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to the received view that the Lamentations are the composition of the same author :
(a) Contradictions between the two Books;
(d) The occurrence of quotations from Ezekiel, shewing therefore that the Book in which they occur must be of a later date than that prophet.
3. Taking these objections singly (and marking the answers by the same letters), we may reply as follows:
(a) But one alleged contradiction is cited, viz. the teaching of Jer. xxxi. 29, 30 (that children shall not be punished for the misdeeds of their ancestors) when compared with Lam. v. 7, “we have borne their (i.e. our fathers') iniquities”. And here the charge, if it were made at all, should rather have been that Jeremiah in his prophecies was inconsistent with himself, for in chap. xxxii. 18 we read “ Thou...recompensest the iniquity of the fathers into the bosom of their children after them.” In point of fact however all these passages are quite in harmony as well with each other as with the teaching of the second Commandment. Suffering as the consequence of sin naturally propagates itself through successive generations of sinners, but the operation of this law of God is at once, in the case of the repentant sinner, arrested by His gracious law of forgiveness and mercy towards those who love Him and keep His commandments.
(6) The less prominence given in the Lamentations to the sins of the people (which are however spoken of frequently, viz. chaps. i. 5, 8, 14, 18, 22, ii. 14, iii. 39, 42, iv. 6, 13, v. 7) quite falls in with the respective characters and objects of the two works. In the earlier, addressed as it was directly to the people, rebuke found naturally a prominent place. In the latter the prophet is pouring out his grief to God, and the case is thereby made materially different. It is now the language of a sufferer rather than of a teacher. In general however the peculiarities of Jeremiah which fall naturally under the head of language, are found in the most striking manner throughout the Lamentations. Be
sides the “union of strong passionate feeling and entire submission to Jehovah which characterizes both... In both we meet, once and again, with the picture of the ‘Virgin daughter of Zion' sitting down in her shame and misery (Lam. i. 15, ii. 13; Jer. xiv. 17). In both there is the same vehement outpouring of sorrow. The prophet's eyes flow down with tears (Lam. i. 16, ii. ii, iii. 48, 49; Jer. ix. I, xiii. 17, xiv. 17). There is the same haunting feeling of being surrounded with fears and terrors on every side (Lam. ii. 22; Jer. vi. 25, xlvi. 5). In both the worst of all the evils is the iniquity of the prophets and the priests (Lam. ii. 14, iv. 13; Jer. v. 30, 31, xiv. 13, 14). The sufferer appeals for vengeance to the righteous Judge (Lam. iii. 64—66; Jer. xi. 20). He bids the rival nation that exulted in the fall of Jerusalem prepare for a like desolation (Lam. iv. 21; Jer. xlix. 12)” (Prof. Plumptre in Sm. Bibl. Dict.). To this we may add the expressions concerning personal bodily sufferings on the part of the writer of Lam. iii. 52–55 as compared with Jer. xxxviii. 6—13. Besides the explanation of the differences of language as arising from the difference of character between the two Books, which has been already noticed, we may note the fact that one is the language of prose, the other of poetry, and we find moreover in both the strongly marked tendency to quote from older Books of the Bible, but, in accordance with what has just been said, in the case of the Prophecy, from Beuteronomy, in that of the Poems, from the Psalms as being a poetical Book. We find also that in both Books the writer repeats himself much.
(c) The principle of the reply has been already shewn under the head of (6). To the particular objection e.g. arising from the alphabetical structure of the poems (see last chapter) we may answer as before that as prophecy and history are essentially different from poetry, so the same writer when turning to a new kind of composition may well be allowed to adopt the peculiarities which belong to it.
(d) Taking the two supposed instances of quotation from Ezekiel (viz. Lam. ii. 14 compared with Ezek. xii. 24, xiii. 6, etc., and Lam. ii. 15 compared with Ezek. xxvii. 3, xxviii. 12) we
may shew (i) that even though they be quotations from that prophet, this is no argument against Jeremiah's authorship; and (ii) that there is no reason in point of fact to assume that these two passages are quotations from him.
(i) There must have been frequent intercourse between the Jews taken captive with Jehoiakim and those who remained behind (see Jer. xxix, 25), and nothing is more likely under such circumstances than that Jeremiah and Ezekiel were made speedily aware each of the other's utterances.
(ii) In Lam. ii. 14, “vain and foolish things” is literally “ unreal and foolish things," while the word thus used is the same as Ezekiel's elsewhere, but differing from that commonly employed by Jeremiah, who uses a word expressive rather of moral obliquity than simple unreality. The aims of the two Books however, as we noticed above, differ. In the former, addressed directly to the people, the iniquity of their deeds would be insisted on, while the latter, addressed as an appeal to the mercy of God, would dwell upon the folly and unreality of their aims. In the second instance Jerusalem is called “the perfection of beauty," while a similar expression is applied to Tyre twice by Ezekiel. Almost the same word however occurs in Ps. 1. 2 of Zion, and as the words which conclude the verse in the Lamentations are obviously a quotation from Ps. xlviii. 2 (which also refers to Zion), it seems clear that the earlier part of the verse is but supplying us with one more instance of a quotation of the kind which we have just noticed (see (6) above) to be so frequent in the Lamentations.
On the whole therefore we conclude that Jeremiah was beyond question the writer of this Book.
SUBJECT-MATTER AND PURPOSE OF THE BOOK.
1. The subject, as we have seen already, is undoubtedly the capture of the city under Nebuchadnezzar, and the sorrow and suffering which were thereby entailed. Herewith is united both the confession that this has come upon the people on account of their sins, and entreaties for deliverance.
2. Taking the poems severally,
Chap. i. dwells upon the solitary condition and grief of the city;
Chap. ii. sets forth the destruction that has come upon her, and acknowledges that it is the result of sin ;
Chap. iii., which although framed for the most part in the singular number, yet includes the nation throughout, complains of the bitter cup which God's people have to drink, and yet acknowledges that the trials which are come upon them are inflicted by a Father's hand;
Chap. iv. describes the reverses in fortune that have been brought about by recent events, and again acknowledges sin;
Chap. v. recapitulates the pitiful details of their condition, and ends by an earnest prayer for deliverance.
3. The Book from an historical point of view thus forms a supplement to the Book of Jeremiah. There we traced the life and thoughts of the prophet while events were gradually leading to the final catastrophe. Here we see him after that catastrophe has been reached, and mark that it is the same man still, clearly recognizing the sin of his fellows, but as full as ever of sympathy for them and of love for his country. “ All feeling of exultation in which, as mere prophet of evil, he might have indulged at the fulfilment of his forebodings, was swallowed up in deep overwhelming sorrow” (Prof. Plumptre in Sm. Bibl. Dict.).
4. It was not in one who had faithfully warned his countrymen for so long, to keep silence now, and doubtless the very
pouring out of his heart in this form gave his sorrow a certain relief. As he had probably lamented for Josiah in some such manner (2 Chron. xxxv. 25), so now he was moved to come forward and embody in language those thoughts which an inspired prophet like him would be guided to publish and record.
5. “There are perhaps few portions of the Old Testament which appear to have done the work they were meant to do more effectually than this.” It has not been connected with the theological or ecclesiastical disputes of any age, while it has supplied the earnest Christian of all times with words in which to confess his sins, and shortcomings, as well as with a picture of Him Who bore our sins and carried our sorrows, on Whom was “laid the iniquity of us all.”
6. The Book is annually read among the Jews to commemorate the burning of the Temple. The following is Schaff's description (Through Bible Lands, pp. 250—252) of the scene at the “Wailing Place of the Jews' at Jerusalem. “There the Jews assemble every Friday afternoon and on festivals to bewail the downfall of the holy city. I saw on Good Friday a large number, old and young, male and female, venerable rabbis with patriarchal beards and young men kissing the stone wall and watering it with their tears. They repeat from their well-worn Hebrew Bibles and Prayer-books the Lamentations of Jeremiah and suitable Psalms. . . . The key note of all these laments and prayers was struck by Jeremiah, the most pathetic and tender hearted of prophets, in the Lamentations, that funeral dirge of Jerusalem and the theocracy. This elegy, written with sighs and tears, has done its work most effectually in great public calamities, and is doing it every year on the ninth of the month Ab (July), when it is read with loud weeping in all the synagogues of the Jews and especially at Jerusalem. It keeps alive the memory of their deepest humiliation and guilt and the hope of final deliverance. The scene of the Wailing Place was to me touching and pregnant with meaning.”