Lamentations 4:6-8 – The Experience of the Wealthy


Lamentations 4:6-8


The poet gives particular attention to the suffering of elites in Jerusalem during the Babylonian siege.


Some of the language in this fourth poem of Lamentations points to the fate of Jerusalem’s ruling elites: “Those who feasted on delicacies perish in the streets; those who were brought up in purple cling to ash heaps” (v.5). The Hebrew word for “delicacies” here refers to rich food. In the parallel phrase, “purple” (or possibly “crimson”) refers to dyed clothing, which would have been expensive. While it may not have specifically indicated royalty in ancient Israel as it did for the Roman emperors, it certainly would have signified some wealth and status.

The word translated as “princes” refers to people set apart for religious service. It may specifically be pointing to Nazirites, who abstained from alcohol and did not cut their hair (Numbers 6:1-21), or more generally to people consecrated for religious service. (The biblical judge Samson is an example of a Nazirite; see Judges 13-16.) Like the wealthy, the religious elites are no longer distinguished from the community by their pristine clothes and a healthy glow that comes from being well-fed.

The poem grieves that the war has left no one untouched; wealth and status have been stripped away. It underscores the terrors of occupation, which, like so many things, affects the poor first and worst, and yet wealth and status have not shielded the elites of the city from hunger and violence.