Jews sing the blues in exile
Jerusalem has fallen1Oh no! Look at what’s left of Jerusalem.
Once a crowded city,
Now a helpless widow.
Once stately, respected by nations
—A royal princess of a regal town—
Now a slave forced to hard labor.
2She cries in the night,
Tears streaming down her face.
But there’s no one here to hold her.
Friends have flipped and betrayed her.
So, they’re nothing but enemies now.
3Judah’s people suffer in exile,
Captives to cruelty,
Slaves to hard labor,
No rest for the weary souls here.
Judah’s enemy won the victory,
Now Judah lives in the loss,
A life of distress.
4Roads to Jerusalem mourn.
For no one travels to festivals
Because the gates have fallen,
And Jerusalem lies in ruin.
Priests and young women grieve
Because all that’s left for those left behind
Is the bitterness of being left alone.
5Judah’s enemies own her
And they live the good life for it.
God made Judah pick up the tab
Because of Judah’s many sins.
Now Judah’s children are gone,
As spoils of war,
Lost to their families.
6Everything glorious about Jerusalem is gone.
Nothing majestic survives.
Her leaders are like deer with no fields to graze.
Too weak to run, they wobble away
Trying to escape the hunters.
Good ol’ days are gone7Jerusalem remembers the good ol’ days
When her people were prosperous and safe.
But now those people are captives
With no one willing to help them.
Her enemies cheered as they watched her fall.
8Jerusalem sinned in a terrible way.
And people despise her for it.
Now, she’s the punchline of jokes.
People have seen what she was really like
And the people hate what they saw.
There’s nothing Jerusalem can do,
But take the hits and walk away.
9Jerusalem pulled up her robe and gave it away
She didn’t think twice about it.
She’s sunk now as low as it gets.
She’s appalling, and there’s no one to help.
“LORD,” she says, “Look at me now.
The enemy has taken me down.”
10Enemies have laid their grubby, greedy hands
On everything precious to us.
They’ve invaded our most sacred space, the Temple.
Even our own people don’t go inside.
They’re not allowed in that holy place.
Jerusalem’s pity party11Jerusalem’s people moan in hunger.
They sell their valuables to buy food
To keep themselves from starving.
“LORD,” Jerusalem says, “Look at me now.
See how everyone hates me.”
12You people passing by, look at me.
Have you ever seen anything more pitiful?
The LORD did this to me
On the day his wrath exploded.
13He lit me up with fire from heaven
That burned me down to the bone.
He caught me in a net and tangled my feet.
Then turned me around on a running retreat.
He left me depressed and miserable.
That’s what my life has become.
14I wear my sin like a yoke for an ox.
I tightened it with my very own hands.
The weight on my neck that drains my strength
Is something I put there myself.
But it was the LORD who gave me away
To an army I couldn’t manage to stop.
15My army of heroic soldiers
Wasn't good enough for the LORD.
He destroyed those young men.
He crushed the armies of Judah
Like stomping grapes in a winepress.
16I cry over all this mess.
Tears pour out of my eyes.
There’s no one around to comfort me,
No one to lift my spirits.
My kids are sad and disillusioned
Because our enemy won the battle.
17Jerusalem reaches out for help
But there’s no one within reach of help.
The LORD told all our neighboring kingdoms
To fight us, the descendants of Jacob.
They turned Jerusalem into a pile of trash.
18The LORD was right
I was wrong.
I did what he told me not to do.
But people, see how I’m suffering.
All my young women and men
Are captives in another land.
19Under attack, I called for my allies.
But they flipped and became my betrayers.
My priests and leading citizens died.
They were just hunting food
To keep from starving.
20“Look at me, LORD.
See what a miserable human looks like.
My stomach is cramping.
My heart is breaking.
All because of sins I committed.
If I go outside, I risk death by the sword.
If I stay inside, I wait to die.
21My enemies heard about my trouble.
They saw no one came to my rescue.
They were glad you did this to me.
Well, bring it on—their own judgment day.
You said it would come, so let it come.
May they suffer every bit as much as I do now.
22Take a long look at all the evil they’ve done.
Punish them like you’re punishing me.
For I’m groaning in pain,
And I’m heartsick
And depressed in my spirit.
We should call the Bible book “Oh no!” instead of “Lamentations.” Jews who read this book in the original Hebrew language will see that it’s called Eka, which is the approximate sound of the Hebrew letters אֵיכָה. This term comes from the first Hebrew word in the book. It a word we’ve paraphrased as “Oh no!” other Bibles use similar words, such as “Alas.” Verse one begins a song of lament. These are ancient lyrics for a sad, sad song of blues. In exile far from home, Jews sang songs like these, just as people today sing sad songs about lost love, dead friends, and dashed dreams.
The text doesn’t identify what the priests and young ladies were bitter about. There would have been plenty to choose from. But one huge source of bitterness for priests is that they had been left without job or purpose because Babylonians destroyed the Temple, Judah’s only approved place of worship. The young ladies lost a lot of good men—future husbands—in the battles and in the exile that followed. Babylonians didn’t want the Jewish nation to resurrect itself. So, the empire took the leaders with them. In a patriarchal society, that meant men, along with men and women who could work as servants.
The phase is more literally “Her skirts are unclean.” Many scholars say this sounds like a metaphor, a less messy way to talk about the sensitive subject of sexual immorality. That could refer to illicit sex and sex with temple prostitutes in local religions. But sexual immorality can be a metaphor, too—a way of talking about spiritual unfaithfulness. That’s worshiping idols instead of God.
This might be a metaphor for what happened in the war, when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and captured the survivors as they tried to escape.
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