The Prophet Speaks:
א (Alef)1 ▼
▼ According to W. F. Lanahan (“The Speaking Voice in the Book of Lamentations” JBL 93 : 48), the persona or speaking voice in chap. 4 is a bourgeois, the common man. This voice is somewhat akin to the Reporter in chs 1–2 in that much of the description is in the third person. However, “the bourgeois has some sense of identity with his fellow-citizens” seen in the shift to the first person plural. The alphabetic acrostic structure reduces to two bicola per letter. The first letter of only the first line in each stanza spells the acrostic.Alas! ▼ Gold has lost its luster; ▼
▼ Heb “had grown dim.” The verb יוּעַם (yu’am), Hophal imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from עָמַם (’amam, “to conceal, darken”), literally means “to be dimmed” or “to be darkened.” Most English versions render this literally: the gold has “become dim” (KJV, NKJV), “grown dim” (RSV, NRSV), “is dulled” (NJPS), “grown dull” (TEV); however, but NIV has captured the sense well: “How the gold has lost its luster.”
pure gold loses value. ▼
▼ The verb יִשְׁנֶא (yishne’, Qal imperfect 3rd person feminine singular) is typically taken to be the only Qal imperfect of I שָׁנָהּ (shanah). Such a spelling with א (aleph) instead of ה (he) is feasible. D. R. Hillers suggests the root שָׂנֵא (sane’, “to hate”): “Pure gold is hated”. This maintains the consonantal text and also makes sense in context. In either case the point is that gold no longer holds the same value, probably because there is nothing available to buy with it.▼
▼ Heb “changes.” The imagery in this verse about gold is without parallel in the Bible and its precise nuance uncertain.
Jewels ▼ are scattered
on every street corner. ▼
▼ Heb “at the head of every street.”
ב (Bet)2 The precious sons of Zion
were worth their weight in gold –
Alas! – but now they are treated like ▼
▼ Heb “they are regarded as.”broken clay pots,
made by a potter. ▼
▼ Heb “the work of the hands of a potter.”
ג (Gimel)3 Even the jackals ▼ nurse their young
at their breast, ▼
▼ Heb “draw out the breast and suckle their young.”
but my people ▼ are cruel,
like ostriches ▼
▼ The MT Kethib form כִּי עֵנִים (ki ’enim) is by all accounts a textual corruption for כַּיְעֵנִים (kay’enim, “like ostriches”) which is preserved in the Qere and the medieval Hebrew mss, and reflected in the LXX.in the desert.
ד (Dalet)4 The infant’s tongue sticks
to the roof of its mouth due to thirst;
little children beg for bread, ▼
▼ Heb “bread.” The term “bread” might function as a synecdoche of specific (= bread) for general (= food); however, the following parallel line does indeed focus on the act of breaking bread in two.
but no one gives them even a morsel. ▼
▼ Heb “there is not a divider to them.” The term פָּרַשׂ (paras), Qal active participle ms from פָּרַס (paras, “to divide”) refers to the action of breaking bread in two before giving it to a person to eat (Isa 58:7; Jer 16:7; Lam 4:4). The form פָּרַשׂ (paras) is the alternate spelling of the more common פָּרַס (paras).
ה (He)5 Those who once feasted on delicacies ▼
▼ Heb “eaters of delicacies.” An alternate English gloss would be “connoisseurs of fine foods.”
are now starving to death ▼
▼ Heb “are desolate.”in the streets.
Those who grew up ▼
▼ Heb “were reared.”wearing expensive clothes ▼
▼ Heb “in purple.” The term תוֹלָע (tola’, “purple”) is a figurative description of expensive clothing: it is a metonymy of association: the color of the dyed clothes (= purple) stands for the clothes themselves.
are now dying ▼
▼ Heb “embrace garbage.” One may also translate “rummage through” (cf. NCV “pick through trash piles”; TEV “pawing through refuse”; NLT “search the garbage pits.”amid garbage. ▼
▼ The Hebrew word אַשְׁפַּתּוֹת (’ashpatot) can also mean “ash heaps.” Though not used as a combination elsewhere, to “embrace ash heaps” might also envision a state of mourning or even dead bodies lying on the ash heaps.
ו (Vav)6 The punishment ▼
▼ The noun עֲוֹן (’avon) has a basic two-fold range of meanings: (1) basic meaning: “iniquity, sin” and (2) metonymical cause for effect meaning: “punishment for iniquity.”of my people ▼
exceeded that of ▼
▼ Heb “the sin of.” The noun חַטָּאת (khatta’t) often means “sin, rebellion,” but here it probably functions in a metonymical (cause for effect) sense: “punishment for sin” (e.g., Zech 14:19). The context focuses on the severity of the punishment of Jerusalem rather than the depths of its degradation and depravity that led to the judgment.of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment
with no one to help her. ▼
▼ Heb “without a hand turned.” The preposition ב (bet) after the verb חוּל (khul) in Hos 11:6 is adversative “the sword will turn against [Assyria’s] cities.” Other contexts with חוּל (khul) plus ב (bet) are not comparable (ב [bet] often being locative). However, it is not certain that hands must be adversarial as the sword clearly is in Hos 11:6. The present translation pictures the suddenness of Sodom’s overthrow as an easier fate than the protracted military campaign and subsequent exile and poverty of Judah’s survivor’s.
ז (Zayin)7 Her consecrated ones ▼
▼ Heb “Nazirites” (so KJV). The Nazirites were consecrated under a vow to refrain from wine, contact with the dead, and from cutting their hair. In Gen 49:26 and Deut 33:16 Joseph, who was not a Nazirite, is called the “Nazir” of his brothers. From context, many translate this as “prince” (e.g., NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT), though the nuance is uncertain. If it is valid, then princes might be understood in this context as well.were brighter than snow,
whiter than milk;
their bodies more ruddy than corals,
their hair ▼
▼ The noun גִּזְרָה (gizrah) is used primarily in Ezekiel 41–42 (seven of its nine uses), where it refers to a separated area of the temple complex described in Ezekiel’s vision. It is not used of people other than here. Probably based on the reference to a precious stone BDB 160 s.v. 1 postulated that it refers to the cutting or polishing of precious stones, but this is conjecture. The English versions handle this variously. D. R. Hillers suggests beards, hair, or eyebrows based on other ancient Near Eastern comparisons between lapis lazuli and the body (Lamentations [AB], 81).like lapis lazuli. ▼
▼ Heb “lapis lazuli.” Lapis lazuli is a dark blue semi-precious stone.
ח (Khet)8 Now their appearance ▼
▼ Heb “their outline” or “their form.” The Hebrew noun תֹּאַר (to’ar, “outline, form”) is related to the Phoenician noun תֹּאַר (to’ar, “something gazed at”), and Aramaic verb תָּאַר (ta’ar, “to gaze at”). It is used in reference to the form of a woman (Gen 29:17; Deut 21:11; 1 Sam 25:3; Esth 2:7) and of a man (Gen 39:11; Judg 8:18; 1 Sam 16:18; 28:14; 1 Kgs 1:6; 1 Chr 17:17; Isa 52:14; 53:2). Here it is used in a metonymical sense: “appearance.”is darker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it is dried up, like tree bark.
ט (Tet)9 Those who died by the sword ▼
▼ Heb “those pierced of the sword.” The genitive-construct denotes instrumentality: “those pierced by the sword” (חַלְלֵי־חֶרֶב, khalle-kherev). The noun חָלָל (khalal) refers to a “fatal wound” and is used substantivally to refer to “the slain” (Num 19:18; 31:8, 19; 1 Sam 17:52; 2 Sam 23:8, 18; 1 Chr 11:11, 20; Isa 22:2; 66:16; Jer 14:18; 25:33; 51:49; Lam 4:9; Ezek 6:7; 30:11; 31:17, 18; 32:20; Zeph 2:12).are better off
than those who die of hunger, ▼
▼ Heb “those slain of hunger.” The genitive-construct denotes instrumentality: “those slain by hunger,” that is, those who are dying of hunger.
those who ▼
▼ Heb “who…” The antecedent of the relative pronoun שֶׁהֵם (shehem, “who”) are those dying of hunger in the previous line: מֵחַלְלֵי רָעָב (mekhalle ra’av, “those slain of hunger”).waste away, ▼
▼ Heb “they flow away.” The verb זוּב (zuv, “to flow, gush”) is used figuratively here, meaning “to pine away” or “to waste away” from hunger. See also the next note.
struck down ▼
▼ Heb “pierced through and through.” The term מְדֻקָּרִים (meduqqarim), Pual participle masculine plural from דָּקַר (daqar, “to pierce”), is used figuratively. The verb דָּקַר (daqar, “to pierce”) usually refers to a fatal wound inflicted by a sword or spear (Num 25:8; Judg 9:54; 1 Sam 31:4; 1 Chr 10:4; Isa 13:15; Jer 37:10; 51:4; Zech 12:10; 13:3). Here, it describes people dying from hunger. This is an example of hypocatastasis: an implied comparison between warriors being fatally pierced by sword and spear and the piercing pangs of hunger and starvation. Alternatively “those who hemorrhage (זוּב [zuv, “flow, gush”]) [are better off] than those pierced by lack of food” in parallel to the structure of the first line.from lack of ▼
▼ The preposition מִן (min, “from”) denotes deprivation: “from lack of” something (BDB 580 s.v. 2.f; HALOT 598 s.v. 6).food. ▼
▼ Heb “produce of the field.”
י (Yod)10 The hands of tenderhearted women ▼
▼ Heb “the hands of compassionate women.”
cooked their own children,
who became their food, ▼
when my people ▼ were destroyed. ▼
▼ Heb “in the destruction of the daughter of my people.”
כ (Kaf)11 The Lord fully vented ▼
▼ Heb “has completed.” The verb כִּלָּה (killah), Piel perfect 3rd person masculine singular from כָּלָה (kalah, “to complete”), has a range of closely related meanings: (1) “to complete, bring to an end,” (2) “to accomplish, finish, cease,” (3) “to use up, exhaust, consume.” Used in reference to God’s wrath, it describes God unleashing his full measure of anger so that divine justice is satisfied. This is handled admirably by several English versions: “The Lord has given full vent to his wrath” (NIV), “The Lord gave full vent to his wrath” (RSV, NRSV), “The Lord vented all his fury” (NJPS), “The Lord turned loose the full force of his fury” (TEV). Others miss the mark: “The Lord has accomplished his wrath/fury” (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB).his wrath;
he poured out his fierce anger. ▼
▼ Heb “the heat of his anger.”
He started a fire in Zion;
it consumed her foundations. ▼
ל (Lamed)12 Neither the kings of the earth
nor the people of the lands ▼
▼ Heb “inhabitants of the mainland.”ever thought ▼
▼ Heb “they did not believe that.” The verb הֶאֱמִינוּ (he’eminu), Hiphil perfect 3rd person common plural from אָמַן (’aman, “to believe”), ordinarily is a term of faith and trust, but occasionally it functions cognitively: “to think that” (Job 9:16; 15:22; Ps 116:10; Lam 4:12) and “to be convinced that” (Ps 27:13) (HALOT 64 s.v. I אמן hif.1). The semantic relationship between “to believe” = “to think” is metonymical, that is, effect for cause.
that enemy or foe would enter
the gates ▼
▼ The expression “to enter the gates” of a city is an idiom referring to the military conquest of that city. Ancient Near Eastern fortified cities typically featured double and sometimes triple city gates – the bulwark of the defense of the city. Because fortified cities were enclosed with protective walls, the Achilles tendon of every city was the city gates – the weak point in the defense and the perennial point of attack by enemies (e.g., Judg 5:8, 11; 1 Sam 17:52; Isa 29:6; Jer 17:27; 51:54; Ezek 21:20, 27; Mic 1:9, 12; Neh 1:3; 2:3, 13, 17).of Jerusalem. ▼
מ (Mem)13 But it happened ▼
▼ These words do not appear in the Hebrew, but are supplied to make sense of the line. The introductory causal preposition מִן (min) (“because”) indicates that this phrase – or something like it – is implied through elision.due to the sins of her prophets ▼
▼ There is no main verb in the verse; it is an extended prepositional phrase. One must either assume a verbal idea such as “But it happened due to…” or connect it to the following verses, which themselves are quite difficult. The former option was employed in the present translation.
and the iniquities of her priests,
who poured out in her midst
the blood of the righteous.
נ (Nun)14 They ▼
▼ “They” are apparently the people, rather than the prophets and priests mentioned in the preceding verse.wander blindly ▼
▼ The Hebrew word עִוְרִים (’ivrim) appears to be an adjective based on the root I עִוֵּר (’ivver, “blind”). The LXX, using a rare perfect optative of ἐγείρω (egeirō), seems to have read a form of II עוּר (’ur, “to rise”), while the Syriac reads “her nobles,” possibly from reading שָׂרִים (sarim). The evidence is unclear.through the streets,
defiled by the blood they shed, ▼
▼ Heb “defiled with blood.”
while no one dares ▼
▼ The translation is conjecture. The MT has the preposition ב (bet, “in,” “by,” “with,” “when,” etc.), the negative particle לֹא (lo’), then a finite verb from יָכַל (yakhal, Qal impfect 3rd person masculine plural): “in not they are able.” Normally יָכַל (yakhal) would be followed by an infinitive, identifying what someone is or is not able to do, or by some other modifying clause. לֹא יָכַל (lo’ yakhal) on its own may mean “they do not prevail.” The preposition ב (bet) suggests possible dependence on another verb (cp. Jer 2:11, the only other verse with the sequence ב [bet] plus לֹא [lo’] plus finite verb). The following verb נָגַע (naga’, “touch”) regularly indicates its object with the preposition ב (bet), but the preposition ב (bet) is already used with “their garments.” If both are the object of נָגַע (naga’), the line would read “they touched what they could not, their garments.” As this makes no sense, one should note that any other verb on which the phrase would be dependent is not recoverable. The preposition ב (bet) can also introduce temporal clauses, though there are no examples with לֹא (lo’) plus a finite verb. A temporal understanding could yield “when they could not succeed, they touched [clutched?] their garments” or “while no one is able [to ?] they touch their garments.” In Jer 49:10 the meaning of יָכַל (yakhal) is completed by a finite verb (though it is not governed by the preposition ב [bet]). If so here, then we may understand “while (ב [bet]) no one dares (יָכַל, yakhal) to touch their garments.” This gives the picture of blind people stumbling about while others cannot help because they are afraid to touch them.
to touch their garments.
ס (Samek)15 People cry to them, “Turn away! You are unclean!
Turn away! Turn away! Don’t touch us!”
So they have fled and wander about;
but the nations say, ▼
▼ Heb “They say among the nations.”“They may not stay here any longer.”
פ (Pe)16 The Lord himself ▼
▼ Heb “the face of the Lord.” The term פָּנֶה (paneh, “face”) is a synecdoche of part (= face) for the whole person (= the Lord himself). The phrase is often translated “the presence of the Lord.” The term “face” also functions anthropomorphically, depicting the invisible spirit God as though he had a physical face.has scattered them;
he no longer watches over them.
They did not honor the priests; ▼
▼ The MT reads the plural verb לֹא נָשָׂאוּ (lo’ nasa’u, “they did not lift up”), Qal perfect 3rd person common plural from נָשָׂא (nasa’, “to lift up” the face); however, the ancient versions (LXX, Aramaic Targum, Latin Vulgate, Syriac Peshitta) have singular verbs, reflecting a Vorlage of לֹא נָשָׂא (lo’ nasa’, “he did not lift up”), Qal perfect 3rd person masculine singular from נָשָׂא (nasa’). D. R. Hillers suggests that the MT plural is an intentional scribe change, to avoid the appearance that God brought about evil on the priests and elders. Equally possible is that consonantal לא חננו (l’ khnnv) should be revocalized as Qal passive perfect 3rd person common plural, and that כֹהֲנִים (kohanim, “the priests”) functions as the subject of a passive verb rather than the accusative direct object of an active verb: “(the faces of ) the priests were not lifted up.”▼
they did not show favor to the elders. ▼
▼ The MT reads the plural verb לֹא חָנָנוּ (lo’ khananu, “they did not show favor”), Qal perfect 3rd person common plural from חָנַן (khanan, “to show favor, be merciful”); however, the ancient versions (LXX, Aramaic Targum, Latin Vulgate, Syriac Peshitta) have singular verbs, reflecting a Vorlage of לֹא חָנַן (lo’ khanan, “he did not show favor”), Qal perfect 3rd person masculine singular from חָנַן (khanan). D. R. Hillers suggests that the MT plural is an intentional scribe change, to avoid the appearance that God brought about evil on the priests and elders. Equally possible is that consonantal לא חננו (l’ khnnv) should be revocalized as Qal passive perfect 3rd person common plural, and that זְקֵנִים (zeqenim, “the elders”) functions as the subject of a passive verb rather than the accusative direct object of an active verb: “the elders were not shown favor/mercy.”▼
The People of Jerusalem Lament:
ע (Ayin)17 Our eyes continually failed us
as we looked in vain for help. ▼
▼ Heb “Our eyes failed in vain for help.”
From our watchtowers we watched
for a nation that could not rescue us.
צ (Tsade)18 Our enemies ▼
▼ Heb “they”; this has been specified in the translation as “our enemies” for clarity.hunted us down at every step ▼
▼ Heb “they hunted our steps.”
so that we could not walk about in our streets.
Our end drew near, our days were numbered, ▼
▼ Heb “our days were full.”
for our end had come!
ק (Qof)19 Those who pursued us were swifter
than eagles ▼
▼ The bird referred to here could be one of several species of eagles, but more likely is the griffin-vulture (cf. NEB “vultures”). However, because eagles are more commonly associated with swiftness than vultures in contemporary English, “eagles” was used in the translation.in the sky. ▼
▼ Or “in the heavens.” The Hebrew term שָׁמַיִם (shamayim) may be translated “heaven(s)” or “sky” depending on the context.
They chased us over the mountains;
they ambushed us in the wilderness.
ר (Resh)20 Our very life breath – the Lord’s anointed king ▼
▼ Heb “the anointed one of the Lord.” The term “king” is added in the translation to clarify the referent of the phrase “the Lord’s anointed.”–
was caught in their traps, ▼
▼ Heb “was captured in their pits.”
of whom we thought, ▼
▼ Heb “of whom we had said.”
“Under his protection ▼
▼ Heb “under his shadow.” The term צֵל (tsel, “shadow”) is used figuratively here to refer the source of protection from military enemies. In the same way that the shade of a tree gives physical relief and protection from the heat of the sun (e.g., Judg 9:15; Job 40:22; Ps 80:11; Song 2:3; Ezek 17:23; 31:6, 12, 17; Hos 4:13; 14:8; Jon 4:5, 6), a faithful and powerful king can provide “shade” (= protection) from enemies and military attack (Num 14:19; Ps 91:1; Isa 30:2, 3; 49:2; 51:16; Jer 48:45; Lam 4:20).we will survive among the nations.”
The Prophet Speaks:
ש (Sin/Shin)21 Rejoice and be glad for now, ▼ O people of Edom, ▼
▼ Heb “O Daughter of Edom.”
who reside in the land of Uz.
But the cup of judgment ▼
▼ Heb “the cup.” Judgment is often depicted as a cup of wine that God forces a person to drink, causing him to lose consciousness, red wine drooling out of his mouth – resembling corpses lying on the ground as a result of the actual onslaught of the Lord’s judgment. The drunkard will reel and stagger, causing bodily injury to himself – an apt metaphor to describe the devastating effects of God’s judgment. Just as a cup of poison kills all those who are forced to drink it, the cup of God’s wrath destroys all those who must drink it (e.g., Ps 75:9; Isa 51:17, 22; Jer 25:15, 17, 28; 49:12; 51:7; Lam 4:21; Ezek 23:33; Hab 2:16).will pass ▼
▼ The imperfect verb “will pass” may also be a jussive, continuing the element of request, “let the cup pass…”to you also;
you will get drunk and take off your clothes.
ת (Tav)22 O people of Zion, ▼
▼ Heb “O Daughter Zion.”your punishment ▼
▼ Heb “your iniquity.” The noun עָוֹן (’avon) has a broad range of meanings, including: (1) iniquity, (2) guilt of iniquity, and (3) consequence or punishment for iniquity (cause-effect metonymical relation). The context suggests that “punishment for sin” is most appropriate here (e.g., Gen 4:13; 19:15; Exod 28:38, 43; Lev 5:1, 17; 7:18; 10:17; 16:22; 17:16; 19:8; 20:17, 19; 22:16; 26:39, 41, 43; Num 5:31; 14:34; 18:1, 23; 30:15; 1 Sam 25:24; 28:10; 2 Sam 14:9; 2 Kgs 7:9; Job 10:14; Pss 31:11; 69:28; 106:43; Prov 5:22; Isa 5:18; 30:13; 40:2; 53:6, 11; 64:5, 6; Jer 51:6; Lam 4:22; 5:7; Ezek 4:4–6, 17; 7:16; 14:10; 18:19–20; 21:30, 34; 24:23; 32:27; 35:5; 39:23; 44:10, 12).will come to an end; ▼
▼ Heb “will be completed.” The perfect tense verb תַּם (tam), Qal perfect 3rd person masculine singular from תָּמַם (tamam, “to be complete”), could be taken as a precative perfect expressing a request (“may your punishment be complete”). The translation understands it as an example of the so-called “prophetic perfect.” The perfect tense often describes actions that are viewed as complete (normally past- or present-time events). When the perfect tense describes a future event, it often depicts it as “complete,” that is, “as good as done” or certain to take place from the viewpoint of the prophet. Thus, by using the perfect tense, Jeremiah may be emphasizing the certainty that the exile will eventually come to an end. It has also been viewed as a simple perfect “your punishment is ended.”
he will not prolong your exile. ▼
▼ The verb לֹא יוֹסִיף (lo’ yosif) could be taken as a precative perfect, making a request to God. See the note at the beginning of the verse.
But, O people of Edom, ▼
▼ Heb “O Daughter of Edom.”he will punish ▼
▼ The verb פָּקַד (paqad) could be taken as a precative perfect, making a request to God. See the note at the beginning of the verse.your sin ▼
▼ The noun עָוֹן (’avon) is repeated twice in this verse: its first occurrence means “punishment for iniquity” (v. 22a), and its second usage means “iniquity” (v. 22b). See preceding translator’s note on the broad range of meanings of this word. The repetition of the same root with different meanings creates an ironic polysemantic wordplay: Zion’s “punishment” for its sin is about to come to an end; however, the punishment for Edom’s “sin” is about to begin.
and reveal ▼
▼ The verb גִּלָּה (gillah) could be taken as a precative perfect, making a request to God. See the note at the beginning of the verse.your offenses!
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