It may be painful to recount our suffering, but it can reveal the cause of the suffering and lead to healing. When the cause is our own sin, the road to spiritual healing and restoration is clear; and it is illustrated for us in the final chapters of the book of Lamentations.
The Path to Restoration
Someone once said with humor that experience is the comb we receive after we have lost our hair. Someone else said experience is something you learn one lesson at a time, and the tuition is often higher than you want to pay.
Then there is the old adage that experience is all that is left after you have lost everything else. And that pretty much sums up the people of Judah following the fall and destruction of Jerusalem. They have lost everything—their nation, their capital, their temple, their land, their dignity, and their freedom. They have paid a high tuition for the lessons.
But let me tell you, you can learn a lot from experience. It’s a great teacher; and if the survivors of Judah are good students, they are going to allow their experience to help them on the path to restoration. That path is laid out for them by Jeremiah in chapters 4 and 5 of the book of Lamentations.
The first step for the people of Judah is to remember how far they have fallen. This might seem like a depressing homework assignment, but it will confront them with the reality of how far they have traveled away from God and His Word. They need to look around and realize how needy they are. Beloved, God does not want them to become comfortable in a place they are not supposed to be. And He does not want that for us either.
Now in case the people do not have very good memories, Jeremiah begins to describe their losses. For instance, here in verse 1 of chapter 4, he writes, “How the gold has grown dim, how the pure gold is changed! The holy stones lie scattered at the head of every street.” In other words, their great, gold-covered temple is now in ruins.
But it’s not just the temple. What about the people? Even today we speak about some people being worth their weight in gold. That expression comes right out of verse 2, where Jeremiah describes the people of Jerusalem as “the precious sons of Zion, worth their weight in fine gold.” But now, he says, they are treated by their captors as if they are no more valuable than clay pots.
By the way, the world is doing the same thing today. Your life is no more valuable to the world than a clay pot—people will use you and then throw you away. But to God, your value is like fine gold; and when you walk with Him, life has meaning and value.
Jeremiah describes for his readers the horrors of their defeat by Babylon. He says here in verse 9, “Happier were the victims of the sword, than the victims of hunger.” The siege of Jerusalem had brought the city such a terrible famine that people even resorted to cannibalism.
As sickening as it is for the survivors to remember these things, it is important that they do so. Like the prodigal son in the pigpen who finally comes to his senses and recognizes his humiliating condition, the people of Judah need to wake up and recognize how far they have fallen.
The second step Jeremiah outlines for his people is to recognize the reasons for their misery. He says in verse 13, “This was for the sins of her prophets and the iniquities of her priests.”
These religious leaders were spiritually blind (verse 14). It is a sad day when the spiritual and religious leaders of any nation are blind to the truth—when they are unwilling to tell people what is right and what is wrong, according to God’s Word. These leaders in Jerusalem were corrupt and self-seeking, and they had led the nation astray.
But don’t misunderstand—the people were willing followers. They got the leaders they wanted and deserved. And what they wanted were leaders who lived just as wickedly as they did.
You take a genuine step toward recovery when you stop blaming everybody else for your sinful choices. Jeremiah does not want the people to continue playing any kind of blame game here. They have no one to blame but themselves.
It is often said that if God seems far from you, it’s not because He moved; it’s because you moved. Your sin pushed you away from Him.
So, Jeremiah wants the people to remember how far they have fallen, and he wants them to recognize the reason for their misery. Now Jeremiah offers a third step in the path to restoration—he invites them to reach out for the forgiveness of God.
This final chapter of Lamentations is another poem—and this poem is actually a prayer. It is spoken by Jeremiah, but it is a model prayer for God’s people. You cannot pray this prayer unless you admit your sin and humbly accept the consequences of that sin. But neither can you pray this prayer without understanding there is hope for the future.
You can break this prayer down into two sections. Part 1 is a request for the Lord to remember their suffering. And beloved, there is nothing wrong with telling the Lord everything you are experiencing. Then Part 2 is a request for the Lord to restore their standing.
The prayer begins in verse 1: “Remember, O Lord, what has befallen us; look, and see our disgrace!” That disgrace is described in verse 2: “Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers, our homes to foreigners.”
In other words, they don’t own anything now. They are entirely at the mercy of the Babylonians. Verse 4 says, “We must pay for the water we drink”; and verse 9 adds, “We get our bread at the peril of our lives.” Verse 13 reads, “Young men are compelled to grind at the mill, and boys stagger under loads of wood.”
Verse 15 describes it all in one brief statement: “The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned to mourning.”
Maybe you are there right now—your dancing has turned to mourning. Your sin has brought you to a low place in life, and you realize it is not your parents’ fault, or your spouse’s fault, or your attorney’s fault, or even God’s fault. You realize, like the prodigal son, that you have gotten there by your own choices in life.
But while you are there in that pigpen, so to speak, you might be wondering the same thing the people of Judah wondered as they prayed, “[God] why do you forget us forever?” (verse 20). You might be wondering if God has forgotten all about you.
God does not forget, like we do. God does not suffer from memory loss, like we do. The words here imply a request—a reaching out to God—to act on their behalf.
And that action from God is described in verse 21: “Restore us to yourself, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old.” This request indicates repentance. They have done what they can—and should. Now God is the only one who can restore them—and He will. In fact, the only thing that could keep Him from answering their request is if, as verse 22 says, He has “utterly rejected” them. And we know that is not possible because God will be faithful to His promises and to His people (see Leviticus 26:44; Jeremiah 31:31-37).
I wonder today if God is dealing with your heart? Maybe this Wisdom Journey has discovered you—and you are far from God. If you have never put your faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior, do that right now. Call out to Him for salvation and forgiveness. He will keep His word, and His promise is, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13).
If you are a Christian who has strayed from the Lord in disobedience, and you have been learning some hard lessons from experience, follow these same steps toward restoration:
- Remember how far you have fallen.
- Recognize the reason for your misery.
- Then reach out for the forgiveness of God.
With that, we come to the conclusion of the book of Lamentations.