Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Lamentations 4:12 - 4:12

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Keil and Delitzsch Commentary - Lamentations 4:12 - 4:12


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This judgment of wrath is a consequence of the sins of the prophets and priests (Lam 4:12-16), as well as of their vain trust on the help of man (Lam 4:17-20). Lam 4:12. The capture of Jerusalem by enemies (an event which none in all the world thought possible) has been brought on through the sins of the prophets and priests. The words, "the kings of the earth...did not believe that an enemy would come in at the gates of Jerusalem," are well explained by C. B. Michaelis, thus: reputando fortitudinem urbis, quae munitissima erat, tum defensorem ejus Jehovam, qui ab hostibus, ad internecionem caesis, urbem aliquoties, mirifice liberaverat, e.g., 2 Reg. 19:34. The words certainly form a somewhat overdrawn expression of deep subjective conviction; but they cannot properly be called a hyperbole, because the remark of Nägelsbach, that Jerusalem had been taken more than once before Nebuchadnezzar (1Ki 14:26; 2Ki 14:13.; 2Ch 33:11; 2Ki 23:33.), seems incorrect. For the occasions upon which Jerusalem was taken by Shishak and by Joash king of Israel (1 Kings 14 and 2 Kings 14) belong to those earlier times when Jerusalem was far from being so strongly fortified as it afterwards became, in the times of Uzziah, Jotham, and Manasseh (2Ch 26:9; 2Ch 27:3; 2Ch 33:14). In 2Ch 33:11, on the other hand, there is nothing said of Jerusalem being taken; and the capture by Pharaoh-Necho does not call for consideration, in so far as it forms the beginning of the catastrophe, whose commencement was thought impossible. Ewald wrongly connects Lam 4:13 with Lam 4:12 into one sentence, thus: "that an enemy would enter the gates of Jerusalem because of the sins of her prophets," etc. The meaning of these verses is thereby not merely weakened, but also misrepresented; and there is ascribed to the kings and inhabitants of the world an opinion regarding the internal evils of Jerusalem, which they neither pronounced nor could have pronounced.

Lam 4:12-14

Lam 4:12 contains an exclamation over the incredible event that has happened, and Lam 4:13 assigns the cause of it: the mediating and combining thought, "this incredible thing has happened," suggests itself. It has taken place on account of the sins of her prophets and priests, who have shed the blood of righteous men in Jerusalem. A historic proof of this is furnished in Jer 26:7., where priests and prophets indicted Jeremiah on a capital charge, because he had announced that Jerusalem and the temple would suffer the fate of Shiloh; from this, Nägelsbach rightly concludes that, in any case, the burden of the guilt of the martyr-blood that was shed falls on the priests and prophets. Besides this, cf. the denunciations of the conduct of the priests and prophets in Jer 6:13-15; Jer 23:11; Jer 27:10; Eze 22:25. - In Lam 4:14, Lam 4:15, there is described the fate of these priests and prophets, but in such a way that Jeremiah has, throughout, mainly the priests before his mind. We may then, without further hesitation, think of the priests as the subject of נָעוּ, inasmuch as they are mentioned last. Kalkschmidt wrongly combines Lam 4:13 and Lam 4:14, thus: "because of the sins of the prophets...they wander about," etc.; in this way, the Israelites would be the subject to נָעוּ, and in Lam 4:14 the calamitas ex sacerdotum prophetarumque sceleribus profecta would be described. This, however, is contradicted, not merely by the undeniable retrospection of the expression, "they have polluted themselves with blood" (Lam 4:14), to the shedding of blood mentioned in Lam 4:13, but also by the whole contents of Lam 4:14, especially the impossibility of touching their clothes, which does not well apply to the people of Israel (Judah), but only to the priests defiled with blood. Utterly erroneous is the opinion of Pareau, Ewald, and Thenius, that in Lam 4:14-16 there is "presented a fragment from the history of the last siege of Jerusalem," - a rupture among the besieged, headed by the most eminent of the priests and prophets, who, filled with frenzy and passion against their fellow-citizens, because they would not believe in the speedy return of the exiles, became furious, and caused their opponents to be murdered. Regarding this, there is neither anything historical known, nor is there any trace of it to be discovered in these verses. The words, "prophets and priests hesitated (or wavered) like blind men on the streets, soiled with blood, so that none could touch their clothes," merely state that these men, smitten of God in consequence of their blood-guiltiness, wandered up and down in the streets of the city, going about like blind men. This description has been imitated from such passages as Deu 28:28., Jer 23:12; Isa 29:9, where the people, and especially their leaders, are threatened, as a punishment, with blind and helpless staggering; but it is not to be referred to the time of the last siege of Jerusalem. עִוְרִים does not mean caedium perpetrandarum insatiabili cupiditate occaecati (Rosenmüller), nor "as if intoxicated with blood that has been shed" (Nägelsbach), but as if struck with blindness by God, so that they could no longer walk with firm and steady step. "They are defiled with blood" is a reminiscence from Isa 59:3. As to the form נְֹגאַל, compounded of the Niphal and Pual, cf. Ewald, §132, b, and Delitzsch on Isaiah, l.c. בְּלֹא יוּכְלוּ, without one being able, i.e., so that one could not. As to the construction of יָכֹול with a finite verb following, instead of the infinitive with לְ, cf. Ewald, §285, c, c, and Gesenius, §142, 3, b.

Lam 4:15

"Yea, they (people) address to them the warning cry with which, according to Lev 13:45, lepers were obliged to warn those whom they met not to come near." Such is the language in which Gerlach has rightly stated the connection between Lam 4:14 and Lam 4:15. קָֽרְאוּ לָמֹו is rendered by many, "people shouted out regarding them," de iis, because, according to Lev 13:45, it was the lepers who were to shout "Unclean!" to those they met; the cry therefore was not addressed to the unclean, but to those who, being clean, were not to defile themselves by touching lepers. But though this meaning may be taken from the language used (cf. Gen 20:13; Psa 3:3), yet here, where the call is addressed to persons, it is neither probable nor necessary. For it does not follow from the allusion to the well-known direction given to lepers, that this prescription is transferred verbatim to the present case. The call is here addressed to the priests, who are staggering towards them with blood-stained garments. These must get out of the way, and not touch those they meet. The sing. טָמֵא .gni is accounted for by the allusion to Lev 13:45, and means, "Out of the way! there comes one who is unclean." The second half of the verse is variously viewed. נָצוּ, as Milra, comes from נָצָה, which in Niphal means to wrangle, in Hiphil to stir up strife. The Vulgate, accordingly, translates jurgati quippe sunt, and Ewald still renders, "yet they quarrelled, yet they staggered." But this view is opposed by these considerations: (1.) כִּי...גַּם can neither introduce an antithesis, nor mean "yet...yet." (2.) In view of the shedding of blood, wrangling is a matter of too little importance to deserve mention. Luther's rendering, "because they feared and fled from them," is a mere conjecture, and finds no support whatever from the words employed. Hence Gesenius, in his Thesaurus, has rightly explained נָצוּ, after נָצָא, Jer 48:9, "to fly, flee, or take to flight." Following him, the moderns translate: "because they had fled, they also staggered about." It is better to render כִּי by quum, "when they fled," sc. to other nations, not specially to the Chaldeans. נָעוּ is selected with reference to what precedes, but in the general meaning of roaming restlessly about. The idea is as follows: Not merely were they shunned at home, like lepers, by their fellow-countrymen, but also, when they wished to find a place of refuge beyond their native land, they were compelled to wander about without finding rest; for they said among the nations, "They shall no longer sojourn among us." Thus the curse came on them, Deu 28:65.

Lam 4:16

This was the judgment of God. His face (i.e., in this connection, His angry look; cf. Lev 17:10; Psa 21:10) has scattered them (חִלֵּק as in Gen 49:7). No longer does He (Jahveh) look on the, sc. graciously. The face of the priests is not regarded. נָשָׂא, πρόσωπον λαμβάνειν, to regard the person of any one, i.e., to have respect to his position, dignity, and age: the expression is here synonymous with חָנַן, to show favour. The subject is indefinite, but the enemy is meant. Thus the threatening in Deu 28:50 is fulfilled on them. זְקֵנִים does not mean "elders," but "old men," for the words can be referred only to the priests and prophets formerly spoken of.

Lam 4:17-20

In spite of these facts, which show that God has poured out His fury on us, and that our prophets and priests have been smitten by God for their sins, we still wait, vainly relying on the help of man. In this way, Lam 4:17 is attached to what precedes, - not merely to Lam 4:16, but also the series of thoughts developed in Lam 4:12-16, viz., that in the capture of Jerusalem (which nobody thought possible) there is plainly made known the judgment of God upon the sins of His people and their leaders. It is with special emphasis that עֹודינה stands at the beginning of the verse: "still do our eyes continue to waste away." The form עֹודינה (Kethib), in place of which the Qeri subtitles עֹודֵינוּ, is abnormal, since עֹוד does not take plural forms of the suffix in any other instance, and ־ֵנָה does not occur elsewhere as a noun-suffix. The form is evidently copied from תִּכְלֶינָה, and must be third fem. pl., as distinguished from the singular suffix עֹודֶנָּה, 1Ki 1:22. The Qeri עֹודֵינוּ, which is preferred by Michaelis, Pareau, Rosenmüller, and Thenius, has for its basis the idea "we still were;" this is shown by the translation ἔτι ὄντων ἡμῶν of the lxx, and cum adhuc subsisteremus of Jerome. But this view of the word, like most of the Qeris, is a useless attempt at explanation; for עֹודֵינוּ alone cannot have the meaning attributed to it. and the supplements proposed, in statu priori, or "in the city," are but arbitrary insertions into the text. The combination עֹודֵינוּ תִּכְלֶינָה, which is a rare one, evidently means, "our eyes are still pining (consuming) away," so that the imperfect is used with the meaning of the participle; cf. Ewald, §306, c, Rem. 2. The combination of כָלָה with אֶל is pregnant: "they consume away (while looking out) for our help;" cf. Deu 28:28; Psa 69:4. הֶבֶל is not an exclamation, "in vain!" (Thenius), but stands in apposition to "our help;" thus, "for our help, a help of vanity," i.e., for a vain help; cf. Ewald, §287, c. The vain help is more distinctly specified in the second member of the verse, as a looking out for a nation that will not help. צְפִיָּה does not mean "the watch-tower" (Chald., Syr., etc.), - because "on the watch-tower" would require to be expressed by עַל; cf. Isa 21:8; 2Ch 20:24, - but "watching." By the "nation that does not help," expositors, following Jer 37:7, think that Egypt is intended. But the words must by no means be referred to the event there described, inasmuch as we should then be obliged to take the verbs as preterites-a course which would not accord with the interchange of the imperfect (תִּכְלֶינָה) with the perfect (צִפִּינוּ). A strange confusion would also arise, such as is made out by Vaihinger: for we would find the prophet placing his readers, in Lam 4:14, in the time of the siege of Jerusalem; then, in Lam 4:15, into the conquered city; and in Lam 4:17 and Lam 4:18, back once more into the beleaguered city, which we again, in Lam 4:19, see conquered (Gerlach). According to Lam 4:18-20, Judah is completely in the power of the Chaldeans; hence the subject treated of in Lam 4:17 is the looking out for the assistance of some nation, after the enemy had already taken Jerusalem and laid it in ashes. What the prophet denounces, then, is that help is still looked for from a nation which nevertheless will not help. In this, perhaps, he may have had Egypt before his mind; for, that the Jews, even after the destruction of Jerusalem, still looked for deliverance or help from Egypt, may be inferred partly from the fact that those who were left in the country fled thither for refuge, and partly from Eze 29:16. Only, the words are not to be restricted merely to this.

Lam 4:18-20

In order to show convincingly how vain it is to expect help from man, Jeremiah, in Lam 4:18-20, reminds his readers of the events immediately preceding the capture of the city, which have proved that nobody - not even the king himself - could avoid falling into the hands of the Chaldeans. Gerlach has correctly given the sense of these verses thus: "They still cling to their hopes, and are nevertheless completely in the power of the enemy, from whom they cannot escape. All their movements are closely watched; it is impossible for any one to deceive himself any longer: it is all over with the nation, now that all attempts at flight have failed (Lam 4:19), and that the king, 'the life's breath' of the nation, has fallen into the hands of the enemy." Gerlach and Nägelsbach have already very properly set aside the strange and fanciful idea of Ewald, that in Lam 4:18 it is still Egypt that is regarded, and that the subject treated of is, - how Egypt, merely through fear of the Chaldeans, had at that time publicly forbidden the fugitives to go to Palestine for purposes of grace and traffic. These same writers have also refuted the arbitrary interpretation put upon 'צָדוּ צְעָדֵינוּ by Thenius and Vaihinger, who imagine there is a reference to towers used in a siege, from which the besiegers could not merely perceive all that was going on within the city, but also shoot at persons who showed themselves in exposed places. In reply to this, Nägelsbach appropriately remarks that we must not judge of the siege-material of the ancients by the range of cannon. Moreover, צוּד does not mean to spy out, but to search out, pursue; and the figure is taken from the chase. The idea is simply this: The enemy (the Chaldeans) watch us in our every step, so that we can no longer move freely about. Our end is near, yea, it is already come; cf. Eze 7:2-6. A proof of this is given in the capture of King Zedekiah, after he had fled in the night, Lam 4:19. For an elucidation of the matters contained in these verses, cf. Jer 39:4., Jer 52:7. The comparison of the enemy to eagles is taken from Deu 28:49, whence Jeremiah has already derived Lam 4:13 and 48:40. דָּלַק, prop. to burn, metaph. to pursue hotly, is here (poet.) construed with acc., but elsewhere with אַחֲרֵי; cf. Gen 31:36; 1Sa 17:53. "On the hills and in the wilderness," i.e., on every side, even in inaccessible places. "In the wilderness" alludes to the capture of Zedekiah; cf. Jer 39:5. "The breath of our nostrils" is an expression founded on Gen 2:7, and signifying "our life's breath." Such is the designation given to the king, - not Zedekiah in special, whose capture is here spoken of, because he ex initio magnam de se spem concitaverat, fore ut post tristia Jojakimi et Jechoniae fata pacatior res publica esset (Aben Ezra, Michaelis, Vaihinger), but the theocratic king, as the anointed of the Lord, and as the one who was the bearer of God's promise, 2 Sam 7. In elucidation of the figurative expression, Pareau has appropriately reminded is of Seneca's words (Clement. i. 4): ille (princeps) est spiritus vitalis, quem haec tot millia (civium) trahunt. "What the breath is, in relation to the life and stability of the body, such is the king in relation to the life and stability of the nation" (Gerlach). "Of whom we said (thought), Under his shadow (i.e., protection and covering) we shall live among the nations." It is not implied in these words, as Nägelsbach thinks, that "they hoped to fall in with a friendly heathen nation, and there, clustering around their king, as their protector and the pledge of a better future, spend their days in freedom, if no more," but merely that, under the protection of their king, they hoped to live even among the heathen, i.e., to be able to continue their existence, and to prosper as a nation. For, so long as there remained to them the king whom God had given, together with the promises attached to the kingdom, they might cherish the hope that the Lord would still fulfil to them these promises also. But this hope seemed to be destroyed when the king was taken prisoner, deprived of sight, and carried away to Babylon into captivity. The words "taken in their pits" are figurative, and derived from the capture of wild animals. שְׁחִית as in Psa 107:20. On the figure of the shadow, cf. Jdg 9:15; Eze 31:17.