“When other helpers fail and comforts flee; help of the helpless, O abide with me.” This is one of the lines from the song we sing, “Abide With Me.” The first poem of Lamentations wailed over the lack of comfort and help in the midst of their grief over Jerusalem’s destruction. We noticed that we are called to pray to the Lord, even if all we can express is sorrow over our circumstances. God wants to hear our prayers and listens to our cries. God is the only place for comfort. God is the God of all comforts.
The second poem reveals a dramatic shift in the message of the author. In the first poem we noted the repetition that there was no one comfort. The repeated message in the second poem is the anger of the Lord. “How the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!” (2:1). “He has not remembered his footstool in the day of his anger” (2:1). “In his wrath he has broken down the strongholds of the daughter of Judah” (2:2). “He has poured out his fury like fire” (2:4). “In his fierce indignation has spurned king and priest” (2:6). “You have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without pity” (2:21). “On the day the anger of the Lord no one escaped or survived” (2:22). The intensity of this poem is on the anger of the Lord.
God’s Anger Revealed (2:1-10)
Verses 1-2 sets us for reading about how God’s anger against the nation has brought about this devastating judgment. Verse 1 begins by declaring that they are no longer in the privileged presence of the Lord. The splendor of Israel has been cast down from heaven to earth. This is a reference to the temple of God and the ark of the covenant that was contained inside (Isaiah 64:11; Psalm 78:60-61). The ark of the covenant was also called God’s footstool in scripture (1 Chronicles 28:2). The point is that the temple has not been the key to their deliverance. Remember when Solomon completed the temple that the dedication declared that God would hear the people’s prayers for forgiveness if they turned their faces to the temple with repentant hearts. But now the temple is gone. The sense of doom is great. Thus the city and people are under a dark cloud (2:1).
Verses 6-7 carry the idea further. God has spurned king and priest (2:6), scorned the alter, and disowned the sanctuary (2:7). Spurning king and priest is very serious for this refers to the Davidic king line and the Aaronic priest line. It appears that all hope for forgiveness is completely gone. They are spurned, scorned, and disowned. But we must remember that the people did this first to God. The people first spurned, scorned, and disowned God. Listen to Jeremiah:
“And when you tell this people all these words, and they say to you, ‘Why has the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? What is our iniquity? What is the sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?’ then you shall say to them: ‘Because your fathers have forsaken me, declares the Lord, and have gone after other gods and have served and worshiped them, and have forsaken me and have not kept my law, and because you have done worse than your fathers, for behold, every one of you follows his stubborn, evil will, refusing to listen to me. Therefore I will hurl you out of this land into a land that neither you nor your fathers have known, and there you shall serve other gods day and night, for I will show you no favor.’ (Jeremiah 16:10–13 ESV)
The people thought they had the temple and therefore they were safe. Jeremiah records what the people were saying in that day.
Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you dwell in this place. Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord.’ (Jeremiah 7:3–4 ESV)
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? (Jeremiah 7:8–10 ESV)
The people thought that their sinning was acceptable because they had the temple. God was with them and therefore God was fine with their sins. But we learn that we must never think that God is not wrathful against sin. Listen to what the New Testament says about the wrath of God against sin.
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)
For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:5–6 ESV)
We cannot make the same mistake as them and hold baptism or going to church as our talisman that we think will cause us to avoid the wrath of God. Just because we are the people of God does not mean that the wrath of God will not affect us. This should be the obvious lesson we learn from the nation of Israel in the scriptures. God’s anger is never explosive, unreasonable, or unexplained. We do not begin to understand the restraint and the longsuffering of God. God’s anger is his firm expression of real displeasure with our sins. God is not indifferent toward sin. Even though we experience the benefits of God’s patience (which is not to be confused as apathy or complete indifference), the restraint God shows will finally end when we refuse to change our ways. This is the point the writer of Hebrews made to the Christians he wrote to:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26–27 ESV)
When we refuse to change our ways, there is no more forgiveness but the fearful expectation of judgment. As Israel was seeing, God carries out his word. “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago” (Lamentations 2:17). God said he would bring judgment for this behavior back in the book of Deuteronomy. But the people rejected God’s warning. Listen to what they were saying in the days of Jeremiah.
Now, therefore, say to the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: ‘Thus says the Lord, Behold, I am shaping disaster against you and devising a plan against you. Return, every one from his evil way, and amend your ways and your deeds.’ “But they say, ‘That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’ (Jeremiah 18:11–12 ESV)
God said disaster was coming. The people said that there was no point to changing their ways. They will follow their own plans and follow their own stubborn hearts. Friends, we must never think that God will not execute judgment.
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Romans 2:5 ESV)
But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. (2 Peter 3:7 ESV)
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV)
Our sins will be judged if we have stubborn, unrepentant hearts. We must turn our hearts back to the Lord. God’s judgment is to bring us to our knees in our sorrow for our sins and the consequences we pay because of what we have done. It is important to see that the author of this poem understands this. He understands that what has happened is because God is right and just and they are deserving because of their sins.
Hope In Grief
So what are we to do? Notice what the author says to do.
18 Their heart cried to the Lord. O wall of the daughter of Zion, let tears stream down like a torrent day and night! Give yourself no rest, your eyes no respite! 19 “Arise, cry out in the night, at the beginning of the night watches! Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord! Lift your hands to him for the lives of your children, who faint for hunger at the head of every street.” (Lamentations 2:18–19 ESV)
The author says to let your tears flow. Exhaust every effort to plead with the Lord. Rise and cry out to the Lord in the night. Lift your hands to him in prayer. Plead to the Lord. The author says in verse 11 that he has cried until the tears no longer come. His heart is broken. Consider that this is what God wants even in our sins. Whatever the cause for our grief, let your tears flow to God. Even if we have been disobedient to God and are paying the righteous consequences for our actions, let your pleas rise to God. How awesome that we get to articulate our sorrows and grief to God! Not only are we allowed to do this, but we are commanded to do this.
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:6–7 ESV)
Underline these words: “Because he cares for you.” Hear those words in your grief. God cares for you. Even when we are disobedient God cares for you. Someone made this point on Twitter that is absolutely beautiful and true: “On your worst day, God does not love you any less. On your best day, God does not love you any more.” Listen to how the psalmist saw this truth:
7 “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable? 8 Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion?” (Psalm 77:7–9 ESV)
No, God is still compassionate even though God’s anger is right and due upon us. It is on this basis that the author exclaims the final words of this poem in verses 20-22. Look and see what has happened. The reason he wants God to see this is because he desires the God of compassion to look on them with mercy and compassion. In your trouble, pain, and grief let your heart pour out like water to God before the presence of the Lord (2:19). Be persistent in prayer. How often Jesus called for us to continue in prayer and told parables that we would pray and not lose heart (Luke 18:1)! Pray in your grief and do not stop. Tell God what is happening. God is a God of compassion who loves his people. Turn your heart to him!