pure gold loses value. 4
Jewels 5 are scattered
on every street corner. 6
4:2 The precious sons of Zion
were worth their weight in gold –
Alas! – but now they are treated like 7 broken clay pots,
made by a potter. 8
at their breast, 10
but my people 11 are cruel,
like ostriches 12 in the desert.
4:4 The infant’s tongue sticks
to the roof of its mouth due to thirst;
little children beg for bread, 13
but no one gives them even a morsel. 14
are now starving to death 16 in the streets.
exceeded that of 23 of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment
with no one to help her. 24
whiter than milk;
their bodies more ruddy than corals,
they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it is dried up, like tree bark.
than those who die of hunger, 30
1 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.
3 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.”
4 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.
5 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.
6 tn Heb “at the head of every street.”
7 tn Heb “they are regarded as.”
8 tn Heb “the work of the hands of a potter.”
10 tn Heb “draw out the breast and suckle their young.”
11 tn Heb “the daughter of my people.”
12 tc The MT Kethib form כִּי עֵנִים (ki ’enim) is by all accounts a textual corruption for כַּיְעֵנִים (kay’enim, “like ostriches”) which is preserved in the Qere and the medieval Hebrew
13 tn Heb “bread.” The term “bread” might function as a synecdoche of specific (= bread) for general (= food); however, the following parallel line does indeed focus on the act of breaking bread in two.
14 tn Heb “there is not a divider to them.” The term פָּרַשׂ (paras), Qal active participle ms from פָּרַס (paras, “to divide”) refers to the action of breaking bread in two before giving it to a person to eat (Isa 58:7; Jer 16:7; Lam 4:4). The form פָּרַשׂ (paras) is the alternate spelling of the more common פָּרַס (paras).
15 tn Heb “eaters of delicacies.” An alternate English gloss would be “connoisseurs of fine foods.”
16 tn Heb “are desolate.”
17 tn Heb “were reared.”
18 tn Heb “in purple.” The term תוֹלָע (tola’, “purple”) is a figurative description of expensive clothing: it is a metonymy of association: the color of the dyed clothes (= purple) stands for the clothes themselves.
19 tn Heb “embrace garbage.” One may also translate “rummage through” (cf. NCV “pick through trash piles”; TEV “pawing through refuse”; NLT “search the garbage pits.”
20 tn The Hebrew word אַשְׁפַּתּוֹת (’ashpatot) can also mean “ash heaps.” Though not used as a combination elsewhere, to “embrace ash heaps” might also envision a state of mourning or even dead bodies lying on the ash heaps.
21 tn The noun עֲוֹן (’avon) has a basic two-fold range of meanings: (1) basic meaning: “iniquity, sin” and (2) metonymical cause for effect meaning: “punishment for iniquity.”
22 tn Heb “the daughter of my people.”
23 tn Heb “the sin of.” The noun חַטָּאת (khatta’t) often means “sin, rebellion,” but here it probably functions in a metonymical (cause for effect) sense: “punishment for sin” (e.g., Zech 14:19). The context focuses on the severity of the punishment of Jerusalem rather than the depths of its degradation and depravity that led to the judgment.
24 tn Heb “without a hand turned.” The preposition ב (bet) after the verb חוּל (khul) in Hos 11:6 is adversative “the sword will turn against [Assyria’s] cities.” Other contexts with חוּל (khul) plus ב (bet) are not comparable (ב [bet] often being locative). However, it is not certain that hands must be adversarial as the sword clearly is in Hos 11:6. The present translation pictures the suddenness of Sodom’s overthrow as an easier fate than the protracted military campaign and subsequent exile and poverty of Judah’s survivor’s.
25 tn Heb “Nazirites” (so KJV). The Nazirites were consecrated under a vow to refrain from wine, contact with the dead, and from cutting their hair. In Gen 49:26 and Deut 33:16 Joseph, who was not a Nazirite, is called the “Nazir” of his brothers. From context, many translate this as “prince” (e.g., NAB, NIV, NRSV, NLT), though the nuance is uncertain. If it is valid, then princes might be understood in this context as well.
26 tn The noun גִּזְרָה (gizrah) is used primarily in Ezekiel 41-42 (seven of its nine uses), where it refers to a separated area of the temple complex described in Ezekiel’s vision. It is not used of people other than here. Probably based on the reference to a precious stone BDB 160 s.v. 1 postulated that it refers to the cutting or polishing of precious stones, but this is conjecture. The English versions handle this variously. D. R. Hillers suggests beards, hair, or eyebrows based on other ancient Near Eastern comparisons between lapis lazuli and the body (Lamentations [AB], 81).
27 tn Heb “lapis lazuli.” Lapis lazuli is a dark blue semi-precious stone.
28 tn Heb “their outline” or “their form.” The Hebrew noun תֹּאַר (to’ar, “outline, form”) is related to the Phoenician noun תֹּאַר (to’ar, “something gazed at”), and Aramaic verb תָּאַר (ta’ar, “to gaze at”). It is used in reference to the form of a woman (Gen 29:17; Deut 21:11; 1 Sam 25:3; Esth 2:7) and of a man (Gen 39:11; Judg 8:18; 1 Sam 16:18; 28:14; 1 Kgs 1:6; 1 Chr 17:17; Isa 52:14; 53:2). Here it is used in a metonymical sense: “appearance.”
29 tn Heb “those pierced of the sword.” The genitive-construct denotes instrumentality: “those pierced by the sword” (חַלְלֵי־חֶרֶב, khalle-kherev). The noun חָלָל (khalal) refers to a “fatal wound” and is used substantivally to refer to “the slain” (Num 19:18; 31:8, 19; 1 Sam 17:52; 2 Sam 23:8, 18; 1 Chr 11:11, 20; Isa 22:2; 66:16; Jer 14:18; 25:33; 51:49; Lam 4:9; Ezek 6:7; 30:11; 31:17, 18; 32:20; Zeph 2:12).
30 tn Heb “those slain of hunger.” The genitive-construct denotes instrumentality: “those slain by hunger,” that is, those who are dying of hunger.
31 tn Heb “who…” The antecedent of the relative pronoun שֶׁהֵם (shehem, “who”) are those dying of hunger in the previous line: מֵחַלְלֵי רָעָב (mekhalle ra’av, “those slain of hunger”).
32 tn Heb “they flow away.” The verb זוּב (zuv, “to flow, gush”) is used figuratively here, meaning “to pine away” or “to waste away” from hunger. See also the next note.
33 tn Heb “pierced through and through.” The term מְדֻקָּרִים (mÿduqqarim), Pual participle masculine plural from דָּקַר (daqar, “to pierce”), is used figuratively. The verb דָּקַר (daqar, “to pierce”) usually refers to a fatal wound inflicted by a sword or spear (Num 25:8; Judg 9:54; 1 Sam 31:4; 1 Chr 10:4; Isa 13:15; Jer 37:10; 51:4; Zech 12:10; 13:3). Here, it describes people dying from hunger. This is an example of hypocatastasis: an implied comparison between warriors being fatally pierced by sword and spear and the piercing pangs of hunger and starvation. Alternatively “those who hemorrhage (זוּב [zuv, “flow, gush”]) [are better off] than those pierced by lack of food” in parallel to the structure of the first line.
35 tn Heb “produce of the field.”