א (Alef) 1
now sits all alone! 5
The prominent 6 lady among the nations
has become a widow! 7
He has thrown down the splendor of Israel
from heaven to earth;
when he displayed his anger. 18
pure gold loses value. 22
Jewels 23 are scattered
on every street corner. 24
4:2 The precious sons of Zion
were worth their weight in gold –
Alas! – but now they are treated like 25 broken clay pots,
made by a potter. 26
1 sn Chapters 1-4 are arranged in alphabetic-acrostic structures; the acrostic pattern does not appear in chapter 5. Each of the 22 verses in chapters 1, 2 and 4 begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, while the acrostic appears in triplicate in the 66 verses in chapter 3. The acrostic pattern does not appear in chapter 5, but its influence is felt in that it has 22 verses, the same as the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. For further study on Hebrew acrostics, see W. M. Soll, “Babylonian and Biblical Acrostics,” Bib 69 (1988): 305-23; D. N. Freedman, “Acrostic Poems in the Hebrew Bible: Alphabetic and Otherwise,” CBQ 48 (1986): 408-31; B. Johnson, “Form and Message in Lamentations,” ZAW 97 (1985): 58-73; K. C. Hanson, “Alphabetic Acrostics: A Form Critical Study,” Ph.D. diss., Claremont Graduate School, 1984; S. Bergler, “Threni V – Nur ein alphabetisierendes Lied? Versuch einer Deutung,” VT 27 (1977): 304-22; E. M. Schramm, “Poetic Patterning in Biblical Hebrew,” Michigan Oriental Studies in Honor of George S. Cameron, 175-78; D. N. Freedman, “Acrostics and Metrics in Hebrew Poetry,” HTR 65 (1972): 367-92; N. K. Gottwald, “The Acrostic Form,” Studies in the Book of Lamentations, 23-32; P. A. Munch, “Die alphabetische Akrostichie in der judischen Psalmendicthung,” ZDMG 90 (1936): 703-10; M. Löhr, “Alphabetische und alphabetisierende Lieder im AT,” ZAW 25 (1905): 173-98.
2 tc The LXX and Vulgate (dependent on the LXX) include a preface that is lacking in the MT: “And it came to pass after Israel had been taken captive and Jerusalem had been laid waste, Jeremiah sat weeping and lamented this lament over Jerusalem, and said….” Scholars generally view the preface in the LXX and Vulgate as a later addition, though the style is Hebrew rather than Greek.
3 tn The adverb אֵיכָה (’ekhah) is used as an exclamation of lament or desperation: “How!” (BDB 32 s.v.) or “Alas!” (HALOT 40 s.v. 1.e). It is often the first word in laments (Isa 1:21; Jer 48:17; Lam 1:1; 2:1; 4:1, 2). Like the less emphatic exclamation אֵיךְ (’ekh, “Alas!”) (2 Sam 1:19; Isa 14:4, 12; Ezek 26:17), it is used in contexts of lament and mourning.
sn The term אֵיכָה (’ekhah, “Alas!”) and counterpart אֵיךְ (’ekh, “Alas!”) are normally uttered in contexts of mourning as exclamations of lament over a deceased person (2 Sam 1:19; Isa 14:4, 12). The prophets borrow this term from its normal Sitz im Leben in the funeral lament and rhetorically place it in the context of announcements or descriptions of God’s judgment (Isa 1:21; Jer 48:17; Ezek 26:17; Lam 1:1; 2:1; 4:1, 2). This creates a personification of the city/nation which is either in danger of imminent “death” or already has “died” as a result of the
4 tn Heb “great of people.” The construct רַבָּתִי עָם (rabbati ’am, “great of people”) is an idiom for large population: “full of people, populous” (BDB 912-13 s.v. I רַב; HALOT 1172 s.v. 7.a). The hireq-campaginis ending on רַבָּתִי (rabbati), from the adjective רַב (rav, “great”), is a remnant of the old genitive-construct case (GKC 253 §90.l). By contrast to the first half of the line, it is understood that she was full of people formerly. רַבָּתִי עָם (rabbati ’am) may also be construed as a title.
sn Two thirds of Lamentations is comprised of enjambed lines rather than Hebrew poetry’s more frequent couplets of parallel phrasing. This serves a rhetorical effect not necessarily apparent if translated in the word order of English prose. Together with the alphabetic acrostic form, these pull the reader/hearer along through the various juxtaposed pictures of horror and grief. For further study on the import of these stylistic features to the function of Lamentations see F. W. Dobbs-Allsopp, Lamentations (IBC), 12-20; idem, “The Enjambing Line in Lamentations: A Taxonomy (Part 1),” ZAW 113/2 (2001): 219-39; idem, “The Effects of Enjambment in Lamentations,” ZAW 113/5 (2001): 1-16. However, for the sake of English style and clarity, the translation does not necessarily reflect the Hebrew style and word order.
5 tn The noun בָּדָד (badad, “isolation, alone”) functions as adverbial accusative of state. After verbs of dwelling, it pictures someone sitting apart, which may be linked to dwelling securely, especially of a city or people (Num 23:9; Deut 33:28; Jer 49:31; Ps 4:8 [HT 9]), or to isolation (Lev 13:46; Jer 15:17; 3:28). Applied to personified Jerusalem, it contrasts a possible connotation of dwelling securely, instead stating that Lady Jerusalem is abandoned and connoting that the city is deserted.
6 tn Heb “great.” The adjective רַב (rav, “great”) is used in reference to a position of prominence, leadership (Ps 48:3; Dan 11:3, 5) or strength (Isa 53:12; 63:1; 2 Chr 14:10) (BDB 913 s.v. 2.b; HALOT 1172 s.v. 6). The hireq-campaginis ending on רַבָּתִי (rabbati) from the adjective רַב (rav, “great”) is a remnant of the old genitive-construct case (GKC 253 §90.l). This adjective is the same word mentioned at the beginning of the verse in the phrase “full of people.” These may also be construed as epithets.
7 tn The kaf (כּ) prefixed to אַלְמָנָה (’almanah, “widow”) expresses identity (“has become a widow”) rather than comparison (“has become like a widow”) (see HALOT 453 s.v. 1; BDB 454 s.v. כְּ 1.d). The construction emphasizes the class of widowhood.
8 tn The noun שָׂרָתִי (sarati, “princess”) is in construct with the following noun. The hireq-campaginis ending on שָׂרָתִי (sarati) is a remnant of the old genitive-construct case (GKC 253 §90.l).
sn Judah was organized into administrative districts or provinces under the rule of provincial governors (שָׂרִים, sarim) (1 Kgs 20:14, 17, 19). The feminine term שָׂרָה (sarah, “princess, provincial governess”) is a wordplay alluding to this political background: personified Jerusalem had ruled over the Judean provinces.
9 tn Heb “princess among the provinces.” The noun מְדִינָה (mÿdinah) is an Aramaic loanword which refers to an administrative district or province in the empire (e.g., Ezek 19:8; Dan 8:2) (BDB 193 s.v. 2; HALOT 549 s.v.).
11 tn The noun מַס (mas) means “forced labor, corveé slave, conscripted worker.” It refers to a subjugated population, subject to forced labor and/or heavy taxes (Gen 49:15; Exod 1:11; Deut 20:11; Josh 16:10; 17:13; Judg 1:28, 30, 33, 35; 1 Kgs 5:28; 9:15, 21; 12:18; 2 Chr 10:18; Isa 31:8; Lam 1:1).
15 tn The verb יָעִיב (ya’iv) is a hapax legomenon (a term that appears only once in Hebrew OT). Most lexicons take it as a denominative verb from the noun עָב (’av, “cloud,” HALOT 773 s.v. II עָב; BDB 728 s.v. עוּב): Hiphil imperfect 3rd person masculine singular from עוֹב (’ov) meaning “cover with a cloud, make dark” (HALOT 794 s.v. עוב) or “becloud” (BDB 728 s.v.): “the Lord has covered Daughter Zion with the cloud of His anger.” This approach is followed by many English versions (KJV, RSV, NASB, NIV). However, a few scholars relate it to a cognate Arabic verb “to blame, revile” (Ehrlich, Rudolph, Hillers): “the Lord has shamed Daughter Zion in His anger.” Several English versions adopt this (NRSV, NJPS, CEV). The picture of cloud and wrath concurs with the stanza’s connection to “day of the Lord” imagery.
16 tn The common gloss for זָכַר (zakhar) is “remember.” זָכַר (zakhar) entails “bearing something in mind” in a broader sense than the English gloss “remember.” When God “bears someone in mind,” the consequences are beneficial for them. The implication of not regarding his footstool is to not esteem and so not care for or protect it.
17 tn Heb “the footstool of His feet.” The noun הֲדֹם (hadom, “footstool”), always joined with רַגְלַיִם (raglayim, “feet”) is always used figuratively in reference to the dwelling place of God (BDB 213 s.v. הֲדֹם). It usually refers to the
18 tn Heb “in the day of His anger.” As a temporal reference this phrase means “when he displayed his anger.” The Hebrew term “day,” associated with the “day of the Lord” or “day of his wrath” also functions as a title in a technical sense.
19 sn 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.
21 tn 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.”
22 tc 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.
tn Heb “changes.” The imagery in this verse about gold is without parallel in the Bible and its precise nuance uncertain.
23 tn Heb “the stones of holiness/jewelry.” קֹדֶשׁ (qodesh) in most cases refers to holiness or sacredness. For the meaning “jewelry” see J. A. Emerton, “The Meaning of אַבְנֵי־קֹדֶשׁ in Lamentations 4:1” ZAW 79 (1967): 233-36.
24 tn Heb “at the head of every street.”
25 tn Heb “they are regarded as.”
26 tn Heb “the work of the hands of a potter.”