Exile—Lamentations 2

Psalms not in the psalter

Lamentations of Jeremiah

The Lamentations are five psalms that describe the results of Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem in 587 B.C. in detail. The first four chatters are in the form of an acrostic poem, this form using the whole of the Hebrew alphabet in order. The other common element is that these songs are written in groups of five words in each line, like other Hebrew laments, three words followed by two in a rhythm that feels like limping. 

An old statue of a depressed woman leaning on an urn against a green background.

See how the Lord covered the city of Zion
    with the cloud of his anger!
He threw Israel’s glory down
    from heaven to earth.
When he was angry, he turned his back
    on his own city.

Without pity the Lord swallowed up
    all the homes of Jacob’s people.
When he was angry, he tore down
    the forts of the people of Judah.
He brought down their kingdom and princes
    to the ground in dishonor.

When he was very angry,
    he took away Israel’s power.
He pulled back his powerful right hand
    as the enemy approached.
His burning anger blazed out in Jacob’s land.
    It burned up everything near it.

Like an enemy the Lord got his bow ready to use.
    He had a sword in his right hand.
Like an enemy he destroyed
    everything that used to be pleasing to him.
His anger blazed out like fire.
    It burned up the homes in the city of Zion.

The Lord was like an enemy.
    He swallowed up Israel.
He swallowed up all of its palaces.
    He destroyed its forts.
He filled the people of Judah
    with sorrow and sadness.

The Lord’s temple was like a garden.
    But he completely destroyed it.
He destroyed the place
    where he used to meet with his people.
He made Zion’s people forget
    their appointed feasts and Sabbath days.
When he was very angry, he turned his back on
    king and priest alike.

The Lord deserted his altar.
    He left his temple.
He gave the walls of Jerusalem’s palaces
    into the hands of her enemies.
They shouted loudly in the house of the Lord.
    You would have thought it was the day
    of an appointed feast.

The Lord decided to tear down
    the walls around the city of Zion.
He measured out what he wanted to destroy.
    Then he destroyed Jerusalem by his power.
He made even her towers and walls sing songs of sadness.
    All of them fell down.

Her gates sank down into the ground.
    He broke the metal bars that locked her gates, and he destroyed them.
Her king and princes were taken away to other nations.
    There is no law anymore.
Jerusalem’s prophets no longer receive
    visions from the Lord.

10 The elders of the city of Zion
    sit silently on the ground.
They have sprinkled dust on their heads.
    They’ve put on the clothes of sadness.
The young women of Jerusalem
    have bowed their heads toward the ground.

11 I’ve cried so much I can’t see very well.
    I’m suffering deep down inside.
My heart is broken
    because my people are destroyed.
Children and babies are fainting
    in the streets of the city.

12 They say to their mothers,
    “Where can we find something to eat and drink?”
They faint like wounded soldiers
    in the streets of the city.
Their lives are slipping away
    in their mothers’ arms.

13 City of Jerusalem, what can I say about you?
    What can I compare you to?
People of Zion, what are you like?
    I want to comfort you.
Your wound is as deep as the ocean.
    Who can heal you?

14 The visions of your prophets were lies.
    They weren’t worth anything.
They didn’t show you the sins you had committed.
    So that’s why you were captured.
The messages they gave you were lies.
    They led you astray.

15 All those who pass by
    clap their hands and make fun of you.
They laugh at you and shake their heads
    at the city of Jerusalem.
They say, “Could that be the city
    that was called perfect and beautiful?
    Is that the city that brought joy to everyone on earth?”

16 All your enemies open their mouths
    wide against you.
They laugh at you and grind their teeth.
    They say, “We have swallowed up Jerusalem’s people.
This is the day we’ve waited for.
    And we’ve lived to see it.”

17 The Lord has done what he planned to do.
    He has made what he said come true.
    He gave the command long ago.
He has destroyed you without pity.
    He has let your enemies laugh at you.
    He has made them stronger than you are.

18 People in the city of Zion,
    cry out from your heart to the Lord.
Let your tears flow like a river
    day and night.
Don’t stop at all.
    Don’t give your eyes any rest.

19 Get up. Cry out as the night begins.
    Tell the Lord all your troubles.
Lift up your hands to him.
    Pray that the lives of your children will be spared.
At every street corner they faint
    because they are so hungry.

20 Jerusalem says, “Lord, look at me.
    Think about my condition.
    Have you ever treated anyone else like this?
Should women have to eat their babies?
    Should they eat the children they’ve taken care of?
Should priests and prophets be killed
    in your own temple?

21 “Young people and old people alike
    lie dead in the dust of my streets.
My young men and women
    have been killed by swords.
You killed them when you were angry.
    You put them to death without pity.

22 “You sent for terrors to come against me on every side.
    It was as if you were inviting people to enjoy a feast day.
Because you were angry, no one escaped.
    No one was left alive.
I took good care of my children and brought them up.
    But my enemies have destroyed them.”

Lamentations 2 NIRV

The form of the second of these songs is almost identical to the first:

The first of these laments has a particular form of being written in three lines of five words, the first of these three lines starting with each letter of the Hebrew alphabet, starting with aleph and ending in taw. Each set of three lines corresponds with a verse in English, and other, translations. The lines consist of three words followed by two, which are split in the NIRV translation used above, so it shows six lines per verse rather than three.

Where it does change, though, is from the point of view of the writer. The clue to this is that the letters that should start verses 16 and 17 ayin and pe are in the wrong order, following the order of the Chaldean alphabet rather than the Hebrew one. The Chaldean alphabetical order is also used in Lamentations 3 and 4. In writing the first of the Lamentations, Jeremiah speaks as a Hebrew and in the next three as a subject of Babylon.

Lamentations 2 is divided into 3 sections:

The effects of God’s punishment (2:1-10)

The realism in these songs is amazing. It is not comfortable reading but it is nevertheless amazing in its accuracy and honesty, it is like watching pictures on television showing the destruction of a city in a war zone and comparing it to how that city previously looked. Verses 5 to 8 show the progressive destruction of Jerusalem by God acting like an enemy of Jerusalem. No blame is levelled at Babylon here. The sins of Israel / Judah were progressive, it was prophesied on the days the country first took possession of the land. God has done this to us says Jeremiah, according to what was said by God through Moses in Deuteronomy:

The Lord will bring a nation against you from far away, from the ends of the earth, like an eagle swooping down, a nation whose language you will not understand, 50 a fierce-looking nation without respect for the old or pity for the young. 51 They will devour the young of your livestock and the crops of your land until you are destroyed. They will leave you no grain, new wine or olive oil, nor any calves of your herds or lambs of your flocks until you are ruined. 52 They will lay siege to all the cities throughout your land until the high fortified walls in which you trust fall down. They will besiege all the cities throughout the land the Lord your God is giving you.

Deuteronomy 28:49-52

These curses are sent from God. It is not a sign of God’s hate, but a sign of his patience, before these curses take place God’s people have to be unfaithful to him for a long, long period of time, ignoring both God’s word through his law and his prophets. God is patient and kind and will bring the people back from exile, but God has limits.

The need to cry out to God (2:11-19)

At last, the prophetic voice. Here, among the realism of the sight of a destroyed city comes God’s voice through his prophet, I would expect nothing less from Jeremiah. God is saying, “People of Zion, what are you like? I want to comfort you.” (verse 13). The people need to cry out to the Lord with a true heart. They are asked to cry tears like Jeremiah is crying, there is no I told you so attitude from Jeremiah, he deeply mourns the destruction of the once glorious city and the attitude of those who look on the ruins and scoff at those who once lived there. It shows that through all the destruction of the city God still loves the people.

Jerusalem asks God to see and act (2:20-22)

Jerusalem replies briefly. This is the first sign of the Jews realising that they were at fault. Modern psychology has shown that given a situation people will see themselves as either victors or victims. People will jump through all sorts of mental loops to avoid seeing themselves as perpetrators of something going wrong. The forgiveness is not complete here, but it is a start and it sets the scene for Lamentations chapter 3, where individual repentance is far more complete.

Search yourselves is the message here. This Blog started 17 years ago in May following the events of an accident in March of that year. I originally called it Diary of an accident victim but came to realise that even with the courts saying that the accident was 100% the other person’s fault that I had to lose the victim mentality in order to move on in my life. I am asking you to do something very difficult, to examine yourself to see if you have a victim mentality in any area of your life. Could this be holding you back?

< Lamentations 1 | Lamentations 2 | Lamentations 3 >

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