Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2003 James Melough
5:1. “Remember, O Lord, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our
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
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
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
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
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
5:10. “Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible
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
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
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
5:13. “They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
[Lord willing, next week: Ezekiel