THE ANGER OF THE LORD HAS PUNISHED HIS PEOPLE BECAUSE OF THEIR SIN – TRANSFORMING THEIR FORMER GLORY INTO DEVASTATION – AND THIS WRATH WILL FALL UPON THEIR GLOATING ENEMIES AS WELL
God is always justified and righteous in His judgments. Here we have another account of the horrors of the siege and devastation of Jerusalem. The contrast between the former glory of God’s people and their present distress is striking. But the emphasis is on the culpability of the nation – especially due to the corruption of its leadership. The cup of God’s wrath needed to be drunk in full. And the nations round about like Edom who were presently gloating would soon be forced to drink the cup they deserve as well. Sin cannot go unpunished. This intense passage highlights the mercy of our Lord Jesus who willingly drank the cup of God’s wrath for us and made a complete end of our guilt and sin so that we never have to fear God’s wrath. We still may experience His loving and nurturing discipline in our lives, but Christ has been made the propitiation for our sins.
Steven Smith: Throughout the history of the nation of Israel, three offices provided leadership. The office of prophet tethered people to the vision of God for a pure, distinct nation. The office of priest provided a mediating function. The priest served to facilitate access to the presence of God. The people had access to God’s presence because the priest would act as a go-between, leading God’s people into God’s presence by following God’s temple rites. The office of king facilitation military and civil leadership.
When these offices were in full force, it was a beautiful thing . . . When one office was out of kilter, another was on point . . .Lamentations 4 documents the downward slide of leadership in all three offices. Everything rises and falls on leadership.
– The princes who were strong are now emaciated (vv. 7-8).
– The prophets and priests shed innocent blood (v. 13).
– The priests and the elders are being chastised by God (v. 16).
– The king is captured (v. 20).
I. (:1-10) DEVASTATION OF THE SIEGE DETAILED IN EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT – CONTRAST BETWEEN FORMER GLORY AND CURRENT HUMILIATION
A. (:1-5) First Series of Contrasts
1. (:1-2) Present Distress Contrasted with Former Glory –
Imagery of Gold and Precious Stones vs Dust and Earthen Pottery
“How dark the gold has become,
How the pure gold has changed!
The sacred stones are poured out at the corner of every street.
The precious sons of Zion, weighed against fine gold,
How they are regarded as earthen jars, the work of a potter’s hands!”
Barnes: the hallowed stones, literally stones of holiness, a metaphor for the people themselves.
MacArthur: The gold adornment of the temple, looted by the conquerors, lost its luster with a coating of dust where they scattered the remains.
Dyer: Clay was common in Palestine; nearly all vessels were made from it. Clay pots were abundant and their value was little. If one broke, it was thrown out and a new one replaced it. Similarly the people of Jerusalem, God’s precious people, had become worthless.
2. (:3-5) Cruelty of Starvation –
Imagery of Uncaring Mothers and dearth of food and clothing
“Even jackals offer the breast, they nurse their young;
But the daughter of my people has become cruel like ostriches in the wilderness.
The tongue of the infant cleaves to the roof of its mouth because of thirst;
The little ones ask for bread, but no one breaks it for them.
Those who ate delicacies are desolate in the streets;
Those reared in purple embrace ash pits.”
MacArthur: Even worthless jackals by nature nurse their young, but under the severities of conquest, Israelite women were unable to nurse their babies. Ostriches = birds which were notable for ignoring their young (cf. Job 39:14-16).
Dyer: Mother ostriches seem unconcerned about their young, for they lay their eggs in the sand where they may be trampled.
B. (:6) Problem = Unimaginable Sin (worse than Sodom)
“For the iniquity of the daughter of my people
Is greater than the sin of Sodom,
Which was overthrown as in a moment,
And no hands were turned toward her.”
MacArthur: Their sin was homosexuality. The fact that the suffering of Jerusalem was prolonged, while that of even Sodom was swift, marks it as the greater punishment (cf. 1 Pe. 4:17).
C. (:7-10) Second Series of Contrasts
1. (:7-8) Present Distress Contrasted with Former Glory –
Imagery of Strength and Health vs Weakness and Withering
“Her consecrated ones were purer than snow,
They were whiter than milk;
They were more ruddy in body than corals,
Their polishing was like lapis lazuli.
Their appearance is blacker than soot,
They are not recognized in the streets;
Their skin is shriveled on their bones,
It is withered, it has become like wood.”
Barnes: “polishing” — Or, their shape was “a sapphire.” The allusion is no longer to color, but to form. Their shape was exact and faultless as the cutting of a precious stone.
Ross Price: a picture of unburied bodies in the desert sun
2. (:9-10) Cruelty of Starvation – Resorting to Cannibalism
“Better are those slain with the sword than those slain with hunger;
For they pine away, being stricken for lack of the fruits of the field.
The hands of compassionate women boiled their own children;
They became food for them because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.”
II. (:11) Key Verse – DEVASTATION ACCOMPLISHED BY THE ANGER OF THE LORD
“The Lord has accomplished His wrath,
He has poured out His fierce anger;
And He has kindled a fire in Zion which has consumed its foundations.”
III. (:12-20) DEVASTATION SHOCKS THE WATCHING WORLD AND ISRAEL’S CORRUPT LEADERS
A. (:12-16) Response to the Devastation
1. (:12) Response By the Watching World – Had Viewed Jerusalem as Impregnable
“The kings of the earth did not believe,
Nor did any of the inhabitants of the world,
That the adversary and the enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem.”
Constable: The overthrow of Jerusalem had surprised the leaders and people of other nations. Invaders had forced their way into it in the past (cf. 1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Kings 14:13-14; 2 Chron. 21:16-17), but the citizens had rebuilt and strengthened its defenses (2 Chron 32:2-5; 33:14). In Jeremiah’s day it appeared impregnable, especially to the people of Jerusalem (cf. 2 Sam. 5:6-8).
2. (:13) Culpability of Corrupt Leaders – Had Viewed Themselves as Untouchables as the Lord’s Anointed
“Because of the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests,
Who have shed in her midst the blood of the righteous.”
3. (:14-15) Response By Israel’s Corrupt Leaders = Now Despised
a. Wandering, Scattered, Blind
“They wandered, blind, in the streets”
b. Defiled, Unclean as Lepers
“They were defiled with blood so that no one could touch their garments.
’Depart! Unclean!’ they cried of themselves.
‘Depart, depart, do not touch!’”
c. Unwanted and Rejected
“So they fled and wandered;
Men among the nations said,
‘They shall not continue to dwell with us.’”
4. (:16) Response by the Lord
a. Driven from the Lord’s Presence
“The presence of the Lord has scattered them,”
b. Denied the Divine Favor
“He will not continue to regard them;”
c. Disciplined for Insubordination
“They did not honor the priests,
They did not favor the elders.”
B. (:17-20) Additional Causes for the Devastation
1. (:17-18) Futility of Foreign Alliances
“Yet our eyes failed, looking for help was useless;
In our watching we have watched for a nation that could not save.”
Dyer: Both Jeremiah and Ezekiel had warned against the futility of trusting in Egypt for protection (Jer. 37:6-10; Ezek. 29:6-7). That false hope brought only bitter grief when Babylon’s armies swifter than eagles (cf. Hab. 1:8), finally captured Jerusalem, pursuing those who tried to escape, and the end came.
2. (:18-19) Futility of Fleeing
“They hunted our steps so that we could not walk in our streets;
Our end drew near, our days were finished for our end had come.
Our pursuers were swifter than the eagles of the sky;
They chased us on the mountains,
They waited in ambush for us in the wilderness.”
3. (:20) False Security in Human Leadership
“The breath of our nostrils, the Lord’s anointed,
Was captured in their pits,
Of whom we had said, ‘Under his shadow we shall live among the nations.’”
IV. (:21-22) DEVASTATION AWAITS THE GLOATING ENEMIES OF ISRAEL
A. (:21) Your Turn is Coming, Edom
“Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, who dwells in the land of Uz;
But the cup will come around to you as well,
You will become drunk and make yourself naked.”
Constable: The Edomites, kinsmen of the Judahites, were rejoicing over Judah’s destruction (cf. Ps. 137:7; Jer. 49:7-22; Ezek. 25:12-14; 35), but the same fate was sure to overtake them (Deut. 30:7). They would have to drink the cup of Yahweh’s judgment and would lose their self-control and self respect.
B. (:22A) Your Turn is Completed, Israel
“The punishment of your iniquity has been completed, O daughter of Zion;
He will exile you no longer.”
C. (:22B) Your Turn is Coming, Edom
“But He will punish your iniquity, O daughter of Edom;
He will expose your sins!”
Stephens-Hodge: “Discover” is the opposite of “cover”, the usual word for “forgive.”