And he has violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he has destroyed his places of the assembly…
In deploring the losses suffered by the daughter of Zion, the elegist bewails the failure of her prophets to obtain a vision from Jehovah. To understand the situation, we must recollect the normal place of prophecy in the social life of Israel. The great prophets whose names and works have come down to us in Scripture were always rare and exceptional men — voices crying in the wilderness. Possibly they were not more scarce at this time than at other periods. This was not an age like the time of Samuel's youth, barren of Divine voices. Yet the idea of the elegist is that the prophets who might be still seen at the site of the city were deprived of visions. These must have been the professional prophets, officials who had been trained in music and dancing to appear as choristers on festive occasions, the equivalent of the modern dervishes; but who were also sought after like the seer of Ramah, to whom young Saul resorted for information about his father's lost asses, as simple soothsayers. Such assistance as these men were expected to give was no longer forthcoming at the request of troubled souls. The low and sordid uses to which everyday prophecy was degraded may incline us to conclude that the cessation of it was no very great calamity, and perhaps to suspect that from first to last the whole business was a mass of superstition affording large opportunities for charlatanry. But it would be rash to adopt this extreme view without a fuller consideration of the subject. The prophets were regarded as the media of communication between heaven and earth. It was because of the low and narrow habits of the people that their gifts were often put to low and narrow uses which savoured rather of superstition than of devotion. The belief that God did not only reveal His will to great persons and on momentous occasions, helped to make Israel a religions nation. That there were humble gifts of prophecy within the reach of the many, and that these gifts were for the helping of men and women in their simplest needs, was one of the articles of the Hebrew faith. When we have succeeded in recovering this Hebrew standpoint, we shall be prepared to recognise that there are worse calamities than bad harvests and seasons of commercial depression; we shall be brought to acknowledge that it is possible to be starved in the midst of plenty, because the greatest abundance of such food as we have lacks the elements requisite for our complete nourishment. As we look across the wide field of history, we must perceive that there have been many dreary periods in which the prophets could find no vision from the Lord. Now what is the explanation of these variations in the distribution of the spirit of prophecy? Why is the fountain of inspiration an intermittent spring, a Bethesda? We cannot trace its failure to any shortness of supply, for this fountain is fed from the infinite ocean of the Divine life. Neither can we attribute caprice to One whose wisdom is infinite, and whose will is constant. It may be right to say that God withholds the vision, withholds it deliberately; but it cannot be correct to assert that this fact is the final explanation of the whole matter. God must be believed to have a reason, a good and sufficient reason, for whatever He does. Can we guess what His reason may be in such a case as this? It may be conjectured that it is necessary for the field to lie fallow for a season in order that it may bring forth a better crop subsequently. Incessant cultivation would exhaust the soil. The eye would be blinded if it had no rest from visions. Until we have obeyed the light that has been given us, it is foolish to complain that we have not more light. Even our present light will wane if it is not followed up in practice. But while such considerations must be attended to, they do not end the controversy, and they scarcely apply at all to the particular illustration of it that is now before us. There is no danger of surfeit in a famine; and it is a famine of the word that we are now confronted with. Moreover, the elegist supplies an explanation that sets all conjectures at rest. The fault was in the prophets themselves. Addressing the daughter of Zion, the poet says: "Thy prophets have seen visions for thee." The visions were suited to the people to whom they were declared — manufactured, shall we say? — with the express purpose of pleasing them. Such a degradation of sacred functions in gross unfaithfulness deserved punishment; and the most natural and reasonable punishment was the withholding for the future of true visions from men who in the past had forged false ones. There is nothing so blinding as the habit of lying. People who do not speak truth ultimately prevent themselves from perceiving truth, the false tongue leading the eye to see falsely. This is the curse and doom of all insincerity. It is useless to inquire for the views of insincere persons; they can have no distinct views, no certain convictions, because their mental vision is blurred by their long-continued habit of confounding true and false. Then, if for once in their lives such people may really desire to find a truth in order to assure themselves in some great emergency, and therefore seek a vision of the Lord, they will have lost the very faculty of receiving it.
(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly: the LORD hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.
WEB: He has violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden; he has destroyed his place of assembly: Yahweh has caused solemn assembly and Sabbath to be forgotten in Zion, Has despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest.