4 How the gold has lost its luster,
the fine gold become dull!
The sacred gems are scattered
at every street corner.
2 How the precious children of Zion,
once worth their weight in gold,
are now considered as pots of clay,
the work of a potter’s hands!
3 Even jackals offer their breasts
to nurse their young,
but my people have become heartless
like ostriches in the desert.
4 Because of thirst the infant’s tongue
sticks to the roof of its mouth;
the children beg for bread,
but no one gives it to them.
5 Those who once ate delicacies
are destitute in the streets.
Those brought up in royal purple
now lie on ash heaps.
6 The punishment of my people
is greater than that of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment
without a hand turned to help her.
7 Their princes were brighter than snow
and whiter than milk,
their bodies more ruddy than rubies,
their appearance like lapis lazuli.
8 But now they are blacker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets.
Their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it has become as dry as a stick.
9 Those killed by the sword are better off
than those who die of famine;
racked with hunger, they waste away
for lack of food from the field.
10 With their own hands compassionate women
have cooked their own children,
who became their food
when my people were destroyed.
11 The Lord has given full vent to his wrath;
he has poured out his fierce anger.
He kindled a fire in Zion
that consumed her foundations.
12 The kings of the earth did not believe,
nor did any of the peoples of the world,
that enemies and foes could enter
the gates of Jerusalem.
13 But it happened because of the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed within her
the blood of the righteous.
14 Now they grope through the streets
as if they were blind.
They are so defiled with blood
that no one dares to touch their garments.
15 “Go away! You are unclean!” people cry to them.
“Away! Away! Don’t touch us!”
When they flee and wander about,
people among the nations say,
“They can stay here no longer.”
16 The Lord himself has scattered them;
he no longer watches over them.
The priests are shown no honor,
the elders no favor.
17 Moreover, our eyes failed,
looking in vain for help;
from our towers we watched
for a nation that could not save us.
18 People stalked us at every step,
so we could not walk in our streets.
Our end was near, our days were numbered,
for our end had come.
19 Our pursuers were swifter
than eagles in the sky;
they chased us over the mountains
and lay in wait for us in the desert.
20 The Lord’s anointed, our very life breath,
was caught in their traps.
We thought that under his shadow
we would live among the nations.
21 Rejoice and be glad, Daughter Edom,
you who live in the land of Uz.
But to you also the cup will be passed;
you will be drunk and stripped naked.
22 Your punishment will end, Daughter Zion;
he will not prolong your exile.
But he will punish your sin, Daughter Edom,
and expose your wickedness.
(Lamentations 4:1-22 NIV)
As we begin Chapter 4, let’s take a look at some of the overall characteristics as we have done with the previous chapters.
Like the chapters before, chapter 4 is set as an acrostic of the Hebrew alphabet. Chapter 4 is different than the other chapters in that it has only two 2-line thoughts or phrases in each verse, compared to three 2-line phrases for each verse in chapters 1 and 2, and one 2-line phrase for each verse in chapter 3.
The different format can be attributed to largely to the “then and now” motif of chapter 4. Each verse contains a comparison of what life was like in Jerusalem’s and Judah’s “glory days” versus what it is like leading up to and after the fall of Jerusalem and the exile of her people.
Like Chapter 3, Chapter 4 has one voice expressed through the poet as part of the community. Remember that these lamentations were to be used as part of a public worship, commemoration, or ritual. Hence, the usage of both “I” and “we” in the poet’s expression.
Chapter 4 can be broken down into smaller sub-sections:
- Verses 1-4: The value of Jerusalem and its inhabitants plummets – from gold to dirt.
- Verses 5-10: impact of the famine, especially on families and children.
The mention of mothers eating their young again is very disturbing to the poet.
- Verses 11-16: Misery everywhere is brought on by the leaders’ sin and the people’s willingness to follow their leaders.
- Verses 17-22: Relief from Judah’s and Jerusalem’s enemies.
- There will be no help from Egypt (v. 17)
- The king (Zedekiah) will not be able to help (v. 20)
- The poet seeks God’s retribution against Edom for their part in the brutality (vv. 21-22)
- The poet claims God’s promise of hope for the future and an end to the exile (v. 21a)
As we look over Chapter 4, one item missing from previous chapters is the “why” question. The poet (and the community) seems to have acknowledged and accepted responsibility for their sins and the righteous judgment of God against their sins.
As the poet acknowledges the sins of the people on behalf of the community, he also shows the character of God. While God judges wickedness and sin with His holiness and righteousness, He also mercifully redeems the wrongs of the past and offers grace for the present and the future.
May we grasp the enormity of God’s holy, righteous hatred of sin as well as the boundless love, mercy, and grace He offers us.
As we begin to understand who we are and who God is, may we also show mercy, kindness, grace, and love to others, just as Christ has done for us. Only as we begin to understand the nature and character of God can we extend His love, mercy, and grace to our families, friends, co-workers, and neighbors.