307 - An Invitation to Come Home (Lamentations 1–3)
It is not easy to look beyond circumstances that bring us great sorrow and suffering. But Jeremiah reminds us here in the first half of the book of Lamentations that the key to enduring such times of grief is to look to the enduring hope we have in a faithful God.
An Invitation to Come Home
Some well-known lines from the book of Ecclesiastes tell us that there is “a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). For Jeremiah, the inspired author of the book of Lamentations, it is time to weep and mourn.
He is writing to the survivors of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC; this little book of Lamentations gives a voice to the devastating pain they now feel. It will also remind them that even in the darkest days there is a glimmer of hope—there is an invitation from the Lord to come home.
The book of Lamentations appears to be a collection of poems written by Jeremiah. Each of the five chapters is a separate poem. The first four poems are acrostic in design, with each verse or group of verses beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Evidently, Jeremiah was not just a courageous prophet but also a very capable poet.
The poem in chapter 1 focuses on the suffering of the people living in Jerusalem when it fell to the Babylonian army. Jeremiah writes about their anguish here in verse 1: “Like a widow has she [Jerusalem] become.” He goes on in verse 5:
Her foes have become the head; her enemies prosper, because the Lord has afflicted her for the multitude of her transgressions; her children have gone away, captives before the foe.
Verse 7 indicates that what makes the hardship even worse is the memory of “all the precious things that were hers from days of old.” Verse 10 adds, “The enemy has stretched out his hands over all her precious things; for she has seen the nations enter her sanctuary.”
They have lost their glorious temple and the beautiful city of Jerusalem. And by the way, the people recognize this loss is absolutely justified. The city is pictured as speaking in verse 18, saying, “The Lord is in the right, for I have rebelled against his word.”
Jerusalem does not excuse her sins of idolatry, but she also pleads with God to bring judgment upon her enemies. Listen to verse 21: “All my enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that you have done it. . . . now let them be as I am.” So, this first poem is all about the dreadful anguish felt throughout the land.
The second chapter of Lamentations—and the second poem—reemphasizes divine judgment. The first nine verses of this poem highlight the just anger of God at His disobedient people; and remember, beloved, their covenant with God promised terrible consequences if they rebelled against Him.
So, we read here in verse 1 how “the Lord in his anger has set the daughter of Zion under a cloud!” Verse 4 says, “He has poured out his fury like fire”; and verse 7 declares, “The Lord has scorned his altar, disowned his sanctuary; he has delivered into the hand of the enemy the walls of her palaces.” Every aspect of Judah’s life has fallen under the judgment of God.
Now even though the nation is getting exactly what he prophesied they would receive from the Lord, Jeremiah is not whistling a happy tune as he writes these poems. He is weeping—these are the lamentations of Jeremiah.
He even laments over the false prophets who refused to tell the truth—verse 14:
Your prophets have seen for you false and deceptive visions; they have not exposed your iniquity to restore your fortunes.
Then verse 17 notes, “The Lord has done what he purposed; he has carried out his word, which he commanded long ago.” So, what should they do about it? Well, first of all, verse 19 says, “Pour out your heart like water before the presence of the Lord!” Get a box of tissues and your Bible, and go have a good cry before the Lord because of your sin.
And with that, chapter 3 now delivers a declaration of hope. This chapter has been called “the heart and soul of the book of Lamentations.”
All the other chapters are twenty-two verses long, following that acrostic pattern where each verse starts with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet—and there are twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet. But this chapter is different; three verses are built around each letter in the Hebrew alphabet, so chapter 3 ends up with 66 verses, making it three times longer than any other chapter in this book.
Now you might forget everything I just said about how many letters are in the Hebrew alphabet and the acrostic pattern of these poems, and that is okay. But here is what I do not want you to forget: the longest chapter in this book is a poem offering sinners—like the people of Judah, and like you and me—hope.
Here in chapter 3, again and again, we read that the Lord is the one holding the rod of discipline. Jeremiah is speaking for Judah as a whole, and he gives a long list of the afflictions God has brought upon them. He writes, “I am . . . under the rod of his wrath” (verse 1); “[God] has made my flesh . . . waste away” (verse 4); “He has walled me about so that I cannot escape” (verse 7); “He has filled me with bitterness” (verse 15); “My soul is [deprived] of peace” (verse 17).
You might be saying, “That doesn’t sound very hopeful to me!” Well, hope begins to stir in your heart when you realize that God is in control of His judgment against your sin. The rod of discipline is held in the hand of God.
There is a sudden shift here at verse 21, and Jeremiah says, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope.” What is he going to call to mind? Here it is:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. (verses 22-25)
Hope is available because God is available. God is faithful to His promises. In fact, that is why He judged His people—He kept His word when they defied Him and abandoned Him. But He did not abandon them.
Jeremiah writes here in verse 31:
For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
So, how should we respond to this truth? Well, Jeremiah tells us what our next step should be here in verse 40: “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” Let us examine ourselves to see where, and how, and why we went astray, and then let us return to Him in repentance, confessing our sin and asking for His gracious forgiveness.
Maybe today, beloved, you are feeling the weight of God’s discipline because you have walked away from His Word. You have been living a disobedient life in some area; and even though you are a believer in Christ, you have not been living like it. You ought to thank God He does not ignore your rebellion but steps in to correct you and restore you to fellowship with Him.
The weight you might be feeling today—that lost sense of peace in your soul—is an invitation to come back into fellowship with God. Jeremiah’s poem invites the people of Judah—and you and me—to spiritually come home.
God’s invitation is expressed in an old hymn of the faith:
Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading,
Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies,
Mercies for you and for me?
Come home, come home,
Ye who are weary, come home;
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
Calling, oh, sinner come home!
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