Lamentations 5
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
The inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem had looked, now to Egypt and now to Assyria, for help and deliverance. Events had shown upon how broken a reed they had leaned. Their experience was now leading the best among them to another and a surer, higher, Refuge. As the spokesman of his repenting fellow countrymen, Jeremiah entreats the remembrance and the regard of Jehovah.

I. ADVERSITY SOMETIMES LEADS MEN TO SEEK THE REGARD AND FAVOUR OF THE GOD WHOM IN PROSPERITY THEY HAVE FORGOTTEN. That trouble may foster self-control and patience is a commonplace of moral teaching. But it only answers its highest end when it leads the afflicted to seek and call upon their God. In the noonday of happiness, the healthy, busy, and joyous too often forget him to whom they are indebted for all. Providence is forgotten when the sun shines; clouds and darkness seem to have a natural tendency to remind the soul of God.

II. THE LORD'S REMEMBRANCE AND CONSIDERATION ARE AN ASSURANCE OF HELP AND DELIVERANCE. That the Omniscient is not perfectly aware of all that happens to man is not for a moment to be supposed. The language of the prophet is human language, adapted to our ignorance and infirmity. The Lord will be entreated; he summons his children to think of him; and he promises to draw near to those who draw near to him. The sinner may well dread the all-including gaze of the righteous Judge; but the lowly and believing penitent may well take courage when he learns that the Lord has not forgotten to be gracious. - T.

The Israelite reckoned a great deal on his inheritance, that which came to him as an Israelite; and in this he did quite right, seeing how he was bound to dwell on the promises made to Abraham. There was the national territory, sanctified and made a peculiarly valuable thing by the manner in which it first came into Israel's hand. Then there were the tribal inheritances and the family inheritances. So that altogether inheritance was continually before the Israelite mind; inheritance became almost a part of self. Doubtless many tracts of land had run down in the same families for generations. And now the foreigner comes in to reap the riches of these lands and dwell in the houses built on them. What the Israelites failed to recollect was that the inheritance they esteemed so much was not the real inheritance in the eyes of God. The visible land, out of which comes the corn, the wine, the oil, is only the type of that deeper, that truly exhaustless spiritual land, where we are to sow plentifully, assured that a harvest cannot fail. There is the inheritance, corruptible, defiled, that doth fade away. There is the house made with hands, temporal, on the earth. And then, all unconscious of the pains we are preparing for ourselves, we let our heart's best affections get round these things. The loss of the inheritance, the loss of the houses, was the way to gain, if only the loser could see it. Doubtless what we may fail to possess of temporal things some one else gets hold of; but his getting is not with a firm, abiding grasp. These lamenting Israelites would reckon that the less of inheritance and houses, which made them so miserable, would make the new possessors correspondingly happy; and such would be the case for a time, but only so long as the brightness of the first delusion lasted. God does not mean that we should ever say of any really good thing that our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens. Of the really good things there is enough and to spare for all. Christ sends out his apostles to urge every one towards the inheritance of the saints in light; and in the house of him who is Father of Jesus and of all that believe in Jesus there are many mansions, many abiding places, a place for everyone wishing to dismiss the restless, craving spirit, and abide in such a place. - Y.

Man is naturally not merely gregarious, but social. The powers that be, an apostle teaches us, are ordained by God - from which we learn that political and social life have a Divine sanction. Accordingly, the Judge of all deals with men, not only as individuals, but as communities. This fact was present to the mind of the prophet when he wrote these words.

I. THE FACT OF NATIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY TO THE MORAL GOVERNOR. The history of the Jews is the history of a theocracy; but it embodied lessons which are adapted to all mankind. Nations have national privileges, national responsibilities, national probations, national rewards and punishments.

III. NATIONAL RETRIBUTION IS SOMETIMES DEFERRED FOR A SEASON. The prophets appear to have had a clear view of this law. Wrong doing in one generation was seen to be followed by punishment in a succeeding age. Jeremiah is the author of the well known proverb, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge." The seed (to change the figure) is sown by one generation; a following generation reaps the harvest.

III. THE CERTAINTY THAT PENALTIES WILE, BE INFLICTED UPON THE IMPENITENT. There is indeed a sense in which even the repenting and reformed suffer for the sins of those who have gone before them. But for the impenitent and unreformed there is no exception, no escape. We, says the prophet, speaking of himself and of his rebellious and ungodly contemporaries - "we have borne the iniquities of our fathers." The apostasy and rebellion of the former generations were visited upon those who endured the horrors of the siege and the degradation of the Captivity. There is mystery in the providential appointment that, not only shall every man bear his own burden, but that some shall bear the burden of those also who have gone before them. But the fact remains, and it gives solemnity to the life of families and of nations.


1. The teaching which was profitable for Israel is equally adapted to England, and indeed to all the nations of mankind. The Lord is King, and from his government and authority none of the earth's inhabitants is free. - T.

This chapter is the complaint of those who suffer. "We," "us," "our," - these are the prominent words. The complainers are those who have lost inheritance and houses, become fatherless, and entered into a galling servitude. And now what do they give as the reason of all this terrible experience? This - that "our fathers have sinned."

I. THE MEASURE OF TRUTH IN THIS. The fathers had sinned. That was an historical fact. The utterances of former prophets, recorded, perhaps, in far greater abundance than we have any idea of, attested the iniquities of past generations. No generation of which there was any record had been without its disobedience. And had it not also been said that the sins of the fathers should be visited on the children? Hence there is plain logic in these words, "Our fathers have sinned... and we have borne their iniquities." Great is the suffering in bodily pain, in privation, and in emotion, of every generation; and each generation has a right to say that some, at all events, of this suffering would have been escaped if only preceding generations had lived according to the full law of righteousness. Hence the appeal to us, when self-indulgence presses with all its energies, to consider others. Indulging self, we have to make ready for after pains; but those pains cannot be kept within the limit of our own lives.

II. True as this statement is, there is A MEASURE OF DEFECT IN IT. Note exactly how the point is put: "Our fathers have sinned, and are not;" that is, "they cannot suffer any more, and now the suffering comes on to us." In such an aspect of the situation there is great pathos, but we need to travel round to the other aspects also. There is a difference between retribution and suffering. Some kinds of pain and injury may be inherited to the third and fourth generation, but a guilty conscience belongs to the individual. The worst pains, the worst consequences, and those on which the Saviour looks with the most pity, are surely those coming out of our own wrong doing; and searching into the connection between the sins of past generations and the suffering of the present one will do harm rather than good, if such a searching tends to obscure our own lawlessness, our own want of attention to the requirements of God, There is, indeed, a great difference in kind between the suffering coming on us from the wickedness of others and that which comes from our own. - Y.

Bitterness was added to the misery of the Jews when Chaldean slaves - advanced to eminence and power on account of their ability - were placed in authority over them. But there was no choice; resistance was impossible and deliverer there was none, In this respect the condition of the inhabitants of Jerusalem may represent that of sinful, helpless men.

I. A CRUEL BONDAGE. Sinners have yielded themselves up to obey the enemy of their souls, the foe of God. This is

(1) a usurper, who has no right to rule over men;

(2) a tyrant, who with unjust and unreasonable exercise of authority oppresses those beneath his power;

(3) a cruel master, whose service is slavery, whose stripes are many, whose wages are death and destruction.

II. A SEEMINGLY INEVITABLE FATE. The conquered Judaeans had looked hither and thither, in the crisis of their fate, for some friend and helper, but they had looked in vain. Similarly the captive of sin can find no earthly deliverer; his fellow men are his fellow sinners and fellow captives; there is no eye to pity and no hand to save.

III. A SOLITARY BUT SUFFICIENT CONSOLATION AND REFUGE. The restless waves answer their purpose when they toss the imperilled mariner towards the haven of refuge. Affliction and adversity, chains and dungeons, oppressors and torturers, may make the one only Deliverer welcome. The Lord God has revealed himself to us as the Saviour of all men. There is no prison from which he cannot set the captive free; there are no gyves and fetters he cannot strike off; there are no foes from whose hands he cannot rescue and deliver. - T.

I. THE PLACE OF OLD MEN IN A COMMUNITY. As men grow old they may get past certain kinds of work, but they need not cease to be useful, nor need age become, unless from bodily frailty, a burden and a weariness. There is much for an old man to tell from the stores of his experience and observation. He may show what ought to be avoided, even if he cannot always tell what ought to be done. The elders sat in the gate, where the throng passed in and out, and where they could see more people probably than anywhere else. An old man should endeavour to be useful and to mingle with the life of the world as long as he can. It is right that he should be in the way of all the respect and veneration he can receive, not because these things are necessary to his happiness, but because those who give them are the better for their giving. A society without its troops of children at one end, full of life and eagerness, and its sprinkling of hoary heads crowned with glory at the other, would soon feel that very important elements were lacking. Elders sitting in the gate bore testimony to a certain stability and continuity in the social life of Jerusalem.

II. THE PECULIAR ASPECT OF THE CALAMITY FURNISHED BY THE FACT THAT THE OLD MEN HAVE FORSAKEN THE GATE. There is no longer anything to take them to the gate. Where of old they had many pleasures, now they will have nothing but pain. The place of honour would only become a place of insult, and in all likelihood only too many of these elders had been advisers of the wrong sort, men with a serene and firmly rooted confidence in their own opinion. To the warnings of a prophet old men can often reply that such things have been said over and over again without coming true; and then, when all at once the threatening takes effect, what can they do but retire into as much obscurity as possible? These same old men, many of them, must have had much to do with the state of affairs that made all these calamities a Divine necessity. - Y.

This fate had been foretold. "Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate." Well is it for those who take the warning which is given beforehand, and do not wait, as Jerusalem waited, for the stern lessons of a retributive providence.

I. THERE IS CESSATION OF JOY WHICH IS NOT PUNITIVE. The health, the elasticity of spirits, the pleasures of youth, cannot be protracted to old age. "Earth's joys grow dim, its glories fade away." Days of sickness, of poverty, of bereavement, of sorrow, are appointed by the Lord of the human lot, to follow days of brightness. The wail of sorrow will replace the song of gladsome joy. Yet all this experience may be spiritually disciplinary and helpful; there may be in it nothing of punishment, nothing of Divine displeasure.

II. THERE IS CESSATION OF JOY WHICH IS THE SIGN OF DIVINE ANGER AND THE FULFILMENT OF DIVINE THREATENING. Such was the case with Judah, upon whom the siege and the Captivity came, not without warning, not without space for repentance. In fact, sin puts an end to the joy which it promises to increase and perpetuate, and brings about the mourning and distress against which it pretends to ensure us. The retrospect of those whose joy has ceased becomes in such cases a retrospect of human rebellion and Divine forbearance. Conscience awakes and admits that sorrow is merited. APPLICATION. Yet there is a way of repentance. God will renew the days of his people as of old. This is the cry and the hope of the penitent: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation." - T.

The promise of sin is something very different from this; no flattery is untried, no prospect withheld, which may induce men to rebel against God. But, as with our first parents, as with the dwellers in Jerusalem, so is it in the experience of all men; the promises which sin makes are unfulfilled; the wages of sin are death.

I. THE PICTURE OF DEGRADATION. It is highly figurative language which the prophet here employs; but it is not exaggerated, it is not unjust.

1. The head is uncrowned. Judah's independence and freedom was as a crown to the head; but the Chaldeans tore it off and flung it away. They who defy God must lose in so doing all that is most honourable, most sacred, most precious.

2. The heart is faint. Judah's joy was turned into mourning, her hopes were dashed to the ground; how could the heart be other than faint? The ways of sin are ways of disappointment, weariness, and distress. The heart of the transgressor sinks within him when he sees the fruit of his doings.

3. The eyes are dim with watching for deliverance, with tears of woe.

II. THE CAUSE OF DEGRADATION. Judah may have been unwilling to admit the truth, and may have been disposed to attribute calamities to second causes. But the prophet was just, and laid his hand upon the true explanation when he confessed on behalf of his countrymen, "We have sinned!" Trace up human misery and national disaster to the source, and this is to be reached only when we come to defection and departure from the righteous Lord.

III. THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF DEGRADATION. "Woe unto us!" is the cry of the prophet. When men sin and suffer but fail to acknowledge their own ill desert, the intentions of Providence are as yet unfulfilled. The sin must be taken home; the punishment must be acknowledged just; the confession must be penitent, sincere, and frank.


1. Let the virtuous and obedient abjure self-confidence and cherish trust in God.

2. Let the tempted beware of the foe, and watch and pray lest they sin and come into this torment.

3. Let the smitten sinner repent and turn unto the Lord and seek pardon and renewal. - T.

I. THE PAST HONOUR OF JERUSALEM. The crown has fallen from the head; a crown, therefore, has been upon the head. The lament is not over something striven for and not attained, but over something, as it seems, securely possessed and now irretrievably lost. Notice how Ezekiel is instructed to put the matter (Ezekiel 16:12). In making Jerusalem to know her abominations there is a contrast with former privileges. Jehovah says, "I put a beautiful crown upon thine head...and thy renown went forth among the heathen for thy beauty." Unquestionably Jerusalem and the land of which she was the radiant centre shone forth gloriously among the Gentiles. The great example of this is that queen of the south who came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon. God for his own purposes, inscrutable, and yet, as we must believe, beneficent, constituted it so that Jerusalem was like a fair woman crowned with a crown of pure gold. Other cities had their strength, glory, peculiarities, but Jerusalem was uniquely glorious. And so human individuals may have most attractive natural endowments. There may be physical beauty, or genius, or some ineffable charm of character, or great intellectual capacity, something that lifts man or woman above the common crowd, and thus puts upon them a bright and manifest natural crown. The same great secret power that glorified Israel glorifies men still, not for what they do, nor for any claim they have, but that in their glory they may stimulate and inspire others, and multiply the happiness of every life coming within their sway. It was for the sake of the nations that Jehovah glorified Jerusalem and made her beautiful.

II. HER PRESENT HUMILIATION. The crown has fallen from the head, but the mark of past and lost regality remains. It cannot be obliterated. The higher a nation climbs, the further it can fall and the more terrible becomes the spectacle of its fall. It needed all the slow and majestic ascent of Rome to greatness to make Gibbon's great book possible. Thus, looking from such a height, he had pathetic struggles and contrasts to depict, which would else have been impossible. So, also, we contemplate the aberrations and miseries, the cynicism and misanthropy coming out in the lives of geniuses who have missed their way, men of richest endowments who, from the depths of serf-indulgence and debauchery, might well cry, "The crown is fallen from my head." And so we see that the great crown to be desired is, not that which comes through natural differences or differences in social position, but that which comes through the divinely inspired quality of one's living. "The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness" (Philippians 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:8; James 1:12; 1 Peter 5:4). - Y.

I. THE PENETRATING EFFECT OF THE DIVINE CHASTISEMENTS. Jerusalem had been satisfied with outward things. Wherever it turned, there had been enough to satisfy its pride and its pleasure. And now Jehovah, by efficient agents, had taken these outward things away. The difference that had been made in Jerusalem was perceptible to any eye. But another difference could only be known when it was confessed, namely, the difference made in the hearts of the people when their outward circumstances were so completely changed. Proud, resolute men, full of joy in their selfish purposes, found the interest of life completely gone, It would have availed nothing if all these chastisements had ended in leaving the people real Stoics, able to say that it was all the same whether they kept their temporal possessions or lost them. God did not desolate Jerusalem for any delight that he took in this; it was to find a way to humble hearts that were unsubdued after every prophetic appeal. When men are delightedly occupied with the things of sense, then it is a great end gained if, through losses and changes, their hearts become faint and their eyes dim. For then they may accept the ministry of Christ to put into their hearts an energy which will tend for righteousness and direct their eyes to look on the world in the right way,

II. THE CAUSE HERE SPECIALLY MENTIONED. The hill of Zion has become a desolation; it has become again a mere height in the wilderness, such as doubtless it had been at some time before in the immemorial past. That Zion is here specified seems to point to the sorrow and despair caused by the overthrow of religious ordinances. The very fact that Jehovah had allowed the place devoted to him to become thus desolated made his displeasure with the people to become a much more vivid thing. It seemed as if he needed no more a habitation in their midst. - Y.

The believer in God has this great advantage over the atheist and the agnostic - he has a firm conviction that all things are under the control and rule of a wise, righteous, and benevolent King, who reigns both in heaven and on earth. Afflictions, personal and relative, may distress his mind; calamities may overwhelm his imagination and baffle his reason; but he has this consolation - he knows that the Lord remains forever on his throne.

I. GOD'S ETERNAL THRONE CONTRASTS WITH THE PERISHING THRONES or EARTH. The King of Judah, defeated and carried captive, was torn by a foreign hand from the throne of his power and glory. All earthly monarchies are transitory and all earthly monarchs are mortal. They perish, but God endureth.

II. THE STABILITY OF GOD'S THRONE RESTS UPON THE RIGHTEOUSNESS OF HIS DOMINION. "A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom." Injustice and oppression may prevail for a season, but only right is indestructible and immortal. Even in his mercy the Supreme has regard to the claims of justice and to the maintenance of rightful authority.

III. THE DEFEAT OF GOD'S ENEMIES IS ASSURED. They may rage and they may take counsel together, but the Lord has them in derision. All their assaults upon his kingdom must fail, and those who lead those assaults must come to shame and misery. No weapon that is formed against God and his people shall prosper.

IV. THE VICTORY OF GOD'S CAUSE IS CERTAIN. Kingdoms rise and fall, princes are elevated and dethroned; but the King of kings goes conquering and to conquer. All his foes are put beneath his feet, and on his head are many crowns. - T.

It will be felt that this prayer is a fitting conclusion to the book. What could be more proper than that these people, having looked all around with an ever-deepening sense of loss and humiliation, should now look above? Upon earth, in strength or skill of man, there is nothing to be looked for; if anything is to be got, it is by looking to heaven.

I. AMID ALL THESE CHANGES THE CONTINUANCE OF JEHOVAH IS PERCEIVED. Zion has become desolate, but the true throne of God is not there. That God lives, unchangeable, unaffected by our lapses and losses, is the last safeguard of hope, and it is an impregnable one. Much is it to be desired that, amid all the vicissitudes of life, we should have this sense of something unchanging.

II. THE SENSE OF SEPARATION FROM GOD. This was the crown of troubles to some of the people, that God seemed to have forgotten them and forsaken them. But when God remembered them and manifested his presence, all that the people in general did was to take his gifts and think nothing of the Giver's will and purpose. God, of course, had neither forgotten nor forsaken. What the people called forgetting was only a different kind of remembering. What they called forsaking was only a closer presence.

III. THE UNQUENCHABLE HOPE OF THOSE WHO TAKE THE RIGHT VIEW OF GOD. This chapter has had in it the tones of penitence and contrition. It is admitted that the cause of all this desolation is the people's turning away from God. And now there is the petition which results from a full self-discovery. Inward weakness is discovered. The last cry of the book indicates that the turning of men to God is the great thing to be desired, Not a restoration to external possessions and comforts, but a turning to God consequent on his turning to us. The results that come from our being turned to God by his power will one day be seen to justify all the loss and pain needed to bring them about. - Y.

The Scriptures are the volume of hope; they lend no countenance to despondency; they rebuke despair. Deep as was the degradation of the Jews, far as they had wandered from God's ways, inexcusably as they had defied his authority, there was for them a place of repentance. And Jeremiah closes this Book of Lamentations with language of confident supplication and well grounded hope of better times.

I. THE NEED OF TURNING. The whole of the book thus closed witnesses to this necessity. Judah had gone wrong, had wilfully taken the path of rebellion and defiance. In this respect her case represents that of every culpable transgressor. The end of the way of sin is death, is destruction without remedy. It is a stern truth, but it is a truth, and a truth which mercy reveals.

II. TO WHOM THE TURNING MUST BE. "Turn us unto thee!" Away from the sin which has misled, away from the human counsellors and helpers in whom is no wise counsel and no sufficient help, away from self, to God against whom the sinner has transgressed and to whom he needs to be reconciled. The old phrase, "conversion unto God," is one full of truth, meaning, and appropriateness.

III. BY WHOM THE TURNING MUST BE EFFECTED. The prayer is unto the Lord; for he alone can turn the wanderer unto himself. By the authority of his Law, by the winning, melting power of his gospel, by the sweet constraint of his Spirit, he alone can transform the heart, reverse the steps, and renew the olden clays of those who have transgressed but have now at length sought his favour and forgiveness. - T.

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