The first 11 verses of chapter 1 found us with an observer of the chaos that befell this once beautiful city of God. That as they walked around and observed all the brokenness they shared with us what they saw. And it wasn’t pretty. These next 5 verses find us with the woman who IS the city (the city is personified here as a woman and so her voice is that of the city of God, Jerusalem). It’s as if she has been listening to this observer and it is now her turn to speak. So let’s read what she has to say (please read Lamentations 1:12-16).
If I’m honest, and I will be here, there are a lot of “feelings” I feel when I read this text. First off I need to recognize that her voice is her voice and her feelings are her feelings – not mine and not yours. The city of Jerusalem, and all her people, are experiencing total wreckage, isolation, obliteration, chaos, grief, and sadness – and we have to let their voices stand. In their grief and pain we need to hear it and let it be. And really, can we blame them? If all you ever had was taken away wouldn’t you respond the same? Everything they have ever had is now gone. The “Queen” (as was referred in Lamentations 1) is no more – which means no longer is she up high and HELD high. No longer does she have copious amounts of food. No longer does she have shelter and clothing and people surrounding her while waiting on her hand and foot. EVERYTHING she has known, at least in her memory, is gone. People pass by and see her suffering and yet they keep moving. The very people she despises and are her enemies are now her captors. All the strong warriors and defenders are gone and so the very people they would fight against are now trampling all over her. And so all she can really do is cry. And one would hope that someone would come alongside you when you cry – but nobody around her even cares. So of course she feels sad, lonely, and rejected! I WOULD TOO.
So that’s my first feeling (which is a good place to go). But if I’m honest, it’s not the only place my feelings and thoughts are drawn.
Jerusalem was a protected city. God had watched over her since she first became his covenantal child (back in Exodus 19-24 and we could argue even further back). Time and time again he guided, protected, defended, and cared for her. Time and time again when she defied him, broke covenant with him, and lusted after other gods God STILL defended her. He STILL sent prophets to her to RETURN her to him and leave her sinful ways. But she wouldn’t. But now – her sins are before her, the punishment is upon her, and she is living into her own self-destruction? As the woman declares, her “sins have been bound into a yoke; by his hands they were woven together. They have been hung on my neck, and the Lord has sapped my strength. He has given me into the hands of those I cannot withstand.” (vs 14). So PART OF ME wants to declare, “Yeah…you deserve this! You’ve been protected long enough! You have been given so much and were careless with so much more! It’s about TIME you got what you deserved!” And yet I ALSO want to declare, “Hey Jerusalem! Look around you…you think you have it bad? There are countries in this world that are just as decimated, hungry, poor, and grieving as you are and you ignored them! THERE IS MORE TO THIS WORLD THAN JUST YOU!”
And this is ultimately part of the reason why Jerusalem fell to begin with – and in a way we see it playing out in these verses. All of these verses, in one way or another, should be glaringly clear to the woman (and to you and me) that God has expectations of his covenantal people. So as we read these 5 verses they should be a check-mark of how she did NOT hold to God’s expectations.
- Everyone passing by and ignoring her and her suffering (vs 12) – what about your ignoring of the suffering of others?
- To declare your “own sins” means that you CLEARLY know what you’ve done wrong (vs 14)
- She calls herself a “virgin daughter Judah” (vs 15) and yet we know at the beginning that that is NOT the case. A “virgin” she is not!
- Proclaiming that everyone is avoiding her and nobody is coming to comfort her and restore her spirit (vs 16) is a good look in the mirror as to how YOU have treated those needing comfort.
So why do I bring up those 4 cases? Because those are the VERY THINGS God asks of his own people to be towards each other as well as others. That while, yes, times were different then and there were invasions and wars as many of it was “Jews vs any Non-Jew” – God’s own people were hurting and suffering and her own leaders were ignoring their own poor and needy. The people of God knew how they were to act and yet choose to act differently and now that they are caught, now that they are being punished, it’s the end of the world and they act as if they were never warned.
But I cannot be too angry or harmful or give harsh towards the woman because we all do a really good job of ignoring what we want to ignore, living how we want to live, doing what we want to do, and just living for me. And when we get caught? When we get punished for not listening, obeying, and learning…it’s then that I also live into this “woe is me!” mentality and nobody suffers like I suffer. And when I’m in this space my pain, and my sadness is worse than anyone who ever lived! Plain and simple, we’re really good at defending ourselves even when we are clearly in the wrong. Why? I have no clue – but I do know that sometimes if seems easier to blame others than it is to look in the mirror. And when I’m caught and punished it sure seems like the end of the world and nobody EVER understands me or comes to my aid in the way that I need.
As we read this book of Lamentations we’ll be challenged to find our own voices as the observer, as the woman, and as the “others” that are needed. And so as I read these 6 verses I’m caught by all the “needs” that the woman desires to have and I wonder how often WE have done those to others. As worshippers of the same God that we read about, as believers in Jesus Christ and people who TRY to live as Christ lived – how many of us have passed by when we see someone suffering on the street? How many times have we seen someone in need and with an overflowing spirit – and yet we keep walking? How many times have we had an opportunity to be a comfort for someone and yet no comforting presence or words of hope flowed from our lips? How many times were WE the one needing it and we didn’t get it? How many times were WE the one needing it and we DID get it? These verses are challenging for us to put ourselves in the different shoes and see how WE have lived.
Jesus states in Matthew 25:40 that whenever we have cared, loved, and given hope to those in need – we have actually done for him. That when we help those who are hurting, regardless of who they are, we are actually loving and serving him. And ultimately – isn’t this what Christ has done for us? Aren’t we all adulterers not only with our spouse (or future spouse) but also with God? And don’t we all ignore God and his suffering when we ignore the suffering of others? But then haven’t all or our sins been bound up into a yoke, woven together by the hands of God, and not only with the amount that none of us could hold and stand with it – but wasn’t that yoke given to Christ to bear (1 Peter 2:24)?
These verses remind us of the sins that we commit, the response we should have to our own sins, the response GOD has to sin, and yet the cross that was bore FOR those sins. These are challenging words for people who know how they should act and yet frequently find that we don’t. And yes…that includes me.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- I’m struck by verse 15 and her claim that all her warriors have been rejected – and yet don’t we, as believers, declare that the only true warrior we have (and that we should turn to first) is God? Why is it so often we look for human solutions to God answers when in time of need? (or maybe it’s just me)
- When you observe someone in need – how do YOU respond? Do you cross over to the other side of the street? Do you give them whatever they are asking? Do you spend time talking to them? What is the best thing to do when we see someone hurting and in need?