A Final Plea for Restoration
“Restore us to yourself, O LORD, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old—unless you have utterly rejected us, and you remain exceedingly angry with us” (vv. 21–22).- Lamentations 5
Lamentations takes the readers from the depths of despair to the heights of hope as it moves almost seamlessly from grim portrayals of Judah’s suffering at the hands of the Babylonians (chap. 2) to its strong affirmation of the enduring faithfulness of the Lord to His covenant people (3:22–33). As we come to the end of the book today, however, we must ask where the book leaves us. What are the last words Jeremiah wants us to remember as we contemplate the message of the book as a whole?
Given that much of Lamentations 5 is exceedingly negative and describes the rape and plunder of Jerusalem in great detail (for example, vv. 4, 8, 11–12), we might think that we should walk away thinking that the Lord did not hear Jeremiah. That would be an inaccurate conclusion. In fact, the way Jeremiah concludes his lamentations encourages a hopeful view of the future and an attitude that expects God to finally intervene and redeem His children.
First, that the last chapter of Lamentations is a prayer (see v. 1) indicates that Jeremiah believed the relationship between God and Judah still existed no matter how much it had been strained by the people’s sin. If there were no true possibility of reconciliation, there would be no point in praying. God’s relationship with Judah had been strained, not snuffed out.
Second, the open-ended nature of the chapter encourages readers to look ahead to what the future could be and not to dwell on the past. The ancient Judahite who read Lamentations 5 or heard Jeremiah pray the prayer recorded in it would certainly never want to forget that idolatry had brought the nation to its knees. However, Lamentations 5 does not dwell on past sin but looks forward to the possibility of forgiveness (vv. 21–22). By implication, this says that Judah’s past transgressions did not have to define it forever.
Third, the stress on the Lord’s sovereignty (v. 19) encourages confidence. Judah was not to trust in its own ability to set things right but rather remember that the Lord who first loved them was sovereign. He could overcome the most stubborn of hearts.
Finally, as John Calvin comments, the call in verse 22 for God to forgive Judah unless He had utterly rejected them is key. Calvin says that any thoughtful reader would know that such complete and final rejection was impossible on the part of the Lord who promised to love Abraham’s seed forever (Gen. 12:1–3). The “unless” of verse 22 is not really a condition but rather, for those with eyes to see it, a pointer to God’s steadfast covenant love.
Prayer is a vital sign that our relationship with God is true and strong. The desire to call upon the name of the Lord can only be granted by the Lord Himself, and so when we pray to Him with sincerity, acknowledging our sins and hoping in His mercy, we demonstrate that we remain in His hand. Prayer also looks forward in hope to the future God has for us. In asking Him to be with us and meet our needs, we show our confidence that the best is yet to come. Are you discouraged this day? Pray.
Passages for Further Study