Lamentations 4:3 NIV
Even jackals offer their breasts to nurse their young, but my people have become heartless like ostriches in the desert.
Lamentations 4:3 LEB
Even the jackal bears the beast and nurses their cubs; but the daughter of my people has become ruthless, like ostriches in the wilderness.
Lamentations 4:3 NRSV
Even the jackals offer the breast and nurse their young, but my people has become cruel, like the ostriches in the wilderness.
You may wonder or question why there are three different versions of the verse above when they are virtually identical. The answer to the question is the use of three like words: heartless, ruthless, and cruel to describe the ostriches behavior and in turn the behavior of mothers during this time of lamenting in Judah, the Southern Kingdom.
Few versions have the word heartless, while most have the word cruel. Nonetheless, the verse was chosen because to become heartless is to become cruel and ruthless – without a heart that loves, cares, and hopes. Then there was (for me) the question of what does it mean to be like the ostriches in the desert/wilderness. Scripture provides part of the answer.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them, that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers; she cares not that her labor was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom or give her a share of good sense. Job 39
For more detail, the Pulpit Commentary provides the following about ostriches and their eggs
The eggs destined for hatching are deposited in a nest hole scratched in the sand, but there are other eggs laid, not in the sand, but near it, to all appearance forsaken. These eggs, however, are not exposed in simple stupidity, though they do often fall victims to violence. “They are intended for the nourishment of the newly hatched young ones, which in barren districts would at first find difficulty in procuring food” (Houghton, ‘Natural History of the Ancients,’ p. 198).
Now before we question why God would be so cruel to create such circumstances that mothers would become heartless, ruthless, and cruel towards their young, we need to remember it was a common practice for Baal or Moloch worshipers to sacrifice their children against God’s commands.
They forsook all the commands of the Lord their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. 2 Kings 17:16-17
This was a detestable practice before God and resulted in first the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and now the conquering and exile of Judah, the Southern Kingdom. During the period of conquest, Judah suffered great deprivations causing the prophet Jeremiah great distress as he observed it what he had once prophesized. Let us follow God, accept His Free offer of Grace so we may never face such circumstances.