We have here,
I. The sins they were charged with, for which God brought this destruction upon them, and which served to justify God in it (Lam. 4:13, 14): It is for the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests. Not that the people were innocent; no, they loved to have it so (Jer. 5:31), and it was to please them that the prophets and priests did as they did; but the fault is chiefly laid upon them, who should have taught them better, should have reproved and admonished them, and told them what would be in the end hereof; of the hands of those watchmen who did not give them warning will their blood be required. Note, Nothing ripens a people more for ruin, nor fills the measure faster, than the sins of their priests and prophets. The particular sin charged upon them is persecution; the false prophets and corrupt priests joined their power and interest to shed the blood of the just in the midst of her, the blood of God’s prophets and of those that adhered to them. They not only shed the blood of their innocent children, whom they sacrificed to Moloch, but the blood of the righteous men that were among them, whom they sacrificed to that more cruel idol of enmity to the truth and true religion. This was that sin which the Lord would not pardon (2 Kgs. 24:4) and which brought the last destruction upon Jerusalem (Jas. 5:6): You have condemned and killed the just. And the priests and prophets were the ringleaders in persecution, as in Christ’s time the chief priests and scribes were the men that incensed the people against him, who otherwise would have persisted in their hosannas. Now these are those that wandered as blind men in the streets, Lam. 4:14. They strayed from the paths of justice, were blind to every thing that is good, but to do evil they were quick-sighted. God says of corrupt judges, They know not, neither do they understand; they walk in darkness (Ps. 82:5); and Christ says of the corrupt teachers, They are blind leaders of the blind, Matt. 15:14. They have so polluted themselves with innocent blood, the blood of the saints, that men could not touch their garments; they made themselves odious to all about them, so that good men were as shy of touching them as of touching a dead body, which contracted a ceremonial pollution, or of touching the bloody clothes of one slain, which tender spirits care not to do. There is nothing that will make prophets and priests to be abhorred so much as a spirit of persecution.
II. The testimony of their neighbours produced in evidence against them, both to convict them of sin and to show the equity of God’s proceedings against them. Some that have grown very impudent in sin boast that they care not what people say of them; but God, by the prophet, would have the Jews to take notice of what people said of them and what was the opinion of the standers by concerning them (Lam. 4:15, 16), what they said, nay, what they cried unto them, especially to the corrupt priests and prophets, among the heathen. 1. They upbraided them with their pretended purity, while they lived in all manner of real iniquity. They cried to them, “Depart you; it is unclean. You were so precise that you would not touch a Gentile, by cried, Depart, depart; stand by thyself; I am holier than thou,” Isa. 65:5. Thus the prosecutors of Christ would not go into the judgment-hall, lest they should be defiled. “But can you now keep the Gentiles from touching you, when God has delivered you into their hands? When you flee away and wander you will bid them stand off and not touch you, because they are unclean. But in vain; these serpents will not be charmed or enchanted thus; no, they will no respect the persons of the priests, nor favour the elders; the most venerable persons will to them be despicable.” 2. They upbraided them with their sins, and the anger of God against them for their sins, and the direful effects of that anger. They cried to them, Depart you; it is unclean. They all cried out shame on them, and could easily foresee that God would not long suffer so provoking a people to continue in so good a land. They knew their statutes and judgments were righteous, and expected they should be a wise and understanding people, Deut. 4:6. But, when they saw them quite otherwise, they cried, Depart, depart; they soon read their doom, that the land would spue them out, as it had done their predecessors, and, when they saw the dispersed of Jacob fleeing and wandering, they told them of it. They said, Now the anger of the Lord has divided them, has dispersed them into all countries, because they respected not the persons of the priests, the pious priests that were among them, such as Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, Jeremiah, and others; neither did they favour the elders, but despised them and their authority when they went about to check them for their vicious courses. The very heathen foresaw that this would ruin them. 3. They triumphed in their ruin as irrecoverable. They said, when they saw them expelled out of their own land, “Now they shall no more sojourn there; they have bidden it a final farewell, never more to return to it, for God will no more regard them, and how then can they help themselves?” Herein they were mistaken. God had not cast them off, for all this. Yet thus much is intimated, that all about them observed them to be so very provoking to their God that there was not reason to expect any other than that they should be quite abandoned.
III. The despair which they themselves were almost brought to under their calamities. Having heard what they said concerning them among the heathen, let us now hear what they say concerning themselves (Lam. 4:17): “As for us, we look upon our case to be in a manner helpless. Our end is near (Lam. 4:18), the end both of our church and of our state; we are just at the brink of the ruin of both; nay, our end has come; we are utterly undone; a fatal final period is put to all our comforts; the days of our prosperity are fulfilled; they are numbered and finished.” Thus their fears concurred with the hopes of their enemies that the Lord would no more regard them. For, 1. The refuges they fled to disappointed them. They looked for help from this and the other powerful ally, but to no purpose; it proved vain help. The succours they expected did not come in, or at least they had not the success they expected, and their eyes failed with looking for that which never came (Lam. 4:17); they watched in watching; they watched long, and with a great deal of earnestness and impatience, for a nation that promised them assistance, but failed the, and frustrated their expectation. They could not save them; they were too weak to contend with the Chaldean army and therefore retired. Help from creatures is vain help (Ps. 60:11), and we may look for it till our eyes fail, till our hearts fail, and come short of it at last. 2. The persecutors they fled from overtook them and overcame them (Lam. 4:18): They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets. When the Chaldeans besieged the city they raised their batteries so high above the walls that they could command the town, and shoot at people as they went along the streets. They hunted them with their arrows from place to place. When the city was broken up, and all the men of war fled, their persecutors were swifter than the eagles of heaven when they fly upon their prey, Lam. 4:19. There was no escaping them; they pursued them upon the mountains, and, when they thought they had got clear of them, they fell into the hands of those that laid wait for them in the wilderness, to cut off their retreat, and to pick up stragglers. nay, the king himself, though he may be supposed to have had all the advantages the exigence of the case would admit to favour his flight, yet could not escape, for divine vengeance pursued him with them, and then (Lam. 4:20), The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in 1f50 their pits. Some apply it to Josiah, who was killed in battle by the king of Egypt; but it is rather to be understood of Zedekiah, who was the last king of the house of David, and who was pursued by the Chaldeans and seized in the plains of Jericho, Jer. 39:5. He was the anointed of the Lord, heir of that family which God had appointed to the government. He was very much confided in by the Jewish state: They said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen. They promised themselves that the remnant which were left after Jeconiah’s captivity should, under the protection of his government, yet again take root downward and bear fruit upward. They thought, though they were so reduced that they could not think of reigning over the heathen, as they had done, yet they might make a shift to live among them and not be insulted and pulled to pieces by them. Thus apt are sinking interests not only to catch at every twig, but to think it will recover them. Jerusalem died of a consumption, a flattering distemper. Even when she was ready to expire she formed some hopeful symptoms to herself, and on them grounded a hope that she should recover; but what came of it? The shadow under which they thought they should live proved like that of Jonah’s gourd, which withered in a night. He that was the anointed of the Lord was taken in their pits, as if he had been but a beast of prey; so little account did they make of a person deemed sacred and not to be violated. Note, When we make any creature the breath of our nostrils, and promise ourselves that we shall live by it, it is just with God to stop that breath, and deprive us of the life we expected by it; for God will have the honour of being himself along our life and the length of our days.