Pity is usually defined to be the uneasiness we feel at the unhappiness of others, prompting us to compassionate them, with a desire for their relief. God is said to pity them that fear him, as a father pitieth his children (Ps 103:13). Pity is thus a Christian grace, to the practice of which we are exhorted by the apostle: "Love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous" (1Pe 3:8).
The phrase נָשַׁים רִחֲמִנַיּוֹת, nashim rachamaniyoth, rendered "pitiful women" in our version (La 4:10), properly refers to the tenderness and affectionate love which is the distinguishing trait of the female character; and that such women should in the "siege and the straitness" be driven to and adopt the terrible expedient of feeding upon their own children, as in this passage they are stated to have done, is an awful instance of the literal fulfillment of the threatenings of the Lord in the event of the disobedience of the house of Israel (De 28:57). The same horrible expedient was resorted to also in the last siege of Jerusalem, as it had formerly been at the siege of Samaria, in the reign of Ahab (2Ki 6:28-29).
Pitiful is a word whose derivations have by modern usage been almost limited to the sense of mean, contemptible, or insignificant. In the Bible and Prayerbook the old and primary meaning of full of mercy compassionate, or tender, is retained. The English Prayer-book gives us these examples: "... though we be tied and bound with the chain of our sins, yet let the pitifulness of thy great mercy loose us." — Occasional Prayer. Again: "Pitifully behold the sorrows of our hearts;" which petition in the Litany is thus altered in the American Prayer-book, "With pity behold the sorrows of our hearts." In these the original and better sense of the word is alone intended. In the Primer of king Edward VI there is this expression: "O pitiful Physician, and Healer both of body and soul, Christ Jesu!" And Latimer, in his sermon on the birth of Christ, remarks: "Preachers exhort us to godliness, to do good works, to be pitiful and liberal unto the poor;" that is, to be compassionate, tenderhearted, and sympathizing to them.