Don’t Count God Out

20 Look, O Lord, and see!

    With whom have you dealt thus?
Should women eat the fruit of their womb,
    the children of their tender care?
Should priest and prophet be killed
    in the sanctuary of the Lord?

21 In the dust of the streets
    lie the young and the old;
my young women and my young men
    have fallen by the sword;
you have killed them in the day of your anger,
    slaughtering without pity.

22 You summoned as if to a festival day
    my terrors on every side,
and on the day of the anger of the Lord
    no one escaped or survived;
those whom I held and raised
    my enemy destroyed. – Lamentations 2:20-22 ESV

One of the things that make reading this book so difficult is trying to keep up with who is speaking at any given time. It can get confusing. We have already seen how Jeremiah allows the city of Jerusalem to voice its concerns, personifying the feelings of the people of Judah. But just as quickly, Jeremiah introduces his own perspective on the state of affairs. He is not an indifferent or disinterested party to all that is going on. He cared deeply about the people of Judah and had spent years begging them to repent and return to the Lord. On more than one occasion, Jeremiah had seen his task as a prophet of God to be overwhelming and disheartening. His words had fallen on deaf ears, with no one responding to his message.

My grief is beyond healing;
    my heart is broken.
Listen to the weeping of my people;
    it can be heard all across the land.
“Has the Lord abandoned Jerusalem?” the people ask.
    “Is her King no longer there?” – Jeremiah 8:18-19 NLT

I hurt with the hurt of my people.
    I mourn and am overcome with grief.
Is there no medicine in Gilead?
    Is there no physician there?
Why is there no healing
    for the wounds of my people? – Jeremiah 8:21-22 NLT

And earlier in chapter two of Lamentations, Jeremiah had given voice to his sorrow over Judah’s sorrowful condition.

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? – Lamentations 2:13 ESV

But in verse 20, there is a noticeable shift in the tone. In the previous three verses, Jeremiah had told the people that the fall of Judah had been the work of God. He had finally fulfilled His promise to bring judgment upon them for their rebellion against Him. And, as a result, Jeremiah begged the people of Judah to call out to God in repentance.

Cry aloud before the Lord,
    O walls of beautiful Jerusalem!
Let your tears flow like a river
    day and night.
Give yourselves no rest;
    give your eyes no relief. – Lamentations 2:18 NLT

But in verse 20 the dialogue takes on a more accusatory tone. The city of Jerusalem is once again pointing its finger at God and demanding answers to a series of condemning questions:

With whom have you dealt thus?
Should women eat the fruit of their womb, the children of their tender care?
Should priest and prophet be killed in the sanctuary of the Lord?

These words are filled with incredulity. The people of Judah can’t believe that their God would allow these kinds of atrocities to happen. Things had gotten so bad in Jerusalem that the people had been relegated to eating their own children just to survive. How could God allow His chosen people to suffer such degradation? Why would He permit the Babylonians to slaughter priests and prophets in His very own sanctuary? This was all inconceivable and unacceptable. Or was it?

God had told the people of Judah that their sinful behavior was going to result in judgment. There would be serious consequences if they continued to resist His calls to repentance. And not even the temple would save them from the wrath of God.

“‘Don’t be fooled into thinking that you will never suffer because the Temple is here. It’s a lie! Do you really think you can steal, murder, commit adultery, lie, and burn incense to Baal and all those other new gods of yours, and then come here and stand before me in my Temple and chant, “We are safe!”—only to go right back to all those evils again? Don’t you yourselves admit that this Temple, which bears my name, has become a den of thieves? Surely I see all the evil going on there. I, the Lord, have spoken!” – Jeremiah 7:8-11 NLT

But Jerusalem remains unbowed and unbroken. The people of Judah have learned nothing from their suffering. In fact, they cast all the blame on God and refuse to take any responsibility for their role in their own demise. The “innocents” lie in the streets – the young and the old, the young women and the young men. And the city points its finger in the face of God, shouting, “…you have killed them in the day of your anger, slaughtering without pity” (Lamentations 2:21 ESV).

This is a dangerous accusation. In essence, they are declaring God to be without compassion. He responded with unmitigated and uncontrolled anger. He was uncaring and unsympathetic, displaying a perverse sense of pleasure from the senseless slaughter of the young and the old. But this conclusion displays a woefully inaccurate understanding of God. God takes no delight in the punishment of the wicked. In fact, the prophet Ezekiel records God’s thoughts on the matter.

“Do you think that I like to see wicked people die? says the Sovereign LORD. Of course not! I want them to turn from their wicked ways and live.” – Ezekiel 18:23 NLT

“As surely as I live, says the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of wicked people. I only want them to turn from their wicked ways so they can live. Turn! Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?” – Ezekiel 33:11 NLT

God cared about the people of Judah and longed to restore them to a right relationship with Himself. But He could not overlook their rebellion forever. As a holy and righteous God, He was obligated by His own nature to deal with the rampant wickedness of His chosen people. But He had been extremely patient, holding off His judgment for generations, and providing His people with ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. Why? Because He is a compassionate and merciful God.

The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love. – Psalm 103:8

The LORD is gracious and righteous; our God is full of compassion. – Psalm 116:5 BSB

Yes, the people of Judah had suffered greatly. Their capital city had been destroyed. Many of their fellow citizens had been slaughtered or taken captive. Those who remained were left to endure lives of abject poverty and persecution. But God had not forgotten them. He had not abandoned them. And in the very next chapter, Jeremiah will speak up again, declaring the unwavering faithfulness of God even in the midst of pain and sorrow.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!” – Lamentations 3:22-24 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.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson