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  • « That I might know Him and the power of His resurrection... | Main | Jesus in the Midst of Our Sufferings »

    Theodoret on Lamentations 4

    Introductory Note: To the best of my knowledge, most of the exegetical writings of Theodoret have never been translated into English. His expositional works are available in the original Greek, however, and I have recently employed them in my study of the fourth of Jeremiah's Lamentations. I took the liberty to translate his interpretation of this lamentation, in order to make it available to the English-speaking reader. Please take a moment to glance through this brief, straightforward, and delightful exposition, and if nothing else, pay attention to Theodoret's explanation of the twentieth verse!

    If this portion of his works has indeed been previously translated, contrary to my current knowledge, I would love to know about it -- so please let me know if I am wrong.

    The Interpretation of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, by the blessed Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus

    Chapter Four

    How the gold has become dimmed, the good silver has been changed! Have the holy stones been scattered out from the top of all the streets?

    He likens the godliness of the forebears to these materials, and mourns the change which has come about in the descendants; for this he makes evident in the following things.

    The sons of Zion, the honorable ones, the lovely, they who are above gold; how have they been reckoned as earthen vessels, works of the hands of the potter?

    The Master has also foretold this through the divine Isaiah: “Because they shall be useless, as one crushes earthenware into fragments with which it is not possible to draw for oneself water or to take fire from the places of burning”[1].

    Even the dragons draw out the breasts, they suckle their whelps; the daughters of my people have become incorrigible, as an ostrich in the wilderness.

    Even the harshest beasts, he says, care for their children; but the excess of the suffering of Zion has made her inhabitants ready to forget even nature itself. And of the majority who have been slaughtered and the rest who have run away, few have remained; and so they have come to be like an ostrich wandering alone in the wilderness.

    Now he makes known the evil things having been wrought by the famine:

    The tongue of the suckling has cleaved to his throat in thirst; young children asked for bread, and there was no one to break it for them.

    And he also teaches their former wantonness:

    They who eat dainty things have vanished away in the streets.

    Which is to say, they have been scattered away from the marketplace.

    They who were raised up in scarlet have embraced dunghills.

    Now he says that the sin of these has become public, and he compares her to Sodom. And he speaks also of the Nazarites' good reputation before the calamities, and their distress in the calamity. And he says that even the slaughter in the city is to be chosen above the weapons of the famine. And he puts in the lamentation also the suffering of all the most terrible things.

    The hands of the compassionate women have seized their own children; they have become meat for them in the destruction of the daughter of my people.

    For the violence of hunger has conquered natural familial love. But these things the Master brought upon Zion, having righteously become indignant.

    The Kings of the earth, and all who dwell in the land, did not believe that the enemy would come and press through the gates of Jerusalem.

    For they had great pledges of security to believe in, namely, the things that happened to Sennacherib, whose army was consumed in a brief part of night. But she was betrayed to the enemies anyway because of the deception of the false prophets, and the bloodthirstiness of the priests.

    Her young men were scattered in the streets.

    By “streets,” he is referring both to roads and alleyways.

    They were defiled with blood in their impotence, they were cast down with their raiments.

    The famine compelled them to be cast down; and the enemies positioned before them prevented them from carrying them out for burial, so the dogs devoured those who were cast down.

    And he speaks also of the things being babbled out by the enemies:

    Turn away from the unclean!

    They were calling us unclean. Then, having designated them who were named “unclean,” he took up that which was spoken, and says, “Turn away from the unclean!”. Turn away, do not come near them, that is to say, because they have provoked God[2]. And they were frustrated, and were shaken. They were made naked, he says, because they transgressed in not persisting in divine supplication.

    They said among the Gentiles, They will never again dwell before the face of the Lord.

    He has altogether renounced us, he says.

    Our eyes failed in looking for assistance, while we were scoping out vain things; we looked away unto a nation that could not save.

    For having been confident in the help of Egypt, we came to have a false hope. Then they show the exceeding savagery of the enemies: for the old were not considered worthy of mercies, nor the priesthood of praise.

    We hunted down our little ones, so that they could not enter our broad places.

    Now, the Syrian interpreted the phrase, “they hunted,” and he has the following word: “For the enemies hunted down also the young, along with those having grown old.”

    Now these things, he says, we endured, because our time drew near, our days were fulfilled.

    The word showed how, employing weight and measure, the God of all both exercises longsuffering and punishes. For when, having employed longsuffering, he should behold them despising it, he brings down punishment, in order that he might put a stop to sin. Then, he teaches how the swiftness of the enemies overcame even the agility of the townsmen.

    Now, he foretells of the suffering which brings salvation:

    The Spirit of our countenance, Christ the Lord, was taken in our corruptions, to whom we said, “In his shadow we will live among the Gentiles”.[3]

    The Jews said, “Whom does the prophetic word call Christ?”. But who of those who have been called “christs” by them, whether king, or prophet, or priest, is named Lord?”. So they would not even have had to designate him – and yet they are employing much false speaking. Indeed, it is evident how the prophet set forth our Savior and Lord, having been seized by them because of their corruption of ungodliness. But these, the prophets say, would be living in his shadow; and they believed through the holy apostles, and their divine oracles which were proclaimed to the Gentiles. And we see beforehand the things about him, the Holy Spirit having enlightened us. “The Spirit,” he says, “of our countenance is Christ the Lord”: now, the prophet put this prophecy in the lamentations, teaching the Jews of that time how through the hope of these things, not yet having been accomplished, they would obtain forbearance, and enjoy the high calling, even though they were about to betray the Savior of the world to the cross.

    Rejoice and be glad, daughter of Edom, who dwells in the land of Uz; but even upon you will come the cup of the Lord, and you will drink and be drunken, and be poured out.

    The prophetic word has foretold an abundance of evil things to them; for the phrase, “you will be drunken and poured out,” signifies this. And the oracle of David says about them, “Remember, Lord, of the sons of Edom, the day of Jerusalem; who were saying, “Raze, raze, unto its foundations!”[4]. For even being brothers, and though they were neighbors, they would not have peace, but stubbornly retained ancestral hatred.

    Your iniquity has come to an end, Daughter of Zion; he will not again send you captive any longer. He has visited your iniquity, Daughter of Edom, he has uncovered your impious acts.

    He prophesied good things to Zion, but contrary things to Edom. For he said he would make great the punishment against her. But it is also true that, “He will not again send you captive any longer”; for those who kidnapped them were altogether destroyed, even by the Persian Dynasty.

    The prophet therefore put this end in the lamentations; but we sing with the mouth given to man and with the knowledge teaching man, because indeed we have made a clear opinion of the prophet, as it was easy to us; and we have also added the interpretation to the other prophetic books, so as not to leave uninterpreted, because of his grace, even one prophecy. But I beseech the interceders to receive the things said well and rightly, and if anything is left out, to be lenient. For being men, and binding up the most perfect, we have offered a willing service, furnishing a certain profit to the God-lovers and industrious, whom we beseech to give in return for the labor of interpretation their prayer for succor; in order that by this, in speaking, we might finish well that which remains of life, serving our God and Savior and Lord with works and words and thoughts, with whom is the Father, with the Holy Spirit, to whom is befitting glory and majesty, now and forever, unto endless ages.


    [1] Isaiah 30:14
    [2] In other words, Theodoret is saying that when Jeremiah repeats the phrase, “Turn away from the unclean!” he is not recording how that phrase was repeated by the enemies of Israel; rather, the first time he employs the phrase he is quoting Israel's enemies, and the second time he himself is repeating their cry, saying, “turn away from them indeed, for they have provoked God!”.
    [3] The text Theodoret is working with here varies from both the Hebrew and the Septuagint in several points, the most notable of which is his phrase, “Christ the Lord,” which in both the above reads rather, “the Christ of the Lord”. This variant greatly impels the forcefulness of his argument; although it must be mentioned that, even working with the text alternate reading, “the Christ of the Lord,” the definite majority of the early Church fathers both from the West and the East arrived at the same basic position, viz., that Jeremiah is here directly prophesying of Christ.
    [4] Psalm 137:7

    Posted by Nathan on August 10, 2009 02:42 PM

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