For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2003 James Melough

4:1.  “How is the gold become dim! how is the most fine gold changed! the stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street.”


The language is metaphoric as well as literal.  The gold of the Temple had literally become tarnished and lusterless; but gold is used symbolically to represent glory, so that the truth being declared is that with the departure of the glory of the Temple Israel’s glory had also departed, for the Lord, Who was her glory, had forsaken her because of her wickedness.


Having been shown what was to befall Jerusalem, Jeremiah spoke of the sack of the city as a thing already accomplished.


Only spiritually blind eyes will fail to see in this the foreshadowing of present conditions, for Babylon represents the apostate travesty centered in Rome and which lords it over Christendom today.


4:2.  “The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!”


These “sons of Zion” were the people themselves.  Once precious as fine gold in God’s sight, and chief among the nations, their sin had resulted in His abandoning them to their enemies who valued them as little as they did ordinary common clay pots.


4:3.  “Even the sea monsters draw out the breast, they give suck to their young ones; the daughter of my people is become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.”


“Sea monsters” may be whales which are mamalian, though the term is usually translated jackals: wild animals, which suckle their young; but because of the famine, “the daughter of my people,” i.e., the evil generation of Judah addressed by the prophet, had ceased to act naturally toward their own children, and are likened to the ostrich which is said to be indifferent to the needs of its young, as recorded in Job 39:16, “She (the ostrich) is hardened against her young ones as though they were not hers....”


Judah’s cruelty to her children went beyond failure to provide them with bread: she had failed to provide them with spiritual bread, i.e., instruction relative to God.  Today’s apostate Christendom is guilty of the same dereliction; but what is worse, genuine believers for the most part also fail to bring up their children in the reverential fear of Him.


4:4.  “The tongue of the sucking child cleaveth to the roof of his mouth for thirst: the young children ask bread, and no man breaketh it unto them.”


So terrible was the famine that infants died of hunger because their famished mothers’ breasts were dry; and older children also perished from lack of food, as did also their parents.


The equivalent spiritual conditions prevail in Christendom today.  Spiritual bread, the knowledge of God, is as scarce now as was literal bread then.  And as Babylon was the cause of the famine then, so is spiritual Babylon, the apostate church, the cause today.


4:5.  “They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills.”


That generation of Judah who had once dined on “the finest of the wheat,” and who had been clothed in purple, had been reduced to destitution, so that they begged in the streets, and clawed through the city’s rubbish heaps in search of a scrap of bread.


The Jews today are spiritually in the same sorry plight, as is also apostate Christendom, sin being the cause of the spiritual penury of both.


4:6.  “For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her.”


Great as had been the iniquity of Sodom, that of Judah had been greater; and as God had destroyed Sodom in an instant, so would He also destroy sinful Judah.  In the case of Sodom, He had chosen not to use human instruments as the means of her destruction, but had Himself rained down fire from heaven (this is the meaning of “and no hands stayed on her).”  For Judah’s destruction, however, He had chosen to use the Babylonians; and for the destruction of apostate Christendom He will use the Beast and the terrible judgments of the Great Tribulation.


Some understand “no hands stayed on her” to mean that Sodom had had no one to help her, but that Jerusalem had had help from Egypt.


4:7.  “Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they where whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire:”


See Numbers 6 for details relative to the vow of Nazariteship.


In the days of Israel’s and Judah’s glory, there was no hypocrisy in connection with the vow of Nazariteship, so that the spiritual beauty of the candidate was as described here metaphorically.  “... purer than snow” appears to describe the inward life that only God could see; and “whiter than milk,” the outward life that man could observe; “more ruddy in body than rubies” refers to the healthy glow or redness of their cheeks (the outward sign of inward health); and “their polishing,” to the perfection of their  bodies.


4:8.  “Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick.”


No contrast could have been greater.  The purity symbolically portrayed in the whiteness of snow had been exchanged for the impurity implied in the blackness of coal.  The testimony for God indicated in their being known in the streets, had been succeeded by the lack of testimony implied by anonymity.  Their skin, withered like dry wood, and clinging to their bones, speaks of spiritual malnutrition, i.e., failure to feed their souls with the Word of God.  The symbolic picture is not only of the apostate nation being described by Jeremiah, but also of today’s apostate Christianity.


4:9.  “They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field.”


Those slain by the sword were they who were possessed of sufficient vitality to pose a real or imagined threat to the enemy.  They represent believers whose spiritual energy provokes the antagonism of Satan and the unconverted.


Those dying of hunger, however, portray professing believers who fail to nourish their souls with Scripture, and are as a result so spiritually enervated as not to merit the notice of the enemy.


4:10.  “The hands of the pitiful women have sodden their own children: they were their meat in the destruction of the daughter of my people.”


In the famine resulting from the siege, women, formerly tender-hearted, had no compunction about boiling and eating their own children, an example of this cannibalism being recorded in 2 Ki 6:26-29.


“... the daughter of my people” is understood by some to be that particular generation of Judah; by others, the city of Jerusalem, this latter appearing to be the preferable interpretation in the present context.


The spiritual application of this is easily read.  The failure of many professedly Christian parents to rear their children in the fear of God, almost invariably dooms those children to eternal death, the only exception being the fortunate few who hear the Gospel from another source, and respond by confessing themselves sinners, and trusting in Christ as their Savior.


4:11.  “The Lord hath accomplished his fury; he hath poured out his fierce anger, and hath kindled a fire in Zion, and it hath devoured the foundations thereof.”


Judah’s wickedness, and her failure to repent in God’s time, had resulted in His withdrawing His mercy, and instead pouring out judgment on the apostate nation, destroying the city where He had formerly placed His name, and having the people carried captive into Babylon.


In this, God would have men read the warning that His patience and grace will not be extended for ever, as it is written, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” Ge 6:3; and again, “He, who being often reproved hardens his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1.


4:12.  “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.”


Prior to Jerusalem’s destruction, no one in the world, from king to commoner, would have believed that God’s city would ever be invaded, but it was.  Why?  Because it had become the center of a cold, loveless, faithless, hypocritical religious ritual which disgusted Him and provoked His fierce anger; and we are reading without understanding if we fail to see in the devastation of Jerusalem the foreshadowing of that which is about to engulf apostate Christendom and the whole world in the impending Great Tribulation, and for the same reason: Divine disgust with the travesty that passes for worship amongst professed believers today.


While Strong’s Concordance renders “adversary” and “enemy” as being identical, we cannot dismiss the fact that “adversary” is one of the titles given Satan, see 1 Pe 5:8, so that a truth being taught here in the distinction indicated between the two is that ultimately Satan is the evil power energizing and directing the activity of every foe of God and His people.


4:13.  “For the sins of her prophets, and the iniquities of her priests that have shed the blood of the just in the midst of her.”


This explains why God had permitted the enemy to destroy Jerusalem: her so-called prophets had been the agents of Satan, falsely declaring that the people were righteous, and that the judgments foretold by the true prophets would never come.  The priests likewise were Satan’s servants leading the people to destruction by teaching that adherence to the mere outward religious ritual of Judaism was all that was required to expiate sin, and secure God’s blessing.


But their wickedness didn’t stop there.  They slew the true prophets and priests who spoke against their evildoing.


Little has changed since then.  Apostate Christendom’s false teachers (the counterparts of Israel’s false prophets), and her unconverted clergy (the counterparts of Israel’s evil priests), carry on the same Satanic work, the only change being that since they can’t kill God’s true teachers, evangelists, and elders, they silence them just as effectively by the subtle ploy of denying them any opportunity to speak in the churches.


They and the whole evil system governing apostate Christendom, however, will also be destroyed by God in the swiftly approaching Great Tribulation.


4:14.  “They have wandered as blind men in the streets, they have polluted themselves with blood, so that men could not touch their garments.”


This describes the state of the false prophets and wicked priests during and following the siege of Jerusalem.  Blind leaders of the blind, see Mt 15:14, they wandered through the streets of the ruined city in search of bread just as did those they had duped with their lies, the devastation testifying to the falsity of their former pronouncements.


Their having polluted themselves with blood means that they had been guilty of killing the innocent for no other reason than that their victims refused to accept their false teaching.


“... so that men could not touch their garments,” appears to mean that the murderous prophets and priests had killed so wantonly, that those who “touched their garments,” i.e., who associated with them, were incurring guilt by not only refusing to condemn the murders, but by tacitly approving them; and that the rest of the people abhorred them, and would have nothing to do with them.


4:15.  “They cried unto them, Depart ye; it is unclean; depart, depart, touch not: when they fled away and wandered, they said among the heathen, They shall no more sojourn there.”


The first part of the verse is generally understood to mean that the people held the false prophets and reprobate priests in  abhorrence so great that it might have been verbalized in their shouting to them, “Get away.  Don’t touch me.  You are defiled.”


The second part is usually taken to mean that when the Jewish refugees fled to other lands seeking asylum, the people of those lands refused to let them stay, nor was it different relative to their later scattering in AD 70, history attesting the accuracy of this prophecy.


4:16.  “The anger of the Lord hath divided them; he will no more regard them: they respected not the persons of the priests, they favored not the elders.”


The scattering mentioned here - that of 586 BC - and the later one of AD 70, were the evidences of God’s fierce anger against the Jews for the terrible wickedness of which they refused to repent; but Ro 10:21 - 11:36 makes it clear that in a day still future, but now imminent, a remnant of that same rebellious people will be saved, and emerge from the Great Tribulation to inherit the millennial blessings forfeited by the generation spoken of here and by all the generations since then.


The priests and elders who were neither respected nor favored are generally taken to have been those who had remained faithful to God.


4:17.  “As for us, our eyes as yet failed for our vain help: in our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save us.”


Foolish Israel and Judah had put their trust in Egypt, but in vain.  For a brief moment it had seemed that deliverance was near when Babylon lifted the siege to engage the Egyptian army, but the latter were quickly and ignominiously routed, after which the Babylonians resumed the siege, and soon afterwards conquered Jerusalem.


Since Egypt is a type of the world of business and pleasure, living in disdainful independence of God, the lesson being taught here is that that same world is as helpless to deliver men from Divine judgment as was Egypt to save besieged Judah.


4:18.  “They hunt our steps, that we cannot go in our streets: our end is near, our days are fulfilled; for our end is come.”


This is generally understood to be the description of conditions following the capture of Jerusalem.  It was dangerous for the Jews to appear in the streets on account of the Babylonian soldiers, and they recognized that their end had come, for what they had foolishly believed impossible had occurred: God very obviously had forsaken them when He allowed the city to be taken,  and His Temple to be desecrated by their enemies.


The lesson being emphatically reiterated in this is that adherence to mere religious forms such as church membership, baptism, good works, generosity, etc., will save no one.  He who would escape hell, and enter heaven must be born again spiritually by confessing himself a sinner without any righteousness, and believing that Christ loved him enough to die in his stead, for his sins, and that in response to that confession and faith, God will pardon all his sin, and receive him into heaven.


4:19.  “Our persecutors are swifter than the eagles of the heaven: they pursued us upon the mountains, they laid wait for us in the wilderness.”


In the superior might of the Babylonians, and the intensity of their pursuit of the Jews, we are being shown in symbol something of the terrible power of Satan and his legions, and their inexorable determination to destroy men’s souls.  Unceasing gratitude, expressed in an obedient life, ought to be the  response of every believer to God for having delivered him from the power of such a foe.


4:20.  “The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the Lord, was taken in their pits, of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen.”


The reference here is to the king, Zedekiah; his being described as “the breath of our nostrils,” being a poetically exaggerated expression of their view of him as the one in whom they had trusted to preserve them as a nation.  His being “the anointed of the Lord” has reference to his having been anointed with oil at his coronation..


“... was taken in their pits” is simply another way of saying that he, Zedekiah, had been taken captive by the Babylonians; and their having said that,  “Under his shadow we shall live among the nations,” refers to their confidence that under his sovereignty they had expected to live safely as a nation among the other nations.


The disappointment of their expectation emphasizes the folly of placing trust in anyone except the Lord Jesus Christ.


4:21.  “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.”


This is generally understood to be Jeremiah’s response to the joy with which Edom had beheld the fall of Judah; and there can be no question that God had revealed to His servant that Edom was also to become the object of His wrath, her sin being the more heinous because of her natural tie with Israel: Edom (Esau) was the brother of Jacob.


Edom’s becoming drunken and naked is the metaphoric declaration that when her day of judgment came she would be as powerless as a drunken man to resist the foe, and would be exposed to the same shame as would be a woman paraded naked in public.


The location of Uz is uncertain, but thought to have been in northern Arabia.


4:22.  “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.”


The first part of this verse relative to Zion (Judah) has to be understood in context.  The destruction of Jerusalem, and the captivity of the people by Babylon in 586 BC, were God’s punishment of the sins of Israel as represented by that particular generation; but not by any means the end of His dealings with the nation Israel, a truth confirmed by the fact that in AD 70 another generation suffered virtually the same fate at the hand of the Romans under Titus.  Nor does the Diaspora conclude her chastisement.  Scripture makes it very clear that yet another generation will be subjected to terrible suffering at the hand of the Beast in the now imminent Great Tribulation.


It was the punishment of the iniquity of the generation of Jeremiah’s day only that was accomplished or ended in 586 BC.


Nor is Israel the only nation that will be punished for sin.  The assurance that Edom - representative of the Gentiles - was going to have to drink also from the terrible cup of God’s wrath, is the guarantee that every nation will be called to account for its sin, as will every individual, the only difference being that God will deal with the nations here on earth, but with individuals in eternity: unbelievers being judged at the great white throne, and assigned eternal punishment in the lake of fire proportionate to their sins; believers - the punishment for their sins having been borne by the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary - being judged at the Bema (judgment seat of Christ) relative to the faithfulness of their service, and being given commensurate rewards to be enjoyed in heaven eternally.

[Lamentations 5]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough