inclusive vs. exclusive pronoun (Lam. 3:40)

Many languages distinguish between inclusive and exclusive first-person plural pronouns (“we”). (Click or tap here to see more details)

The inclusive “we” specifically includes the addressee (“you and I and possibly others”), while the exclusive “we” specifically excludes the addressee (“he/she/they and I, but not you”). This grammatical distinction is called “clusivity.” While Semitic languages such as Hebrew or most Indo-European languages such as Greek or English do not make that distinction, translators of languages with that distinction have to make a choice every time they encounter “we” or a form thereof (in English: “we,” “our,” or “us”).

For this verse, the Jarai translation and the Adamawa Fulfulde translation use the inclusive form, “meaning that they refer to the speaker and those around him, that is, the people of Jerusalem.”

Translation commentary on Lamentations 1:8

Verse 8 has undergone considerable rearrangement in Good News Translation. Good News Translation‘s first line corresponds to the second unit in Hebrew, the second line in Good News Translation corresponds to the third unit in Hebrew, and Good News Translation‘s third line is the first unit in Hebrew. The purpose of this reordering of units is to set forth the conditions which describe Jerusalem’s present status. The past act which caused the condition is kept for the final line. It is equally possible, however, to give an accurate picture by following the Hebrew line order as seen in Revised Standard Version.

Jerusalem sinned grievously: sinned does not translate the word rendered “transgressions” in verse 5. Here the term is general and means to do evil or wrong, to err by being opposed to God. Grievously translates a word indicating sorrowful extent and may be translated “greatly,” “terribly,” “gravely.” See Good News Translation‘s final line “with terrible sin.”

She became filthy: the word translated filthy is taken by some interpreters to refer to an object of scorn, and so AB translates “people shake their heads at her.” This ties in well with the last unit of verse 7. Gordis agrees and translates “Therefore she is scorned.” However, most modern translations understand the word to signify the ceremonial uncleanliness of a woman during her period of menstruation, as indicated in Leviticus 12.2, 5; 15.19-24. In view of the context the word is probably to be understood as a variant spelling of the word translated “filthy thing” in verse 17. This line clearly links verse 8 with verse 9.

In many languages she became filthy will refer only to physical dirtiness. In some cases the real meaning may be clear. However, it is unlikely that the reader will understand how sin can result in a person becoming “dirty.” Accordingly in many languages it will be more meaningful to shift to the idea of defilement, and in some languages we may say, for example, “no one would touch her because her sins had made her defiled” or “no one would go near her because she had sinned and was taboo.”

All who honored her despise her: that is, all those nations who formerly respected Jerusalem now hate her. Still speaking of Jerusalem as a woman, the next half-line gives the reason for despising her: for they have seen her nakedness, which Good News Translation renders “she is naked and held in contempt.” Those who honored her are her former allies, as in verse 2. In Ezekiel 16.37 Jerusalem is again represented as a woman and is stripped naked in the sight of her “lovers.” Nakedness was a disgrace, and stripping off the clothing was a punishment for faithless women, as in Hosea 2.3.

Yea, she herself groans: yea translates the Hebrew for “also” and may not require translating. It is because of her shame that she groans (same verb as in verse 4). Turns her face away is her reaction to the public shame of exposure. Good News Translation “hides her face in shame” expresses the idea well in English. Bible en français courant says “She can only withdraw and utter sighs.” Translators should use the common expression suitable for the context. In some languages this is “she covers her head with her hands,” “she places her hands over her eyes,” or “she drops to the ground.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. A Handbook on Lamentations. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Lamentations 2:18

Whether we accept the textual adjustment of Revised Standard Version or take the Hebrew form, the word Cry in the first half-line is matched in the first half-line of the next unit by a particular and picturable form of crying (tears stream down like a torrent). The first half-line of the third unit is a general command to continue without rest, and so has a continuity of thought with day and night in the previous half-line. The final half-line returns to the thought of crying, and thus all three units share a common theme.

In Cry aloud to the Lord, Revised Standard Version has changed the Hebrew, which says “Their heart cried to the Lord.” It is not at all clear to whom “Their” refers. It can hardly refer to Jerusalem’s enemies. Possibly it can refer to the people of Jerusalem rather than to the figure daughter of Zion. Many translations, however, like Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation, modify the Hebrew to express an imperative, which is then parallel to the commands in the middle and final units of the verse. Hebrew Old Testament Text Project gives the Hebrew text an “A” rating and recommends “Their hearts cried out,” which is better expressed by New International Version “The hearts of the people cry out to the Lord.”

Another problem occurs in O daughter of Zion, which in Hebrew is “O wall of daughter Zion.” Revised Standard Version and others modify the Hebrew by deleting the word for “wall.” However, this should not be done merely on the basis that a wall is asked to cry out to the Lord. In poetic discourse, to regard objects as if they were persons is common. See, for example, “The roads to Zion mourn” and “her gates are desolate” in 1.4; and Isaiah 14.31, “Wail, O gate; cry, O city; melt in fear….” Good News Translation keeps the walls: “O Jerusalem, let your very walls cry out to the Lord!” This is a possibility that translators may wish to follow. Some translations link O daughter of Zion to the command Let tears stream down …, and so New International Version says “O wall of the daughter of Zion let your tears flow….” The Handbook recommends that “wall” be retained, as in Good News Translation, and that Cry be expressed as a command, as in Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation.

If translators base their translation on Good News Translation, in this case it will often be necessary to make some adjustments, since the resulting figure may not be natural. For example, “Jerusalem, let your walls cry to the Lord, as people cry when in grief,” or “… let your walls mourn as people mourn for their dead.”

The second command (the first in Hebrew) is Let tears stream down like a torrent day and night. This simile is a call to Jerusalem to cry, weep, show sorrow for her sins, and is parallel in meaning to the first unit. In some languages it may be necessary to say, for example, “Weep until tears flow like rivers from your eyes day and night (or, all the time).”

Give yourself no rest repeats the thought of day and night. Your eyes translates “the daughter of your eye.” This expression is used in Psalm 17.8 and Zechariah 2.8, “apple of the eye,” and has the meaning “pupil of the eye.” This is a case of the figure of speech in which a part of the eye represents the whole eye, and so the sense is “Don’t let your eyes stop crying,” or more naturally, “Keep the tears flowing from your eyes,” or “Keep crying all the time.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. A Handbook on Lamentations. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Lamentations 3:28

The Hebrew verbs in verses 28-30 are translated by Revised Standard Version as third person commands in which let is followed by him plus the verb. Good News Translation has shifted to “we should” in each case. The verbs in Hebrew are in the third person, and so the identity of the person commanded must be taken as “anyone, everyone”; but since “everyone” includes both the poet and his readers or hearers, the inclusive first person plural used by Good News Translation must be seen as very appropriate.

Sit alone in silence may need to be translated “sit by himself and keep silent.”

When he has laid it on him: he presumably refers to the LORD, last mentioned in verse 26. It refers to the yoke in verse 27, and him is the person, the “man” of verse 27, that is, anyone who has been told to sit in silence. However, another interpretation of the verb translated he has laid may be “it is heavy” (AB, New English Bible). In this case the sense is “Let him sit in silence when it (the yoke) is heavy on him.” It seems a reflexive meaning is less likely here, and so the Handbook supports Revised Standard Version. The meaning in Revised Standard Version is not clear, but it can be made clearer by saying, for example, “When the LORD makes someone suffer, that person should sit alone and be silent.” Bible en français courant gives another model: “Let him isolate himself in silence when the LORD tests him.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. A Handbook on Lamentations. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Lamentations 3:60

Seen all their vengeance: their refers to the poet’s enemies, who are also the unnamed opponents in verses 58 and 59. Vengeance refers to repaying harm to someone who has supposedly committed an injustice. In this case their vengeance refers to the vengeful acts committed by the poet’s enemies to get even with him, to repay him for his evil. This explanation no doubt says more than the writer intends to say, since he believes that he has not committed evil against them; accordingly New Jerusalem Bible and the New American Bible (New American Bible) translate “their vindictiveness,” which means “their desire to get revenge.” Biblia Dios Habla Hoy says the same with “their desires for vengeance.” New Jerusalem Bible says still more generally “their malice.”

Their devices against me: devices translates a word meaning “plans, schemes, plots.” Such devices are secretive and have harmful consequences. The same word is used in Job 5.12; Isaiah 65.2; Jeremiah 6.19. In some cases this expression may be rendered, for example, “You know all their secret plans to harm me” or “You know all their secret plans to get revenge and to harm me.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. A Handbook on Lamentations. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Lamentations 5:4

In the days before the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, there was no question of paying for water or for firewood. The inhabitants were able to use the wells and forests to supply their own needs. According to Deuteronomy 29.11 foreigners could cut wood and carry water for the people of Israel; but now all that was changed, and foreigners made the people pay for what had been theirs by right. No indication is given in the text of the way in which payment was enforced.

The Hebrew for this verse is literally “Our water for silver we drink, and our wood for a price comes.” The two parts of this verse are parallel in form, in that the order of words in both half-lines in Hebrew is: noun phrase (“our water … our wood”), means (“for silver … for a price”), subject with verb (“we have drunk … it comes”). Translators may prefer to keep the two half-lines closely parallel in structure. But in some languages translators may find it more natural to use only a single verb; for example, “We have to pay for the water we drink and for the wood we burn.” In many languages the term for “firewood” is distinct from the one for wood that is used for construction.

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. A Handbook on Lamentations. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Lamentations 1:19

I called to my lovers: lovers is as in verse 2. In translation it may be necessary to make clear the purpose of calling to her lovers, that is, to her “allies,” “friends.” For example, “I called to my friends to help me” or “I asked my allies to help me.”

Deceived me is the literal translation of the Hebrew verb. However, in this context the sense is more like “disappointed me.” These lovers failed to come to give Jerusalem support. Accordingly Good News Translation has “refused to help me.” The New International Version (New International Version) has “betrayed me.”

My priests and elders: for priests see verse 4. Elders refers to “leaders, counselors” and in some languages is translated “my old men” or “my wise old men.” This category of persons complements the maidens and young men at the end of verse 18 to give the picture of people at both ends of the social and age scale as being deported or dead.

Perished in the city most likely represents the best Hebrew text. Some scholars have modified the Hebrew to say, with New English Bible, “went hungry and could find nothing.” Hebrew Old Testament Text Project recommends “They died in the city.”

While they sought food to revive their strength: food translates the general term here and not the word for “bread” used in verse 11. To revive their strength is literally “to bring back their soul,” which Good News Translation translates well as “to keep themselves alive.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. A Handbook on Lamentations. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Lamentations 3:7

The closest parallel to this verse is Job 13.27: “Thou puttest my feet in the stocks, and watchest all my paths.” See also Psalm 88.8. Good News Translation reverses the order of the two halves of verse 7.

Walled me about or “built a wall around me” continues the poetic description of the way God torments the man. Walled … about means imprisoned, or as Good News Translation says, “I am a prisoner.” The consequence of the wall about him is I cannot escape or “I cannot go free.”

Not only does the wall keep him in, God has also put heavy chains on me, where chains translates the Hebrew for “bronze” (a metal produced from tin and copper). “Bronze” is used here not to refer to the metal as such but to an object which is made from this metal. In this context the object is heavy chains.

The expression heavy chains on me will often require some adjustments in translation. In some areas chains are not known, and even where they are widely known, they may not be used to bind people. Therefore the translator must often substitute a local material used for binding someone; for example, “He has tied me up with vines,” or simply “He has tied me up” or “He has tied my hands and feet.”

Quoted with permission from Reyburn, William D. A Handbook on Lamentations. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1992. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .