This is the final poem of the great book of Lamentations. In the fourth poem we read the description of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and their suffering during the fall of the city and temple. The suffering and pain that is being experienced offered a time for the prophet and for the people to reflect on what has happened and why. This was their opportunity to learn that their unwillingness to listen to the truth of God’s messengers has caused their judgment. The prophets and priests, who were to be the teachers of God’s messages, were the ones committing sins, shedding the blood of the righteous in the streets. In Lamentations 4:17 the author reflects on how there was no one to help deliver them. Only God can deliver. Only God can save. The prophets and priests (4:13) as well as the kings (4:20) have failed the people. Therefore the people are looking for true prophets, priests, and kings would be able to save them.
This reflection leads the author to prayer. We saw the author in the first poem understands that the first place to turn in grief and pain is to the Lord in prayer. No one can help except God. No one can comfort except God. So the final poem is the author’s prayer to God. For the first time in the book of Lamentations the author does not use an acrostic. But the poem has the appearance of an acrostic, having 22 lines just as there are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. As we read this prayer poem, look for what the author is asking for and what the basis of his prayer is.
As you read the first 18 verses it sounds like the same refrain that the author has declared in earlier poems. But if we look carefully we will see that this is not the author just saying the same thing all over again. Look at verse 1 very carefully and notice how it begins.
“Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us.” (5:1)
Why does the author ask the Lord to remember as he opens this prayer? It is not that the author thinks that God does not know what has happened or has already forgotten what he said in the earlier poems. When you read about people in the scriptures asking God to remember something, the thing that they always want God to remember is his covenant promises. Lord, remember the promises that you made to me. Remember the promises you made to us as a nation. Why do they ask God to remember these promises? They want God to act on those promises. The author is saying we know that you are a faithful God who keeps his covenant promises. Look at what has happened to us! Act upon your faithful promises toward us and restore us! Remember what you said! God had made a very important promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:13-16.
13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.'” (2 Samuel 7:13–16 ESV)
God said that the throne of his kingdom would be forever. God said his steadfast love would never depart even though he would commit sins. God said the house (which is the temple) and the kingdom would be sure and established forever. But now the throne has ended, the temple is destroyed, and the people are ruined. God, remember your promises! Remember, Lord, and look at what has happened to us!!! This is the reason the author retraces all that has happened to them. He is invoking in his prayer the faithfulness of God to keep his word.
So what is the author doing in verse 7? While it sounds like he may be exonerating the present generation and blaming the past generations for their sins, we know this is not the case because he declares often in this book that they themselves have sinned (1:8; 2:14; 3:39; 3:42; 4:13). Even in this poem the author states again that they are ones who have sinned (5:16). The point is not to exonerating themselves but to make the point that the ax of judgment should have fallen long ago, back when their fathers sinned. But God has been gracious to wait this long before bringing judgment. So the only cry the people have is that which is stated in verse 16: “Woe to us, for we have sinned!” The only appeal that can be made to God is that in his grace he would restore us. All we can say is, “God be merciful to me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13).
The Lord Reigns (5:19-22)
Verse 19 appears to be the key to the prayer. “But you, O Lord, reign forever; your throne endures to all generations.” We are in your hands, Lord. You reign. You exercise sovereign control. Even in desolation God still reigns and remains in control. The book of Revelation carries the same message. Christians are being killed for the cause of Christ. Yet the book of Revelation opens with the Lord on the throne (Revelation 4) and closes with Jesus riding on a white horse destroying the enemies (Revelation 19). God reigns and is in control.
Therefore, the author cries out asking why they have been forgotten for so many days. Notice that being forgotten is in reference to God’s covenant promises. You have forgotten what you promised us. The author is not saying that the all-knowing God has actually forgotten. The point is that what God has done shows that he has forgotten his covenant promises to them. Therefore, restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! (5:21)
How great it is that we can go to God in prayer and push on his own words for him to be faithful to!!! We see people in the scriptures doing such. Think about Abraham when he asks God if he will really destroy the righteous when Sodom and Gomorrah about to be destroyed. The reason Abraham can barter with God is because the faithful God is not going to sweep away the righteous. We can press into God with our requests by holding on to the faithful promises of God. We read in Philippians 4 that we do not have to be anxious because in everything we can make our requests known to God. This is what the author of Lamentations is doing. We can do the same.
God, you said that you would never leave me or forsake me in Hebrews 13:5 but I feel alone so please help me. God, you said that you would be my helper in Hebrews 13:6 and I really need help right now. God, you said that you would be faithful to forgive any sin if I confess to you in 1 John 1:7. Please forgive me of my unrighteousness and wickedness. The whole point of God’s promises is to give us an anchor for life through difficulties, pain, and grief. Hold on to those faithful promises. This encourages us to read the scriptures so that we can know his promises to be an anchor for our lives. Lamentations 1 taught us that when we do not have the words to pray or know what to pray, we can simply say, “Lord, look and see.” Lamentations 5 tells us to pray with faith, depending upon God’s promises to be carried out.
Comfort From the Lamentations
The first poem of the Lamentations was the cry to the Lord for comfort because there was no comfort anywhere else. Our first move in the times of grief and pain is to cry to the Lord in prayer, knowing that only he can comfort, even if we do not have the words to express what we need. The second poem of Lamentations showed us that we can wail with a broken heart to the Lord. We do not have to restrain our emotions but can speak with raw honesty to the Lord in our pain. The third poem revealed that we can still trust in the Lord during pain and grief because of God’s faithfulness. His mercies are new every day and with each new day is another opportunity for the refreshing of the Lord to carry us through. God will get you through today. The fourth poem taught us to reflect on what has happened. The only way we can count in all joy when we fall into trials and the only way that we can be gold refined by the fires of pain and suffering is if we reflect on what has happen and learn from our difficulty. We use our hardship to transform our lives to be more in keeping with the Lord’s commands. How can I change for the Lord? What is God teaching me through this pain and grief? We trust in our Savior who loves us and gave himself for us. Finally, we learn in the fifth poem that we pray for restoration, knowing that God keeps his word to forgive us of our sins and place us back into a right relationship with him. Our greatest need is reconciliation to the Father because of our sins. Christ is the fulfillment of God’s word to save the world and give us what we need so that we can avoid the wrath of God and be his children.