Here begins the second song, which also begins with the word “how” (cf. Lam 1:1). Again, what we have in the first song applies: twenty-two verses of three lines each, with the first verse beginning with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and each subsequent verse with the next letter of it. Again we hear the great sorrow of Jeremiah who needs every letter to express his sorrow.
The first lament (Lamentations 1) is more about desolation, loneliness and disgrace as a result of the destruction of Jerusalem. In the lament in this chapter, we see more of the state of destruction with the destruction of the temple being the main issue. We also see emphatically here that the destruction is the result of the anger of God.
1. Verses 1-9 describe the destruction of Jerusalem, where it is attributed to the Lord (Adonai).
2. In verse 10 we see the condition of some of the survivors and
3. in verses 11-12 we hear the personal distress of Jeremiah.
4. In verses 13-17 Jerusalem is lamented; Jeremiah looks for a comfort ground, but does not find it.
5. Verses 18-19 contain a call to call on the Lord (Adonai) and
6. in verses 20-22 we hear how the LORD (Yahweh) is called.
1 - 9 Jerusalem Destroyed – the Lord Has Done It
1 How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion
With a cloud in His anger!
He has cast from heaven to earth
The glory of Israel,
And has not remembered His footstool
In the day of His anger.
2 The Lord has swallowed up; He has not spared
All the habitations of Jacob.
In His wrath He has thrown down
The strongholds of the daughter of Judah;
He has brought [them] down to the ground;
He has profaned the kingdom and its princes.
3 In fierce anger He has cut off
All the strength of Israel;
He has drawn back His right hand
From before the enemy.
And He has burned in Jacob like a flaming fire
Consuming round about.
4 He has bent His bow like an enemy;
He has set His right hand like an adversary
And slain all that were pleasant to the eye;
In the tent of the daughter of Zion
He has poured out His wrath like fire.
5 The Lord has become like an enemy.
He has swallowed up Israel;
He has swallowed up all its palaces,
He has destroyed its strongholds
And multiplied in the daughter of Judah
Mourning and moaning.
6 And He has violently treated His tabernacle like a garden [booth];
He has destroyed His appointed meeting place.
The LORD has caused to be forgotten
The appointed feast and sabbath in Zion,
And He has despised king and priest
In the indignation of His anger.
7 The Lord has rejected His altar,
He has abandoned His sanctuary;
He has delivered into the hand of the enemy
The walls of her palaces.
They have made a noise in the house of the LORD
As in the day of an appointed feast.
8 The LORD determined to destroy
The wall of the daughter of Zion.
He has stretched out a line,
He has not restrained His hand from destroying,
And He has caused rampart and wall to lament;
They have languished together.
9 Her gates have sunk into the ground,
He has destroyed and broken her bars.
Her king and her princes are among the nations;
The law is no more.
Also, her prophets find
No vision from the LORD.
Right at the beginning Jeremiah says that it is not the enemy, but that it is the Lord (Adonai) Who in His anger has covered Jerusalem with the darkness of mourning and grief (verse 1). The clouds, the mourning and grief, cover Jerusalem; the city is immersed in them. In this darkness, no ray of light of God’s presence can be seen. There is no prayer that can penetrate to the Lord.
“The glory of Israel”, which is the LORD’s own dwelling place, the temple, He has, by the hand of the enemies, “cast down from heaven to earth” and razed to the ground. Zion went from the highest glory to the deepest disgrace (cf. Mt 11:23). Although the enemies were used by Him in the execution of His anger, Jeremiah still attributes everything to the Lord. He has done it.
“His footstool”, the place of His rest, is the ark of His covenant (1Chr 28:2). He has not been willing and able to keep it because the people have deprived Him of His rest through their sins. He has not remembered to protect and keep it for His people. He had to leave the temple and therefore the temple and the objects in it no longer have any meaning. In the day when He had to exercise His anger, He gave everything into the hand of the enemies to destroy it or carry it away.
The Lord did not spare His own dwelling. Nor has He (Adonai) spared the dwellings of His people, but has thrown them all down (verse 2). He swallowed them as if He were a great monster. It points to the completeness of the destruction.
His anger on their sins is great. Therefore He wiped out from the face of the earth all the strongholds, all the fortified cities of Judah, on which they had relied as a protection against the enemy. The description is clear. The Lord dealt with the cities.
He has “brought [them] down to the ground”, that is, levelled them to the ground. By doing so, He desecrated the kingdom and its leadership, that is, deprived them of the special place they had before Him. Judah lost its independence. Zedekiah was taken to Babylon and his sons and princes were killed.
“All the strength of Israel”, literally “every horn of Israel”, He has cut off in His fierce anger (verse 3). The horn is a picture of strength (1Sam 2:1; Jer 48:25). Israel has been strong through the LORD. However, nothing is left of their strength because they have forsaken their strong God. They stand powerless in the midst of misery and ruin.
When the LORD acted, it was against His people. But even when He did not act, it was against His people. “His right hand”, which protected them and which fought for them and redeemed them (Exo 15:12; Psa 18:35; 20:6; 108:6), He has drown back from them (Psa 74:11). Israel had to do it without His help. The enemy saw that and seized his opportunity.
The enemy has been given free rein because the LORD has burned in anger against Jacob. His anger is “like a flaming fire, consuming round about”. Nothing is spared. Every corner of the land is visited and falls prey to His judging fire.
He has become the adversary of His people (verse 4). He has acted as an enemy of His people. In verse 3, He has withdrawn His right hand from His people. Here His right hand reappears, but now “He has bent His bow” ready to approach and punish His people like “an enemy”. He has cocked the bow and slain all that were pleasant to the eye, that is the fighting young men.
Now in the hiddenness of the tent, a place of security and fellowship (Psa 27:5b), by which Jerusalem and especially the temple are meant, the fire of His anger rages.
The Lord (Adonai) has “become like an enemy” to His people, for He has given them into the hand of the king of Babylon, making this enemy His representative (verse 5). If His people obediently served Him, He would be the enemy of the enemies of His people (Exo 23:22). But now He, the Lord Himself, is the enemy of His people (cf. Isa 63:10). He has done it, His hand has brought this calamity upon them. We must also be well aware of this in what comes upon us or is said to us. No matter how hostile or carnal something may be that comes upon us, we must accept it from His hand.
Again the word “swallowed” is used (cf. verse 2). Israel and all her palaces were swallowed by Him. All her strongholds have been “destroyed”. It causes an increasing lamentation among His people, the daughter Judah.
He has pulled down His temple as a temporary booth, “His tabernacle”, as if it were a temporary shelter that farmers build in the fields and tear down when they are finished in the fields (verse 6). Nothing remains of the temple, for He has “violently treated” it, which also expresses His anger. He has done it thoroughly. The “garden” is His land. His people have sacrificed to idols in it. So why should He still maintain His temple? Therefore, He has taken away from them the privilege of worshiping Him.
“His appointed meeting place”, the place where the people gathered by and with Him, the temple, is gone. He Himself brought that place to ruin. He was forced to do so because of the behavior of His people. We see the same thing today, where places of gathering are disappearing because pride has made “His place” a place where people call the shots. If He is no longer given all authority in His place of meeting, He can no longer be in the midst there (cf. Mt 18:20).
Everything that the people connected to the LORD (Yahweh) in a festive gathering is over. The people have forgotten because there is nothing left to remind them. The cause of this lies with the LORD. He has also taken away “the appointed feast and sabbath” with the temple. He has made it impossible to meet Him on the occasion of the feasts in the temple. This is true in a double sense: He left the temple and He destroyed it.
With the temple, “king and priest” have also been rejected. The house of David is in captivity as is the priesthood. There is a close connection between the Davidic kingship and the Levitical priesthood. David and his son Solomon were intimately involved with the temple, the priest’s field of activity. When the temple is gone and there is no place for the priest, there is no place for kingship either. The whole public religious life no longer has a reason to exist. This situation will exist until the true King-Priest, the Lord Jesus, will sit on His throne as Priest and reign (Zec 6:13).
In His majesty, the Lord (Adonai) “rejected His altar” and “abandoned His sanctuary” (verse 7). He could no longer maintain it because they continued to sin. By doing so, they indicated that they did not value the altar as a symbol of atonement and His sanctuary as a symbol of His presence.
He has also given the walls of the palaces of princes into the hand of the enemy. What should humanly provide protection becomes an easy obstacle for the enemies to overcome because the Lord helps them.
The enemies themselves have no regard for that. They are in the temple in place of His people. They are not there to thank the LORD, but to let their roaring voices ring out in that house in haughty joy over the victory. It is their day of an appointed feast. It is not a joy to the LORD and not a day of an appointed feast dedicated to Him.
The LORD did not act on a whim. He made a deliberate decision, after careful consideration. Because of their irredeemably sinful behavior, He had to decide to destroy Jerusalem (verse 8). The wall is down. The enemy can walk right in.
That His decision is deliberate is also evident from “a line” that He “stretched out”. Such a thing is also done carefully. His hand worked this “destroying” and determined its precision as with a measuring line (cf. 2Kgs 21:13; Isa 34:11). Usually a measuring line is used to do edifying work (Job 38:5; Zec 1:16), but here it is used to do a destructive work.
The devastation here concerns mainly the fortifications, walls and ramparts, which here are again presented as living persons lamenting what has happened to them. All the protection that was supposed to provide peace and security has collapsed with the result that they languish together.
The gates and bars are destroyed (verse 9). When Nehemiah hears of the downed walls and the destroyed gates and bars, it brings him to humility, prayer and action (Nehemiah 1-3). Those who were supposed to protect and govern the city, “her king and her princes” – possibly Jehoiachin and his staff are meant here – have been carried off and are among the nations.
No one talks about the law anymore. The law was done away with and the false prophets have nothing to say anymore. The will of God was not asked. The priests were not asked to explain the law; nor were the prophets approached to hear what the LORD had shown them. None of it made sense either because God was silent. Everything that gave guidance to the people on God’s behalf disappeared. He had to take it away from them because of their unfaithfulness (cf. 1Sam 28:6). There was no message of comfort and support for them.
10 - 12 Response of Some Survivors
10 The elders of the daughter of Zion
Sit on the ground, they are silent.
They have thrown dust on their heads;
They have girded themselves with sackcloth.
The virgins of Jerusalem
Have bowed their heads to the ground.
11 My eyes fail because of tears,
My spirit is greatly troubled;
My heart is poured out on the earth
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
When little ones and infants faint
In the streets of the city.
12 They say to their mothers,
“Where is grain and wine?”
As they faint like a wounded man
In the streets of the city,
As their life is poured out
On their mothers’ bosom.
These verses no longer tell of the events, but of the condition that resulted. We see that condition especially in the reactions of survivors, from the elders to the youngest of the people. The elders have nothing more to say, they have no wise counsel (verse 10). Powerless and distraught, they sit down in silence. They have lost their respectability. The natural shelter, the walls, have been pulled down. The spiritual shelter, the elders, has also been pulled down, as it were.
As the wall and the rampart mourn (verse 8), so do the elders. They show signs of mourning, as if someone had died. In their appearance they show how much they mourn over the city’s situation (cf. Job 2:12-13; Jer 4:8).
The young women, those who could provide progeny, have lost all hope for the future. The offspring they have brought into the world, they have eaten up in their boundless selfishness to survive at all costs. Now they can do nothing but stare at the ground.
In verse 11, the prophet speaks of his intense sorrow and thus participates in the lament. He cannot help but weep incessantly. As a result, he can no longer use his eyes. He can no longer see anything. Inside, in his spirit, he is full of turmoil. His heart comes out, as if he must vomit, so overwhelmed is he by what has happened to the city. He is completely devastated.
He sees before him the heartbreaking scenes of hunger in the city. He observes how “little ones and infants” sink down in helplessness in the streets of the city, while there is no one to help them. In any war or conflict, the saddest spectacle is the suffering of children.
There is no more poignant picture than that of mothers watching their children die of want, when there is nothing they can give. Jeremiah hears the children lamenting and crying out for food to their mothers (verse 12). Grain refers to necessary necessities and wine to more luxurious, not immediately necessary foods. It is a terrible picture where we hear children say this to their mothers. The children are slowly dying away.
Mothers who still have some care for their children have taken them on their laps and feel desperate because they cannot give their children what they need. Babies die in their mothers’ arms. The womb, the place of life and security, is no longer a safe place and no longer offers protection from suffering.
13 - 17 Jeremiah Laments Jerusalem
13 How shall I admonish you?
To what shall I compare you,
O daughter of Jerusalem?
To what shall I liken you as I comfort you,
O virgin daughter of Zion?
For your ruin is as vast as the sea;
Who can heal you?
14 Your prophets have seen for you
False and foolish [visions];
And they have not exposed your iniquity
So as to restore you from captivity,
But they have seen for you false and misleading oracles.
15 All who pass along the way
Clap their hands [in derision] at you;
They hiss and shake their heads
At the daughter of Jerusalem,
“Is this the city of which they said,
‘The perfection of beauty,
A joy to all the earth’?”
16 All your enemies
Have opened their mouths wide against you;
They hiss and gnash [their] teeth.
They say, “We have swallowed [her] up!
Surely this is the day for which we waited;
We have reached [it], we have seen [it].”
17 The LORD has done what He purposed;
He has accomplished His word
Which He commanded from days of old.
He has thrown down without sparing,
And He has caused the enemy to rejoice over you;
He has exalted the might of your adversaries.
In verse 13, the prophet speaks to the city. He does want to speak words of comfort and wonders what he should say as a message from the LORD. But he has difficulty finding words of comfort.
Nor can he point to similar suffering. In suffering, sometimes the realization that others are also in similar suffering can help (cf. 1Pet 5:8-9). But the suffering that afflicts Jerusalem is without parallel. It knows no example. In this sense, too, there is no comfort to be had. The fragile defenselessness is reinforced by the double designation “virgin daughter of Zion.”
The calamity is enormous, yes, as immeasurable as the sea. Is there anyone who can help here? Jeremiah is careful not to speak superficial words of comfort that might imply a vain hope of improvement. All the false prophets have always denied this suffering and healed the breach with the LORD because of their sins at the lightest by speaking of peace when there is no peace (Jer 6:14; 8:11). Where are they now? Jeremiah announced this very suffering (Jer 30:12) and is now suffering with them now that his words have come true.
The false prophets here are tellingly called “your prophets”. They are prophets as the people liked them, prophets who appeased them, who told them what they wanted to hear. They fooled the people with their false visions and proclaimed folly (verse 14; Jer 23:18-22; Eze 13:10-16). The word for foolish is literally “lime”, “varnish”. They covered sins under a nice looking coat of varnish (Eze 22:28). They did not want to make people feel guilty. They are soft healers who have caused stinking wounds. Not only do they not call the people back from their wrong ways, but they actually tempt and encourage the people to go wrong ways.
About the iniquity of the people they did not say a word. A true prophet does speak of the iniquity. False prophets speak what the people like to hear and thus drag the people along to destruction. That is how it went with the false prophets who spoke to Jerusalem.
They have not spoken the truth, but words that come from darkness. The visions they have seen have not come from the LORD, but from the demons. It has been falsehood and deception. This is evident now, as Jerusalem has fallen. These false prophets led the people down a path that ended in this. The shock of the Babylonian captivity is needed to break the power and influence of the popular prophets and expose them as false prophets.
To the disasters of suffering is added the gloating of “all who pass along the way” who witness the suffering of Jerusalem (verse 15). The various gestures – clap their hands, hissing, shaking their heads – indicate dismay, while the aspect of contempt is also present in them. Surrounding nations, seeing the misery in which Jerusalem is, rejoice and clap their hands for joy. They are also surprised that this is how things have gone with that magnificent city (Psa 48:2).
The enemies also rejoiced over the fall of Jerusalem (verse 16). They put on a big mouth about what has happened to Jerusalem. Their gaping mouths are like those of tearing monsters. This is how they dealt with Jerusalem. With that, a long-held hatred has been satisfied. They hiss to express their disgust for the city. The gnashing of their teeth is an expression of great hatred and anger (Psa 37:12; Acts 7:54).
They have wanted to destroy Jerusalem for so long and now they have finally succeeded. These words echo their effort that they have made and how satisfied they are now now that the city has finally fallen. This hubris and self-confidence of the enemy makes it difficult for Jerusalem to come to terms with her fate.
While the enemies in the previous verse boast of what they have done, here the poet speaks of Who actually did it (verse 17). The “we” of the previous verse becomes “He” here. Yet the conclusion must not be drawn from the events that the LORD cannot help it all either, that He would have been powerless to prevent it. No, the horrors are God’s deliberate work. He has done what He had planned. He is fulfilling His word that He spoke through Jeremiah and other prophets based on what He said in the law (Lev 26:14-46; Deu 28:15-44). The LORD had often warned them in earlier days, but they would not listen.
Behind the merriment of the enemy lies the anger of the LORD Who has acted without sparing. He has exalted the might, literally horn, of the enemies, which means that He has given them the strength (cf. 1Sam 2:1) to fight against His city and overcome it.
We also should not be blinded by what people do to us, but realize that the Lord is in control of everything. He is behind everything and controls everything. Therefore, with Him alone we can find help in adversity, if it strikes us, and He alone can give relief. With Him are deliverances from all distress, even escapes from death (Psa 68:20).
In verse 16 and verse 17 the letters have been switched in order. In the Hebrew alphabet, ain comes first and then pe. It seems that this happens because in verse 16 the enemy is speaking first, then in verse 17 we are pointed to the LORD. He is the real cause of the misery, not the enemy.
18 - 19 Crying Out to the LORD
18 Their heart cried out to the Lord,
“O wall of the daughter of Zion,
Let [your] tears run down like a river day and night;
Give yourself no relief,
Let your eyes have no rest.
19 “Arise, cry aloud in the night
At the beginning of the night watches;
Pour out your heart like water
Before the presence of the Lord;
Lift up your hands to Him
For the life of your little ones
Who are faint because of hunger
At the head of every street.”
Jeremiah’s response about the situation he has seen and described comes in verse 18. Although the destruction has come from the Lord (Adonai) and that destruction has taken place according to His intention, there is no hope of relief other than from that same Lord. Therefore, the heart of the remnant cries out to the Lord (Adonai). Jeremiah expresses this crying out and addresses the “wall of the daughter of Zion”, by which is meant all the inhabitants within the wall. She must let her tears run down incessantly, day and night. She must allow herself no relief. From her eyes, tears must continue run down.
It is an exhortation to pray in the misery that has befallen them. Prayer is the only thing left in such a situation. It is moving the LORD to remember them anyway and to rescue them from their misery. They must do this unceasingly, so that they prove that they expect salvation from Him alone (cf. Lk 18:1-8). They must also do it in full awareness of their sins, while constantly showing repentance for them, day and night.
When night comes into life, there can be begging to the Lord (Adonai) (verse 19). There must be, as soon as the awareness of an invading darkness is there, begging for the children, for the young people. They must pour out their hearts like water before Him (Psa 62:8), which means completely, without reserve. The hands must be lifted up in fervent prayer. Heart and hands go together and in this order: first the heart, then the hands. The stakes of prayer are the little children, the toddlers.
A whole generation is about to perish. We need to lift our hands more to God for the lives of our children, for our youth. Then the Lord can make a new beginning before He comes.
20 - 22 The LORD Is Called Upon
20 See, O LORD, and look!
With whom have You dealt thus?
Should women eat their offspring,
The little ones who were born healthy?
Should priest and prophet be slain
In the sanctuary of the Lord?
21 On the ground in the streets
Lie young and old;
My virgins and my young men
Have fallen by the sword.
You have slain [them] in the day of Your anger,
You have slaughtered, not sparing.
22 You called as in the day of an appointed feast
My terrors on every side;
And there was no one who escaped or survived
In the day of the LORD’s anger.
Those whom I bore and reared,
My enemy annihilated them.
Verses 18-19 are a call to prayer. In verses 20-22 we have the prayer. The people here again say “see, O LORD” (verse 20; Lam 1:9,11,20). Jeremiah reminds the LORD that He brought this misery upon the people of His election. Is it not so anymore, is the people no longer the people of His election? Will there be no outcome?
The misery has already reached the point where women, in desperation, have eaten their own children (Deu 28:53; cf. 2Kgs 6:24-31). Also the sanctuary of Him Who after all has all authority, the Lord (Adonai), has been desecrated in a terrible way. There lie the corpses of priest and prophet slain there by strangers. Should this not come to an end?
There is much lamenting in our day about so much that is wrong. To the extent that it is justified, we should not do that to one another, but speak about it to the Lord. What we cannot say to Him, we should not say to one another.
We may point out to the Lord the suffering that His own are undergoing, under which they are weighed down. We may remind Him of the value of His people to Him. Can He allow the children to fall prey to the despair of the parents? Can He allow the service of priest and prophet to disappear completely? We may beg Him to prevent that or to change it.
Jeremiah points out to the LORD the streets of the city (verse 21). Those who walk through the city shudder at the sight of what the enemy has done. The enemy has killed young and old. They are lying in the streets. Those who are the strength and future of the people have fallen by the sword. Age and gender did not matter to the enemy. Without paying attention to anything, they have sown death and destruction with their sword in great ferocity.
Yet even here Jeremiah sees that they are not the prey of the enemy powers around them, but of the anger of the LORD. He has slaughtered them and could no longer spare them because they have persisted so much in their sins.
He pronounces it to the LORD that He has called the enemies together, as it were, to feast at the expense of the city (verse 22). We see here again that interchange of feast and terror, or worse, that connection between feast and terror. What is a day of an appointed feast for the enemy, is for the pious a day of terrors by which he is completely surrounded. There is no escape from the terrors for anyone.
The “I” speaking here is Jeremiah. He is here interpreting the voice and feelings of the city, the remnant. Those he has carried on his hands and raised up are the children of Zion, the inhabitants of the city. They are those children who have been killed by the enemy.
The important lesson of this chapter is that the city expresses all its woes before the LORD. If we have reasons to lament, about ourselves, our family, the church, we may go to Him with our laments. We may give Him the opportunity to do with it what is pleasing to Him, to the glorification of His Name.