Jerusalem, the Ruined City
This fourth lament is an acrostic like the previous three. Unlike chapters 1 and 2, this chapter was written in two-line stanzas, each beginning with a new letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
In this lament, Jeremiah was engrossed in the event of 586 B.C. in which the long siege ended with invasion.
The City in Contrast (1-11)
Jeremiah jumped into his first metaphor comparing the sons of Zion to gold that had dimmed and holy gems that had been scattered and executed. Their fall was from a once-glorious elevation to becoming as common and worthless as broken clay pots. This was all evidence of God's judgment (1-2).
Jeremiah then contrasted the mothers and fathers of Jerusalem to jackals and ostriches. Jackals, which would have traveled in packs and were viewed as damnable animals by city-dwellers, Jeremiah claimed to be more responsive to their young needing nursing than the besieged parents in Jerusalem. Like ostriches who lay eggs and then are so oblivious to the eggs that they trample them, so the cries of the children of Jerusalem went unheeded by oblivious parents. These same heartless parents denied the breast to their nursing infants and ate before their starving children. This was a picture of a once-pampered culture, which, when faced with real difficulty, revealed the depth of their self-obsession in the savage abuse of their own children (3-4).
The wealthy elite of the ruling class, who once ate the most expensive pastries and dressed in vogue, scavenged for food among the dead and in the garbage dumps (5).
This great turn of events was evidence of judgment, evidence that Yahweh had lifted and left, had in the expression of His wrath departed and left the city of Jerusalem unprotected. As a result, their punishment was greater than Sodom’s, for that judgment happened in a moment without anyone’s uselessly trying to lend their hands to help a lost cause (6).
Verses 7 through 11 parallel verses 1 through 6. In all three stanzas, Jeremiah dealt with the sons of Zion (1-2; 7-8), the suffering children (3-5; 9-10), and finally, the anguish of judgment (6,11).
At one time, the princes of Judah had skin glowing bright like snow in the sun. They were ablaze with health, their skin never having seen the rays of the sun during outdoor field-labor.
They glowed like treasured gems before the people they ruled. But then judgment struck and their faces were clothed with death, their skin shriveled against their skeleton. They were emaciated, gaunt, and cadaverous-looking. Their bones had become dehydrated, brittle like dried wood ready to snap (7-8).
Then the most grotesque of all images appeared. The victims of the sword were declared better off than those who were starving. The moms had turned into cannibals and cannibalized their children. It would seem that the savage act of ending a child's life by sword and then the wretched act of making soup out of offspring ended up seeming to be more compassionate than dying of hunger under the siege of Jerusalem. Jeremiah was not finding virtue in the act of cannibalism; he was noticing the reality of its seeming a greater compassion to kill the children for food than to leave them to die of starvation (9-10).
Jeremiah then recognized that Yahweh had given full vent to His wrath, allowing it to be kindled into a complete fire of oblivion until even the very foundations of the city were laid waste to destruction (11).
Jeremiah Lists the Two Causes for the Siege (12-20)
In 701 B.C., Yahweh had kept Judah and Jerusalem from falling to King Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Kings 19:32-37). Yahweh's defeat of that army was miraculous and exhaustive. During all the invasions of the land, each king of Judah would fortify Jerusalem a little bit more. Hezekiah even had the water outside the city wall redirected into the city through an amazing aqueduct. Eventually, the inhabitants of Jerusalem imagined the city impregnable. It became a bit of a common theology, if not mindset, that Yahweh would never allow a foreign army to enter the city of Jerusalem, nor would He allow for the destruction of the southern tribe of Judah. Prophets tried to battle against this mindset and this theological position, but to no avail. The citizens of Jerusalem thought it impossible for a foreign army to defeat Jerusalem (12).
Some prophets of Yahweh sought to warn Jerusalem, but they were martyred, along with others killed for the sake of power and the greed of the deceitful prophets and priests. Those foul leaders were more interested in gain and power than in His ways and covenant (13).
All their killing of innocent people had made these leaders more odious than a group of blind lepers. [Lepers were tragic outcasts in those days.]
Jeremiah picked up on a historical story where the lepers found the prophets and priests so spiritually grotesque that the lepers would call out to the religious leaders to stay away from them so they would not be defiled by those evil leaders. Jeremiah then mentioned that those rejected leaders wandered off into other nations seeking someone who would find their spiritually diseased spirits acceptable. There was no place, no one found—the actions, activities, and persons of the leaders of Judah were judged unacceptable (14-15).
It was Yahweh who had shattered and scattered the prophets and priests. It was Yahweh who was no longer helping them, for even the people had lost respect for their depraved ways. The leaders of Judah had ventured into such depravity that even the pagan nations around them found their ways repugnant. Their virtue was completely lost. Jeremiah's mentioning their cannibalism was just one piece of an avalanche of evidence to demonstrate their depravity (16).
Jeremiah lamented the self-absorbed, murderous leaders as the first reason for Yahweh's judgment (11-16).
The second reason for judgment was the persistence of the self-indulgent leaders to search out foreign alliances to save them, instead of Yahweh (17-19). Judah would make a covenant with other nations, such as Egypt, for protection. These nations could not help; they could only add their vile practices and culture to Judah's already depraved ways. Judah watched, but no one ever came who was able to save. None came except Babylon (17).
Once Babylon entered the southern nation of Judah, the nation was chased until they became prisoners in their own cities, just waiting for their day-numbering end (18). Babylon pounced like an eagle on Judah, like a vulture out of nowhere. There was nowhere they could flee; every route of escape the Babylonian army had cut off (19).
Finally, not only did the city of Jerusalem unimaginably fall, but the remaining dynasty of David was also captured.
Jeremiah here lamented Judah's long habit of seeking help anywhere but Yahweh. It was “Anything, please, but having to serve and be in relationship with Yahweh—we would rather have anything but Him."
The breath of Judah or the life of Judah was in their King Zedekiah, who was anointed by Yahweh. King Zedekiah had tried to escape Jerusalem toward the Jordan River but was trapped by the Babylonian army before he had a chance to escape. The Babylonians brought Zedekiah to Riblah and there slaughtered his sons and put out the eyes of Zedekiah (Jeremiah 32:2-7). The king, the promised and anointed king of Judah in whose shadow of protection they lived because he was Yahweh's anointed, was also gone. The city, the temple, and the king had all fallen; everything they thought impossible to lose was gone. The people of Israel were in complete ruin, something they thought completely impossible (20). Jeremiah lamented the loss of it all as judgment for Judah's rebellious ways.
Edom had desired the fall of Judah and had worked for their demise in concert with Babylon. Edom rejoiced and had hoped, like other nations, to profit from Judah's fall. In this lamentation, Jeremiah reminded those nations piling on Jerusalem and Judah for their own profit that they would themselves be judged, especially Edom (21).
Jeremiah especially reminded Jerusalem that her judgment would end shortly. However, he called out to Edom that her punishment would be longer and more severe and not soon end. They would also be exiled, their iniquity punished, and their sins exposed (22).