The opening chapter will bounce back and forth between narration and then commentary by the city of Jerusalem herself, who bemoans the state she has fallen into after the Babylonian siege. Obviously, we have to be careful with the language. It’s emotionally heightened, meaning it’s often exaggerating reality but is rightly communicating how that reality feels. Also, cities don’t talk 4 realz so we need to accept the use of personification (giving human thoughts/characteristics to something that isn’t human).
The narrator starts describing the city of Jerusalem (commentary won’t be extensive here, these are just images to digest). These are not happy pictures. A once vibrant city is now empty, like a widow, she is abandoned. The city has fallen greatly and weeps in her loneliness. No one came to her aid during the attack, in fact later we’ll learn that it feels as though the surrounding friends were glad at the downfall of Jerusalem.
We’re told that Judah (southern kingdom, Jerusalem is in Judah) was exiled so they could be forced to do hard labor (hmm, ring any bells, Israel??? God brings you out of slavery, gives you a sweet land, and you’ve landed yourselves right back in the same position for all the reasons our friend Amos laid out.) In this slavery, they find no rest (something that God promises them back in Deuteronomy and that Jesus promises to his Kingdom folk now). Now, again, this language is a bit exaggerated in that not everyone had to do hard labor. And eventually they acclimate to the society and some choose to stay there even when the approval is given to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple.
v.5 gives the first glimpse of acknowledging how this happened – Jerusalem is afflicted for the multitude of her transgressions (it’ll come back in v.8 and continue to become more consistently mentioned as the chapters go on). But we quickly jump off this point and back into the woes and such. We get a couple references to Zion (this is the mount upon which the temples are built). v.6 shows how the royalty have been brought low, unable to find food and having to flee without strength. Jerusalem remembers all the good she had before this happened and now how her enemies mock her now that she has fallen.
In v.9, the “…uncleanness in her skirts” means it’s caught up on her, stuck to her, yet she didn’t expect this trouble (which is foolish, God had been warning them over and over about this outcome. They weren’t listening). Also, we get the first commentary from Jerusalem “O Lord, behold my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed”. She will speak again in v.11, “Look, O Lord, and see for I am despised…” and it will continue to be her talking, not the narrator, through v.16.
You’ll notice that although the narrator had stated that it was the sins of the city (the people, obviously) that caused all of this, when Jerusalem speaks she is much more dodgy on the subject. Her lament in v.11-16 describes these troubles as having been, “…brought upon me, which the Lord inflicted on the day of his fierce anger.” Although true, she seems to dodge the blame here, she paints God as a persistent menace (sending fire, tripping her up, leaving her disoriented, etc.) From her perspective, God loads up all of her sins and binds them to her, leaving her weighed down and burdened, unable to fight against those who came to attack. And those who could defend Jerusalem (her mighty men) were unable to do so. God has put them through the ringer, winepress style. (It is interesting how many of the descriptions of Jerusalem here carry on and are applied to the judgment of Babylon in Revelation.)
One thing not to miss is in v.12 where it talks about the, “…day of his fierce anger”. We should understand this as being a valid reference of “the day of Lord”, a popular phrase among the minor prophets and beyond. It’s not one specific day, however it does refer to a distinct time when God will act and his justice will be carried out. It happened when Assyria took Israel into exile, it happened when Babylon ransacked Judah and exiled them, it happened in Jesus time, and will happen again (and finally, I’d presume) at Christ’s return.
In v.18 we finally get Jerusalem to admit her part in this: “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word.” And this is to be a warning to all those who surround her. As the weight of her responsibility sits upon her, she cries out in v.20. And yet those who surround her won’t help, they are glad God has done what He has done. These nations were false friends and were only using Jerusalem (again, much like those who do not mourn Babylon’s downfall in Revelation except that they may be next). Which, interestingly enough, is what Jerusalem asks for here. God has brought justice to Jerusalem, now Jerusalem asks for equal treatment to the evil nations that surround her; for God to deal with them as He has dealt with her.
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