Read Lamentations Four
When Israel fell to Babylon, historians lapped it up. It was a historic event, a well-documented victory for Babylon. It is tempting for us to read the Old and New Testaments with a sense that they are all illustrative in their meaning. We (read: I) can get into the habit of studying the history of Israel only for its moral meaning and to avoid her spiritual pitfalls.
But history books have preserved the background of Lamentations well for us. As Babylon crept in on Israel – gaining territory and captives – Israel looked to her ally, Egypt. She waited for this nation to come with its armies and help her defeat their common enemy, Babylon. Once, when Babylon drew back momentarily during the battle, Israel likely wondered if it signified her own victory. But Egypt never came to Israel’s aid, and Babylon, in the end, defeated Israel and carried the Israelites into captivity and exile.
Read Lamentations 4:17-20. Where do you see these historic elements at play in these verses?
What has shifted in the perspective of the author (think about the tone here) between the beginning of chapter four and these verses?
What do you think this shift in perspective signifies?
The poet, once again, shifts from his own reflections on what has happened and now uses the first person plural. Using words like “our” and “we,” we know that he is speaking with and for the nation of Israel. This is going to be incredibly significant for our interpretation of chapter four in the corporate life of the people of God, but first, let’s look at the historic benchmarks mentioned in these verses.
Using this plural language, the people, together with the poet, bear witness to what they have observed during this historic siege on their city. They hope to be rescued by Egypt, but their hopes are dashed as the nation’s armies never appear on the horizon (17). The city walls weakened as Babylon makes their final advances on Jerusalem, to the point where Israel knew that she would not win the battle (18). The people fled the city, hoping that the city strongholds were all that their enemies would want – but they were wrong. Babylon wanted captives, and so they chased them into the mountains until every single one of them were rounded up to be carried away as prisoners of war (19). And the final mark of their national fall was the capture of their king: the one God appointed as their leader – the one in whom the nation thought they would take refuge among the nations of the earth – fell to his enemies (20). The battle was over. Israel had lost.
What tone do these communal verses have? Why is this significant?
These verses reflect a shift in perspective for the nation of Israel. As they lift their voices in unison, they are no longer just observing the historic events of the war as they did in the first two chapters of Lamentations. But they are now also interpreting them in light of the poet’s exhortation to repent. They recognize where they have placed their hope of salvation (Egypt) and how they were wrong to trust in a nation that could not save. They recognize the way that their military efforts were in vain, and how there was no hope in their own military power. They notice the way they trusted their king to be the shadow under which they would thrive among the nations, rather than believing the promise of God that they would live under the shadow of His wings. Embedded in their national recollection of their national fall is a glimmer of repentance: We hoped wrongly. We were wrong.
As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, one of the first steps towards repentance is recognizing where we have gone astray – the ways in which we have not aligned ourselves with the character, will, and Word of God.
Have you placed your hope is someone or something other than God?
Have you trusted your own power to save you? Have you relied on your own sense of self-righteousness, comforting yourself in times of spiritual conviction by reminding yourself of the good, spiritual, or moral things you are also doing?
Have you placed your trust in spiritual or political leaders rather than in God to protect you?
How might God be calling you to repent, as Israel has, from placing your trust or hope in any other place?
We have the same reality that Israel had: hope placed in anyone or anything other than Yahweh will disappoint. There is no one who can save but God. There is no one who can heal other than God. And the good news for you and me is that there is no one who can forgive our misplaced trust other than God! Praise Him that embedded in His unchanging character is a God who is quick to forgive.
PRAY & REFLECT
Confess to God the people or things in which you have placed your hope. Ask Him to give you a singularity of faith, trusting Him alone. Thank Him that He is quick to forgive.