The Agora
The Lamentations of Jeremiah

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Chapter 4 - The Reason For Affliction

"For the sins of her prophets..."
The third chapter of Lamentations is really the high point of the book. In the last two chapters Jeremiah returns to a further consideration of the pitiful state of Zion, due to her continuing apostasy. However, these last two chapters are distinct from the first two in that they tell of sincere repentance, and they outline more clearly the coming deliverance "to turn back the captivity" of Israel (4:21,22).

Here we have one of the most moving and horrifying pictures of suffering and famine which inevitably followed the invasion of Judah. There is the terrible portrayal of famine, and consequent cruelty, as those that remained behind struggled frantically to survive (vv 4,5).

Verses 1-12: Contrast of Sons of Zion: Fine Gold to Earthen Pitchers--

The most precious possession -- the greatest natural resource of any nation -- is its people. Thus, the sons of Zion are symbolised by gold and precious stones. A nation's vitality is determined by the condition, motivation, and loyalty of its citizens. This was especially true of Judah, for their national economy was as strong as their faithfulness to God. When the sons of Zion were faithful, they were precious in God's eyes and He became their staff and shield. When they were unfaithful, God became the rod of correction to them, and they became base in His eyes. They were removed from their place of pre-eminence over the nations and like a shattered piece of pottery they were broken and scattered.

In times of stress people often lose whatever "godliness" they might possess. Israel, for example, had become lower than animals with respect to responsibility to their young (2Ki 6:25-29). This is a picture of futility -- even depravity, brought about by great tribulation. The city's inhabitants, once the picture of health, became spiritually and physically "withered".

"How is the gold become dim!" (v 1): Gold is used throughout the Bible as a symbol of faith -- a tried faith in God, as gold that has passed through the fire and been purified (1Pe 1:7; Job 23:10). Thus, gold or faith is the basis for the kingdom of God, both in the past and in the future. In Jeremiah's time, true faith had all but completely disappeared, and thus the kingdom was removed from the "daughter of Zion" (Ezek 21:25-27). The gold became dim (dark) because of impurities.

Gold was found in abundance in Solomon's temple, but Nebuchadnezzar's hordes made short work of it (1Ki 6:22; 2Ki 25:9,10).

"How is the most fine gold changed!" This is a reference to a deed of Solomon, but it is typical of the lack of faith in God common to most men and most times -- especially so to Jeremiah's time. Solomon possessed 300 gold shields (1Ki 10:17) -- symbols of faith in God (cp Eph 6:16 -- "the shield of faith"). But he unwisely used his wealth to buy leagues with other nations, and thus to glorify the flesh and his own ingenuity. This did not profit him, and after his death Shishak of Egypt removed the remainder of the gold shields during the reign of Rehoboam (1Ki 14:26,27). And Rehoboam replaced the shields of gold with shields of brass -- or copper -- denoting trust in man. The fine gold was changed!

"The stones of the sanctuary are poured out in the top of every street." Stones are often representative of people; and the type of stone determines the type of person intended. Peter's profession of faith in the Messiahship of Jesus is called a "rock" (Mat 16:16) -- the sturdy foundation of the Holy City (Rev 21:14), the stones of God's sanctuary or temple -- because all the "stones" of that eternal city will have professed the same faith as Peter. They will be "lively (or living) stones" built up around Christ -- the "chief cornerstone" (Isa 28:16; Psa 118:22; Acts 4:11), the "rock" in the wilderness (1Co 10:1-4). Thus Jeremiah is here bewailing the righteous.

"How are they esteemed as earthen pitchers" (v 2). Those who might have been precious stones and fine gold instead failed to please God; and they were to be broken, as in Jer 19:11 and Isa 30:14.

Man is an earthen vessel, made by God (Jer 18:6; Rom 9:21). He must be filled -- or fill himself -- with the "treasure" of God's knowledge (2Co 4:6, 7), or else he will be destroyed as vessels of wood and earth (2Ti 2:20).

Verses 13-16: Sins of the Leaders

It is natural, when seeking to place the blame for Judah's apostasy, to turn first to the leaders: the prophets (such as the deceitful Hananiah -- Jer 28) and the priests (This is certainly a warning to any of those who aspire to be leaders in the Ecclesia). The "prophets" of Jeremiah's and Ezekiel's time spoke smooth words, and promised good fortune for all. They professed a cheery outlook when God's true prophets foresaw darkness and punishment. Ezekiel warned against such prophets, and promised that they would be held accountable for failing to "declare the whole counsel of God" in warning of punishment to come:

"But if the watchman see the sword come, and blow not the trumpet, and the people be not warned; if the sword come, and take any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at the watchman's hand" (Ezek 33:6).
The true watchman must sound an early warning when sin threatens, even though those he arouses from their slumber may be ungrateful. It is better to risk offending man than to offend God (Acts 4:19; 5:29).

Verses 17-20: Vain Hopes

These verses imply first of all that the common people were in a great measure responsible also for the downfall of Judah. They were deceived by their leaders, it is true; but they willingly allowed themselves to be deceived. They are condemned for their false trust, and for their ears which itched to hear "smooth things" (Isa 30:10).

These verses also stress the vain hopes in which Judah trusted -- the nation that could not save them, the ruler that could not save them, the beliefs that could not save them, the false sense of security that could only hasten their doom.

"The breath of our nostrils, the anointed of the LORD" (v 20) -- To whom was Jeremiah referring? Perhaps there are several answers:

  1. Josiah, the last righteous king of Judah, and a type of Christ in many ways, but who had died 608 BC (2Ch 35:25).
  2. Zedekiah, Judah's last king, and the center of their feeble hopes, although a wicked man -- who was carried captive.
  3. Prophetically: Christ, the only true hope of Israel (Luke 24:21), who was slain (Luke 19:14), leading to the dispersion of 70 AD.
"He was taken in their pits" --
  1. The "pit" of nations -- from 588 BC to the present time.
  2. Death, which Christ suffered (Luke 24:25, 26) to deliver others from the same "pit" (Psa 107:20).
"Of whom we said, Under his shadow we shall live among the heathen" --
  1. The Jews' false hopes in the kingship of Zedekiah.
  2. The true hope found in Christ, fulfilled in vv 21,22 -- when Israel is cleansed (Zec 13:1).

Verses 21-22: The Cup Passes to Edom

The "daughter of Edom" (v 21) had allied herself with Babylon against Judah (Oba 1:11: Joel 3:19; Psa 137:7). Edom may symbolise "all nations" (in Isa 34 the two are used interchangeably). "Edom", as "Adam", is the Hebrew word for "red", or "flesh". Thus it is a fitting designation for those last great fleshly powers of Gentile times who will oppress Israel: the Arabs (some of whom occupy the ancient territory of Edom) and the Russian "Reds". These are the powers to be destroyed by Christ and the "saviours" who come up on Mount Zion (Isa 63:1; Oba 1:21).

"Edom" is said to dwell in the land of Uz. "Uz" signifies "wisdom, advice, counsel" -- its citizens were famed for their learning -- typical of all Gentile enemies of Israel, who boast in the "wisdom of this world" (Jer 9:23) but are blind to the one "hope of Israel".

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