Lamentations 1:1 How deserted lies the city, once so full of people! How like a widow is she, who once was great among the nations! She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave.
The book of Lamentations is anonymous, but was probably written by the prophet Jeremiah, shortly after the fall of Jerusalem (586 BC), to comfort those who were carried off to Babylon. Losing their homeland was catastrophic, and this little book of poems helped express their grief.
Lamentations 1:5 Her foes have become her masters; her enemies are at ease. The Lord has brought her grief because of her many sins.
Wherever there is suffering, people want to know, Why? The answer is seldom clear, but in this case it was. God’s people were suffering because of their many sins.
About a thousand years earlier, God promised his people wonderful blessings if they would obey (Deuteronomy 28:1-14). But he also threatened terrible curses if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 28:15-68). Since God’s people refused to obey, the curses he threatened finally came on them.
Because you did not serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you will serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He will put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you (Deuteronomy 28:47-48), warned Moses.
It is clear from the Bible and history that whatever God says eventually comes to pass. All his promises will come to pass, and all his threats will come to pass. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill? (Numbers 23:19), asked Balaam.
Many want to dwell on the promises of God, without concern for his threats, but this is never wise. We must pay equal attention to the parts of the Bible we like, and to the parts we don’t like. Otherwise, we will be taken by surprise.
Lamentations 1:9 Look, Lord, on my affliction, for the enemy has triumphed.
God’s people had a history of conflict with numerous enemies. First they were pursued by Pharaoh’s armies (Exodus 14:23-28). Then they battled Sihon and Og (Numbers 21:21-35). And, after they entered the Promised Land, they had to fight for every inch (Joshua 1-24). Now to their dismay, the enemy had triumphed. Was this really the end?
The kingdom of God may suffer defeat, but defeat is never final. Jesus was crucified, but then he rose from the dead. The early church was persecuted, but it also grew in numbers. Missionaries are martyred, but they leave their converts behind.
The goal of the church is not to win the world to Christ, once and for all, but to simply stay in the battle. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 6:12), wrote Paul. And thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:57), wrote Paul also.
Lamentations 1:14 My sins have been bound into a yoke; by his hands they were woven together. They have been hung on my neck, and the Lord has sapped my strength. He has given me into the hands of those I cannot withstand.
A yoke is a harness placed around an animal’s neck so it can pull a plow. Yokes were usually made out of wood, but in this case, it was made out of sin. God had woven the sins of his people into a yoke, so they could plow for the king of Babylon. Sin masquerades as freedom, but always leads to bondage.
Thankfully, Jesus invites us to trade our yoke of sin for his yoke of discipleship. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. . . . For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:29-30), he said. Our greatest freedom does not come from serving sin, but from serving Jesus Christ.
Lamentations 2:12 They say to their mothers, Where is bread and wine? as they faint like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their lives ebb away in their mothers’ arms.
This is one of the saddest scenes in the Bible. The king of Babylon surrounded the city of Jerusalem, and cut off the food supply for over a year. The famine was so severe that mothers watched their children faint from hunger and die in their arms. But their own hunger was so intense, that instead of burying their children, they ate them.
With their own hands compassionate women have cooked their own children, who became their food when my people were destroyed (Lamentations 4:10), wrote Jeremiah.
This is also what Moses threatened about a thousand years earlier. The most gentle and sensitive woman among you . . . will begrudge the husband she loves and her own son or daughter the afterbirth from her womb and the children she bears. For in her dire need she intends to eat them secretly because of the suffering your enemy will inflict on you during the siege of your cities (Deuteronomy 28:56-57).
People accused of terrible crimes often say emphatically, I’m not capable of doing such a thing. But under the right circumstances, there is nothing of which we are not capable. This is why Jesus taught us to pray, lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13). He was not talking about a second scoop of ice cream, but what can really happen when the devil has his way with us.
Lamentations 2:14 The visions of your prophets were false and worthless; they did not expose your sin to ward off your captivity. The prophecies they gave you were false and misleading.
The duty of prophets was to protect God’s people from his wrath, by pointing out their sin, so they would repent. But God’s people did not want to repent, so they surrounded themselves with prophets who told them what they wanted to hear.
The Bible has much to say about God’s love, patience, kindness and forgiveness. But it also speaks of sin, judgment, wrath and hell. Any preacher who only tells his people what they want to hear is not speaking for God. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets (Luke 6:26), said Jesus. Faithful preachers must proclaim the love of God, as well as his terrible threats.
Reflection and Review
Why was the book of Lamentations written?
Why does sin lead to misery?
Why isn’t biblical preaching more popular?