"Turn Us Back to You, O LORD" (Lamentations 5) December 16-17
"The final dirge (5:1-22) is a cry for relief. This poem is not an acrostic, and the use of some 45 Hebrew words ending in u bolsters the sense of lament. The poet cries out to God to act in view of the dread conditions of His people" (Bible Reader's Companion, chapters 4-5 summary).
Verse 6 mentions the people giving their hand to the Egyptians and the Assyrians. Yet the Assyrian Empire had long before fallen to the Babylonians. The reference may be to the sin of past generations, as verse 7 notes that their "fathers sinned." Yet it may also indicate events of the end time, when Assyria will again be a dominant power—a major component in the Babylonian empire of the last days.
In verse 16, we find the people full of remorse over their sin. Things seem hopeless indeed. But all is not lost, as we see in the last verses of the chapter. The writer, probably Jeremiah, recognizes on behalf of the people that "God's eternal rule and reign are a hope and support during the bleakest moments of suffering and despair (see Ps. 80:1, 2; 89:3, 4; 103:19)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Lamentations 5:19).
Yet, as verse 20 asks, why must deliverance be so long away? None of the prophets could have foreseen centuries and millennia passing before God brings this evil age to an end. The history of the Jews tells of the plaintive condition that these people of God—the survivors of Jerusalem, we might say—have lived under for such a very long time. History does not record any other single small group of people who have been hounded and persecuted from place to place almost all over the world—while yet waiting for their God to rescue them. The final chapter of Lamentations is the cry of human beings about to return to their God in the full understanding of their sin and God's great mercy and love toward them.
The plea of verse 21, "Turn us back to You, O LORD," is a recognition of the fact that God Himself must lead us to repentance. As Jesus Christ explained, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44). Acts 5:31 states that God must "grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins" (NASB). And 2 Timothy 2:25 confirms that God must "grant...repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth" (NASB). He must remove the spiritual blindness that has come upon all human beings through the deceptive efforts of Satan the devil and their own corrupted human nature (see 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Revelation 12:9; Romans 7:15-23). God must reveal to us His truth, and help us to see the error of our ways. We will never come to fully realize our depraved condition apart from God's revelation.
The final verse of Lamentations seems an odd statement and quite a down note to end on. Yet it does make sense in context—and is not so negative after all. The people, through Jeremiah most likely, have acknowledged their sins and the fact that their punishment was deserved. Now they ask for God to give them repentance—to help them turn their lives around. To that they essentially add: "...unless you really have utterly rejected us." But it is already recognized in the book that this is not the case (see 3:31)—which means that the final addendum is, in effect, saying, "...unless, contrary to what You have promised, You really have utterly rejected us." Yet rather than doubting God, as it might seem, this statement implies trust that He will act to defend His integrity. In that sense, the statement is intended to prod Him to fulfill His promises to restore Israel. Ultimately, He surely will.