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Lamentations 5

The People of Jerusalem Pray:

5:1 1 O Lord, reflect on 2  what has happened to us;

consider 3  and look at 4  our disgrace.

5:2 Our inheritance 5  is turned over to strangers;

foreigners now occupy our homes. 6 

5:3 We have become fatherless orphans;

our mothers have become widows.

5:4 We must pay money 7  for our own water; 8 

we must buy our own wood at a steep price. 9 

5:5 We are pursued – they are breathing down our necks; 10 

we are weary and have no rest. 11 

5:6 We have submitted 12  to Egypt and Assyria

in order to buy food to eat. 13 

5:7 Our forefathers 14  sinned and are dead, 15 

but we 16  suffer 17  their punishment. 18 

5:8 Slaves 19  rule over us;

there is no one to rescue us from their power. 20 

5:9 At the risk 21  of our lives 22  we get our food 23 

because robbers lurk 24  in the countryside. 25 

5:10 Our skin is hot as an oven

due to a fever from hunger. 26 

5:11 They raped 27  women in Zion,

virgins in the towns of Judah.

5:12 Princes were hung by their hands;

elders were mistreated. 28 

5:13 The young men perform menial labor; 29 

boys stagger from their labor. 30 

5:14 The elders are gone from the city gate;

the young men have stopped playing their music.

5:15 Our hearts no longer have any joy; 31 

our dancing is turned to mourning.

5:16 The crown has fallen from our head;

woe to us, for we have sinned!

5:17 Because of this, our hearts are sick; 32 

because of these things, we can hardly see 33  through our tears. 34 

5:18 For wild animals 35  are prowling over Mount Zion,

which lies desolate.

5:19 But you, O Lord, reign forever;

your throne endures from generation to generation.

5:20 Why do you keep on forgetting 36  us?

Why do you forsake us so long?

5:21 Bring us back to yourself, O Lord, so that we may return 37  to you;

renew our life 38  as in days before, 39 

5:22 unless 40  you have utterly rejected us 41 

and are angry with us beyond measure. 42 

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1 sn The speaking voice is now that of a choir singing the community’s lament in the first person plural. The poem is not an alphabetic acrostic like the preceding chapters but has 22 verses, the same as the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet.

2 tn The basic meaning of זָכַר (zakhar) is “to remember, call to mind” (HALOT 270 s.v. I זכר). Although often used of recollection of past events, זָכַר (zakhar, “to remember”) can also describe consideration of present situations: “to consider, think about” something present (BDB 270 s.v. 5), hence “reflect on,” the most appropriate nuance here. Verses 1-6 describe the present plight of Jerusalem. The parallel requests הַבֵּיט וּרְאֵה (habbet urÿeh, “Look and see!”) have a present-time orientation as well. See also 2:1; 3:19-20.

3 tn Heb “Look!” Although often used in reference to visual perception, נָבַט (navat, “to look”) can also refer to cognitive consideration and mental attention shown to a situation: “to regard” (e.g., 1 Sam 16:7; 2 Kgs 3:14), “to pay attention to, consider” (e.g., Isa 22:8; Isa 51:1, 2).

4 tn Although normally used in reference to visual sight, רָאָה (raah) is often used in reference to cognitive processes and mental observation. See the note on “Consider” at 2:20.

5 tn Heb “Our inheritance”; or “Our inherited possessions/property.” The term נַחֲלָה (nakhalah) has a range of meanings: (1) “inheritance,” (2) “portion, share” and (3) “possession, property.” The land of Canaan was given by the Lord to Israel as its inheritance (Deut 4:21; 15:4; 19:10; 20:16; 21:23; 24:4; 25:19; 26:1; Josh 20:6) and distributed among the tribes, clans and families (Num 16:14; 36:2; Deut 29:7; Josh 11:23; 13:6; 14:3, 13; 17:4, 6, 14; 19:49; 23:4; Judg 18:1; Ezek 45:1; 47:22, 29). Through the family, the family provided an inheritance (property) to its children with the first-born receiving pride of position (Gen 31:14; Num 27:7-11; 36:3, 8; 1 Kgs 21:3, 4; Job 42:15; Prov 19:14; Ezek 46:16). Here, the parallelism between “our inheritance” and “our homes” would allow for the specific referent of the phrase “our inheritance” to be (1) land or (2) material possessions, or given the nature of the poetry in Lamentations, to carry both meanings at the same time.

6 tn Heb “our homes [are turned over] to foreigners.”

7 tn Heb “silver.” The term “silver” is a synecdoche of species (= silver) for general (= money).

8 tn Heb “We drink our water for silver.”

9 tn Heb “our wood comes for a price.”

10 tn Heb “We are hard-driven on our necks”

11 sn For the theological allusion that goes beyond physical rest, see, e.g., Deut 12:10; 25:19; Josh 1:13; 11:23; 2 Sam 7:1, 11; 1 Chron 22:18; 2 Chron 14:6-7

12 tn Heb “we have given the hand”; cf. NRSV “We have made a pact.” This is a Semitic idiom meaning “to make a treaty with” someone, placing oneself in a subservient position as vassal. The prophets criticized these treaties.

13 tn Heb “bread.” The term “bread” is a synecdoche of specific (= bread) for the general (= food).

14 tn Heb “fathers,” but here the term also refers to “forefathers,” i.e., more distant ancestors.

15 tn Heb “and are no more.”

16 tc The Kethib is written אֲנַחְנוּ (’anakhnu, “we”) but the Qere reads וַאֲנַחְנוּ (vaanakhnu, “but we”). The Qere is supported by many medieval Hebrew mss, as well as most of the ancient versions (Aramaic Targum, Syriac Peshitta, Latin Vulgate). The ו (vav) prefixed to וַאֲנַחְנוּ (vaanakhnu) functions either in a disjunctive sense (“but”) or resultant sense (“so”).

17 tn Heb “so we bear.”

18 tn Heb “their iniquities.” The noun עָוֹן (’avon) has a broad range of meanings, including: (1) iniquity, (2) guilt of iniquity, and (3) consequence or punishment for iniquity (cause-effect metonymical relation). The context suggests that “punishment for sin” is most appropriate here (e.g., Gen 4:13; 19:15; Exod 28:38, 43; Lev 5:1, 17; 7:18; 10:17; 16:22; 17:16; 19:8; 20:17, 19; 22:16; 26:39, 41, 43; Num 5:31; 14:34; 18:1, 23; 30:15; 1 Sam 25:24; 28:10; 2 Sam 14:9; 2 Kgs 7:9; Job 10:14; Pss 31:11; 69:28; 106:43; Prov 5:22; Isa 5:18; 30:13; 40:2; 53:6, 11; 64:5, 6; Jer 51:6; Lam 4:22; 5:7; Ezek 4:4-6, 17; 7:16; 14:10; 18:19-20; 21:30, 34; 24:23; 32:27; 35:5; 39:23; 44:10, 12).

19 tn Heb “slaves.” While indicating that social structures are awry, the expression “slaves rule over us” might be an idiom for “tyrants rule over us.” This might find its counterpart in the gnomic truth that the most ruthless rulers are made of former slaves: “Under three things the earth quakes, under four it cannot bear up: under a slave when he becomes king” (Prov 30:21-22a).

20 tn Heb “hand.”

21 tn Heb “at the cost of our lives.” The preposition ב (bet) here denotes purchase price paid (e.g., Gen 30:16; Exod 34:20; 2 Sam 3:14; 24:24) (BDB 90 s.v. בְּ 3.a). The expression בְּנַפְשֵׁנוּ (bÿnafshenu) means “at the risk of our lives.” Similar expressions include בְנַפְשׁוֹ (bÿnafsho, “at the cost of his life,” 1 Kgs 2:23; Prov 7:23) and בְּנַפְשׁוֹתָם (bÿnafshotam, “at peril of their lives,” 2 Sam 23:17).

22 tn Heb “our soul.” The noun נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “soul”) is used as a metonymy (= soul) of association (= life) (e.g., Gen 44:30; Exod 21:23; 2 Sam 14:7; Jon 1:14).

23 tn Heb “bread.” The term “bread” is a synecdoche of specific (= bread) for the general (= food).

24 tn Heb “because of the sword.” The term “sword” is a metonymy of instrument (= sword) for the persons who use the instrument (= murderers or marauders).

25 tn Heb “the wilderness.”

26 tn Heb “because of the burning heat of famine.”

27 tn Heb “ravished.”

28 tn Heb “elders were shown no respect.” The phrase “shown no respect” is an example of tapeinosis, a figurative expression of understatement: to show no respect to elders = to terribly mistreat elders.

29 tn The text is difficult. Word by word the MT has “young men hand mill(?) they take up” Perhaps it means “they take [our] young men for mill grinding,” or perhaps it means “the young men take up [the labor of] mill grinding.” This expression is an example of synecdoche where the mill stands for the labor at the mill and then that labor stands for performing menial physical labor as servants. The surface reading, “young men carry hand mills,” does not portray any great adversity for them. The Vulgate translates as an abusive sexual metaphor (see D. R. Hillers, Lamentations [AB], 99), but this gives no known parallel to the second part of the verse.

30 tc Heb “boys trip over wood.” This phrase makes little sense. The translation adopts D. R. Hillers’ suggestion (Lamentations [AB], 99) of בְּעֶצֶב כָּשָׁלוּ (bÿetsev kashalu). Due to letter confusion and haplography the final ב (bet) of בְּעֶצֶב (bÿetsev) which looks like the כ (kaf) beginning the next word, was dropped. This verb can have an abstract noun after the preposition ב (bet) meaning “from, due to” rather than “over.”

31 tn Heb “the joy of our heart has ceased.”

32 tn Heb “are faint” or “are sick.” The adjective דַּוָּי (davvay, “faint”) is used in reference to emotional sorrow (e.g., Isa 1:5; Lam 1:22; Jer 8:18). The related adjective דָּוֶה (daveh) means “(physically) sick” and “(emotionally) sad,” while the related verb דָּוָה (davah) means “to be sad.” The cognate Aramaic term means “sorrow,” and the cognate Syriac term refers to “misery.”

33 tn Heb “our eyes are dim.” The physical description of losing sight is metaphorical, perhaps for being blinded by tears or more abstractly for being unable to see (= envision) any hope. The collocation “darkened eyes” is too rare to clarify the nuance.

34 tn The phrase “through our tears” is added in the translation for the sake of clarification.

35 tn Heb “jackals.” The term “jackals” is a synecdoche of species (= jackals) for general (= wild animals).

36 tn The Hebrew verb “forget” often means “to not pay attention to, ignore,” just as the Hebrew “remember” often means “to consider, attend to.”

sn The verbs “to forget” and “to remember” are often used figuratively in scripture when God is the subject, particularly in contexts of judgment (God forgets his people) and restoration of blessing (God remembers his people). In this case, the verb “to forget” functions as a hypocatastasis (implied comparison), drawing a comparison between God’s judgment and rejection of Jerusalem to a person forgetting that Jerusalem even exists. God’s judgment of Jerusalem was so intense and enduring that it seemed as though he had forgotten her. The synonymous parallelism makes this clear.

37 tc The Kethib is וְנָשׁוּב (vÿnashuv, “and we will return,” ו [vav] conjunction + Qal imperfect 1st person common plural from שׁוּב [shuv, “to return”]). The Qere is וְנָשׁוּבָה (vÿnashuvah, “and let us return,” ו [vav] conjunction + Qal cohortative 1st person common plural from שׁוּב [shuv, “to return”]).

tn The cohortative after a volitive indicates purpose (“so that”). There is a wordplay in Hebrew between “Bring us back” (Hiphil imperative of שׁוּב [shuv, “to return”]) and “let us return” (Qal imperfect of שׁוּב [shuv, “to return”]). This repetition of the root שׁוּב (shuv) is significant; it depicts a reciprocal relationship between God’s willingness to allow the nation to return to him on one hand and its national repentance on the other.

38 tn Heb “our days.” The term “days” is a synecdoche of time (= days) for what is experienced within that time span (= life) (e.g., Gen 5:4, 8, 11; 6:3; 9:29; 11:32; 25:7; 47:8, 9; Deut 22:19, 29; 23:7; Josh 24:31; Judg 2:7, 18; 2 Sam 19:35; Job 7:1, 16, 18; Pss 8:9; 39:5, 6; 90:9, 10, 12, 14; 103:15; Prov 31:12; Eccl 2:3; 5:17, 19; 6:3).

39 tn Heb “as of old.”

40 tn The compound conjunction כִּי אִם (kiim) functions to limit the preceding clause: “unless, or…” (e.g., Ruth 3:18; Isa 65:6; Amos 3:7) (BDB 474 s.v. 2.a): “Bring us back to yourself… unless you have utterly rejected us” (as in the present translation) or “Bring us back to yourself…Or have you utterly rejected us?” It is Jeremiah’s plea that the Lord be willing to relent of his anger and restore a repentant nation to himself; however, Jeremiah acknowledges that this wished-for restoration might not be possible if the Lord has become so angry with Jerusalem/Judah that he is determined to reject the nation once and for all. Then, Jerusalem/Judah’s restoration would be impossible.

41 tn Heb “Or have you utterly rejected us?” The construction מָאֹס מְאַסְתָּנוּ (maos mÿastanu), Qal infinitive absolute + Qal perfect 2nd person masculine singular from מָאַס (maas, “to reject”) is emphatic: the root מָאַס (maas) is repeated in these two verbal forms for emphasis.

42 tn Heb “Are you exceedingly angry with us?” The construction עַד־מְאֹד (’ad-mÿod) means “up to an abundance, to a great degree, exceedingly” (e.g., Gen 27:33, 34; 1 Sam 11:15; 25:36; 2 Sam 2:17; 1 Kgs 1:4; Pss 38:7, 9; 119:8, 43, 51, 107; Isa 64:9, 12; Lam 5:22; Dan 8:8; 11:25). Used in reference to God’s judgment, this phrase denotes total and irrevocable rejection by God and his refusal to forgive the sin and restore the people to a status under his grace and blessings, e.g., “Do not be angry beyond measure (עַד־מְאֹד, ’ad-mÿod), O Lord; do not remember our sins forever” (Isa 64:9) and “Will you keep silent and punish us beyond measure (עַד־מְאֹד, ’ad-mÿod)?” (Isa 64:12). The sentiment is expressed well in TEV, “Or have you rejected us forever? Is there no limit to your anger?” and CEV, “Or do you despise us so much that you don’t want us?”

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