The Agora
The Lamentations of Jeremiah

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Chapter 5 (Verse by Verse)

Various Greek texts entitle this elegy "A Prayer". Other manuscripts add "of Jeremiah".

Verse 1:

"Remember": Compare 1:20; 2:20; 3:19. The Lord will remember the sufferings of the Jews. He will also remember the sufferings of the saints -- as He did those of Christ (cp Psa 89:50, 51).

As James says, "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). The prayer of Hezekiah is a prime example (Isa 37:14-20). We are commanded to pray, in the same way, for the peace of Jerusalem (Psa 122:6).

"Behold our reproach": Our shame, disgrace (RSV, NIV), and infamy. From a root word meaning "autumn" or "ripeness" -- perhaps signifying here the fulness of iniquity, as the wicked finally reap what has been sown (v 7, notes; Gal 6:7). Jeremiah, true to his feeling for the "hope of Israel", places himself among those who have sinned grievously. In a true spirit of brotherliness, he accepts partial responsibility for the sins of his countrymen.

Verse 2:

"Our inheritance is turned to strangers": The inheritance is the promised land (Gen 13:15; Lev 26:5, 6), a land of milk and honey (Exo 3:8; Lev 20:24), given only temporarily and conditionally to the nation of Israel -- if they followed God (Jer 3:19).

But the same inheritance is promised eternally to us: still, "our inheritance" may be also "turned to strangers" if we are rejected at the judgment seat (Mat 25:41).

Verse 3:

"We are orphans and fatherless": God had been the Father to the Jews (Psa 68:5; 103:13; Jer 31:9, 10), but no longer.

Verse 4:

The Jews, as a result of the captivity, are now so degraded that they must buy from usurping strangers what was once their own property.

"We have drunken our water for money": Judah is forced to buy her water, because she had rejected the true and living "water" (Isa 8:6; 55:1; John 4:10; 7:37); that is, she had rejected God, the fountain of living waters (Jer 2:13, 18; 17:3).

"For money": Contrast Isa 55:1: "Without money". This is the invitation of the gospel (Rev 21:6; 22:1, 17), which the Jews had spurned.

Verse 5:

"Our necks are under persecution": The Jews, a stiff-necked people (2Ch 30:8; Isa 48:4), were down trodden (Psa 66:12; Isa 51:23). Compare 1:14; 3:34; 4:19.

Verse 6:

"We have given the hand":

  1. In submission, as in Jer 50:15.
  2. Or in begging: "We have extended the hand." What a come-down from the days when "Thou shah lend to others, but thou shalt not borrow" (Deut 15:6)!
  3. Or in agreement: "We have made a pact with..." (Hillers). Compare Ezek 17:18 and thoughts in Jer 2:18, 36 and Hosea 7:11; 12:1. Perhaps all three ideas may find a place in a comprehensive view of this verse, and of Israel's many-sided relationship with her neighbors.
"To the Egyptians": After Josiah's death (circa 608 BC), Egypt deposed his son Jehoahaz, and crowned Jehoiakin (2Ch 36:3, 4).

"To the Assyrians": Or to Babylon, which occupied their former lands (cp Jer 2:18). Also, a type of the "Assyrian" from the north in the last days, who will have consolidated all the old empires: Russia!

Verse 7:

"Our fathers have sinned, and are not": The nation has at last recognized the reason for God's heavy hand upon them, the same hand which fell upon their fathers. Compare the words of Zechariah, spoken 70 years later:

"Your fathers, where are they?... and they returned and said, Like as the LORD of Hosts thought to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so hath he dealt with us" (Zec 1:5, 6).
"We have borne their iniquities": The Jews, similarly, had in Christ's time filled up the measure of their fathers' iniquity (Mat 23:32). Although it is a Scriptural principle that every man bears personal responsibility for his own deeds (Ezek 18:20), it is still true that national sins are often unpunished for a time, and judgment is stored up until a later date, when it all falls at one time (2Ki 24:21; Exo 20:5; Jer 32:18; Gen 15:13-16). Such was the case with the kingdom of Judah.

Verse 8:

"Servants ('slaves') have ruled over us": This always happened when Israel forgot their one true Ruler -- Yahweh. They did not heed Joshua's command to drive out the Canaanites (Josh 16:10), who remained in the land throughout the period of the judges, and mightily oppressed them.

One of the four things which the earth cannot "bear" is "a servant (slave) when he reigneth" (Pro 30:21, 22) -- a sad fact evidenced again in Israel's history when those ruthless Roman "slaves", the Edomite (Idumean) Herods, reigned!

This verse may also be a reference to the governors who evidently were soon to begin ruling in the land (Neh 5:15).

Verse 9:

"We gat our bread with the peril of our lives
because of the sword of the wilderness": Contrast this with the fortunes of the Jews who spent 40 years in the wilderness, where they gathered bread each day; they found it as the dew upon the ground! They had "no lack".

The famine of bread in Jeremiah's time was only the type of the far worse famine -- the famine of God's word (Amos 8:11, 12). There were still prophets to speak to Israel, but most refused to hear -- and thus brought the hardships of a "famine" upon themselves.

Verse 10:

"Our skin was black": Affliction, persecution, wandering (Song 1:5, 6; Psa 119:83; Lam 4:8), famine (Rev 6:5, 6).

"Like an oven": Egypt was symbolized by an iron furnace (Deut 4:20). A similar thought is intended here: the fiery persecution of the Jews. Likewise, the Psalmist, in 119:83, pictures himself as a bottle, or a wineskin, blackened by the smoke.

Verse 11:

"They ravished the women in Zion,
and the maids in the cities of Judah": This was predicted in Deut 28:30, 32 and Jer 6:12. Israel's latter-day enemies will also do this (cp Zec 14:2); but God sees and remembers (v 1), and such deeds will be punished (as in Isa 13:16; Psa 137:7-9).

Verse 12:

"Princes": The nation of Israel (which signifies "a prince with El").

"Princes are hanged up by their hand": Probably impaling after death. Thus, falling under a curse (Deut 21:23; Gal 3:13).

"The faces of elders were not honoured": See 4:16.

Verse 13:

"They took the young men to grind": A low menial task, usually assigned to female slaves (Exo 11:5; Isa 47:2) or other women (Mat 24:41). The Philistines could think of no greater degradation with which to torment their blinded former nemesis-Samson (Judges 16:21).

Verse 14:

"The elders have ceased from the gate": Counsel (as Ruth 4:1), as well as social and commercial activity (as Job 29:7; Pro 31:23), had ceased.

Verse 15:

"The city of confusion is broken down" (Isa 24:7-11). cp Jer 7:34 and Psa 30:11.

"Our dance is turned into mourning": Now was the "time to weep" (Eccl 3:4), as Nehemiah was to mourn when he later saw the city lying waste (Neh 2:2, 3).

But "joy cometh in the morning" (Psa 30:5), and "they that sow in tears shall reap in joy" (Psa 126:5, 6).

Verse 16:

''The crown": In two senses the "crown" had fallen:

The crown is a symbol of royalty, which had been overthrown (Jer 13:18; Ezek 21:26; Psa 89:39; Hos 3:4).

The crown also symbolizes obedience to the Truth (Rev 2:10; 3:11), and dedication and priesthood (Exo 28:36-38).

Verse 17:

See 1:22 and 2:11.

Verse 18:

"Because of the mountain of Zion": The center of all true Jewish hopes (Isa 2:2-4; 24:23; Psa 133:3).

"The foxes walk upon it": Compare Psa 63:10. "Jackals" (RSV, NIV), unclean scavengers, representing the unclean nations who "walk upon" the hope of Israel.

Verse 19:

"Thou, O LORD, remainest for ever;
Thy throne from generation to generation": This is the one means by which the Jews' sorrowful condition may be changed: God's kingdom was once on earth (1Ch 28:5; 2Ch 13:8), and it will be re-established (2Sa 7:12-16; Acts 1:6; 14:16) as His throne (Jer 3:17).

Verse 20:

"For ever": Literally, "for the age" (see, for example, Dr. Thomas' exposition in Eureka, vol. 1, pp. 127-130). The age is evidently this age: the time of the Gentiles, the prophetic period now drawing to a close.

Verse 21:

A quotation from Jer 31:18.

"Turn Thou us unto Thee, O LORD, and we shall be turned": True humility at last! A recognition that, as the punishments came from God, so forgiveness must come from Him as well, and repentance and renewal of purpose, by His grace and strength, will follow. It is vain to lament the past if our grief does not help us to make the future better, by seeking help from the one unfailing Source.

"Renew our days as of old":

"And He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the LORD an offering in righteousness. Then shall the offering of Judah and Jerusalem be pleasant unto the LORD, as in the days of old, and as in former years" (Mal 3:3, 4).
Verse 22:

In the Hebrew manuscripts, verse 21 is usually repeated after verse 22 -- so as to close the book on a more hopeful note (the same type of repetition is found in printed editions of some Hebrew Bibles at the end of Isaiah, Ecclesiastes, and But a fuller understanding of verse 22 makes such an editorial addition superfluous.

"But Thou hast utterly rejected us;
Thou art very wroth against us": This verse has been poorly translated. It implies an utter, complete rejection of the Jews for all eternity -- which is perhaps what orthodox translators would like -- but which is certainly not in harmony with the rest of Scripture (see, for one example, 3:31-33, notes).

Some translators simply render this verse as a question. Note the RSV, the margin of the AV, and Keil. Rotherham translates it:

"For though Thou hast not utterly rejected us,
Thou art wroth with us exceedingly."
And Goodspeed renders it in this way:

"If Thou wert to reject us completely,
Thou wouldst be going too far in Thine anger against us."
God would not be going too far for just deserts, but too far according to His previous utterances. Such a proposal would be out of harmony with all the promises of God. Moses said that God would raise unto Israel a leader like unto him, whom they would hear.

They rejected this leader when he came the first time, but their hearts will be turned from stone to flesh when he returns in power and glory; when their pride and self-confidence has been abased before the latter-day enemy, and when God fights for them as in the day of battle. Then shall they open the gates of their hearts unto him:

"Lift up your heads, O ye gates;
even lift them up, ye everlasting doors;
and the King of glory shall come in...
The LORD of Hosts,
He is the King of Glory" (Psa 24:9-10).
Then, shall they say:


O! Mourn ye for Zion, her beauty is faded,
Her joy is departed, her glory is fled:
The light and the hope or her prospects is shaded:
She wanders in darkness, her comforts are dead.

Oh! pray ye for Zion: though sad and forsaken,
Though scorned and derided, despised and forlorn;
The truth of Yahweh, our God, is unshaken,
Her night shall but usher a glorious morn.

Oh! Labor for Zion, though now, in her blindness,
She knows not her Saviour, Messiah, and Lord;
Yet, guided by mercy, the life-tones of kindness
Shall win her full ear to the voice of His word.

Oh watch ye for Zion; the day-spring is breaking,
Her night has been gloomy, but shortly will end:
Her long-promised Shepherd, His lost sheep is seeking,
The heart of the rebellious nation will bend.

Oh! hope ye for Zion; salvation is near,
And brighter than morn's rosy glow shall be seen;
The great Sun of Righteousness soon shall appear;
The beam of His glory shall gladden the scene.

Rejoice ye for Zion! Yahweh has spoken;
Jerusalem 's outcasts shall yet be restored;
The bonds of the fetter-bound slave shall be broken,
And Judah set free at the word of the Lord.
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