Lamentations 4:1 ¶ How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.
Lamentations 4:2 The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!
Gold was once highly desired; in light of the temple’s destruction, that wasn’t the case anymore. The prophet notes that the “precious sons of Zion,” comparable in value to fine gold are now valued like pottery that is easily broken and destroyed. Jeremiah is painting a picture of contrast of the formerly prosperous city being reduced to ruin.
Trapp: “By gold, and fine gold, here understand the temple overlaid by Solomon with choice gold; or God’s people, his spiritual temple, who had now lost their lustre and dignity.”
Lamentations 4:3 Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones: the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.
Lamentations 4:4 The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.
Lamentations 4:5 They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.
Jeremiah paints a very sad contrast in this section. First, he notes how even the sea monsters (jackal, dragon, serpent, or whale) take care of their young ones. The people of Judah, however, are more like the ostriches that do not care for their young ones. Children are wandering hungrily through the streets begging for bread, and no one is taking pity on them. He sees people that had once enjoyed plenty searching for food in the rubbish piles.
Job 39:13–16 “Gavest thou the goodly wings unto the peacocks? or wings and feathers unto the ostrich? Which leaveth her eggs in the earth, and warmeth them in dust, And forgetteth that the foot may crush them, or that the wild beast may break them. She is hardened against her young ones….”
Lamentations 4:6 For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.
Jeremiah declares that the punishment of the people of Judah is greater than the punishment of the people of Sodom for their sin. God completely obliterated Sodom in a moment of time. Those people didn’t witness the starvation, persecution and destruction of their people at the cruel hands of her enemies over a period of years.
Lamentations 4:7 Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:
Lamentations 4:8 Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.
Lamentations 4:9 They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field.
Lamentations 4:10 The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.
The Hebrew for “Nazarites” makes reference to princes, the young men in line for leadership, the nobility. Though they were once healthy, strong, handsome men that the prophet compares to a polished gem, they had become unrecognizable; their skin was shriveled up, and they were basically skin and bones. He declares that those who had been killed by the sword were better off than those that were starving to death. It had gotten to the point, as stated in the previous chapter, that the women were boiling their children for food. I can’t even imagine a mother doing this!
Lamentations 4:11 The LORD hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.
Lamentations 4:12 The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem.
Jeremiah states that the LORD’s wrath had been appeased after destroying Jerusalem in his anger. None of the kings or peoples on earth would have believed that the LORD would allow the enemies of His people to even enter the city of Jerusalem. Sure, He had allowed many of His people to be taken captive, but to allow the enemy to destroy the great walls of Jerusalem and the temple that was dedicated to Him.
Lamentations 4:13 ¶ For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests, that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her,
Lamentations 4:14 They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.
Lamentations 4:15 They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there.
Jeremiah declares that it was the sins of the false prophets and idolatrous priests that were responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem. They had killed many of those that lived righteously, according to God’s law. They were like blind men wandering the streets that no man would touch because they were so defiled with the blood of the dead. They finally fled to wander among the heathen, and even they refused to let them live among them.
EBC Abridged: “Ezekiel 22:1-12 shows that the concept of ‘bloodshed’ was far wider than murder or homicide; all that cut at the roots of society or that deprived people of their land and livelihood shortened their lives and so was bloodshed.”
Ezekiel 22:3–13 “Thus saith the Lord GOD, The city sheddeth blood in the midst of it, that her time may come, and maketh idols against herself to defile herself. Thou art become guilty in thy blood that thou hast shed; and hast defiled thyself in thine idols which thou hast made….In thee have they taken gifts to shed blood; thou hast taken usury and increase, and thou hast greedily gained of thy neighbours by extortion, and hast forgotten me, saith the Lord GOD. Behold, therefore I have smitten mine hand at thy dishonest gain which thou hast made, and at thy blood which hath been in the midst of thee.”
Clarke: “These most wretched beings, under the pretense of zeal for the true religion, persecuted the genuine prophets, priests, and people of God, and caused their blood to be shed in the midst of the city….”
Trapp: “These, these were the right cause of her ruin. Not that the people were not faulty - for they "loved to have it so" [Jeremiah 5:31] - but those were the ringleaders in that general defection.”
Jeremiah 5:31 “The prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests bear rule by their means; and my people love to have it so….”
Lamentations 4:16 The anger of the LORD hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favoured not the elders.
I liked the wording of the NLT: “The LORD himself has scattered them, and he no longer helps them. The priests and leaders are no longer honored and respected.”
Jeremiah clarifies that it is the LORD that is responsible for the rejection of the priests and leaders of Judah.
How sad that judgment had to fall before the people recognized the false prophets and wicked leaders for who they really were.
Lamentations 4:17 As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.
Instead of keeping faith in the LORD who had proven Himself faithful over and over again, the leaders of Judah had turned to foreign nations, i.e., Egypt, to defend them. Obviously, that proved a failure. The prophet Isaiah had warned them.
Isaiah 31:1–3 “Woe to them that go down to Egypt for help; and stay on horses, and trust in chariots, because they are many; and in horsemen, because they are very strong; but they look not unto the Holy One of Israel, neither seek the LORD! Yet he also is wise, and will bring evil, and will not call back his words: but will arise against the house of the evildoers, and against the help of them that work iniquity. Now the Egyptians are men, and not God; and their horses flesh, and not spirit. When the LORD shall stretch out his hand, both he that helpeth shall fall, and he that is holpen shall fall down, and they all shall fail together.”
Lamentations 4:18 They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.
Lamentations 4:19 Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.
Lamentations 4:20 The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.
This is basically a statement that there was no escape from the Babylonian army. Even the king (Zedekiah) had been taken captive and would join his people in captivity. They had thought that God would never allow that to happen to His people.
2 Kings 25:7 “And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon.”
Lamentations 4:21 ¶ Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked.
Lamentations 4:22 The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins.
Again, the NLT is clearer: “Are you rejoicing in the land of Uz, O people of Edom? But you, too, must drink from the cup of the LORD’s anger. You, too, will be stripped naked in your drunkenness. O Jerusalem, your punishment will end; you will soon return from exile. But Edom, your punishment is just beginning; soon your many sins will be revealed.”
The people of Edom were the descendants of Esau; their nation bordered Judah in part of what is today known as Jordan. Though Esau and Jacob made peace with each other, it seems that their descendants never did. Edom refused passage to the Israelites as they journeyed to the Promised Land. They spent years under the rule of Israel during the time of David. In Jeremiah’s day, they cheered on the Babylonians as they conquered Judah. In the wake of Babylon’s destruction, they actually invaded the land and took possession of part of the land of Judah. In light of all this, Jeremiah warns Edom that they will soon find themselves drinking the cup of judgment and stripped of their independence at the hands of the Babylonians.
On the other hand, the prophet has words of encouragement to the people of Judah. God’s hand of judgment has been stayed. Their time of captivity will come to an end.
Edom’s judgment for their sin, however, is soon to come and their wickedness exposed.
Clarke: “When sin is pardoned it is said to be covered: here, God says he will not cover the sins of Edom - he will not pardon them; they shall drink the cup of wrath.”