19 “I called to my lovers,
but they deceived me;
my priests and elders
perished in the city,
while they sought food
to revive their strength.
20 “Look, O Lord, for I am in distress;
my stomach churns;
my heart is wrung within me,
because I have been very rebellious.
In the street the sword bereaves;
in the house it is like death.
21 “They heard my groaning,
yet there is no one to comfort me.
All my enemies have heard of my trouble;
they are glad that you have done it.
You have brought the day you announced;
now let them be as I am.
22 “Let all their evildoing come before you,
and deal with them
as you have dealt with me
because of all my transgressions;
for my groans are many,
and my heart is faint.” – Lamentations 1:19-22 ESV
What do most of us do when we face trouble of any kind? We get busy, devising plans and potential solutions to solve our problem. It’s human nature. We are wired to survive. And there is nothing inherently wrong with having our survival instincts kick into high gear. But for those who claim to believe in God, He should be their first line of defense. It is to Him they should call for aid and assistance. And if they should turn to Him for help, they need to be prepared to hear words that bring conviction and not just comfort. God may be trying to expose an area of their life that requires repentance and confession.
David, the great king of Israel and a man after God’s own heart, knew the power of conviction and confession. That is why he called out in the midst of his suffering and sorrow, pleading “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life” (Psalm 139:23-24 NLT).
David was well aware that much of his suffering was self-inflicted. But he also knew that His sovereign God was intimately aware of and instrumental in the trials of his life. This was a man who understood the wickedness of his own heart and recognized his need for God to expose the true cause of his suffering. And he knew that no one knew him better than the One who had made him.
O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord. – Psalm 139:1-4 NLT
Rather than attempting to solve his problems on his own, David was willing to reach out to God. Even after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba and ordered the murder of her husband in an attempt to cover up his sin, David had turned to God.
I recognize my rebellion;
it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
and your judgment against me is just.
For I was born a sinner—
yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.
But you desire honesty from the womb,
teaching me wisdom even there. – Psalm 51:3-6 NLT
But let’s consider the response of Judah to the suffering inflicted upon them by God. Nowhere in Jeremiah’s poetic portrayal of their response to God’s judgment do we see any acknowledgment of their guilt or confession for their sins against Him. In fact, the only thing they admit to is their reliance upon other forms of rescue.
“I begged my allies for help,
but they betrayed me.” – Lamentations 1:19 NLT
Their military alliance with Egypt had proven to be a bust. As the Babylonian army had made its way into the region they had left behind them a wake of death and destruction. And it was only natural for the kings of Judah to seek outside assistance. But God had warned them in advance not to turn to Egypt for help.
“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,”
says the Lord.
“You make plans that are contrary to mine.
You make alliances not directed by my Spirit,
thus piling up your sins.
For without consulting me,
you have gone down to Egypt for help.
You have put your trust in Pharaoh’s protection.
You have tried to hide in his shade.
But by trusting Pharaoh, you will be humiliated,
and by depending on him, you will be disgraced.
For though his power extends to Zoan
and his officials have arrived in Hanes,
all who trust in him will be ashamed.
He will not help you.
Instead, he will disgrace you.” – Isaiah 30:1-5 NLT
In times of distress, Judah was to have turned to God.
What sorrow awaits those who look to Egypt for help, trusting their horses, chariots, and charioteers and depending on the strength of human armies instead of looking to the LORD, the Holy One of Israel. – Isaiah 31:1 NLT
But rather than placing their trust in their all-powerful God, the people of Judah had turned to human kings for aid. Even the priests and political leaders of Judah had proven to be unreliable saviors in the face of God’s judgment. They had suffered the same fate as the rest of the people.
“My priests and leaders
starved to death in the city,
even as they searched for food
to save their lives.” – Lamentations 1:19 NLT
The people seem to recognize that their sad state is directly tied to their rebellion against God, but rather than repent they simply inform God about the extent of their suffering.
“Lord, see my anguish!
My heart is broken
and my soul despairs,
for I have rebelled against you.
In the streets the sword kills,
and at home there is only death.” – Lamentations 1:20 NLT
Though their pain was real and their suffering was intense, they remained unrepentant. They were displaying what the apostle Paul describes as “worldly sorrow.”
For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death. – 2 Corinthians 7:10 NLT
And Jeremiah describes this worldly sorrow and the spiritual death it produces in stark terms.
“My groans are many,
and I am sick at heart.” – Lamentations 1:22 NLT
There was no relief. Why? Because they remained stubbornly committed to their lifestyle of sin and open rebellion against God. They were unwilling to change their ways. They knew they were suffering God’s judgment but were not ready to live according to God’s law. The people of Judah deeply desired to be comforted by God but resisted any attempts to be convicted by God.
Amazingly, the people of Judah remembered God’s promises to bring judgment upon their enemies. And they begged Him to keep His word.
“When my enemies heard about my troubles,
they were happy to see what you had done.
Oh, bring the day you promised,
when they will suffer as I have suffered.” – Lamentations 1:21 NLT
But God was out to teach His chosen people a lesson. He wanted to see and acknowledge the wickedness of their ways. He desired that they might experience and display godly sorrow that would lead to repentance and restoration to a right relationship with Himself. The apostle Paul describes the amazing benefits that godly sorrow can produce in the people of God.
Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. – 2 Corinthians 7:11 NLT
God didn’t need to hear His people describe their suffering. He had sent it. He wasn’t waiting for them to admit that they had sinned against Him. He already knew it. What God was waiting to see was a spirit of humility and genuine repentance among His people.
“…if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.” – 2 Chronicles 7:14 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.