New English Translation
The Prophet Speaks
8 Now their appearance[ab] is darker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it is dried up, like tree bark.
15 People cry to them, “Turn away! You are unclean!
Turn away! Turn away! Don’t touch us!”
So they have fled and wander about;
but the nations say,[az] “They may not stay here any longer.”
The People of Jerusalem Lament
17 Our eyes continually failed us
as we looked in vain for help.[bd]
From our watchtowers we watched
for a nation that could not rescue us.
The Prophet Speaks
- Lamentations 4:1 sn According to W. F. Lanahan (“The Speaking Voice in the Book of Lamentations” JBL 93 : 48), the persona or speaking voice in chap. 4 is a bourgeois, the common man. This voice is somewhat akin to the reporter in chs 1-2 in that much of the description is in the third person. However, “the bourgeois has some sense of identity with his fellow-citizens,” seen in the shift to the first person plural. The alphabetic acrostic structure reduces to two bicola per letter. The first letter of only the first line in each stanza spells the acrostic.
- Lamentations 4:1 tn See the note at 1:1.
- Lamentations 4:1 tn Heb “had grown dim.” The verb יוּעַם (yu’am), Hophal imperfect third person masculine singular from עָמַם (’amam, “to conceal, darken”), literally means “to be dimmed” or “to be darkened.” Most English versions render this literally: the gold has “become dim” (KJV, NKJV), “grown dim” (RSV, NRSV), “is dulled” (NJPS), and “grown dull” (TEV); however, the NIV has captured the sense well: “How the gold has lost its luster.”
- Lamentations 4:1 tc The verb יִשְׁנֶא (yishneʾ, Qal imperfect third person feminine singular) is typically taken to be the only Qal imperfect of I שָׁנָהּ (shanah). Such a spelling with א (alef) instead of ה (he) is feasible. D. R. Hillers suggests the root שָׂנֵא (saneʾ, “to hate”): “Pure gold is hated.” This maintains the consonantal text and also makes sense in context. In either case the point is that gold no longer holds the same value, probably because there is nothing available to buy with it. tn Heb “changes.” The imagery in this verse about gold is without parallel in the Bible and uncertain in precise nuance.
- Lamentations 4:1 tn Heb “the stones of holiness/jewelry.” קֹדֶשׁ (qodesh) in most cases refers to holiness or sacredness. For the meaning “jewelry” see J. A. Emerton, “The Meaning of אַבְנֵי־קֹדֶשׁ in Lamentations 4:1” ZAW 79 (1967): 233-36.
- Lamentations 4:1 tn Heb “at the head of every street.”
- Lamentations 4:2 tn Heb “they are regarded as.”
- Lamentations 4:2 tn Heb “the work of the hands of a potter.”
- Lamentations 4:3 tn The noun תַּנִּין (tannin) means “jackals.” The plural ending ־ִין (-in) is diminutive (GKC 242 §87.e) (e.g., Lam 1:4).
- Lamentations 4:3 tn Heb “draw out the breast and suckle their young.”
- Lamentations 4:3 tn Heb “the daughter of my people.”
- Lamentations 4:3 tc The MT Kethib form כִּי עֵנִים (ki ʿenim) is by all accounts a variation from an original text of כַּיְעֵנִים (kayʿenim, “like ostriches”) which is preserved in the Qere and the medieval Hebrew mss, and reflected in the LXX.
- Lamentations 4:4 tn Heb “bread.” The term “bread” might function as a synecdoche of specific (= bread) for general (= food); however, the following parallel line does indeed focus on the act of breaking bread in two.
- Lamentations 4:4 tn Heb “there is not a divider to them.” The term “divider” refers to the action of breaking bread in two before giving it to a person to eat (Isa 58:7; Jer 16:7; Lam 4:4).
- Lamentations 4:5 tn Heb “eaters of delicacies.” An alternate English gloss would be “connoisseurs of fine foods.”
- Lamentations 4:5 tn Heb “are desolate.”
- Lamentations 4:5 tn Heb “were reared.”
- Lamentations 4:5 tn Heb “in purple.” The term תוֹלָע (tolaʿ, “purple”) is a figurative description of expensive clothing, a metonymy of association where the color of the dyed clothes (= purple) stands for the clothes themselves.
- Lamentations 4:5 tn Heb “embrace garbage.” One may also translate “rummage through” (cf. NCV “pick through trash piles”; TEV “pawing through refuse”; NLT “search the garbage pits”).
- Lamentations 4:5 tn The Hebrew word אַשְׁפַּתּוֹת (ʾashpatot) can also mean “ash heaps.” Though not used as a combination elsewhere, to “embrace ash heaps” might also envision a state of mourning or even dead bodies lying on the ash heaps.
- Lamentations 4:6 tn The noun עֲוֹן (ʿavon) has a basic, twofold range of meaning: (1) basic meaning: “iniquity, sin,” and (2) metonymical cause-for-effect meaning: “punishment for iniquity.”
- Lamentations 4:6 tn Heb “the daughter of my people.”
- Lamentations 4:6 tn Heb “the sin of.” The noun חַטָּאת (khattaʾt) often means “sin, rebellion,” but here it probably functions in a metonymical (cause for effect) sense: “punishment for sin” (e.g., Zech 14:19). The context focuses on the severity of the punishment of Jerusalem rather than the depths of its degradation and depravity that led to the judgment.
- Lamentations 4:6 tn Heb “without a hand turned.” The preposition ב (bet) after the verb חוּל (khul) in Hos 11:6 is adversative: “the sword will turn against [Assyria’s] cities.” Other contexts with חוּל (khul) plus ב (bet) are not comparable (ב [bet] often being locative). However, it is not certain that hands must be adversarial, as the sword clearly is in Hos 11:6. The present translation pictures the suddenness of Sodom’s overthrow as an easier fate than the protracted military campaign and subsequent exile and poverty of Judah’s survivors.
- Lamentations 4:7 tn Heb “Nazirites” (so KJV). The Nazirites were consecrated under a vow to refrain from wine, contact with the dead, and cutting their hair. In Gen 49:26 and Deut 33:16, Joseph, who was not a Nazirite, is called the “Nazir” of his brothers. From context, many translate this as “prince” (e.g., NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT), though the nuance is uncertain. If it is valid, then princes might be understood in this context as well.
- Lamentations 4:7 tn The noun גִּזְרָה (gizrah) is used primarily in Ezekiel 41-42 (7 of its 9 uses), where it refers to a separated area of the temple complex described in Ezekiel’s vision. It is not used of people other than here. Probably based on the reference to a precious stone, BDB 160 s.v. 1 postulated that it refers to the cutting or polishing of precious stones, but this is conjecture. The English versions handle this variously. D. R. Hillers suggests beards, hair, or eyebrows, relying on other ancient Near Eastern comparisons between lapis lazuli and the body (Lamentations [AB], 81).
- Lamentations 4:7 sn Lapis lazuli is a dark-blue semiprecious stone.
- Lamentations 4:8 tn Heb “their outline” or “their form.” The Hebrew noun תֹּאַר (toʾar, “outline, form”) is related to the Phoenician noun תֹּאַר (toʾar, “something gazed at”) and the Aramaic verb תָּאַר (taʾar, “to gaze at”). It is used in reference to the forms of a woman (Gen 29:17; Deut 21:11; 1 Sam 25:3; Esth 2:7) and a man (Gen 39:11; Judg 8:18; 1 Sam 16:18; 28:14; 1 Kgs 1:6; 1 Chr 17:17; Isa 52:14; 53:2). Here it occurs in a metonymical sense: “appearance.”
- Lamentations 4:9 tn Heb “those pierced of the sword.” The genitive-construct denotes instrumentality: “those pierced by the sword” (חַלְלֵי־חֶרֶב, khalele kherev). The noun חָלָל (khalal) refers to a “fatal wound” and is used substantivally to refer to “the slain” (Num 19:18; 31:8, 19; 1 Sam 17:52; 2 Sam 23:8, 18; 1 Chr 11:11, 20; Isa 22:2; 66:16; Jer 14:18; 25:33; 51:49; Lam 4:9; Ezek 6:7; 30:11; 31:17, 18; 32:20; Zeph 2:12).
- Lamentations 4:9 tn Heb “those slain of hunger.” The genitive-construct denotes instrumentality: “those slain by hunger,” that is, those who are dying of hunger.
- Lamentations 4:9 tn Heb “who…” The antecedent of the relative pronoun שֶׁהֵם (shehem, “who”) are those dying of hunger in the previous line: מֵחַלְלֵי רָעָב (mekhalele raʿav, “those slain of hunger”).
- Lamentations 4:9 tn Heb “they flow away.” The verb זוּב (zuv, “to flow, gush”) is used figuratively here, meaning “to pine away” or “to waste away” from hunger. See also the next note.
- Lamentations 4:9 tn Heb “pierced through and through.” The term מְדֻקָּרִים (meduqqarim), Pual participle masculine plural from דָּקַר (daqar, “to pierce”), is used figuratively. The verb דָּקַר (daqar, “to pierce”) usually refers to a fatal wound inflicted by a sword or spear (Num 25:8; Judg 9:54; 1 Sam 31:4; 1 Chr 10:4; Isa 13:15; Jer 37:10; 51:4; Zech 12:10; 13:3). Here, it describes people dying from hunger. This is an example of hypocatastasis: an implied comparison between warriors being fatally pierced by sword and spear and the piercing pangs of hunger and starvation. Alternatively, one could translate, “those who hemorrhage (זוּב [zuv, “flow, gush”]) [are better off] than those pierced by lack of food,” in parallel to the structure of the first line.
- Lamentations 4:9 tn The preposition מִן (min, “from”) denotes deprivation: “from lack of” something (BDB 580 s.v. 2.f; HALOT 598 s.v. 6).
- Lamentations 4:9 tn Heb “produce of the field.”
- Lamentations 4:10 tn Heb “the hands of compassionate women.”
- Lamentations 4:10 tn Heb “eating.” The infinitive construct (from I בָּרָה, barah) is translated as a noun. Three passages employ the verb (2 Sam 3:35; 12:17; 13:5, 6, 10) for eating when one is ill or in mourning.
- Lamentations 4:10 tn Heb “the daughter of my people.”
- Lamentations 4:10 tn Heb “in the destruction of the daughter of my people.”
- Lamentations 4:11 tn Heb “has completed.” The verb כִּלָּה (killah), Piel perfect third person masculine singular from כָּלָה (kalah, “to complete”), has a range of closely related meanings: (1) “to complete, bring to an end,” (2) “to accomplish, finish, cease,” (3) “to use up, exhaust, consume.” Used in reference to God’s wrath, it describes God unleashing his full measure of anger so that divine justice is satisfied. This is handled admirably by several English versions: “The Lord has given full vent to his wrath” (NIV), “The Lord gave full vent to his wrath” (RSV, NRSV), “The Lord vented all his fury” (NJPS), and “The Lord turned loose the full force of his fury” (TEV). Others miss the mark: “The Lord has accomplished his wrath/fury” (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB).
- Lamentations 4:11 tn Heb “the heat of his anger.”
- Lamentations 4:11 tn The term יְסוֹד (yesod, “foundation”) refers to the ground-level and below ground-level foundation stones of a city wall (Ps 137:7; Lam 4:11; Mic 1:6).
- Lamentations 4:12 tn Heb “inhabitants of the mainland.”
- Lamentations 4:12 tn Heb “they did not believe that.” The verb הֶאֱמִינוּ (heʾeminu), Hiphil perfect third person common plural from אָמַן (ʾaman, “to believe”), ordinarily is a term of faith and trust, but occasionally it functions cognitively: “to think that” (Job 9:16; 15:22; Ps 116:10; Lam 4:12) and “to be convinced that” (Ps 27:13) (HALOT 64 s.v. I אמן hif.1). The semantic relationship between “to believe” = “to think” is metonymical, that is, effect for cause.
- Lamentations 4:12 sn The expression “to enter the gates” of a city is an idiom referring to the military conquest of that city. Ancient Near-Eastern fortified cities typically featured double and sometimes triple city gates—the bulwark of the defense of the city. Because fortified cities were enclosed with protective walls, the Achilles tendon of every city was the city gates—the weak point in the defense and the perennial point of attack by enemies (e.g., Judg 5:8, 11; 1 Sam 17:52; Isa 29:6; Jer 17:27; 51:54; Ezek 21:20, 27; Mic 1:9, 12; Neh 1:3; 2:3, 13, 17).
- Lamentations 4:13 tn These words do not appear in the Hebrew but are supplied to make sense of the line. The introductory causal preposition מִן (min) (“because”) indicates that this phrase—or something like it—is implied through elision.
- Lamentations 4:13 tn There is no main verb in the verse; it is an extended prepositional phrase. One must either assume a verbal idea such as, “But it happened due to…,” or connect the verse to the following verses, which themselves are quite difficult. The former option was employed in the present translation.
- Lamentations 4:14 tn “They” are apparently the people, rather than the prophets and priests mentioned in the preceding verse.
- Lamentations 4:14 tc The Hebrew word עִוְרִים (ʿivrim) appears to be an adjective based on the root I עִוֵּר (ʿivver, “blind”). The LXX, using a rare perfect optative of ἐγείρω (egeirō), seems to have read a form of II עוּר (ʿur, “to rise”), while the Syriac reads “her nobles,” possibly from reading שָׂרִים (sarim). The evidence is unclear.
- Lamentations 4:14 tn Heb “defiled with blood.” Cf. Isa 59:3.sn Tremper Longman (Jeremiah, Lamentations [New International Biblical Commentary], 384) notes that the priests are unclean by the blood on their garments, but blood from wounds did not make a person unclean. Murder made a person guilty but not ceremonially unclean. Jeremiah chose the vocabulary of ceremonial defilement to stress the wrongness of what they did.
- Lamentations 4:14 tn The grammar is uncommon. The MT has the preposition ב (bet, “in,” “by,” “with,” “when,” etc.), the negative particle לֹא (loʾ), and then a finite verb from יָכַל (yakhal, Qal imperfect third person masculine plural): “in not they are able.” Normally יָכַל (yakhal) would be followed by an infinitive, identifying what someone is or is not able to do, or by some other modifying clause. לֹא יָכַל (loʾ yakhal) on its own may mean “they do not prevail.” The preposition ב (bet) suggests possible dependence on another verb (cf. Jer 2:11, the only other verse with the sequence ב [bet] plus לֹא [loʾ] plus finite verb). The following verb נָגַע (nagaʿ, “touch”) regularly indicates its object with the preposition ב (bet), but the preposition ב (bet) is already used with “their garments.” If both are the object of נָגַע (nagaʿ), the line would oddly read: “they touched what they could not, their garments.” The preposition ב (bet) can also introduce temporal clauses, though there are no examples with לֹא (loʾ) plus a finite verb. BDB 89 s.v. בְּ III 1.b states that בְּלֹא can mean “without.” BDB 407 s.v. יָכֹל Qal 1.e says that the sequence “they are unable, they touch” equals “they are unable to touch.” In Jer 49:10 the meaning of יָכַל (yakhal) is completed by a finite verb (though it is not governed by the preposition ב [bet]). If so here, then we may understand: “without people being able (יָכַל, yakhal) to touch their garments.” See GKC, 120g. This gives the picture of blind people stumbling about while others cannot help because they are afraid to touch them due to possible defilement themselves.
- Lamentations 4:15 tn Heb “They say among the nations.”
- Lamentations 4:16 tn Heb “the face of the Lord.” The term פָּנֶה (paneh, “face”) is a synecdoche of a part (= face) for the whole person (= the Lord himself). The phrase is often translated “the presence of the Lord.” The term “face” also functions anthropomorphically, depicting the invisible, spiritual God as though he had a physical face.
- Lamentations 4:16 tc The MT reads a plural verb לֹא נָשָׂאוּ (loʾ nasaʾu, “they did not lift up”) from נָשָׂא (nasaʾ, “to lift up”); however, the ancient versions (LXX, Aramaic Targum, Latin Vulgate, Syriac Peshitta) have singular verbs, reflecting לֹא נָשָׂא (loʾ nasaʾ, “he did not lift up”). D. R. Hillers suggests that the MT plural is an intentional scribe change, to avoid the appearance that God brought about evil on the priests and elders. It may also be that the third person plural presumes an indefinite subject and the construction is used in place of a passive, but still essentially means, “the priests were not honored” (see following note regarding the idiom). Another alternative would be to revocalize the verb as the rare Qal passive, which would yield the same result. tn Heb “did not lift up.” The verb נָשָׂא (nasaʾ) means “to lift up” (the face); however, the specific contextual nuance here is probably “to show consideration” (e.g., Deut 28:50; Lam 4:16) (BDB 670 s.v. 1.b.3).
- Lamentations 4:16 tc The MT reads a plural verb לֹא חָנָנוּ (loʾ khananu, “they did not show favor”) from חָנַן (khanan, “to show favor, be merciful”); however, the ancient versions (LXX, Aramaic Targum, Latin Vulgate, Syriac Peshitta) have singular verbs, reflecting לֹא חָנַן (loʾ khanan, “he did not show favor”). D. R. Hillers suggests that the MT plural is an intentional scribal change to avoid the appearance that God brought about evil on the priests and elders. It may also be that the third person plural presumes an indefinite subject and the construction is used in place of a passive, but still essentially means “the elders were not shown mercy.” Another alternative would be to revocalize the verb as the rare Qal passive, which would yield the same result.tn The basic meaning of the verb חָנַן (khanan) is “to show favor [to], be gracious [to].” In some contexts this can mean “to spare” the lives of someone (Deut 7:2; 28:50; Job 19:21; Lam 4:16) (BDB 336 s.v. 1.c), though it is not clear whether that is the case here.
- Lamentations 4:17 tn Heb “Our eyes failed in vain for help.”
- Lamentations 4:18 tn Heb “they”; this has been specified in the translation as “our enemies” for clarity.
- Lamentations 4:18 tn Heb “they hunted our steps.”
- Lamentations 4:18 tn Heb “our days were full.”
- Lamentations 4:19 tn The bird referred to here could be one of several species of eagles but more likely is the griffin-vulture (cf. NEB “vultures”). However, because eagles are more commonly associated with swiftness than vultures in contemporary English, “eagles” was used in the translation.
- Lamentations 4:19 tn Or “in the heavens.” The Hebrew term שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) may be translated “heaven(s)” or “sky,” depending on the context.
- Lamentations 4:20 tn Heb “the anointed one of the Lord.” The term “king” is added in the translation to clarify the referent of the phrase “the Lord’s anointed.”
- Lamentations 4:20 tn Heb “was captured in their pits.”
- Lamentations 4:20 tn Heb “of whom we had said.”
- Lamentations 4:20 tn Heb “under his shadow.” The term צֵל (tsel, “shadow”) is used figuratively here to refer the source of protection from military enemies. In the same way that the shade of a tree gives physical relief and protection from the heat of the sun (e.g., Judg 9:15; Job 40:22; Ps 80:11; Song 2:3; Ezek 17:23; 31:6, 12, 17; Hos 4:13; 14:8; Jon 4:5, 6), a faithful and powerful king can provide “shade” (= protection) from enemies and military attack (Num 14:19; Ps 91:1; Isa 30:2, 3; 49:2; 51:16; Jer 48:45; Lam 4:20).
- Lamentations 4:21 tn The phrase “for now” is added in the translation to highlight the implied contrast between the present joy of the Gentiles (4:21a) and their future judgment (4:21b).
- Lamentations 4:21 tn Heb “O Daughter of Edom.”
- Lamentations 4:21 tn Heb “the cup.” Judgment is often depicted as a cup of wine that God forces a person to drink, causing him to lose consciousness, with red wine drooling out of his mouth. He resembles corpses lying on the ground as a result of the actual onslaught of the Lord’s judgment. The drunkard, reeling and staggering, causing bodily injury to himself, is an apt metaphor to describe the devastating effects of God’s judgment. Just as a cup of poison kills all those who are forced to drink it, the cup of God’s wrath destroys all those who must drink it (e.g., Ps 75:9; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15, 17, 28; 49:12; 51:7; Lam 4:21; Ezek 23:33; Hab 2:16).
- Lamentations 4:21 tn The imperfect verb “will pass” may also be a jussive, continuing the element of request: “let the cup pass…”
- Lamentations 4:22 tn Heb “O Daughter Zion.”
- Lamentations 4:22 tn Heb “your iniquity.” The noun עָוֹן (ʿavon) has a broad range of meanings, including: (1) iniquity, (2) guilt of iniquity, and (3) consequence or punishment for iniquity (cause-effect metonymical relation). The context suggests that “punishment for sin” is most appropriate here (e.g., Gen 4:13; 19:15; Exod 28:38, 43; Lev 5:1, 17; 7:18; 10:17; 16:22; 17:16; 19:8; 20:17, 19; 22:16; 26:39, 41, 43; Num 5:31; 14:34; 18:1, 23; 30:15; 1 Sam 25:24; 28:10; 2 Sam 14:9; 2 Kgs 7:9; Job 10:14; Pss 31:11; 69:28; 106:43; Prov 5:22; Isa 5:18; 30:13; 40:2; 53:6, 11; 64:5, 6; Jer 51:6; Lam 4:22; 5:7; Ezek 4:4-6, 17; 7:16; 14:10; 18:19-20; 21:30, 34 HT [21:25, 29 ET]; 24:23; 32:27; 35:5; 39:23; 44:10, 12).
- Lamentations 4:22 tn Heb “will be completed.” The verb תַּם (tam) is Qal perfect from תָּמַם (tamam, “to be complete”). The translation understands it as an example of the so-called “prophetic perfect,” describing a future event viewed as “complete.” Some would call this “as good as done,” or certain to take place from the viewpoint of the prophet. It has also been viewed as a simple perfect: “your punishment is ended.”
- Lamentations 4:22 tn Heb “O Daughter of Edom.”
- Lamentations 4:22 tn The noun עָוֹן (ʿavon) is repeated twice in this verse, denoting first “punishment for iniquity” (v. 22a), and then “iniquity” (v. 22b). See a preceding translator’s note on the broad range of meanings for this word. The repetition of the same root with different meanings creates an ironic polysemantic wordplay: Zion’s “punishment” for its sin is about to come to an end, but the punishment for Edom’s “sin” is about to begin.