The Babylonian Captivity (Jeremiah 20–22; 24–29; 32; 34–45; 52; :Lamentations

Old Testament Student Manual Kings-Malachi, (1982), 245–51


(24-1) Introduction

Jeremiah, left behind in a desolate city by the Babylonian captors, asked some pointed questions. How did it happen that a city once full of people, visited by kings and queens of other nations, now lay desolate and empty? There was no echo of people calling in its streets. Anything of value now rested in other homes, in other temples. How could it happen? Indeed, why do great men and women—like great cities—fail to maintain their greatness and fall short of their destiny?

Jeremiah had the answers to these questions. What he needed was someone to truly listen.

This chapter surveys Jeremiah’s teachings and warnings to his people in the context of the impending Babylonian captivity. (see 2 Kings 24–25.) But Jeremiah was not just a prophet of doom, although it may seem so in this lesson. Like Enoch (see Moses 7:41–69), Jeremiah was allowed to see the coming of the Savior and the restoration of God’s church and people in the latter days. (See chap. 25.)

As you read Lamentations and the historical chapters of Jeremiah, observe the correlation between a nation’s righteousness and its long-term power, the correlation between a people’s leaders and the righteousness of the people, and the relationship between a prophet and God’s dealings with His children.

Notes and Commentary on Jeremiah 20–22; 24–29; 32; 34–45; 52

(24-2) Jeremiah 20:1–6. Jeremiah in Stocks

Jeremiah 19:14–15records Jeremiah’s standing in the court of the temple, again reminding the people of the troubles that lay ahead because of their wickedness. When Pashur, the chief overseer of the temple, heard of the incident, he had Jeremiah beaten and placed in stocks. Stocks were an instrument of torture by which the body was forced into an unnatural position, much as the wooden stocks of medieval times confined parts of the body, such as the arms, legs, or head, by means of wooden beams that locked them into place.

Far from being cowed by this harsh treatment, Jeremiah used it as a further opportunity to teach. Pashur, in Hebrew, means “free.” Jeremiah, upon being released, told Pashur that the Lord had a different name for him. Jeremiah said that God had not called him Pashur, or “free,” but Magor-missabib, which means “fear on every side.” (see Jeremiah 20:3–4.)

(24-3) Jeremiah 20:7–18. The Weight of God’s Word

The great stress the prophetic calling caused Jeremiah is particularly discernible in Jeremiah 20:7–8, 14–18. The Hebrew word translated in verse 7 as “deceived” means literally “enticed” or “persuaded.” The power that persuaded the prophet to continue to preach God’s word at such great personal cost was “as a burning fire shut up in [his] bones” (v. 9). It could not be stayed. Verses 14–18 reflect Jeremiah’s despair over the lonely ministry he was given. Some scholars believe these verses originally were meant to precede verses 7–13 because the tenor of the lament changes in verses 11–13, in which Jeremiah began to praise the Lord.

(24-4) Jeremiah 21; 22:1–9. Will the Lord Do What He Has Said?

King Zedekiah sent Pashur to inquire of the Lord through Jeremiah concerning Jerusalem. Jeremiah’s response had three parts: (1) The answer to the king’s hope that the Lord would intervene to save Jerusalem from the Chaldeans (see Jeremiah 21:4–7) was clear: there was no hope. (2) Counsel on how the people and the royal family could preserve their lives by surrendering to the Chaldeans rather than fighting them (see vv. 8–10). (3) A prophecy concerning the house of David (see 21:11–14; 22:1–9), to which Jeremiah gave an alternative: If the king and his people would turn back to righteousness, the throne of David would be preserved (see Jeremiah 22:4), but if not, it would “become a desolation” (v. 5).

Gilead symbolized the richest soil Israel knew, and Lebanon the highest mountain and the finest trees (see v. 6). But the Lord sent His destroyers, and the finest lands were desolated. The reason is given in verse 9.

(24-5) Jeremiah 22:10–30. Specific Condemnations for Judah’s Rulers

“Weep not for the dead” (Jeremiah 22:10; see also vv. 11–12) refers to Josiah, king of Israel, who died of a wound received in the battle of Megiddo. “Weep sore for him that goeth away” (v. 10) refers to Shallum, or Jehoahaz, the son of Josiah and successor to the throne, who was carried away to Egypt. (See Enrichment G.)

The major teaching of Jeremiah 22:10–30is that the Lord’s fairest and most beloved people, Judah, faced great tragedy because of their iniquity. The people were not to mourn for their lost kings. Rather, they should mourn the impending tragedy and turn aside from their evil ways.

Jeremiah rebuked Jehoiakim for his self-centered life and his injustices to his people (see vv. 13–19), which were particularly evident when compared to the righteous deeds of his father, Josiah (see vv. 15–16).

An ass’s burial (see v. 19) meant to be left unburied in the open field. This prophecy probably was fulfilled when Jehoiakim was taken captive during Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem. (See Notes and Commentary on 2 Kings 24:5–7.)

The names Lebanon and Bashan (see Jeremiah 22:20) were used to describe the passage of Israel from Judah into Babylon. Just as the dry wind destroys the grazing land by eating the pastors, or pastures (see v. 22), so would Babylon destroy Judah’s shepherds and leaders.

Verse 23 is somewhat caustic. Because of their loftiness and beauty, the cedars of Lebanon often were used as a symbol of pride. Here they are symbols of Judah’s leaders, who are told to consider just how great they will be when the pains of war come.

(24-6) Jeremiah 22:24–30. Jehoiachin Shall Not Return

Jehoiachin, the son of Jehoiakim, was called Coniah by Jeremiah. Coniah was likened to a signet, which is a seal or ring that is valued both as a symbol of power and as a jewel. Then Coniah, or Jehoiachin, was told that if he were all that God had of value, in Jehoiachin’s present state of unrighteousness, Jehoiachin still would have to be delivered into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, never to return. (see vv. 25–27.)

Notes and Commentary on Jeremiah 23 are in chapter 25.

(24-7) Jeremiah 24. What Is the Meaning of the Parable of the Figs?

It was the Lord’s will that Judah submit to Babylonia, take their punishment, and repent. Those who did so were carried away “for their good” (Jeremiah 24:5). Zedekiah and others, however, refused to submit. Adam Clarke said:

“Under the type of good and bad figs, God represents the state of the persons who had already been carried captives into Babylon, with their king Jeconiah, compared with the state of those who should be carried away with Zedekiah. Those already carried away, being the choice of the people, are represented by the good figs: those now remaining, and soon to be carried into captivity, are represented by the bad figs, that were good for nothing. The state also of the former in their captivity was vastly preferable to the state of those who were now about to be delivered into the hand of the king of Babylon. The latter would be treated as double rebels; the former, being the most respectable of the inhabitants, were treated well; and even in captivity, a marked distinction would be made between them, God ordering it so. But the prophet sufficiently explains his own meaning. …

“[The Lord says,] Those already carried away into captivity, I esteem as far more excellent than those who still remain in the land. They have not sinned so deeply, and they are now penitent; and therefore, I will set mine eyes upon them for good, ver. 6. I will watch over them by an especial providence, and they shall be restored to their own land.” (The Holy Bible … with a Commentary and Critical Notes, 4:316–17; see also Enrichments G and  A.)

(24-8) Jeremiah 25:16–29. Who Will Drink the Cup of God’s Fury?

Commentary on the phrase “cup of [the Lord’s] fury” is found in Notes and Commentary on Isaiah 51:17–23. Beginning in Jerusalem and the cities of Judah, the bitter cup will be drunk by Egypt, the nations of the west and east, and Babylonia.

The last part of chapter 25 prophetically leaps forward into the future to the time of the battle of Armageddon. That battle is depicted here to show Judah that the wicked nations will not escape the Lord’s judgment. The language of these scriptures shows that what Jeremiah saw was the time when all nations shall gather together against the Lord’s people and be brought into judgment. Elder Joseph Fielding Smith specifically tied the Lord’s controversy with the nations to the last days (see The Signs of the Times, pp. 138–75). And the language of Jeremiah 25:32–33is similar to other scriptures about Armageddon. (See Notes and Commentary on Ezekiel 38–39; Enrichment I.)

(24-9) Jeremiah 26:1–9. Jerusalem As Shiloh

The book of Jeremiah is not arranged chronologically. For example, Jeremiah 25discusses the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim. Then, Jeremiah 26:1–9discusses the first year of his reign.

Jeremiah compared Jerusalem to Shiloh, which was the first permanent resting place for the tabernacle and the place at which the tribes cast lots for their inheritances. Shiloh was part of Ephraim’s heritage and was the place where Hannah took Samuel to serve Eli. The Lord was saying in Jeremiah 26:1–9that just as He allowed the tabernacle to be desecrated by the Philistines, so would He allow the temple to be desecrated by the Babylonians. And just as Shiloh was leveled for its wickedness, so would Jerusalem be destroyed. (see Jeremiah 7:12, 14.)

(24-10) Jeremiah 26:14–15. “Do with Me As Seemeth Good”

Compare Jeremiah’s words in verses 14–15 with those of Abinadi in Mosiah 17:9–10. Like Abinadi’s, Jeremiah’s message to his enemies was: “Do what you will, my word stands. If you choose to kill me, you will shed innocent blood, but you will not do away with my words.”

(24-11) Jeremiah 26:20–24. The Case of Urijah

The case of Urijah, recounted here at Jeremiah’s trial, shows the wickedness of King Jehoiakim. When Urijah heard of the king’s intent to kill him, he fled into Egypt. But, evidently, Egypt offered him no asylum, for he was extradited and slain by Jehoiakim himself. That this is the only account there is of Urijah and his ministry suggests that there were probably many prophets of whom we know nothing.

Verse 24 implies that Jeremiah, although acquitted, would likely have suffered Urijah’s fate at the hands of the populace had it not been for Ahikam, who protected him.

(24-12) Jeremiah 27. The Yoke of Bondage

Although Jeremiah 27:1dates the prophecy about Judah’s bondage to Jehoiakim’s reign, verses 3 and 12 suggest that it was given during Zedekiah’s reign, not Jehoiakim’s.

Ambassadors from several neighboring countries had come to Zedekiah with the proposal that unitedly they could defeat Babylon. Jeremiah was instructed to take bonds and yokes and wear them to symbolize that it was the Lord’s will that they submit to their would-be conquerors. The message that they not try to change the decrees of God was also given by Jeremiah. Their lands were assigned to Babylon until that country ripened in iniquity and reaped its own reward. A promise to Judah was given in verse 11 that submission was their only hope of retaining their lands.

Not every message that is claimed to be from God truly is (see v. 15), nor does every messenger bring His word. Jeremiah warned Zedekiah that the prophets who were saying that Babylon would not capture Judah should try to preserve the remnant of temple treasures left from the first and second conquests of Nebuchadnezzar. Jeremiah was pointing out that his promises of captivity were realistic, whereas the promises of delivery from Babylon made by the false prophets ignored reality, since the Babylonians had already proven they could conquer Judah with impunity.

(24-13) Jeremiah 28. Hananiah’s Challenge

The intensity of the debate that raged in Jerusalem is clearly seen in Jeremiah 28. Hananiah claimed to know from God that not only would Zedekiah’s people not go into captivity but that Babylonia’s power (yoke) had been broken and the temple treasures and the captives would be returned within two years (see vv. 1–4).

In verse 6, Jeremiah’s “Amen, the Lord do so,” is sarcastic, a challenge to see whose prophecies would be fulfilled. Moses taught that one test of a true prophet is whether his words come to pass (see Deuteronomy 18:22). Jeremiah had prophesied destruction and captivity; Hananiah, return and restoration. Jeremiah’s response was simply that the prophet whose words come to pass is the one chosen by the Lord (see v. 9).

To dramatize his prophecy, Hananiah broke the yokes off Jeremiah’s shoulders, predicting that God would do the same to Judah’s Babylonian yoke. The Lord’s response was simple and powerful: the yokes of wood would become yokes of iron (see v. 13).

Hananiah’s death, prophesied by Jeremiah (see vv. 15–17), should have convinced Zedekiah and the people which of these two men was the true prophet, but they were too hardened to respond.

(24-14) Jeremiah 29. Letter to the Captives

“As in Jerusalem, so too in Babylon the predictions of the false prophets fostered a lively hope that the domination of Nebuchadnezzar would not last long, and that the return of the exiles to their fatherland would soon come about. The spirit of discontent thus excited must have exercised an injurious influence on the fortunes of the captives, and could not fail to frustrate the aim which the chastisement inflicted by God was designed to work out, namely, the moral advancement of the people. Therefore Jeremiah makes use of an opportunity furnished by an embassy sent by King Zedekiah to Babel, to address a letter to the exiles, exhorting them to yield with submission to the lot God had assigned to them. He counsels them to prepare, by establishing their households there, for a long sojourn in Babel, and to seek the welfare of that country as the necessary condition of their own. They must not let themselves be deceived by the false prophets’ idle promises of a speedy return, since God will not bring them back and fulfil His glorious promises till after seventy years have passed (vers. 4–14).” (C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, 8:1:408–9.)

Notes and Commentary on Jeremiah 30–31 are given in chapter 25.

(24-15) Jeremiah 32:1–5. Jeremiah Imprisoned

From a strictly political point of view, one can understand why the Jewish leaders reacted so strongly against Jeremiah. In a time of national crisis, he called for surrender and submission to Babylon. But of course Jeremiah was not speaking from a political point of view; he spoke for the Lord. Zedekiah isolated Jeremiah from the people for prophesying in the midst of the siege of Judah’s imminent captivity and the king’s overthrow by the Babylonians (see v. 2). (For commentary on the seeming contradiction of Jeremiah’s prophecy with that of Ezekiel see Ezekiel 12:13; see also Notes and Commentary on 2 Kings 25:1–7.)

(24-16) Jeremiah 32:6–44. Why Did Jeremiah Bury the Proof of His Purchase?

Jeremiah purchased his cousin’s estate because he had the right as next of kin (see Leviticus 25:25; Ruth 4). He then sealed the evidence of the purchase in a jar (see Jeremiah 32:11–12) as proof of his faith in God’s promise that “houses and fields and vineyards shall be possessed again in this land” (v. 15). After Jeremiah’s death, the right of ownership would pass to Jeremiah’s closest kin. The rest of chapter 32 is the Lord’s certification to Jeremiah that people would truly return from Babylon to inhabit the land (see vv. 26–44).

(24-17) Jeremiah 32:36–41. Restoration and an Everlasting Covenant

Jeremiah clearly signaled a full return of all of the Lord’s people and the establishment of an eternal covenant with them. The fulfillment of this promise is yet to be fully realized in the dispensation of the fulness of times. (see 3 Nephi 20:29–46; 21.)

Notes and Commentary on Jeremiah 33 are found in chapter 25.

(24-18) Jeremiah 34:1–7. The Conquest of Jerusalem

Jeremiah 34:1–7concerns the conquest of the city by Nebuchadnezzar as well as Zedekiah’s captivity and death (see Notes and Commentary on 2 Kings 25:1–7).

(24-19) Jeremiah 34:8–22. In What Way Did Zedekiah Break His Covenant with the People?

“During the early period of the siege of Jerusalem, the men of the city released their Hebrew slaves. This may have been done partly because the old law required the release of slaves as provided for in Exo. 21:1and Deut. 15:2, and partly because of the need of manpower to defend the besieged city. At any rate, the release was guaranteed by a solemn covenant. Then the advance of the Egyptians seems to have caused the Babylonians to lift the siege. In spite of their solemn oath, and by ignoring the claims of brotherly love and ordinary justice, the men of the city proceeded to re-enslave their unfortunate brethren. This unrighteous act immediately brought down the Lord’s denunciation and terrible condemnation.” (Sidney B. Sperry, The Voice of Israel’s Prophets, pp. 182–83.)

(24-20) Jeremiah 35. The Example of the Rechabites

This chapter goes back in time to the reign of Jehoiakim, son of Josiah (see Jeremiah 25). In it Jeremiah set before the Jews the righteous example of the Rechabites who, having made a covenant never to drink wine, refused to drink it when offered it by Jeremiah in the house of God. (These people had moved to Jerusalem to escape the invading Babylonians.)

Jeremiah was commanded to place the example of the Rechabites before the people of Judah (see vv. 13–14). The message was clear: the Rechabites observed their covenants faithfully, even though they were not the covenant people of the Lord. The Jews were transgressors of the Lord’s commands and broke their promises to God at every turn. Thus on the Jews would come “all the evil that I [the Lord] have pronounced against them” (v. 17).

(24-21) Jeremiah 36:1–8. The Word of the Lord Is Recorded

“In the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, bidding him commit to writing all the addresses he had previously delivered, that Judah might, if it were possible, still regard the threatenings and return (vers. 1–3). In accordance with this command, he got all the words of the Lord written down in a book by his attendant Baruch, with the further instruction that this should be read on the fast-day in the temple to the people who came out of the country into Jerusalem (vers. 4–8). When, after this, in the ninth month of the fifth year of Jehoiakim, a fast was appointed, Baruch read the prophecies to the assembled people in the chamber of Gemariah in the temple. Michaiah the son of Gemariah mentioned the matter to the princes who were assembled in the royal palace; these then sent for Baruch with the roll, and made him read it to them. But they were so frightened by what was read to them that they deemed it necessary to inform the king regarding it (vers. 9–19). At their advice, the king had the roll brought and some of it read before him; but scarcely had some few columns been read, when he cut the roll into pieces and threw them into the pan of coals burning in the room, at the same time commanding that Baruch and Jeremiah should be brought to him; but God hid them (vers. 20–26). After this roll had been burnt, the Lord commanded the prophet to get all his words written on a new roll, and to predict an ignominious fate for King Jehoiakim; whereupon Jeremiah once more dictated his addresses to Baruch (vers. 27–32).” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 8:2:93.)

Jeremiah’s record

Jeremiah’s record was read by Baruch.

(24-22) Jeremiah 37–39. A Prophet’s “Reward”

When King Jehoiachin rebelled against Babylon, he was deposed and his uncle, Zedekiah, was placed on the throne. By this time it should have been obvious that Jeremiah’s prophecies were coming to pass. Twice Nebuchadnezzar had come, and twice he had humbled Judah. But Zedekiah was no wiser than his brother, Jehoiakim, and his nephew, Jehoiachin. He too began to look for ways to break the Babylonian yoke. Ignoring the repeated warnings of Jeremiah, he rebelled, and once again the Babylonians came against Jerusalem. (See Enrichment G.)

It was in this setting that the events of these chapters took place. Jerusalem was under siege, and Jeremiah’s counsel to surrender was not welcome. He was viewed as a traitor and a subversive. At this point an army of the pharaoh moved north to meet Nebuchadnezzar’s forces (see Jeremiah 37:5). Nebuchadnezzar temporarily pulled away from Jerusalem to meet the threat from the south. The hopes of the Jews soared, but again Jeremiah dashed them to pieces. He prophesied that the Egyptian army would return to Egypt (see v. 7) and that the siege would be reimposed. So helpless would Judah be, according to Jeremiah, that even if the entire Chaldean army were wounded in the battle with Egypt, they would still succeed in destroying Jerusalem (see vv. 8–10).

During the time that the siege was lifted, Jeremiah decided to return to the land of Benjamin, probably to visit his hometown. His enemies seized this opportunity to make their move. Accusing him of fleeing to join the Chaldeans, the Jewish leaders had Jeremiah arrested, beaten, and thrown into prison (see vv. 11–15).

The weak, vacillating character of King Zedekiah manifested itself. He called Jeremiah to him secretly, asking if there was any word from the Lord concerning Jerusalem’s fate (see vv. 16–17). Yet when the other leaders demanded Jeremiah’s death for preaching surrender (see Jeremiah 38:1–4), Zedekiah responded weakly, “Behold, he is in your hand: for the king is not he that can do any thing against you” (v. 5). But when Jeremiah’s friends pleaded for his life, Zedekiah relented and had him secretly delivered out of the prison (see vv. 7–13).

Jeremiah’s sarcastic question to Zedekiah is recorded in Jeremiah 37:19. The false prophets had promised that the Babylonians would not come against Jerusalem and the captives already taken would be returned. At that time Jeremiah cited the words of Moses for determining the true from the false prophets. Now, with the Babylonians surrounding the city, Jeremiah asked where all those other prophets were. Jeremiah’s word had been proven true, and he was in prison. Their word had been proven false, and where were they?

Chapter 39 of Jeremiah details the fall of Jerusalem and the tragic end of Zedekiah and his family. Because Jeremiah had foretold Babylon’s eventual success, he was released by the Chaldeans and allowed to remain in Jerusalem as a free person (see vv. 11–14).

(24-23) Jeremiah 40–44. After the Fall of Judah

“Earlier, we mentioned the fact that after the fall of Jerusalem Jeremiah was liberated and permitted to stay in Palestine. As a matter of fact, he was first taken in chains with all the other captured Jews as far as Ramah, a town about five miles north of Jerusalem. Here the Babylonian ‘captain of the guard’ loosed his bonds, ‘gave him an allowance and a present,’ and sent him back to Gedaliah, the new governor of Judah, with instructions permitting him to dwell among the people or to go wherever he chose. (40:1–6)

“Following Gedaliah’s appointment as governor of Judah, many Jews in the lands round about regained confidence and returned to their own country. But one of them, Ishmael the son of Nethaniah, seems to have been sent by Baalis, the king of Ammon, for the express purpose of slaying Gedaliah. (40:14) The good governor was warned of this, but he would not believe those who had informed him of the plot. The result was that he and the Jews and Chaldeans with him at Mizpah were slain in cold blood by Ishmael and his fellow conspirators. (41:1–3) Other Jews met their death at the hands of Ishmael, but he escaped to Ammon before he could be apprehended. (41:4–15)

“After this incident, Jeremiah was approached by the people of Judah, who asked him to pray to God in their behalf and ask His advice and counsel. The prophet did pray, and the Lord advised the people to stay in Judah and be blessed. They were told not to be afraid of the king of Babylon; the Lord would save them and deliver them from his hand and have compassion upon them. On the other hand, if they went to Egypt to escape war and hunger, they should be severely disappointed. They were told that famine, pestilence, and the sword would be their terrible lot. (42:1–22) But the stubborn Jews refused to heed the Lord’s words through Jeremiah and proceeded into Egypt, taking the hapless prophet and his scribe Baruch with them. (43:1–7)

“At Tahpanhes, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah predicting the destruction of Egypt at the hands of the same Nebuchadnezzar who had destroyed Jerusalem: [Jeremiah 43:8–13].

“Thus the disobedient Jews who had escaped from troubles in Judah would meet them head-on in Egypt. (See also 44:12–14.) Jeremiah continued to castigate them for their idolatrous worship of the ‘queen of heaven,’ but they refused to heed his words. (44:15–30).” (Sperry, Voice of Israel’s Prophets, pp. 184–85.)

(24-24) Jeremiah 45. Baruch

“The passage is a kind of appendix that belongs with ch. 36, and is valuable for insight it gives into Baruch’s own life. He too could be beset by despair as was Jeremiah, and could say ‘Woe is me’ (v. 3). It may be that as he dictated Jeremiah’s words of judgment, and knew in his heart that they were true and would certainly come to pass, he became depressed at it all and was filled with foreboding about his own future. He was deeply involved in Jeremiah’s affairs. He wrote down his oracles for the first and second scrolls in 605/4  B.C. He certainly continued to record the prophet’s sayings thereafter and went with him to Egypt, where he probably continued his work as a scribe. It is not impossible that Baruch eventually returned to Judah or even journeyed to Babylon to join the exiles there, and was able to relate what took place in Egypt, although there is no evidence one way or the other. At times he was associated with Jeremiah in dangerous situations (36:19, 26; 43:3). Much of the present book of Jeremiah must go back either directly or indirectly to him.” (J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 683.)

(24-25) Jeremiah 52. Historical Appendix

The last chapter of Jeremiah is a summary of historical material previously covered (see Jeremiah 39) and a record of further events, such as the improved status of Jehoiachin in Babylon (see Jeremiah 52:31–34). Since Jeremiah did not go to Babylon but was taken to Egypt, it is doubtful that this chapter was written by him. Perhaps it was added by his scribe, Baruch. (see 2 Kings 24–25; Jeremiah 39.)

Notes and Commentary on Lamentations

(24-26) Lamentations 1:1–11. Who Wrote Lamentations and Why?

Tradition has long ascribed the book of Lamentations to Jeremiah, though some modern critics question whether all of the book was written by him. Keil and Delitzsch concluded after an extensive examination of the arguments against Jeremiah’s authorship “that the tradition which ascribes the Lamentations to the prophet Jeremiah as their author is as well-founded as any historical tradition whatsoever” (Commentary, 8:2:349–50).

The writer of Lamentations wrote to reveal Judah’s pathetic condition as a despoiled people at the hands of the Babylonians. He likened abandoned Jerusalem to a woman whose husband was dead (see v. 1). All her “lovers” (the false gods she worshiped) abandoned her to her enemies (see vv. 2–3). All of this came about because of Judah’s wickedness (see vv. 5–8). Even the Lord forsook her in the hour of her affliction. Her enemies “mock[ed] at her sabbaths” (v. 7).

The heading to the book of Lamentations in the Hebrew texts is aychah which is translated as “alas! how …” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 8:2:335). It was customary in ancient Judah to compose and sing lamentations about departed friends or relatives. Jeremiah did the same for his beloved Jerusalem.

The “pleasant things” in verses 10–11 are allusions, in part, to the precious vessels taken from the temple by the enemy. The few valuable items left had been sold to help relieve the hunger and distress that had come upon the people.

(24-27) Lamentations 1:12–22. “Zion Spreadeth Forth Her Hands, and There Is None to Comfort Her”

Jeremiah employed vivid images to depict Judah’s great distress, likening it to fire in the bones, a net for the feet, a yoke around the neck, the crushing of grapes in a winepress. Each allusion is an apt one. The image of the yoke or bands around the neck is also used in Isaiah 52:2. According to the interpretation given in Doctrine and Covenants 113:10, the bands on Israel’s neck “are the curses of God upon her, or the remnants of Israel in their scattered condition among the Gentiles.” Judah’s seventy-year captivity in Babylon was like that described in these scriptures.

winepress

Treading the winepress

In her captive condition, none appeared to comfort Judah. She put forth her hands in a plea for help, but no one responded (see Lamentations 1:16–17). Her false “lovers” and former allies deserted her (see v. 19). Zion was in great distress. She knew then that her wickedness was the cause of her sorrowful state. (see vv. 20–22.)

(24-28) Lamentations 2:1–10. As a Result of Her Wickedness, Judah Was Forsaken and Punished by the Lord

Judah’s pitiful condition, caused by her iniquities, had come about by God’s power. In Lamentations 2:1–10, God was credited with having brought about Judah’s present calamity as a punishment for her former wickedness.

“The writer evidently could not get the harrowing scenes out of his mind. The elders or heads of families who shared in the administration were powerless to do anything. Grave magistrates and light-hearted maidens alike were reduced to grief-stricken silence (v. 10).” (D. Guthrie and J. A. Motyer, eds., The New Bible Commentary: Revised, p. 661.)

(24-29) Lamentations 2:11–22. “O Wall of the Daughter of Zion, Let Tears Run Down like a River Day and Night”

Jerusalem was an object not only of pity but of scorn. Innocent babies wasted away in her streets, crying in vain for food (see vv. 11–12). The prophets that Judah did listen to were untrue to their task of crying out against iniquity. They spoke flattering words and thus encouraged Judah in her transgressions. Hence, Jerusalem was a hiss and a byword in the eyes of the nations (see vv. 13–14). Clearly, there was nothing about Jerusalem in which to rejoice. In verses 18–22 she called the Lord’s attention to her doleful plight. Her tears were real tears of godly sorrow for her iniquities as well as for her temporal losses to the Babylonians.

(24-30) Lamentations 3:1–66. Is There Hope Judah Can Recover from Her Fall, and If So, How?

Lamentations 3:1–66contains the writer’s individual lament over his and his people’s distressed condition. His thoughts were expressed in a Hebrew poetic form.

“In true prophetic vein the elegist puts himself alongside his countrymen and entreats them to return to the Lord and to seek reconciliation with Him. Let them examine themselves in the light of His commandments which they have transgressed, and let the lifting up of their hands to God in heaven be accompanied by the lifting up of their hearts also, i.e. let their prayers for pardon be true and sincere. Let them know too what it feels like to be unpardoned, to be under God’s judgment still (v. 42b), and they will come to appreciate all the more the wonder of His forgiveness.” (Guthrie and Motyer, New Bible Commentary, p. 662.)

Still, it would not be easy to obtain pardon. The rest of chapter 3 indicates that in spite of God’s unwillingness to hear, the petitioner will continue to plead for relief. Verses 61–66 contain a plea that the Lord will also reward Judah’s enemies for their harsh and evil ways.

(24-31) Lamentations 4. Which Specific Groups Are Responsible for Judah’s Fall?

In Lamentations 4:1–22the writer returned to his former theme and the mournful dirge began again. Various groups were responsible for Jerusalem’s suffering. First, the “sons of Zion” once “comparable to fine gold” (v. 2) had become inferior vessels like those made of earthen clay. The mothers of Judah, unlike the monsters (whales and other large fish) of the sea who feed their young properly, had neglected their children. Wickedness was everywhere.

Verses 8–10 depict the bitter hunger experienced during the siege of Jerusalem, which finally led some to eat their own children.

(24-32) Lamentations 4:21–22. “O Daughter of Edom; He Will Discover Thy Sins”

Edom, at the time of Jerusalem’s capture, had sought to enrich herself through Judah’s tragedy (compare Obadiah 1:10–16), and her actions at that time were bitterly resented by the Jews (see Ezekiel 25:12–14; Psalm 137:7–9). But the Jews could console themselves with the thought that whereas their own punishment was now accomplished, that of Edom was still to come: “The cup also shall pass through unto thee” (Lamentations 4:21).

(24-33) Lamentations 5. “Remember, O Lord, What Is Come upon Us: Consider, and Behold Our Reproach”

Lamentations 5:1–22is a prayer for aid. The Lord alone held the key to Judah’s deliverance. Her plight was very sad, and her sins had made it so.

“Water and wood are mentioned in ver. 4 as the greatest necessities of life, without which it is impossible to exist. Both of these they must buy for themselves, because the country, with its waters and forests, is in the possession of the enemy. The emphasis lies on ‘ our water … our wood.’ What they formerly had, as their own property, for nothing, they must now purchase.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 8:2:448.)

Points to Ponder

(24-34) True Prophets Are Never Popular with the Wicked

Jeremiah was a living prophet in his day. The evil people, particularly the leaders of Judah, cast aside his words as naught. He delivered the message that the Lord gave him, but he ended up in prison. Eventually he was driven out of Israel and compelled to live in Egypt. President Ezra Taft Benson has said:

“As a prophet reveals the truth it divides the people. The honest in heart heed his words, but the unrighteous either ignore the prophet or fight him. When the prophet points out the sins of the world, the worldly either want to close the mouth of the prophet, or else act as if the prophet didn’t exist, rather than repent of their sins. Popularity is never a test of truth. Many a prophet has been killed or cast out. As we come closer to the Lord’s second coming, you can expect that as the people of the world become more wicked, the prophet will be less popular with them.” (“Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” in 1980 Devotional Speeches of the Year [Provo: Brigham Young University Press, 1981], p. 29).

It is the living prophet who really upsets the world. “Even in the Church,” said Elder Spencer W. Kimball, “many are prone to garnish the sepulchres of yesterday’s prophets and mentally stone the living ones” (“To His Servants the Prophets,” Instructor, Aug. 1960, p. 257).

Why? Because the living prophet tells us what we need to know and do now, and the world prefers that prophets either be dead or mind their own business. Some would-be authorities on politics want the prophet to keep still about politics. Some would-be authorities on evolution want the prophet to keep still about evolution. The list goes on and on.

“How we respond to the words of a living prophet when he tells us what we need to know, but would rather not hear, is a test of our faithfulness” (Benson, “Fourteen Fundamentals in Following the Prophet,” p. 28).

Those who covenant with God are bound to Him in righteousness. Ancient Judah cut that tie when she rebelled against the Lord and failed to heed Jeremiah’s words. The result was that she was carried away captive into Babylon.