1 How the gold has grown dim,
how the pure gold is changed!
The holy stones lie scattered
at the head of every street.
2 The precious sons of Zion,
worth their weight in fine gold,
how they are regarded as earthen pots,
the work of a potter’s hands!
3 Even jackals offer the breast;
they nurse their young;
but the daughter of my people has become cruel,
like the ostriches in the wilderness.
4 The tongue of the nursing infant sticks
to the roof of its mouth for thirst;
the children beg for food,
but no one gives to them.
5 Those who once feasted on delicacies
perish in the streets;
those who were brought up in purple
embrace ash heaps.
6 For the chastisement of the daughter of my people has been greater
than the punishment of Sodom,
which was overthrown in a moment,
and no hands were wrung for her.
7 Her princes were purer than snow,
whiter than milk;
their bodies were more ruddy than coral,
the beauty of their form was like sapphire.
8 Now their face is blacker than soot;
they are not recognized in the streets;
their skin has shriveled on their bones;
it has become as dry as wood.
9 Happier were the victims of the sword
than the victims of hunger,
who wasted away, pierced
by lack of the fruits of the field.
10 The hands of compassionate women
have boiled their own children;
they became their food
during the destruction of the daughter of my people.
11 The Lord gave full vent to his wrath;
he poured out his hot anger,
and he kindled a fire in Zion
that consumed its foundations.
12 The kings of the earth did not believe,
nor any of the inhabitants of the world,
that foe or enemy could enter
the gates of Jerusalem.
13 This was for the sins of her prophets
and the iniquities of her priests,
who shed in the midst of her
the blood of the righteous.
14 They wandered, blind, through the streets;
they were so defiled with blood
that no one was able to touch
15 “Away! Unclean!” people cried at them.
“Away! Away! Do not touch!”
So they became fugitives and wanderers;
people said among the nations,
“They shall stay with us no longer.”
16 The Lord himself has scattered them;
he will regard them no more;
no honor was shown to the priests,
no favor to the elders. – Lamentations 4:1-16 ESV
Chapter four begins another dirge or poem in which Jeremiah recounts the devastating nature of the destruction brought upon the city of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. He begins by describing the gold that used to adorn the temple of God now lying in the streets. What used to be of great value is now worthless. Precious metals and expensive gems have become as common as rocks. The economy of the city is completely shot, making it impossible to purchase food and leaving countless people suffering from starvation.
The parched tongues of their little ones
stick to the roofs of their mouths in thirst.
The children cry for bread,
but no one has any to give them. – Lamentations 4:4 NLT
The entire atmosphere of the city has been turned upside down, leaving those who used to be considered princes and worthy of great honor, living as if their lives are worth nothing. They “are now treated like pots of clay made by a common potter” (Lamentations 4:3 NLT). The social hierarchy of Jerusalem has been completely eliminated, with everyone sharing the same abysmal fate. The rich have lost their social standing. The once-powerful suffer alongside the poor and destitute. Everyone is on equal terms, experiencing the same unpleasant outcome for their rebellion against God.
During the siege, food had become so scarce that mothers were refusing to feed their own children, choosing instead to feed themselves while their infants died. And it got so bad that some resorted to cannibalism, eating the bodies of their own children.
have cooked their own children.
They have eaten them
to survive the siege. – Lamentations 4:10 NLT
The callousness displayed by these actions is difficult for us to comprehend. But the people had lost all hope. Their despair had become so great that it had become every man for himself. All sense of community was gone. It was now a matter of the survival of the fittest.
And again, Jeremiah paints a stark picture of just how grim things had become. Those who used to enjoy rich foods prepared for them by servants were now relegated to begging in the streets. Their fine clothes had been replaced by rags scavenged from the local dump. There was no longer anyone in Jerusalem who suffered from pride or had any reason to think of themselves as better than anyone else. This event had been the great equalizer, reducing the entire population of the city to a state of abject poverty and brokenness.
And Jeremiah compares the fall of Jerusalem to that of Sodom, the city that had been destroyed by God for its rampant wickedness. But Sodom had been a pagan city with no relationship to God Almighty. Their gross immorality had become a stench in the nostrils of God, forcing Him to bring down judgment upon them. But sadly, Jeremiah makes the wickedness of Jerusalem even more egregious than Sodom. It was the capital of Judah and the home of the temple that Solomon had built for God. And yet, Jeremiah declares that “The guilt of my people is greater than that of Sodom” (Lamentations 4:6 NLT). The chosen people of God stood condemned before Him and their guilt was greater than that of one of the most wicked cities that ever existed.
Like the citizens of Sodom, the people of Jerusalem had received the justice they deserved for their sins against God. And Jeremiah juxtaposes the former state of the people of Judah with their current conditions. At one time they had been rich, fat, and happy. They were used to having whatever their hearts desired. Food had been in abundance. Their clothes had been rich and sumptuous. Their houses had been filled with the latest pleasures, and their every need had been met by a host of servants. But now they were poor, disheveled, needy, and hungry.
And it had all been the result of God’s discipline and judgment.
But now the anger of the Lord is satisfied.
His fierce anger has been poured out.
He started a fire in Jerusalem
that burned the city to its foundations. – Lamentations 4:11 NLT
God had warned them repeatedly and had given them ample opportunity to repent and return to Him. But they had refused. Their pride had gotten the best of them. They never dreamed that this could happen to them. After all, they were the chosen people of God, the descendants of Abraham and heirs to the promises God had made to him. Jerusalem could never fall. The temple of God could never be destroyed. Their fate was secure – or so they thought.
Not a king in all the earth—
no one in all the world—
would have believed that an enemy
could march through the gates of Jerusalem.
Yet it happened because of the sins of her prophets
and the sins of her priests,
who defiled the city
by shedding innocent blood. – Lamentations 4:12-13 NLT
The inconceivable had happened. And it was all because the spiritual leaders of Judah had failed to live up to their God-ordained responsibilities. The priests had proved to be wicked and immoral. Prophets claimed to be speaking for God, but their words were nothing but lies intended to tell the people what they wanted to hear. And these men gave ungodly advice to Judah’s governmental leaders, resulting in kings who failed to shepherd the people of Judah as God had commanded them to do. Idolatry and immorality became commonplace. Unfaithfulness was widespread, from the top to the bottom of the society. And God had had enough.
Many of these priests and prophets were killed by the Babylonians or deported. They were removed from positions of power and their disobedience was dealt with severely and permanently.
The Lord himself has scattered them,
and he no longer helps them.
People show no respect for the priests
and no longer honor the leaders. – Lamentations 4:16 NLT
These men had forfeited their right to act as God’s spokesmen. They had failed to honor Him with their lives, choosing instead to enrich themselves by taking advantage of their position for personal gain. They had made a habit of telling the people what they wanted to hear, denying the prophecies of Jeremiah and ridiculing any thought that God was going to bring about the fall of Jerusalem. But they had proven to be painfully wrong. Their messages of good news had failed to bring about good outcomes. The city lay in ruins, the population was mired in poverty, and these men had all been killed or deported. The will of God had been accomplished.
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.