A Call for Recompense

They heard my groaning, yet there is no one to comfort me. All my enemies have heard of my trouble; they are glad that you have done it. You have brought the day you announced; now let them be as I am” (v. 21).

- Lamentations 1:15–22

Yesterday, we indicated that it can be appropriate to grieve even for those who suffer because of sin and disobedience. This is the perspective that Jeremiah takes in Lamentations 1:1–11a, but he quickly moves to the perspective of the suffering person himself and how he is to view his own situation. Personifying Jerusalem as a suffering woman, he moves from considering Judah’s guilt from the outside (v. 8) to assuming the place of Jerusalem and confessing her sin from the inside while pleading for the help of her Lord.

Lamentations 1:11b–13, 21 allude to the response of the surrounding nations to Judah’s suffering at Babylon’s hands. As we read in other books such as Obadiah, Judah’s rivals, including nations such as Edom, did not view Jerusalem’s suffering dispassionately but were glad that Babylon had pillaged Judah (Lam. 1:21). Instead of sympathizing with Judah’s pain or pitying the nation, they were indifferent to the suffering of their fellow human beings and happy that Judah received what was coming to it (vv. 11b–13).

Such a perspective was shortsighted. Ultimately, God inflicted the discipline on Judah that was evident in Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem. The Lord finally gave Judah over to its sins because the people did not repent. He allowed sins such as theft, murder, adultery to become a yoke around Judah’s neck so that the strength of the people was sapped and their mighty men were helpless before Babylon (Jer. 7:9–11; 10:1–16; Lam. 1:14–15). The implication here is that the surrounding nations should not think themselves safe because they had not rebelled against Babylon like Judah did. God, not Babylon, was their final enemy, and He could just as easily visit His wrath on the pagans who were as yet unscathed.

Judah could have moved from complaining about Babylon’s evil to asserting that its punishment was unjustified, but that was not the way forward. Speaking for Jerusalem, Jeremiah confesses that in destroying the Holy City “the LORD [was] in the right (v. 18). Jerusalem deserved all that it received for trusting in her “lovers”—false gods (v. 19), and the prophet does not minimize the sin of his people in any way. Yet even in Judah’s desperation, God’s people were not without hope. Speaking as repentant Jerusalem—even if the people had not yet repented in reality—Jeremiah calls for the Lord to deal with Judah’s mocking foes like He did with Judah itself (v. 21). This points us implicitly to God’s promise never to reject the children of Jacob utterly even when they were disobedient (Lev. 26:44–45).

Coram Deo

John Calvin comments that the way to peace with God is “sincerely to confess that we are justly visited by his judgment, and also to lie down as it were confounded, and at the same time to venture to look up to him, and to rely on his mercy with confidence.” Speaking for Jerusalem, Jeremiah confessed the people’s sins and then asked the Lord to keep his covenant promises to protect the remnant. We, too, are to confess our sins and appeal to the Lord’s promise to save us in Christ.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 32
Daniel 9:16–19
Luke 18:9–14
1 John 1:8–9

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