Our text starts off with a quick word from our observer (vs 17) and then verses 18-22 is the woman, once more, lamenting on what is going on – and yet there is a brief pause where she recognizes her own sins and her rebellion against God’s righteous ways (vs 18) – and it ends with verses 19-22 with her continued pleas to God. So let’s read these 6 verses and then continue on (please read our text today, which is Lamentations 1:17-22)
What strikes me about these verses is the plea from Jerusalem. It’s almost like she’s setting out her case before the Lord IN his courts – and yet it’s more like a POST sentencing hearing. She’s standing as a defendant before the judge and has been found guilty. She’s now receiving her punishment but also declaring that, and in many ways, she’s already experiencing some sort of punishment (the kind society places on those who are found guilty) and she knows that more is to come. And so it’s in this moment of desperation she, Jerusalem…the defendant is crying out in a hopeful opportunity to speak her mind and her heart in hopes of receiving a lighter sentence.
Years ago, when I wasn’t a pastor, I fell victim, and prey, to the harshness of another person I worked with – so much so that I eventually played her “game.” I was tired of her spreading false rumors and being a horrible person. I was tired of the things she was doing so I “conveniently” continued a rumor that was spread. I wanted her to feel what I felt. I wanted her to experience from me what SHE was doing to me. I quickly learned that playing someone else’s games of sin is not only wrong but it doesn’t make me any less culpable. And ultimately, when I stand before God in his courtroom I will not be able to defend my own actions with, “Well, she did it first!” We are all held responsible for the things we do, say, and do not do. My sins are my own.
In a way, as I read her voice, she’s letting God know that all those she had sought out before are no more. All the things she prided herself on, in, and wanted, are no more. She cries out that while some people are here, others have been taken into exile – so what more punishment could you give me God? It feels like there is nothing more I can do. It feels like the punishments of this world have already befell me. It feels like, God, you have already handed down the most severe punishment possible and so here I am, falling before you, asking you to relent! I am ostracized, my people are gone, the joy is no more, and we are suffering beyond suffering. Please, PLEASE, help! …but don’t forget how bad others are too!
What’s interesting is that these declarations that she makes, these truths that are happening, speak volumes to what was going on and the ways of the world back then. The people of God considered themselves “clean” and all other people of the world “unclean” – and yet here God says that you, Jerusalem, are no better than anyone else. Remember, “cleanliness” was based off of what you did and how you obeyed the commands of God – and if you were “unclean” (because of Laws you broke) then the only way to become “clean” was to repent and seek the heart of God. And that there is striking to me, and makes me pause. Why? Because, once more, to move from unclean to clean means repentance and seeking the heart of God. But here they are saying that she is UNCLEAN – thus while the observer observes her calling out to God – she isn’t seeking repentance. She is sitting here, complaining, blaming, pleading before God to relent against her sin…and yet she isn’t fully acknowledging her sin and seeking forgiveness from it. And we see this as she calls others to look upon her suffering (vs 18) – and yet she doesn’t encourage them to repent. She only wants an audience and some compassion. She calls on her allies to help her and yet here she sits all alone. What about calling to God for his aid? Where is that? Oh…she doesn’t. She calls on God to see her distress and yet she doesn’t ask Him to see her heart and desire to be forgiven – because that’s not where she’s at. Remember, she’s sitting in blaming, sadness, grief, and SOMEWHAT sin-recognition. But the only thing she REALLY wants God to do is to deal with others as he has dealt with her. THAT is her request.
Seeking and asking for forgiveness is hard because there has to be an acknowledgment of the sins we’ve committed – and sometimes that means going deep within and dealing with things we don’t want to deal with. It means admitting to the things we’ve tucked away and stored in the closet that we may have sworn never to be spoken of or opened. But the reason it’s difficult is because pride gets in the way. The reason it’s difficult is because nobody likes to admit when they’ve done wrong. It means we may have to deal with things we just don’t want to and it seems so often that the only times we seek repentance is when we’re caught – so as long as I don’t get caught then there’s nothing to repent for, right? The problem is that when we sin God knows. The problem is that our sin involves more people than just ourselves. The ripples of sin move in all directions and so just ignoring it just makes it worse – especially in our own lives. And dealing with our own sin is a multi-step process that Jerusalem was struggling to begin. That while she SOMEWHAT took step one and admitted to her sins she was trying to bypass steps 2-4 (acknowledging sins, declaring what they were, and seeking forgiveness from God) she was just trying to skip to the end and seek full restoration without the healing. Or worse yet, she was trying to get OTHER nations to be punished too. Responsibility of one’s own sins, without playing the blame game, must take place.
But forgiveness is more than this. Forgiveness is about learning lessons, understanding our brokenness, and seeking God’s restoration from it. Forgiveness is about owning up to what you’ve done and not because you’re caught but because you declare you were wrong. Forgiveness is about understanding that you NEED to be forgiven and that you cannot move from where you are to where you want to be without God doing it for you. Jerusalem fails to see that she not only sought the wrong people for her healing but that the one she needed, God, was with her all along. That while the punishment was real, and it was handed down by God, God was also there ready to hear her cries, fill her needs, wipe her tears away, help her begin to heal, and move her to being “clean.” She knew God was there for she was crying to Him – and yet she still didn’t reach out her hand to be saved.
Often times we too find ourselves in those same situations. Often times we either don’t want to fully repent because we’re just not quite “there” yet (they call it “hitting rock-bottom” for a reason). And yet so much of our healing could start sooner if we took our pride away, stopped seeking ourselves, quick trying to blame others, and started owning up to our own mess. And yet oftentimes our sins feel so dark that we cannot see anything around us BUT our darkness – and yet we know that in these moments that God too is there. And not as one who is standing over us waving a finger and passing judgment – but as THE One who is kneeling beside us and offering us peace, forgiveness, healing, hope, and grace.
Just like Jerusalem needed to see God was with her and before her, even while broken with sin, you and I must see that God is with us. That he did NOT want this world to be like Zion (Jerusalem) was at this time. That God did NOT want us to have this continued feeling of him being away or ignoring our needs. That God did NOT want us to feel like his heavy hand of wrath for sin was constantly pushing us down. So instead of this God sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to take on the full weight of his wrath FOR us. Instead of us feeling lonely and abandoned the Holy Spirit descended on that day of Pentecost (Acts 2) and dwells within us – drawing us closer to holiness and the glory of God. That by Christ and his redeeming atoning work on the cross we no longer are to wallow in our sins and feel the weight of God’s punishment as it pushed us away from him. All that God has done, from day one, was to gather us in and through Christ it was finally done.
Does that mean that our own sins don’t play heavy upon us? Not at all – and I’m thankful that they do because it reminds me when I do wrong. Just as pain tell us that we’ve hurt ourselves and we need to stop doing whatever we’re doing – the heaviness of sin reminds us that we’ve done something against God, against others, against creation, or against ourselves and we need to stop. But praise God that that space isn’t where we sit. That through the seeking of forgiveness, through acknowledging our brokenness and desiring restoration we can move from darkness to light. From uncleanliness to cleanliness.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- How are you with acknowledging your own sins? Do you tend to wait till caught before seeking forgiveness? Or does your conscience kick in right away?
- Why is seeking forgiveness so hard? It seems like this should be the first thing we WANT to do – and yet it’s the part we dread so much!