By David Matthew FreemanWhat is wrong with the world? Why is everything so broken? Was it always this way? Will it ever improve? When we come face to face with pain, these are some of the questions we may ask. Scripture confirms the reality of pain as Paul teaches, “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now” (Romans 8:22).
The scripture also tells us of how this came to pass: “As by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12).
Sin is what broke this world. Sin is why everyone suffers and dies.
The Sin of Judah
The prophet Jeremiah experienced the disastrous and painful consequences of sin. He was a resident of Judah (the southern kingdom of Israel), and he began prophesying during the reign of Josiah in 627 B.C. His ministry continued through the reign of Zedekiah and the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
Jeremiah preached a simple message. The people of Judah were living sinful lives, and Jeremiah called on them to repent. He warned them that if they refused to repent, then God would bring the nation of Babylon to ravage their land and take their people captive.
The sins of the people of Jerusalem were many, but they were summarized in two ways as God declared, “My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13). The people had turned their back on the one true God and sought their satisfaction somewhere else. Though they still performed many religious ceremonies, their hearts were far from God and their actions contradicted his law.
Men such as Isaiah, Micah, and Habakkuk had also prophesied that God would send Babylon to invade Judah if they did not turn from their sins. Nevertheless, the people persisted in their rebellious lifestyles. This is described in 2 Chronicles 36:14-16, where we read
“Moreover all the chief of the priests, and the people, transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen; and polluted the house of the LORD which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. And the LORD God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place: But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against his people, till there was no remedy.”
God is full of compassion. He is very patient. Yet the people of Judah would not submit to the compassionate and patient authority of God. Therefore, God justly brought the penalty of their sins upon them. The Babylonians came and took many Israelites captive in 605 B.C. (as recorded in Daniel 1:1-7), and invaded again in 597 (as recorded in 2 Kings 24:10-16). Finally, in 588, the Babylonians besieged Jerusalem for two years until they breached the city walls in 586.
This final two-year siege was a time of terror and agony for the people of Jerusalem, and Jeremiah recorded their grief in the book of Lamentations.
The five laments of this book lead the reader through the pain experienced by Jerusalem and into earnest prayer for restoration.
The first two laments are particularly poignant as they give voice to a personified Jerusalem. The city is depicted as a promiscuous woman who has been ravaged and left for dead by her lovers. In the midst of her desolation she confesses her sin and cries out for compassion.
The Judgment of God
“How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! How is she become as a widow!” (Lamentations 1:1). Jerusalem, once a happy wife, was now a widow. She who was once a princess was now a slave. Her affliction was all encompassing. All her lovers were gone. All her friends dealt treacherously with her. All her persecutors overtook her. All her gates were desolate. All her beauty had departed. All her pleasant things had been lost. All who honored her now despised her. All her people sighed. All her mighty men were crushed.
What brought all this pain? Jeremiah unambiguously affirms, “The LORD hath afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions” (5).
He goes on to explain that “Jerusalem hath grievously sinned; therefore is she removed” (8). The city herself admits, “The LORD is righteous; for I have rebelled against his commandment” (18).
How do we respond when we face the consequences of our sin? Do we confess that God is just when he allows us to reap what we sow, or do we complain against his providence? Can we declare, as did Jerusalem, that God is just in his judgments? When God uses our own wickedness to correct us, can we see that our sin is indeed an evil and bitter thing (Jeremiah 2:19) or do we still try to justify ourselves?
While the Babylonians were the immediate cause of Jerusalem’s affliction, the Lord unashamedly took ownership of this painful situation. “The LORD hath commanded concerning Jacob, that his adversaries should be round about him” (17). The downfall of Jerusalem was no accident; God was acting with a purpose.
He is a God of great patience, but he will not forever tolerate unrepentant sin.
Do we recognize God’s hand at work in our lives? When we fail to seek God’s wisdom and make sinful choices we will soon find that “the way of transgressors is hard” (Proverbs 13:15). Do we dismiss such hardship as a product of chance, or are we willing to learn from the purposeful chastisement of God? Jerusalem tried to ignore God’s warnings and escape his judgment, but to no avail. As commentator J. Andrew Dearman notes, the book of Lamentations drives home “the uncomfortable truth that no one is finally exempt from God’s searching judgments.” We must repent when we are warned and chastened by God. He will not be ignored.
The Cloud of God’s Anger
“How hath the Lord covered the daughter of Zion with a cloud in his anger!” (2:1). Having described the desolation that resulted from the sin of Jerusalem, Jeremiah goes on to emphasize the fierceness of God’s anger against their sin. His anger devoured like a raging fire (3). God acted without pity, as an enemy (4). In his anger he destroyed the buildings and walls of the city, took away her rulers, abolished the rule of law, and silenced her prophets.
The city was inconsolable! Her grief was incomparable! The people were slowly starving to death amidst the Babylonian siege. Mothers were unable to comfort their children as they cried out for food. The enemies of Jerusalem were rejoicing at her sorrow rather than coming to her aid. Hope seemed all but lost, and Jeremiah exclaimed, “What shall I equal to thee, O virgin daughter of Zion? For thy breach is great like the sea: who can heal thee?” (13).
Does this describe your situation? Perhaps the fire of God’s wrath has scorched you.
Perhaps the cloud of his anger envelops you. Where will you seek consolation?
Where will you turn for help? Who will heal you?
Even as God rained judgment down upon the sinful residents of Jerusalem, Jeremiah encouraged them to lift up their voices to God in prayer. He exhorted them to “Arise, cry out in the night: in the beginning of the watches pour out thine heart like water before the face of the Lord.” (19). Though God was the one sending affliction, Jeremiah knew that God was also the one who could help. He knew that God was the only one who could heal.
In the final verses of this second lament, the city acts upon the exhortation of Jeremiah and voices her prayer to God. She pleads, “Behold, O LORD, and consider to whom thou hast done this.” She wants God to see her condition. She wants him to remember their relationship. She recounts the judgments of God and hopes that he will now show mercy.
Do you believe that God sees you where you are? Perhaps you feel forsaken, utterly abandoned as a result of your sin. Perhaps you acknowledge that you are unworthy of mercy, yet you still long for relief. If so, follow the example of Jerusalem.
Bring your case to God. Tell him of your sorrows and ask him to renew your relationship.
Pursue the Lord even when he seems infinitely distant.
But why should God hear you when you pray? He has every right to condemn and destroy those who rebel against his good law and his legitimate authority. So, why should God hear us when we cry to him? Why should his anger be turned away?
God would be right to shun our prayers and leave us in our state of estrangement. The wages of sin is death. Nevertheless, God has commended his love toward us, in that, while were yet sinners, Christ died for us! (Romans 5:8). When we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. In the name of Jesus we come before God and find the forgiveness and healing mercy that we so desperately need.
Though you may be covered with the cloud of God’s anger, do not lose hope. Jesus Christ came to lift the cloud of God’s anger that the light of God’s glory might shine into your life. Jesus intercedes for us, that we might hear the words of Isaiah 44:22, “I have blotted out, as a thick cloud, thy transgressions, and, as a cloud, thy sins: return unto me; for I have redeemed thee.” We may be suffering as a result of sin. We may feel very alone and uncared for in the midst of a terribly broken world. Yet God is our redeemer to whom we must return.