Lamentations 1

Throughout chapters one, two and four, Zion is not only the dwelling-place of God but is additionally personified by the hauntingly endearing term "Daughter Zion" and variants such as "Daughter Jerusalem" and "my Daughter People". The poems lament not merely an inanimate city; the city is a precious daughter, beloved of God.[1] This is set out within the very first verse.

Further, in this first poem all the cited human suffering is connected to, and filtered through, the persona of the city, from "her priests groan" (v4) through to "my priests and my elders perish" (v19).[2]

Observe that this first poem is in two "voices": a witness-narrator recites most of 1–11b; the city herself recites most of 11c–22. In each, though, the voice of the other occasionally appears, indeed, interrupts:

Section 7–10 is clearly female-intimate and the language heaps up with innuendo. Yet it contains a deep and unsettling ambiguity which has a significant bearing on how we receive it. At first sight, the section is strongly suggestive of Daughter Zion having been wilfully unfaithful and wantonly adulterous, including the accusation of "sin" (v8).[3] Yet in contrast with forcefully direct language in the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets) the language of the Lamentations poet is non-specific: she is never here accused of "adultery" or "whoring".[4] And a totally different thread also emerges from behind this: that of victim of sexual defilement and rape, aligned with many other Lamentations passages focussed on the abuse and violation of the innocent. Both threads, adulteress and rape victim, are co-existing possibilities. For us as readers, indeed as disciples and worshippers, inhabiting the poetic and disturbing both/and is more valuable than rushing into a falsely simplistic either/or. The reader is referred to Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), pp.63–67 and Hens-Piazza (2017), pp.8–18.

Observe, too, the frequency of the word "all"[5] and its alignment with, indeed establishment of, the book's theme of the totality of the devastion and suffering—a totality given visual expression to the reader by the end-to-end A-to-Z alphabetic acrostic.

Reminder: the 3–2 qinah rhythm is vitally important to recitation and reading. For an example, hover the mouse over the opening "Alas! …" verse.

Acrostic omissions: J, K, Q, X

Alone she sits:[8] the city
 once great with people;
She, once great among nations,
 now abandoned, widowed;
she, once princess among provinces,
 now chained, enslaved.


Bitterly she weeps through the night;
 tears wet her cheeks.
None there is to comfort her
 from all who love her;[9]
her friends all have betrayed her:
 become her foes.


Cast out into exile by force
 is Judah to hard labour.
She sits among the nations
 but finds no repose.
All who pursue her overtake her:
 dire her straits.[10]


Devoid of all pilgrims to her assemblies,
 Zion roads mourn;
her gateways all are desolate,
 her priests groan,
her young women wail;
 how bitter her fate.


Enemies now have mastered her;
 her foes prosper,
since the Lord has afflicted her[11]
 for her many transgressions.
Her youngsters are driven to exile,
 captive before the enemy.


Fled from Daughter Zion
 is all her splendour.
Her leaders now wander like deer—
 they find no pasture;
they run, all strength spent,
 pursued by the hunter.


Goodly treasures once hers
 in days of old[12]
Jerusalem calls to mind[13]
 in her days of downfall.
[When her people fell to enemy hand,
 there was none to help.][14]
Her enemies look on and mock
 her fallen state.


How grievously has Jerusalem sinned—
 how become a soiled rag.[15]
Those who once honoured her, despise her,
 seeing her nakedness.
She, aghast, cries out;
 she recoils backwards.[16]


Impurity clings to her skirts;
 no mind she has to her future.
Downfallen in jaw-dropping shock,
 there is none to comfort her.

Daughter Zion:

"Look, O Lord: my affliction—
 how the foe triumphs."


Lecherous enemy hands spread
 all over her treasures;
pagan nations she sees
 enter her sanctuary—
those you forbade to enter
 your assembly.


Moaning in famine her people
 all search for bread,
bartering treasures for food
 to salvage their souls.

Daughter Zion:

"Look, O Lord, and notice,
 for I am despised."


Notice! And look, you passers-by;
 is it nothing to you?
Is there any pain like my pain,
 unleashed against me—
that which the Lord inflicted
 in the day of his anger?


Out from on high he hurled fire
 down into my bones.
He spread a net for my feet;
 recoiling me backwards.[17]
He has made me desolate:
 all day sickened.


Packed[18] into a yoke are my transgressions;
 bound tight by his hand,
mounted upon my neck,
 sapping my strength.
My Lord hand-delivered me to those
 whom I cannot withstand.[19]


Rejected are all my own warriors
 by my Lord in my midst;
he called an assembly against me
 to crush my young men.
In a winepress my Lord has trodden
 virgin Daughter Judah.


Streaming with tears, my eyes—
 my eyes weep for these things;
far distant one who might comfort me,[20]
 to salvage my soul.
My children all are desolate;
 the foe has prevailed.


Taut-stretched, Zion's hands reach out,
 but none comforts her;
the Lord has summoned against Jacob
 his enemies to encircle;
Jerusalem has become among them
 menstrually soiled.

Daughter Zion:

Upright in judgement is the Lord,
 for I defied his command.
Hear, I pray, all you peoples,
 and look on my pain:
my maidens and my young men
 gone into captivity.


Vainly I called to my lovers—
 they abandoned me.
In the city my priests and my elders
when they search for food for themselves
 to salvage their souls.


Wretched am I, Lord; look!
 My stomach churns,
my heart turns over within me:
 defiantly I had defied.
Outside the sword bereaves;
 inside, very death.


Yearnings of anguish they heard:
 none brings me comfort.[21]
My foes all heard my malignant[22] state,
 rejoicing that you caused it.
Oh, bring on the day you called forth—
 let them be as me!


Zero in—their malignant ways all are before you;
 unleash against them
as you unleashed against me
 for all my transgressions.
For great[23] are my groans;
 my heart is sick.

[1] Adelman (2021); Berlin (2004), pp.10–12.

[2] Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), p.62.

[3] Several other linguistic resonances and wordplays across the whole chapter lead the surface reading in this direction.

[4] Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), p.64.

[5] Goldingay (2022), pp.11, 41.

[6] "Alas!": Hebrew ekah, meaning "how", the name of the book itself, and beginning with the Hebrew letter 'aleph' equivalent to our 'A'.

[7] Despite the importance of the overall 3–2 qinah metre, the opening "Alas!" is probably a preamble 'anacrusis', external to that metre (i.e. 4–2). This is probably also true of the "Alas!" of the second chapter although probably not of the fourth. See Goldingay (2022), p.49, note 'c'. So in these two chapters I have followed this, and also used an additional acrostic "A…" word following that "Alas!"

[8] This verb "sit" runs as a thread through the book. Here at the start it describes the city; at almost the centre, 3:28, it describes a representative person; finally at almost the close, 5:19, it describes God himself.

[9] In some translations, "her lovers". But this is not the same as "lovers" in v.19. This "who love her" follows Berlin (2004) p.51.

[10] The Hebrew "straits" (or "narrows") resonates strongly with their word for "Egypt"; Berlin (2004) p.51; Goldingay (2022) p.54 note 'e'. This prompts a powerful reminder of their ancestral enslavement there. On that occasion, her pursuers famously did not overtake her, being destroyed at Moses' parting of the sea. But on this occasion there is no such deliverance.

[11] Note overlapping verb sequences: "afflicted"/"inflicted" (same Hebrew verb) at 5b and 12c, then "unleashed against" at 12b and 22. Dobbs-Allsopp (2012) p.68.

[12] The term "days of old" will recur at almost the very end of the book, 5:21. Assis (2009), p.322.

[13] Verses 7 and 9 share a common Hebrew verb root for past and future tenses. The English "remember" is close, but only works for the past (v.7), not prospectively for the future (v.9). The basis chosen here, and worded to try to preserve 3–2 qinah rhythm, is "calls to mind" (past) and "has no mind for" (future). See Berman (2023), p.34.

[14] This verse, like 2:19 and 4:15, has an extra line in the Hebrew, considered by some commentators to be a marginal gloss. See also Provan (2016), pp.41–42.

[15] The Hebrew is unclear and anomalous, with three possibilities of meaning and interpretation: "mockery", "wanderer" and "menstruant", the last supported by its similarity to (although not sameness as) the closing phrase of the more certain v17. There may well be an intentional interplay of them all. See Berlin (2004), pp.53–54 (and 58–59); also Goldingay (2022), pp.62–63. This version uses a common "soiled" at both verses to reflect this resonance.

[16] The narrator's words can be seen here to imply Daughter Zion's guilty reaction. But at v13 she turns the same terminology to her defence.

[17] See footnote at v8.

[18] This is the only occurrence of this verb in the entire Bible, so any translation is conjectural.

[19] Original wording is something like "Delivers my Lord [to] hands [I am] not able to withstand". Expressing that within 3–2 qinah is tricky; even more so when trying to keep the resonance of the "his hand" earlier in the verse.

[20] Some Jewish commentators here see a comforter-Messiah being yearned for; Goldingay (2022), p.75.

[21] Berlin (2004) pp.44,60 takes this half-line as vocalised utterance. Here that would be: Yearnings…they heard: "none brings me comfort".

[22] In Hebrew this word, meaning something like "bad" but used here as a noun, can apply in two opposite directions: someone can be either on the receiving end (e.g. "I'm bad", such as distressed or injured: "in a bad way") or the performing end (e.g. "I'm bad", such as an evildoer's innate badness). Here the progression from v21 to v22 exploits this word's dual direction for a revengeful schadenfreude. See Goldingay (2022), pp.80–81. To reflect this "same but opposite" poetically whilst avoiding potential ambiguity, we use the near-rhymes "malignant state" and "malignant ways".

[23] The opening v.1 "great", there used twice positively, here returns, but in negative contrast, to bracket this chapter. See Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), p.74.