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Lamentations Chapters 4-5 “Renew our Days”

Welcome to our on-line Bible study for 2018

The Book of Lamentations

Chapters 4-5 – “Renew Our Days”

The Book of Lamentations ends with two statements that appear to be from different authors.  Chapter 4 is a vivid and distressing picture of the final collapse of Jerusalem.  The writer records the events that happened and gives them a context.  Jerusalem faced such devastation because they turned away from the Lord and went their own way.  The suffered the consequences of their own actions.  This however was not an arbitrary fate.  It was a judgment of God, a judgment more terrible than that of Sodom.  Sodom hadn’t known the Lord but Jerusalem had.  They were God’s chosen people. Therefore, their punishment was greater (I Peter 4:17).  Yet in all this their own actions contributed to their downfall.  Chapter 5 is a prayer of confession on the part of the remaining people.  All is not lost.  The people cry out to the Lord who alone can renew them.  However, the point is stressed that the people can in no way presume upon God’s goodness.  That goodness is affirmed elsewhere by the surviving prophet Jeremiah (Jer. 515).

  1. “The Sacred Stones Lie Scattered” – chapter 4

This chapter recounts the devastation visited upon Jerusalem by the Babylonians (or as they are also called, the Chaldeans).  This chapter continues the lament theme of the earlier chapters.  This writer however attempts to give a spiritual explanation for the devastation.  The author begins with a distressing description of Jerusalem.  He focuses on two basic groups.  The first are the children who, not only have been left to starve, but have also been cannibalized by their own mothers (4:10)!  The second are the prophets and priests.  While there were faithful prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, there were too many who were happy just to tell people what they wanted to hear.  These are the ones who cried, “Peace, peace” when there was no peace (Jer. 6:14).  We can only conclude that these prophets and priests had turned to the false gods of the nations surrounding Israel.  Their sins include shedding the blood of the righteous.  This could refer to the persecution of the true prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah (according to Jewish tradition Isaiah was sawn in two).  It could also refer to child sacrifice which was practiced by the fertility cults of the ancient world which too many of the kings of Israel and Judah had also followed (II Kings 16:1-4).

The writer compares the fate of Jerusalem with that of Sodom.  Sodom had really been treated more mercifully.  Fire had come down from heaven and consumed them in a single moment (Gen. 19:24).  Sodom however had not known the Lord the way Israel had.  Their destruction was more merciful than that of Jerusalem.  Yet the writer would maintain that in both cases the people brought the destruction on themselves.  God had agreed to spare Sodom and Gomorrah if Abraham could find ten just people in the city.  He couldn’t (Gen. 18:16-33).  At the time of the civil war America’s greatest Presbyterian theologian, Charles Hodge, saw the war as God’s judgment on slavery but he also said the war was the result of the choices made by the nation.

The writer, possibly the prophet Jeremiah, attempted an escape once Jerusalem had fallen.  However, they were recaptured with terrible consequences.  The king’s sons were killed right in front of him.  He was blinded and taken to Babylon (4:19-20; ii Kings 25:1-7).

II. “Restore us to Yourself, O Lord” (5:21) – chapter 5 – A Prayer

The final chapter is a prayer of confession.  This writer (who may or may not have been the same author of chapter 4) lists both the sins and the consequences sustained by Jerusalem.  However, he does so in the context of a prayer of confession.  He points out several devastating facts:

  1. The city of Jerusalem is now in the hands of “strangers.” The inheritance of the people that was based on God’s promise to Abraham is now gone (Gen. 17:1-8). – 5:1
  1. Those left in the city are poor and desperate. They have to pay for water and the wood they use for cooking. – 5:4; II Kings 25:12
  1. The people had sought help from Egypt and Assyria but both had abandoned them. – 5:6; Isa. 36:6
  1. The conquest of Jerusalem had included the familiar atrocities of starvation, rape and torture– 5:9-13
  1. The writer summarizes their plight in the famous words, “The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning” (5:15).

Is this then the final word?  Does Israel and Jerusalem have any hope?  In the context of this prayer they can only, in the words of the apostle Paul, be “hoping against hope” (Rom. 4:18).  The writer can only lament, “woe to us, for we have sinned” (5:16).

Yet the author’s faith in the Lord continues.  He affirms, “But you, O Lord, reign forever” (5:19).  He acknowledges that God has the final say.  The fate of Judah and Jerusalem will not be decided by the Babylonians, the Persians, the Egyptians, Assyrians or anyone else.  They are in God’s hands.

The writer cries out to the Lord, “Why have you forgotten us completely (5:20).  This however is followed by the prayer, “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored.  Jerusalem’s hope is not in themselves but only in the Lord.  He adds, “renew our days as of old,” and then concludes with a final lament, “unless you have utterly rejected us” (5:21-22).  The people have no defense, no excuse, much less do they have any claim on God.  They are dependent on God’s grace and mercy alone.  They have nothing to offer.

What can we learn from all this?  The first lesson is the gravity of sin.  None of us takes our sin, certainly not our own sin, with the seriousness it demands.  There are times when we face suffering that is not based on anything we have done or not done (the example of Job).  Lamentations however is a chronicle of suffering which people have brought upon themselves.  Since we have all sinned we are all liable to “the wages of sin” which is death (Rom. 6:23).

The hope of Jerusalem lies outside this book.  The apostle Paul raises the rhetorical question, “has God rejected his people?”  His firm answer is “By no means!” (Rom. 11:1).  As the captives of Jerusalem are facing slavery and exile Jeremiah gives them this promise which has often been repeated but can never be taken for granted: “For surely I know the plans I have for you says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (Jer. 29:11).

Questions for Us –

  1. In what sense do we judge ourselves by our own actions?  Does it help to view God’s judgment as God simply letting us go our own way (Rom. 1:24-32)?
  2. .How does suffering strengthen our faith?  How can it threaten our faith?
  3. Why is it that God has to restore us before we can be restored to him (5:21)?

 

Next Study – Philippians chapter 1 – “Christ is Proclaimed in Every Way”