"How Lonely Sits the City"
"I told you so! I said this would happen!" But did you listen? No-o-o-o!"
The book of Lamentations was written by the prophet Jeremiah following the fulfillment of his prophecies of doom and gloom concerning the fate of disobedient and faithless Judah. The book is essentially an expression of loyalty to God as well as a confession of national sin and sorrow over the consequences.
The book is poetic in nature, like the Psalms or the Book of Job, though it is listed with the prophecies rather than with the poetry of the Old Testament. Jeremiah took no joy in seeing his prophecies come to pass. He had been watching a moral and spiritual national train wreck for decades and knew that disaster would be the ultimate result.
The five chapters of the book of Lamentations are actually five mournful poetic works describing the devastation and sorrow of Israel and Judah and especially Jerusalem. Judgment and Divine reckoning had come upon the unrepentant land.
The Lonely City
How lonely sits the city
That was full of people!
She has become like a widow
Who was once great among the nations!
She who was a princess among the provinces
Has become a forced laborer!
The destruction of Jerusalem had been complete. The temple was destroyed and its treasures had become loot for Babylon. The walls of Jerusalem were broken. All that remained of the city was rubble.
Disobedience and neglect of God and His will certainly brings destruction. The most precious things in our lives today can be lost just as certainly as the Judeans lost theirs. The warm fellowship of our brethren, the stability and assurance and joy that true faith brings to the human heart, the good example we can be for our family, friends and neighbors can all be lost. "In the days of her affliction and homelessness Jerusalem remembers all her precious things that were from the days of old..." (Lamentations 1:7).
Even as the calamity befell Jerusalem, how many fearful and hopeless hearts appealed for more opportunities to repent? "Please Lord, let us start over!" But the opportunities had passed. The consequences of being a partaker in the generations of sin and neglect had now arrived. The Day of Reckoning is too late to make the changes. Today is the day of salvation!
The Broken Alliances
Those that Jerusalem had depended upon for help had turned their backs on her; "All her friends have dealt treacherously with her; They have become her enemies." (Lamentations 1:2). Jeremiah had long warned against depending on human alliances rather than depending upon God. King Zedekiah, son of Josiah had asked Jeremiah to pray for the nation but he would not listen to Jeremiah's counsel. Jeremiah had warned him, "Thus says the LORD God of Israel, "Thus you are to say to the king of Judah, who sent you to Me to inquire of Me: "Behold, Pharaoh's army which has come out for your assistance is going to return to its own land of Egypt. The Chaldeans will also return and fight against this city, and they will capture it and burn it with fire."' (Jeremiah 37:7-8). And now, that of which Jeremiah had spoken had come to pass. No help came from Egypt on the day of disaster.
Friendship with the world will bring similar results today. Judah had sought to secure itself in its pact with Egypt. This had given them false confidence and hope. They had boldly rebelled against the Lord while proclaiming that they had nothing to fear by doing so. But their dependence upon their alliance with Egypt and adopting the immoralities and idolatries of their friends was nothing but hostility toward the true and living God. "You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God." (James 4:4).
We must not overestimate the assurances of a world that often seeks to minimize or mock the value of living by faith in God. The world's treasures and assurances are all empty on the Day of Reckoning. Faith overcomes the world. "Blessed assurance! Jesus is mine!" There is nothing more sure than this. "The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. " (1 John 2:17).
The False Gods
"The LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against His command; " (Lamentations 1:18). Judah had indeed rebelled against the command of Jehovah. Before the destruction had come, Jeremiah had asked some penetrating questions concerning the gods in which the people were now placing their confidence. As the day approached, Jeremiah had asked,
"But where are your gods
Which you made for yourself?
Let them arise, if they can save you
In the time of your trouble;
For according to the number of your cities
Are your gods, O Judah." (Jeremiah 2:28)
All those gods, but no deliverance. As Babylon laid siege to the city, the imprisoned Jeremiah had chastised king and nation with the question "Where then are your prophets who prophesied to you, saying, "The king of Babylon will not come against you or against this land'?" (Jeremiah 37:19). Because Jeremiah had spoken the truth, this great friend of Judah was accused of being a traitor.
But while Jeremiah was a prisoner, his prophecy was not imprisoned. It would still come to pass. Likewise, we should not allow the world and its gods to silence the word. We shall speak it and live it. The Day of Reckoning is coming!
What Could Have Been
This disaster never had to be. We do not have to wait until the Day of Reckoning comes and we are full of regret. A ruined Jerusalem mourned, "See, O LORD, for I am in distress; My spirit is greatly troubled; My heart is overturned within me..." (Lamentations 1:20). But it never had to turn out that way. It doesn't for us either.
But that is up to us just as it was up to them. We can choose the course of our lives with little or no regard for the Lord's counsel, and we will see distress on the Day of Reckoning. But there is a clear alternative. We can overcome the world and the Day will be one of joy and victory. "You, O LORD, rule forever; Your throne is from generation to generation... Restore us to You, O LORD, that we may be restored; Renew our days as of old," (Lamentations 5:19-21).
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 13.12; December 2006