If we thought that the astonishing words of hope and assurance found in the heart of chapter 3 (the third poems of Lamentations) might lead to a happy ending, we are brought back to a crashing, painful reality in the fourth poem (Lamentations 4). This book of Lamentations is not a “Pollyanna” book with sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. This is real pain and a description of how real pain and grief invades the life of the believer in the Lord. The fourth poem will have nothing to do with the idea that things are all better now. They are not. Though the author’s hope is in the Lord, the anguish and despair that he feels has not subsided.
We are also looking at another aspect of the destruction in this poetry. The first poem spent most of its time describing the destruction of the city. The second poem mainly described the destruction of the temple. The third poem was a description of the personal pain of the prophet. This fourth poem describes the devastation of the inhabitants of the city.
God’s Wrath Poured Out (4:1-11)
The description of the destruction of God’s people is almost too much to bear to read. Can you imagine looking at this devastation as this prophet did? While verse 1 sounds like he is talking about the gold on the buildings, verse 2 reveals that he is talking about the look of the inhabitants of Jerusalem. These are “the precious sons of Zion.” But now they have been regarded as earthen pots. The whole population has been discarded as broken pottery by the potter. Verse 3 describes the abandonment that has occurred like ostriches that abandon their eggs.
The infants and children are starving and thirsting in the streets (4:4). The rich are now perishing in the streets (4:5). Their punishment is greater than Sodom because for Jerusalem there are so many left in the streets to suffer in the streets till they die (4:6,9). Their bodies are blackened and their skin has shriveled to their bones (4:7-8). Compassionate women are now eating their own children because the situation is so awful (4:10). The Lord has poured out his full wrath against his people (4:11).
Reflecting On Our Pain (4:12-20)
Verse 13 is the hub of this lament. Notice that the author is reflecting on the reason why all this has happened to them. He says, “This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests.” The reason for this disaster is because of the sins of the people. There is now an ability for the author to quantify the problem and express it so that he can give it in his prayer to God. He has the ability at this point to look at his own circumstances and learn from them. Pain, grief, and suffering affords the opportunity to look at your own life situations and see what can be learned from them. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes we can make is to go through pain and suffering and not look for what we can learn about God and our relationship to him. This is why James opens his book the way that he does:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2–4 ESV)
To count trials as joy means that there must be time for reflection. I have to consider the joy from my experiences. Reflection on what has happened in how trials allowed by God can have their full effect in our lives so as to produce steadfastness and maturity. We accept what has happened to us and consider what we can learn for spiritual transformation and growth.
This is what the author does in Lamentations 4:13. He looks and considers that the disaster that has fallen upon them is the wrath of God due to them because of their sins. In fact, he identifies one particular sin that was supremely damaging and caused their downfall. Listen to verse 13 again.
This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests, who shed in the midst of her the blood of the righteous. (Lamentations 4:13 ESV)
The supreme problem was the sins of the priests and the prophets who shed the blood of the righteous. Those who were charged with being the teachers of the law of the Lord and the proclaimers of God’s very words were the worst of the violators. Instead of proclaiming and teaching the ways of the Lord, they were soft-pedaling a message that the people wanted to hear (cf. Jeremiah 2:8; 5:4-5; 6:13; 8:8=12; 23:11-36; 26:7-24; 28:1-17). Inadequate spiritual leadership led to their doom. They certainly had not learned this lesson by the time of Jesus. Listen to what Jesus had to tell the leaders in his day.
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12–14 ESV)
The context of the above reading is that Jesus being criticized by the Pharisees and scribes because his disciples did not wash their hands according to the traditions of the elders. So Jesus called them hypocrites whose hearts were far from God. Then he declared that they were blind guides causing the spiritual ruin of others. Spiritual leaders are charged with the important task of proclaiming the pure, clear word of the Lord, not what people want to hear. God’s word is often not what he want to hear but what we need to hear to get us back to walking in the light of the Lord again. Notice that the author uses this very same imagery in Lamentations 4:14. These priests and prophets had so corrupted themselves they were blind and unclean. They were supposed to be examples of purity. The disaster is placed on their heads for leading the people away by not proclaiming the full and complete message of God. We must trust in God’s word and nothing else.
Let’s bring this back full circle to the reflection that the author has. He recognizes the wrath of God has been vented against God’s people because of their sins, the catalyst being that the priests and prophets no longer proclaimed the word of the Lord to the people. Inadequate spiritual leadership brought their demise. Therefore, their sins had made them worthless before God, like broken pots cast aside (4:2). Their value to God is tarnished and judgment must come.
Sins Will Be Punished (4:21-22)
We must never think that God’s wrath will not come because of our sins. We must never think that God will not start his judgment with us. We are not getting away with our sins. No one is getting away with their sins. This is the message of verses 21-22. Edom is sitting on the sidelines with glee over the fall of Jerusalem. But listen to the author in verses 21-22. In verse 21 he says that this cup of wrath will come to them also. In verse 22 God will uncover their sins and punish them. For anyone to think that God will not judge a person because of his sins has simply not read and thought about the scriptures. God is just and he will judge for sins. It is important that we reflect on this truth. This is not an Old Testament truth but declared again under Christ’s covenant. Listen to the apostle Paul:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18 ESV)
Notice the wrath of God has been revealed against all ungodliness. But also notice what our temptation is. We will try to suppress this truth in our own unrighteousness. We do not want to reflect on the wrath of God for our sins and so we will ignore and suppress that truth. We want to hear how to be happy in life and to be told that we do not have to change our lives. This is suppressing the truth. We are doomed because of our sins. The author of Lamentations recognized this also. Look at verse 17.
Our eyes failed, ever watching vainly for help; in our watching we watched for a nation which could not save. (Lamentations 4:17 ESV)
No one can help and no one can save. Only God can save us. We cannot save ourselves. Other people cannot save. Nothing we do can save us. God must deliver us from the wrath we deserve because of our sinful ways. Looking to others for help is a vain exercise. Our sins are uncovered before the Lord. Nothing is hidden from his sight. There is nothing that we are getting away with. Therefore, all that we are left to do is to cry out to the Lord and reflect on our sinfulness. We are to learn from our sins and turn our hearts to God, crying out for mercy. This is what makes the gospel beautiful.
For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6 NASB)
It is in our helpless state that Christ comes and dies for us so that we do not have to receive the wrath of God that is rightly appointed to us because of our sins. Christ becomes our hope. In the days of Jeremiah we see their human kings failing in righteousness and destroying their hope of God blessing the world through them. This loss of hope in their king is expressed in Lamentations 4:20. So we long for the perfect King of righteousness who will restore our hope and make us a blessing to the nations. We need someone to comfort and restore us to God. So while we where helpless in our sins, at the perfect time appointed by God, the Father sent Jesus to die for us. Through Jesus atonement is made for our sins. Notice that Lamentations 4:22 is the fear for all people. Our sins are uncovered before God. But in Christ we have atonement, which is the picture of our sins covered.
Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. (Romans 4:7 ESV)
Let our times of grief and pain causes us to reflect. Reflect on what we can learn through our difficult so that we can count our pain and trial as joy. Reflect on what God has done to carry you through knowing that your sins are covered in Christ which will carry you through your times of difficulty.