Lamentations 2

This second poem leaves no doubt of the horrifying prospect that God himself is the antagonist: that he has turned against his own Daughter Zion. She in consequence considers the horrifying prospect of cannibalising her own infants (2:20, repeated at 4:10). It recounts God's anger being unleashed on her; one commentator identifies within just the first eight verses as many as 27 terms of anger about the Lord's destructive force.[1] It concludes in turn with her anger being unleashed towards God.[2]

Bookended, "A to Z", by "the day of the Lord's anger",[3] this is the nightmare-turned-reality incarnation of the prophet's warning, Amos 5:18–20; it is the polar opposite of the psalmist's praise, Ps. 118:24–27. The poem has some striking similarities with the psalmist's lament, Ps. 89:38–45.[4]

Observe the "pitiless"/"without pity" thread in vv.2, 17 and 21 (also 3:43).[5] Observe, too, the even more savage "devour" thread in vv.2, 5 (twice) 8 and 16.[6] There is a final, vile twist at v.20. Women are cannibalising their children because the Lord has devoured his people.[7]

In the Hebrew text, over 80% of this poem's verses, 1–11 and 15–21, start with verbs.[8] And additionally, within those verses, many of their internal couplets are similarly verb-fronted. In English this can be seen strikingly in Young's Literal Translation from the late nineteenth century.[9] This bombarding effect is counter to the English-language "subject then verb" convention. That sustained, pounding drive is conveyed here by using a verb-fronted, list-like structure for the first few verses, with the subject being relegated to less prominent placement. For example the first three verses may be read as:

Alas! Angered, my Lord:
—beclouded…
—flung down…
—put out of mind…
blitzed to the ground…
—razed in fury…

My Lord has:
—devoured…
cut off…
—retracted…
—blazed…

The first poem had been in two "voices", approximately 50–50: a witness-reporter and Daughter Zion herself. This second poem is mostly voiced by the reporter, until at 18–19 the reporter can be seen to implore the city to voice her complaint, which she accordingly does to close the poem. Yet in the midst of their initially objective reportage, the reporter switches to an engaged present-tense at v10,[10] breaking down and speaking subjectively of their own personal response in a soliloquy, 11–17, that interrrupts their graphic portrayal of the violence and seeks, however vainly, to comfort Jerusalem.[11] And the likely trigger for the observer's change of stance in v11? Here is where the tortured, lingering deaths of infants and children, the innocents, are witnessed, with their own mothers agonisingly helpless.[12] "Who could heal you?" (v13). The only possible healer is God, but God is the very one ravaging her in the first place.[13]

Acrostic omissions: K, N, Q, X
 
1
Narrator:

Alas![14]
Angered, my Lord beclouded[15]
 Daughter Zion;
flung down from the heavens to earth
 the honour of Israel;
put out of mind his footstool[16]
 in the day of his anger;


2

Blitzed to the ground in desecration[17][18]
 a kingdom and its princes;
razed in wrath the defences
 of Daughter Judah.
My Lord has devoured without pity
 all the dwellings of Jacob;


3

Cut off in his smouldering anger
 every horn of Israel;
retracted his right hand
 at enemy approach;
blazed against Jacob in fire,
 consuming all around.


4

Drawing his bow like an enemy,
 his right hand now poised[19]
like a foe, he has slain those precious
 in his eye;[20]
on Daughter Zion's tent[21] his fury
 has he outpoured.[22]


5

Enemy! So my Lord has become,
 and devoured Israel—
has devoured all her palaces,
 and laid waste her strongholds;
has multiplied within Daughter Judah
 wailing and weeping.[23]


6

Flattening his bivouac[24] like a garden,[25]
 he destroyed his own meeting place.
In Zion the Lord wiped from memory
 both feast-day and sabbath,
and spurned in angered rage
 both king and priest.


7

God[26] has forsworn his altar,
 disowned his shrine;
given over to enemy hands
 the walls of her palaces.
Now they in the Lord's house shout
 as on our feast-day.[27]


8

Hell-bent was the Lord on destroying
 the wall of Daughter Zion;
out-stretching his tape-measure; not staying
 his hand from devouring;
making mourn both wall and rampart,
 which together collapse.


9

Ingested in the ground sank her gates;
 her bars shattered, destroyed.
Her king and her princes are exiled;
 law is absent;[28]
her prophets, too, found
 no vision from the Lord.


10

Jerusalem-Daughter,[29] your elders
 sit dumbstruck on the ground;
dust they cast on their heads
 and sackcloth they gird.
Zion's young women[30] bow
 their heads to the ground.


11

Lamenting, my weeping eyes fail;
 my stomach churns;[31]
my liver-bile pours to the ground[32]
 at my Daughter People's ravaging,[33]
as infants and children expire
 in the city streets.


12

Mothers hear them crying out loud:
 "Where is corn and wine?"
as they expire like the sword-wounded
 in the city streets;
as their lives pour away
 on their mothers' bosom.


13

O Daughter Jerusalem: to what can I
 liken you? How advocate?
O virgin Daughter Zion:
 whose plight is like yours?
Wide as the sea is your ravaging;
 who could heal you?


14

Prophets provided you visions—
 whitewashed illusion.[34]
They did not lay bare your guilt
 to restore your fortunes;
they saw for you only oracles
 of illusion and deceit.


15

Reviling with hiss and with head-toss
 at Daughter Jerusalem,[35]
now those on the road passing by
 slow-clap in derision:
"Was this once 'Perfect in beauty,
 joy of all earth'?"[36]


16

Snarling and gnashing their teeth,
 all your enemies
gape their mouths at you, boasting
 "We have devoured her!
Long for this day we have waited—
 we have lived to look upon it!"


17

The Lord has done what he planned,
 has fulfilled his threat
decreed from days of old,
 to destroy without pity;
has let the enemy over you gloat
 and exalted your foes' horn.


18

Unto our Lord let your heart cry,
 wall of Daughter Zion.
Shed tears like a torrent
 day and night;
give yourself no relief,
 your eyes no rest.


19

Vehemently cry, arising at night
 at the start of each watch.
Pour out your heart like water
 before the face of our Lord.
Lift up your hands to him
 for the lives of your babes
[who faint from famine and hunger
 at every street-corner].[37]


20
Daughter Zion:

Who have you thus tormented?[38]
 Look, Lord; notice!
Must women eat their own womb-fruit,
 their nursed[39] babes?
Should priest and prophet be slain
 in the sanctuary of our Lord?


21

Young and old lie strewn
 on the ground in the streets;
my young women, my young men: fallen,
 cut down by the sword.
You slew them on the day of your anger:
 you butchered—pitilessly.[40]


22

Zoned round, as to a feast-day—
 the terrors you summoned!
On the day of the Lord's anger[41]
 none escaped or survived;
those I had nursed and reared,
 my enemy annihilated.


[1] Berman (2023), p.58.

[2] Hens-Piazza (2017), p.xliii.

[3] This is just one component of a chiastic structure across this chapter. Other components include the resonance of the opening and closing verbs ("angered"/"beclouded" and "annihilated") and the "horn" motif.

[4] For these references see Goldingay (2022): p.91 (Amos); p.111 (Ps.118); p.89 (Ps.89).

[5] Dobbs-Allsopp (1997), p.49.

[6] Provan (2016), p.57.

[7] Hens-Piazza (2017), pp.34–35.

[8] This includes even the very opening itself if, as the rhythm suggests, the opening "Alas!" is treated as an outlying anacrusis.

[9] Young's Literal Translation is able to do this reasonably accurately because, unlike this version, it is not constrained by attempting either qinah or alphabetic acrostics. That said, of course, this poetry-led version attempts to retain this linguistic feature where possible.

[10] Berman (2023), p.67.

[11] Middlemas (2021), p.94.

[12] Hens-Piazza (2017), pp.25–26.

[13] O'Connor (2002), p.38.

[14] See footnotes on 1:1.

[15] Meaning uncertain. This is the only occurence (a hapax legomenon) of the verb in the Hebrew Bible. This choice follows its derivation from the noun "cloud", and resonance with "the day of the Lord's anger". Other possibilities include "abhorred" and "humiliated". See Goldingay (2022), pp.90–91; Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), p.80; Berlin (2004), pp.66–68; Berman (2023), p.59.

[16] Footstool: a metaphorical reference to Jerusalem, its temple or the ark within the temple. See Goldingay (2022), p.92; Provan (2016), pp.59–60.

[17] For acrostic purposes, the first and last couplets have been interchanged.

[18] A "ground" thread runs throughout this chapter: vv.2,9,10,11,21. See also Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), p.93.

[19] The Lord's "right hand", usually defensive of his people, was not only retracted in v.3 but is now turned to attack against them both here and in v.8. See also the "enemy hands" in v.7.

[20] This overall line is shorter than the usual qinah 3–2; Goldingay (2022), p.95, note 'd'.

[21] The city. Contrast "bivouac", 6a, a different noun, which refers to the Temple.

[22] A "pour" thread runs through the chapter at vv.4, 11, 12 and 19. See also the "disgorge" thread in chapter 4.

[23] The Hebrew also has an alliterative wordplay here.

[24] The Temple, yet here referred to as something flimsy and temporary. See note on "tent", 4c.

[25] The "like a garden" simile has been perplexing down the centuries, with no settled understanding. In her compact 126 page commentary on the whole book, Berlin (2004) devotes over one entire page solely to this one term, briefly laying out a wide range of possibilities. Some sort of resonance with the Garden of Eden is likely, possibly combined with a contrast to Sodom from Gen.13:10: "…like the garden of the Lord…before the Lord had destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah".

[26] Translation compromise. Rather than "God has…" (Hebrew El) this should ideally have been "My Lord has…" (Hebrew Adonai). But there seems no suitable acrostic 'G' word for this line. Switching it with the next line, "given over…", would leave too large a gap before identifying "my Lord"; and early, strong identification seems important in this verse.

[27] "God has enabled Israel's enemies to engage in a parody of [Israel's] worship in the very temple itself." Provan (2016), p.67.

[28] This line may well refer to the absence of religious law (in parallel to the secular goverance of the first line).

[29] The names "Jerusalem" and "Zion" are interchanged in this verse for acrostic purposes. A rejected alternative would have been to invert the verse (lines 1-2-3 becoming 3-2-1) but that would have lost the thematic continuity from the previous verse's "rulers" and "prophets" into this verse's "elders".

[30] From the elders, the most senior male figures, to the most junior female figures: this suggests the two extremes of the city's social spectrum, becoming a merism representing the entire surviving population. Berlin (2004), p.71; Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), p.92; Goldingay (2022), p.103.

[31] The same phrase that Daughter Zion used at 1:20.

[32] This vivid translation courtesy of Berlin (2004), p.63.

[33] The "Daughter People" half-line is the same at 2:11, 3:48 and 4:10.

[34] This striking translation courtesy of NABRE.

[35] Compare Matt.27:39-40: "Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, "You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself, if you are the Son of God, [and] come down from the cross!"

[36] Psalm 48:2, Psalm 50:2; Ezek.27:3.

[37] This verse, like 1:7 and 4:15, has an extra line in the Hebrew, considered by some commentators to be a marginal gloss. See also Provan (2016), p.77.

[38] An untranslatable pun of horrific intensity bites through here between the similar words for "babe" (vv.19c, 20b) and "tormented". Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), p.99; Berman (2023), p.83.

[39] The rare Hebrew word here represented as "nursed" is very close to the word for "apple", reinforcing the preceding "womb's fruit". Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), p.15.

[40] Intensification of "slew" to "butchered". The latter also builds from the cannibalism of the previous verse; Berlin (2004), p.76.

[41] Daughter Zion switches from direct, second-person address to (or at) God to indirect, third-person speech about him, as though she turns to walk away. Dobbs-Allsopp (2012), p.102; Berman (2023), p.85.