THE BOOK OF LAMENTATIONS

The Book of Lamentations is a collection of five poems that serve as an anguished response to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., after a long siege by the invading Babylonian army. (See 2 Kgs 25 for a prose account of the fall of Jerusalem.) Although the poems are traditionally ascribed to the prophet Jeremiah, this is unlikely. The Hebrew text of the book does not mention Jeremiah at all, and it is difficult to square some of the content of the poetry with what one finds in the Book of Jeremiah itself (cf. Lam 1:10; 2:9; 4:17, 20). While there are connections in theme and vocabulary among all five chapters (and especially between chaps. 1 and 2), the poems may have been composed separately and grouped together later. In any case, they are anonymous compositions probably used by survivors of the catastrophe of 587 B.C. in a communal expression of grief and mourning.

Jewish liturgical tradition considers the book one of the “scrolls” (megillot); it is read once a year on the ninth of Av (August–September), a fast day commemorating the destruction of both the first Temple in 587 B.C. and the second Temple in A.D. 70. While passages from chap. 3 are often incorporated into Christian services for Holy Thursday or Good Friday, the Church has otherwise tended to neglect the book. It is not hard to see why; a more anguished piece of writing is scarcely imaginable: from its portrayal of Jerusalem in chaps. 1 and 2 as an abandoned widow exposed to endless dangers, to the broken man of chap. 3, to the bleak description in chap. 4 of the inhabitants of the devastated city, to the final unanswered communal lament of chap. 5, the reader is not so much engaged by the Book of Lamentations as assaulted by it. But with its unsparing focus on destruction, pain, and suffering the book serves an invaluable function as part of Scripture, witnessing to a biblical faith determined to express honestly the harsh realities of a violent world and providing contemporary readers the language to do the same.

As a literary work, the Book of Lamentations combines elements of communal and individual laments (in which the speakers attempt to persuade God to intervene in the face of an acute crisis), funeral dirges (in which a death is mourned), and ancient Near Eastern city-laments (in which the destruction of a city is mourned). The meter is called Qinah (lament), that is, each verse normally has three beats followed by two. The poems are acrostics: in chaps. 14, the separate stanzas begin with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet from the first to the last. The last chapter, while not strictly an acrostic, nevertheless partially conforms to the pattern in its use of 22 lines, the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. Far from destroying the spontaneous pathos of the songs, this feature conveys the expression of a profound grief that might otherwise seem to be without limit (cf. 2:13).

The book may be divided as follows:

  1. The Desolation of Jerusalem (1:122).
  2. The Lord’s Wrath and Zion’s Ruin (2:122).
  3. The Voice of a Suffering Individual (3:166).
  4. Miseries of the Besieged City (4:122).
  5. The Community’s Lament to the Lord (5:122).

CHAPTER 1

The Desolation of Jerusalem*

1How solitary sits the city,

once filled with people.

She who was great among the nations

is now like a widow.

Once a princess among the provinces,

now a toiling slave.

2She weeps incessantly in the night,

her cheeks damp with tears.

She has no one to comfort her

from all her lovers;*

Her friends have all betrayed her,

and become her enemies.a

3Judah has gone into exile,

after oppression and harsh labor;

She dwells among the nations,

yet finds no rest:b

All her pursuers overtake her

in the narrow straits.

4The roads to Zion mourn,

empty of pilgrims to her feasts.

All her gateways are desolate,

her priests groan,

Her young women grieve;

her lot is bitter.c

5Her foes have come out on top,

her enemies are secure;

Because the LORD has afflicted her

for her many rebellions.

Her children have gone away,

captive before the foe.

6From daughter Zion has gone

all her glory:

Her princes have become like rams

that find no pasture.

They have gone off exhausted

before their pursuers.

7Jerusalem remembers

in days of wretched homelessness,

All the precious things she once had

in days gone by.

But when her people fell into the hands of the foe,

and she had no help,

Her foes looked on and laughed

at her collapse.

8Jerusalem has sinned grievously,

therefore she has become a mockery;

Those who honored her now demean her,

for they saw her nakedness;

She herself groans out loud,

and turns away.d

9Her uncleanness is on her skirt;

she has no thought of her future.

Her downfall is astonishing,

with no one to comfort her.

“Look, O LORD, at my misery;

how the enemy triumphs!”*

10The foe stretched out his hands

to all her precious things;

She has seen the nations

enter her sanctuary,

Those you forbade to come

into your assembly.e

11All her people groan,

searching for bread;

They give their precious things for food,

to retain the breath of life.

“Look, O LORD, and pay attention

to how I have been demeaned!

12Come, all who pass by the way,

pay attention and see:

Is there any pain like my pain,

which has been ruthlessly inflicted upon me,

With which the LORD has tormented me

on the day of his blazing wrath?

13From on high he hurled fire down

into my very bones;

He spread out a net for my feet,

and turned me back.

He has left me desolate,

in misery all day long.f

14The yoke of my rebellions is bound together,

fastened by his hand.

His yoke is upon my neck;

he has made my strength fail.

The Lord has delivered me into the grip

of those I cannot resist.

15All my valiant warriors

my Lord has cast away;

He proclaimed a feast against me

to crush my young men;

My Lord has trodden in the wine press

virgin daughter Judah.

16For these things I weep—My eyes! My eyes!

They stream with tears!

How far from me is anyone to comfort,

anyone to restore my life.

My children are desolate;

the enemy has prevailed.”g

17Zion stretches out her hands,

with no one to comfort her;

The LORD has ordered against Jacob

his foes all around;

Jerusalem has become in their midst

a thing unclean.

18“The LORD is in the right;

I had defied his command.

Listen, all you peoples,

and see my pain:

My young women and young men

have gone into captivity.h

19I cried out to my lovers,

but they failed me.i

My priests and my elders

perished in the city;

How desperately they searched for food,

to save their lives!

20Look, O LORD, at the anguish I suffer!

My stomach churns,

And my heart recoils within me:

How bitter I am!

Outside the sword bereaves—

indoors, there is death.j

21Hear how I am groaning;

there is no one to comfort me.

All my enemies hear of my misery and rejoice

over what you have done.

Bring on the day you proclaimed,

and let them become like me!

22Let all their evil come before you

and deal with them

As you have so ruthlessly dealt with me

for all my rebellions.

My groans are many,

my heart is sick.”k

* [1:122] In this poem the poet first takes on the persona of an observer describing Jerusalem’s abject state after the destruction wrought by the Babylonian army (vv. 111a); but the detached tone gives way to a more impassioned appeal when the city itself—personified as the grieving widow and mother Zion—abruptly intrudes upon this description (vv. 9c, 11c16, 1822) to demand that God look squarely at her misery.

* [1:2] Lovers: language of love was typically used to describe the relationship between treaty partners, thus here it connotes Judah’s allies (see v. 19).

* [1:9] Zion breaks in on the poet’s description in v. 9c, albeit briefly, to demand that the Lord face squarely her misery. She takes up the lament in a more sustained fashion in v. 11c.

a. [1:2] Jer 30:14; Ez 16:37.

b. [1:3] Dt 28:65; Jer 45:3.

c. [1:4] Is 33:89; Jer 14:2.

d. [1:8] Is 47:23; Jer 13:22, 26; Na 3:5.

e. [1:10] Dt 23:36; Ps 74:48; Is 56:6; 66:2021; Jer 51:51.

f. [1:13] Ez 12:13.

g. [1:16] Ps 69:21; Eccl 4:1; Jer 13:17; 14:17; Na 3:7.

h. [1:18] Dt 28:41.

i. [1:19] Jer 30:14.

j. [1:20] Lam 2:11.

k. [1:22] Lam 3:64.

CHAPTER 2

The Lord’s Wrath and Zion’s Ruin*

1How the Lord in his wrath

has abhorred daughter Zion,

Casting down from heaven to earth

the glory of Israel,*

Not remembering his footstool

on the day of his wrath!

2The Lord has devoured without pity

all of Jacob’s dwellings;

In his fury he has razed

daughter Judah’s defenses,

Has brought to the ground in dishonor

a kingdom and its princes.

3In blazing wrath, he cut down entirely

the horn* of Israel;

He withdrew the support of his right hand

when the enemy approached;

He burned against Jacob like a blazing fire

that consumes everything in its path.

4He bent his bow like an enemy;

the arrow in his right hand

Like a foe, he killed

all those held precious;

On the tent of daughter Zion

he poured out his wrath like fire.

5The Lord has become the enemy,

he has devoured Israel:

Devoured all its strongholds,

destroyed its defenses,

Multiplied moaning and groaning

throughout daughter Judah.

6He laid waste his booth like a garden,

destroyed his shrine;*

The LORD has blotted out in Zion

feast day and sabbath,

Has scorned in fierce wrath

king and priest.a

7The Lord has rejected his altar,

spurned his sanctuary;

He has handed over to the enemy

the walls of its strongholds.

They shout in the house of the LORD

as on a feast day.b

8The LORD was bent on destroying

the wall of daughter Zion:

He stretched out the measuring line;*

did not hesitate to devour,

Brought grief on rampart and wall

till both succumbed.c

9Her gates sank into the ground;

he smashed her bars to bits.

Her king and her princes are among the nations;

instruction is wanting,

Even her prophets do not obtain

any vision from the LORD.d

10The elders of daughter Zion

sit silently on the ground;

They cast dust* on their heads

and dress in sackcloth;

The young women of Jerusalem

bow their heads to the ground.e

11My eyes are spent with tears,

my stomach churns;*

My bile is poured out on the ground

at the brokenness of the daughter of my people,

As children and infants collapse

in the streets of the town.f

12They cry out to their mothers,

“Where is bread and wine?”

As they faint away like the wounded

in the streets of the city,

As their life is poured out

in their mothers’ arms.

13To what can I compare you*—to what can I liken you—

O daughter Jerusalem?

What example can I give in order to comfort you,

virgin daughter Zion?

For your breach is vast as the sea;

who could heal you?g

14Your prophets provided you visions

of whitewashed illusion;

They did not lay bare your guilt,

in order to restore your fortunes;

They saw for you only oracles

of empty deceit.h

15All who pass by on the road,

clap their hands at you;

They hiss and wag their heads

over daughter Jerusalem:

“Is this the city they used to call

perfect in beauty and joy of all the earth?”i

16They open their mouths against you,

all your enemies;

They hiss and gnash their teeth,

saying, “We have devoured her!

How we have waited for this day—

we have lived to see it!”j

17The LORD has done what he planned.

He has fulfilled the threat

Decreed from days of old,

destroying without pity!

He let the enemy gloat over you

and exalted the horn of your foes.k

18Cry out to the Lord from your heart,

wall of daughter Zion!

Let your tears flow like a torrent

day and night;

Give yourself no rest,

no relief for your eyes.

19Rise up! Wail in the night,

at the start of every watch;

Pour out your heart like water

before the Lord;

Lift up your hands to him

for the lives of your children,

Who collapse from hunger

at the corner of every street.*

20“Look, O LORD, and pay attention:

to whom have you been so ruthless?

Must women eat their own offspring,*

the very children they have borne?

Are priest and prophet to be slain

in the sanctuary of the Lord?l

21They lie on the ground in the streets,

young and old alike;

Both my young women and young men

are cut down by the sword;

You killed them on the day of your wrath,

slaughtered without pity.m

22You summoned as to a feast day

terrors on every side;

On the day of the LORD’s wrath,

none survived or escaped.

Those I have borne and nurtured,

my enemy has utterly destroyed.”n

* [2:122] This chapter continues to move between the voice of the poet (vv. 120) and that of personified Zion (vv. 2022). The persona of the poet, first portrayed in chap. 1 as a detached observer recounting both the desolation as well as the sins of the city, becomes in this chapter an advocate for Zion in her appeal to the Lord and never once mentions her sins.

* [2:1] The glory of Israel: the Temple. His footstool: the ark of the covenant (1 Chr 28:2; Ps 99:5; 132:7); or again, the Temple (Ez 43:7).

* [2:3] Horn: a symbol of power and strength; cf. v. 17; 1 Sm 2:1, 10; Ps 89:18, 25; 92:11; 112:9.

* [2:6] Booth…shrine: synonyms for the Temple; cf. Ps 27:5; 74:4, 8. The term for “shrine” in Hebrew (mo‘ed) figures prominently in the pentateuchal expression “tent of meeting” (’ohel mo‘ed).

* [2:8] The measuring line: normally used for building, here employed ironically as an instrument of destruction; cf. Is 34:11; 2 Kgs 21:13.

* [2:10] They cast dust: as a sign of mourning; cf. Jos 7:6; Jb 2:12; Ez 27:30.

* [2:11] My eyes are spent with tears, my stomach churns: the poet appropriates the emotional language used by Zion in 1:16 and 1:20 to express a progressively stronger commitment to her cause. After describing the systematic dismantling of the city in vv. 59, the poet turns to the plight of the inhabitants in vv. 1012. It is the description of children dying in the streets that finally brings about the poet’s emotional breakdown, even as it did for Zion in 1:16.

* [2:13] To what can I compare you…?: the author calls attention to the poetic task: to find language that speaks adequately of the atrocities and incomparable suffering experienced by Zion, and thus to attempt to offer comfort.

* [2:19] The poet urges Zion to appeal to the Lord once more on behalf of her dying children. The image of Zion’s children effectively condenses the metaphorical sense of all residents of the city (young and old alike) into the more poignant picture of actual children at the point of death. It was precisely this image, no doubt well known to survivors of besieged cities, that led to the emotional breakdown of both Zion (1:16) and the poet (2:11). The hope is that the Lord will be similarly affected by such a poignant image and respond with mercy.

* [2:20] Must women eat their own offspring: extreme famine in a besieged city sometimes led to cannibalism; this becomes a stereotypical way of expressing the nearly unthinkable horrors of war; cf. Lam 4:10; Dt 28:53; 2 Kgs 6:2829; Bar 2:3; Ez 5:10.

a. [2:6] Is 1:13; 5:5.

b. [2:7] Ez 24:21.

c. [2:8] Jer 52:1214.

d. [2:9] Dt 28:36.

e. [2:10] Is 3:26.

f. [2:11] Lam 1:16, 20; 3:48; Jer 8:18.

g. [2:13] Lam 1:12; Jer 8:21.

h. [2:14] Is 58:1; Jer 2:8; 23:16; Ez 13:9; 22:28.

i. [2:15] Ps 48:3; 50:12; Jer 18:16.

j. [2:16] Lam 3:46.

k. [2:17] Dt 28:15.

l. [2:20] Lam 4:10.

m. [2:21] Lam 3:43; 2 Chr 36:17; Jer 6:11.

n. [2:22] Jer 42:17.

CHAPTER 3

The Voice of a Suffering Individual*

1I am one who has known affliction

under the rod of God’s anger,a

2One whom he has driven and forced to walk

in darkness, not in light;

3Against me alone he turns his hand—

again and again all day long.

4He has worn away my flesh and my skin,

he has broken my bones;b

5He has besieged me all around

with poverty and hardship;

6He has left me to dwell in dark places

like those long dead.c

7He has hemmed me in with no escape,

weighed me down with chains;

8Even when I cry for help,

he stops my prayer;d

9He has hemmed in my ways with fitted stones,

and made my paths crooked.

10He has been a bear lying in wait for me,

a lion in hiding!e

11He turned me aside and tore me apart,

leaving me ravaged.f

12He bent his bow, and set me up

as a target for his arrow.g

13He pierced my kidneys

with shafts from his quiver.h

14I have become a laughingstock to all my people,

their taunt all day long;i

15He has sated me with bitterness,

filled me with wormwood.j

16He has made me eat gravel,

trampled me into the dust;

17My life is deprived of peace,

I have forgotten what happiness is;

18My enduring hope, I said,

has perished before the LORD.

19The thought of my wretched homelessness

is wormwood and poison;

20Remembering it over and over,

my soul is downcast.

21But this I will call to mind;*

therefore I will hope:

22The LORD’s acts of mercy are not exhausted,

his compassion is not spent;k

23They are renewed each morning—

great is your faithfulness!

24The LORD is my portion, I tell myself,

therefore I will hope in him.l

25The LORD is good to those who trust in him,

to the one that seeks him;m

26It is good to hope in silence

for the LORD’s deliverance.

27It is good for a person, when young,

to bear the yoke,

28To sit alone and in silence,

when its weight lies heavy,

29To put one’s mouth in the dust—*

there may yet be hope—

30To offer one’s cheek to be struck,

to be filled with disgrace.n

31For the Lord does not

reject forever;o

32Though he brings grief, he takes pity,

according to the abundance of his mercy;p

33He does not willingly afflict

or bring grief to human beings.q

34That someone tramples underfoot

all the prisoners in the land,

35Or denies justice to anyone

in the very sight of the Most High,

36Or subverts a person’s lawsuit—

does the Lord not see?

37Who speaks so that it comes to pass,

unless the Lord commands it?

38Is it not at the word of the Most High

that both good and bad take place?r

39What should the living complain about?

about their sins!

40* Let us search and examine our ways,

and return to the LORD!s

41Let us lift up our hearts as well as our hands

toward God in heaven!

42We have rebelled and been obstinate;

you have not forgiven us.

43You wrapped yourself in wrath and pursued us,

killing without pity;t

44You wrapped yourself in a cloud,

which no prayer could pierce.

45You have made us filth and rubbish

among the peoples.u

46They have opened their mouths against us,

all our enemies;

47Panic and the pit have been our lot,

desolation and destruction;v

48* My eyes stream with tears over the destruction

of the daughter of my people.w

49My eyes will flow without ceasing,

without rest,

50Until the LORD from heaven

looks down and sees.

51I am tormented by the sight

of all the daughters of my city.

52Without cause, my enemies snared me

as though I were a bird;

53They tried to end my life in the pit,

pelting me with stones.

54The waters flowed over my head:

and I said, “I am lost!”x

55I have called upon your name, O LORD,y

from the bottom of the pit;

56You heard me call, “Do not let your ear be deaf

to my cry for help.”

57You drew near on the day I called you;

you said, “Do not fear!”

58You pleaded my case, Lord,

you redeemed my life.

59You see, LORD, how I am wronged;

do me justice!z

60You see all their vindictiveness,

all their plots against me.

61You hear their reproach, LORD,

all their plots against me,

62The whispered murmurings of my adversaries,

against me all day long;

63Look! Whether they sit or stand,

I am the butt of their taunt.

64Give them what they deserve, LORD,

according to their deeds;

65Give them hardness of heart;

your curse be upon them;a

66Pursue them in wrath and destroy them

from under the LORD’s heaven!

* [3:166] This chapter is focused less on the destruction of Jerusalem than are chaps. 1 and 2 and more on the suffering of an individual. The identity of the individual is never given, and one probably should not search for a specific identification of the speaker. The figure of the representative sufferer makes concrete the pain of the people in a way similar to the personification of Zion as a woman in chaps. 1 and 2. Indeed, in vv. 4048 the individual voice gives way to a communal voice, returning in vv. 4966 to the individual sufferer.

* [3:2124] In the midst of a description of suffering, the speaker offers this brief but compelling statement of hope in God’s ultimate mercy. It is a hard-won and precarious hope, nearly submerged by the volume and intensity of the surrounding lament, but it is hope nonetheless.

* [3:29] To put one’s mouth in the dust: a sign of humiliation and submission; cf. v. 16; Ps 72:9.

* [3:4066] The plural voice in this lament suggests that a communal lament begins here; it then continues in the singular voice in vv. 5566.

* [3:4851] These verses are more appropriate on the lips of the poet, who speaks of “my city” (v. 51). Daughters of my city: here as elsewhere “daughter” may refer to villages dependent on a larger city.

a. [3:1] Jer 20:18.

b. [3:4] Jb 30:30; Is 38:13.

c. [3:6] Ps 143:3.

d. [3:8] Ps 18:41; 22:2; 88:1415.

e. [3:10] Jb 10:16; Hos 13:8.

f. [3:11] Lam 1:13.

g. [3:12] Lam 2:4; Jb 16:12.

h. [3:13] Jb 6:4; Ps 38:3.

i. [3:14] Jb 30:9; Ps 69:13.

j. [3:15] Jer 9:14; 23:15.

k. [3:22] 1 Sm 20:15; Neh 9:31.

l. [3:24] Ps 16:5; 73:26.

m. [3:25] Ps 130:6; Is 30:18.

n. [3:30] Is 50:6; Mt 5:39.

o. [3:31] Ps 85:6; 103:9.

p. [3:32] 1 Sm 2:67; Tb 13:2; Is 54:8.

q. [3:33] Ex 34:67.

r. [3:38] Is 45:7.

s. [3:40] Jl 2:1213.

t. [3:43] Lam 2:21.

u. [3:45] 1 Cor 4:13.

v. [3:47] Is 24:1718; Jer 48:4344.

w. [3:48] Lam 1:16; 2:11; Jer 8:23; 9:17.

x. [3:54] Ps 69:23; 88:8; Jon 2:4.

y. [3:5556] Ps 130:12.

z. [3:5859] Ps 35:2324; 43:1; 119:154.

a. [3:65] Jer 11:20; 2 Tm 4:14.

CHAPTER 4

Miseries of the Besieged City*

1How the gold has lost its luster,

the noble metal changed;

Jewels* lie scattered

at the corner of every street.

2And Zion’s precious children,

worth their weight in gold—

How they are treated like clay jugs,

the work of any potter!a

3Even jackals offer their breasts

to nurse their young;

But the daughter of my people is as cruel

as the ostrich* in the wilderness.b

4The tongue of the infant cleaves

to the roof of its mouth in thirst;

Children beg for bread,

but no one gives them a piece.

5Those who feasted on delicacies

are abandoned in the streets;

Those who reclined on crimson*

now embrace dung heaps.c

6The punishment of the daughter of my people

surpassed the penalty of Sodom,

Which was overthrown in an instant

with no hand laid on it.d

7Her princes were brighter than snow,

whiter than milk,

Their bodies more ruddy than coral,

their beauty like the sapphire.

8Now their appearance is blacker than soot,

they go unrecognized in the streets;

Their skin has shrunk on their bones,

and become dry as wood.e

9Better for those pierced by the sword

than for those pierced by hunger,

Better for those who bleed from wounds

than for those who lack food.

10The hands of compassionate women

have boiled their own children!

They became their food

when the daughter of my people was shattered.f

11The LORD has exhausted his anger,

poured out his blazing wrath;

He has kindled a fire in Zion

that has consumed her foundations.g

12The kings of the earth did not believe,

nor any of the world’s inhabitants,

That foe or enemy could enter

the gates of Jerusalem.

13Except for the sins of her prophets

and the crimes of her priests,

Who poured out in her midst

the blood of the just.h

14They staggered blindly in the streets,

defiled with blood,

So that people could not touch

even their garments:i

15“Go away! Unclean!” they cried to them,

“Away, away, do not touch!”

If they went away and wandered,

it would be said among the nations,

“They can no longer live here!

16The presence of the LORD was their portion,

but he no longer looks upon them.

The priests are shown no regard,

the elders, no mercy.

17Even now our eyes are worn out,

searching in vain for help;

From our watchtower we have watched

for a nation* unable to save.

18They dogged our every step,

we could not walk in our squares;

Our end drew near, our time was up;

yes, our end had come.

19Our pursuers were swifter

than eagles in the sky,

In the mountains they were hot on our trail,

they ambushed us in the wilderness.j

20The LORD’s anointed—our very lifebreath!—*

was caught in their snares,

He in whose shade we thought

to live among the nations.k

21Rejoice and gloat, daughter Edom,

dwelling in the land of Uz,*

The cup will pass to you as well;

you shall become drunk and strip yourself naked!l

22Your punishment is completed, daughter Zion,

the Lord will not prolong your exile;

The Lord will punish your iniquity, daughter Edom,

will lay bare your sins.m

* [4:122] This chapter returns to the focus of chaps. 1 and 2, namely the horrors of a siege. Unlike chaps. 1 and 2, however, the character of personified Zion never interrupts the voice of the poet to protest her abject state. As a result, the emotion of the poem is less intense, while at the same time seeming more grim on account of its lack of petition to the Lord.

* [4:12] Jewels: lit., “holy stones.” These precious things designate the children who are abandoned, starving, and killed in the siege of Jerusalem (cf. Zec 9:16). Another explanation is that these are the stones of the destroyed Temple.

* [4:3] Cruel as the ostrich: see note on Jb 39:1416. Jerusalem, in her distress, has abandoned her children.

* [4:5] Crimson: a sign of luxury. Tyrian purple, a red-purple or blue-purple dye produced from shellfish, was very expensive and the only colorfast dye in the ancient Near East. Thus purple or crimson cloth was available only to the wealthy.

* [4:17] A nation: probably Egypt, which failed to give effective aid against Babylon.

* [4:20] Our very lifebreath: lit., “the breath of our nostrils,” that is, the king. This expression occurs in Egyptian texts of the late second millennium B.C., and may have survived as a royal epithet in the Jerusalem court. After the disaster of 598 B.C. (2 Kgs 24:117), Jerusalem could have hoped to live in peace amidst her neighbors; but they (vv. 2122) as well as Babylon turned against her to ensure her total devastation in 587 B.C.

* [4:21] Rejoice: the address is sarcastic, since Edom (where Uz may have been located) ravaged the land after the fall of Jerusalem (cf. Ps 137).

a. [4:2] Jer 19:11.

b. [4:3] Jb 39:16.

c. [4:5] Dt 28:56.

d. [4:6] Gn 19:2329; 2 Pt 2:6; Jude 7.

e. [4:8] Lam 3:4.

f. [4:10] Lam 2:20; Dt 28:5657; 2 Kgs 6:29.

g. [4:11] Jer 7:20; Ez 5:13.

h. [4:13] Jer 6:13.

i. [4:14] Dt 28:29; Is 59:10.

j. [4:19] Jer 4:13; Hb 1:8.

k. [4:20] Lam 2:9; Ez 19:4, 8.

l. [4:21] Lam 1:21; Jer 25:15.

m. [4:22] Is 40:2.

CHAPTER 5

The Community’s Lament to the Lord

1Remember, LORD, what has happened to us,

pay attention, and see our disgrace:

2Our heritage is turned over to strangers,

our homes, to foreigners.a

3We have become orphans, without fathers;

our mothers are like widows.

4We pay money to drink our own water,

our own wood comes at a price.

5With a yoke on our necks, we are driven;

we are worn out, but allowed no rest.

6We extended a hand to Egypt and Assyria,

to satisfy our need of bread.*

7Our ancestors, who sinned, are no more;

but now we bear their guilt.

8Servants* rule over us,

with no one to tear us from their hands.

9We risk our lives just to get bread,

exposed to the desert heat;b

10Our skin heats up like an oven,

from the searing blasts of famine.c

11Women are raped in Zion,

young women in the cities of Judah;d

12Princes have been hanged by them,

elders shown no respect.e

13Young men carry millstones,

boys stagger under loads of wood;

14The elders have abandoned the gate,*

the young men their music.

15The joy of our hearts has ceased,

dancing has turned into mourning;f

16The crown has fallen from our head:

woe to us that we sinned!

17Because of this our hearts grow sick,

at this our eyes grow dim:

18Because of Mount Zion, lying desolate,

and the jackals roaming there!

19But you, LORD, are enthroned forever;

your throne stands from age to age.g

20* Why have you utterly forgotten us,

forsaken us for so long?h

21Bring us back to you, LORD, that we may return:

renew our days as of old.i

22For now you have indeed rejected us

and utterly turned your wrath against us.j

* [5:6] Extended a hand: that is, made an alliance. In its state of abjection, Judah was forced to depend on the major powers to the west and the east for subsistence.

* [5:8] Servants: the Hebrew word for “servant” is also the word used for an official of relatively high status (servant of the ruler; cf. 2 Kgs 25:24, where the term is used to refer to Babylonian rulers over occupied Jerusalem); the author doubtless intends the double meaning here.

* [5:14] The gate: a place of assembly, where city decisions were made and judgment given by the elders and other community leaders; see note on Ru 4:1.

* [5:2022] Unlike most of the laments found in the Book of Psalms, the Book of Lamentations never moves from lament to thanksgiving. It ends with this question still unanswered by God: “Why have you utterly forgotten us?”

a. [5:2] Ps 79:1.

b. [5:9] Lam 1:11.

c. [5:10] Lam 4:8.

d. [5:11] Zec 14:2.

e. [5:12] Lam 4:16.

f. [5:15] Jer 16:9; 25:10; Am 8:10.

g. [5:19] Ps 9:8; 45:7; 102:13, 27.

h. [5:20] Ps 13:2; 42:10; Is 49:14.

i. [5:21] Ps 80:1920.

j. [5:22] Jer 14:19.