In this last chapter of the Book of Lamentations, the prophet pours out his heart before the Lord in prayer. Again, he describes the lamentable condition of his afflicted people. He acknowledges their guilt and their sin; and he pleads the mercy of Him Who lives forever, and Whose throne will stand from generation to generation. Is anyone afflicted? Let him or her pray as the prophet did, and pour out their complaints before the Lord. And upon what grounds may we approach the throne of grace, as the prophet did? God’s Covenant-love for us in Christ, and the everlasting and unceasing efficacy of our Savior’s blood and righteousness – those things alone must be our sole dependence, when either our physical or spiritual enemies drive us to bow our knees in prayer!
What a sorrowful spectacle was presented by the utter poverty, ruin, and suffering of the conquered Jews after the destruction of Jerusalem. Surely such a picture would agitate and afflict a pious and patriotic soul, such as Jeremiah’s. God had indeed visited His own holy city in anger. Because of the transgressions of His people and their forgetfulness of His mercies, He had afflicted them. And now their houses and lands were possessed by foreigners and enemies. Their wives and mothers were now widows, and their dear children were now fatherless. The basic necessities of life which rightfully belonged to them, such as firewood and water, were now controlled by their oppressors; and for these things, they extorted money out of the poverty-stricken people. Famine raged throughout the land, and those who did have daily bread were compelled to eat it in peril of their very lives. Hard and toilsome slavery was now the lot of those whose lives had been spared – even the very young boys and girls. And those whom the Babylonian conquerors had put to death had first been subjected to the cruelest torments and unmentionable sufferings.
No wonder, then, that the prophet cried out, “Woe unto us, that we have sinned!” Indeed, all our woes are caused by our own sins and follies. Sins that are unrepented of are undoubtedly a cause of humiliation, grief, and bitterness; and they ought to be considered in connection with the temporary removal of the light of the Lord’s favor. But although our sins and God’s just displeasure cause our sufferings, we may still hope in His redeeming love and pardoning mercy! However, the sins of a person’s whole life will one day be punished with everlasting vengeance, if they refuse to obtain an interest in Him Who suffered for our sins in His own body on the tree.
The prophet expressed particular concern (verse 18) for the lamentable condition of the Lord’s Temple on Mount Zion, which was lying in ashes and ruins. However, amidst the very tears which were being shed by him over the fallen fortunes of the city and the sanctuary, he could still fix his thoughts upon One Who is always the same. As he meditated upon these thoughts, his spirit was revived; and thus have the Lord’s people been sustained in all ages. No matter what changes occur upon the earth, our God is still the same; and He remains wise, holy, just, and good, forever and ever. The Lord may sometimes seem to hide His face from His people, but it is only for a season. He will not allow the candle of His Church to be extinguished. Just as His own existence and purposes are eternal and unchangeable; so also, the provision which He has made for His children cannot be altered by any outward circumstance that may befall them.
Having been thus animated with a holy zeal for the glory of the Lord, as associated with the prosperity of His Church; the prophet asks God whether He would show no sign of His returning favor to His afflicted people – some visible token of His love, which might re-animate their hopes, and keep them from fainting under the reproach of their enemies. He earnestly prays to God for mercy and grace. “Turn us to thee, O Lord!” he pleads. “Renew our days as of old!” If the Lord, by His grace, renews our hearts; He will, by His favor, renew our days also. Troubles may cause our hearts to be faint, and our eyes to be dim; but the way to the mercy-seat of our reconciled God is always open. In all of our trials, let us put our whole trust and confidence in His mercy! Let us confess our sins, and pour out our hearts before Him. Let us guard against repinings and despondency; for we surely know that it shall be well, in the end, with all who love and serve the Lord.
Five centuries ago, Martin Luther found himself in a dark hour indeed – similar to that distressing situation which the prophet Jeremiah was in. His enemies had gathered around him on every side, and they thought that they were swallowing him up. The proudest of earth’s potentates sat in judgment over him; and he had written out the sentence which condemned him to death, and which doomed the Reformation to destruction along with him. What distressing circumstances! To the eye of man, the cause of truth seemed to be on the verge of perishing. But in these times, Luther was overheard – in an agony of soul – exclaiming, “O God, Almighty God everlasting! If I am to depend on any strength of this world, all is over; the knell is struck; sentence is gone forth. O God! O God! O Thou my God, help me against the wisdom of this world; the work is not mine, but Thine… O Lord, help me! O faithful and unchangeable God, I lean not upon man… The cause is holy; it is Thine own. I will not let Thee go; no, nor yet for all eternity!”
Lord, we beseech You to spare Your people and renew their days! Do not give Your heritage to reproach, by allowing the heathen to afflict and oppress them! Amen.
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illustration by John Kitto, 1855