Today: [Lamentations 1] Jerusalem in Ruins. Could what happened to the people of God in Lamentations, fall out to Christianity as a whole? If the Jews according to Paul were “broken off” because of unbelief, could Christianity suffer the same fate? The book of Lamentations is an obscure, unpopular book that is seldom if ever read or taught on today. Yet it holds a very necessary message for those of us look to Christ as our salvation and our hope in the midst of a sin laden world.
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[Lam 1:1-22 KJV] 1 How doth the city sit solitary, [that was] full of people! [how] is she become as a widow! she [that was] great among the nations, [and] princess among the provinces, [how] is she become tributary! 2 She weepeth sore in the night, and her tears [are] on her cheeks: among all her lovers she hath none to comfort [her]: all her friends have dealt treacherously with her, they are become her enemies. 3 Judah is gone into captivity because of affliction, and because of great servitude: she dwelleth among the heathen, she findeth no rest: all her persecutors overtook her between the straits. 4 The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts: all her gates are desolate: her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she [is] in bitterness. 5 Her adversaries are the chief, her enemies prosper; for the LORD hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions: her children are gone into captivity before the enemy. 6 And from the daughter of Zion all her beauty is departed: her princes are become like harts [that] find no pasture, and they are gone without strength before the pursuer. 7 Jerusalem remembered in the days of her affliction and of her miseries all her pleasant things that she had in the days of old, when her people fell into the hand of the enemy, and none did help her: the adversaries saw her, [and] did mock at her sabbaths. 8 Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore she is removed: all that honoured her despise her, because they have seen her nakedness: yea, she sigheth, and turneth backward. 9 Her filthiness [is] in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter. O LORD, behold my affliction: for the enemy hath magnified [himself]. 10 The adversary hath spread out his hand upon all her pleasant things: for she hath seen [that] the heathen entered into her sanctuary, whom thou didst command [that] they should not enter into thy congregation. 11 All her people sigh, they seek bread; they have given their pleasant things for meat to relieve the soul: see, O LORD, and consider; for I am become vile.
We now come to the book of Lamentations, a collections of related poems grieving the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the captivity of God’s people. The author remains nameless in the text but is generally attributed to Jeremiah. In the Septuagint translation of this book from Hebrew to Greek the translators actually inserted a notation that it is Jeremiah who wrote it.
The original Hebrew title for the book was “Ekah” meaning “Alas” or “How” as a question as to how the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem could have come to such an end. The structure of the book consists of 5 poems. The first 4 are acrostics, meaning they each have 22 verses corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The 5th book is not acrostic but still has 22 verses.
The book of Lamentations is a book presented as a man struggling with evil and suffering in the earth. In contrast to Job (who questioned unexplained suffering), the suffering and sorrow of Lamentations is entirely attributed to the sinful, idolatrous nature of the people of God, upon whom the judgements of God have now fallen. The dark themes of this book have relegated it to a place of being very little read and lightly esteemed among the other books of the bible. When someone comes to Christ we seldom recommend to them the book of Lamentations as a first book of which to study!
The solitary city of verse 1 is of course the now ruined city of Jerusalem. Once the gleaming and shining wonder of Solomon’s kingdom, Jerusalem is abandoned, its walls pulled down and its temple destroyed. The people are in captivity and those remaining as the verse mentions, are only an impoverished, tributary state under the heel of the king of Babylon.
In verse 2 we find the city spoken of as a woman whose lovers have forsaken her. For decades, the kings of Judah have courted Ethiopia, Egypt and other nations to serve her interests, all to no avail. Ethiopia was no ally, Egypt dealt treacherously with the people of God and now the entire region is fallen into the ruin of a conquered people. The people are scattered, driven into the far nations, where they are persecuted and hounded relentlessly.
The writer mounts that the feasts of the Lord are no longer held in Jerusalem’s ruined gates and that none of the paths to Zion, where the king’s palace once stood and where the great kings of David were buried are now neglected and in disrepair. All the while Babylon prospers while the priests, the people and the princes who haven’t suffered imprisonment and death are without strength and without hope. How could all of this have happened? The whole of the first verses of this chapter are a snapshot of devastation, ruin and difficulty upon the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Have you ever been through difficulty from which there seemed there could be no recovery? There are times that you stand on the promises of God and believe for deliverance and answered prayer when exactly the opposite happens. In such times, we face deep contradiction between the promise of God and our life’s situation and our faith is greatly challenged. Leaving us not without explanation, the author tells us in verse 8 that these things fell out to the city of Jerusalem because the people had grievously sinned. Their sin was not a brief indiscretion, but a generational, systemic culture of hypocrisy and transgression that completely contaminated their culture to the point that they couldn’t even gauge the contradiction between their feigned love of God and their actual conflicted lifestyles in the light of God’s word.
In our day when leaders seek to explain unrealized blessing in our lives, they tell us that God has chosen us for the “high honor” of suffering the unexplainable absence of God’s favor in our circumstances and situations. We are led to believe that when Christians suffer it is because God loves them so much, and because they are so godly they are being counted worth to suffer in His name. It is a fact that there are times we go through things because of our testimony, but the overwhelming pretext given throughout the Old Testament for such struggles is the sinful condition of the hearts of the people.
The writer goes on in verse 9 to describe the filthiness of a sinful woman who takes no thought as to why she is going through such horrible things, and that without any comforter or friend. Jeremiah takes all this in, expressing it in the poetry of the chapter and declares that he has become fully vile just in the contemplation of the disaster that has now been visited on a disobedient people.
12 [Is it] nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow, which is done unto me, wherewith the LORD hath afflicted [me] in the day of his fierce anger. 13 From above hath he sent fire into my bones, and it prevaileth against them: he hath spread a net for my feet, he hath turned me back: he hath made me desolate [and] faint all the day. 14 The yoke of my transgressions is bound by his hand: they are wreathed, [and] come up upon my neck: he hath made my strength to fall, the Lord hath delivered me into [their] hands, [from whom] I am not able to rise up. 15 The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty [men] in the midst of me: he hath called an assembly against me to crush my young men: the Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, [as] in a winepress. 16 For these [things] I weep; mine eye, mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me: my children are desolate, because the enemy prevailed. 17 Zion spreadeth forth her hands, [and there is] none to comfort her: the LORD hath commanded concerning Jacob, [that] his adversaries [should be] round about him: Jerusalem is as a menstruous woman among them. 18 The LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment: hear, I pray you, all people, and behold my sorrow: my virgins and my young men are gone into captivity. 19 I called for my lovers, [but] they deceived me: my priests and mine elders gave up the ghost in the city, while they sought their meat to relieve their souls. 20 Behold, O LORD; for I [am] in distress: my bowels are troubled; mine heart is turned within me; for I have grievously rebelled: abroad the sword bereaveth, at home [there is] as death. 21 They have heard that I sigh: [there is] none to comfort me: all mine enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that thou hast done [it]: thou wilt bring the day [that] thou hast called, and they shall be like unto me. 22 Let all their wickedness come before thee; and do unto them, as thou hast done unto me for all my transgressions: for my sighs [are] many, and my heart [is] faint.
In verse 12 Jeremiah scolds those that pass by, those that have seen what has happened in Judah, for not taking thought to what they have witnessed. Sometimes when others suffer we make note of it as casual observers, clucking our tongues and remarking how unfortunate the situation, as though such things cannot happen to us. In Romans 11 Paul rehearses the suffering of God’s people in the Old Testament and warns us:
[Rom 11:21 KJV] 21 For if God spared not the natural branches, [take heed] lest he also spare not thee.
This is a very important point. The Jewish people believed that their pedigree in Abraham unconditionally preserved them as a people constituted as the very center of all that God would ever do in the earth. Jesus Himself reprimanded this presumptuous thinking in the gospel of Matthew:
[Mat 3:9 KJV] 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to [our] father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
The words of Paul in Romans 11 constitute a warning for us that just as the descendants of Abraham as the natural branches that were not spared, not to think that God could not take us, who have been grafted in from the Gentile nations as born again Christians, that we ourselves as a people could not likewise be rejected. Just as the Jews presumed upon the fact of Abraham as their father, perhaps we should realize that God is fully capable of rejecting Christianity as a system just as He did the idolatrous nation of Judah.
As the 1st century Jews were offended beyond measure to suggest that Jesus, and the church He established were now the apple of God’s eye, what would we do in our day if God, having exhausted His tolerance of sinful, cold hearted Christian religion, turned from us to another people, another dispensation? This is the caution of Romans 11:21 and Matt. 3:9. What is yet to be seen is are these words more than a caution? Do they actually constitute prophecy which may yet come to pass? Such a consideration gives us new interest in the content of the book of Lamentations to find some semblance of clarity that we as individuals, or as a people may not suffer the same outcome that Jeremiah laments in his writing.
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