The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 BC smashed everything that had given God’s chosen people a sense of national identity.
The process had not been quick, however. Babylon’s military forces breached the walls only after a prolonged, two-year siege. Jeremiah the prophet witnessed it all, and the Holy Spirit moved him to inscribe the nation’s grief in the form of poetic laments, resulting in the book of Lamentations.
Throughout Lamentations, Jeremiah skillfully painted word pictures to describe the terrors he experienced. His palette included metaphors, parallelisms, and personifications that bring color and intense feeling to the pages of this heartrending book. Jeremiah’s tears flowed for the terrible suffering the Jewish people endured during the Babylonian assault. They also flowed because he realized God brought holy and due justice on an unrepentant, sinful nation.
Through His prophets, God had pleaded incessantly with Israel to repent. He had even forewarned the nation as far back as Moses. Jeremiah himself had predicted similar horrors. Instead of repenting, the nation mocked and scorned God’s messengers until it was too late. Throughout Lamentations, Jeremiah acknowledged the sins of his people, declaring them worse even than the sins of Sodom. Consequently, God’s judgment was justified. The magnitude of the disaster God brought suggests that He abandoned His people. How could such complete devastation insinuate anything else? Still, Jeremiah, through his tears, did not give up hope. He knew his God. Thus he cried out to Him for mercy and restoration.
Lamentations 4: Remembering
In the fourth chapter of Lamentations, Jeremiah testified concerning the horrible days of siege, famine, and destruction. He staggered at how Israel was treated (vv. 1–2). Its situation implied the nation had little value, no more than clay pots. Images of famine and its animalistic effects on human beings haunted Jeremiah (vv. 3–10). He described infants dying of thirst because their mothers refused to nurse them. Even the lowly jackal does not behave so cruelly, he said.
Still, Jeremiah, through his tears, did not give up hope. He knew his God. Thus he cried out to Him for mercy and restoration.
The famine was so severe that Jeremiah said, “Those slain by the sword are better off than those who die of hunger; for these pine away” (v. 9). The sword, at least, was quick.
Jeremiah brooded, the Lord truly had vented His great rage. He burned with such wrath that the foundations of Israel’s society were not only shaken, but destroyed: “The Lord has fulfilled His fury, He has poured out His fierce anger. He kindled a fire in Zion, and it has devoured its foundations” (v. 11). Outsiders “would not have believed” that Jerusalem could have been overrun by conquerors (v. 12). Yet it was, because of the sins of Israel’s corrupt spiritual leaders. Their vicious actions brought consequences. God despised such immoral phonies and scattered them among the nations to become dishonored outcasts and untouchables (v. 16).
Lamentations 5: Requesting Restoration
Then Jeremiah prayed, making what seems like two requests. He asked that God remember Israel’s calamity: “Remember, O Lord, what has come upon us; Look, and behold our reproach!” (v. 1). When someone in the Bible calls on God to remember, he does not imply that God has forgotten or is even capable of forgetting. The speaker simply draws attention to the situation and looks to God for the beneficial outcome. In drawing attention to Israel’s situation, Jeremiah summarized the distressful facets of the nation’s predicament (vv. 2–16). Foreigners now controlled Israel’s property. Jeremiah’s people were destitute and unprotected, like orphans and widows.
As Jeremiah contemplated all the grief and shame his people bore, he painfully moaned, “Woe to us” (v. 16). Jeremiah courageously asked God, for the first time in the book of Lamentations, the ultimate question— one that has been asked by humankind throughout the centuries when confronted with great sorrow: Why? “Why do You forget us forever, and forsake us for so long a time?” (v. 20). In poetic parallel form, Jeremiah inquired about the duration of God’s apparent rejection, wondering if it would be permanent. Born in grief, Jeremiah’s question was rhetorical, meant to “remind” God of what Jeremiah himself had prophesied before the desolation of Jerusalem: Thus says the Lord: “If heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel for all that they have done,” says the Lord (Jer. 31:37).
Because Jeremiah was convinced God is faithful to His Word, he submitted a second request. He asked for restoration: “Turn us back to You, O Lord, and we will be restored” (v. 21). This request is the crux of the chapter, if not the whole book.
The second sentence of verse 21, “Renew our days as of old,” is simply a poetic parallel of the same request in the first sentence. In effect, Jeremiah asked God for the good old days. But he understood that the good old days are only good when people are right with God. To return to the good old days, Israel first needed to return to God. Jeremiah concluded the book with a slight expression of doubt. Bring us back, he said, “Unless You have utterly rejected us, and are very angry with us!” (v. 22).
Share this Post
Share this Post
Surveying the consequences of Israel’s sin and the intensity of God’s wrath, the prophet could not help but wonder if God had utterly rejected His people. Yet he knew that such a thing could not be true. As he said earlier, “For the Lord will not cast off forever. Though He causes grief, yet He will show compassion according to the multitude of His mercies” (3:31–32).
“Do not fear, O Jacob My servant,” says the Lord, “For I am with you; For I will make a complete end of all the nations to which I have driven you, But I will not make a complete end of you. I will rightly correct you, for I will not leave you wholly unpunished” (Jer. 46:28).
God always has and always will keep His promises to the Jewish people. It is part of His character to be a promise keeper. And may we remember as believers in Jesus when we are in pain and unsure what God is doing in the circumstances, what the Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once said, “If you can’t see His way past the tears, trust His heart.”
Parts of this blog were taken from the March/April 2005 Israel My Glory magazine