In this lamentation, Jeremiah describes in vivid detail the devastation caused by the starvation which came as a result of the siege of Jerusalem. He begins with the exclamation, "How is the gold become dim!" He then compares the destruction of the gold of Solomon’s temple (v.1) with the destruction of the "precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold" (v.2). In this chapter, he is not weeping over God’s judgment on the city of Jerusalem and its temple so much as he shrinks in horror at the suffering of the people.
He mentions four groups of people as particularly deserving of pity: the children (v.3-4), the privileged (v.5), the religious (v.7-8) and the mothers (v.10). The nursing baby is refused milk (v.3) and the child begging for bread is ignored (v.4). The rich "that did feed delicately" and the royal "that were brought up in scarlet" (v.5) are brought to desolation. The dedicated Nazarites who were "purer than snow" and "ruddy in body" (v.7) are made "blacker than a coal" with their skin cleaving "to their bones" (v.8). Mothers have "sodden [that is, boiled] their own children" (v.10). But they are "pitiful women." For such is the power of hunger to change the very nature of the person.
Nebuchadnezzar had laid siege to Jerusalem for eighteen months before it fell to the hands of the Babylonians (2 Kings 25:1-3). This explains the great suffering by way of hunger and starvation. Jeremiah declares this kind of suffering to be a greater judgment than that experienced by Sodom (v.6). Sodom was destroyed in a moment for its sins. Jerusalem suffered greatly over many months. Because of the drawn-out nature of starvation, they "that be slain with the sword are better than they that be slain with hunger" (v.9). This was truly a pouring out of God’s "fierce anger" (v.11).
This passage reminds us that God is indeed a God of judgment. We like to think of Him as the God of love and grace and mercy…and He is. Yet, we often ignore the fact that He is also the Judge of all the earth and that He does judge sin and disobedience. Consider these three truths about judgment.
- Judgment will come some day. It may not come immediately. God may hold back His wrath in mercy for many years. But do not take this as a weakness on Gods part. Do not assume that man can now do as he pleases with no answering to God (see Ecclesiastes 8:11). God will judge. Judgment will come.
Gods judgment will be greater than you think. We tend to think that mans disobedience is not really that bad and that God will not render judgment in equal portion to sin. We are wrong on both accounts. When Cain had to answer for killing his brother, he cried, "My punishment is greater than I can bear" (Genesis 4:13). We underestimate both the severity of our guilt and the severity of Gods judgment.
- Yet in Gods judgment is mercy. This third truth is most important. God does not overlook sin, but He does forgive it. He does not always remove consequences, but He always helps those who come to Him. In judgment is mercy.
Are you undergoing judgment right now? Are you heading for certain judgment because of stubborn disobedience to God? Then repent of your sins and seek God’s mercy. He will hear if you will turn to Him. Are you heading for eternal judgment because you have not accepted God’s Son Jesus Christ? Turn to the Lord and trust in Jesus Christ as your Saviour. Turn to Him and seek the Lord while there is hope.