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

5:1.  “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach.”


This is the cry of a people brought to the extremity of despair,  calling upon God to aid them because of their captivity in Babylon, and the contempt in which they were held by the surrounding nations.  No such plea, however, had come from their lips when they were living in contemptuous independence of God.  How often their sin is repeated!  In the enjoyment of blessing men forget God; adversity alone impelling them to call upon Him.


5:2.  “Our inheritance is turned to strangers, our houses to aliens.”


Had they been obedient, the lands and houses which God had given them would have been inherited by their children, but their disobedience had resulted in His removing them and their children into Babylonian captivity, and giving those lands and houses to their captors. 


Their folly is repeated in the spiritual realm by countless multitudes: those who ignore God, and who by that disobedience forfeit eternal blessing in heaven.


Israel’s captivity in Babylon, as noted already, represents the spiritual captivity in which men are held by the world’s false religious systems, adherence to those systems robbing them and their children of true happiness here on earth, and of eternal happiness in heaven.  The spiritual disenfranchisement of the children results from the failure of the parents to instruct their children in the knowledge of God.


5:3.  “We are orphans and fatherless, our mothers are as widows.”


Undoubtedly there were many orphans and widows among the Judean captives in Babylon, but the spiritual truth being declared here transcends the literal.  The spiritual penury of the countless billions who know not God is infinitely greater than the literal poverty of those orphans and widows languishing in captivity in Babylon. 


The division of the impoverished into two classes: orphans and widowed mothers, is meant to remind us that the spiritual condition presented here metaphorically is duplicated throughout the world today, for those Judean widows and orphans represent today’s unconverted masses: spiritually they know not God as Husband and Father.


5:4.  “We have drunken our water for money; our wood is sold unto us.”


Their Babylonian masters compelled them to pay for water and fuel, and again the spiritual lesson transcends the literal.  As already noted, Babylon represents the world’s false religious systems, particularly Roman Catholicism and apostate Protestantism; and water is a symbol of the Word.  Wood is usually the symbol of humanity, but here it is specifically wood for fuel, and fire is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, but His being represented here by wood and not by fire is the declaration of the truth that in apostate Christendom His power has been replaced with a dead system of human invention. 


This verse therefore translates into the truth that the system which Babylon represents compels its dupes to pay for the Word as ministered according to its own Babylonian interpretation.  Apostate Christianity’s  priests and ministers have made “religion” a profession on a par with law, medicine, engineering, teaching, etc., the whole idea of the necessity of a theological education being contradicted by the teaching of Scripture which makes it clear that ministry is to be, not by those who have had a theological education, but by those whom God has endowed with the necessary spiritual gift.


5:5.  “Our necks are under persecution: we labor, and have no rest.”


Their necks being under persecution is another way of saying that they were under the yoke of Babylonian bondage, the spiritual truth declared here being that men today are in spiritual bondage to the evil religious system of which Babylon is the symbol.


Their laboring without rest points to the fact that the world’s religious systems are all based on works, the teaching of apostate Christianity being that faith in Christ, plus good works, saves men from hell and fits them for heaven, in spite of the fact that Scripture denounces such teaching, see for example,  Ro 3:27-28, “Where is boasting then?  It is excluded.  By what law? of works?  Nay but by the law of faith.  Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds (works) of the law.” See also Ro 4:2-6; 9:11,32; 11:6; Ga 2:16; 3:2,5,10;  Eph 2:8-9, “For by grace are you saved through faith ... not of works, lest any man should boast.” 


5:6.  “We have given the hand to the Egyptians, and to the Assyrians, to be satisfied with bread.”


The giving of the hand is another way of saying that they had pledged fidelity to Egypt and Assyria, who in exchange supplied them with food.  Egypt, as we have seen already, represents the world of business and pleasure living in haughty independence of God; and Assyria, meaning a step, is viewed by some as the symbolic representative of religious knowledge, this association being based on the fact that the word is derived from a root meaning to be straight; level; right; happy; going forward; honest; prospering; bless; guide; lead; relieve.


Judah’s submissive association with Egypt portrays Christendom’s dependence on the world’s wealth and pleasure; but Egypt’s failure in the time of need declares the folly of such dependence.  The world has absolutely nothing that can satisfy the soul and fit it for heaven.


If Assyria does indeed represent religious knowledge, then her failure also to save Judah, portrays the truth that such knowledge is equally powerless to fit the soul for heaven.  Knowing Scripture, and knowing the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, are two very different things.


5:7.  “Our fathers have sinned, and are not; and we have borne their iniquities.”


Taylor translates this as, “Our fathers sinned but died before the hand of judgment fell.  We have borne the blow that they deserved!”


This has to be understood in the light of what is written in Scripture.  That God does not punish the children for the sins of their fathers, and vice versa, is made clear in Eze 18:20 “... The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son....”  In Ex 20:5-6 the children of the third and fourth generation hated God just as did their fathers.  God deals with each individual according to whether that man is a repentant believer, or an unrepentant sinner.


In the case of Israel each succeeding generation had walked in the disobedient idolatrous steps of its predecessor, thus making itself an heir of judgment, but it is to be remembered that in each generation there was a small believing remnant, many of whom had to endure the judgments brought upon the nation by the rebellious majority, the great difference being that at the end of life’s journey the believers entered paradise; the unrepentant majority went down to hell.  Just because God doesn’t punish a man during his earthly life doesn’t mean that that man has escaped judgment.  He hasn’t.  The Lord will deal with him at the great white throne, assigning a measure of eternal torment in the lake of fire proportionate to his sins.


5:8.  “Servants have ruled over us: there is none that doth deliver us out of their hand.”


Some take this to mean that their own former servants had been appointed as their taskmasters by the Babylonians, the ironic reversal of roles being intended to add to the misery of the captive Judean erstwhile masters.  As they  had treated their slaves, so would they themselves now undoubtedly be treated.


Others understand it to mean that their captors had set over them as taskmasters men of the lowest kind.


5:9.  “We gat our bread with the peril of our lives because of the sword of the wilderness.”


Many take this to be descriptive of those who remained in Jerusalem after its sack by Babylon.  They were constantly exposed to attack by the marauding desert Arabs.


5:10.  “Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine.”


So severe was the famine that their skin was dry and shriveled, and their bodies wracked with fever.


5:11.  “They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah.


The women, young and old alike, had been raped throughout the length and breadth of Judah by the Babylonian soldiers.


5:12.  “Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honored.”


The invaders had mercilessly hanged the Judean men of rank, and mocked the elders.  Some understand “by their hand” to mean that the victims were suspended by their hands and then tortured to death as they thus hung helpless.


5:13.  “They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood.”


The young men of Judah had been humiliated by being compelled to grind the enemy’s grain, a task usually performed by female slaves; and the young children had been compelled to stagger under loads of firewood too heavy for their small bodies.


Some understand the first part of this verse to mean that so many animals which were used for grinding, had been eaten during the siege that the young men were being compelled to do that work.


5:14.  “The elders have ceased from the gate, the young men from their music.”


The normal life of the towns and cities had been brought to an end.  The elders, who normally sat in the gateway, to administer the affairs of the place, were no longer permitted to assemble there, all the people being compelled to live under the harsh despotism of the conqueror.  The young people ceased to congregate to sing and dance.


5:15.  “The joy of our heart is ceased; our dance is turned into mourning.”


All joy had departed, the oppressed people, young and old alike, languishing under the tyranny of the invader.


5:16.  “The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned!”


The crown here is the metaphoric reference to the glory that had been theirs, and also to the wreaths and garlands with which they had adorned their heads in times of joyful celebration.  Woe had replaced pleasure, their tribulation compelling them to confess, too late to benefit them, that their sin had been the cause of their misery.


5:17.  “For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim.”


Hearts once filled with joy had become feeble, sick and hopeless; eyes that had once sparkled with joy had become dark and lusterless as they reflected the misery of their hearts.


5:18.  “Because of the mountain of Zion, which is desolate, the foxes walk upon it.”


Mount Zion had been the site of the Temple which then lay in ruins, amongst which jackals and other wild animals skulked.


5:19.  “Thou, O Lord, remainest for ever; thy throne from generation to generation.”


Having been compelled to confess their sin, and lament the resultant ruin, they were also compelled to acknowledge that the God they had rejected for idols, was the Eternal Whose dominion would continue for ever.


5:20.  “Wherefore dost thou forget us for ever, and forsake us so long time?”


This would indicate that they had recollected the many times God had pardoned their sin and taken them back, that memory causing them to ask why he wouldn’t repeat His gracious kindness in the present instance.  The terrible lesson being taught in His refusal to pardon the sin of that generation is that His patience is great but not infinite, His warning to all men being, “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” Ge 6:3; and “He, who being often reproved heardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy,” Pr 29:1; and again, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” 2 Cor 6:2.


No tragedy is greater than that of crossing the invisible line which separates God’s mercy from His wrath.


5:21.  “Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned; renew our days as of old.”


That doomed generation of Judah pleaded in vain.  Refusal to repent in God’s time had carried them for ever beyond hope of mercy.


5:22.  “But thou hast utterly rejected us; thou art very wroth against us.”


Some, wrongly I believe, take this to be merely a hypothesis.  There is, however, nothing to indicate that it is anything but their expressed recognition of the awful truth that they were doomed.


This study is completed with the writer’s prayer that no reader may ever have to make the same dreadful confession.


The end.

[Lord willing, next week: Ezekiel 1]


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