10 The elders of the daughter of Zion
sit on the ground in silence;
they have thrown dust on their heads
and put on sackcloth;
the young women of Jerusalem
have bowed their heads to the ground.
11 My eyes are spent with weeping;
my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out to the ground
because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
because infants and babies faint
in the streets of the city.
12 They cry to their mothers,
“Where is bread and wine?”
as they faint like a wounded man
in the streets of the city,
as their life is poured out
on their mothers’ bosom.
13 What can I say for you, to what compare you,
O daughter of Jerusalem?
What can I liken to you, that I may comfort you,
O virgin daughter of Zion?
For your ruin is vast as the sea;
who can heal you?
14 Your prophets have seen for you
false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
to restore your fortunes,
but have seen for you oracles
that are false and misleading.
15 All who pass along the way
clap their hands at you;
they hiss and wag their heads
at the daughter of Jerusalem:
“Is this the city that was called
the perfection of beauty,
the joy of all the earth?”
16 All your enemies
rail against you;
they hiss, they gnash their teeth,
they cry: “We have swallowed her!
Ah, this is the day we longed for;
now we have it; we see it!”
17 The Lord has done what he purposed;
he has carried out his word,
which he commanded long ago;
he has thrown down without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you
and exalted the might of your foes.
18 Their heart cried to the Lord.
O wall of the daughter of Zion,
let tears stream down like a torrent
day and night!
Give yourself no rest,
your eyes no respite!
19 “Arise, cry out in the night,
at the beginning of the night watches!
Pour out your heart like water
before the presence of the Lord!
Lift your hands to him
for the lives of your children,
who faint for hunger
at the head of every street.” – Lamentations 2:10-19 ESV
The defeat and destruction of Jerusalem had left those who remained behind in a state of disbelief and despair. The few elders of the city who had not been taken captive were left to deal with the devastation, trying to restore some sense of order in the midst of the chaos.
But, according to Jeremiah, all they could do was “sit on the ground in silence” (Lamentations 2:10 ESV). They were stunned and staggered by the size of the task ahead of them. They had no king. And because their entire army had been demolished and disbanded by the Babylonians, they had no source of protection. The city was in shambles and the economy was in a hopeless state of ruin. So, these men did the only thing they could do: They mourned.
But these senior statesmen were not alone in their despair. Jeremiah describes the young women of the city as having “bowed their heads to the ground” (Lamentations 2:10 ESV). They express shame over their condition. It is likely that many of them had been widowed as a result of the way. Their husbands had been slaughtered by the Babylonians or taken captive. The unmarried women would have also felt the shame of knowing they might never find a husband. The number of eligible bachelors had dropped precipitously as a result of the war.
But there was another group of women whose shame was related to the treatment they had received at the hands of the Babylonian soldiers. Thousands of women had been raped and ravaged by the invading forces of Nebuchadnezzar. And those not taken captive were left to mourn the loss of their virginity and any hope of having a husband and a family.
And in the midst of this dark and depressing scene, the prophet Jeremiah speaks up, revealing the state of his own heart as he observes the pain and suffering all around him.
I have cried until the tears no longer come;
my heart is broken.
My spirit is poured out in agony
as I see the desperate plight of my people.
Little children and tiny babies
are fainting and dying in the streets. – Lamentations 2:11 NLT
It would have been easy for Jeremiah to gloat over the plight of the people of Judah. After all, he had spent years of his life attempting to warn them that all of this was going to happen. But they had repeatedly refused to listen to him. In fact, they had treated Jeremiah like a social pariah, rejecting his message and ridiculing his calling as a prophet of God. And now that they were experiencing the judgment Jeremiah had warned about, he was probably tempted to tell them, “I told you so!” But instead, he wept until he had no more tears to shed.
Jeremiah took no delight in Judah’s destruction. He found no joy in watching children starve to death from a lack of food. The level of suffering among the people was incomparable and far beyond Jeremiah’s capacity to do anything about it. He despairingly asks, “how can I comfort you? For your wound is as deep as the sea. Who can heal you?” (Lamentations 2:13 NLT).
You can sense his anguish and desperation. Even as a prophet of God, he was having a difficult time seeing any silver lining on this dark cloud. And that’s because the message he had been given by God to deliver to the people of Judah had been limited in scope. It only dealt with the coming judgment of God, but did not reveal what would happen afterwards.
“Yes,” the Lord said, “for terror from the north will boil out on the people of this land. Listen! I am calling the armies of the kingdoms of the north to come to Jerusalem. I, the Lord, have spoken!
“They will set their thrones
at the gates of the city.
They will attack its walls
and all the other towns of Judah.
I will pronounce judgment
on my people for all their evil—
for deserting me and burning incense to other gods.
Yes, they worship idols made with their own hands!” – Jeremiah 1:14-16 NLT
And now that the words he had spoken had come to pass, Jeremiah was left to ponder what was to happen next. He recalled with a sense of sadness and frustration, the role the false prophets had played during the days leading up to the fall of Judah. These men had chosen to contradict his words, offering the people their own version of the truth.
Your prophets have said
so many foolish things, false to the core.
They did not save you from exile
by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they painted false pictures,
filling you with false hope. – Lamentations 2:14 NLT
They had lied, telling the people what they wanted to hear rather than supporting Jeremiah’s message of repentance. And what made matters worse is that the people chose to listen to the wrong messengers.
A horrible and shocking thing
has happened in this land—
the prophets give false prophecies,
and the priests rule with an iron hand.
Worse yet, my people like it that way!
But what will you do when the end comes? – Jeremiah 5:30-31 NLT
All the while Jeremiah had been warning of God’s pending judgment, the leaders of Judah had been painting a rosy picture, fueled by their own selfish interests and designed to maintain the status quo. These men didn’t want the people to repent or reform because it would have impacted their bottom line.
“From the least to the greatest,
their lives are ruled by greed.
From prophets to priests,
they are all frauds.
They offer superficial treatments
for my people’s mortal wound.
They give assurances of peace
when there is no peace.” – Jeremiah 6:13-14 NLT
And suddenly, Jeremiah turns his attention to the enemies of Judah, all those surrounding nations who were gloating over their demise. He portrays Judah’s enemies as a bunch of bragging bullies who are each claiming to have played a part in their fall.
“We have destroyed her at last!
We have long waited for this day,
and it is finally here!” – Lamentations 2:16 NLT
But Jeremiah makes it clear that no one can take credit for Judah’s destruction except God.
But it is the Lord who did just as he planned.
He has fulfilled the promises of disaster
he made long ago.
He has destroyed Jerusalem without mercy.
He has caused her enemies to gloat over her
and has given them power over her. – Lamentations 2:17 NLT
Not even Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, could boast over his role in Judah’s demise. He had been nothing more than an instrument in the hands of God. And Jeremiah had prophesied that this “great army” would one day show up and bring the judgment of God against Judah and the city of Jerusalem.
This is what the Lord says:
“Look! A great army coming from the north!
A great nation is rising against you from far-off lands.
They are armed with bows and spears.
They are cruel and show no mercy.
They sound like a roaring sea
as they ride forward on horses.
They are coming in battle formation,
planning to destroy you, beautiful Jerusalem.” – Jeremiah 6:22-23 NLT
And now that the damage had been done, Jeremiah calls the people of Judah to “Cry aloud before the Lord” and to “Let your tears flow like a river day and night” (Lamentations 2:18 NLT). He called on them to show true signs of repentance, lifting up their voices God and pleading with Him to show mercy.
Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him in prayer,
pleading for your children… – Lamentations 2:19 NLT
The days were dark. The circumstances were bleak. But the same God who had brought judgment could bring restoration. When Jeremiah had asked, “who can heal you?”, it had been a rhetorical question. And the answer was, “God.” He alone could heal them. He could fully restore them. But it was going to take a change of heart among the people of Judah. They were going to have to change their ways.
“Stop at the crossroads and look around.
Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it.
Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.
But you reply, ‘No, that’s not the road we want!’” – Jeremiah 6:16 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.