- who was carried captive (2Ki 25:4-7).
  3. As typical of later days, Christ himself, the only true hope of Israel (Luke 24:21), who was slain (Luke 19:14), leading to the dispersion of 70 AD.
"Was taken in their pits": "Destruction" (Psa 107:20):

  1. The "pit" of nations -- from 588 BC to the twentieth century, a political "burial".
  2. Death, which Christ suffered (Luke 24:25, 26) to deliver others from this same "pit" (Psa 107:20).
"Of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen":

  1. The nation's sad, unrealized hopes in the kingship of Zedekiah.
  2. The true hope found in Christ, fulfilled in vv 21, 22 -- when Israel is cleansed (Zec 13:1).
Verse 21:

The "cup" is passed to "Edom": compare the notes, 1:15, 21, 22.

"Daughter of Edom": Which allied itself with Babylon against Judah (Oba 1:11; Joel 3:19; Psa 137:7).

"Edom" may symbolize "all nations" (as in Isa 34, where the two are used interchangeably). "Edom", like "Adam", is related to the Hebrew words for "red" (the color of sin) and "flesh" (the seat of sin). Thus it is a fitting symbol for that last great fleshly sin-power to oppose Christ's kingdom, the Russian "Reds" and their allies -- who will be destroyed by the "saviours" upon the mountains of Israel (Oba 1:21; cp Isa 63:1).

Of course, the ancient territory of Edom is currently occupied by the modern nations of Jordan and Saudi Arabia, nations that with their Arab allies may yet play a significant part in the developing affairs of the last days.

"That dwellest in the land of Uz": "Uz", the territory of righteous Job (Job 1:1), signifies "wisdom, advice, counsel". The citizens were famed for their learning, and thus are typical of all Gentile enemies of Israel, who boast in the "wisdom of this world", but are oblivious to the one "hope of Israel".

"The cup also shall pass through unto thee": Judgments, as in Psa 11:6; 75:8; Jer 49:12; Rev 14:10; 16:19 -- "rendered double" (Rev 18:6). The exact sentiment was earlier expressed by Jeremiah 25:15.

"Thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked": The association of drunkenness and self-exposure occurs also in Gen 9:21, 22 and Hab 2:15, 16. In the spiritual sense, Israel had become "drunken" in arrogance and worldliness, and she thereby uncovered the "nakedness" of her sin. Now she sees the same fate awaiting her neighbor Edom.

Verse 22:

"The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished": Compare Isa 40:2: "Her warfare is accomplished... her iniquity is pardoned..." The Jews have received recompense enough for their sins, and they will now be healed in Christ's kingdom (Zec 1:13-16, 13:1; Rom 11:23).

"He will no more carry thee away into captivity": The Israelites, gathered back to the Holy Land (Mic 2:12; Zep 3:19), become the first dominion (Mic 4:6-8), sanctified unto God (Ezek 37:26-28). See also Jer 30:11: 31:10, 31-34; 33:15, 16; Zec 8:4, 5.

"He will discover thy sins": "He hath stripped the veil from off thy sins" (Roth).

Previous Index Next