Whereas in the previous 10 verses we got the “woe” of the people for the place and space they found themselves in – now we get the REASONS for that space. It’s as if the reflective feelings have now been turned as they move from the internal to the external. The Lord’s wrath has been poured out and it’s consuming the people because they have not acted LIKE the people of God. Sin has taken over all of Jerusalem. The prophets, who were supposed to prophecy in the name of God were clearly not as they have defiled themselves and not only slander the name of God but abuse their covenant. But there is more going on than this and as we work through these last verses Jeremiah will acknowledge more and yet, seemingly out of nowhere, we end on a high-note…ish. So let’s dive in and read our text today, which is Lamentations 4:11-22
There are 3 sins that are acknowledged: Prophets and priests, people’s sins, and the reason for destruction…and we’ll tackle all them in order. The first one comes to us in verse 13 (and is a great challenge for church leaders): The prophets and the priests have failed them. They shed blood. They were supposed to represent the people, uphold the people, come before the people and God … and they failed. They became self-absorbed and corrupt. The very men who were supposed to lead God’s people in faithfulness and love lived a life of sin and brought the people down that same path. Where they went…so too the people followed. These people, these men of God who are to remain clean…are covered in the very blood and uncleanliness that would keep the common people away from God. And they are covered in so much blood that not even the remnant people will be near them.
The second acknowledgement of the people’s sin and exile comes to us in verse 17 (and is a wonderful challenge for all us). What do you do when you are in need? Verse 17 states that the people searched all around and stood on their towers and looked for help from neighbors, from other kings and princes and armies…but nobody came. In their greatest time of need they turned to people and military powers. And they kept waiting for them, for someone to rescue them, defend them, stand for them, and help them. And the very help they should have sought, the only one who could have helped, delivered, protected, and guided was never sought. They reached out and waited for everyone…all the while God was ignored. Never did they turn and look up. Never did they cry out for God. We read and learn from the Jeremiah(37:6-10)as well as Ezekiel(29:6-7) that hope put in others will only bring you destruction.
The third sin and reason for destruction comes to us in verse 20. The king, Zedekiah, was seen as the very blood, the very breath, the very connection to God…and he failed them. He was the appointed leader of the people by God and they were seen as set apart to be his blessing and voice, his guidance and leadership for his people. But he didn’t. If we go back to Jeremiah 39:2-7 we read that when the city was invaded, when the Babylonians breached the walls, the king and his army took off and left them defenseless…and eventually even he was captured.
The sins of the people…the abandonment to God, the abandonment of the leaders to actually lead and guide brought the people of Zion to her knees. So God pulled back his hands of protection. He allows invaders to come in, destroy, rip apart, and take out. They are now either scattered and exiled, or in the case of our poet Jeremiah, left behind and physically, mentally, and emotionally destroyed. And it’s not until verse 22 that we see any sign of hope – and it’s not a whole lot of hope either! As they look out across their decimated city they throw out this blanket hopeful proclamation that those very people who ransacked them, those very people who came crashing through their city gates gathering up men and women and children and taking them away…their time will come too! In the pit of darkness…THAT is their hope – and only that! And I say that because we don’t hear God say, “Have hope my children…this too shall pass” – we actually hear nothing from God at all! There is no voice of hope or comfort or peace from the Almighty – but then again they aren’t asking for it either.
- Maybe they are so stuck on the pain that they can’t even begin to think of a restoration or hope.
- Maybe it is so dark that they can’t even begin to think about anything else but the “now” that is.
Whatever their reason…the life that once was, coupled with the sins they committed, have invaded their present and refused to allow them to move forward with now or even look to a hope that not only awaits but comes later.
This is why we want to dive into this pain and suffering while on our tour of this city in ruins! We want to cry out that gold never loses its luster! Sacred gems scattered are still SACRED GEMS! Pots of clay are still made by the potter’s hands and considered “precious”! If only we could tell this man and show him the photos to come! Photos of the luster and sheen of gold and gems that are restored. Photos of women nursing healthy children in the safety of their homes, city parks, and squares. Photos of children playing, sharing food, and laughing as they play in fountains of cool plentiful water. Photos that show no starvation, no death, and no dying (Rev 21:4). Where royal clothing is not only worn by princes and princess’ but all people of God – from every tribe, tongue, and nation (Rev 7:9). Where every person is of royal descent, nobility, and honor. If only we could tell the people of Zion that the hope you hope for and long for, the relenting of God’s punishment for the sins you have committed, not only comes but it comes with a restoration that you could never fathom! If only we could show them what Christ does and the truth that the return of the King of kings and Lord of lords will usher all of that in!
Recently I re-watched one of my childhood favorite movies (The Never Ending Story) and while cinematography has changed DRASTICALLY since the 1980’s it still has a place in my heart (even though the movie is REALLY not that good as the plot line and other things are just not well-done). In the movie Bastian, who hides away to read this book “The Never Ending Story” gets so involved and engrossed that he begins to yell at the book and specifically at the characters. He not only feels their pains but he’s trying to help them along and encourage them. Well, THIS IS WHAT I WANT TO DO TO LAMENTATIONS 4! I want to yell at the poet to hold on. To find hope in the future! To turn to God, wait for him, and find comfort in his holy promises!
And yet, if I’m brutally honest, there is something about the darkness of these verses that means something. There’s something about sitting in a dark space. Maybe it’s the truth that many people, including some within my own congregation, are currently in dark spaces themselves. Maybe it’s the fact that there is so much darkness around us that to think otherwise would mean we are oblivious to the realities of this world. We see famine, heartache, brokenness and devastation in our own backyards. We LIKE to think it doesn’t happen here…but walk your own streets, engage with people, take your eyes off your double mocha Frappuccino and look around and you’d see broken-down buildings, homeless people, drug addicts, and many other things. As you engage people you’ll hear stories of brokenness, heartache, and so much more. Both physical, mental, and spiritual darkness surrounds all of us – and many of us are sitting in those dark spaces right now. And this is why I think we have Lamentations 4. To be comfortable in those dark spaces not for the reality that this is where I want to be but for the truth that this is where I am at this point.
The dark spaces that Jeremiah sees is quite the combo of things. Clearly as we read this text he realizes, as do the people, that their darkness is because of their sin. That they have walked this path themselves and pushed away from the light of God. There MUST be a conversation about that, and we’ll get there. But I do want to remind us that some of the people we see around us and in our own churches and network are in dark spaces not out of choice or by actions they took. We live in a broken world with sin all around us and that sin has corrupted every space in our lives. Jobs are lost not because we did something but because the company has gone a different direction or they had to lay off people. Houses are repossessed because of ______ and so people find themselves homeless. I spent the better part of 9 months volunteering at a homeless shelter in Seattle during seminary to know that some people are dealt a bad circumstance while others make bad choices – and never should we assume a person’s place is one thing vs another. But in our text? Our text is quite clear that they realize their brokenness, their tears, their “uncleanliness” is because of their choices in life thus they aren’t living into the hand that was dealt to them – they’re living into the hand they hand-picked themselves.
So, for the people here, and Jeremiah himself, Lamentations 4 reminds us just how far the people of God have fallen – and living into a dark space REMINDS us (if we lift our heads up) just how far God has lifted them up. Remember, we know the rest of the story and so reading our OT not only helps us understand our past as a people of God but it DECLARES God’s love and work throughout the ages. These verses help us to remember the struggle the people had with hope and just how dark darkness is. But what it does more than anything, again – since we know the end of the story – it helps us in our OWN darkness as we are reminded that if God restores them, even in their doubt?…God will restore me too. And so maybe instead of me yelling at the Bible to “hold on” – maybe today YOU need to be encouraged and reminded and given hope.
We read in 1 Peter 5:10 that after suffering, the God of all grace, who has called you to his ETERNAL GLORY in Christ, will himself RESTORE, CONFIRM, STRENGTHEN, AND ESTABLISH you.” The truth we hear in 1 Peter is that we worship the God of restoration. Which is a beautiful reminder that we cling to while in darkness – that Christ will put an end to our tears, pain, loneliness, and feelings of abandonment. Which should remind us that our hope needs to be in him and not where we were or even where we are! We look to God and what he has promised to do. We must remember that the God of hope is the God who is. And he’s not tethered to our past nor our present. He is not the hope of what once was but the hope of today and tomorrow.
And even that short tossing out of “hope” in verse 22? We need to understand that even THAT is more than enough. When dehydrated and on the brink of death even the smallest trickle of water will eventually bring back your strength and give you encouragement and hope.
When in the darkest of pits even the tiniest amount of light bursting through means that even in the darkness it is not completely dark. And even if that small amount of light is far off… when we look to it… when we focus on it and not the darkness around us or darkness that APPEARS to be surrounding us…that light can stir up and give hope. Because it means that there is something there. It may not be here, it may not be with me now…but there is hope to come. And that tiniest of cracks of light also declares that just on the other side there is light. The smallest of hope…is still hope. And when all you need is something – THAT is enough to give you strength for one more day.
Which brings us to the closing 2 verses. The hope we receive in verse 22 and 23 isn’t much, especially when that hope for what comes doesn’t take the pain they experience away right now. That’s the hardest part of this text. Even as they toss out these hopeful words at Edom it doesn’t stop the infant’s tongues from sticking to their mouths or put food in their bellies or water before them to quench their thirst. The pain is still real and the relief is still not here. But perspective needs to be had – and if we can keep perspective in perspective it helps with our pain and suffering. And our perspective is that hope is always there – even when darkness is around us.
You and I proclaim that the suffering we have today does not compare to the eternal glory of life to come. You and I proclaim that Christ died upon the cross to take away our sins and restore us to the goodness of God’s love. You and I proclaim that there is nothing that can keep us from God – that due to the cross and by his grace and forgiveness… we are forgiven! And we know this…and these are things we’ve been given and yet do not fully experience today. Because brokenness still is even though Christ took it all upon him. Living in the past of our sins still happens. Dwelling on yesterday still is part of many of our lives. And to some of us…we are holding on to the slimmest of slivers of hope – but let us not lose the hope we have of what is to come. Because even when we cannot see it, even when we do not experience it right now, it doesn’t mean it didn’t happen nor does it mean that it will not take place nor be ushered in when Christ returns.
We can dwell on where we were, but staying there is not where we are called to be. That’s not hope. Real hope isn’t a desire to be where you were – it’s the hopeful knowledge of where you are going to go because of God. And even the smallest glimmer of hope… is still hope. Hope doesn’t have to be something grandiose and extravagant – especially when in grief. Hope is hope no matter the size – as long as it’s placed in God and what he says, has done, and will do.
Darkness and hope are not opposite one another and I think we need to stop thinking that you have to have one or the other. Hope is what we cling to IN the darkness and I think really allows us to understand the darkness itself. It’s in those spaces, when we know that the light is out there and that hope is within us, we are given permission to reflect. Dark spaces challenge us to be better people – but only when we recognize the light itself. Darkness, ultimately, reminds us just how good the light is. So these last verses, and Lamentations 4 as a whole, challenge us to allow the darkness to be, to understand just how dark sin itself is, but to remember just how much God has done to redeem us from ourselves. And naturally, it leads me to the darkness that fell upon the land when Christ drew his last breath. (Mark 15:33-39). A darkness that befell the world that ALSO was a glorious light.
3 Questions for you to think through
- What stands out for you in this text? Why?
- In the New Testament where do we see the full vent of God’s wrath poured out? (here’s a hint – look at Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10 as they speak of “propitiation”)
- “You don’t know what you had until it’s gone” is a quote we hear and don’t give much thought to and yet this is the case of the people of God during this time. Why is that such a hard lesson for us to learn?