I’ll be honest, this chapter seems oddly placed as we ended the last one with a promise that the punishment has been accomplished and then this one fires back up with a reminder of what has occurred. Either we accept the chapter progression as non-linear (meaning they aren’t intended to “progress” or follow one another in any particular order) or it’s a framing that their restoration, although imminent, will be a bumpy path and not something that happens overnight. The remnants of the judgment will continue to impact them for the years to come, even as God promises ultimate restoration. At this point I’m open to either option.
This chapter opens like many other lines in this series of laments, a call for God to acknowledge what is going on with His people (See! Remember! Hear!). This particular chapter does seem to focus on the long game, though, where the call is to see how their inheritance is gone, the impact to the mothers and fathers, the sins of the fathers – it may not be intentional but some of these afflictions take a more long-term perspective instead of moment-level problems (fellas eating gravel, children starving, etc.).
Even the basics are difficult to come by (they’re paying for water, bread must be bargained for or the ingredients obtained through the path of brigands). They can’t protect their women (this is where it matters which way we think the chapter is framed as. This could be the remnants of people acting like a bunch of hooligans or it could be Babylonians who are around doing this kind of thing.)
Also, the people have lost their identity, their way of life (of sorts). The old men are no longer at the city gate conducting affairs, there is no music, no dancing. These are important aspects of life that no longer exist in their state. When they ask God for restoration, it’s not just for changes to their physical circumstances, it is a request back to the identity God gave them (the covenant provides that) and the freedoms and celebrations that come with that.
The acknowledgment in the tail end of the chapter rings from the early chapters, they have sinned, it is the core of this judgment. But there is a reminder that although they have fallen away, God has not, and he reigns forever. The plea at the end is one of restoration, a final sounding of the persistent call of God to hear the cries of His people. However, no effort is taken in the final lines to express optimism in this area.
How Lamentations Points Us to Jesus
1.) We have a perfect high priest. Much of this judgment is laid at the feet of foolish, weak and corrupt priests. They were supposed to protect the people, keep them on the straight and narrow, facilitate their worship and their reconciliation back to God. They bailed, couldn’t keep it together. Jesus, as our high priest, does all of those things. We will never be subject to an insufficient, fickle, or selfish priest-group again.
2.) The covenant has not changed, but what provides us identity in the covenant has. The rules/laws have always been about identity, who are God’s people, what do they do and how are they connected to God. When they didn’t live up to those they reconciled through sacrifice and were called to turn back and live back in consistency with the identity that they have been given in the covenant. However, in Jesus that sacrifice has been made once and for all. And our identity is within that sacrifice and expression of that is living in consistency with what Jesus says and does. Our failure to live consistent with that identity remains sin, repentance is turning back and living consistent with that identity again. The cost for God allowing that is Christ’s death on the cross (the sacrifice).
3.) Some of these “day of the Lord” promises will be kept long term upon Christ’s return. God makes long-term promises to his people and we are included in that. Ultimately, those who fall on the wrong side of his justice will be reckoned with but the ultimate culmination of that will not be until Jesus returns to once and for all establish His Kingdom with His people.
4.) God’s justice is fierce and real. He’s not messing around. Jesus takes what has happened physically here to God’s people and moves the impact to himself. The fate that rightly awaits us in our sin has been rewritten to declare our innocence because of what Jesus has done. It is good to be reminded that our shallow, passive reaction to our own sin is often miles away from God’s reaction to that same issue.
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