Zion's Appeal
Lamentations 1:12-22
Is it nothing to you, all you that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like to my sorrow, which is done to me…

1. The whole passage evidently expresses a deep yearning for sympathy. Mere strangers, roving Bedouin, any people who may chance to be passing by Jerusalem, are implored to behold her incomparable woes. The wounded animal creeps into a corner to suffer and die in secret, perhaps on account of the habit of herds, in tormenting a suffering mate. But among mankind the instinct of a sufferer is to crave sympathy, from a friend, if possible; but if such be not available, then even from a stranger. This sympathy, if it is real, would help if it could; and under all circumstances it is the reality of the sympathy that is most prized, not its issues. It should be remembered, further, that the first condition of active aid is a genuine sense of compassion, which can only be awakened by means of knowledge and the impressions which a contemplation of suffering produce. Evil is wrought not only from want of thought, but also from lack of knowledge; and good-doing is withheld for the same reason. Therefore the first requisite is to arrest attention. We are responsible for our ignorance and its consequences wherever the opportunity of knowledge is within our reach.

2. The appeal to all who pass by is most familiar to us in its later association with our Lord's sufferings on the Cross. But this is not in any sense a Messianic passage; it is confined in its purpose to the miseries of Jerusalem. Of course there can be no objection to illustrating the grief and pain of the Man of Sorrows by using the classic language of an ancient lament if we note that this is only an illustration.

3. In order to impress the magnitude of her miseries on the minds of the strangers whose attention she would arrest, the city, now personified as a sup. pliant, describes her dreadful condition in a series of brief, pointed metaphors. Thus the imagination is excited; and the imagination is one of the roads to the heart. Let us look at the various images under which the distress of Jerusalem is here presented.

(1) It is like a fire in the bones (ver. 13). It burns, consumes, pains with intolerable torment; it is no skin-deep trouble, it penetrates to the very marrow.

(2) It is like a net (ver. 13). We see a wild creature caught in the bush, or perhaps a fugitive arrested in his flight and flung down by hidden snares at his feet. Here is the shock of surprise, the humiliation of deceit, the vexation of being thwarted. The result is a baffled, bewildered, helpless condition.

(3) It is like faintness. The desolate sufferer is ill. It is bad enough to have to bear calamities in the strength of health. Jerusalem is made sick and kept faint "all the day" — with a faintness that is not a momentary collapse, but a continuous condition of failure.

(4) It is like a yoke (ver. 14) which is wreathed upon the neck — fixed on, as with twisted withes. The poet is here more definite. The yoke is made out of the transgressions of Jerusalem. As there is nothing so invigorating as the assurance that one is suffering for a righteous cause, so there is nothing so wretchedly depressing as the consciousness of guilt.

(5) It is like a winepress (ver. 15). Wine is to be made, but the grapes crushed to produce it are the people who were accustomed to feast and drink of the fruits of God's bounty in the happy days of their prosperity. So the mighty men are set at nought, their prowess counting as nothing against the brutal rush of the enemy; and the young men are crushed, their spirit and vigour failing them in the great destruction.

4. The most terrible trait in these pictures, one that is common to all of them, is the Divine origin of the troubles. Yet there is no complaint of barbarity, no idea that the Judge of all the earth is not doing right. The miserable city does not bring any railing accusation against her Lord; she takes all the blame upon herself. The grief is all the greater because there is no thought of rebellion. The daring doubts that struggle into expression in Job never obtrude themselves here to check the even flow of tears. The melancholy is profound, but comparatively calm, since it does not once give place to anger. It is natural that the succession of images of misery conceived in this spirit should be followed by a burst of tears. Zion weeps because the comforter who should refresh her soul is far away, and she is left utterly desolate (ver. 16).

5. Here the supposed utterance of Jerusalem is broken for the poet to insert a description of the suppliant making her piteous appeal (ver. 17). He shows us Zion spreading out her hands, that is to say, in the well-known attitude of prayer. She is comfortless, oppressed by her neighbours in accordance with the will of her God, and treated as an unclean thing; she who had despised the idolatrous Gentiles in her pride of superior sanctity has now become foul and despicable in their eyes!

6. After the poet's brief interjection describing the suppliant, the personified city continues her plaintive appeal, but with a considerable enlargement of its scope. She makes the most distinct acknowledgment of the two vital elements of the case — God's righteousness and her own rebellion (ver. 18). These carry us beneath the visible scenes of trouble so graphically illustrated earlier, and fix our attention on deep seated principles. Although it cannot be said that all trouble is the direct punishment of sin, and although it is manifestly insincere to make confession of guilt one does not inwardly admit, to be firmly settled in the conviction that God is right in what He does even when it all looks most wrong, that if there is a fault it must be on man's side, is to have reached the centre of truth.

7. Enlarging the area of her appeal, no longer content to snatch at the casual pity of individual travellers on the road, Jerusalem now calls upon all the "peoples" — i.e., all neighbouring tribes — to hear the tale of her woes (ver. 18). The appeal to the nations contains three particulars. It deplores the captivity of the virgins and young men; the treachery of allies — "lovers" who have been called upon for assistance, but in vain; and the awful fact that men of such consequence as the elders and priests, the very aristocracy of Jerusalem, had died of starvation after an ineffectual search for food — a lurid picture of the horrors of the siege (vers. 18, 19).

8. In drawing to a close the appeal goes further, and, rising altogether above man, seeks the attention of God (vers. 20-22). This is an utterance of faith where faith is tried to the uttermost. It is distinctly recognised that the calamities bewailed have been sent by God; and yet the stricken city turns to God for consolation. Not only is there no complaint against the justice of His acts; in spite of them all, He is still regarded as the greatest Friend and Helper of the victims of His wrath. This apparently paradoxical position issues in what might otherwise be a contradiction of thought. The ruin of Jerusalem is attributed to the righteous judgment of God, against which no shadow of complaint is raised; and yet God is asked to pour vengeance on the heads of the human agents of His wrath! The vengeance here sought for cannot be brought into line with Christian principles; but the poet had never heard the Sermon on the Mount. It would not have occurred to him that the spirit of revenge was not right, any more than it occurred to the writers of maledictory Psalms. There is one more point in this final appeal to God which should be noticed, because it is very characteristic of the elegy throughout. Zion bewails her friendless condition, declaring, "there is none to comfort me." This is the fifth reference to the absence of a comforter (see Lamentations 1:2,9,16,17,21). The idea may be merely introduced in order to accentuate the description of utter desolation. And yet when we compare the several allusions to it, the conclusion seems to be forced upon us that the poet has a more specific intention. Our thoughts instinctively turn to the Paraclete of St. John's Gospel.

(W. F. Adeney, M. A.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of his fierce anger.

WEB: Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look, and see if there be any sorrow like my sorrow, which is brought on me, With which Yahweh has afflicted [me] in the day of his fierce anger.

Unparalleled Woe
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