“How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed!” We do not expect gold to lose its value very quickly, but in Lamentations 4 the “holy stones” that “lie scattered at the head of every street” are identified as “the precious sons of Zion, worth their weight in fine gold.” Instead of being recognized for their inherent glory as chosen vessels of the Lord’s grace, “they are regarded as earthen pots” and have been thrown away like jars of clay that are of little use.
The people of Judah would have remembered the story in Genesis about God’s judgment upon Sodom. The writer of Lamentations declares that the fate of the men and women of Jerusalem was far worse. Sodom and Gomorrah were “overthrown in a moment.” Jerusalem had been through the prolonged torment of a blockade that led to extreme starvation and death. Now that the city had finally been destroyed, he considers that sudden destruction would have been much better than the horrifying events of the last several years.
Those who died quickly on the battlefield were better off than the “victims of hunger who wasted away.” How could it be that such a disaster had befallen the one people group that God had chosen as His own children? “The Lord gave full vent to His wrath.”
The events that had recently transpired were shocking news to everyone. Even foreign observers had never expected that Jerusalem’s enemies would finally make their way through the city gates. The reason for this defeat was not the relative military strength of the parties at war. The loss of this great city was because of “the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests.” These religious leaders who should have been speaking the truth of the Lord with love for Jerusalem, had instead shed “the blood of the righteous” in the midst of the city.
The fault was not only that of the top officials of God’s covenant people. The citizens of Judah as a whole had looked for deliverance from foreign nations rather than repenting and turning back to Jehovah. Others imagined that they would find their rest under the protection of the weak and evil kings of Judah. They ended up being greatly disappointed.
In the midst of their misery they admitted two important truths. First, they acknowledged the sad facts of their bitter loss. Second, they owned up to their responsibility in the events that had brought such defeat. All of this destruction was because of “the punishment of your iniquity, O daughter of Zion.” The realization of their true guilt would allow them to receive a new hope. Perhaps when God’s discipline of His people was completed, the Lord would bring their exile to an end.
As followers of Christ we have seen in the cross a far more severe penalty than what happened to Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians. The full weight of the eternal wrath of the Almighty has come upon Jesus for our sake, and as He said in John 19:30, “It is finished.” We still face providential losses in this life, yet we look for many blessings from our heavenly Father because of Christ’s victory. God has ordained everything in our lives for our good. How else could James 1:2-4 bring us any comfort? “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”
Prayer from A Book of Prayers
Lord God, what has happened to Your church? We were precious stones in Your holy temple. Where are Your children? Where have our companions gone? Where are those who once professed faith in You? How is it that they have gone out from us? Were they never part of us? Have mercy on us, O God. Your people are deeply bruised by an enemy that we cannot see. Brutal men and angels must be all around us. How could we have become a people that seem to be cursed by You? We look for help from far off. Where is our help, O Lord? The enemy seeks the ones he may devour. Yet his day of punishment will surely come. Help us, O Lord.