It has been noticed that the solitude of Jerusalem is the prominent feeling expressed in the opening of these elegies. Here we shall find its overthrow spread out in the strongest terms and with great detail. Image is crowded on image to express the completeness of the destruction to which Jehovah had devoted His own chosen people, city, and temple; the more terrible, as He must be in His own nature and purpose unchangeable. None felt the truth of His love to Israel more than the prophet; for this very reason, none could so deeply feel the inevitable blows of His hand, obliged as He was to be an enemy to those He most loved. "How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with the cloud in his anger, and cast down from heaven unto the earth the beauty of Israel, and remembered not his footstool in the day of his anger. The Lord hath swallowed up all the habitations of Jacob, and hath not pitied: he hath thrown down in his wrath the strongholds of the daughter of Judah; he hath brought them down to the ground: he hath polluted the kingdom and the princes thereof. He hath cut off in his fierce anger all the horn of Israel: he hath drawn back his right hand from before the enemy, and he burned against Jacob like a flaming fire, which devoureth round about. He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire. The Lord was as an enemy: he hath swallowed up Israel, he hath swallowed up all her palaces: he hath destroyed his strongholds, and hath increased in the daughter of Judah mourning and lamentation." (Ver. 1-5.)
But even this was not the worst. Their civil degradation and ruin were dreadful; for their outward place and blessings came from God in a sense peculiar to Israel. But what was this to His degrading His own earthly dwelling in their midst! "And he hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden: he hath destroyed his places of the assembly. Jehovah 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. The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary, he hath given up into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces; they have made a noise in the house of Jehovah, as in the day of a solemn feast." (Ver. 6, 7.) It was of no use to think of the Chaldeans. God it was who brought Zion and the temple, and their feasts and fasts and sacrifices, with king and priest, to nought.
Hence in verse 8 it is said with yet greater emphasis, "Jehovah hath purposed to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion: he hath stretched out a line, he hath not withdrawn his hand from destroying: therefore he made the rampart and the wall to lament; they languished together. Her gates are sunk into the ground; he hath destroyed and broken her bars: her king and her princes are among the Gentiles: the law is no more; her prophets also find no vision from Jehovah. The elders of the daughter of Zion sit upon the ground and keep silence: they have cast up dust upon their heads; they have girded themselves with sackcloth: the virgins of Jerusalem hang down their heads to the ground." (Ver. 8-10.) The prophet then introduces his own grief. "Mine eyes do fill with tears, my bowels are troubled, my liver is poured upon the earth, for the destruction of the daughter of my people; because the children and the sucklings swoon in the streets of the city. They say to their mothers, Where is corn and wine? when they swooned as the wounded in the streets of the city, when their soul was poured out into their mothers' bosom. What thing shall I take to witness for thee? what thing shall I liken to thee, O daughter of Jerusalem? what shall I equal to thee, that I may comfort thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? for thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?" He justly feels that no object can adequately match the series of miseries of Zion. The sea alone could furnish by its greatness a notion of the magnitude of their calamities.
Another element now enters to aggravate the description - the part which false prophets played before the final crisis came. "Thy prophets have seen vain and foolish things for thee: and they have not discovered thine iniquity, to turn away thy captivity; but have seen for thee false burdens and causes of banishment." (Ver. 14.)
Then He depicts the cruel satisfaction of their envious neighbours over their sufferings and ruin. "All that pass by clap their hands at thee; they hiss and wag their head at the daughter of Jerusalem, saying Is this the city that men call the perfection of beauty, the joy of the whole earth? All thine enemies have opened their mouth against thee: they hiss and gnash the teeth: they say, We have swallowed her up. certainly this is the day that we looked for; we have found, we have seen it." (Ver. 15, 16,) But the prophet insists that it was Jehovah who had done the work of destruction because of His people's iniquity, let the Gentiles boast as they might of their power over Jerusalem. "Jehovah hath done that which he had devised; he hath fulfilled his word that he had commanded in the days of old: he hath thrown down and hath not pitied: and he hath caused thine enemy to rejoice over thee, he hath set up the horn of thine adversaries." (Ver. 17.) Sorrowful, most sorrowful, that His hand had done it all; yet a comfort to faith, for it is the hand that can and will build up again for His name's sake. Nor was it a hasty chastening; from earliest days Jehovah had threatened and predicted by Moses what Jeremiah details in his Lamentations. Compare Lev. 26, Deut. 28, 31, 32. To Him therefore the prophet would have the heart to cry really, as it had in vain through mere vexation. "Their heart cried unto the Lord, O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears run down like a river day and night: give thyself no rest; let not the apple of thine eye cease. Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord: lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street. Behold, O Jehovah, and consider to whom thou hast done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, and children of a span long? shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword; thou hast slain them in the day of thine anger; thou hast killed, and not pitied. Thou hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the day of Jehovah's anger none escaped nor remained: those that I have swaddled and brought up hath mine enemy consumed." (Ver. 18-22.) He arrays the most frightful excesses the Jews had suffered before God that He may deal with the enemies who had been thus guilty.
As to the apparent alphabetic dislocation in verses 16, 17, I do not doubt that it is intentional. In Lam. 1 all is regular as to this. In Lam. 3, Lam. 4 a transposition occurs similar to what we find here. It cannot therefore be either accidental on the one hand, or due to a different order in the alphabet on the other, as has been thought. Some of the Hebrew MSS. place the verses as they should stand in the regular order, and the Septuagint pursues a middle course by inverting the alphabetic marks but retaining the verses to which they should belong in their Masoretic place. But there is no sufficient reason to doubt that the Hebrew gives the passage as the Spirit inspired it, spite of the strangeness of the order, which must therefore have been meant to heighten the picture of sorrow. In sense they must stand as they are. a change according to the ordinary place of the initials Peand Cadhe would out the thread of just connection.