The Agora
The Lamentations of Jeremiah

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Chapter 1 - The Affliction of Jerusalem

"There is none to comfort her."
Jeremiah, by the Spirit, is of course the speaker throughout this chapter, but his words in the second section are as the words of the suffering Jerusalem, the "daughter of Zion" (vv 12-22). This type of presentation has been used for two reasons: first-person, present-tense speech increases the excitement, and impact of the narrative. Secondly, Jeremiah felt the regrets of his people -- and even their sins -- so keenly that they became an intimate part of his own being and an integral part of God's revelation here recorded.

Jeremiah is sorrowed by the desolation of the people, burdened with the grief of the intense suffering of the nation. He had tried for many long years to warn them, to recall them to their holy covenant with God. But only a few had ever paid attention.

Jeremiah behaved similarly to Moses and the apostle Paul -- two other Jews who lamented the actions of their brethren so strongly, and who sought their benefit so urgently, that they were willing to jeopardise their own positions before God. In Exodus 32:32 we find Moses interceding for the forgiveness of the people's sins:

"... And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of Thy book which Thou hast written."
Paul expresses the same sentiment for his stiff-necked brethren:

"For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Rom 9:3).
All three of these men -- Jeremiah, Moses and Paul -- stand therefore as fitting types of the greatest of all Jews, the Lord Jesus Christ. At his first appearing, Jesus told his apostles to go "to the lost sheep of the house of Israel". But the people would not accept the teachings of the teacher of Nazareth. Jesus, lamenting the coming desolation of Jerusalem, cried:

"O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem! Thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent to thee! How often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate" (Mat 23:37, 38).
What magnificent compassion! So here in Lamentations, in Jeremiah's concern for a wayward nation, we see pictured the concern of the Son -- and the Father -- for us. What a wonder this is! that one, so undefiled and separate from sinners as Christ, should care for others, so prone to every evil thought and deed as we are:

"Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows... And he bare the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors" (Isa 53:4, 12).
With his death and resurrection came the New Covenant (mentioned by Jeremiah -- 31:31-34) -- and with the new covenant God extended His purpose to include the Gentiles, those who were 'afar off'. The distinction between the natural Jew and Greek was removed:

"God, Who is rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ... For through him we both (Jew and Gentile) have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Eph 2:4-18).
How thankful we should be that Jesus is not ashamed to call us brethren. He who did no sin is indeed a faithful High Priest for us who walk unworthily, if we repent and turn again to him:

"For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted" (Heb 2:18).
Should this not also be a lesson for us? Our feelings and affection for the brethren and sisters should be such that we suffer when they suffer, and rejoice when they rejoice.

Throughout this first chapter of Lamentations one point stands out -- man's helplessness in his forsaken condition. Until a realisation had come that these judgments were a result of disobedience, not only was there no comfort in the world but there was none from God -- and this is true desolation.

Neither can "any man by any means redeem his brother" from his sins (Psa 49:7). Seven times is this truth made clear in Chapter 1;

"None to comfort... no comforter" (vv 2, 9, 17, 21)--this, an unusual form, occurs elsewhere only in Eccl 4:1.
"She findeth no rest" (v 3).
"None did help her" (v 7).
"The comforter that should relieve my soul is far from me" (v 16).
The great truth of man's inadequacy finds a rightful place in this first chapter. It is fitting that we must first realize and acknowledge our need for a Redeemer (as the people of Judah do in later chapters) before anything can be done to remedy our otherwise hopeless situation.

Verses 1-11: The Lament of the City

Here is portrayed the loneliness and solitude of Jerusalem. Her "lovers" have become her enemies. She is left alone, with only the memory of her previous greatness. The trials of the whole nation are personified in the city, for it was the heart and center of national life -- the place chosen by God from the beginning (Deut 12:10,11; 2Ch 6:6), the capital, the place of the Temple, the dwelling of the King and the High Priest, the place where God's glory had been so long manifested, and where the Ark of God had rested.

"How doth the city sit solitary..." (v 1). Isaiah 3 specifies an enormous number of "fashionable" characteristics which the wayward daughters of Zion exemplified, to the disgust of their God. The primary significance of a majority of those is adulterous activity with the world -- in a spiritual sense (not only is apparel meant there, but ideas as well). A self-destructive concern for philosophical frills and baubles, for the "wisdom of the world" instead of the only valuable adornment -- "the hidden man of the heart... a meek and quiet spirit" (1Pe 3:4) -- has left the city in such condition. Therefore Isaiah says,

"She being desolate shall sit upon the ground" (Isa 3:26).
Centuries later, the Romans used this same figure when they struck medals celebrating the destruction of Jerusalem: the "Judea Capta" -- portraying a woman sitting under a palm tree, overshadowed by a proud and upright soldier.

Jerusalem made herself desolate by forsaking her husband -- her true helper. Instead she depended upon her "lovers", other nations and their gods -- where are they now? (1:2) Her streets had become as empty and lifeless as her national spiritual state.

All the pains associated with widowhood (v 1) were Judah's -- an absence of God's visible favor and protection; sorrow and grief; a pitiful feeling of helplessness:

"Lament like a virgin girded with sackcloth for the husband of her youth" (Joel 1:8).
A woman is never as alone, never as desolate, never as helpless as when she has lost her husband; when there are "none to comfort her." Whether conscious or unconscious of the fact, she was dependent upon him for many necessary things. Israel was dependent upon God for all. She forsook God and He, having taken the "glory" from Israel, left her as a widow. Jerusalem lay defiled, helpless and desolate.

"Hath a nation changed their gods,
which are yet not gods?
But My people have changed their glory
for that which doth not profit" (Jer 2:11).
"She weepeth sore in the night" (v 2). The "night" is the eclipse of the Jewish light in the heavens, but especially a time when God's Word and His presence was removed. Jeremiah had prophesied to them of a time when he would weep in secret (in safety, protected), witnessing that which the Lamentations describe. He had pleaded with them, speaking the words of the Lord:

"Give glory to the LORD your God,
before He cause darkness,
and before your feet stumble
upon the dark mountain,
and, while ye look for light..." (13:16).
They had it all the time, but they wouldn't realize it until the glory departed; and even then only a few would be aware of what had brought about this trouble.

What a sad set of circumstances -- can we visualise our departure from the Truth to such an extent as this, individually? How about as a brotherhood? We have no natural immunity to the disease of sin. We have no natural light to dispel the darkness which surrounds us like a thick veil. Tears of rejection will change or avail nothing. May we not be cast down to the ground in sorrow and humiliation.

Verses 12-15: God's Fierce Anger

God's judgments are sure and complete upon those who remain in their transgressions. Ample warning is given to the possible penitent: mercy is exercised, but true justice is the necessary end. And in the case of Judah and Jerusalem, "the Lord hath afflicted them for the multitude of their transgressions." The city recognizes from Whom these judgments come and why they have come. "The LORD hath afflicted me in the day of His fierce (fiery-heated) anger. The yoke of my transgressions is bound by His hand: for I have rebelled against His commandment." To the nations around her it must have appeared to be merely the invasion of one nation by the armies of another. But with the "eye of faith" it is seen to be the direct intervention of the Most High, with the intention of specific punishment for specific sins.

The fallen daughter of Zion speaks a pitiful but challenging message to the mockers who pass by:

"Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by?
behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow,
which is done unto me,
wherewith the LORD hath afflicted me in the day of His fierce anger" (1:12).
This scene demonstrates the utter indifference of the Gentiles to the plight of the Jews, indeed their hostility; it also demonstrates the indifference which was the response of men to the sufferings of Christ:

"All that pass by the way spoil him:
he is a reproach to his neighbours" (Psa 89:41).
"And they that passed by railed on him, wagging their heads, and saying, Ah, thou that destroyest the temple, and buildest it in three days, save thyself" (Mark 15:29-30).

Verses 16-17: "For These I Weep"

The terrible afflictions naturally inspire grief, both to those who suffer and to those who only witness the sufferings.

  1. Zion spreads her hands in prayer to God. But her efforts are made useless by her many sins and her unchanged attitude:"And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide Mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean... Learn to do well..." (Isa 1:15-17).
  2. Perhaps Zion spreads forth her hands merely in lament and travail -- with no thought of prayer -- as Jeremiah prophesied (4:31): "For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish as of her that bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands saying, Woe is me now!... For my soul is wearied because of murderers."

Verses 18-19: "The LORD is Righteous"

Zion here begins to acknowledge her sins. "The LORD is righteous"; it is His hand in the affair which has brought such judgments upon Jerusalem. This thought is to be developed more fully in Lam 2 and succeeding chapters. This recognition will lead at last to conversion and repentance.

God is inherently good (Rom 1:17; Mat 19:17; Rev 16:5-7; 19:2; Psa 129:4). Man on the other hand is inherently evil (Jer 17:9; Eccl 8:11; 1Co 2:11; Mat 15:18,19). These two facts are the cardinal points of the Bible's teaching. As God tells us, "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isa 55:9).

It is essential for us to grasp this thought at the very beginning -- and thus to respect God's supremacy and, at every turn, to beware of ourselves and our own thoughts and ideas. An important part of God's righteousness is His justice and severity upon the wicked, and it is well to remember this.

To be firmly established in the conviction that God is right even when things look all wrong; that if there is fault it is all on man's side; that where there is affliction it is due and just and essential -- that is the very core of faith.

Verses 20-22: Jerusalem's Prayer

Here is Jerusalem's first petition to God, having recognized her rebellion. She realizes that in her widowhood, only God can give her true comfort, and she turns to Him. She asks that her enemies be punished for their wickedness as she has been punished for her transgressions (cp 3:64-66; 4:21). This is not a prayer of self-vindication; the prayers of the saints should be that the wickedness of man be brought low and that God's Name be sanctified on the lips of all men.

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