Justly are these called Lamentations, and they are very pathetic ones, the expressions of grief in perfection, mourning and woe, and nothing else, like the contents of Ezekiel’s roll, Ezek. 2:10.
I. Copies of lamentations are here presented and they are painted to the life. 1. The judges and magistrates, who used to appear in robes of state, have laid them aside, or rather are stripped of them, and put on the habit of mourners (Lam. 2:10); the elders now sit no longer in the judgment-seats, the thrones of the house of David, but they sit upon the ground, having no seat to repose themselves in, or in token of great grief, as Job’s friends sat with him upon the ground, Job 2:13. They open not their mouth in the gate, as usual, to give their opinion, but they keep silence, overwhelmed with grief, and not knowing what to say. They have cast dust upon their heads, and girded themselves with sackcloth, as deep mourners used to do; they had lost their power and wealth, and that made the grieve thus. Ploratur lachrymis amissa pecunia veris—Genuine are the tears which we shed over lost property. 2. The young ladies, who used to dress themselves so richly, and walk with stretched-forth necks (Isa. 3:16), now are humbled; The virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground; those are made to know sorrow who seemed to bid defiance to it and were always disposed to be merry. 3. The prophet himself is a pattern to the mourners, Lam. 2:11. His eyes do fail with tears; he has wept till he can weep no more, has almost wept his eyes out, wept himself blind. Nor are the inward impressions of grief short of the outward expressions. His bowels are troubled, as they were when he saw these calamities coming (Jer. 4:19, 20), which, one would think, might have excused him now; but even he, to whom they were no surprise, felt them an insupportable grief, to such a degree that his liver is poured out on the earth; he felt himself a perfect colliquation; all his entrails were melted and dissolved, as Ps. 22:14. Jeremiah himself had better treatment than his neighbours, better than he had had before from his own countrymen, nay, their destruction was his deliverance, their captivity his enlargement; the same that made them prisoners made him a favourite; and yet his private interests are swallowed up in a concern for the public, and he bewails the destruction of the daughter of his people as sensibly as if he himself had been the greatest sufferer in that common calamity. Note, The judgments of God upon the land and nation a 4ca4 re to be lamented by us, though we, for our parts, may escape pretty well.
II. Calls to lamentation are here given: The heart of the people cried unto the Lord, Lam. 2:18. Some fear it was a cry, not of true repentance, but of bitter complaint; their heart was as full of grief as it could hold, and they gave vent to it in doleful shrieks and outcries, in which they made use of God’s name; yet we will charitably suppose that many of them did in sincerity cry unto God for mercy in their distress; and the prophet bids them go on to do so: “O wall of the daughter of Zion! either you that stand upon the wall, you watchmen on the walls (Isa. 62:6), when you see the enemies encamped about the walls and making their approaches towards them, or because of the wall (that is the subject of the lamentation), because of the breaking down of the wall (which was not done till about a month after the city was taken), because of this further calamity, let the daughter of Zion lament still.” This was a thing which Nehemiah lamented long after, Neh. 1:3, 4. “Let tears run down like a river day and night, weep without intermission, give thyself no rest from weeping, let not the apple of thy eye cease.” This intimates, 1. That the calamities would be continuing, and the causes of grief would frequently recur, and fresh occasion would be given them every day and every night to bemoan themselves. 2. That they would be apt, by degrees, to grow insensible and stupid under the hand of God, and would need to be still called upon to afflict their souls yet more and more, till their proud and hard hearts were thoroughly humbled and softened.
III. Causes for lamentation are here assigned, and the calamities that are to be bewailed are very particularly and pathetically described.
1. Multitudes perish by famine, a very sore judgment, and piteous is the case of those that fall under it. God had corrected them by scarcity of provisions through want of rain some time before (Jer. 14:1), and they were not brought to repentance by that lower degree of this judgment, and therefore now by the straitness of the siege God brought it upon them in extremity; for, (1.) The children died for hunger in their mothers’ arms: The children and sucklings, whose innocent and helpless state entitles them to relief as soon as any, swoon in the streets (Lam. 2:11) as the wounded (Lam. 2:12), there being no food to be had for them; those that are starved die as surely as those that are stabbed. They lie a great while crying to their poor mothers for corn to feed them and wine to refresh them, for they are such as had been bred up to the use of wine and wanted it now; but there is none for them, so that at length their soul is poured into their mothers’ bosom, and there they breathe their last. This is mentioned again (Lam. 2:19): They faint for hunger in the top of every street. Yet this is not the worst, (2.) There were some little children that were slain by their mothers’ hands and eaten, Lam. 2:20. Such was the scarcity of provision that the women ate the fruit of their own bodies, even their children when they were but of a span long, according to the threatening, Deut. 28:53. The like was done in the siege of Samaria, 2 Kgs. 6:29. Such extremities, nay, such barbarities, were they brought to by the famine. Let us, in our abundance, thank God that we have food convenient, not only for ourselves, but for our children.
2. Multitudes fall by the sword, which devours one as well as another, especially when it is in the hand of such cruel enemies as the Chaldeans were. (1.) They spared no character, no, not the most distinguished; even the priest and the prophet, who of all men, one would think, might expect protection from heaven and veneration on earth, are slain, not abroad in the field of battle, where they are out of their place, as Hophni and Phinehas, but in the sanctuary of the Lord, the place of their business and which they hoped would be a refuge to them. (2.) They spared no age, no, not those who, by reason of their tender or their decrepit age, were exempted from taking up the sword; for even they perished by the sword. “The young, who have not yet come to bear arms, and the old, who have had their discharge, lie on the ground, slain in the streets, till some kind hand is found that will bury them.” (3.) They spared no sex: My virgins and my young men have fallen by the sword. In the most barbarous military executions that ever we read of the virgins were spared, and made part of the spoil (Num. 31:18; Jdg. 5:30), but here the virgins were put to the sword, as well as the young men. (4.) This was the Lord’s doing; he suffered the sword of the Chaldeans to devour thus without distinction: Thou has slain them in the day of thy anger, for it is God that kills and makes alive, and saves alive, as he pleases. But that which follows is very harsh: Thou has killed, and not pitied; for his soul is grieved for the misery of Israel. The enemies that used them thus cruelly were such as he had both mustered and summoned (Lam. 2:22): “Thou hast called in, as in a solemn day, my terrors round about, that is, the Chaldeans, who are such a terror to me;” enemies crowded into Jerusalem now as thickly as ever worshippers used to do on a solemn festival, so that they were quite overpowered with numbers, and none escaped nor remained; Jerusalem was made a perfect slaughter-house. Mothers are cut to the heart to see those whom they have taken such care of, and pains with, and whom they have been so tender of, thus inhumanly used, suddenly cut off, though not soon reared: Those that I have swaddled, and brought up, has my enemy consumed, as if they were brought forth for the murderer, like lambs for the butcher, Hos. 9:13. Zion, who was a mother to them all, lamented to see those who were brought up in her courts, and under the tuition of her oracles, thus made a prey.
3. Their false prophets cheated them, Lam. 2:14. This was a thing which Jeremiah had lamented long before, and had observed with a great concern (Jer. 14:13): Ah! Lord God, the prophets say unto them, You shall not see the sword; and here he inserts it among his lamentations: Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee; they pretended to discover for thee, and then to discover to thee, the mind and will of God, to see the visions of the Almighty and then to speak his words; but they were all vain and foolish things; their visions were all their own fancies, and, if they thought they had any, it was only the product of a crazed head or a heated imagination, as appeared by what they delivered, which was all idle and impertinent: nay, it is most likely that they themselves knew that the visions they pretended were counterfeit, and all a sham, and made use of only to colour that which they designedly imposed upon the people with, that they might make an interest in them for themselves. They are thy prophets, not God’s prophets; he never sent them, nor were they pastors after his heart, but the people set them up, told them what they should say, so that they were prophets after their hearts. (1.) Prophets should tell people of their faults, should show them their sins, that they may bring them to repentance, and so prevent their ruin; but these prophets knew that would lose them the people’s affections and contributions, and knew they could not reprove their hearers without reproaching themselves at the same time, and therefore they have not discovered thy iniquity; they saw it not themselves, or, if they did, saw so little evil in it, or danger from it, that they would not tell them of it, though that might have been a means, by taking away their iniquity, to turn away their captivity. (2.) Prophets should warn people of the judgments of God coming upon them, but these saw for them false burdens; the messages they pretended to deliver to them from God they knew to be false, and falsely ascribed to God; so that, by soothing them up in carnal security, they caused that banishment which, by plain dealing, they might have prevented.
4. Their neighbours laughed at them (Lam. 2:15): All that pass by thee clap their hands at thee. Jerusalem had made a great figure, got a great name, and borne a great sway, among the nations; it was the envy and terror of all about; and, when the city was thus reduced; they all (as men are apt to do in such a case) triumphed in its fall; they hissed, and wagged the head, pleasing themselves to see how much it had fallen from its former pretensions. Isa. this the city (said they) that men called the perfection of beauty? Ps. 50:2. How is it now the perfection of deformity! Where is all its beauty now? Isa. this the city which was called the joy of the whole earth (Ps. 48:2), which rejoiced in the gifts of God’s bounty and grace more than any other place, and which all the earth rejoiced in? Where is all its joy now and all its glorying? It is a great sin thus to make a jest of others’ miseries, and adds very much affliction to the afflicted.
5. Their enemies triumphed over them, Lam. 2:16. Those that wished ill to Jerusalem and her peace now vent their spite and malice, which before they concealed; they now open their mouths, nay, they widen them; they hiss and gnash their teeth in scorn and indignation; they triumph in their own success against her, and the rich prey they have got in making themselves masters of Jerusalem: “We have swallowed her up; it is our doing, and it is our gain; it is all our own now. Jerusalem shall never be either courted or feared as she has been. Certainly this is the day that we have long looked for; we have found it; we have seen it; aha! so would we have it.” Note, The enemies of the church are apt to take its shocks for its ruins, and to triumph in them accordingly; but they will find themselves deceived; for the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church.
6. Their God, in all this, appeared against them (Lam. 2:17): The Lord has done that which he had devised. The destroyers of Jerusalem could have no power against her unless it were given them from above. They are but the sword in God’s hand; it is he that has thrown down, and has not pitied. “In this controversy of his with us we have not had the usual instances of his compassion towards us.” He has caused they enemy to rejoice over thee (see Job 30:11); he has set up the horn of thy adversaries, has given them power and matter for pride. This is indeed the highest aggravation of the trouble, that God has become their enemy, and yet it is the strongest argument for patience under it; we are bound to submit to what God does, for, (1.) It is the performance of his purpose: The Lord has done that which he had devised; it is done with counsel and deliberation, not rashly, or upon a sudden resolve; it is the evil that he has framed (Jer. 18:11), and we may be sure it is framed so as exactly to answer the intention. What God devises against his people is designed for them, and so it will be found in the issue. (2.) It is the accomplishment of his predictions; it is the fulfilling of the scripture; he has now put in execution his word that he had commanded in the days of old. When he gave them his law by Moses he told them what judgments he would certainly inflict upon them if they transgressed that law; and now that they have been guilty of the transgression of this law he had executed the sentence of it, according to Lev. 26:16; Deut. 28:15. Note, In all the providences of God concerning his church it is good to take notice of the fulfilling of his word; for there is an exact agreement between the judgments of God’s hand and the judgments of his mouth, and when they are compared they will mutually explain and illustrate each other.
IV. Comforts for the cure of these lamentations are here sought for and prescribed.
1. They are sought for and enquired after, Lam. 2:13. The prophet seeks to find out some suitable acceptable words to say to her in this case: Wherewith shall I comfort thee, O virgin! daughter of Zion? Note, We should endeavour to comfort those whose calamities we lament, and, when our passions have made the worst of them, our wisdom should correct them and labour to make the best of them; we should study to make our sympathies with or afflicted friends turn to their consolation. Now the two most common topics of comfort, in case of affliction, are here tried, but are laid by because they would not hold. We commonly endeavour to comfort our friends by telling them, (1.) That their case is not singular, nor without precedent; there are many whose trouble is greater, and lies heavier upon them, than theirs does; but Jerusalem’s case will not admit this argument: “What thing shall I liken to thee, or what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee? What city, what country, is there, whose case is parallel to thine? What witness shall I produce to prove an example that will reach thy present calamitous state? Alas! there is none, no sorrow like thine, because there is none whose honour was like thine.” (2.) We tell them that their case is not desperate, but that it may easily be remedied; but neither will that be admitted here, upon a view of human probabilities; for thy breach is great, like the sea, like the breach which the sea sometimes makes upon the land, which cannot be repaired, but still grows wider and wider. Thou art wounded, and who shall heal thee? No wisdom nor power of man can repair the desolations of such a broken shattered state. It is to no purpose therefore to administer any of these common cordials; therefore,
2. The method of cure prescribed is to address themselves to God, and by a penitent prayer to commit their case to him, and to be instant and constant in such prayers (Lam. 2:19): “Arise out of thy dust, out of thy despondency, cry out in the night, watch unto prayer; when others are asleep, be thou upon thy knees, importunate with God for mercy; in the beginning of the watches, of each of the four watches, of the night (let thy eyes prevent them, Ps. 119:148), then pour out thy heart like water before the Lord, be free and full in prayer, be sincere and serious in prayer, open thy mind, spread thy case before the Lord; lift up thy hands towards him in holy desire and expectation; beg for the life of thy young children. These poor lambs, what have they done? 2 Sam. 24:17. Take with you words, take with you these words (Lam. 2:20), Behold, O Lord! and consider to whom thou hast done this, with whom thou hast dealt thus. Are they not thy own, the seed of Abraham thy friend and of Jacob thy chosen? Lord, take their case into thy compassionate consideration!” Note, Prayer is a salve for every sore, even the sorest, a remedy for every malady, even the most grievous. And our business in prayer is not to prescribe, but to subscribe to the wisdom and will of God; to refer our case to him, and then to leave it with him. Lord, behold and consider, and thy will be done.