Jerusalem’s Anguish and God’s Anger

Posted: November 5, 2014 in Lamentations

Lamentations 1-2, “Jerusalem’s Anguish and God’s Anger”

Just how bad is sin?  We often quote Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…” but how often do we stop to think about that?  The wages of sin – the price that is paid for sin – the very thing that we earn as a result of sin, is death.  Death.  Not jail-time – not guilty feelings and bad consciences, but capital punishment.  When we sin, we enthrone ourselves above the King of the Universe.  When we sin, we dishonor and rebel against the God who gave us life.  Whether that sin is “little” (a white-lie), or “huge” (murder), at the core of all of it is treasonous rebellion, and the appropriate punishment for treason is death.

This is vividly illustrated in the foundations of our faith.  WE are forgiven because JESUS died and rose again.  WE sinned, and GOD died.  Thankfully, He did not stay dead, but rose to victorious life in three days.  But even so, the wages of sin is death.  The good news is that we don’t have to pay the wage for ourselves.  We can put our trust in Jesus who is the resurrection and the life, and we can experience eternal life through Him.

That said, someone still had to die.  Sin is serious stuff.  It brings death, slavery, and destruction, and all of this is emphasized in the book of Lamentations.  Lamentations takes a good hard look at the awful consequences of sin, and rightly weeps over it.  Whereas we sometimes have a tendency to gloss over sin and its results, the book of Lamentations does not.  We have to understand the sheer awfulness of sin if we are to truly appreciate the gift of grace we have in the work of Jesus, and Lamentations does exactly that.

The book is officially anonymous, but tradition going back beyond the translation of the LXX attributes it to the prophet Jeremiah.  Jeremiah was in a unique position to be able to write Lamentations, as he was not only a personal witness to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, but he was the primary mouthpiece that God used to warn the Jews of that destruction.  Nowhere in this book does Jeremiah jump for joy with a sarcastic “I told you so,” but rather he weeps over the city and the desolation they experienced.

When exactly Jeremiah wrote the book, no one knows.  The city itself was conquered by Nebuchadnezzar’s armies in 586BC, so it was obviously after that time.  Some speculate that Jeremiah wrote it in the three months that followed it, prior to being carted off to Egypt (against his will).  Others believe it was written later, after Jeremiah had more time to reflect upon what had happened.  Whatever the case, Jeremiah does his people an immense service, as he gives them a way to grieve.  The book seems to have a liturgical function in helping the people work through the consequences of their sin through confession and repentance, and in fact the book is still read on an annual basis among the Jews on the date commemorating the Babylonian captivity.

The text itself is quite beautiful from a Hebrew perspective in that most of the chapters are acrostic (moving in alphabetical order).  Chapters 1, 2, & 4 are each comprised of 22 verses, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Chapter 3 is the climax of the book, and has three verses for each letter.  Chapter 5 still has 22 verses, but it moves away from the strict acrostic format and it more of a prayer of repentance.  In a sense, Jeremiah teaches the people to mourn over their sin from “A to Z.”

How seriously do we take our sin?  Let’s see Jeremiah’s perspective on the sin of the Jews.  Chapter 1 deals with Jerusalem’s anguish, and Chapter 2 deals with God’s anger.  Their current anguish was their own fault, as they had incurred the righteous anger of their holy God.

Lamentations 1

  • Sorrow and mourning over Jerusalem (vss. 1-11)

1 How lonely sits the city That was full of people! How like a widow is she, Who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces Has become a slave! 2 She weeps bitterly in the night, Her tears are on her cheeks; Among all her lovers She has none to comfort her. All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; They have become her enemies. 3 Judah has gone into captivity, Under affliction and hard servitude; She dwells among the nations, She finds no rest; All her persecutors overtake her in dire straits.

  • There is an emptiness described here – a desolation.  Jerusalem was once “full of people,” but now those people have been carted off into slavery.  Jerusalem experienced a grand humiliation as a city, going from a “princess” to “a slave.”  She had been the delight of God – a gift from God to His people, providing a place in which they could worship Him at the holy temple, and now it is left desolate.
  • In response, the city “weeps bitterly.”  The people have been taken away, and the personified city grieves her loss.  Of course, the now-captive Jews grieve and weep themselves, now fully understanding the consequences of their sin.  They had taken up idolatrous gods as “lovers,” but they proved to be no help.  Now the people are alone and comfortless (a theme that comes up repeatedly in Lamentations).
  • Even former allies have turned against her.  She is betrayed, and suffers “under affliction” without rest.  This once was a people of praise – the very name “Judah” literally translates “praise.”  But now the praise is gone, and they are suffering slaves.
  • Sin brings so much loss!  To go from royalty to slavery is utter fall and ruin.  The same thing can happen to nations as well as individuals.  The brief enjoyment someone receives from sin can be quickly taken, and the lasting result is one of shame and suffering. 

4 The roads to Zion mourn Because no one comes to the set feasts. All her gates are desolate; Her priests sigh, Her virgins are afflicted, And she is in bitterness. 5 Her adversaries have become the master, Her enemies prosper; For the LORD has afflicted her Because of the multitude of her transgressions. Her children have gone into captivity before the enemy.

  • The personified city of Zion continues to grieve because of the lack of worshippers.  All the “roads” are emptied.  There are no more pilgrims coming in for the great “feasts” of Israel.  Who is left to celebrate the Passover?  All have been taken.  All of the praise (the “Judah”) is gone, and all that remains is bitterness.
  • Instead of the glory of God being sung by the people and the sacrifices being performed by the priests, all that is left are the “adversaries” of Israel.  They are the masters now.  The people of God were supposed to rule over their neighbors, and experience the protection of God from outside attacks.  But God’s protection was removed, and the people of God suffered just as much as any other Gentile nation.  The Jews themselves were treated as Gentiles, as if no relationship with God existed. 
  • In fact, God Himself had turned against Zion.  “For the LORD has afflicted her.”  They had sinned against God, committing great “transgressions,” and they would suffer the wrath of God because of it.  Ultimately, all of the sorrow of the Jews was their own fault.  They had brought this upon themselves.
  • The Lord might discipline us in our sin – He might allow us to experience the consequences of our choices – but those consequences are still OUR fault.  When we transgress against God, we need to expect the natural result of those transgressions.  When those who don’t know God sin against God, they can expect the judgment of God.  When those who DO know God act as if they DON’T know God, there’s no reason to expect anything different.  In fact, there’s even MORE reason for God to act.  After all, a loving father disciplines his children, and likewise God will discipline us.

6 And from the daughter of Zion All her splendor has departed. Her princes have become like deer That find no pasture, That flee without strength Before the pursuer. 7 In the days of her affliction and roaming, Jerusalem remembers all her pleasant things That she had in the days of old. When her people fell into the hand of the enemy, With no one to help her, The adversaries saw her And mocked at her downfall.

  • Looking back, the people could see how much they lost.  Zion once had glory and “splendor,” but now it was gone.  Beyond just the beauty of the city itself was its centerpiece: the holy temple.  There was no more glorious place in all the earth than the place where God chose to allow His glory to rest for people to come and worship Him.  But now His glory had departed that place, and it was torn to rubble.
  • Instead of glory, now there was mockery.  Instead of brave warrior princes, now there were frightened people running for their lives.  Jerusalem’s enemies witnessed it, and they rejoiced over the fall of the city.  As Americans, we got a taste of this on 9/11 as many Muslim nations rejoiced when the Twin Towers fell.  This is the same sort of hatred the Jews have experienced for thousands of years.
  • This is also something that is experienced on an individual basis.  Christians have no lack of enemies in our culture.  There are all kinds of people who hate God, and thus hate the God of born-again believers in Jesus.  When believers fall into sin, and experience the deserved consequences of their actions, there are other people who smugly rejoice.  The downfall of Christians not only harms the individual believer, but the testimony of the gospel as a whole.

8 Jerusalem has sinned gravely, Therefore she has become vile. All who honored her despise her Because they have seen her nakedness; Yes, she sighs and turns away. 9 Her uncleanness is in her skirts; She did not consider her destiny; Therefore her collapse was awesome; She had no comforter. “O LORD, behold my affliction, For the enemy is exalted!” 10 The adversary has spread his hand Over all her pleasant things; For she has seen the nations enter her sanctuary, Those whom You commanded Not to enter Your assembly.

  • Sin brings shame.  The Jews had “sinned greatly,” and they experienced the “vile” dishonor and humiliation that came as a result.  It’s not just mockery from the outside, but the internal shame that is felt once sin is exposed.  For Jerusalem, it’s pictured as being stripped naked and being exposed as unclean.  For others, it may be a loss of a job due to an arrest record – or family issues being brought out into full view of other people.  Even if others don’t heap condemnation upon us, we might heap it upon ourselves because sin suddenly-revealed is often shameful and humiliating.
    • One way to deal with this is the opposite of what we might think.  Instead of hiding sin; confess it.  Instead of keeping it in the dark, bring it out into the light.  Sin that is confessed is sin that can be cleansed – like a wound that is brought out into the open so that antiseptic can be poured on it.  It may hurt for a moment, but that’s when the healing can begin.  It’s when a wound is hidden that it festers and gets worse.  Don’t let sin fester in your life.  Confess it & deal with it.  Those who do find cleansing and forgiveness in Christ Jesus (1 Jn 1:9).
  • Sin brings short-sightedness.  Jeremiah writes of Jerusalem, “She did not consider her destiny.”  The Jews did not look ahead to consider the consequences of their actions.  Obviously they were warned, but the warnings were ignored.  All they focused upon was their immediate pleasures and comforts – and ultimately this left them without a “comforter.”  We do the same thing in our sin.  Instead of thinking through the long-term consequences, we are short-sighted, looking only at the immediate pleasure.  Marriages, ministries, and careers that lasted for decades can be come crashing down in an instant because of a few moments of sin.  We cannot afford to be short-sighted!
  • Sin brings defilement – sin corrupts.  Because of Jerusalem’s sin, her Gentile enemies were “exalted,” and they came trouncing into the “sanctuary” of God to destroy it.  The very people who were excluded from entering the temple to worship ended up coming in to tear it down.  Likewise, sin corrupts the temple of our bodies, and the temple of our hearts.  Our literal physical bodies can be defiled as the result of sin.  Just look at STD’s, or drug-induced brain damage, or alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver.  Those things are sin-based physical defilement.  Of course mentally and spiritually, the corruption can be just as bad.  People carry the mental scars of their sin long after the physical ones have healed.  Sometimes our view of God is marred.  Sometimes relationships are so badly damaged that it takes a miracle to heal them.
    • The good news is that our God is in the business of miracles!  What was once crudely defiled by our sin can be made whole by the grace of Jesus.  What is impossible with men is possible with God.  We certainly don’t want to experience that kind of defilement, but neither do we want to give up hope if we do.  Keep praying and keep seeking the Lord Jesus in humility and faith.  Be willing to do the hard work of reconciliation.

11 All her people sigh, They seek bread; They have given their valuables for food to restore life. “See, O LORD, and consider, For I am scorned.”

  • This sums up everything the Jews had lost…which was everything.  They were ashamed, and they were stricken.  They couldn’t even find bread to eat, and all the riches that they once enjoyed as a nation (under David and Solomon) were all gone.  They once were the wonder of the world; now they were cast off and forsaken by it.
  • Jerusalem acknowledges God’s anger (vss. 12-17)

12 “Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by? Behold and see If there is any sorrow like my sorrow, Which has been brought on me, Which the LORD has inflicted In the day of His fierce anger. 13 “From above He has sent fire into my bones, And it overpowered them; He has spread a net for my feet And turned me back; He has made me desolate And faint all the day.

  • Speaking on behalf of Jerusalem, Jeremiah takes up the voice of his people.  Their sorrow served as an example to the nations.  The Gentiles who passed by Judah would know that Judah was afflicted in a way that no other nation could be afflicted.  How so?  They had been cast down by Almighty God.  It’s not that other nations didn’t suffer the results of warfare, or Babylonian conquest.  It’s not even that other nations had not experienced the wrath of God (Egypt, for instance).  But no other nation was in the place of Israel, who once experienced the covenant blessings of God, and then also the fullness of His wrath.  They went from the highest of places to the lowest among the nations.
  • The emphasis here (and in Chapter 2) is on the actions of God.  What Judah experienced wasn’t mere happenstance, or the typical destruction by a conquering army.  It was the wrath of God.  The “LORD has inflicted in the day of His fierce anger.”  The Almighty Creator God (the Covenant God of Israel) purposefully turned His anger upon Jerusalem, and the people suffered the results.  They were overwhelmed by the all-consuming holy fire of God, and caught by Him as a deer might be caught by a hunter.
  • This was God’s work, but it was Judah’s fault.  There is no doubt that God brought forth His wrath, but Judah had earned it for herself.  All of this came as a result of her transgressions and sins.  See vs. 14…

14 “The yoke of my transgressions was bound; They were woven together by His hands, And thrust upon my neck. He made my strength fail; The Lord delivered me into the hands of those whom I am not able to withstand. 15 “The Lord has trampled underfoot all my mighty men in my midst; He has called an assembly against me To crush my young men; The Lord trampled as in a winepress The virgin daughter of Judah.

  • Sin brings slavery.  Judah had sinned against the Lord, and God constructed a yoke of slavery for the Jews to bear.  Like a beast of burden has to pull a yoke at the whim of its master, so did the Jews have a new master.  Their sin had enslaved them.  This is always the case with sin.  Romans 6:16–17, "(16) Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? (17) But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered." []  The question for Christians is simply this: once we’ve been freed from that kind of slavery to sin, why would we willingly subject ourselves to it again?  Far better to be a slave of God than a slave of death.  Yet too many Christians claim life in Christ, but turn right back around and start walking again as a slave to sin.  That’s not what God would have for us – when He offers us life and freedom, we need to walk in that.  Walk according to the calling by which you were called.  Walk in the life that you have in Christ, and stop messing around with the sins (and slavery) of the past.
  • The Jews had the opportunity to serve God, but they made the choice to serve sin.  And it enslaved them, and caused all kinds of destruction for them.  God Himself came against them as an Enemy.  The God who so long ago delivered them from the slavery of the Egyptians ended up delivering them over to the Babylonians.  And not only did God deliver the Jews to their enemies, He crushed them in the process.  This wasn’t an easy & simple transition of power; God “trampled” them.  Just as the book of Revelation describes the “great winepress of the wrath of God” (Rev 14:19), so does Jeremiah describe Jerusalem as having been tread in the winepress of God.  It’s a violent, bloody picture – but an accurate one when describing sin.
    • We need to be careful about whitewashing the way we view sin.  It is not just “sort of” bad; it is bloody, violent, and awful.  It certainly is not something that we should consider whether or not we want to play with.  It’s something we ought to stay as far away from as possible.  Just as we would push poison far away from us on a table (no matter how tasty it might appear as a drink), so we ought to push sin far away from us.

16 “For these things I weep; My eye, my eye overflows with water; Because the comforter, who should restore my life, Is far from me. My children are desolate Because the enemy prevailed.” 17 Zion spreads out her hands, But no one comforts her; The LORD has commanded concerning Jacob That those around him become his adversaries; Jerusalem has become an unclean thing among them.

  • It isn’t just Jeremiah who weeps; it’s Jerusalem.  The tears flow as they finally come to grips with the results of what they have done.  They are now in isolation.  They are (1) isolated away from God, who was “the comforter, who should restore” their lives, and (2) isolated from blessing, for now her “children are desolate.”  They have nothing – no comfort, and no protection from her enemies.
  • God’s judgment is just (vss. 18-22)

18 “The LORD is righteous, For I rebelled against His commandment. Hear now, all peoples, And behold my sorrow; My virgins and my young men Have gone into captivity. 19 “I called for my lovers, But they deceived me; My priests and my elders Breathed their last in the city, While they sought food To restore their life. 20 “See, O LORD, that I am in distress; My soul is troubled; My heart is overturned within me, For I have been very rebellious. Outside the sword bereaves, At home it is like death.

  • It is Jeremiah writing, but he writes from the perspective of Jerusalem.  Finally, Jerusalem admits her sin and rebellion against God.  God has brought all of this turmoil upon her, trampling her down as in a violent winepress, but God is not evil for doing so.  On the contrary, “the LORD is righteous.”  God is holy, and what He did to Jerusalem is just.  God wasn’t being mean or vindictive; He vindicated His own righteousness when He brought down His wrath upon Jerusalem.  They had repeatedly rebelled against God, and God had repeatedly warned them.  For God to have done nothing would have been unjust.  Think of it: a judge who warns a repeat offender time and time again about jail time, but never once sentences him to jail is an unjust judge.  Either the judge is incompetent, or he lacks the strength of his convictions, or lacks regard for the law.  Only the judge who upholds the law is just and good; our God is the just and good Judge.  He is righteous in every respect, and thus when He brings down His wrath and anger – we can be assured that every single bit of it is righteous.  Even Jerusalem realized this, though they had to be brought to the bottom before they did so.  (We can learn lessons the easy way or the hard way…choose the easy!)
  • Jerusalem described what she did in her rebellion.  She called for her “lovers” (her pagan idols), and found them worthless.  They were not able to help, because they were not real.  Even the “priests” and “elders” of Jerusalem were of no help, as they were just as caught up in idolatry as all the rest.
  • So what is Jerusalem’s response?  Finally it is confession. “For I have been very rebellious.”  Confession is simply agreement with God.  It is to stop our arguments and excuses, and simply agree with God that our sin is sinful.  Too often we try to white-wash our sins, calling them by other names to make them sound better.  It’s not a lie; it’s “massaging the truth.”  Whatever the sin, it’s “boys being boys” or “not a big deal” or thinking “it’s for the best.”  When it’s sin, it’s just plain sin.  And sin needs to be confessed if it is to be cleansed.

21 “They have heard that I sigh, But no one comforts me. All my enemies have heard of my trouble; They are glad that You have done it. Bring on the day You have announced, That they may become like me. 22 “Let all their wickedness come before You, And do to them as You have done to me For all my transgressions; For my sighs are many, And my heart is faint.”

  • Once more, Jerusalem says that she is without comfort, and mocked on all sides by her enemies.  Her sin has left her utterly alone, and it’s an experience that she cannot avoid.
  • That said, notice that Jerusalem’s trust is still in the Lord.  She has experienced the wrath of God, and been trampled down by Him, but the Jews still know that God is their Deliverer.  Chapter 1 ends with an imprecatory prayer, calling upon God to do unto their enemies as they have done unto Judah.  God had used their enemies against them; now they want God to use other nations against their enemies.
    • There is much truth in this prayer.  We might not pray exactly the same way (it’s far better to pray that our enemies will come to repentance and faith), but we can trust God is going to be good to His character.  If His righteousness did not allow Him to overlook the sins of His own people, than surely God’s righteousness will be made known among the Gentiles as well.  If the people of God are not spared, neither will the people of the world.  God’s judgment will be made known in all the earth.

Lamentations 2

  • The Active Anger of God (vss. 1-10)

1 How the Lord has covered the daughter of Zion With a cloud in His anger! He cast down from heaven to the earth The beauty of Israel, And did not remember His footstool In the day of His anger. 2 The Lord has swallowed up and has not pitied All the dwelling places of Jacob. He has thrown down in His wrath The strongholds of the daughter of Judah; He has brought them down to the ground; He has profaned the kingdom and its princes. 3 He has cut off in fierce anger Every horn of Israel; He has drawn back His right hand From before the enemy. He has blazed against Jacob like a flaming fire Devouring all around.

  • God overwhelmed Zion (Jerusalem) with His anger.  As if He covered the city “with a cloud.”  It was the cloud of God’s glory that helped lead the Israelites through the wilderness as they marched to the Promised Land; it was the cloud of God’s holy glory that took them out of it as well.  He cast down the people from their place of beauty, not unlike how God cast Satan down from heaven.  They had built themselves up in pride against God, and God made certain that they would be humbled.  Every glorious power – every political position – all were “cut off in fierce anger,” as God came against His people as the all-consuming fire that He is.
  • No doubt, this isn’t how we like to envision God.  We far prefer to think of God as our loving heavenly Father.  We much prefer quoting the invitation of Jesus to people who are heavily burdened to come to Him, for He is meek and lowly at heart and gives rest (Mt 11:28).  And there’s no doubt that our God IS loving and compassionate.  He does give grace to the humble, and comforts the comfortless.  But God is also holy and just, and has great anger and vengeance towards sin.  We don’t want to leave out any aspect of God as we think of Him.  To think of Him as nothing but love is to think of a God who cares nothing about sin, and for whom the sacrifice of Jesus was wasted.  To think of God has nothing but anger is to think of a God whom we can never approach because He would never offer any way to be forgiven.  But because God is BOTH loving in His grace and holy in His wrath, we now have full confidence in Jesus because all of it finds its fulfillment in Him.  Jesus took the full anger of God due our sin when He went to the cross, but He did so out of love in order that we could experience God’s grace.  From that perspective, we can praise God for His wrath, because that is the only way we CAN know God in His grace.

4 Standing like an enemy, He has bent His bow; With His right hand, like an adversary, He has slain all who were pleasing to His eye; On the tent of the daughter of Zion, He has poured out His fury like fire. 5 The Lord was like an enemy. He has swallowed up Israel, He has swallowed up all her palaces; He has destroyed her strongholds, And has increased mourning and lamentation In the daughter of Judah.

  • We’ve seen it before: when God is for us, who can be against us? (Rom 8:31), but what happens when God is against us?  That’s what Jerusalem experienced.  The God of Israel became the Enemy of Israel, and God attacked His own people with all of His fury.  (Of course, when the people of God acted like His enemy first, what was God supposed to do?)

6 He has done violence to His tabernacle, As if it were a garden; He has destroyed His place of assembly; The LORD has caused The appointed feasts and Sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion. In His burning indignation He has spurned the king and the priest. 7 The Lord has spurned His altar, He has abandoned His sanctuary; He has given up the walls of her palaces Into the hand of the enemy. They have made a noise in the house of the LORD As on the day of a set feast.

  • God not only destroyed the city of Jerusalem, but He destroyed the system of worship in Jerusalem.  He tore down the “tabernacle” (the temple) just as if He was uprooting a “garden.”  God abandoned “His altar,” taking away any method for the Jews to be able to offer sacrifice for their sin.  When God cut them off from Jerusalem, He cut them off from even being able to live as the worshipping people of God.  Now they would have to learn to worship God apart from the temple.
  • In truth, God was simply confirming that which the Jews had already done.  They were the ones who abandoned God first.  They had taken up pagan idolatry, and spurned the true worship of God.  When God allowed the temple to be destroyed, He only confirmed what the Jews had begun.  It’s no different with people today and their eternity.  When unbelievers stand before the Lord for their eternal judgment, it is their own past decisions that send them to hell.  God simply confirms their own previous rejection of Him.  If we say no to God, God will say no to us.  (Thankfully, the opposite is true as well!)

8 The LORD has purposed to destroy The wall of the daughter of Zion. He has stretched out a line; He has not withdrawn His hand from destroying; Therefore He has caused the rampart and wall to lament; They languished together. 9 Her gates have sunk into the ground; He has destroyed and broken her bars. Her king and her princes are among the nations; The Law is no more, And her prophets find no vision from the LORD.

  • Again, we find the actions of the Lord in view here.  This was His purpose; His will.  It wasn’t a mere army of man who came against the Jews; it was God Himself.
  • And there was no escape from it.  The former kings of Judah tried to escape, and they could not.  Jeconiah was taken in an earlier captivity to Babylon, and Zedekiah was taken in captivity after he was blinded.  There was no comfort for Zion’s “king and her princes.”  There was not even any comfort in “the Law.”  God had said all He was going to say about Jerusalem’s punishment.  They had spurned God to this point, and God would not reveal any more.

10 The elders of the daughter of Zion Sit on the ground and keep silence; They throw dust on their heads And gird themselves with sackcloth. The virgins of Jerusalem Bow their heads to the ground.

  • Jerusalem had finally confessed their sin earlier; now they take up an attitude of humility.  No longer do they resist the Lord, but they are humble in their repentance, and even the clothing they wear signifies their brokenness before God.
  • As long as we hold to our pride, we will never truly repent from sin.  We might utter a few words of confession, but our hearts show the sincerity of our words.  God won’t be fooled, nor will He be mocked.  There are some who believe that if they just say the right prayers the right amount of times, that God is somehow obligated to forgive them.  Not so!  God is not impressed by how often we can repeat the Lord’s Prayer (or the Rosary, or anything else).  God wants our hearts to change, and that only comes through true humility, repentance, and faith.  David knew the same thing…it wasn’t about ritual; it was about true repentance: Psalm 51:16–17, "(16) For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering. (17) The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart— These, O God, You will not despise." []
  • Jeremiah’s sorrow for Jerusalem (vss. 11-19)

11 My eyes fail with tears, My heart is troubled; My bile is poured on the ground Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, Because the children and the infants Faint in the streets of the city. 12 They say to their mothers, “Where is grain and wine?” As they swoon like the wounded In the streets of the city, As their life is poured out In their mothers’ bosom.

  • Jerusalem had shed earlier tears, now it was Jeremiah’s turn.  It’s natural to weep over the results of sin.  Jerusalem may have suffered the righteous wrath of God, but that didn’t make it easy to witness.  These were still Jeremiah’s people – his friends and neighbors.  Now they were suffering immensely, and Jeremiah right along with them.  It wasn’t just the rebellious Jews unable to worship at the temple, but Jeremiah as well.  He was caught up in all of the punishment along with the rest.
  • Sin always affects others.  There is no such thing as a victimless sin.  It will always spill over to other people.

13 How shall I console you? To what shall I liken you, O daughter of Jerusalem? What shall I compare with you, that I may comfort you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For your ruin is spread wide as the sea; Who can heal you?

  • Jeremiah wanted to console his countrymen, but how to do it?  He had warned them often of what was coming, and everything God said through him had come true.  The “ruin” of Jerusalem was far too big to ignore.
  • Do you ever find yourself making excuses for someone else – perhaps even yourself?  When we experience the discipline of God, or the consequences of our sin, that’s not something to minimize.  Yes, we feel bad…but we ought to feel bad.  Sometimes we rush too quickly to comfort, and in doing so we miss the lesson that needs to be learned.  Now be careful here: we don’t want to dwell too much upon our sorrow, or never receive the forgiveness of Christ.  When God forgives us in Jesus, then it is forgiven…period.  Just be sure you’ve learned the lesson.  If we pretend that our consequences are anything less than what they are, we might find ourselves repeating the same sin very soon.  If a child touches a hot stovetop, you want the child to be healed, but you also what him to remember the pain so he doesn’t do it again. 

14 Your prophets have seen for you False and deceptive visions; They have not uncovered your iniquity, To bring back your captives, But have envisioned for you false prophecies and delusions.

  • This was part of the reason for their sin.  They had been deceived by false teachers and false prophets.  Of course, it’s not as if they did not have access to the true teaching of God; Jeremiah had been proclaiming it the whole time.  But they had chosen not to listen to the truth because the false sounded better to their ears.  The false prophets told them that they wouldn’t suffer the Babylonian conquest, etc., and the Jews chose to believe the lie.
  • The truth may hurt, but it’s still the truth.  Far better to receive a bit of painful truth from the word of God, then to have our egos soothed by the lies of false teaching.  One causes a bit of pain now, but the other causes far more down the line.  If God chastises us a bit in His word, then we need to thank Him for it.  His discipline means that He loves us.

15 All who pass by clap their hands at you; They hiss and shake their heads At the daughter of Jerusalem: “Is this the city that is called ‘The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth’?” 16 All your enemies have opened their mouth against you; They hiss and gnash their teeth. They say, “We have swallowed her up! Surely this is the day we have waited for; We have found it, we have seen it!” 17 The LORD has done what He purposed; He has fulfilled His word Which He commanded in days of old. He has thrown down and has not pitied, And He has caused an enemy to rejoice over you; He has exalted the horn of your adversaries.

  • They were derided by their enemies, who saw the destruction of God fall upon them.  Everyone knew that Jerusalem had been punished by God, and they rejoiced.  Every bit of this is what Jeremiah had warned the people as to what would happen.  They ought to have listened to him when they had the opportunity.

18 Their heart cried out to the Lord, “O wall of the daughter of Zion, Let tears run down like a river day and night; Give yourself no relief; Give your eyes no rest. 19 “Arise, cry out in the night, At the beginning of the watches; Pour out your heart like water before the face of the Lord. Lift your hands toward Him For the life of your young children, Who faint from hunger at the head of every street.”

  • Jeremiah called upon the people to weep, grieve, and repent.  Sorrow is the right response to sin, as long as it is a godly sorrow that leads to repentance.  And that is what Jeremiah pleaded with the people to do.  They were to humble themselves and keep seeking the Lord, even in their time of punishment.  This was not the time to get bitter and turn away from God; this was the time to seek God in even greater ways than they had in the past.  (That can be our tendency…beware!)
  • An anguished prayer (vss. 20-22)

20 “See, O LORD, and consider! To whom have You done this? Should the women eat their offspring, The children they have cuddled? Should the priest and prophet be slain In the sanctuary of the Lord? 21 “Young and old lie On the ground in the streets; My virgins and my young men Have fallen by the sword; You have slain them in the day of Your anger, You have slaughtered and not pitied. 22 “You have invited as to a feast day The terrors that surround me. In the day of the LORD’s anger There was no refugee or survivor. Those whom I have borne and brought up My enemies have destroyed.”

  • This is either from the perspective of the city or the prophet, but either way it’s a cry of anguish.  Jeremiah had called upon the people to call upon the Lord, so perhaps that’s exactly what they were doing.  In the prayer, they called upon God to see their distress – to see the extent to which they had fallen.  Death and bloodshed was bad enough, but the people of Jerusalem actually saw cannibalism in their streets.  (Something that God had warned them about way back in the original covenant – Dt 28:57)  It could not have gotten worse.  They faced the full onslaught of the anger of God, and they found no refuge from it.  This was the punishment due their sin, and they experienced it in full.

Think for a moment how awful the punishment of sin is.  Things were so bad for Jerusalem that they turned to barbarism.  What is described is the worst-case scenario for anyone.  Death, destruction, desolation, and more.  They were abandoned by God, and beyond that, God actively turned against them as an enemy.  What could possibly be worse?  THAT is the wrath of God that is due sin.  That is what we deserve.

Yet that is what Jesus took on.  Listen again to the words Jesus spoke from the cross: “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  What does that sound like?  It sounds like Lamentations.  It sounds like the Beloved of God experiencing the wrath of God, being abandoned and attacked by God.  And that’s exactly what Jesus experienced as He hung there for you and me.

THIS is the good news that we see in the book of Lamentations.  When we see the awfulness of sin, then we appreciate even more the grace that is seen in our Savior.  Jesus took the punishment, so that we do not have to.  We do not cry out in the funeral dirge of Israel because Israel’s Messiah stood in our place as our substitute.  Now we can call out to God in praise!

That said, it ought to underscore the importance of staying away from sin altogether.  It’s not something to flirt with; it’s not something to excuse.  It’s something for which Jesus died.  The wrath of God was poured out because of the sin that we flirt with; so we ought to stay as far away from it as possible.  Don’t be enslaved by it again or be forever shamed by it.  Confess it, deal with it, and live in the grace of God.

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