Study Guide

Lamentations Suffering

Suffering

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow. (NRSV 1:12)

Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? Behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow. (KJV 1:12)

The Poet sees people passing by without noticing, and here he is, suffering more than anyone has ever suffered. What's worse: passersby not noticing or passersby who mock and humiliate you? We'd say Jerusalem sounds a bit like a melodramatic teenager—No one's life is worse than mine!

For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed. Zion stretches out her hands, but there is no one to comfort her. (NRSV 1:16-17)

For these things I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed. Zion spreadeth forth her hands, and there is none to comfort her. (KJV 1:16-17)

Zion is feeling completely abandoned, which makes the suffering worse. No one wants to suffer alone; we all hope someone will be there to comfort us.

Behold my suffering; my young women and young men have gone into captivity. I called to my lovers but they deceived me; my priests and elders perished in the city while seeking food to revive their strength. See, O Lord, how distressed I am; my stomach churns, my heart is wrung within me, because I have been very rebellious. In the street the sword bereaves; in the house it is like death. They heard how I was groaning, with no one to comfort me. All my enemies heard of my trouble; they are glad that you have done it. (NRSV 1:18-21)

Behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity. I called for my lovers, but they deceived me: my priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls. Behold, O Lord; for I am in distress: my bowels are troubled; mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled: abroad the sword bereaveth, at home there is as death. They have heard that I sigh: there is none to comfort me: all mine enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that thou hast done it. (KJV 1:18-21)

The sight of all this suffering is making the poet physically sick. Nothing's worse than to think you brought all this suffering on yourself. To think that your leaders and heroes are responsible for this just adds to the pain. The only people who like seeing this sight? The enemies of Jerusalem.

Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street. Look, O Lord, and consider! To whom have you done this? Should women eat their offspring, the children they have borne? Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord? The young and the old are lying on the ground in the streets; my young women and my young men have fallen by the sword; in the day of your anger you have killed them, slaughtering without mercy. You invited my enemies from all around as if for a day of festival; and on the day of the anger of the Lord no one escaped or survived; those whom I bore and reared my enemy has destroyed. (NRSV 2:19-22)

Lift up thy hands toward him for the life of thy young children, that faint for hunger in the top of every street. Behold, O Lord, and consider to whom thou hast done this. Shall the women eat their fruit, and children of a span long? Shall the priest and the prophet be slain in the sanctuary of the Lord? The young and the old lie on the ground in the streets: my virgins and my young men are fallen by the sword; thou hast slain them in the day of thine anger; thou hast killed, and not pitied. Thou hast called as in a solemn day my terrors round about, so that in the day of the Lord's anger none escaped nor remained: those that I have swaddled and brought up hath mine enemy consumed. (KJV 2:19-22)

The Poet asks a rhetorical question—Is this the way things should be? The answer is a definite no. This suffering makes no sense at all. The Poet thinks it's just too much, and he plays the dying children card in his argument with God. Who could be more innocent than children? The whole social order has been turned on its head.

I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God's wrath; he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; against me alone he turns his hand, again and again, all day long. He has made my flesh and my skin waste away, and broken my bones; he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago. He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has put heavy chains on me; though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; he has blocked my ways with hewn stones, he has made my paths crooked. He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; he led me off my way and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; he bent his bow and set me as a mark for his arrow. He shot into my vitals the arrows of his quiver. (NRSV 3:1-13)

I am the man that hath seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He hath led me, and brought me into darkness, but not into light. Surely against me is he turned; he turneth his hand against me all the day. My flesh and my skin hath he made old; he hath broken my bones. He hath builded against me, and compassed me with gall and travail. He hath set me in dark places, as they that be dead of old. He hath hedged me about, that I cannot get out: he hath made my chain heavy. Also when I cry and shout, he shutteth out my prayer. He hath inclosed my ways with hewn stone, he hath made my paths crooked. He was unto me as a bear lying in wait, and as a lion in secret places. He hath turned aside my ways, and pulled me in pieces: he hath made me desolate. He hath bent his bow, and set me as a mark for the arrow. He hath caused the arrows of his quiver to enter into my reins. (KJV 3:1-13)

This passage shows the utter helplessness the Poet is feeling as he wrote it. Not only is he physically and emotionally broken, but there's no way out. The clear implication is that only God can open the doors of his prison.

My eyes flow with rivers of tears because of the destruction of my people. My eyes will flow without ceasing, without respite. (NRSV 3:48-49)

Mine eye runneth down with rivers of water for the destruction of the daughter of my people. Mine eye trickleth down, and ceaseth not, without any intermission. (KJV 3:48-49)

His grieving will go on indefinitely, according to the Poet. It's as if there can be no amount of weeping that can do justice to what's happened to his people.

Those who feasted on delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple cling to ash heaps. For the chastisement of my people has been greater than the punishment of Sodom, which was overthrown in a moment, though no hand was laid on it. Her princes were purer than snow, whiter than milk; their bodies were more ruddy than coral, their hair like sapphire. Now their visage is blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets. Their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as wood. Happier were those pierced by the sword than those pierced by hunger, whose life drains away, deprived of the produce of the field. (NRSV 4:5-9)

They that did feed delicately are desolate in the streets: they that were brought up in scarlet embrace dunghills. For the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her. Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire: Their visage is blacker than a coal; they are not known in the streets: their skin cleaveth to their bones; it is withered, it is become like a stick. They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field. (KJV 4:5-9)

Here we get a glimpse of what Jerusalem was like before it was leveled. The people had it good; sounds like they were pampered. So it was a long way down. You know you've got it bad when you're compared unfavorably to Sodom. When you're miserable, it's torture to think about how good things used to be.

Happier were those pierced by the sword than those pierced by hunger, whose life drains away, deprived of the produce of the field. (NRSV 4:9)

They that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger: for these pine away, stricken through for want of the fruits of the field. (KJV 4:9)

Do you agree with the Poet that it's better to die quickly? When you're better off dead, things are pretty bad.

We get our bread at the peril of our lives, because of the sword in the wilderness. Our skin is black as an oven from the scorching heat of famine. Women are raped in Zion, virgins in the towns of Judah. Princes are hung up by their hands; no respect is shown to the elders. Young men are compelled to grind, and boys stagger under loads of wood. (NRSV 5:9-13)

We gat our bread with the peril of our lives because of the sword of the wilderness. Our skin was black like an oven because of the terrible famine. They ravished the women in Zion, and the maids in the cities of Judah. Princes are hanged up by their hand: the faces of elders were not honoured. They took the young men to grind, and the children fell under the wood. (KJV 5:9-13)

The people are turned into slaves and tortured. Unfortunately, this passage sounds like it could be right out of the NBC Nightly News. Famine, enslavement, mass rape and murder are the M.O. of a lot of crazy invaders these days.

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