There are a number of issues in this verse. It's one of those in which the overall import is abundantly clear, even while the details remain somewhat obscure.
First, the text of Lam 2:1 -
אֵיכָה יָעִיב בְּאַפּוֹ
ʾēkâ yāʿîb bĕʾappô / ʾădōnāy ʾet-bat-ṣīyyôn
How he has beclouded in anger / the Lord,a Daughter Zion
הִשְׁלִיךְ מִשָּׁמַיִם אֶרֶץ
hišlîk miššāmayim ʾereṣ / tipʾeret yiśraʾēl
He has cast down from heaven earth[wards] / the tiph’eret of Israel
wělōʾ-zākar hădōm-raglāy / bĕyôm ʾappô
and took no noticeb of his footstool / in the day of his anger.
a. This is in most printed Hebrew Bibles; many manuscripts read the Tetragram here.
b. literally, "did not remember"
In all of the poems of Lamentations, the first verse sets to the tone for the poem to follow, and this is true also here in ch. 2. Notice here how "his anger (ʾappô) begins and ends the verse, and reappears in v. 22 at its conclusion. The whole of Lam. 2 is about the the nature and effects of the Lord's anger aginst Jerusalem (note vv. 6-10, which are wholly set within the city, and in vv. 13 and 18 Zion/Jerusalem is directly addressed).
This is word in question, the middle of these three poetic lines.1 In abstract form, the lexical range of this word (right-hand column, second full entry) covers mostly the following:
- beauty, as in jewlery and apparel (Isa 3:18; Ezek 16:17);
- glory, as an attribute, e.g. of crown (Prov 4:9) or name (Isa 63:14);
- fame or honour (Judges 4:9; Prov 17:6)
- or, in a negative sense, pride or arrogance (Isa 10:12).
The Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (HALOT) simply glosses this phrase as "the adornment of Israel ", and adds by way of comment: "what this means in concrete terms is uncertain, perhaps Jerusalem, or perhaps the temple" (!). So, OP is not alone in spotting a difficulty here.
What is clear is that tiph’eret is some glorious attribute of Israel, at home in "heaven" ... but what that is explicitly remains obscure.
(1) Typically with this kind of question, one looks in the first instance to the parallelism of the Hebrew poetry for a guide. Often -- not always -- a corresponding term in an adjacent line will require one or other possible meanings from its partner in its neigbhoring line. Here, the reference to "footstool" in the third line might offer some help. In the Psalms, this is a reference to the Temple (Ps 99:5; 132:7). In Isaiah 66:1, however, "footstool" is the earth itself, for heaven's divine throne (compare Isaiah 6:1-4). This might bring us, then, into a "temple" setting ... although tiph’eret itself does not regularly have this association.
(2) Often, the ancient versions provide a good guide to an earlier understanding (where they are not reduced to guessing themselves, that is). The pre-Christian Greek translation (Septuagint) translates this key phrase by δόξασμα Ισραηλ (doxasma Israel), "glory(?) of Israel". It's hard to know how much help this translation gives. The authoritative Liddell-Scott lexicon (linked above) glosses it as if the meaning of the Greek word was to be wholly aligned with its Hebrew counterpart. This kind of transferance is certainly not unknown, but one wonders, then, why here (and in Isa 46:13, an analogous context) the tranlsator did not simply use the standard and widely used Greek equivalent, δόξα (doxa) "glory". IF the translator's choice is deliberate and thoughtful, then something like "reputation" would be in mind -- not a bad translation at all.
(The Aramaic Targum only gives "glory of Israel" at this point, so not adding much to our investigation.)
(3) Reverting to lexical range of the Hebrew, as an attribute,2 tiph’eret adds lustre or brilliance to the thing it describes. What might that be here, for Israel? Robin Salters, in his Lamentations commentary,3 suggests a number of possibilities, including Israel's "boasting", or the city of Jerusalem itself, or (his own preference) "Israel's illustrious past" (p. 114).
Others hold out the possibility, given the connection of tiph’eret with "crown", that this could be a "metonym" (where the part represents the whole) for the king. Was the king in Jerusalem really pictured in "heaven", however, from which setting to be cast down?
(4) Older commentators can also offer insight, of course. Unfortunately, Rashi opted not to comment on this term so we can't call on his wisdom. What he does say points to the violence and suddenness of the fall, not the nature of the thing cast down.
Unfortunately, this exercise (at least my efforts towards it) are somewhat inconclusive. That the authoritative HALOT withholds judgment should counsel us not to be hasty in wanting to pin down what the poet of Lamentations 2 did not make concrete. Two options stand out, to my mind
Given the slightly unusual Septuagint (Greek) rendering, however, there is some merit in Salters' suggestion that it is the "reputation" of Israel which has been so dramatically cast down. As the poet will go on to say, the God of Israel has become an enemy (Lamentations 2:5). While most of the poem will depict this graphically in terms of the destruction of the holy city, the active neglect to which the Lord subjects his people (2:1c) finds its counterpart in tarnishing their reputation in thus severing (casting from heaven) the relationship between them. This would participate in the sense of as a national attribute (e.g., Deut 26:19; Jer 13:11, cf. 33:9).
However (and on the other hand), when used as an attribute, tiph’eret can also rather generically describe jewels (Isa 3.18), or the temple (as in #1 under "Assessment", above), or a divine attribute (Psalm 71:8; 1 Chron 29:11), or (fairly often) a crown (e.g., Prov 4:9; Ezek 23:42; + several more). Given the parallelism with "footstool", the notion of tiph’eret suggesting a "crown" (i.e., cast down from "head to foot", in its entirety), is also appealing.
This is, however, one of those occasions where the poetic, metaphorical, and evocative language of the Bible resists the pedantic precision we as modern readers sometimes crave.
- It's a good opportunity, too, to see the poet's characteristic qinah, or dirge/lament meter: notice how each line has a 3:2 pattern. If the line is abstracted as A/B, then A has three stress units, and B has two.
- Rather than "free-standing" as in the "fame"/"pride" nuances noted above.
- R. Salters, Lamentations: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (International Critical Commentary; London: T & T Clark, 2010). For some reason, the next link to the precise page works in Chrome, but not Firefox...