Supplication and statement regarding the distress. The quest made in Lam 5:1 refers to the oppression depicted in what follows. The words, "Remember, O Lord, what hath happened (i.e., befallen) us," are more fully explained in the second member, "Look and behold our disgrace." It is quite arbitrary in Thenius to refer the first member to the past, the second to the present, described in what follows, Lam 5:12-16. The Qeri הַבִּיטָה is an unnecessary alteration, after Lam 1:11; Lam 3:63. - With Lam 5:2 begins the description of the disgrace that has befallen them. This consists, first of all, in the fact that their inheritance has become the possession of strangers. Rosenmüller rightly explains נַחֲלָה to mean, terra quae tuo nobis dono quandam est concessa. נֶֽחֱפַךְ is used of the transference of the property to others, as in Isa 60:5. Many expositors would refer בָּתֵּינוּ to the houses in Jerusalem which the Chaldeans had not destroyed, on the ground that it is stated, in 2Ki 25:9 and Jer 52:13, that the Chaldeans destroyed none but large houses. There is no foundation, however, for this restriction; moreover, it is opposed by the parallel נַחֲלָתֵנוּ. Just as by נַחֲלָה we are to understand, not merely the possession of Jerusalem, but of the whole country, so also בָּתֵּינוּ are the dwelling-houses of the country in towns and villages; in this case, the question whether any houses still remained standing in Jerusalem does not demand consideration at all. Nägelsbach is wrong in his remark that נַחֲלָה and בָּתִּים respectively mean immovable and portable property, for houses are certainly not moveable property.
Lam 5:3 is very variously interpreted by modern expositors. Ewald and Vaihinger understand "father" as meaning the king, while Thenius refers it specially to Zedekiah; the "mothers," according to Ewald and Vaihinger, are the cities of Judah, while Thenius thinks they are the women of Zedekiah's harem. But to call the women of the royal harem "mothers" of the nation, would be as unexampled as the attribution of the title to the cities of Judah. The second clause, "our mothers are like widows," contains a simile: they are not really widows, but like widows, because they have lost the protection which the mother of a family has in her husband. In like manner, the first clause also is to be understood as a comparison. "We are fatherless orphans," i.e., we are like such, as the Chaldee has paraphrased it. Accordingly, C. B. Michaelis, Pareau, Rosenmüller, Kalkschmidt, and Gerlach have rightly explained the words as referring to the custom of the Hebrews: hominies omni modo derelictos omnibusque praesidiis destitutos, pupillos et viduas dicere; cf. Psa 94:6; Isa 1:17; Jam 1:27.
And not merely are the inhabitants of Judah without land and property, and deprived of all protection, like orphans and widows; they are also living in penury and want, and (Lam 5:5) under severe oppression and persecution. Water and wood are mentioned in Lam 5:4 as the greatest necessities of life, without which it is impossible to exist. Both of these they must buy for themselves, because the country, with its waters and forests, is in the possession of the enemy. The emphasis lies on "our water...our wood." What they formerly had, as their own property, for nothing, they must now purchase. We must reject the historical interpretations of the words, and their application to the distress of the besieged (Michaelis); or to the exiles who complained of the dearness of water and wood in Egypt (Ewald); or to those who fled before the Chaldeans, and lived in waste places (Thenius); or to the multitudes of those taken prisoner after the capture of Jerusalem, who were so closely watched that they could not go where they liked to get water and wood, but were obliged to go to their keepers for permission, and pay dearly for their services (Nägelsbach). The purchase of water and wood can scarcely be taken literally, but must be understood as signifying that the people had to pay heavy duties for the use of the water and the wood which the country afforded.
"On our necks we are persecuted," i.e., our persecutors are at our necks, - are always close behind us, to drive or hunt us on. It is inadmissible to supply any specific mention of the yoke (imposito collo gravi servitutis jugo, Raschi, Rosenmüller, Vaihinger, etc.); and we must utterly reject the proposal to connect "our neck" with Lam 5:4 (lxx, Syriac, J. D. Michaelis), inasmuch as the symmetry of the verses is thereby destroyed, nor is any suitable meaning obtained. "We are jaded: no rest is granted us." הוּנַח is Hophal of הֵנִיחַ, to give rest to. The Qeri וְלֹא instead of לֹא is quite as unnecessary as in the case of אֵין, Lam 5:3, and אֵינָם and אֲנַחְנוּ in Lam 5:7. The meaning of the verse is not, "we are driven over neck and head," according to which the subject treated of would be the merciless treatment of the prisoners, through their being driven on (Nägelsbach); still less is it meant to be stated that the company to which the writer of the poem belonged was always tracked out, and hunted about in the waste places where they wished to hide themselves (Thenius). Neither of these interpretations suits the preceding and succeeding context. Nor does the mention of being "persecuted on the neck" necessarily involve a pursuit of fugitives: it merely indicates incessant oppression on the side of the enemy, partly through continually being goaded on to hard labour, partly through annoyances of different kinds, by which the victors made their supremacy and their pride felt by the vanquished nation. In רָדַף there is contained neither the notion of tracking fugitives nor that of driving on prisoners.
The meaning of נָתַן is more exactly defined by the superadded לִשְׂבֹּעַ לֶחֶם, which belongs to both members of the verse. "In order to satisfy ourselves with bread (so as to prolong our lives), we give the hand to Egypt, to Assyria." מִצְרַיִם and אַשּׁוּר are local accusatives. To give the hand is a sign of submission or subjection; see on Jer 50:15. Pareau has correctly given the meaning thus: si victum nobis comparare velimus, vel Judaea nobis relinquenda est atque Aegyptii sunt agnoscendi domini, vel si hic manemus, Chaldaeis victoribus nos subjiciamus necesse est; quocunque nos vertamus, nihil superest nisi tristissima servitus. This complaint shows, moreover, that it is those in Judea who are speaking. נָתַנּוּ, "we give the hand," shows that the assumption of Thenius, - that the writer here brings to remembrance the fate of two other companies of his fellow-countrymen who were not carried away into exile, - -is an arbitrary insertion. Asshur, as the name of the great Asiatic empire, stands for Babylon, as in Ezr 6:22, cf. Jer 2:18.
"We suffer more than we are guilty of; we are compelled to bear the iniquities of our fathers," i.e., to atone for their guilt. There is a great truth contained in the words, "Our fathers have sinned; they are no more; we bear their iniquities (or guilt)." For the fall of the kingdom had not been brought about by the guilt of that generation merely, and of none before; it was due also to the sins of their fathers before them, in previous generations. The same truth is likewise expressed in Jer 16:11; Jer 32:18; and in 2Ki 23:26 it is stated that God did not cease from His great wrath because of the sins of Manasseh. But this truth would be perverted into error, if we were to understand the words as intimating that the speakers had considered themselves innocent. This false view, however, they themselves opposed with the confession in Lam 5:16, "for we have sinned;" thereby they point out their own sins as the cause of their misfortune. If we compare this confession with the verse now before us, this can only mean the following: "The misfortune we suffer has not been incurred by ourselves alone, but we are compelled to atone for the sins of our fathers also." In the same way, too, Jeremiah (Jer 16:11) threatens the infliction of a penal judgment, not merely "because your fathers have forsaken me (the Lord)," but he also adds, "and ye do still worse than your fathers." God does not punish the sins of the fathers in innocent children, but in children who continue the sins of the fathers; cf. Isa 65:7, and the explanation given of Jer 31:29 and Eze 18:2. The design with which the suffering for the sins of the fathers is brought forward so prominently, and with such feeling, is merely to excite the divine compassion for those who are thus chastised.