Those that have any disposition to weep with those that weep, one would think, should scarcely be able to refrain from tears at the reading of these verses, so very pathetic are the lamentations here.
I. The miseries of Jerusalem are here complained of as very pressing and by many circumstances very much aggravated. Let us take a view of these miseries.
1. As to their civil state. (1.) A city that was populous is now depopulated, Lam. 2:1. It is spoken of by way of wonder—Who would have thought that ever it should come to this! Or by way of enquiry—What is it that has brought it to this? Or by way of lamentation—Alas! alas! (as Rev. 18:10, 16, 19) how doth the city sit solitary that was full of people! She was full of her own people that replenished her, and full of the people of other nations that resorted to her, with whom she had both profitable commerce and pleasant converse; but now her own people are carried into captivity, and strangers make no court to her: she sits solitary. The chief places of the city are not now, as they used to be, place of concourse, where wisdom cried (Prov. 1:20, 21); and justly are they left unfrequented, because wisdom’s cry there was not heard. Note, Those that are ever so much increased God can soon diminish. How has she become as a widow! Her king that was, or should have been, as a husband to her, is cut off, and gone; her God has departed from her, and has given her a bill of divorce; she is emptied of her children, is solitary and sorrowful as a widow. Let no family, no state, not Jerusalem, no, nor Babylon herself, be secure, and say, I sit as a queen, and shall never sit as a widow, Isa. 47:8; Rev. 18:7. (2.) A city that had dominion is now in subjection. She had been great among the nations, greatly loved by some and greatly feared by others, and greatly observed and obeyed by both; some made her presents, and others paid her taxes; so that she was really princess among the provinces, and every sheaf bowed to hers; even the princes of the people entreated her favour. But now the tables are turned; she has not only lost her friends and sits solitary, but has lost her freedom too and sits tributary; she paid tribute to Egypt first and then to Babylon. Note, Sin brings a people not only into solitude, but into slavery. (3.) A city that used to be full of mirth has now become melancholy and upon all accounts full of grief. Jerusalem had been a joyous city, whither the tribes went up on purpose to rejoice before the Lord; she was the joy of the whole earth, but now she weeps sorely, her laughter if turned into mourning, her solemn feasts are all gone; she weeps in the night, as true mourners do who weep in secret, in silence and solitude; in the night, when others compose themselves to rest, her thoughts are most intent upon her troubles, and grief then plays the tyrant. What the prophet’s head was for her, when she regarded it not, now her head is—as waters, and her eyes fountains of tears, so that she weeps day and night (Jer. 9:1); her tears are continually on her cheeks. Though nothing dries away sooner than a tear, yet fresh griefs extort fresh tears, so that her cheeks are never free from them. Note, There is nothing more commonly seen under the sun than the tears of the oppressed, with whom the clouds return after the rain, Eccl. 4:1. (4.) Those that were separated from the heathen now dwell among the heathen; those that were a peculiar people are now a mingled people (Lam. 2:3): Judah has gone into captivity, out of her own land into the land of her enemies, and there she abides, and is likely to abide, among those that are aliens to God and the covenants of promise, with whom she finds no rest, no satisfaction of mind, nor any settlement of abode, but is continually hurried from place to place at the will of the victorious imperious tyrants. And again (Lam. 2:5): “Her children have gone into captivity before the enemy; those that were to have been the seed of the next generation are carried off; so that the land that is now desolate is likely to be still desolate and lost for want of heirs.” Those that dwell among their own people, and that a free people, and in their own land, would be more thankful for the mercies they thereby enjoy if they would but consider the miseries of those that are forced into strange countries. (5.) Those that used in their wars to conquer are now conquered and triumphed over: All her persecutors overlook her between the straits (Lam. 2:3); they gained all possible advantages against her, sot hat her people unavoidably fell into the hand of the enemy, for there was no way to escape (Lam. 2:7); they were hemmed in on every side, and, which way soever they attempted to flee, they found themselves embarrassed. When they made the best of their way they could make nothing of it, but were overtaken and overcome; so that every where her adversaries are the chief and her enemies prosper (Lam. 2:5); which way soever their sword turns they get the better. Such straits do men bring themselves into by sin. If we allow that which is our greatest adversary and enemy to have dominion over us, and to be chief in us, justly will our other enemies be suffered to have dominion over us. (6.) Those that had been not only a distinguished by a dignified people, on whom God had put honour, and to whom all their neighbours had paid respect, are now brought into contempt (Lam. 2:8): All that honoured her before despise her; those that courted an alliance with her now value it not; those that caressed her when she was in pomp and prosperity slight her now that she is in distress, because they have seen her nakedness. By the prevalency of the enemies against her they perceive her weakness, and that she is not so strong a people as they thought she had been; and by the prevalency of God’s judgments against her they perceive her wickedness, which now comes to light and is every where talked of. Now it appears how they have vilified themselves by their sins: The enemies magnify themselves against them (Lam. 2:9); they trample upon them, and insult over them, and in their eyes they have become vile, the tail of the nations, though once they were the head. Note, Sin is the reproach of any people. (7.) Those that lived in a fruitful land were ready to perish, and many of them did perish, for want of necessary food (Lam. 2:11): All her people sigh in despondency and despair; they are ready to faint away; their spirits fail, and therefore they sigh, for they seek bread and seek it in vain. They were brought at last to that extremity that there was no bread for the people of the land (Jer. 52:6), and in their captivity they had much ado to get break, Lam. 5:6. They have given their pleasant things, their jewels and pictures, and all the furniture of their closets and cabinets, which they used to please themselves with looking upon, they have sold these to buy bread for themselves and their families, have parted with them for meat to relieve the soul, or (as the margin is) to make the soul come again, when they were ready to faint away. They desired no other cordial than meat. All that a man has will he give for life, and for break, which is the staff of life. Let those that abound in pleasant things not be proud of them, nor fond of them; for the time may come when they may be glad to let them go for necessary things. And let those that have competent food to relieve their soul be content with it, and thankful for it, though they have not pleasant things.
2. We have here an account of their miseries in their ecclesiastical state, the ruin of their sacred interest, which was much more to be lamented than that of their secular concerns. (1.) Their religious feasts were no more observed, no more frequented (Lam. 2:4): The ways of Zion do mourn; they look melancholy, overgrown with grass and weeds. It used to be a pleasant diversion to see people continually passing and repassing in the highway that led to the temple, but now you may stand there long enough, and see nobody stir; for none come to the solemn feasts; a full end is put to them by the destruction of that which was the city of our solemnities, Isa. 33:20. The solemn feasts had been neglected and profaned (Isa. 1:11, 12), and therefore justly is an end now put to them. But, when thus the ways of Zion are made to mourn, all the sons of Zion cannot but mourn with them. It is very grievous to good men to see religious assemblies broken up and scattered, and those restrained from them that would gladly attend them. And, as the ways of Zion mourned, so the gates of Zion, in which the faithful worshippers used to meet, are desolate; for there is none to meet in them. Time was when the Lord loved the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob, but now he has forsaken them, and is provoked to withdraw from them, and therefore it cannot but fare with them as it did with the temple when Christ quitted it. Behold, you house is left unto you desolate, Matt. 23:38. (2.) Their religious persons were quite disabled from performing their wonted services, were quite dispirited: Her priests sigh for the desolations of the temple; their songs are turned into sighs; they sigh, for they have nothing to do, and therefore there is nothing to be had; they sigh, as the people (Lam. 2:11), for want of bread, because the offerings of the Lord, which were their livelihood, failed. It is time to sigh when the priests, the Lord’s ministers, sigh. Her virgins also, that used, with their music and dancing, to grace the solemnities of their feasts, are afflicted and in heaviness. Notice is taken of their service in the day of Zion’s prosperity (Ps. 68:25; Among them were the damsels playing with timbrels), and therefore notice is taken of the failing of it now. Her virgins are afflicted, and therefore she is in bitterness; that is, all the inhabitants of Zion are so, whose character it is that they are sorrowful for the solemn assembly, and that to them the reproach of it is a burden, Zeph. 3:18. (3.) Their religious places were profaned (Lam. 2:10): The heathen entered into her sanctuary, into the temple itself, into which no Israelite was permitted to enter, though ever so reverently and devoutly, but the priests only. The stranger that comes nigh, even to worship there, shall be put to death. Thither the heathen now crows rudely in, not to worship, but to plunder. God had commanded that the heathen should not so much as enter into the congregation, nor be incorporated with the people of the Jews (Deut. 23:3); yet now they enter into the sanctuary without control. Note, Nothing is more grievous to those who have a true concern for the glory of God, nor is more lamented, than the violation of God’s laws, and the contempt they see put upon sacred things. What the enemy did wickedly in the sanctuary was complained of, Ps. 74:3, 4. (4.) Their religious utensils, and all the rich things with which the temple was adorned and beautified, and which were made use of in the worship of God, were made a prey to the enemy (Lam. 2:10): The adversary has spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things, has grasped them all, seized them all, for himself. What these pleasant things are we may learn from Isa. 64:11; where, to the complaint of the burning of the temple, it is added, All our pleasant things are laid waste; the ark and the altar, and all the other tokens of God’s presence with them, these were their pleasant things above any other things, and these were now broken to pieces and carried away. Thus from the daughter of Zion all her beauty has departed, Lam. 2:6. The beauty of holiness was the beauty of the daughter of Zion; when the temple, that holy and beautiful house, was destroyed, her beauty was gone; that was the breaking of the staff of beauty, the taking away of the pledges and seals of the covenant, Zech. 11:10. (5.) Their religious days were made a jest of (Lam. 2:7): The adversaries saw her, and did mock at her sabbaths. They laughed at them for observing one day in seven as a day of rest from worldly business. Juvenal, a heathen poet, ridicules the Jews in his time for losing a seventh part of their time:—
----cui septima quaeque fuit lux Ignava et vitae partem non attigit ullam-- They keep their sabbaths to their cost, For thus one day in sev’n is lost; whereas sabbaths, if they be sanctified as they ought to be, will turn to a better account than all the days of the week besides. And whereas the Jews professed that they did it in obedience to their God, and to his honour, their adversaries asked them, “What do you get by it now? What profit have you in keeping the ordinances of your God, who now deserts you in your distress?” Note, it is a very great trouble to all that love God to hear his ordinances mocked at, and particularly his sabbaths. Zion calls them her sabbaths, for the sabbath was made for men; they are his institutions, but they are her privileges; and the contempt put upon sabbaths all the sons of Zion take to themselves and lay to heart accordingly; nor will they look upon sabbaths, or any other divine ordinances, as less honourable, nor value them less, for their being mocked at. (6.) That which greatly aggravated all these grievances was that her state at present was just the reverse of what it had been formerly, Lam. 2:7. Now, in the days of affliction and misery, when every thing was black and dismal, she remembers all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old, and now knows how to value them better than formerly, when she had the full enjoyment of them. God often makes us know the worth of mercies by the want of them; and adversity is borne with the greatest difficulty by those that have fallen into it from the height of prosperity. This cut David to the heart, when he was banished from God’s ordinances, that he could remember when he went with the multitude to the house of God, Ps. 42:4.
II. The sins of Jerusalem are here complained of as the procuring provoking cause of all these calamities. Whoever are the instruments, God is the author of all these troubles; it is the Lord that has afflicted her (Lam. 2:5) and he has done it as a righteous Judge, for she has sinned. 1. Her sins are for number numberless. Are her troubles many? Her sins are many more. it is for the multitude of her transgressions that the Lord has afflicted her. See Jer. 30:14. When the transgressions of a people are multiplied we cannot say, as Job does in his own case, that wounds are multiplied without cause, Job 9:17. 2. They are for nature exceedingly heinous (Lam. 2:8): Jerusalem has grievously sinned, has sinned sin (so the word is), sinned wilfully, deliberately, has sinned that sin which of all others is the abominable things that the Lord hates, the sin of idolatry. The sins of Jerusalem, that makes such a profession and enjoys such privileges, are of all others the most grievous sins. She has sinned grievously (Lam. 2:8), and therefore (Lam. 2:9) she came down wonderfully. note, Grievous sins bring wondrous ruin; there are some workers of iniquity to whom there is a strange punishment, Job 31:3. They are such sins as may plainly be read in the punishment. (1.) They have been very oppressive and therefore are justly oppressed (Lam. 2:3): Judah has gone into captivity, and it is because of affliction and great servitude, because the rich among them afflicted the poor and made them serve with rigour, and particularly (as the Chaldee paraphrases it) because they had oppressed their Hebrew servants, which is charged upon them, Jer. 34:11. Oppression was one of their crying sins (Jer. 6:6, 7) and it is a sin that cries aloud. (2.) They have made themselves vile, and therefore are justly vilified. They all despise her (Lam. 2:8), for her filthiness is in her skirts; it appears upon her garments that she has rolled them in the mire of sin. None could stain our glory if we did not stain it ourselves. (3.) They have been very secure and therefore are justly surprised with this ruin (Lam. 2:9): She remembers not her last end; she did not take the warning that was given her to consider her latter end, to consider what would be the end of such wicked courses as she took, and therefore she came down wonderfully, in an astonishing manner, that she might be made to feel what she would not fear; therefore God shall make their plagues wonderful.
III. Jerusalem’s friends are here complained of as false and faint-hearted, and very unkind: They have all dealt treacherously with her (Lam. 2:2), so that, in effect, they have become here enemies. Her deceivers have created her as much vexation as her destroyers. The staff that breaks under us may do us as great a mischief as the staff that beats us, Ezek. 29:6, 7. Her princes, that should have protected her, have not courage enough to make head against the enemy for their own preservation; they are like harts, that, upon the first alarm, betake themselves to flight and make no resistance; nay, they are like harts that are famished for want of pasture, and therefore are gone without strength before the pursuer, and, having no strength for flight, are soon run down and made a prey of. Her neighbours are unneighbourly, for, 1. There is none to help her (Lam. 2:7); either they could not or they would not; nay, 2. She has not comforter, none to sympathize with her, or suggest any thing to alleviate her griefs, Lam. 2:7, 9. Like Job’s friends, they saw it was to no purpose, her grief was so great; and miserable comforters were they all in such a case.
IV. Jerusalem’s God is here complained to concerning all these things, and all is referred to his compassionate consideration (Lam. 2:9): “O Lord! behold my affliction, and take cognizance of it;” and (Lam. 2:11), “See, O Lord! and consider, take order about it.” Note, The only way to make ourselves easy under our burdens is to cast them upon God first, and leave it to him to do with us as seemeth him good.