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Bible Commentaries

Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible

Lamentations 5

 

 

Verses 1-22

Lamentations 5. A Prayer.—This chapter differs much from the previous four. It is not a Lament, but one long pleading; and it is not the chant of an individual, but of a company, a plural, "we." It may be called a hexameter poem, having six and not five beats in each of its twenty-two lines; it keeps, however, to this alphabetical number of lines, although it is not an alphabetic acrostic. Possibly, the composer intended to think out later other initial words for his lines, and thus to make them acrostic: so it may be an acrostic in the making. But it may perhaps have been appended to the book as a sort of satire on the alphabetic fancies of chs. 1-4. It is not deeply spiritual, and yet at the close there comes a pathetic and even affectionate appeal to God.

The cry in Lamentations 5:1 opens the prayer; then in Lamentations 5:2-18 follows the long list of sufferings set out before God. This length is suspicious, extended by measure as it seems, and then cut off so as not to exceed the exact number of twenty-two verses. First in the list is lamented the subjection of Judah to Egypt and to Assyria. If the view we have suggested of the date is correct, these two great names stand for the Neo-Grecian powers, Egypt under the Ptolemies in the south, and Syria ruled by the Seleucids on the north. After the Assyrian Empire had fallen (607), the name Assyria continued to be used for its successors (e.g. Ezra 6:22 and Isaiah 11:11*, Isaiah 19:23 ff.); and here it probably stands for Syria. We observe how interested our writer is in the government: he is a courtier.

Lamentations 5:7 is remarkable for the blame it lays for all the sufferings upon the ancestors now long gone: the theologising mind of the writer is concerned with the doctrine of inherited sin: that theory had already arisen in Ezekiel's day, but it grew more painful as the centuries passed, until it burdened sadly the men around Jesus. In Lamentations 5:8-18 are minute details of the troubles: famine, disease, women's shame, dishonour done to dignities, slave-toil laid even on children, who have no pleasures now. There are no courts of justice, where the white-haired elders preside; and, worst of all, the crown has gone. The sacred city is a haunt of foxes! And why is this? How can Yahweh rule His people without an earthly throne?

This leads to the Envoi in Lamentations 5:19-22. Surely Yahweh cannot forsake His people for ever, else He would be left all alone. Now a noble faith is kindled, finding expression in words learned from the fine Psalms 80, "Turn us again, O Yahweh." So a singular courage awakes, and lays upon Yahweh the task of initiating restoration. "We would return, but Thou must give the compelling spirit, else we can do nothing." A holy familiarity breaks into a loving, trusting reproach. "Hast Thou really altogether thrown us away? Art Thou so bitter against us? That cannot be." So the chant ends in great confidence. God abides: tomorrow and all the days for ever shall manifest His gracious way. The later Rabbis understood the singer's heart, and they arranged here at the end of the book a corrective for the saddening tone of the whole; for they directed that, at public readings of Lamentations, Lamentations 5:21 should be read aloud again when Lamentations 5:2 had been ended. This was right; for the simple, good courtier did not mean to leave his people's hearts all in the dark. He believed in the sure rule of God, he had caught the apocalyptic spirit, that wide outlook which is not bounded by to-day, but lays hold on eternal life. These lamenting singers were not far from the Kingdom of God. Jesus was born of them: He could find audience among them. Vastly more beautiful certainly were His soul, His purpose, and His thought than those of the lamenting men among whom He came: but these Lamentations are a background against which He is grandly seen.

 


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Bibliography Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Lamentations 5:4". "Arthur Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pfc/lamentations-5.html. 1919.

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