Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator

Lamentations 5

Verses 1-10

Lamentations 5:1-10

Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us.

An appeal for God’s compassion

The prayer opens with a striking phrase--“Remember, O Lord,” etc. It cannot be supposed that the elegist conceived of his God as Elijah mockingly described their silent, unresponsive divinity to the frantic priests of Baal, or that he imagined that Jehovah was really indifferent, after the manner of the denizens of the Epicurean Olympus. Nevertheless, neither philosophy nor even theology wholly determines the form of an earnest man’s prayers. In practice it is impossible not to speak according to appearances. Though not to the reason, still to the feelings, it is as though God had indeed forgotten His children in their deep distress. Under such circumstances the first requisite is the assurance that God should remember the sufferers whom He appears to be neglecting. The poet is thinking of external actions. Evidently the aim of his prayer is to secure the attention of God as a sure preliminary to a Divine interposition. But even with this end in view the fact that God remembers is enough. In appealing for God’s attention the elegist first makes mention of the reproach that has come upon Israel. This reference to humiliation rather than to suffering as the primary ground of complaint may be accounted for by the fact that the glory of God is frequently taken as a reason for the blessing of His people. That is done for His “name’s sake.” Then the ruin of the Jews is derogatory to the honour of their Divine Protector. The peculiar relation of Israel to God also underlies the complaint of the second verse, in which the land is described as “our inheritance,” with an evident allusion to the idea that it was received as a donation from God, not acquired in any ordinary human fashion. A great wrong has been done, apparently in contravention of the ordinance of Heaven. The Divine inheritance has been turned over to strangers. From their property the poet passes on to the condition of the persons of the sufferers. The Jews are orphans; they have lost their fathers, and their mothers are widows. The series of illustrations of the degradation of Israel seems to be arranged somewhat in the order of time and in accordance with the movement of the people. Thus, after describing the state of the Jews in their own land, the poet next follows the fortunes of his people in exile. There is no mercy for them in their flight. The words in which the miseries of this time are referred to are somewhat obscure. The phrase in the Authorised Version, “Our necks are under persecution” (Lamentations 5:5), is rendered by the Revisers, “Our pursuers are upon our necks.” It would seem to mean that the hunt is so close that fugitives are on the point of being captured; or perhaps that they are made to bow their heads in defeat as their captors seize them. But a proposed emendation substitutes the word “yoke” for “pursuers.” The next line favours this idea, since it dwells on the utter weariness of the miserable fugitives. There is no rest for them. The yoke of shame and servitude is more crushing than any amount of physical labour. Finally, in their exile the Jews are not flee from molestation. In order to obtain bread they must abase themselves before the people of the land. The fugitives in the south must do homage to the Egyptians; the captives in the east to the Assyrians. Here, then, at the very last stage of the series of miseries, shame and humiliation are the principal grievances deplored. At every point there is a reproach, and to this feature of the whole situation God’s attention is especially directed. Now the elegist turns aside to a reflection on the cause of all this evil. It is attributed to the sins of previous generations. The present sufferers are bearing the iniquities of their fathers. Here several points call for a brief notice. In the first place, the very form of the language is significant. What is meant by the phrase to “bear iniquity”? It is clear that the poet had no mystical ideas in mind. When he said that the children bore the sins of their fathers he simply meant that they reaped the consequences of those sins. But if the language is perfectly unambiguous the doctrine it implies is far from being easy to accept. On the face of it, it seems to be glaringly unjust. We are frequently confronted with evidences of the fact that the vices of parents inflict poverty, dishonour, and disease on their families. This is just what the elegist means when he writes of children hearing the iniquities of their fathers. The fact cannot be disputed. Often as the problem that here starts up afresh has been discussed, no really satisfactory solution of it has ever been forthcoming. We must admit that we are face to face with one of the most profound mysteries of providence. But we may detect some glints of light in the darkness. The law of heredity and the various influences that go to make up the evil results in the case before us work powerfully for good under other circumstances; and that the balance is certainly on the side of good, is proved by the fact that the world is moving forward, not backward, as would be the case if the balance of hereditary influence was on the side of evil. The great unit Man is far more than the sum of the little units men. We must endure the disadvantages of a system which is so essential to the good of man. But another consideration may shed a ray of light on the problem. The bearing of the sins of others is for the highest advantage of the sufferers. It is difficult to think of any more truly elevating sorrows. They resemble our Lord’s passion; and of Him it was said that He was made perfect through suffering. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Zion’s sufferings

I. Her entreaties.

1. Remember.

2. Consider.

3. Behold.

II. Her miseries.

1. What is befallen her, captivity; it is not coming, it is already come upon her.

2. Her bright Sun gives not out its rays. Ignominy, like a black cloud, now covers its face.

Lessons:

1. God hath thoughts of His people, when they cannot apprehend His purposes. He thinks upon their souls.

2. God’s thoughts are affectionate, and hold out help unto His saints. Men many times think of their friends in the day of their distress, yet endeavour not to make their help their comfort, the product of their thoughts, but whom God remembers He relieves (Leviticus 26:44-45).

3. God’s forgetting is an aggravation of the soul’s affliction. Questionless, it is the great, yea one of the greatest aggravations of trouble to an afflicted soul, to apprehend itself not to be in the thoughts of God (Psalms 42:9-11; Psalms 43:1-5; Psalms 44:1-24).

Lessons:

1. God’s remembrance ever speaks a Christian’s advantage. Whosoever forgets you, let your prayers demonstrate your desires to be in the heart, in the thoughts of God. This was Nehemiah’s request, and he made it the very upshot of his prayers (Nehemiah 13:31). Do you likewise. For men may fail us though they think of us, but God will help us if He but have us in His mind (Jeremiah 2:2-3).

2. They that put us in mind of our friends in misery, are many times instrumental for the alleviating of their sorrow; their excitements may stir up earnest resolves for their freedom, they may become messengers to proclaim their peace, to publish tidings of their salvation. O let us be God’s remembrancers, let us expostulate the Church’s case with His sacred self, this is our duty (Isaiah 43:26). Let us beseech the Lord--

Israel’s freedom from thraldom hath been the product of God’s remembering (Exodus 6:5-6). O let us rather beseech Him to think of--

3. Fervency must accompany our prayers. This interjective particle denotes the vehemency, the earnestness of her desire (Genesis 17:18; Deuteronomy 5:29; 2 Samuel 23:15; Job 6:8). Want of mercy with sense of misery will make the soul cry O unto its God. Christians, be not like glowworms, fiery in appearance and cold when you come to the touch; take heed of lukewarmness, Laodicea’s temper; remember that as prayer is set out by wrestling, which is the best way for prevailing (Genesis 32:26; Hosea 12:4), so under the law the sweet perfumes in the censers were burnt before they ascended; for believers’ prayers go up in pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh, to the throne of God (Song of Solomon 4:6). Therefore get spiritual fire into your hearts, as fast as you can kindle and inflame your affections, that they may flame up in devout and religious ascents to the Lord Himself. Sometimes “Lord” will not serve your turn, you must go with “O Lord” unto your God.

4. We must only have recourse to God in distress. The Church’s affliction is now become to her the school of devotion. Where should we make our addresses, but where we may find relief?

5. Heavy sorrows make Christians moderate in their desires. She doth not desire the Lord forthwith to cause the fulgent and glorious beams of prosperity to shine upon her, or immediately by some heavy judgment upon her enemy, to complete her own delivery, she only calls for a memento, a remembrance, some thoughts of her unto her God. That great sufferings make Christians modest and moderate in their demands. Beggars in their extremest exigence cry not for pounds but pence. A little relief goes far in the apprehension of a distressed soul.

6. Grievous miseries may fall upon God’s precious saints.

7. God eyes our particular exigence. The original denotes such a consideration as is conjoined with seeing and looking upon. The eye presenting the object to the thoughts, makes the deeper impress upon the spirit. When God takes the Church’s sorrows into His thoughts, He looks down from heaven to see the particulars of her distress.

8. Prayer the means to get a reflex from God.

9. As reproach is heavy so it quickens the prayers of saints. The saints are not hopeless under the greatest evils, they sing not the doleful ditty of accursed Cain, they despair not of Divine hope, and therefore because they conceive hope of favour, they betake themselves unto fervent prayer (Job 13:15; Proverbs 14:32; Psalms 27:12-13).

10. Sense of misery would have God to make present supply. Equity in the Lord’s administration of justice, hath ever been their encouragement, as for appeal, so for this request unto Himself (Jeremiah 12:1-3). Learn what to do when the wicked with the most violent evils are stinging and piercing your very souls.

Sin’s garden

1. Probably there is nothing like this chapter in all the elegies of the world. For what is there here more than elegy? There is a death deeper than death. Here is a prayer that never got itself into heaven. Blessed be God, there are some prayers that never get higher than the clouds. Look at it. Behold how internally rotten it is. “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us” (Lamentations 5:1). No man can pray who begins in that tone. There is not one particle of devotion in such an utterance. “What is come upon us.” It is a falsehood. It is putting the suppliant into a wrong position at the very first. So long as men talk in that tone they are a long way from the only tone that prevails in heaven.

“God be merciful to me a sinner.” “Consider, and behold our reproach” (Lamentations 5:1). How possible it is for penitence to have a lie in the heart of it; how possible it is for petitions addressed to heaven to be inspired by the meanest selfishness! Note well the inventory which is particularised by these persons, who are very careful to note all that they have lost. Read the bill; it is a bill of particulars: “Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens” (Lamentations 5:2). Here is material dispossession. If the inheritance had been retained, would the prayer have been offered? Probably not. “We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows” (Lamentations 5:8). Here is personal desolation. If the fathers had lived, would the prayers have been offered? “We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us” (Lamentations 5:4). Here is social humiliation. The emphasis is upon the pronoun, “Our” water, the water that we have in our own gardens, water taken out of the wells which our own fathers did dig. What an awful lot! what a sad doom! If it had been otherwise, where would the prayer have been? where would the confession, such as it is, have been? “Our necks are under persecution; we labour, and have no rest” (Lamentations 5:5). Here is a sense of grievous oppression. “Servants have ruled over us” (Lamentations 5:8). Here is an inversion of natural position. The greater the man, the greater the ruler, should be the law in social administration. Let me have a great man to direct me, superintend me, and revise my doings, and it shall be well with me at eventide. Some kings have been slaves; some noblemen have been servants. We are only speaking of the soul that is a slave, and whenever the slave mounts his horse he gallops to the devil.

2. Read this chapter and look upon it as a garden which sin has planted. All these black flowers, all these awful trees of poison, sin planted. God did not plant one of them. It is so with all our pains and penalties. It is so with that bad luck in business, with that misfortune in the open way of life. We are reaping what has been sown by ourselves or by our forerunners. It is quite right to remember our ancestors in this particular. It is quite true that our fathers have sinned, and that we in a sense bear their iniquities, and cannot help it, for manhood is one; but it is also true that we ourselves have adopted all they did. To adopt what Adam did is to have sinned in Adam and through Adam. We need not go behind our own signature; we have signed the catalogue, we have adopted it, and therefore we have to account for our own lapse in our own religion.

3. Wondrous it is how men turn to God in their distresses. The Lord said it would be so--“In their affliction they will seek Me early.” So we have God in this great plaint, and what position does God occupy in it? He occupies the position of the only Helper of man. “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us.” Then comes the cry for old days: “Renew our days as of old.” There is a sense in which the old days were better than these. What is that peculiar religious fascination which acts upon the mind and leads us back again into the nursery? We cry for the days of childhood, when we were unconscious of sin, when we played in the wood, when we gathered the primroses, when we came back from bird nesting and summer joys. Oh, that these days would come back again all their blueness, in all their simple joyousness! Sometimes the soul says, “Renew our days as of old”--when our bread was honest. Since then we have become tradesmen, merchants, adventurers, gamblers, speculators, and now there is not a loaf in the cupboard that has not poison in the very middle of it. We are richer at the bank, but we are poorer in heaven. God pity us! “Renew our days as of old”--when our prayers were unhindered, when we never doubted their going to heaven and coming back again with blessings; when we used to pray at our mother’s knee we never thought that the prayer could fail of heaven. Oh, for the old child days, when God was in every flower and in every bird, and when all the sky was a great open Bible, written all over in capitals of love! The old days will not come. Still we can have a new youth; we can be born again. That is the great cry of Christ’s Gospel “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again”--and thus get the true childhood. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.--

Comfortable directions for such as have been, or may be driven from their houses, goods, or country

I. It is a sore affliction and matter of great lamentation for a man to be driven from his house and habitation. His house and habitation is the meeting place of all his outward comforts; the seat and centre and receptacle of all those outward blessings that he doth enjoy in this world. As a man’s house is the nest where all these eggs are laid, and therefore when a man is driven from thence, the meeting place of all his outward comforts, surely it must be an exceeding sad thing and very lamentable. To say nothing of the reproach that doth come thereby, or of the violence that doth come therewith; it is the judgment threatened, threatened against the wicked, and those that are most ungodly. The contrary is often promised unto God’s people (Isaiah 65:21-23). On the contrary, when God threatens evil to a place and people, this is the evil that He denounceth; that He will drive them from their houses and habitations, and that others shall be brought into them (Deuteronomy 15:28-30). Now is it nothing for a man to go up and down under the wounds of a threatening? Again, a man loseth many, if not most of his opportunities of doing good and receiving. So long as a man is at home, and hath a habitation to resort unto, he may pray, read, meditate, sing, and have a little church and heaven on earth. He may there receive strangers, for which many have been blest. There he may exercise good duties, the only way unto heaven and happiness. When he is thrust out, and strangers brought in, he doth therefore lose many of these opportunities; and therefore how justly may he take up this lamentation and say, Have pity, have pity upon me, oh, all my friends, for the hand of the Lord hath touched me.

II. God suffers His own people and dear children many times to fall into this condition. Our Saviour Christ Himself, who bare our sins, had not whereon to lay His head. The apostle tells us (Hebrews 11:1-40) that many saints wandered up and down the world in woods and caves, of whom the world was not worthy. They did not only wander, and were removed from their own houses; but, as Chrysostom observes, they were not quiet even in the woods: they did not only want their own house in the city, but they wanted a quiet seat in the wilderness. Four especial causes there are, or occasions, as Musculus observes, whereby men have been driven from their houses and habitations. First, war. Secondly, famine. Thirdly, inhumanity, cruelty, exaction of evil men and magistrates. Fourthly, want of liberty in the matter of religion: and in all these respects God’s people have been driven from their houses.

III. Why doth god suffer this to befall His own people; that His own servants and dearest children should be driven out of their houses and habitations? In general it is for their good. Hereby first a man may be, and is, if godly, emptied of that slime and filth that did lie within him. The sea water, though it be exceeding salt, and very brackish, yet if it run through several earths, the brackishness is lost thereby, as we find in all sweetest springs which, as philosophers say, come from the sea, and lose the saltness of the sea water by running through the earths: and in experience if you take water, though it be salt in your hand, yet if you cause it to pass through divers earths it will lose that saltness: so that though there may be much saltness and brackishness in the spirits of men, yet if the Lord by His providence cause them to pass through divers earths, it is a special means to lose that brackish, brinish disposition, and to grow more quiet, sweet, and savoury. Again, thereby sometimes the saints, though unwillingly, are carried from greater judgments that are coming upon the places where they dwell and live. Thereby also truth and knowledge is carried and scattered into other places, many shall run to and fro, “and knowledge shall be increased,” etc: Thereby a man is fitted and prepared for God’s own house, and those revelations and manifestations that God hath to communicate to him concerning the house of God. A man is never more fit to see the beauty of God’s house, than when he is driven from his own.

IV. What shall we do, that if it shall please the Lord to drive us out of our houses and habitations as well as our brethren, we may both prepare for it, and so carry the matter, as we may be patiently and sweetly supported in that estate? By way of preparation, for the present, before that condition come, and the Lord grant it may never come, be sure of this, that you make good your interest in God Himself, clear up your evidence for heaven, your assurance of God in Christ. Learn now before the rainy day come to be dead unto all the world. The man that is dying is senseless, not affected with the cries of his children, wife, and friends that stand round about him; though they weep and wring their hands, he is not stirred, why? because being a dying man he is dead to them; and if you be dead to your houses, liberties, and estates aforehand, you will be able to buckle and grapple with that condition: so it was with Paul who died daily. Be sure of this also, that you take heed now of all those things that may make your condition uncomfortable then. There are three things that will make that condition very uncomfortable: pride, wanton abuse of your creature comforts, and unwillingness to lay them out in the case of God. But in case this evil feared should come, and who knows how soon it may? then some things are to be practised, and some things considered. By way of practice. If it pleased the Lord to bring you or me or any of us into this sad condition, first humble yourselves, accept of the punishment of your iniquity, kiss the rod, and say, the Lord is righteous in all that is come upon you; so did Daniel (Daniel 9:6). Then be sure you bless and praise the Lord for that little that you have left; and if nothing be left, praise God for others that are free from your condition. Again, by way of consideration. Though such a condition as this be exceeding sad and very lamentable, yet consider this, that it is not any new thing that doth befall you, but such as befalls the saints and best of God’s servants. Consider the way that God takes ordinarily to bring His people to mercy. He seldom brings them to any mercy but He brings them about by the way of the contrary misery. Consider seriously with yourselves what that is which you leave, what the cause is that you do leave it for, and who it is you do leave it with: you leave your house, your habitation, your land, your riches, which shortly would leave you, whose wings are like the wings of an eagle, strong to fly again; you leave it for your God, your country, your religion. And is that lost which you do lose for truth? Is there any loss in losing for Jesus Christ? If you would have comfort and supportance in that condition, consider seriously and much how God hath dealt with His people that have been thus served and used. And if you look into Scripture, you shall find that He still hath provided for them, given them favour in the places where they have come, and brought them back again from those places into which they have been scattered. He hath provided for them. (W. Bridge, M. A.)

Verses 1-10

Lamentations 5:1-10

Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us.

An appeal for God’s compassion

The prayer opens with a striking phrase--“Remember, O Lord,” etc. It cannot be supposed that the elegist conceived of his God as Elijah mockingly described their silent, unresponsive divinity to the frantic priests of Baal, or that he imagined that Jehovah was really indifferent, after the manner of the denizens of the Epicurean Olympus. Nevertheless, neither philosophy nor even theology wholly determines the form of an earnest man’s prayers. In practice it is impossible not to speak according to appearances. Though not to the reason, still to the feelings, it is as though God had indeed forgotten His children in their deep distress. Under such circumstances the first requisite is the assurance that God should remember the sufferers whom He appears to be neglecting. The poet is thinking of external actions. Evidently the aim of his prayer is to secure the attention of God as a sure preliminary to a Divine interposition. But even with this end in view the fact that God remembers is enough. In appealing for God’s attention the elegist first makes mention of the reproach that has come upon Israel. This reference to humiliation rather than to suffering as the primary ground of complaint may be accounted for by the fact that the glory of God is frequently taken as a reason for the blessing of His people. That is done for His “name’s sake.” Then the ruin of the Jews is derogatory to the honour of their Divine Protector. The peculiar relation of Israel to God also underlies the complaint of the second verse, in which the land is described as “our inheritance,” with an evident allusion to the idea that it was received as a donation from God, not acquired in any ordinary human fashion. A great wrong has been done, apparently in contravention of the ordinance of Heaven. The Divine inheritance has been turned over to strangers. From their property the poet passes on to the condition of the persons of the sufferers. The Jews are orphans; they have lost their fathers, and their mothers are widows. The series of illustrations of the degradation of Israel seems to be arranged somewhat in the order of time and in accordance with the movement of the people. Thus, after describing the state of the Jews in their own land, the poet next follows the fortunes of his people in exile. There is no mercy for them in their flight. The words in which the miseries of this time are referred to are somewhat obscure. The phrase in the Authorised Version, “Our necks are under persecution” (Lamentations 5:5), is rendered by the Revisers, “Our pursuers are upon our necks.” It would seem to mean that the hunt is so close that fugitives are on the point of being captured; or perhaps that they are made to bow their heads in defeat as their captors seize them. But a proposed emendation substitutes the word “yoke” for “pursuers.” The next line favours this idea, since it dwells on the utter weariness of the miserable fugitives. There is no rest for them. The yoke of shame and servitude is more crushing than any amount of physical labour. Finally, in their exile the Jews are not flee from molestation. In order to obtain bread they must abase themselves before the people of the land. The fugitives in the south must do homage to the Egyptians; the captives in the east to the Assyrians. Here, then, at the very last stage of the series of miseries, shame and humiliation are the principal grievances deplored. At every point there is a reproach, and to this feature of the whole situation God’s attention is especially directed. Now the elegist turns aside to a reflection on the cause of all this evil. It is attributed to the sins of previous generations. The present sufferers are bearing the iniquities of their fathers. Here several points call for a brief notice. In the first place, the very form of the language is significant. What is meant by the phrase to “bear iniquity”? It is clear that the poet had no mystical ideas in mind. When he said that the children bore the sins of their fathers he simply meant that they reaped the consequences of those sins. But if the language is perfectly unambiguous the doctrine it implies is far from being easy to accept. On the face of it, it seems to be glaringly unjust. We are frequently confronted with evidences of the fact that the vices of parents inflict poverty, dishonour, and disease on their families. This is just what the elegist means when he writes of children hearing the iniquities of their fathers. The fact cannot be disputed. Often as the problem that here starts up afresh has been discussed, no really satisfactory solution of it has ever been forthcoming. We must admit that we are face to face with one of the most profound mysteries of providence. But we may detect some glints of light in the darkness. The law of heredity and the various influences that go to make up the evil results in the case before us work powerfully for good under other circumstances; and that the balance is certainly on the side of good, is proved by the fact that the world is moving forward, not backward, as would be the case if the balance of hereditary influence was on the side of evil. The great unit Man is far more than the sum of the little units men. We must endure the disadvantages of a system which is so essential to the good of man. But another consideration may shed a ray of light on the problem. The bearing of the sins of others is for the highest advantage of the sufferers. It is difficult to think of any more truly elevating sorrows. They resemble our Lord’s passion; and of Him it was said that He was made perfect through suffering. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Zion’s sufferings

I. Her entreaties.

1. Remember.

2. Consider.

3. Behold.

II. Her miseries.

1. What is befallen her, captivity; it is not coming, it is already come upon her.

2. Her bright Sun gives not out its rays. Ignominy, like a black cloud, now covers its face.

Lessons:

1. God hath thoughts of His people, when they cannot apprehend His purposes. He thinks upon their souls.

2. God’s thoughts are affectionate, and hold out help unto His saints. Men many times think of their friends in the day of their distress, yet endeavour not to make their help their comfort, the product of their thoughts, but whom God remembers He relieves (Leviticus 26:44-45).

3. God’s forgetting is an aggravation of the soul’s affliction. Questionless, it is the great, yea one of the greatest aggravations of trouble to an afflicted soul, to apprehend itself not to be in the thoughts of God (Psalms 42:9-11; Psalms 43:1-5; Psalms 44:1-24).

Lessons:

1. God’s remembrance ever speaks a Christian’s advantage. Whosoever forgets you, let your prayers demonstrate your desires to be in the heart, in the thoughts of God. This was Nehemiah’s request, and he made it the very upshot of his prayers (Nehemiah 13:31). Do you likewise. For men may fail us though they think of us, but God will help us if He but have us in His mind (Jeremiah 2:2-3).

2. They that put us in mind of our friends in misery, are many times instrumental for the alleviating of their sorrow; their excitements may stir up earnest resolves for their freedom, they may become messengers to proclaim their peace, to publish tidings of their salvation. O let us be God’s remembrancers, let us expostulate the Church’s case with His sacred self, this is our duty (Isaiah 43:26). Let us beseech the Lord--

Israel’s freedom from thraldom hath been the product of God’s remembering (Exodus 6:5-6). O let us rather beseech Him to think of--

3. Fervency must accompany our prayers. This interjective particle denotes the vehemency, the earnestness of her desire (Genesis 17:18; Deuteronomy 5:29; 2 Samuel 23:15; Job 6:8). Want of mercy with sense of misery will make the soul cry O unto its God. Christians, be not like glowworms, fiery in appearance and cold when you come to the touch; take heed of lukewarmness, Laodicea’s temper; remember that as prayer is set out by wrestling, which is the best way for prevailing (Genesis 32:26; Hosea 12:4), so under the law the sweet perfumes in the censers were burnt before they ascended; for believers’ prayers go up in pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh, to the throne of God (Song of Solomon 4:6). Therefore get spiritual fire into your hearts, as fast as you can kindle and inflame your affections, that they may flame up in devout and religious ascents to the Lord Himself. Sometimes “Lord” will not serve your turn, you must go with “O Lord” unto your God.

4. We must only have recourse to God in distress. The Church’s affliction is now become to her the school of devotion. Where should we make our addresses, but where we may find relief?

5. Heavy sorrows make Christians moderate in their desires. She doth not desire the Lord forthwith to cause the fulgent and glorious beams of prosperity to shine upon her, or immediately by some heavy judgment upon her enemy, to complete her own delivery, she only calls for a memento, a remembrance, some thoughts of her unto her God. That great sufferings make Christians modest and moderate in their demands. Beggars in their extremest exigence cry not for pounds but pence. A little relief goes far in the apprehension of a distressed soul.

6. Grievous miseries may fall upon God’s precious saints.

7. God eyes our particular exigence. The original denotes such a consideration as is conjoined with seeing and looking upon. The eye presenting the object to the thoughts, makes the deeper impress upon the spirit. When God takes the Church’s sorrows into His thoughts, He looks down from heaven to see the particulars of her distress.

8. Prayer the means to get a reflex from God.

9. As reproach is heavy so it quickens the prayers of saints. The saints are not hopeless under the greatest evils, they sing not the doleful ditty of accursed Cain, they despair not of Divine hope, and therefore because they conceive hope of favour, they betake themselves unto fervent prayer (Job 13:15; Proverbs 14:32; Psalms 27:12-13).

10. Sense of misery would have God to make present supply. Equity in the Lord’s administration of justice, hath ever been their encouragement, as for appeal, so for this request unto Himself (Jeremiah 12:1-3). Learn what to do when the wicked with the most violent evils are stinging and piercing your very souls.

Sin’s garden

1. Probably there is nothing like this chapter in all the elegies of the world. For what is there here more than elegy? There is a death deeper than death. Here is a prayer that never got itself into heaven. Blessed be God, there are some prayers that never get higher than the clouds. Look at it. Behold how internally rotten it is. “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us” (Lamentations 5:1). No man can pray who begins in that tone. There is not one particle of devotion in such an utterance. “What is come upon us.” It is a falsehood. It is putting the suppliant into a wrong position at the very first. So long as men talk in that tone they are a long way from the only tone that prevails in heaven.

“God be merciful to me a sinner.” “Consider, and behold our reproach” (Lamentations 5:1). How possible it is for penitence to have a lie in the heart of it; how possible it is for petitions addressed to heaven to be inspired by the meanest selfishness! Note well the inventory which is particularised by these persons, who are very careful to note all that they have lost. Read the bill; it is a bill of particulars: “Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens” (Lamentations 5:2). Here is material dispossession. If the inheritance had been retained, would the prayer have been offered? Probably not. “We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows” (Lamentations 5:8). Here is personal desolation. If the fathers had lived, would the prayers have been offered? “We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us” (Lamentations 5:4). Here is social humiliation. The emphasis is upon the pronoun, “Our” water, the water that we have in our own gardens, water taken out of the wells which our own fathers did dig. What an awful lot! what a sad doom! If it had been otherwise, where would the prayer have been? where would the confession, such as it is, have been? “Our necks are under persecution; we labour, and have no rest” (Lamentations 5:5). Here is a sense of grievous oppression. “Servants have ruled over us” (Lamentations 5:8). Here is an inversion of natural position. The greater the man, the greater the ruler, should be the law in social administration. Let me have a great man to direct me, superintend me, and revise my doings, and it shall be well with me at eventide. Some kings have been slaves; some noblemen have been servants. We are only speaking of the soul that is a slave, and whenever the slave mounts his horse he gallops to the devil.

2. Read this chapter and look upon it as a garden which sin has planted. All these black flowers, all these awful trees of poison, sin planted. God did not plant one of them. It is so with all our pains and penalties. It is so with that bad luck in business, with that misfortune in the open way of life. We are reaping what has been sown by ourselves or by our forerunners. It is quite right to remember our ancestors in this particular. It is quite true that our fathers have sinned, and that we in a sense bear their iniquities, and cannot help it, for manhood is one; but it is also true that we ourselves have adopted all they did. To adopt what Adam did is to have sinned in Adam and through Adam. We need not go behind our own signature; we have signed the catalogue, we have adopted it, and therefore we have to account for our own lapse in our own religion.

3. Wondrous it is how men turn to God in their distresses. The Lord said it would be so--“In their affliction they will seek Me early.” So we have God in this great plaint, and what position does God occupy in it? He occupies the position of the only Helper of man. “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us.” Then comes the cry for old days: “Renew our days as of old.” There is a sense in which the old days were better than these. What is that peculiar religious fascination which acts upon the mind and leads us back again into the nursery? We cry for the days of childhood, when we were unconscious of sin, when we played in the wood, when we gathered the primroses, when we came back from bird nesting and summer joys. Oh, that these days would come back again all their blueness, in all their simple joyousness! Sometimes the soul says, “Renew our days as of old”--when our bread was honest. Since then we have become tradesmen, merchants, adventurers, gamblers, speculators, and now there is not a loaf in the cupboard that has not poison in the very middle of it. We are richer at the bank, but we are poorer in heaven. God pity us! “Renew our days as of old”--when our prayers were unhindered, when we never doubted their going to heaven and coming back again with blessings; when we used to pray at our mother’s knee we never thought that the prayer could fail of heaven. Oh, for the old child days, when God was in every flower and in every bird, and when all the sky was a great open Bible, written all over in capitals of love! The old days will not come. Still we can have a new youth; we can be born again. That is the great cry of Christ’s Gospel “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again”--and thus get the true childhood. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.--

Comfortable directions for such as have been, or may be driven from their houses, goods, or country

I. It is a sore affliction and matter of great lamentation for a man to be driven from his house and habitation. His house and habitation is the meeting place of all his outward comforts; the seat and centre and receptacle of all those outward blessings that he doth enjoy in this world. As a man’s house is the nest where all these eggs are laid, and therefore when a man is driven from thence, the meeting place of all his outward comforts, surely it must be an exceeding sad thing and very lamentable. To say nothing of the reproach that doth come thereby, or of the violence that doth come therewith; it is the judgment threatened, threatened against the wicked, and those that are most ungodly. The contrary is often promised unto God’s people (Isaiah 65:21-23). On the contrary, when God threatens evil to a place and people, this is the evil that He denounceth; that He will drive them from their houses and habitations, and that others shall be brought into them (Deuteronomy 15:28-30). Now is it nothing for a man to go up and down under the wounds of a threatening? Again, a man loseth many, if not most of his opportunities of doing good and receiving. So long as a man is at home, and hath a habitation to resort unto, he may pray, read, meditate, sing, and have a little church and heaven on earth. He may there receive strangers, for which many have been blest. There he may exercise good duties, the only way unto heaven and happiness. When he is thrust out, and strangers brought in, he doth therefore lose many of these opportunities; and therefore how justly may he take up this lamentation and say, Have pity, have pity upon me, oh, all my friends, for the hand of the Lord hath touched me.

II. God suffers His own people and dear children many times to fall into this condition. Our Saviour Christ Himself, who bare our sins, had not whereon to lay His head. The apostle tells us (Hebrews 11:1-40) that many saints wandered up and down the world in woods and caves, of whom the world was not worthy. They did not only wander, and were removed from their own houses; but, as Chrysostom observes, they were not quiet even in the woods: they did not only want their own house in the city, but they wanted a quiet seat in the wilderness. Four especial causes there are, or occasions, as Musculus observes, whereby men have been driven from their houses and habitations. First, war. Secondly, famine. Thirdly, inhumanity, cruelty, exaction of evil men and magistrates. Fourthly, want of liberty in the matter of religion: and in all these respects God’s people have been driven from their houses.

III. Why doth god suffer this to befall His own people; that His own servants and dearest children should be driven out of their houses and habitations? In general it is for their good. Hereby first a man may be, and is, if godly, emptied of that slime and filth that did lie within him. The sea water, though it be exceeding salt, and very brackish, yet if it run through several earths, the brackishness is lost thereby, as we find in all sweetest springs which, as philosophers say, come from the sea, and lose the saltness of the sea water by running through the earths: and in experience if you take water, though it be salt in your hand, yet if you cause it to pass through divers earths it will lose that saltness: so that though there may be much saltness and brackishness in the spirits of men, yet if the Lord by His providence cause them to pass through divers earths, it is a special means to lose that brackish, brinish disposition, and to grow more quiet, sweet, and savoury. Again, thereby sometimes the saints, though unwillingly, are carried from greater judgments that are coming upon the places where they dwell and live. Thereby also truth and knowledge is carried and scattered into other places, many shall run to and fro, “and knowledge shall be increased,” etc: Thereby a man is fitted and prepared for God’s own house, and those revelations and manifestations that God hath to communicate to him concerning the house of God. A man is never more fit to see the beauty of God’s house, than when he is driven from his own.

IV. What shall we do, that if it shall please the Lord to drive us out of our houses and habitations as well as our brethren, we may both prepare for it, and so carry the matter, as we may be patiently and sweetly supported in that estate? By way of preparation, for the present, before that condition come, and the Lord grant it may never come, be sure of this, that you make good your interest in God Himself, clear up your evidence for heaven, your assurance of God in Christ. Learn now before the rainy day come to be dead unto all the world. The man that is dying is senseless, not affected with the cries of his children, wife, and friends that stand round about him; though they weep and wring their hands, he is not stirred, why? because being a dying man he is dead to them; and if you be dead to your houses, liberties, and estates aforehand, you will be able to buckle and grapple with that condition: so it was with Paul who died daily. Be sure of this also, that you take heed now of all those things that may make your condition uncomfortable then. There are three things that will make that condition very uncomfortable: pride, wanton abuse of your creature comforts, and unwillingness to lay them out in the case of God. But in case this evil feared should come, and who knows how soon it may? then some things are to be practised, and some things considered. By way of practice. If it pleased the Lord to bring you or me or any of us into this sad condition, first humble yourselves, accept of the punishment of your iniquity, kiss the rod, and say, the Lord is righteous in all that is come upon you; so did Daniel (Daniel 9:6). Then be sure you bless and praise the Lord for that little that you have left; and if nothing be left, praise God for others that are free from your condition. Again, by way of consideration. Though such a condition as this be exceeding sad and very lamentable, yet consider this, that it is not any new thing that doth befall you, but such as befalls the saints and best of God’s servants. Consider the way that God takes ordinarily to bring His people to mercy. He seldom brings them to any mercy but He brings them about by the way of the contrary misery. Consider seriously with yourselves what that is which you leave, what the cause is that you do leave it for, and who it is you do leave it with: you leave your house, your habitation, your land, your riches, which shortly would leave you, whose wings are like the wings of an eagle, strong to fly again; you leave it for your God, your country, your religion. And is that lost which you do lose for truth? Is there any loss in losing for Jesus Christ? If you would have comfort and supportance in that condition, consider seriously and much how God hath dealt with His people that have been thus served and used. And if you look into Scripture, you shall find that He still hath provided for them, given them favour in the places where they have come, and brought them back again from those places into which they have been scattered. He hath provided for them. (W. Bridge, M. A.)

Verse 4

Lamentations 5:4

We have drunken our water for money, our wood is sold unto us.

Zion’s sufferings

1. Common necessaries denied by adversaries. Fire and water are two necessary elements, but though God in nature have given these in common to His creatures, the Jews being captives are now denied them by their cruel adversaries. Time was when they could command the fields, the wheat, the olives, and the wines, hut at this instant, such is their misery, that they cannot so much as have wood or water without price, unless for money.

It is not water alone, or wood alone that is now defective, it is both water and wood that they are forced to buy. War seldom deprives us of a single mercy, it strips us at once of many necessaries (Lamentations 4:1-5). It takes away gold, silver, possessions, habitations, victuals, wood, and water from its captives.

2. Wood and water sweet mercies.

3. We must not sit fast upon our present enjoyments. Full little did these Jews in their prosperity think that their water should become their charge, and that their wood, their fire, should be sold to themselves for money. From whence we note--That Christians ought to sit loose upon their enjoyments, and to look upon themselves as strangers and pilgrims in their most sure possessions. Do not glory, be not proud of what you have now at your own command (Ecclesiastes 5:13; Jeremiah 9:23). The tide may turn, your condition may alter and not yourselves, not your friends, but your enemies may be their possessors Though we may complain we must not murmur, we must in patience possess our souls, when our very necessaries become a prey to others. Thus did the primitive Christians in their great afflictions (Hebrews 10:34; Hebrews 11:37-38). (D. Swift.)

Verse 5

Lamentations 5:5

Our necks are under persecution, we labour, and have no rest.

Zion’s sufferings

1. The words explained. This is the miserable servitude of a conquered people, this is the insulting and domineering pride of a potent and victorious enemy. When enemies come in power, menaces and insultations speak the pride, the venom, and bitterness of their hearts, whilst the Egyptians are Israel’s masters, they will make their lives bitter with hard bondage in mortar, and cause them to serve with rigour (Exodus 1:13-14).

2. Insultations, aggravations of the Church’s miseries. You may see by the deportment of these Assyrians to the Jews, what was their disposition, what was their nature. If you open the vessel you may taste the liquor. You may judge of wicked men’s hearts by their speeches, by their usage of the saints (Matthew 12:34).

3. Wicked men care not what they do to augment the troubles of the saints.

4. The reason why their necks are under persecution. But why do they complain of the yoke, the burden, the persecution upon their necks; what, were not the rest of their members sensible of the pressure? though the rest were affected, yet now the principal weight lies upon their necks, because themselves had ever been a stiff-necked people before the Lord (Isaiah 48:4; Jeremiah 7:25-26; Ezekiel 22:29). You may sometimes read of people’s sin in the punishments that are laid upon them by the Lord (Hosea 4:6; Hosea 4:14; Zechariah 7:12-13).

5. Sorrow without intermission very grievous. Intermissions are mercies, but pressures continued are very tedious; hop? deferred breaketh the heart, and misery daily augmented cannot but be crushing to the spirit. Wicked men, when they get God’s people under their commands, are very insatiable in their exactions (Exodus 5:7-8; Lamentations 1:3). But what have this people done that they can have no laxation, no ease, no rest, in the land of Babylon? There be two sins in special for which God brings this evil upon a people, violence to others (Jeremiah 51:34-35; Jeremiah 51:38), and insatiableness or restlessness in the ways of sin. It is very likely God now pays her home with her own coin. She hath been exacting, and grating upon her servants; she is now a servant, and her masters do the like unto herself. She would not cease or rest from sin, now God hath laid restlessness upon her as a punishment for sin. (D. Swift.)

Verse 7

Lamentations 5:7

Our fathers have sinned, and are not, and we have borne their iniquities.

Zion’s sufferings

The terms unfolded, When in the depths of our distress the iniquities of our forefathers come to our remembrance, at once they aggravate our sins and augment our sorrows (2 Kings 22:13; Daniel 9:16; Jeremiah 14:19-20). When God comes to find sin successive in generations, the last shall be sure to drink deep of the cup of Divine vengeance (Nehemiah 9:34-35; Nehemiah 9:38; Jeremiah 4:24-25). When ancestors’ sins are not our cautions (Ezekiel 18:14), it deeply aggravates the guilt of our souls (Nehemiah 13:18; Ezra 9:7; Jeremiah 16:11-13; Zechariah 1:4-6). The longer heaven’s patience is abused, the greater and more dreadful is the wrath of God that is deserved (Romans 2:4-5; Romans 1:18; Jeremiah 49:9-11). If we promote sin by indulgence, or by example in our posterities, we shall be sure to entail judgment upon our issue (1 Samuel 2:29; 1 Samuel 2:34; 1 Samuel 2:36). Children are many times executors, they enter upon their father’s sins, and you know that in justice the executor may be sued, the debtor being dead. God may punish the sins of the parents upon the children, and yet the cause of the punishment may be in themselves (Hosea 4:12-13). As if any being sick of the plague infect others, every one that dies, is said to die, not of others’, but of his own plague. Had their parents been good, had they been pious and zealous for God, there would have been no ground, no cause for this complaint; they could not then have said, “Our fathers’ iniquity is laid as a burden upon our shoulders.” It is good to be good parents, parental holiness is advantageous to posterity (Psalms 102:28; Psalms 112:1-2; Proverbs 14:26; Jeremiah 32:39).

1. Exemplary piety in the fathers makes an impression upon the children’s hearts (Zechariah 10:7).

2. Heaven’s benediction descends from the parents to the children (Acts 2:39).

3. Wicked fathers infelicitate their posterity (Job 5:3-4). The Jews were very unhappy parents (Matthew 27:25). Children, plead if you can your ancestors’ integrity before the Lord. The father’s piety is the child’s privilege (Psalms 116:16; Psalms 86:16; 1 Kings 8:23-25). Let us labour to be good ourselves, and to plant holiness in our families, that so we may have God’s blessings estated upon our children (Genesis 18:19). (D. Swift.)

Verses 12-18

Lamentations 5:12-18

The elders have ceased from the gate.

The seat of justice overthrown

1. It is a grievous plague unto a people when the seat of justice is overthrown from among them.

(a) It bringeth in all confusion and disorder.

(b) No man can enjoy anything as his own.

(c) Every one lieth open to the violence of spoilers, and hath no succour nor redress.

(a) Better have tyrants govern us, than be void of all government.

(b) Pray unto God for the government under which we live, that in the prosperity thereof we may have peace.

(c) Acknowledge all lawful magistrates to be the special ordinances of God, appointed for our good, and therefore to be obeyed and reverenced.

2. The overthrow of magistracy among a people taketh all occasions of rejoicing from all sorts of people. “The young men from their music.”

(a) Many great blessings are lost, and many griefs come upon them which will make the heart heavy.

(b) They have no safety, but have cause every one to fear another, and to stand upon his own guard, as though he were in the midst of his enemies.

3. Honest recreations and delights are to be esteemed among the good blessings that God giveth His people in this life.

The joy of our heart is ceased, our dance is turned into mourning.

God’s people may apprehend themselves stripped of all cause of joy

This is the condition of these distressed creatures in the land of Babylon; whilst they were in Judea, they used to rejoice in their harvest, and to shout at their vintage (Isaiah 16:10). They had the mirth of tabrets and their harps melodiously sounding in their streets (Isaiah 24:8). But now there is a crying for wine in all quarters, their joy is darkened, and the mirth of the land is gone (Isaiah 24:11). All causes of joy are sometimes taken from God’s: precious saints; thus it fared with Israel upon the pursuit of Pharaoh, when she was passing out of Egypt into the land of Canaan (Exodus 14:10). Neither was it better with Job in the time of his affliction (Job 30:17-18; Job 30:31). Do but look upon the sweet singer of Israel, and you shall find him in as bad a condition; for the sorrows of death encompassed him, the pains of hell got hold upon him, and he found nothing but trouble and sorrow (Psalms 116:1-19). The Lord takes away all cause of rejoicing from, that He may the more deeply humble them for the evil of their ways. Great afflictions effect the like submissions, with strong cries to the God of heaven ( 6:6; 10:13-15). God’s great design in thus dealing with them, is to purge them from their dross (Isaiah 27:9), to make them cast off the sin of their souls; you know gold, that it may be refined, must as it were be encompassed with flames (Zechariah 13:8-9). The best are prone to rest upon the reeds of Egypt, to rely too much upon worldly vanities, therefore God makes the joy of their hearts to cease, that He may take them off from dependency upon creature comforts (Jeremiah 3:22-23; Hosea 14:2-3). Beware of sin, it will cause both sad looks and heavy hearts (Genesis 4:7; Amos 8:8-10). Keep your eye upon heaven (2 Chronicles 20:12), it is only a ray of His favour that can cheer your hearts (Psalms 9:9-10). Disclaim help from others, trust not to yourselves (Isaiah 30:1-3; Isaiah 31:1; Psalms 20:7; 2 Corinthians 1:9). Created substances are but vanities.

I. The precious sons of Zion may be much discouraged in their sufferings. And when Zion was in affliction, did she not as one in despair cry out, My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord (Lamentations 3:17-18)?

Now that you may come near them in the same spirit, consider--

2. Keep up your heads, your hearts above the waters of sorrow, let them not sink your spirits, but under the worst of evils, retain your joy, and in patience possess your souls (Lamentations 3:26; Psalms 27:13-14). (D. Swift.)

The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned!--

Man’s fall from love into selfishness

The secret of man’s perfection may be summed up in these short words, Love to God. The secret of man’s sin may be stated as shortly, Defect of love to God. As the former implied truth and holiness, and purity of motive, and unity of wilt with His will, so this latter implies the departure of all these graces. But not only this. The heart allows no vacuum: sin is not a negative only, but a positive condition; where love has departed, there the opposite of love enters, namely, selfishness, with all its baneful consequences. And the essence of selfishness is, that a man lives not for and in another, be that other his neighbour, or his God, hut for and in himself. Now notice, that this selfishness, arising out of defect of love to God, and in God to others, is not an act, or a series of acts in man, but a state, out of which spring, as the symptoms out of a disease, those sinful acts of selfishness, which we call sins. Selfishness has turned love into lust, dignity into pride, humility into meanness, zeal into ambition, charity into ostentation; has made the strong man into a tyrant, the womanly into the womanish character, the childlike into the childish; has turned family and friendly love into partisanship, patriotism into faction, religion itself into bigotry. It penetrates into, and infiltrates every thought, every desire, every word, every act; so that whatsoever is of it, and not of faith, is sin. And its seat is in the noblest, the godlike, the immortal and responsible spirit of man. So that it is no longer worthy of that noble title of the Spirit, reminding us of God; but they who are thus, are named in Scripture unspiritual, and their whole state is called “the flesh”; not that it springs from the flesh, but because it sinks them into the flesh. Another degrading consequence results from this usurpation by self of the place of God within us. Man placed under love, though in bond and covenant to God and his neighbour, was really and essentially free; a child of God’s family; his will and God’s will being one, law became to him liberty. But under selfishness, though he has broken loose from covenant with God and his neighbour, he is to all intents and purposes, a slave; in bondage to his own desires and passions, which he ought to be, and wishes to be, ruling. “The truth,” declares our Lord, “shall make you free”; but all sin is a lie, It practically denies God,--whose being, and whose power, and whose love constitute the great truth of this universe: this is the negative side of its falsehood; and it sets up self and other creatures in God’s place as lord and guide of man’s being: this is its positive side. It apes the perfections and attributes of God, and makes man into a miserable counterfeit, betraying, by that which he wishes to appear, that which he really ought to be. Well then, it now comes before us as a solemn question, seeing that our whole nature, the nature of each man, is thus gone astray, and that every one of us has an abiding tendency to selfishness and to evil--Whence came this tendency? How had it its beginning? This tendency is a departure from God who made us; and cannot therefore have been God’s work. And this departure can only have begun by an act of the will of man. God created us free, gave our first parents a command to keep, which very fact implied that they had power to break it. Now there was no reasonable ground for breaking it, but every imaginable reason against such conduct; the departure was not an act of the convinced reason, but an act of that which we know as self-will--a leaning to self in spite of reason and conscience. So that sin had its practical beginning in the will of man. And this beginning we read of in Scripture in the history of the Fall. At once man’s personality, the inner soul of his nature, passes into a different relation to God: it is torn out of the covenant of His love; stands over against Him as His enemy; trembles at His approach. All peace, all innocence, is gone. The body, God’s beautiful and wonderful work, becomes the seat of shame. Man, knowing that he is naked, flies from God and hides himself. And as the spirit of man has renounced its allegiance to God, so have now the animal soul and the body thrown off their allegiance to the spirit. Anarchy enters into his being, and holds wild misrule. The gravitation of the spiritual world is overthrown, its laws of attraction are suspended; the lower revolts against the higher, the lowest against the lower. And as in man, so in man’s world. In a moment the poison spreads, electric, over the kingdom which he should have ruled; the elements disown him, the beasts of the forest glare upon him, the ground is cursed for his sake. The king of nature is self-deposed,--his palace is broken up, his delights are scattered, his sweet fellowship with his helpmate is marred,--and he is driven out a wanderer. Then first sprung forth the bitter fountains of tears, destined to furrow the cheeks of untold generations; then first the hands were clenched, and the brow grasped, and the breast beaten,--and the vastness of inward woe sought relief in outward gesture. Verily, the crown had fallen from his head; woe unto him, that he had sinned. (Dean Alford.)

Verse 17-18

Lamentations 5:17-18

For this our heart is faint, for these things our eyes are dim.

Zion’s sufferings

1. The best are exposed to sorrow. That the best are not out of the reach of misery, or that there is no outward calamity, but it may fall upon the godly as well as others (Ecclesiastes 9:1). Ahab’s and Josiah’s ends concur in their circumstances, and Saul and Jonathan, though different in their deportments yet in their deaths they were not divided (2 Samuel 1:23). No man knows either love or hatred by that, that is before them. The snow and hail of adversity lights upon the best gardens, as well as the barren wastes. The best of saints have the same nature with others (1 Corinthians 10:13). The most eminent Christians sometimes as well as others sin against their God. Here we are soldiers and must look for hot skirmishes, mariners and must not think to sail without tedious storms. Be not discouraged, O ye poor souls, though the world be a sea, a rough, a raging, and a dangerous sea unto yourselves, yea be not dejected and altogether cast down, though a heavy weight of grief by reason of sin and troubles, the effects of sin come to lie pressing upon your spirits; though your hearts be faint, let them not die.

2. Christians have bowels for others in afflictions. The Chaldee paraphrase will have these first words to relate to the ruins of Zion in the next verse, and therefore it renders them, for this house of the Sanctuary which is desolate our heart is faint, and indeed it shows us as the affections, so the Christian’s deportment in the Church’s troubles. Zion’s sufferings, like darts, penetrate the souls of God’s precious saints. And no marvel if they have been thus affected with the Church’s miseries.

3. We must not stand at a distance each from other in the day of sorrow.

4. Sad sufferings cause sad, yea, fainting spirits.

5. Extremity of sorrow brings dimness into our eyes. That dimness of sight is the effect of sorrow. This was the condition of Job, when his face was foul with weeping, and on his eyelids was the shadow of death (Job 16:16). When his eye was dim by reason of grief, and all his thoughts as a very shadow (Job 17:7). And in the like case you may see the kingly prophet, having his heart panting, his strength failing, and the light of his eyes departing from him (Psalms 38:9-11; Psalms 6:7). (D. Swift.)

Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate.

Zion’s desolations contemplated and improved

I. A distressing experience. The spectacle which Mount Zion exhibited was necessarily fitted both to agitate and afflict pious and patriotic soul. God had visited His own holy habitation in anger. Because of the transgressions of His people, He had afflicted them; because of their forgetfulness of His mercies, He had forsaken them; because of their abuse of His ordinances, He had carried them away captive. If such a state of things occasioned to the prophet a feeling of the deepest distress, similar must be the experience of the Lord’s people, when any portion of the Church is visited with tokens of the Divine displeasure. Sins, by us unrepented of--sins, forgotten it may be by us, but not forgotten by God--these, undoubtedly, as affording cause of humiliation, grief, and bitterness, are to be considered in connection with the removal of the light of the Divine countenance; and if we cast our eyes abroad on any portion of the visible Church, if we look either at its past history or present condition, where can we take our station, and say that difficulties, or trials, or threatenings of judgment are being made manifest, without being constrained to acknowledge that there are sins to be accounted for, and for which a fearful reckoning may be demanded?

II. A reviving sentiment. The prophet, amidst the very tears that were shed by him over the fallen fortunes of Jerusalem, could fix his thoughts upon One who is ever the same; and his spirit was revived in consequence. And thus have God’s people in all ages been sustained. The Lord, as it regards His own cause, may hide His face; but it will only be for a season. He may remove His candle from one corner of the earth; but it will be to plant it in another--He will not suffer it to be extinguished. As His own existence and purposes are eternal and unchangeable, so is that provision which He has made for His Church, and for a continued succession of believers, who shall know His name, and rejoice in His salvation.

III. A holy expostulation. Animated with a holy zeal for the glory of God as associated with the prosperity of His Church, the prophet asks whether it could be that God would afford no sign of His returning favour, which might reanimate the hopes of His afflicted people, and keep them from fainting under the reproach of their enemies? It is more than prayer; it is expostulation. Yet the sentiments which he breathed were not those of unhallowed presumption; for he bowed with the deepest reverence before God when he addressed Him. It was that enlargement of soul, which they only know, who, in the strength of a living faith, have long walked with the Most High as their Father and their Friend. And similar, accordingly, at times has been the experience of the saints in after ages. Thus, for instance, it was with Luther in that most eventful of all passages in his history, when his enemies who had gathered around him on every side, thought they had swallowed him up; when the proudest of earth’s potentates sat in judgment over him; when the papacy had written out the sentence which doomed him to death, and which doomed the Reformation to destruction along with him. In these distressing circumstances, when to the eye of man, the cause of truth seemed on the eve of perishing, he was overheard in an agony of soul to exclaim, “O God, Almighty God everlasting! if I am to depend on any strength of this world, all is over; the knell is struck; sentence is gone forth. O God! O God! O Thou my God, help me against the wisdom of this world: the work is not mine, but Thine. I have no business here. I would gladly spend my days in happiness and peace. But the cause is Thine; and it is righteous and everlasting. O Lord, help me. O faithful and unchangeable God, I lean not upon man. My God, my God, dost Thou not hear: my God, art Thou no longer living? Nay, Thou canst not die: Thou dost but hide Thyself. My God, where art Thou? The cause is holy; it is Thine own. I win not let Thee go; no, nor yet for all eternity.” (T. Doig, M. A.)

The foxes walk upon it.--

Zion’s sufferings

1. The Church’s miseries make deep impressions in the hearts of saints. Time was when God chose this place, and desired it for His habitation (Psalms 132:13), when it was a principal object of His affection (Psalms 87:2); when the people from all quarters of Judea resorted to it for Divine instruction (Isaiah 2:3); when of all other places it was the most precious in the repute of the saints (Psalms 137:1). But now this mountain, this stately mountain is divested of all her glory, her ordinances are polluted, her inhabitants are driven into exile, her princes are carried away captive, and all her ornaments, all her jewels, all her riches, are the spoils of Babylon, now she is as a desert, she sits solitary, she hath none to visit her but the foxes that walk about her, she is laid waste like a wilderness, and even brought to utter destruction. So that by this we are taught--That Zion may become like Shilo, the choicest places notwithstanding their more than ordinary privileges may come to ruin (Jeremiah 7:12-14; Isaiah 64:10-11; Lamentations 1:17-18). But why must Zion become a desolation?

2. The Assyrians like crafty foxes.

Verses 19-22

Lamentations 5:19-22

Thou, O Lord, remainest forever; Thy throne from generation to generation.

The everlasting throne

Thus at last our attention is turned from earth to heaven, from man to God. In this change of vision the mood which gave rise to the Lamentations disappears. Since earthly things lose their value in view of the treasures in heaven, the ruin of them also becomes of less account. For the moment the poet forgets himself and his surroundings in a rapt contemplation of God. This is the glory of adoration, the very highest form of prayer, that prayer in which a man comes nearest to the condition ascribed to angels and the spirits of the blessed who surround the throne and gaze on the eternal light. The continuance of the throne of God is the idea that now lays hold of the elegist as he turns his thoughts from the miserable scenes of the ruined city to the glory above. This is brought home to his consciousness by the fleeting nature of all things earthly. God only remains, eternal, unchangeable. His is the only throne that stands secure above every revolution. The unwavering faith of our poet is apparent at this point after it has been tried by the most severe tests. Jerusalem has been destroyed, her king has fallen into the hands of the enemy, her people have been scattered; and yet the elegist has not the faintest doubt that her God remains and that His throne is steadfast, immovable, everlasting. The fall of Israel in no way affects the throne of God; it is even brought about by His will; it could not have occurred if He had been pleased to hinder it. This idea of the elegist is in line with a familiar stream of Hebrew thought, and his very words have many an echo in the language of prophet and psalmist, as, for example, in the forty-fifth Psalm, where we read, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” The grand Messianic hope is founded on the conviction that the ultimate establishment of God’s reign throughout the world will be the best blessing imaginable for all mankind. Sometimes this is associated with the advent of a Divinely anointed earthly monarch of the line of David. At other times God’s direct sovereignty is expected to be manifested in the “day of the Lord.” For Christians, at least as much as for Jews, the eternal sovereignty of God should be a source of profound confidence, inspiring hope and joy. Now the elegist ventures to expostulate with God on the ground of the eternity of His throne. A long time had passed since the siege, and still the Jews were in distress. It was as though God had forgotten them or voluntarily forsaken them. This is a dilemma to which we are often driven. If God is almighty can He be also all-merciful? If what we knew furnished all the possible data of the problem this would be indeed a serious position. But our ignorance silences us. Some hint of an explanation is given in the next phrase of the poet’s prayer. God is besought to turn the people to Himself. The language of the elegy here points to a personal and spiritual change. We cannot water it down to the expression of a desire to be restored to Palestine. Nor is it enough to take it as a prayer to be restored to God’s favour. The double expression, “Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned,” points to a deeper longing, a longing for real conversion, the turning round of the heart and life to God, the return of the prodigal to his Father. In the next place, it is to be observed that the turning here contemplated is positive in its aims, not merely a flight from the wrong way. To turn from sin to blank vacancy and nothingness is an impossibility. The great motive must be the attraction of a better course rather than revulsion from the old life. This is the reason why the preaching of the Gospel of Christ succeeds where pure appeals to conscience fail. Then we may notice, further, that the particular aim of the change here indicated is to turn back to God. As sin is forsaking God, so the commencement of a better life must consist in a return to Him. But this is not to be regarded as a means towards some other end. We must not have the homecoming made use of as a mere convenience. It must be an end in itself, and the chief end of the prayer and effort of the soul, or it can be nothing at all. The poet is perfectly confident that when God takes His people in hand to lead them round to Himself He will surely do so. If He turns them they will be turned. The words suggest that previous efforts had been made from other quarters, and had failed. The prophets, speaking from God, had urged repentance, but their words had been ineffectual. It is only when God undertakes the work that there is any chance of success. Next, we see that the return is to be a renewal of a previous condition. The poet prays, “Renew our days as of old”--a phrase which suggests the recovery of apostates. Possibly here we have some reference to more external conditions. There is a hope that the prosperity of the former times may be brought back. And yet the previous line, which is concerned with the spiritual return to God, should lead us to take this one also in a spiritual sense. The memory of a lost blessing makes the prayer for restoration the more intense. In some respects restoration is more difficult than a new beginning. The past will not come back. The innocence of childhood, when once it is lost, can never be restored. That first, fresh bloom of youth is irrecoverable. On the other hand, what the restoration lacks in one respect may be more than made up in other directions. Though the old paradise will not be regained, though it has withered long since, and the site of it has become a desert, God will create new heavens and a new earth which shall be better than the lost past. In our English Bible the last verse of the chapter reads like a final outburst of the language of despair. It seems to say that the prayer is all in vain, for God has utterly forsaken His people. But another rendering is now generally accepted, though our revisers have only placed it in the margin. According to this we read, “Unless Thou hast utterly rejected us,” etc. There is still a melancholy tone in the sentence, as there is throughout the book that it concludes; but this is softened, and now it by no means breathes the spirit of despair. Turn it round, and the phrase will even contain an encouragement. If God has not utterly rejected His people assuredly He will attend to their prayer to be restored to Him. But it cannot be that He has quite cast them off. Then it must be that He will respond and turn them back to Himself. Thus we are led even by this most melancholy book in the Bible to see, as with eyes purged by tears, that the love of God is greater than the sorrow of man, and His redeeming power more mighty than the sin which lies at the root of the worst of that sorrow, the eternity of His throne, in spite of the present havoc of evil in the universe, assuring us that the end of all will be not a mournful elegy, but a paean of victory. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Thou, O Lord, remainest forever, Thy throne from generation to generation

1. God’s unchangeableness a support in troubles.

2. God is eternal as well as immutable.

Wherefore dost Thou forget us forever, and forsake us so long time?--

Helps for time of desertion

For the ship doth not more naturally arise with the flowing in of the waters, than doubts in the soul with the coming in of troubles. For all this while God is but either trying thy disposition, and the frame and temper of thy spirit towards Himself, He is but seeing whether thou wilt love Him frowning as well as smiling upon thy soul (Isaiah 8:17), or ransacking of thine heart, and making discovery to thee of the filth and guilt of sin that is within thee, for man feels his sins with most hatred and sorrow in the times of God’s withdrawings (1 Samuel 21:1-2), or He is but putting thee into that most excellent life of His most precious saints. Thou wouldest live by sense, but He will now teach thee with David to live by faith (Psalms 27:13), or else the Lord is preparing thee for greater apprehensions of His love and favour for the time to come. Yet still, for all that hath been spoken, methinks I see you, O ye captived Jews, like Rachel, weeping and refusing consolation; what, are you like the marigold, which opens and shuts with the sun? are you as court favourites, whose comforts and discomforts depend upon the countenance or discountenance of their prince? I must needs acknowledge, that heaven’s frowning, God’s neglecting, or the Lord’s deserting, wounds deep, and pierceth through a Christian’s heart. And this hath been the cause why in an expostulatory way they have breathed out these, or the like complaints; if the Lord be with us, why is all this befallen us? Will the Lord cast off forever, will He not again show favour? hath He forgotten to be gracious, and doth His promise fail for evermore (Psalms 77:7-9)? Neither do I marvel if, in this pang those have been the expresses of their souls. For where is a believer’s love concentrate, as it were, and gathered together, but in the Lord its God? and therefore it languisheth in His absence, and is ill at ease, until it enjoy His presence (Song of Solomon 5:8). Hath not the saints’ rejoicing ever been principally in Divine communion (Psalms 4:7)? Is not the assurance of His love the very day and joy of a Christian heart? (D. Swift.)

Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

Genuine conversion

I. It is a turning of the soul to the Lord. Not to creeds, not to churches, but to the Lord Himself, as the object of supreme love. The centreing of the whole soul upon Him. If the Lord is loved supremely, He will be the dominant subject of thought, the leading theme of conversation, the paramount sovereign of life.

II. It is a turning of the soul to the Lord by the Lord. No one can turn the human soul to God but Himself. A man may as well endeavour to roll back the Mississippi to its mountain springs as to turn back the soul to the Lord; He alone can do it, and He does it by the influence of nature, historic events, Gospel truths, and Christly ministries. (Homilist.)

Zion’s sufferings

1. Afflictions send the saints unto their God. O happy sorrows, O blessed troubles that thus bring poor souls nearer to their God. Now, having been thus doctrinated in the school of the Cross, thou mayest experimentally say with the sweet singer of Israel, it is good for me that I have been afflicted, thereby I have learned to know Thy statutes.

2. Troubles no discouragements to God’s precious servants.

3. Repentance the work of the great God.

4. Pressures put not God’s children besides their prayers.

5. Deliverances are only perfected by the Lord. (D. Swift.)

Verses 19-22

Lamentations 5:19-22

Thou, O Lord, remainest forever; Thy throne from generation to generation.

The everlasting throne

Thus at last our attention is turned from earth to heaven, from man to God. In this change of vision the mood which gave rise to the Lamentations disappears. Since earthly things lose their value in view of the treasures in heaven, the ruin of them also becomes of less account. For the moment the poet forgets himself and his surroundings in a rapt contemplation of God. This is the glory of adoration, the very highest form of prayer, that prayer in which a man comes nearest to the condition ascribed to angels and the spirits of the blessed who surround the throne and gaze on the eternal light. The continuance of the throne of God is the idea that now lays hold of the elegist as he turns his thoughts from the miserable scenes of the ruined city to the glory above. This is brought home to his consciousness by the fleeting nature of all things earthly. God only remains, eternal, unchangeable. His is the only throne that stands secure above every revolution. The unwavering faith of our poet is apparent at this point after it has been tried by the most severe tests. Jerusalem has been destroyed, her king has fallen into the hands of the enemy, her people have been scattered; and yet the elegist has not the faintest doubt that her God remains and that His throne is steadfast, immovable, everlasting. The fall of Israel in no way affects the throne of God; it is even brought about by His will; it could not have occurred if He had been pleased to hinder it. This idea of the elegist is in line with a familiar stream of Hebrew thought, and his very words have many an echo in the language of prophet and psalmist, as, for example, in the forty-fifth Psalm, where we read, “Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever.” The grand Messianic hope is founded on the conviction that the ultimate establishment of God’s reign throughout the world will be the best blessing imaginable for all mankind. Sometimes this is associated with the advent of a Divinely anointed earthly monarch of the line of David. At other times God’s direct sovereignty is expected to be manifested in the “day of the Lord.” For Christians, at least as much as for Jews, the eternal sovereignty of God should be a source of profound confidence, inspiring hope and joy. Now the elegist ventures to expostulate with God on the ground of the eternity of His throne. A long time had passed since the siege, and still the Jews were in distress. It was as though God had forgotten them or voluntarily forsaken them. This is a dilemma to which we are often driven. If God is almighty can He be also all-merciful? If what we knew furnished all the possible data of the problem this would be indeed a serious position. But our ignorance silences us. Some hint of an explanation is given in the next phrase of the poet’s prayer. God is besought to turn the people to Himself. The language of the elegy here points to a personal and spiritual change. We cannot water it down to the expression of a desire to be restored to Palestine. Nor is it enough to take it as a prayer to be restored to God’s favour. The double expression, “Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned,” points to a deeper longing, a longing for real conversion, the turning round of the heart and life to God, the return of the prodigal to his Father. In the next place, it is to be observed that the turning here contemplated is positive in its aims, not merely a flight from the wrong way. To turn from sin to blank vacancy and nothingness is an impossibility. The great motive must be the attraction of a better course rather than revulsion from the old life. This is the reason why the preaching of the Gospel of Christ succeeds where pure appeals to conscience fail. Then we may notice, further, that the particular aim of the change here indicated is to turn back to God. As sin is forsaking God, so the commencement of a better life must consist in a return to Him. But this is not to be regarded as a means towards some other end. We must not have the homecoming made use of as a mere convenience. It must be an end in itself, and the chief end of the prayer and effort of the soul, or it can be nothing at all. The poet is perfectly confident that when God takes His people in hand to lead them round to Himself He will surely do so. If He turns them they will be turned. The words suggest that previous efforts had been made from other quarters, and had failed. The prophets, speaking from God, had urged repentance, but their words had been ineffectual. It is only when God undertakes the work that there is any chance of success. Next, we see that the return is to be a renewal of a previous condition. The poet prays, “Renew our days as of old”--a phrase which suggests the recovery of apostates. Possibly here we have some reference to more external conditions. There is a hope that the prosperity of the former times may be brought back. And yet the previous line, which is concerned with the spiritual return to God, should lead us to take this one also in a spiritual sense. The memory of a lost blessing makes the prayer for restoration the more intense. In some respects restoration is more difficult than a new beginning. The past will not come back. The innocence of childhood, when once it is lost, can never be restored. That first, fresh bloom of youth is irrecoverable. On the other hand, what the restoration lacks in one respect may be more than made up in other directions. Though the old paradise will not be regained, though it has withered long since, and the site of it has become a desert, God will create new heavens and a new earth which shall be better than the lost past. In our English Bible the last verse of the chapter reads like a final outburst of the language of despair. It seems to say that the prayer is all in vain, for God has utterly forsaken His people. But another rendering is now generally accepted, though our revisers have only placed it in the margin. According to this we read, “Unless Thou hast utterly rejected us,” etc. There is still a melancholy tone in the sentence, as there is throughout the book that it concludes; but this is softened, and now it by no means breathes the spirit of despair. Turn it round, and the phrase will even contain an encouragement. If God has not utterly rejected His people assuredly He will attend to their prayer to be restored to Him. But it cannot be that He has quite cast them off. Then it must be that He will respond and turn them back to Himself. Thus we are led even by this most melancholy book in the Bible to see, as with eyes purged by tears, that the love of God is greater than the sorrow of man, and His redeeming power more mighty than the sin which lies at the root of the worst of that sorrow, the eternity of His throne, in spite of the present havoc of evil in the universe, assuring us that the end of all will be not a mournful elegy, but a paean of victory. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Thou, O Lord, remainest forever, Thy throne from generation to generation

1. God’s unchangeableness a support in troubles.

2. God is eternal as well as immutable.

Wherefore dost Thou forget us forever, and forsake us so long time?--

Helps for time of desertion

For the ship doth not more naturally arise with the flowing in of the waters, than doubts in the soul with the coming in of troubles. For all this while God is but either trying thy disposition, and the frame and temper of thy spirit towards Himself, He is but seeing whether thou wilt love Him frowning as well as smiling upon thy soul (Isaiah 8:17), or ransacking of thine heart, and making discovery to thee of the filth and guilt of sin that is within thee, for man feels his sins with most hatred and sorrow in the times of God’s withdrawings (1 Samuel 21:1-2), or He is but putting thee into that most excellent life of His most precious saints. Thou wouldest live by sense, but He will now teach thee with David to live by faith (Psalms 27:13), or else the Lord is preparing thee for greater apprehensions of His love and favour for the time to come. Yet still, for all that hath been spoken, methinks I see you, O ye captived Jews, like Rachel, weeping and refusing consolation; what, are you like the marigold, which opens and shuts with the sun? are you as court favourites, whose comforts and discomforts depend upon the countenance or discountenance of their prince? I must needs acknowledge, that heaven’s frowning, God’s neglecting, or the Lord’s deserting, wounds deep, and pierceth through a Christian’s heart. And this hath been the cause why in an expostulatory way they have breathed out these, or the like complaints; if the Lord be with us, why is all this befallen us? Will the Lord cast off forever, will He not again show favour? hath He forgotten to be gracious, and doth His promise fail for evermore (Psalms 77:7-9)? Neither do I marvel if, in this pang those have been the expresses of their souls. For where is a believer’s love concentrate, as it were, and gathered together, but in the Lord its God? and therefore it languisheth in His absence, and is ill at ease, until it enjoy His presence (Song of Solomon 5:8). Hath not the saints’ rejoicing ever been principally in Divine communion (Psalms 4:7)? Is not the assurance of His love the very day and joy of a Christian heart? (D. Swift.)

Turn Thou us unto Thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.

Genuine conversion

I. It is a turning of the soul to the Lord. Not to creeds, not to churches, but to the Lord Himself, as the object of supreme love. The centreing of the whole soul upon Him. If the Lord is loved supremely, He will be the dominant subject of thought, the leading theme of conversation, the paramount sovereign of life.

II. It is a turning of the soul to the Lord by the Lord. No one can turn the human soul to God but Himself. A man may as well endeavour to roll back the Mississippi to its mountain springs as to turn back the soul to the Lord; He alone can do it, and He does it by the influence of nature, historic events, Gospel truths, and Christly ministries. (Homilist.)

Zion’s sufferings

1. Afflictions send the saints unto their God. O happy sorrows, O blessed troubles that thus bring poor souls nearer to their God. Now, having been thus doctrinated in the school of the Cross, thou mayest experimentally say with the sweet singer of Israel, it is good for me that I have been afflicted, thereby I have learned to know Thy statutes.

2. Troubles no discouragements to God’s precious servants.

3. Repentance the work of the great God.

4. Pressures put not God’s children besides their prayers.

5. Deliverances are only perfected by the Lord. (D. Swift.)

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Lamentations 5". The Biblical Illustrator. https://beta.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/lamentations-5.html. 1905-1909. New York.