The Horror of Jerusalem's Affliction
Lamentations 4 gives graphic descriptions of the result of a long siege. Children are starving (verse 4), the noble and genteel have lost their arrogance (verses 5, 8), and the dead are better off than the others (verse 9). Most horrible of all is the cannibalism that is described in verse 10. One can only imagine the horrors that were taking place. Jeremiah witnessed them in graphic detail, and God did too. The sorrow and anguish of even the most sinful and evil human being is not lost to God's knowledge and enduring love. Hope is always extended—hope that the excruciating experiences will cause a stubborn and unyielding people to make lasting and permanent changes in all they think and do.
Some have objected to the wording of verse 1—“How the gold has become dim!"—because gold does not tarnish. However, "since the second line refers to the destroyed temple, we can easily see a reference to its gold-covered panels and golden vessels so covered with dust that their value is no longer discernible" (Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verses 1-2). Moreover, the gold and stones of the temple are also used here to typify God's people—who were far more valuable than the physical temple (see verse 2). Yet they are discarded as broken pottery.
The siege of Jerusalem was so severe that no one was exempt, even those who were considered to be especially holy—the Nazirites, who were specially consecrated to God (verses 7-8; see Numbers 6:1-21). Interesting to note here is the skin color of these people. There are some today who argue that the ancient Israelites and Jews were black, brown or olive in color. Yet Lamentations 4:7 describes those in good health among them as "brighter than snow and whiter than milk...more ruddy in body than rubies." Chambers Concise Dictionary defines "ruddy" as "red; reddish; of the colour of healthy skin in white-skinned peoples" (1988). King David was also described as "ruddy and of a fair countenance" (1 Samuel 17:42, KJV). This is not the red of Native Americans but of Caucasian peoples with "ruby-red cheeks." Consider that the Jews of today are also white. The phrase "like sapphire in their appearance" in Lamentations 4:7 must denote shiny skin as opposed to bluish coloring. The fact that the ancient Israelites were white supports the identification of northwest Europeans as their descendants (see our free booklet The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy for more on this identification). Yet in the terrible siege conditions the skin of the people, even the Nazirites, has become black and dry (verse 8) from malnourishment and lack of water.
Verses 13-20 describe the culpability of a corrupt religious leadership. "The guilt of prophets and priests was incurred in a variety of ways. They incited the leadership to resist Babylon and so brought disaster on the city. They also were responsible for the death of at least one prophet whose message was like that of Jeremiah (Jer. 26:20-23). Finally, Ezek. 22:1-22 shows that the concept of 'bloodguilt' was quite broad, and included acts which threatened the well-being and thus shortened the lifespan of another. The active hostility of the religious leadership to Jeremiah and their indifference to the needs of common men, as well as their destructive meddling in politics, all contributed to the corruption of Jewish society and made judgment inevitable" (Bible Reader's Companion, note on Lamentations 4:13-16). The religious leadership of the nations of Israel in the end time will be likewise culpable.
In verse 17, the people have watched for a nation that could not save them. In Jeremiah's day, this referred to the Jews looking to Egypt for deliverance—a deliverance that never came. Even some time after Jerusalem's fall, the Jewish remnant in the Holy Land will, as we will see, seek refuge in Egypt against God's command—and suffer the consequences.
In verse 20, we see that the people looked to their Davidic king as their life breath. For besides looking to their king as their deliverer, they considered the Davidic dynasty as inviolable. While this was true in the sense that the dynasty would not end, it was not true in the sense of trusting any particular king as being unassailable. That was clearly a foolish conclusion considering what had happened to previous Davidic rulers. And indeed, a worse fate befell Zedekiah and his sons. Moreover, as we know, God was in the process of removing the Davidic dynasty from the nation of Judah. Living under a divinely established king did not immunize them against needing to fear and obey God individually—anymore than living in nations blessed by God today guarantees that everything will always go well, either for the nations or its citizens individually. Focusing upon being part of a "chosen" group takes one's eyes off of personal responsibility.
The chapter ends with a surprising reference to Edom, the perennial enemy of Israel. The Edomites routinely rejoiced over calamity that came upon God's people. Indeed, as other passages show, this enmity will persist to the very end of the age. Edom will even be part of the forces arrayed against Israel at that time. In verses 21-22, God basically says to Edom, "Rejoice while you can—you're next!"
Yet, as verse 22 states, Zion's punishment will be accomplished. This was not ultimately fulfilled in Jeremiah's day. The punishment of Zion was not yet over. It was finished for that moment, but destruction would happen again more than six centuries later under the Roman armies. Israel is still rebellious and is not yet turned to God. Scripture indicates a final great punishment for Israel as the return of Christ draws near. How difficult it seems to be for mankind to learn and to change. In fact, it takes a miracle and direct intervention by God through the gift of His Holy Spirit. Israel will undergo the terrible Great Tribulation that lies ahead, but God will draw the line before complete destruction has occurred. And when He intervenes on Israel's behalf, He will judge Israel's enemies.