God's Anger With His People (Lamentations 2) December 10-11
"The second dirge (2:1-22) emphasizes the destruction God caused in unleashing His anger on the Holy City... A grimly determined God has laid Zion waste, rejecting His city and its temple (vv. 1-9). In utter agony, Zion's proud inhabitants have crumpled to the ground. They are terrified, tormented, and stunned; shattered by the events which have at last revealed the futility of false prophets' reassurances. God has done as He promised and planned (vv. 10-17). The writer calls his people to prayer (vv. 18-19), and they cry out, describing their condition in pitiful terms, and acknowledging God as the cause of their pain (vv. 20-22)" (Bible Reader's Companion, chapters 1-3 summary). This is a bold reminder of the fact that God desires worship that comes from a converted heart, not that which comes from ritual or a building—even ritual He instituted and a building He blessed!
In verse 2 we see that destruction has come on "all the dwelling places of Jacob," including, but not limited to, "the strongholds of the daughter of Judah." Verse 3 shows God having cut off "every horn of Israel," the horn being a symbol of strength and power. God "has blazed against Jacob like a flaming fire." As noted previously, the book of Lamentations concerns not only what happened to ancient Judah, but also what will befall both Judah and Israel in the end time. This is startling to consider, when one realizes it encompasses the most powerful nations of the past 200 years—the former British Empire and the present superpower of the United States.
The beginning of verse 6 is perhaps better translated, "He has done violence to His tabernacle, as if it were that of a garden..." That is, as Jamieson, Fausset & Brown's Commentary quotes Calvin in its note on verse 6, "His tabernacle (i.e., temple) as (one would take away the temporary cottage or booth) of a garden."
Verse 9 laments, "The Law is no more, and her prophets find no vision from the LORD." The Nelson Study Bible comments in its note on this verse: "These words do not suggest the end of the Law, but rather the ceasing of the work of the Law in the lives of the people for their blessing (see Deut. 6:1-3)... Divinely appointed instruction ceased for both the nation and the individual. This is not to say that the Law or prophecy were no longer available. God spoke to Jeremiah ten days after the prophet requested a word from God (see Jer. 42:4-7); furthermore Ezekiel and Daniel prophesied during the 70 years of the Exile."
In Lamentations 2:11 we see the writer of the book—again, probably Jeremiah—with eyes swollen shut from weeping over what is happening to his people. As a true servant of God who cares deeply for the people he is sent to minister to, he is sick with grief to the point of vomiting. And yet this sense of overwhelming grief may not just be the mindset of the book's writer, as it is inspired by the ultimate author—God Himself. God does not miss anything—not the cries of infants or their mothers. He is afflicted when His people are afflicted (as Isaiah 63:9 makes clear: "In all their affliction He was afflicted."). Indeed, as we will see in the next chapter, "He does not afflict willingly" (3:33).
So why does He persist in the affliction? Besides being just and fair, God knows the punishment is totally necessary. Jesus prayed to His Father on the night before His crucifixion, "If it be possible, let this cup pass from me." But that was not to be. Sometimes there is no alternative. God is working towards an everlasting plan, and punishment and suffering are sometimes necessary to produce positive results that last for eternity. The destruction and suffering of Israel is a lesson that all mankind can and will benefit from (compare 1 Corinthians 10:6-7). Even this study of these words is part of their benefit! When we have trials today and God allows them, His purpose is always a greater one of eternal good for the one afflicted (James 1:2).
Of course, in the midst of affliction, the suffering is hard to bear—and difficult for those trying to provide comfort. "How shall I console you?" the book asks. "Jeremiah had no words to help the grieving women of Jerusalem as they looked helplessly on their dying babies" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Lamentations 2:13). Again, we should remember that God too, not just His prophet, grieved over what He decided had to be done in response to the rebellion of the nation. In this sense, we should view the book of Lamentations as not just the lamenting of Jeremiah and the people of Israel, but also of God Himself.
This situation is so dire that the mothers have actually cannibalized their children (verse 20), just as God had warned would happen in the terrible siege conditions that would result from His people forsaking Him (Deuteronomy 28:52-57). We will see this mentioned again in Lamentation 4:10. This horrifying act had been perpetrated in past siege conditions (see 2 Kings 6:28-29). And, as shocking as it is to contemplate, it will yet happen again at the end of the age.
This is a sobering picture of where disobedience leads. May we learn the lesson—and avoid the consequences—as we approach the terrible times that lie just ahead of us all.