The Lamenter, all the way prior to this passage, issues forth a rushing, passionate swell of bitter anguish and utter brokenness. He is a man languishing in utter despair. He witnesses the desertion, the destruction of Jerusalem. Everything precious has been destroyed; every noble edifice erased. The proud protective walls of the city are razed to the foundations. Judah is hauled off to exile. The dimensions of the disaster cannot be measured or described without a full grasp of the lacerating pain of the previous chapters. Total devastation! Wreckage everywhere – weeping and wailing, heartbreak and howling – everywhere. The scene is beyond comprehension, the agony and mourning beyond endurance. It is Israel’s Hiroshima, the nation’s Nepal.
The community of God’s people has been crushed.
Its not because God is cruel or ill-tempered, but because the nation’s sin has rejected his numerous overtures of mercy and compassion. Inundation with suffering is inevitable through self-inflicted sorrows. A rebellious people has wrought its own ruin and the mourner has bequeathed to us this powerful and disconcerting record of his own representative repentance and sadness.
There is no visible sign of comfort. All is woe – misery – and incurable woe. Jerusalem’s hope has been swept away. Zion is conquered without a crumb of comfort. The writer deeply feels its awful fate, which is inevitable because of its persistent, obdurate, iniquity. In the pure justice of God the land has reaped its just deserts. There is no cause for pity. It has collapsed into the pit of damnation.
Suddenly, in the midst of screams and cries from his shattered heart, the weeper is stirred to recollection of the grace of an angry God. In his mind grace – God’s preference – begins to counter judgement – God’s reluctant work, and he ponders the prospect of divine compassion entering the situation of an atomic blast. Judah’s offended and holy God who cannot overlook the pollution of his good creation through evil has proven himself over and over to be tenderly loving to a wayward people. His affection toward them was warm. His warnings filled with deep yearning for the people’s wellbeing.
Maybe this marvellously kind God will turn in favour to his chosen ones yet again. There is at once the emission of a deep sigh from the weeper’s breast. “What if!” (vv19-24). Indeed, weeping turns to waiting. Our mourner knows he has no claim to the Lord’s compassion (we never do) or the gift of his consolation. He cannot clamorously insist on divine favour. Sinners such as he cannot negotiate terms with God on any basis within themselves. They can only appeal to sovereign mercy.
But that mercy looms large when the sinner gazes upon the nature of God revealed in his past action and eternal purposes of goodwill. Conversion to inner trust and joy in God derives from concentration on his habitual and undeserved goodness.
But never do such contemplations entertain an attitude of presumption. They are always accompanied by sincere contrition. The person of faith regrets his offences and repudiates his wickedness. They no longer yield pleasure or ill-gotten profit.
He resorts to quiet reliance and patient waiting upon the Lord. He cannot set the agenda for deliverance but he can dwell meditatively on the performance of God in past episodes of rescue and redemption.
The weeper becomes a waiter who preaches to his own distraught soul.
Who is this God who so severely afflicts the sinful nation? He is no tyrant or torturer. He has lavished his love upon the people in the extreme and it is they who have spurned it so callously and ungratefully.
[There is no sense in the sinner of the way in which he is so curt in dismissing the myriad gifts of his Creator bestowed upon him in such extravagance. The ungratefulness of mankind is of mammoth proportions. Not a second goes by that is not crowded with the Lord’s incalculable bounty and its recipients do not care to begin counting. Impudence is added to our ignorance. Nothing is so contemptible as the unconverted soul. It spits into the face of the Divine donor. It frowns at him and chastises Providence for its “limited generosity”. This is why genuine repentance lowers our self-esteem – we have proven to be utter oafs in our conduct and the course of our core thinking. We are the veritable clowns and criminals of the cosmos. No wonder that God will laugh at the finally unbelieving and wicked].
Yahweh’s inexplicable love came to Israel in so many guises and sought them on innumerable occasions of the neglect and ignorance of the nation concerning their ardent and heavenly Lover. On its part Israel was mulish and weighed down with its load of disobedience and it proved an unworthy comparison with other traditional beasts of burden: “The ox knows his master, the donkey his owner’s manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand” (Isaiah 1:3). It was Israel that devised the state of divorce between God and themselves. There never was one grain of desert from the beginning to the breakout of this awful tragedy narrated by the Lamenter. He muses that perhaps God’s prior love in election can persevere beyond the people’s defection and consequent dejection.
Slowly by staring into the unfathomable abyss of divine love the heart once swollen by aching grief begins to mount the slope of hope (vv25-27). The word and ways of God provide a rope out of the ditch of despair. When all around is in ruins, and all within as black as pitch, a ray of relief-giving light pierces the darkness. The man of lamentation turns to thoughts of salvation (always a work of the Spirit) – a salvation impossible in present circumstances, but days of evil need not prevail in the purpose of God. Every day is a fresh chapter in the history of grace. Reversals may be annihilated. Renewal may be on heaven’s schedule (vv22-23). Waiting is worth it. Confidence is better than quitting. Quietness is relaxing in God. This does not amount to spiritual slouching. It is alert, fervent expectation, acceptance of current affliction, and reduction of pride and entitlement, and firm dependence upon the determinations of the Lord. His righteous reliability in sympathy with the sufferings of his dear ones is our sole ground of hope it – nothing in ourselves but our helplessness and flailing gestures of grief-stricken hopelessness without him. We turn from our frightful plight to his guaranteed pledges of concern and care.
In the end the God who engenders our fear through bad conscience is our only true comfort. When we cease running from him and run to him we meet his strong and welcoming embrace. We escape the chaos of a doomed world, and a life of dread, and enter the circle of his permanent devotion and unfailing love (vv31-33).