First off, please read our text today, which is Lamentations 2: 20-22 – and be ready for…well…some UNpleasantries and yet very stark realities. You’ve been warned.
There’s no way to cut it and there are no words that we can use to make this situation any better, and frankly any worse than it already is. We thought the words leading up to this painted a bleak situation but boy were we wrong! From the perspective of Jerusalem, and from her own voice, we read that some people were so hungry they resorted to cannibalism. That prophets and priests have been killed in the very place they hoped to find refuge from the onslaught. That young and old are dying in the streets and yet there is this feeling that while all this is going on the Lord is up there just watching…almost inviting their deaths. WHAT IN THE WORLD IS GOING ON!!? Is this literally what is taking place – or maybe the speaker is just being figurative in their language? Is this a plea from someone who is, like a child, exaggerating the punishment they have received thus embellishing just how bad it really is? Or were things so bad that that this is what people had to resort to and experience?
Some things we should take into consideration:
- Yes, this is literal and not figurative speech.
- No, they are not embellishing like a small child.
- Just because they state it here doesn’t mean EVERYONE was doing it. So while SOME may have been so driven to survival that they resorted to cannibalism it doesn’t mean EVERYONE was doing it.
- This was actually predicted long ago as we read about it in Leviticus 26:27-29 and Deuteronomy 28:53-57
- When cities lie in siege then the bodies of the fallen tend to lay where they took their last breath.
- When at war, when under siege, all age groups die
- God does bring judgment upon the sins of his people and in this case the Babylonians were being used, by God, to do his work (Jeremiah 25:9-11)
These three verses are some of the hardest in all of scripture. Not only are they tough to read but they are tough to process. Were the people warned time and time again that this would happen? Yes. Were the people told that if they continued down the destructive path they were on that God would “show” them what life is like without his hedge of protection? Yes. Were they deserving of all that happened to them? Possibly, probably, maybe and maybe not. I know that I cannot think of any situation that would warrant me responding like some took to doing in order to survive. I know that I cannot imagine a place, and time, where people sought refuge in the sanctuary of God only to find that they would die there. I cannot imagine a world where, once the cloud of dust settles from the battles, old and young alike lay in the streets dead. And yet there are places in this world where that still is happening today. War, famine, and indiscriminate death are still realities.
Countless people have died fleeing the violence and, seeking refuge in the House of God, find that the house of worship is now their place of death. We hear stories of people so desperate for food that they are willing, and able, to do whatever they need to do to survive just one more day. And war? Well, young and old go off to fight. Young and old pick up arms to defend. And young and old die next to each other in both places. So while I cannot imagine it it doesn’t mean it doesn’t, and hasn’t, happened. So once more I ask what are we to do with these 3 verses?
I know for myself that when I read texts like this I must remind myself that I cannot judge. That while I can never imagine a scenario where I would resort to cannibalism this isn’t my text, this isn’t my voice, this isn’t my reality, and these aren’t my times. I’m sure the mothers never thought they would do this either and yet here they find themselves. So no judging. Instead, we feel anguish, pain, and grief for those who have to go through these situations. That while we could never imagine that situation we can understand that it would have had to have been REALLY bad to find yourself there. And that is one of the things our author is trying to convey. We need to put ourselves into THEIR shoes to hear their voice, feel their pain, and understand where they are coming from – for it is THEN that we can begin to understand. This is THEIR reality so see it through them and not you.
So let’s read between some of these lines.
Back then, and even in many cultures today, family and community was everything. The old are given respect as they have paid their dues and their voices are cherished, the younger generation are the up-and-comers and so our immediate future is placed upon their shoulders, and the infants are the generation that will come behind them. All three of these age groups declared a beautiful past, present, and future. All three of these reflected the life of the community, the people, and the hope they had. So when all three are dead what future do we now have? When we have no aged men and women to teach and guide and seek wisdom from, when we have no young and robust people to work and provide for us and our community, and when our small children are dead too – where are we? We’re nowhere. THIS is the present and future that the people have. So they not only lament for what they’ve had to do, they not only lament for the bleakness and zero future that appears before them, but they are lamenting the truth that it felt like God just invited the invasion in. That, like a priest calling the people to worship during a time of festivities (vs 22), God too invited the neighboring enemies to come by the hordes and feast upon the lives of his covenantal children.
What I find really interesting is that through all of this only once does the speaker ask a question (all the rest are statements). And their question is a relevant one: God, have you ever done this to anyone? It’s a rhetorical question that is not seeking an answer and yet it’s also a statement as well. Not only that God has never done this before but in all the people in all the lands this falls upon his covenant children? But this isn’t only a rhetorical in nature – it’s also a request for God to act against the atrocities that have befallen them. Everything that is happening to the people of God are things that go against the very nature of God and the covenant he made with them. So while we get a question as to why this is taking place we also get a petition by the people for God to act against those that are doing such harm. And then the poem simply ends and we’re left wondering if the Lord is going to see, act, and respond. It seems odd to end here and yet THAT is where we’re called to go.
There’s quite a bit of this wondering that we’re given in Lamentations. There’s quite a bit of “tossing this out there and wondering if it’s gonna stick” that goes on as this book doesn’t set out to give us answers. The book of Lamentations isn’t about making you feel all warm and fuzzy, it’s about allowing real voices to cry out in distress, grief, and sadness unto a God they know they can turn to, and so chapter 2 closes with that very thing: a petition to God that is just left as is – and I know for me that I need to be reminded that that is a very powerful prayer.
Often times we seek to see, and feel, the response of God to our needs…right now. And those definitely are needed and, if I’m going to be honest, I often find myself there. And yet there are times when we pray and we just allow that prayer to be. We’ve stated our cause and our needs, we’ve given it up to God, and now the prayer is ended as we’ve left it up to him. He will either do as requested or not. But in either case God will respond. And so whatever our need is we toss it up to him and allow him to do as he sees fit. I appreciate how one author states,
Prayer is a salve for every sore, even the sorest, a remedy for every malady, even the most grievous. And our business in prayer is not to prescribe, but to subscribe to the wisdom and will of God; to refer our case to him, and then to leave it with him. Lord, behold and consider, and thy will be done.
The closing 3 verses of chapter 2 is a gut-punch to the reality of life during that time. It’s a darkness that was felt by all people and as the book invites us to do, we read it not with judgment nor with shaking heads and fingers, but with aching hearts for the choices people had to make, decisions they came to, death they saw, and the pain they felt. We walk away wondering “what would I have done?” and begin to wonder what survival looks like to me. But ultimately we come to a peace knowing that the pain endured, the decisions made, the life they were living, while bleak and dark, it wasn’t so far that they knew they couldn’t reach out in that darkness towards the light of God. AND THEN, when we begin to reflect on that, we begin to realize that there is no place I can go, no actions I could find myself into, where I know I cannot reach out in petition to the God who answers prayers. And how do I know this? Because the God who we worship sent his One and only Son into the depths of darkness for you and I. The God we worship heard our cries from the pits of our despair, reached down, and destroyed the enemy that surrounded us.
So cry out to him in despair. Cry out to God because of the choices you made, the decisions that you are now faced with, and the darkness you now find yourself in. Cry out to the One who does not, has not, and will not allow us to become so consumed with sin, grief, sadness, and darkness that there is no way out. Our prayers of petitions are part of the healing process. A healing that knows that wherever I am, whatever I’ve been through – God is there and I can finally give this to him.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- What are the things that are of most value in YOUR life that and that mean everything to you? That, should they be taken away, you would be utterly lost?
- Is it just me or do we tend to look for, and want, the answers immediately from God? Why is that? Aren’t prayers supposed to be petitions and not demands?
 Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994. Print.