This chapter also has twenty-two verses, but there is no alphabetical order. It is a kind of appendix and closes the circle. It is connected to Lamentations 1 and, like there, deals with the condition after the destruction. The chapter begins with a prayer in verse 1, then follows a prayer containing a long lament in verses 2-18, to conclude with a prayer in verses 19-22. Prayer is the best fruit of a lament someone has.
1 Call to the LORD to Remember
1 Remember, O LORD, what has befallen us;
Look, and see our reproach!
Again, the prophet is the voice of Jerusalem, that is, the faithful remnant (verse 1). He begs the LORD to remember what has happened to them, His people, and to see them in their reproach. It includes the request to come to the aid of His people. It also contains the hope that He will do so when He truly beholds and sees the suffering (cf. Exo 2:24-25; 3:7-8).
The following verses list the misery in which the city finds herself. Jeremiah gives this enumeration to prompt the LORD to act on behalf of His people.
2 - 18 Description of the Misery
2 Our inheritance has been turned over to strangers,
Our houses to aliens.
3 We have become orphans without a father,
Our mothers are like widows.
4 We have to pay for our drinking water,
Our wood comes [to us] at a price.
5 Our pursuers are at our necks;
We are worn out, there is no rest for us.
6 We have submitted to Egypt [and] Assyria to get enough bread.
7 Our fathers sinned, [and] are no more;
It is we who have borne their iniquities.
8 Slaves rule over us;
There is no one to deliver us from their hand.
9 We get our bread at the risk of our lives
Because of the sword in the wilderness.
10 Our skin has become as hot as an oven,
Because of the burning heat of famine.
11 They ravished the women in Zion,
The virgins in the cities of Judah.
12 Princes were hung by their hands;
Elders were not respected.
13 Young men worked at the grinding mill,
And youths stumbled under [loads] of wood.
14 Elders are gone from the gate,
Young men from their music.
15 The joy of our hearts has ceased;
Our dancing has been turned into mourning.
16 The crown has fallen from our head;
Woe to us, for we have sinned!
17 Because of this our heart is faint,
Because of these things our eyes are dim;
18 Because of Mount Zion which lies desolate,
Foxes prowl in it.
The land allotted to them by lot (Jos 18:10), which they have possessed for many centuries, is now in foreign hands (verse 2). Their homes, where they have always lived, are now the possession of aliens. The pious Israelite would never give his land to a fellow man (1Kgs 21:1-3; cf. Isa 5:8), let alone to a stranger. Now they are strangers in their own land. This is intolerable. The loss of their “inheritance” is great and deeply painful.
The remnant consists of orphans and widows (verse 3). The law takes special care of them. But even before the fall of Jerusalem this is not acted upon and after the fall it is even worse. Any earthly support is taken away. The men are killed or taken away. Also in a civil sense, they are orphans and widows, because their king is no longer there. Even in a religious sense it is true, for because of their sins they feel forsaken by the LORD.
When Moses describes the land where the LORD is bringing His people when they are right in front of it, He speaks of “a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills” (Deu 8:7). But that water, to which they have had such free and ample access, is no longer theirs. They must now buy it (verse 4). The wood to prepare food is also no longer freely available; they must buy it. Wells and forests are in the hands of the enemy. It all speaks of loss of freedom. They are in bondage (cf. Exo 5:6-7).
Besides loss of possessions, of fathers and husbands, of food and freedom, there is also loss of rest (verse 5). Their pursuers are at their necks, that is, they are being persecuted and hunted restlessly. It is like the condition of slavery in Egypt when they also had to work harder and harder.
Instead of turning to the LORD, they expected their help from Egypt (Isa 31:1; Eze 16:26,28) and Assyria (Hos 5:13) (verse 6). They have submitted to Egypt is literally they have given Egypt a hand. To give the hand means to agree with and also solemnly promise (cf. 2Kgs 10:15; 1Chr 29:24; 2Chr 30:8).
The condition is certainly the result of what the forefathers did (verse 7; Exo 20:5; Num 14:18). But see also verse 16, for without it this verse would be an incomplete truth. We too must be aware that we have sinned. As the condition is today, we bear the consequences of the past, but we have also done our part. Both verses together give us the cause of the present condition.
Slaves of the king of Babylon rule over them, and they have no one to help them escape the enemy’s grasp (verse 8). Israel, intended to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exo 19:6), has become a Canaan, a “servant of servants” (Gen 9:25).
They have tried at the risk of their lives during the siege to get food outside the city (verse 9). Hunger rages and draws its marks across their bodies, which are ravaged by violent fevers (verse 10). Their skin is the skin of a dying person.
The women in Zion and the virgins in the cities of Judah were brutally ravished by the soldiers (verse 11). The leaders, the princes, have died a horrible death (verse 12). The elders, who should be approached with reverence, have been treated without any respect, that is, cruelly and with contempt.
The young men must give their strength in the service of the enemy (verse 13). They must turn the millstone like animals to grind grain for the enemy (cf. Jdg 16:21). Boys are given a load of wood to carry so heavy that they stumble under the loads. It may be that this refers to turning the wooden rod of the upper millstone. Those who were once the hope of Judah have become slaves.
The gate, the place of justice, is empty. There is no more justice by the elders (verse 14). In young men, characterized by joy, joy is totally absent. Wisdom, justice and joy, which characterize a prosperous community, have disappeared.
Joy and elation that were once experienced here are no longer there because the heart no longer knows joy (verse 15). Instead of expressions of joy, one is plunged into mourning. One of the consequences of committing sin is that joy is gone. David experienced that after his sin with Bathsheba. Confession brings that joy back (Psa 51:7-8,12).
That the crown has fallen from their head means that Jerusalem has lost the honorable position and dignity she had before (verse 16). This is because of their own sins which they now confess. They pronounce the “woe” upon themselves with an exclamation that they have sinned.
The cause of all the sorrow and misery and their eyes so full of tears that they cannot see with their eyes is the desolation of Zion (verses 17-18). Those who look at what was once so wonderful and valuable and now lies in ruins have great pain in their hearts. It is the same way for God with regard to creation. If foxes prowl in it, it means that the city is depopulated (cf. Neh 4:3).
19 - 22 Supplication for Restoration
19 You, O LORD, rule forever;
Your throne is from generation to generation.
20 Why do You forget us forever?
Why do You forsake us so long?
21 Restore us to You, O LORD, that we may be restored;
Renew our days as of old,
22 Unless You have utterly rejected us
[And] are exceedingly angry with us.
The book ends with the prayer of these verses. We do not hear the LORD speak in this book, but we hear the God-fearing one speak to the LORD in a prayer of hope. The LORD will rebuild His temple. Although faith knows and trusts that it will happen and that the LORD will do it, it still begs that it will happen.
The faith of the remnant turns its eye away from the ruins and looks upward. The remnant knows: the “LORD rules forever” (verse 19), His throne is not destroyed, but is unassailable and unshakable. We see in the throne the Lord Jesus. He remains forever (Psa 45:6; 102:12). Everything may change, He does not. World empires alternate. Only God’s power remains and is exalted above that of all earthly rulers. He remains in complete control over everything. The remnant firmly believes this, and so they continue to hope that He will once show His power for good to them for their deliverance.
The remnant clings to the promises of the LORD (verse 20). They express it as a demand that the LORD will not forget them forever after all, even if He must forsake them for so long because of their sins.
Faith sees that true conversion is only possible when it comes from the LORD (Jer 31:18c,33-34; Eze 36:25-27). There is conversion here in a double sense: literally, physically, back to the land, but also spiritually, back to the LORD. This can and will happen by virtue of Christ’s work on the cross. When He returns, it will take place. Then there will be a total renewal, outward and inward.
With verse 22 the prayer ends and so does the book. This does not express despair, but hope. It is the conviction that the LORD will not let His people go, that He will not undo His election. In this cry to the LORD lies the firm confidence that He remembers His people according to His promises.
He does not reject them completely. There remains a remnant. Nor does His anger last forever, for when there is repentance and conversion, His anger ceases. The remnant will experience this in an impressive way. When they have come to repentance and conversion, they will sing: “For His lovingkindness is everlasting” (Psa 136:1-3).