Lamentations 4:12-22

Verse 12 introduces a new topic, which gives remarkable vividness to the prophet's picture of Jerusalem's desolation. It was not the king of Judah who was surprised at the taking of his capital, but the kings of the earth who treated it as incredible that they could force it; it was not the Jews merely who fondly dreamt that their city was impregnable, but all the inhabitants of the world gave up the hope as vain. "The kings of the earth, and all the inhabitants of the world, would not have believed that the adversary and the enemy should have entered into the gates of Jerusalem." (Ver. 12.)

This prepares the way for a fresh exposure of the real causes of Jerusalem's ruin. Their sins were so glaring, where they where most odious and offensive, that God must have denied Himself if He had not brought His people down to the dust and scattered them to the ends of the earth. "Because of the sins of her prophets, the iniquities of her priests that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her, they wandered blind in the streets, they were defiled with blood, so that men could not touch their garments." (Ver. 13, 11.) The greater the privilege in having such servants of Jehovah, the more distressing that they should pollute His name and people.

There is no reason that I know for Calvin's version of the last clause of verse 14: "They were defiled with blood, because they could not but touch their garments." It seems indeed an ungrounded departure from the common and correct translation, both in giving the reason where it should be rather a statement of consequence, and in needlessly supposing a particle which brings in a very different idea. Nor do I see any just meaning in what results; for where would be the force of saying that they were defiled with blood because they could not but touch their garments? One could understand pollution from such contact, but hardly with blood from it. As the clause stands in the common version, the import appears to be that wandering blindly in the streets they defiled themselves in the worst way possible, with blood, so that their very garments must pollute any who might touch them. So universal was the defilement of the holy city that the clothes of the inhabitants could not be touched without contamination to others. There was as it were a fretting leprosy in the whole body politic. "Depart, unclean, they called out to them; depart, depart, touch not. So they flee away and also wander. They say among the nations, they shall dwell no more [there]." Thus most graphically does the prophet show that the exile of the Jew from the land was inevitable and of another character from an ordinary deportation of a people through the cruelty of a conqueror or the jealousy of an ambitious rival nation. It was in vain for the Jews to flatter themselves that it was God employing them for a season as a missionary people: God will send them forth; a few preparatorily to the kingdom, and when it is set up yet more largely as a nation. But here it is a people once holy, now profane, not honoured in a gracious service and a grave trust, but punished for their dishonour of His law and sanctuary, and hence outcasts so ignominious that they flee themselves like lepers, proclaiming their own defilement and misery. So complete is the ruin that among the nations it is said, They shall no more sojourn in their land and city.

But this is an error. Impossible that God should be defeated by Satan, good by evil, in the long run. Appearances in this world ever give such expectations; and unbelieving man is as ready to credit them as to doubt God. But in the midst of judgment God remembers mercy; and therefore the more unsparing He might be, the more assuredly He would turn again with deliverance for His own name's sake. "The face [i.e. anger] of Jehovah hath divided them, he will no more regard them: they respected not the faces of the priests, they spared not the elders." (Ver. 16.) Undoubtedly their overthrow was complete, and the contempt of the enemy so much the better because their success was beyond their own hopes; for there had ever been a lurking fear that God would avenge their wrongs and once more espouse the cause of His people. But now that He gave them up to the will of His adversaries, their pleasure, was to wound them to the quick in the persons of the most honoured sons of Zion.

And what could the prophet say in extenuation? He could only add here another heavy fault: "As yet for us [i.e., while we yet remained], our eyes failed for our vain help; on our watchtowers we watched for a nation that could not save us." (Ver. 17.) They turned with longing desires after Egypt against the Chaldeans, instead of turning to God in repentance of heart, spite of reiterated warning from His prophets not to trust in an arm of flesh, least of all in that broken reed.

But no: sentence was passed by God, incensed with the unwearied evils of His people; and the fiercest of the heathen were let loose as executors of His wrath upon them. "They hunted our steps, so that we could not walk in our streets; our end was near, our days were fulfilled, for our end had come. Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness." (Ver. 18, 19.) No mountain was steep, no desert lonely, enough to protect the guilty fugitives. It was God who was punishing them by means most just, yet to them most painful, for their revolt from Himself.

Alas! the remnant returned from Babylon have only added another and incomparably worse sin in the rejection of the Messiah and the refusal of the gospel, so that wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.

But even then how lamentable the desolation! "The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of Jehovah, was taken in their pits, of whom was said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen." (Ver. 20.) It is of course Zedekiah who is alluded to. They had hoped in his office, whatever his demerits personally, forgetting that all the honour God bestowed on it was in view of Christ, who alone shall bear the glory. But their hearts were in the present, not really for Messiah; and they had only to lie down disappointed in sorrow.

Did Edom then taunt their fallen brother in the day of his distress? Indeed they did it with murderous treacherous hatred too. Hence the apostrophe of the prophet. "Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, that dwellest in the land of Uz; the cup also shall pass through unto thee: thou shalt be drunken, and shalt make thyself naked. The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity: he will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins." (Ver. 21, 22.) Did they say in the day of Jerusalem, Down with it, down with it to the very foundation? They too must be brought to shame. If the Chaldean swept the holy land, the daughter of Edom must await no less when her day came to be carried away captive for her sins.