In this first chapter of Lamentations, we have 2 voices that come out. We have this outsider view (in which we could almost call them the “narrator” or “observer”) and then we have this insider view that is taken on as a woman. Both interrupt each other – and both are given equal amounts of a voice (verses 1-11b and verses 11c-22) to share their feelings, thoughts, and opinions. They banter a little bit but their voice is allowed to register where they are, the opinions they have, the feelings they feel, and the place and space they are in. They may challenge each other a little bit in their verses – but their voice is to stand for where they are, how they feel, and what they observe. So do me a favor and read Lamentations 1:1-11.
We begin with the author of this book walking through the once-bustling city. This city was known for its beauty, its people, its greatness among the nations. The author calls her the “queen among the provinces” and yet now she is a “slave.” And so what we get in these 11 verses is the city of God, Jerusalem, personified as the woman who WAS, and then all these contrasts of what was and what is now. No more does she celebrate her festivals. No more does she have friends and lovers. No more does she, the city of God, provide a resting place for weary travelers and for the people of God. The queen has now become the slave. Her riches have been replaced with…nothing. Her cleanliness is now filth, and her ability to be surrounded with people is now replaced with loneliness. And as the author walks around he not only sees Jerusalem’s destruction but he also hears her groans, her pains, and her struggles.
The image I get when I read Lamentations is almost this “before” and “after” photomontage. That the author, with their words, is bringing us from building to building of this great city and showing us a picture of what was as we now see what is. It’s as if they are encouraging us to see the pictures of old and then face the reality of what it is now. And I think that’s why these verses are so hard to read and why so many avoid this book as a whole. The author isn’t joyously saying, “Hey…look how bad it USED to be and look how beautiful it is now!” – they are doing quite the opposite. They are looking at the destruction that now is and yet trying to tell us what once was. This is a scene of destruction, desolation, abandonment, pain, and suffering and so these first 7 verses have the author really trying to get us to picture her desolation without us really being there. But the author doesn’t just stop there – they want us to know WHY the city looks the way it looks. Why she has been abandoned, tossed aside, taken over, enslaved, ripped open, and sacked. Why she begs for food and considers herself a “widow.”
So why? Well, verses 8-11 begin to share with us that it was her and her own sins.
Jerusalem, while it was the City of God, did not act like the city of God. She knew, the people knew, how they were to act towards one another, towards God, and towards the nations that surrounded her and yet they didn’t care. They allowed pagan worship to come in. They had abandoned worshipping God and God alone. They had turned away from loving and serving those in need, and they just didn’t care. What was supposed to be a life lived in worship of/to God became lives lived in worship of/to self. No longer was it about God’s covenant and Law towards him and one another as the rule of “me” now took over. And after time, after ignored prophets sent to “return” to God…God allowed the people to be who they clearly wanted to be: away from Him.
We all know the destruction of sin. We’ve seen it in our own lives and we’ve seen it in the lives of others and that seems to be doubly true as a Believer. That out of all the people in the world WE KNOW what it looks like, and means, to be a follower of God. WE know what is right and wrong and yet the “wrong” still seems to find it’s way into our lives. And what strikes me is that so often we talk about grace, and love, and mercy and all that beautifully good stuff but we don’t really talk as much about sin itself. We’ll talk about it but only if we can jump to the redemption OF sin. We want to skip over the bad stuff and get to the good stuff – but in order to understand God’s mercy and redemption we have to understand our brokenness, God’s just judgment, and lives that need to be redeemed. In order to understand what Christ has done we have to understand what we did first! The cross means nothing if we don’t understand the atoning needed for it. For you and I it’s really easy to jump from the sadness of Lamentations to the hopeful joy of Easter morning and yet there is something about truly understanding the broken world we live in and the destruction that happens when left to our own devices/vices. If you’re anything like me, and I’m sure you are, often times I just don’t want to work through my sins as it’s easier to just thank Jesus for dying for them. And yet, how am I to be thankful, how am I to turn away from my sins if I don’t actually recognize them and call them out?
So let’s look at this text and our own lives.
We are broken people who lust after others. We are sinners who, without the prompting and moving of the Holy Spirit, will always serve ourselves first and IF WE HAVE TIME we might serve others…as long as we get something in return. We like to think we are the splendor of the world and yet what looks beautiful and great on the outside is really just a façade. And as I read these opening 11 verses where I’m really struck is the fact that God removed the very things she had built all her hope, image, love, and desire upon (which is why she feels so bad)…so what does that say about me and my sins? What hopes and images and feelings of this world do I admire, desire, want, and wish upon…what things of this world do I put all my living into…and what would happen if God removed them from me? The truth of all of this is that we should have 1 desire in the world – and that’s God. The truth of all of this is that we often fail to recognize the path we’re on and that it very easily looks like the path they took but thanks be to Jesus that it’s not. And yet we can’t just jump to Jesus without sitting in the reality of our brokenness. That yes the answer to all of life is Jesus but let us sit, reflect, and come to the conclusion of our own sins and brokenness and that if our focus is in the wrong place then we need to turn it around.
- When our focus is on God and God alone then we never feel like the widow because we realize the bride that we are.
- When we focus on God we realize that because of who He is and what he has done we realize the crown that we have been given and the “slave” that we are not.
- When we realize that we are chosen, that we are saved, that we are redeemed as the Bride of Christ then there is no weeping throughout the night, there are no tear-stained cheeks, and we don’t look to our “lovers” nor our friends for comfort. That while we may weep for lost friends and family the tears won’t last.
- When we realize that God has not allowed our sins to move us away from him then we realize that there is no more exile, there is no roaming among other nations, and there is no overtaking us. That because of Christ’s death we are gathered in, given rest, and await his eternal peace.
- When we realize all that God has done for his sinful children we realize that while we HAVE sinned greatly we have been atoned for by even greater yet. That no longer are we exposed but we are covered in gloriously bright white. That no sin will remain stuck to us, that eternal comfort now awaits us, and no enemy can hold us down.
- When we realize the work of Christ, as he atoned for us upon the cross, we realize that no longer do we search for food, no longer do we barter for treasures for survival, for all we have and will ever need is given to us.
These opening verses are tough to swallow – and guess what…it’s gonna get worse. Consider these opening verses a “primer” as we really begin to dive deep into the sins and destruction of Jerusalem and yet let us not forget the truth that hundreds of years later God would restore her fortune. Not because they deserved it but because of his covenantal promise to never abandon nor forsake his people. And yet…AND YET…let us also not wash away the feelings of Jerusalem here. Let us not skip over the pain and suffering that these people went through. And whether we feel they deserved it or not let us recognize OUR OWN sins that WE cling to, live into, and deserve to be punished for as well.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- Do you think God abandoned them, like they felt? Why? Why not?
- I’m struck how she, the city, searches for her lovers (which cannot be found) and yet is also crying out to God in the same moment. Have the people learned not learned their lesson(s)?