First off, please read our text today, which is Lamentations 4: 1-10
Here, in 10 verses, Jeremiah really shows us who they are. There is no challenge and encouragement to the people and there is no stirring up of continued reflection and focus. You almost feel as if the real pain and suffering is FINALLY coming through. In my head I hear God saying, “Tell me, Jeremiah, how do you REALLY feel? Not this ‘surface-level’ stuff but REALLY feel deep down!” And so he does via these beautiful and heart-wrenching metaphors and truths.
We read about the luster of gold which is a metaphor for the people of God. Gold doesn’t lose its luster…but they are so far down, so far beaten, so far into the dirt and dust and tossed aside by God that you can’t even tell its gold any more. Are they even the people of God any longer? The “sacred gems” we read about in verse 1 are scattered everywhere – which again is symbolism for the holy people of the Lord. They aren’t gathered in one place for, and unto God any longer. They aren’t in his house, his city, and adorned around his temple. They are scattered all over the known world…and no longer are they “sacred”. And how could they be? Things are only “sacred” if they are deemed “sacred” – and clearly God does not consider us his holy, consecrated, and beloved sacred people any longer. Right? And even the children…part of the gems…so precious to God – appear to be meaningless.
And the princes? DON’T EVEN GET ME STARTED! No more are they clean. No more do they adorn beautifully purple, blue, and white royal clothes that they get to lavishly wear about the city. Now? Now they are as black as soot and unrecognizable in color and appearance. And the poet knows why – they don’t deny it. They actually tell us why the gold, the gems, the children, the people – why all of them are the way they are right now. And it’s because of one thing: their sin. Because of their sin…because of now where they stand and what they have done, the poet gives us gruesome images and analogies that reflect just how destitute the people have become AS WELL AS how self-absorbed they all are now. Not only is there no water, not only is there no food…but verse 3 and 4 proclaim that the people are heartless.
But Jeremiah isn’t done as he continues on with the metaphors. The jackals, who are known to simply scour and live among the ruins…are living and thriving in this destruction… while the people are not. Jeremiah uses the metaphor of the ostrich and how the people have become as heartless as it. How is the ostrich heartless? Well, it lays its eggs in the sand where it can be found, trampled, and destroyed thus having no care for its offspring…and so too are the people. They are just as heartless and careless as the ostrich and are now only focused on themselves and their own survival. Which then leads us into verse 4 – for if parents are only concerned with themselves what about the children? Well, the image of children begging in the street is what we are offered. And we don’t know if they are ignored because there is no food or if this carelessness continues on and that those who do have food don’t even share with the most helpless of people – the children. I am inclined to follow the ladder but also feel that it’s not just random people who don’t feed the starving children…it’s their very parents who ignore their cries and needs.
But, as I’m starting to feel like a broken record, it doesn’t end as verses 5, 7, 8, and 9 rounds out the lament of “what we had” vs “where we are now” and the people mourn the fact that they were once fat-and-happy with food, shelter, and clothing and yet now they are not. And yet the worse is still yet to come as one of the worst scenarios in all of scripture smacks us upside the head: compassionate women, in order to stay alive, are no longer finding compassion in their hearts as they have cooked, and consumed, their own children in order to survive (vs 10). I’m not sure I even know what to say here. As a parent I cannot fathom having this scenario before me. I’m pretty sure I would starve to death before I even THOUGHT about consuming my own child.
Which leads me to my reflection and a bit of a challenge: I am not here, nor are you, to bring judgment upon these people and the choices they made, the feelings they have, or the space they found themselves in. We cannot insert ourselves into this situation because that’s not the point. Yes we can “wonder” and “reflect” on how we’d respond to certain similar situations, and yes we are challenged to reflect on our own sinful nature and self-centeredness that we find deep within but the point of Lamentations 4 is not for us to point fingers. The point of Lamentations 4 is to not cast “me vs them” when it comes to ________ and how we would respond similarly or differently. The point of these verses is to show just how far the people of God, and humanity as a whole, have fallen. The point of these verses is to reveal our own brokenness through the lens of Israel’s brokenness. The point of these 10 verses is to reflect AND THEN POINT TO the truth that people don’t need finger-pointers – what they (we) need is a Savior. We need someone who sees the pain we’re in instead of ignoring it. We need someone who finds compassion instead of indifference, sorrow instead of laughter, and redemption instead of abandonment.
These 10 verses are simply straight-up honest-to-God God-talk. It’s not about anyone or anything else but Jeremiah and his feelings with God and the people’s space and place with God. It’s them laying it all out on the line that it would be better to die than to be in this place and yet this is where they find themselves and so this __________ is how they feel. And while we’ll eventually get into the sins of the people and the wrath of God for sins we’re just not there yet. And there is something about creating and allowing that space to be without any resolution or reflection that is good.
I’ve always been a musician in some way or form. I took piano for somewhere around 8 or 9 years, as well as playing the sax and percussion along with a whole host of other instruments and eventually adding singing to my joys (we can debate on the “giftedness” of anyone of those). And one thing you really realize is that having an ending resolution “sounds” good – and so composers compose pieces that end on a good note. A note, or space, that puts a resolution to the tension in the piece or ends the way it began. RARELY do you find a song that ends on a minor chord or something that sounds completely off. So leave it up to me that there are times where I’ll play a song, a familiar song to people, and instead of resolving and ending the piece where they hope and know it’s going – you take them to an off note that just leaves the song hanging. Or maybe you hold that second to last note for an obnoxiously long time as they wait…and wait…and wait… for you to hit the note of familiarity. And then you just get up and walk away.
We like tense moments to find resolve and happy endings to make their way in. We don’t want to stand at the edge of nothing and then be left there…and yet there is something compelling and challenging there too – which is probably why we have “cliff hangers” in TV shows and at the end of their seasons. It draws us in, stirs something up in us, and pulls us to anxiously wait for the next episode! But we come back TO HEAR the story put to resolution. We read the next chapter so that that moment can find its home or that square can stop being forced into a round peg and actually find a square peg! Lamentations, once more, reminds us that we are square pegs trying to force ourselves into a round hole…and it’s just not working. And how do we know this? Because as we read these 10 verses we recognize that all they desired and all that they are lamenting about have to do with worldly things and not godly things. To them it was about status, people, food, accolades, and glimmering gem-laden lives. But to God that’s not the case.
So this tense-ous space is where we sit. We’re dangerously holding on by a pinky to a thread of a future. The people are focused on an earthly “joy” and past while failing to recognize the “joy” of a life firmly held in the embrace of God. For you and I, who know the rest of the “story” we know Who eventually comes – and yet this book (Lamentations), and these 10 verses are challenging us to stay in tension and NOT find resolve…not yet! Because sometimes this is where we need to sit. Honestly, sometimes this is where we FIND ourselves! We are angry, we are hurt, and we don’t want anything BUT this space and we cannot SEE what is just around the corner to resolve the space.
But I think it’s more than this because I also think that here is where we’re reminded of our priorities. It’s here we’re challenged to stop living in to where we are or were but where we are called to be. It’s here we swim in our brokenness and realize that we cannot un-break us. That we cannot force our squaredness into a round hole where we are called to be. It’s here, in this space of tension, where we begin to recognize that we are called forth somewhere else and it will be done by Someone else. Someone who is not a square but can round our edges and carry us through that round hole. Someone who isn’t focused on looks or food or their own “luster” but is, instead, focused on redemption, restoration, hope, justification, and a future without the pain and suffering. Someone who literally would give up their own life in exchange for yours and declares that it IS better for ME to die so that you could live. Someone who takes on the punishment of the people, grants his people to RETURN to royalty, takes their blackened soot-filled lives and turns them whiter than snow and has a feast waiting for all those who have faith that that is who He is and that is what he does.
Someone…by the name of Jesus.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- How are you with “tense” situations that are left tense? Do you look for them to be resolved? How can those moments be edifying to us and glorifying to God?
- So much of this text is about comparing – which is something we naturally find ourselves doing – but it’s a comparison of what WE have done and wanting God to be likewise. What does Paul state in 2 Corinthians 4:7 and how can that help us in that tension?